You’ve ticked off a few items on your NYC checklist: Broadway shows, an afternoon at the Met or the Whitney, and drinks at Top of the Rock. You’ve hiked to the top of the Empire State Building and strolled down the High Line. This time, you want to take a bite into the Big Apple’s core and explore the best of its culinary offerings. But, in a city this vast, the choices (and their prices) can paralyze you. You also don’t want to spend like it’s December 2017 and you just cashed in all your Bitcoin. What to do? Here are my tips!
Note: While ‘budget’ means different things to different people, I’m keeping the restaurant and bar suggestions in this article to those which are rated either $ or $$ on Yelp.
GETTING AROUND NYC
If you’re watching your pennies, you’ll want to avoid the cabs in NYC. Download Citymapper onto your smartphone to find out how to navigate the tangled rainbow mess that is the New York Subway. It’ll tell you the fastest route between Point A and Point B, when trains are coming, and even which cars are least crowded. Now you’re ready to explore and your stomach’s growling. Where to?
1) THE UPPER EAST SIDE
While the Upper East Side may conjure up images of Gossip Girl, it’s one of the city’s best value propositions – especially if you stick to the restaurants along Second Avenue or further east. I lived here for three years, so here are my ‘local’s recommendations.’
- Uva: A stylish Italian restaurant and wine bar perfect for a romantic evening in NYC. Pizzas are in the $13-$16 range and pastas are $18-$25.
- Mei Jin Ramen: Authentic, underrated slurp spot on 2nd Avenue. Their Chili Chicken Ramen (my favorite) costs $14.50. Don’t sleep on the shishito peppers, $9.
- J.G. Melon: This preppy-approved burger joint on 74th and 3rd (there are other locations, but the original one is the best) has been slinging out thick, juicy slabs of meat topped with a slice of American cheese since ‘72. A Cheeseburger goes for $12.25. Cash only.
Take the Second Avenue Subway to 86th Street and gawp at its mosaic art. Heralded by the MTA as “the largest permanent public art installation in state history”, the Q Train features Instagram-worthy tile murals at its 63rd, 72nd, 86th, and 96th Street stations. They depict slices of modern New York life, and many were taken from photographs of actual New Yorkers of both the famous and every-day variety.
2) EAST VILLAGE
You can’t beat the East Village/Alphabet City in terms of dining as well as nightlife. Indie and beyond hip, you’d think this ‘hood would have pulled a Williamsburg and sold out a long time ago, but it still retains more than a shred of authentic street cred in NYC.
- St. Mark’s Place is a dive bar mecca, with Bua Bar being the standout of the bunch with its exposed brick ambiance and lengthy happy hour ($8 cocktails until 8PM, M-F). Opt for the Mezcal Mule for a smokier take on its more buttoned-up sister drink, the Moscow Mule.
- Get your noodle fix at Xian Famous Foods: This small chain noodle shop (East Village location on St. Mark’s and 1st) is nothing short of a New York phenomenon. A bowl of their famous hand-pulled noodles will run under $10.
I know that’s so Manhattan of me to group an entire borough into one neighborhood, but Queens is often omitted in discussions of NYC tourism despite being a culinary mecca. Queens’ eats were recently celebrated on Parts Unknown, with Anthony Bourdain calling Queens a “wonderland” of food. Aside from Bourdain’s suggestions, here are some good-value Queens must-tries:
- Shanghai You Garden: Authentic Flushing dim sum at its finest. An order of six steamed pork buns will set you back $5.75. Cash only.
- SriPraPhai: Many consider SriPraPhai the best Thai restaurant in New York. Green Papaya Salad: $9.50; Pad Thai: $11; Green Curry, $12.50. Cash only.
- Casa Enrique: Just one stop from Grand Central on the 7 train, this Mexican joint serves up creative and casual-chic fare that manages to be wallet-friendlier than most of its Michelin-starred brethren. Get the Tres Leches.
Really anywhere in Koreatown will be authentic and budget-friendly, but don’t miss the TAIYAKI FISH! It’s a waffle…shaped like a fish…with a gooey chocolate (or Nutella, or red bean) filling. I got mine at Delimanjoo, a stall inside a food court on 32nd Street between 5th and 6th Avenues.
5) JUST SAY BRUNCH
Brunch might as well be the official meal of NYC. Don’t be basic and hit up the first spot with a ‘bottomless’ sign out front. Many brunch deals are brunch duds in disguise, but some restaurants have made an art of the mid-day meal.
- One of my favorite brunch spots is Jacob’s Pickles on the Upper West Side: Their gigantic portions of Southern-inspired cuisine will stick to your ribs (try the Chicken and Pancakes, $16) and their Bloody BLTs (served with Tito’s Vodka and a strip of bacon, $13) are some of New York’s finest.
6) SWEAT IT OUT
After all that eating, take heart that many of New York’s quintessential experiences will only cost you calories. Central Park, while touristy, lives up to the hype. It’s used by thousands of New Yorkers daily as a place to run, bike, in-line skate, walk their dogs, have a picnic, or just to get outside and pretend they’re in real nature. The entire loop is just under 10k (6.2 miles) and features rolling hills, but if that length of a run is too extra for a vacation, you’ll find the Jackie Onassis Reservoir and its 1.5-mile looped path around 86th Street.
Hidden within Central Park is the Conservatory Garden. I had no clue this place existed until I had lived on the Upper East Side for a couple of years! Think of it as New York’s own Secret Garden minus all the sickly invalids and poor parenting (oh, heck, it’s the Upper East Side, there’s probably plenty of both). Enter on 5th Avenue between 104th and 105th Streets. Click here for a full map of running or walking trails.
You don’t need to spend a fortune to get a real NYC foodie experience. While New York will never be a true budget destination (like, say, Southeast Asia) the city has a cornucopia of options for most tastes and price ranges that’ll leave your stomach and wallet happy. Besides, if all else fails, there’s always New Jersey.
Have you been to New York? If you have any additional tips for our readers or questions please leave these in the comments below.
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