Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Cheap Obscure Places to Eat in New York City

I was watching an episode of Anthony Bourdain's show (Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations) on the Travel Channel in which he went to Las Vegas and there was a guy on that episode named Michael Ruhlman. I became a regular reader of Michael Ruhlman's blog and, after Anthony Bourdain did a guest blog post there, I left a comment in response to a request for future ideas for Bourdain to post about.

My suggestion for a future blog post was for him to talk about "cheap and obscure" places for a little Texas girl (that would be me) to eat whenever she finally makes it to New York City (one of these days). A fellow commenter and regular reader of Ruhlman's blog responded to my comment with a fabulous list of places to try.

Thanks C. Greco! The information is terrific. Here you go everybody. Enjoy.

Street Food:
  • Don't be scared to eat street food. "Halal" food is the Muslim form of kosher - supervised by an imam, killed to minimize suffering, and to strict hygenic standards.
  • Hot dogs are in two forms - boiled (a/k/a, "dirty water dogs"), or grilled (my preference, but then again, I eat anything with a grill mark on it).
  • And the best souvlaki guy (Greek) is at 55th and Lex, on the southeast corner, next to Starbucks.
  • But you might come across the Carribean guys (goat roti, etc.), the Indian guys, the falafel/shish Arabic guys (see above), the fruit smoothy guys, etc., etc. So eat already.
  • Bourdain's favorite dogs are at any of the Papaya King joints, which makes sense, because he lives in Manhattan. (Papaya King is an offshoot of Gray's Papaya - I think it was a brother-against-brother dog war, but can't recall, exactly. Either will do.)
  • But since I'm married to a Brooklynite and live in Brooklyn (although I am Manhattan-born), I gotta go with Nathan's in Coney Island, if you have time to schlep out there.
  • The best souvlaki guy? Lexington and 55th, right outside Starbucks.
  • My advice is, if you can't get it in the Texas hinterlands - then eat it.


  • The best, in my book, is the ultra-thin, crispy pies served at Grimaldi's, just a subway ride across the water from Manhattan to Brooklyn.
  • (And Jacques Torres Chocolate is a block away.)
  • In Manhattan, John's Original Brick Oven Pizza on Bleecker is my recommendation, but you have to order a whole pie.


  • Chinese food is, by and large, cheaper than most cuisines in NYC.
  • My recommendation is to head into Chinatown - right next to Little Italy, by the way. (Chunks of it, like Mott and Bayard, used to be Little Italy.)
  • Golden Unicorn - hardcore authentic. Chicken feet are on the menu, but the menu is in English, so fear not. Cantonese.
  • Wo Hop - a New York favorite for insomniacs, students and musicians for, oh man, at least 30 years that I know about. Cantonese.
  • Big Wong's. Cantonese.
  • X.O. - supercheap. Cantonese.
  • Joe's Shanghai - Shanghainese. Cheap and good.
  • Go-Go - dim sum. Cantonese. (But a lot of these other places serve dim sum, too.)
  • Peking Duck House - Pekinese. Only if you must have Peking Duck. This is the duck Holy Grail.
  • One of the best Chinese places in NYC is across the water in Queens (Flushing) - Sweet & Tasty - but unless you're in Queens (and no one is EVER in Queens, unless you live there or are going on the Flushing "food crawl"), stick with Chinatown.
  • Plus, if you want to load up on hard-to-get Chinese ingredients, there are tons of markets for herbs, spices, dried shrimp, pastes, etc. Follow your nose.
  • OH, ONE CHELSEA FAVORITE: Rickshaw Dumpling, on 23rd between 5th/6th. Sit down, take out - great dumplings, with a variety of build-your-own dumplings-in-broth bases, if you want. Every time I take a class at ICE (Institute of Culinary Education, across the street), they're my lunch guys.


  • A Salt and Battery - best fish n' chips in NYC. Authentic Brit "chippie" shop, heavily populated by homesick rugby players. (I was raised in Hong Kong and went to British schools - this is the most real you'll get outside of the British Isles).
  • Daisy May's - voted NYC's best BBQ, second year in a row. They also have BBQ trucks in various places in the city if you can't get to the restaurant. Yes, I know you're from Texas and this sounds like sacrilege, but hey - we let you guys do Italian . . . and bagels.
  • Dumpling Man - if you can't get down to Chinatown, this is your best bet for quick n' cheap dumplings.
  • Noodle Bar - Pan-Asian. Big fun.
  • Risotteria - for risotto lovers only. Fairly inexpensive Village hang-out.
  • Basically, there is food on EVERY corner in NYC - either there are take out places (a lot have sit down, too), delis, soup/salad/sandwich joints, and the street food vendors. So if you are really on a tight budget, hit the trucks. They have everything from soup to smoothies to dogs to souvlaki to shish (kebab), to Indian, fruit salads, and even crepes (52nd, I believe, between 5th & 6th -outside of the Museum of Modern Art).
  • If a place looks good, go in. Most of the el cheapo places have their prices posted, anyway.
  • Momofuku's (not Momofuku Ssam's) - AMAZING Berkshire pork belly steam buns, and not viciously expensive. They do a lot of eclectic Asian dishes - ramen, soup bowls, small bites, etc. If you get there after 7, though, you'll have to stand and wait - no reservations, and no seats while you wait. Turnover is quick, though...
  • ...and Veneiro's Pastry is right down the block and around the corner on 1st Avenue/11th Street).


  • Gnocco Cafe
  • Malatesta Trattoria
  • Villa Mosconi
  • Little Italy can be very touristy - avoid Grotto Azzura - but for some really good "red sauce" places, there's Taomina and the legendary Umberto's Clam House. (Do NOT make any mob-related jokes in there. Seriously.)
  • And if you are in Little Italy, Ferrara's for Italian gelato, pastries, etc. It is 125 years old and beyond legend - mythic, in fact. It's only rival is Veneiro's, which, if you wind up going to Momfuku's, is up the block and around the corner. Chocolate chocolate-covered cannolis, is all I have to say . . . (!)

More helpful info:

  • New York City subway map:
  • If you're coming into La Guardia and don't have tons of luggage, there is a shuttle bus service that's a lot cheaper than a cab. (JFK has the train-to-the plane.)
  • will give the address, cross street and map (plus subway stop) to any place you're curious about.


Marinade Dave said...

NYC was my old stomping ground before I moved down here in '81. I still try to go into the city every year I go up. Generally, I'd start off with drinks at Sardi's and mosey down to Chinatown or Little Italy. Umberto's is a great place. The fried calamari with marinara is delicious, but don't order it spicy hot. It will kill you. Also, years ago, they moved to a different location from where Mafioso renegade Joey Gallo was popped. There used to be bullet holes in the wall.

I used to date an Italian girl from NJ. We'd either eat there or at a place called Il Cortile, west of Umberto's on Mulberry. Excellent fare, but a little pricier. Then, we'd go across the street and instead of buying her roses, I'd buy her a dozen cannolis from Ferrara's. Then, we'd go home and... Yup, lots of fond memories.

Laurie said...

Marinade Dave - Awwww...nice story.

Grimm said...

Here is a confession...I am terribly uncomfortable in the city.

I guess I would grow accustomed to it eventually, but since I don't visit often, I just can't get used to it.

Guess I am just a country boy...

Laurie said...

Grimm - I could see where the city, especially New York City, could make people nervous.