The great thing about New York – the thing that makes it the best food town in the world – is that the same people who’ll spend $900 for a meal at Masa will also stand in a snaking line for an $8 chicken sandwich.
Our hunger for the exotic, the daring, and the artery-busting is so great that it’s spawned a whole new landscape of cheap eats.
Joining the ranks of the $1 slice and the pastrami sandwich are crave-worthy bites like matzo meal-crusted fried chicken and sustainably caught Maine lobster rolls.
Keep scrolling for our list of the 10 cheap eats that New Yorkers crave, from the perfect square slice to a taco that’ll make you drool all over your keyboard.
Blue Ribbon Fried Chicken
At this fast-casual chicken joint, the Bromberg brothers – of Blue Ribbon Sushi fame – sell their famed matzo meal-crusted fried bird alongside eight different chicken sandwiches and sides like cheesy bacon fries and hush puppies. The chicken is dusted with spices and can be topped with three different honeys, hot sauce, or barbecue sauce.
What to order: A two-piece with fries and cole slaw costs either $10.75 (white meat) or $11.95 (dark meat).
The Halal Guys
People say the secret recipe white sauce that Halal Guys douses its gyros and combo platters with is akin to crack cocaine. Judging by the lines outside their many food carts, it’s a fair comparison. The carts recently expanded to restaurants, one on the Upper West Side and one in the East Village.
The combination of the tangy white sauce, crispy meats, yellow basmati rice, and cool lettuce and tomato is the OG halal answer to a Chipotle bowl.
What to order: A small combo platter with chicken and gyro meat, yellow rice, lettuce, tomato, pita, and your choice of white sauce, tahini, and/or hot sauce is $6.99.
Los Tacos No. 1
New York City is a wasteland for cheap, good Mexican food. And even though it’s standing room only and in the tourist-laden Chelsea Market, New Yorkers are willing to take the bad with the great to get their fix at Los Tacos No. 1.
Run by three friends from Mexico and California, the taco stand uses made-to-order corn tortillas and your choice of grilled chicken, steak, nopales cactus, or spit-roasted pork. People rave about the quesadilla, which looks like a regular taco and has a layer of sizzling cheese that’s been crisped on the flat top.
What to order: The marinated pork quesadilla with cilantro, pico de gallo, guacamole, and pineapple is $4.50.
David Chang’s Fuku is doing for the fried-chicken sandwich what Danny Meyer’s Shake Shack has done for the burger. The East Village chicken shop debuted to snaking lines and six-sandwich-per-person maximum order caps this summer. Somewhat inspired by Chang’s love of Chick-fil-A, the sandwich consists of a giant fried chicken thigh; a steamed, buttered potato roll; and pickles.
What to order: The chicken sandwich is $8, but at lunchtime you can get a combo with the sandwich and fries for $12.
Lam Zhou Handmade Noodle
No cheap-eats list is complete without dumplings. While the actual best dumplings in New York are at White Bear in Flushing, Queens, Lam Zhou is the next best thing for Manhattanites.
The juicy pork and chive filling is among the best you’ll find in Chinatown, and the wrappers are thin and delicate, not thick and gummy. Hot chili oil brings it all together.
What to order: An order of 11 pork and chive dumplings is $3.
Xi’an Famous Foods
Once a solitary Flushing favorite, Xi’an Famous Foods exploded into Manhattan after appearing on a 2008 episode of Anthony Bourdain’s “No Reservations” travel show. With six locations in New York and the original Queens outpost, the father-son restaurant chain deals exclusively in the spicy, lip-numbing cuisine of Xi’an.
The city in China’s Shaanxi province is famous for its hand-stretched noodles and Muslim-influenced cuisine – think cumin-spiced lamb noodles and burgers.
What to order: Spicy cumin lamb hand-ripped noodles ($8 to $8.75) or stewed pork hand-ripped noodles ($6.75 to $7.75). The stewed pork burger ($3 to $3.50) is also pretty delicious.
New Yorkers have been going nuts for Luke’s Lobster since 2009, when it opened its first seafood roll shack in the East Village. Now they’ve gone national, with 17 locations and a popular food truck.
The menu is simple: lobster rolls, shrimp rolls, crab rolls, chowders, and chips and sodas. The sustainably caught seafood is fresh from Maine, the rolls are buttered and not overly bready, and the mayo is swiped on judiciously. A drizzle of lemon butter and a dash of celery salt adds decadence.
What to order: Most people get the $16 lobster roll, but the $9 shrimp roll – which uses sweet Maine shrimp that tastes like mini lobsters – is as good or better.
Prince Street Pizza
Forget the New York slice vs. Chicago deep-dish debate – the Sicilian square beats them both. And Prince Street Pizza has one of the best, most beautiful square slices in the city. The crust is just the right thickness, the tomato sauce is fruity and slightly sweet, and the pepperoni crisps up into irresistible little cups.
What to order: The Spicy Spring Street Square – with fra diavolo sauce, spicy pepperoni, and mozzarella – is $3.95. You can also get three different kinds of stuffed rice balls (prosciutto, beef, or cheese) for $1.25 per order.
Lumpia Shack Snackbar
This tiny Filipino restaurant has six seats that are constantly filled by local West Villagers. The menu consists of lumpia – a spring roll filled with pork, mushrooms, or the daily special – rice bowls, noodle bowls, a few snacks, and a pork-belly ramen burger.
The sisig or “pig face” rice bowl with egg yolk, herb salad, pickled radish, fried garlic, calamansi lime juice, and your choice of sauce is a popular order.
What to order: The sisig rice bowl is $13.
With locations around the country, the once niche Shake Shack has gone mainstream, but New Yorkers still crave it with regularity. Its potato roll, flat top-seared Pat LaFrieda beef, and Shack Sauce are the benchmark to which all other burger fixings are compared. The Shack also has one of the best veggie options – a fried portobello mushroom stuffed with cheese – of any burger chain.
What to order: A double Shack Burger is $7.10 and an order of cheese fries is $3.65.
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