The food scene in New York City is diverse to say the least. Thanks to a history of immigration you can find nearly every cuisine in the Big Apple. From pizza, over noodle soups and kebabs, to burger joints, New York City has it all. Way too much to try in the 7 days we spent in the city, but we did manage to compile this list of places to eat in New York City on any budget. Enjoy!
Note that tips aren’t included in the prices mentioned in this post. A general rule of thumb for tipping in the United States is 15-20% of the total bill for waiters. In some restaurants suggested tips are printed on the bill. Bartenders usually receive at least $1 per drink. Though, when you’re drinking fancy cocktails, $2 is more appropriate.
Quick and cheap
Despite New York City being one of the most expensive cities in the world, it has plenty of budget options when it comes to food. Usually that means take out or very little place to sit, and ordering at the counter. Though, when the weather permits there are tons of spots (read: public parks) in New York City that allow a picnic.
Market Café $
For our very first meal in New York City, we randomly walked into a lunch spot that seemed to have a lot of choice: Market Café. Brecht’s mom loves salad, so the Create Your Own Salad Bar was right up her alley. The rest of us ordered a couple of slices of the brick oven pizza. They have way more options to choose from though, from soup, over burgers, to pies. The food was good and pretty cheap, with 3 big slices of New York style pizza (enough for the both of us) for $11.40.
Right outside the café, in between 2 buildings, there are tables and chairs for you to sit. This seems to be a popular spot for people on their lunch break. With even just a little sun it quickly becomes hot out there, with the wind having no chance to reach you. Lovely!
Levain Bakery $
For a picnic in Central Park we’d recommend Levain Bakery. This legendary bakery was founded in 1994 and now has 4 locations throughout New York City, 5 if you count their webshop. Locals and tourists alike stand in line for their famous chocolate chip cookies and freshly made bread and pastries.
At Levain Bakery they bake everything fresh on-site every day, and what’s not sold by closing time goes to help feed the hungry. Nice, right? We tasted and loved their baguettes, brioches, banana bread, and chocolate chip cookies. This picnic cost us about $15 for the 2 of us.
Pret a Manger $
Pret a Manger, or Pret for short, is like a next level sandwich shop. They sell natural food and organic coffee, all made freshly in the on-site kitchens of all locations throughout New York City and the world. Choose your salad, sandwich, wrap, breakfast or snack from the refrigerators in the shop, or pick a soup or warm dish from their heated shelves. Pay at the counter and find a seat or take it away.
We ate at a Pret a Manger on 2 separate occasion during our stay in New York City. It’s quick and delicious, with lots of healthy and vegetarian options. We love their Spinach & Tomato Mac ‘n Cheese ($6.99), which is vegetarian, but oh so full of flavour! The portions are rather small, but sufficient. A meal for two will generally cost you between $15 and $20.
You can find more information on their menu and locations on the Pret a Manger website.
The Halal Guys $
From all the spots to eat in New York City, The Halal Guys food trucks are definitely Brecht’s favourite. They sell American halal food, a mix of Middle Eastern and Mediterranean flavours. Their most popular dish is chicken or beef gyro over rice, but you can order the sandwich version as well, or falafel. All of their dishes come covered in The Halal Guys signature White Sauce, which is to die for.
From a hot dog cart in 1990 to a crazy popular restaurant chain in 2017, The Halal Guys are living the dream. They have 7 locations in New York City alone, from which 5 are carts and 2 are restaurants. Their lines can be lengthy, but we assure you it’s worth the wait. We went to The Halal Guys cart on the corner of 7th and 53th in Manhattan, near the Hope sign.
I went with a beef gyro sandwich, while Brecht ordered a platter. In total it cost us $12. There was a little too much meat and too little vegetables for my taste, but that combination was perfect for Brecht and his dad. We’re already looking forward to eating at The Halal Guys again when we visit New York City for the second time in December 2017!
When visiting New York City you can’t leave without eating a New York style pizza, a large hand-tossed thin crust pizza served in wide slices to go. You can head to one of the 99 cents pizza shops (99 cents for a slice of cheesy pizza) or spend a little more ($5) for a huge slice of artichoke pizza from Artichoke Basille's Pizza. Your taste buds will thank you!
Slow and fancy
We are not big spenders when it comes to food, but occasionally we splurge. In New York City we (or rather Brecht’s parents) did it once.
Churrascaria Plataforma $$$
For our food splurge in New York City we reserved a table in Churrascaria Plataforma, a Brazilian steakhouse. They have a unique way of serving your meat there. Passadores (meat cutters) carve the different types of meat from skewers, right at your table. A coaster-sized chip is your way of telling them if you’d like some more meat (green side up) or need a break (red side up). They have a gourmet salad bar and a wide selection of side dishes to go with your meat. Oh, and a whole wine menu as well.
At Churrascaria Plataforma they work with a fixed price, which buys you as many meat and visits to the gourmet salad bar as you like. Side dishes and wine aren’t included. Prices differ depending on whether you come for lunch or dinner and on which day of the week. You can find the up-to-date information on the Churrascaria Plataforma website. To give you an idea of what it may cost you: we paid about $125 for the both of us, including some side dishes and wine, for lunch on a Sunday.
If you’re a meat-lover, we definitely recommend giving Churrascaria Plataforma a try. Their meats are sublime, the salad bar is nice, and I loved the mashed potatoes. The Passadores take their job seriously though, so expect them to come quick and a lot, when the green side of your chip is up. Consider skipping all other meals that day.
Good food for a good price
In between cheap eats and fancy restaurants you have good food for a reasonable price. No doubt there are plenty of those restaurants in New York City, but we only ate at 2 of them.
San Marzano $$
Every time coming to or from our AirBnB apartment in New York City (that isn’t an AirBnB apartment anymore), we passed San Marzano. This pasta restaurant always seemed full, making us want to try it too. As expected, there weren’t any tables free when we arrived, so we reserved a table for 30 minutes later. However, their website says they only accept reservations for groups of six or more.
At San Marzano, all pasta is made fresh in-house and you can combine a pasta with a sauce as you prefer. When your pasta is served, they come grate the cheese above your plate, right at the table. Nice touch, right?
Despite the bad acoustics in the restaurant, we loved our dinner at San Marzano. We shared the Brussels sprouts and tegamino (fried eggplant) appetizers, and really liked the Verdicchio white wine. The meatballs were absolutely yum, and the guys loved the desserts: a humongous ricotella (made of nutella and ricotta) and a cannoli. This dinner, with a couple of shared appetizers and desserts, some wine, and a pasta each cost us about $60 for 2.
Paul’s da Burger Joint $$
After having watched the sunset from One World Observatory, we had dinner at Paul’s da Burger Joint. In this 50’s eatery, Paul and his family serve big juicy burgers on tables with checkered table cloths. The place is decorated with vintage signs.
Brecht tried one of their house specialties, the Eastsider Burger, while I ordered a cheeseburger with bacon. We shared a portion of french fries and a coke. This cost us $35. The burgers are good, and not too expensive considering their size. If you’re feeling inspired, you can create your own burger as well.
A meal with a show
Want dinner with a little extra? Then thé place to eat in New York City is *drumroll* Ellen’s Stardust Diner! I’m not sure if there are any other restaurants (in New York City) offering something similar. If there are, I’d love to hear about them!
Ellen’s Stardust Diner $$
So, Ellen's Stardust Diner. Glee fan? No? Even then, chances are you probably heard about this unique diner, but allow me to explain. Ellen’s Stardust Diner is a 50’s themed diner where your food is served by singing waiters. Need I say more?! I thought so. We happily waited for about 45 minutes in line (it turned around the block till the end of the building) between 19:15 and 20:00. A friendly New York City lady told us she would queue too, and yes it’s always crazy like this, breakfast or lunch isn’t much calmer. She also said lots of people come for dinner here before the Broadway shows, so they won’t stick around too long at this hour.
Brecht had a Philly Cheesesteak (solid choice) for $19.95, and I ordered a Penne Alfredo (who orders pasta in a diner?) for $18.95. The food was just decent, but we’d immediately go back for the singing waiters. They take turns singing, sometimes solo, sometimes in duet, and they all have a great voice.
Ellen’s Stardust Diner is considered a stepping stone for aspiring Broadway stars. The waiters train their voice and earn money to pay their tuition. Every 45 minutes or hour (we weren’t paying attention to our watches) a tip bucket passes through the diner for you to support the singing waiters. Don’t be greedy!
One of my favourite spots to eat in New York City (or any city really) is a food market. There’s always a wide array of food choices, each made by a food truck or stand specialized in a certain dish or cuisine. What’s not to like? Of course a city like New York City has more than 1 food market. We tried 2.
One of those food markets we visited in New York City is Smorgasburg. This popular outdoor food market is open every Saturday and Sunday from April through October. We visited on a Saturday, when the market is held in Williamsburg. On Sunday the vendors set up in Prospect Park.
After a first time browsing Smorgasburg we decided to try the hand-cut fries from Home Frite with lemon garlic aioli dipping sauce for $8. They were delicious! Next, we tried the Mozz Sticks from Big Mozz. For $10 we received 4 big mozzarella sticks with marinara. They were good, but more elastic, less melted than expected. Honestly, I don’t think I’d order them again. First impression and stuff.
A huge queue at the Carnal food stand made us want to try their beef rib too, costing us $13. I wasn’t a big fan, but Brecht’s dad liked it. Since we had grilled corn for the first time in Thailand a couple of months earlier we were hooked. So when we spotted the Bisska food stand selling grilled corn for $5 a piece, we had to try it. No regrets, great choice!
We ended our Smorgasburg visit with a couple of donuts from Dough, costing $3.50 per donut. There was a huge queue here too, but definitely worth the wait! We shared all of these dishes between the 4 of us, meaning we spent about $10 per person on lunch in Smorgasburg.
Chelsea Market $
Chelsea Market is the other food market in New York City we visited. This one’s perhaps more of a food court.’ It’s indoors, with resident vendors that set up shop permanently in the building. We went there for lunch, trying out the Italian and Nina sandwiches from Cappone’s, which were pretty good.
For dessert we bought 6 little bite-size donuts from Doughnuttery for $6. This cute little shop has an automatic donut fryer and way too many choices of flavoured sugar. While we were deciding on the sugar we wanted our donuts to be dipped in, Brecht’s dad ordered a coffee at Ninth Street Espresso. He was pretty impressed! In total, we spent about $17 for the both of us in Chelsea Market.
Luke’s Lobster $$
Craving for seafood while in New York City? You should visit Luke’s Lobster, famous for its traceable sustainable seafood. Since opening the first Luke’s Lobster in 2009, they have opened several more shops throughout the country. On the menu are chowders, rolls, local desserts, natural sodas and local microbrews.
At their shack in the Financial District, we ordered a lobster ($16) and a shrimp roll ($9) to go. I was surprised the rolls and their toppings were cold, but it was actually pretty good! Small portions for big prices though, if you ask me. But hey, it’s traceable and sustainable food.
Actually, my motto is “Life is uncertain. Eat dessert first.”, so I have no idea how this section got lost near the end of this post about where to eat in New York City. Perhaps because the ice cream *spoiler alert* didn’t live up to my expectations. We’re spoilt by our local ice cream shop back home in Stevoort!
Van Leeuwen $
In the same street as our AirBnB apartment in New York City (that isn’t an AirBnB apartment anymore) is Van Leeuwen Artisan Ice Cream. Every time we passed, this nice looking shop seemed to always have customers. One day I couldn’t help myself, I just had to try their homemade ice cream. I ordered 2 scoops of ice cream on a cone, costing me $5.50. The ice cream was just good, not great, but I really didn’t like the cone. It seems popular though, so it could just be me.
Milk Bar $
Milk Bar is another popular ice cream shop. Well, soft serve shop actually. And for the sake of completeness: they sell cookies and cakes as well. They have several locations in both Canada and the US, and you can order online.
We visited the East Village Milk Bar, a tiny shop with a decent queue. You have 3 options to choose from: cereal milk, fruity cereal milk or the twist, a mix of both of them. I didn’t particularly like the fruity cereal milk, but I’m not really a big soft serve fan either, so no surprise there. A serving costs $5.50 (taxes included), and toppings cost extra.
Veniero’s Pasticceria $
When it comes to desserts in New York City, my recommendation is Veniero's Pasticceria. This Italian bakery, founded in 1894, is almost a New York City landmark. Get your pastries or candies to go or eat them in the adjoining café. We absolutely loved their New York style mini cheesecake and lobster tail!
Who doesn’t love a good cocktail every now and then? New York City is dotted with cocktail bars, but we only had so much time and money, so we just picked 1 to try. Luckily it was a great choice!
Flatiron Lounge $$
Cocktails can be pretty expensive, but the trick is to order them during happy hour. At the Flatiron Lounge, a classic cocktail lounge, happy hour is from Monday to Friday between 16:00 and 18:00. We each drank 2 nice handcrafted cocktails for $10 per cocktail. We had a lovely time, but we did feel a little underdressed. The bar, situated in a landmark building dating from 1910, looks pretty fancy in that Art Deco style.
New York City is definitely a foodie paradise, with all those different cuisines crammed into 1 city. This also means there’s tons of choice in this bustling metropole, so some suggestions can come in handy when visiting. We hope this guide to where to eat in New York City on any budget can help a little. Our favourite spot? Hard to say, but if there’s one spot you should definitely try, it’s The Halal Guys!
Do you have any other suggestions on where to eat on New York City on any budget? We’d love to have some inspiration for our visit in December 2017, so comment away! Thanks in advance. 😉
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