The only thing worse than not being able to afford all the beautiful, delicious food available to us here in NYC is when New York Magazine comes out with their "Cheap Eats" edition. I don't know about you guys, but I often find that their idea of "cheap" is slightly different than mine.
With this being said, there are a few places I've either tried in the past few weeks of summer freedom OR staples that I go back to again and again that I feel I simply must share with my reader community. Now it's hard to narrow it down, there are so many cuisines and neighborhoods to cover, but these are my top five of cheap eats in Manhattan at the moment. SO in no particular order, here are my picks!
1. Taqueria Y Fonda on Amsterdam between 107th & 108th Streets.
This place is amazing for so many reasons. They serve a delicious burrito that's about the size of your head, the people who work there are actually Mexican and cook like Mexicans (sounds simple, but strangely difficult to find), and the environment transports you immediately to a small joint you might actually walk into in Mexico. You can sit down at one of their tables at any time of day & order a Pacifico or a Negro Modelo, or 12 and no one looks twice at you (even if it's 3pm...trust me, I've done it). Seriously though, the prices are ridiculously reasonable ($5.95 for a quesadilla & $9.50 for their "giant burrito") and you don't have to worry about how fast you're eating, how much you're spending or how many beers you've thrown back. You're surrounded by friendly, mellow people and awesome food. What more could you ask for in a neighborhood spot?
2. Acapulco Caliente on Broadway between 143rd and 144th streets. I can hear you now... "Another Mexican place? So far uptown?" Well don't even think about questioning this choice my loyal, new blog-reading friends. This place is KILLER. It is simple in its decor, and truly strange in its music volume and taste....but there are so many things I love about it. First, they are BYOB. I don't think I need to speak more on that point. Second, they have one of the best enchiladas this side of...well, Mexico. The green sauce is garlicky, fresh and perfect. Plus, they open up their doors and you can sit in the window, eating chips and salsa with your own icy beers and great company. I don't ever stop craving this place & it's always worth the trip. Trust me on this one.
3. Hummus Place at various locations including East Village, West Village & 2 Upper West Side spots. I don't usually grow such an affinity for chain restaurants. They often feel impersonal and the food seems to lack in character and flavor. The Hummus Place refuses to fit those ugly chain-restaurant stereotypes. They are dirt cheap and taste like a small Israeli Grandma made me my tahini herself. Some of my must-haves at this restaurant include their creamy fava bean hummus and their shakshuka halumi, a tomato stew topped with oozy cheese and 2 over-easy eggs. Oh and don't even get me started on their delicious health salad which tastes like you're eating a garden in a bowl. My absolute favorite part about this place is that they have a dinner special at all their locations, that allows you and your dinner partner to get 2 appetizers, 2 entrees and a bottle of house wine for only $39.95. Do I enjoy the flavor of the house wine? Nope. Do I mind when I have delicious shakshuka halumi melting in my mouth? Not a bit.
4. Terakawa Ramen on Lexington Ave between 22nd & 23rd streets. Oh how do I begin to explain the love affair I share with Terakawa? Well let me begin with this: $1.50 gyoza. Yes, you heard me correctly my thrifty followers, for only $1.50 you are served 5 plump, little gingery delights on Sunday nights for half price (they're usually $3.00. So outrageous huh). Anyway, this place is totally unassuming and tucked away, easy to miss for sure. However their soup bowls warm you from the inside out with pungent pork flavors and soft boiled eggs that must have been laid in heaven. All for about 10 bucks, you can choose a soup that fits your perfect flavor profile, and then if you're anything like me, you'll then smother that deliciousness in the fried garlic flakes that abound at the table along with the hot sauce and other mystery condiments lined up for your dousing delight. This is comfort food at it's best, and you'll walk out of this place stuffed, satisfied and feeling like ramen in a microwave is blasphemy.
5. Ottos Burger Bar on 5th avenue at 111th Street. A great burger is like a God-given gift. It must be a divine combination of being juicy, plump, flavorful, appropriately priced and of course decorated in only the finest combination of condiment perfection. It is for all these reasons that I am addicted to my neighborhood spot, Ottos. During the school year when I'm having a bad week, there's nothing like coming here for a margarita and a texas burger. What makes the texas burger my "ultimate" you may ask? Well it is high quality meat, cooked to that slightly bloody, medium rare (on the rarer side), and it's topped with cheddar cheese, crispy bacon and a generous dollop of BBQ sauce. Sounds simple, but something about the way they assemble this gem, paired with a sprinkling of waffle fries hits the spot every time. This meal of champions will cost you a mere $9.95 and the staff there is so friendly and kind, you really feel like your business is appreciated, which is pretty rare these days. They also have a bench outside where you can sit, try to digest that hefty burger and still see Central Park on the horizon with the company of your choice. For me, it doesn't get much better than that.
Please feel free to comment with your own favorite cheap eats... a good, cheap restaurant is a gift indeed! :)