Help me impress my boyfriend's dad by being cheap
March 12, 2012 8:40 AM   Subscribe

Help me plan the cheapest possible meals in New York for my boyfriend's father, who's visiting us for a weekend. He's not impressed by anything unless it's under $3. It doesn't have to taste good. It just needs to be insanely cheap.

My boyfriend's father is staying with us in our Williamsburg apartment for a weekend or so. He's from a very rural area, but has traveled all over the world, and he has little interest in exploring New York or anything it has to offer. His greatest enjoyment comes from getting cheap food in otherwise expensive cities. My boyfriend likes to recount a story about the last time his father visited; he got a $2 egg sandwich at a Greenpoint bodega and still brags about it to his church friends. I guess he thinks of it as beating the system.

I'd like any suggestions for the cheapest possible food in and around the NYC area (especially in Brooklyn or Lower Manhattan). This guy would travel a half hour for $1 dumplings. I really want him to have positive memories of his visit with us! Please help me by chiming in with your favorite dirt-cheap meals from around the city. Ambiance doesn't matter. The food doesn't even have to be good food (though I'd prefer it be good food since I'll have to eat it too). Thanks!
posted by pineappleheart to Food & Drink (37 answers total) 93 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Vanessa's Dumplings! Cheap AND good. And there's one in Williamsburg.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 8:46 AM on March 12, 2012 [6 favorites]

TIME OUT NEW YORK'S Cheap Eats section from 2011.

TONY'S $1 Eats colulmn.

TONY'S "Eatings Walks" (walking tours with food items which all cost $1 each or less) in Chinatown, Jackson Heights, and Sunset Park, and its kids' magazine recommendations for $1 snacks.

That should be a good start.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:46 AM on March 12, 2012 [4 favorites]

For cheap eats that actually are good, check out this site, a collaborative effort by a bunch of notable food bloggers.
posted by neroli at 8:49 AM on March 12, 2012

For cheap eats that are not so good, there's the 99c pizza slice. YMMV.
posted by helicomatic at 8:50 AM on March 12, 2012

The Recession Special at Gray's Papaya is like five bucks, but that's still five bucks for two damn good hotdogs and a sizeable soda/fruit drink.

Also, you can get an egg cream at Ray’s Candy (Ave. A and E. 7th) for $1.25, which I believe is the cheapest egg cream in the city.
posted by griphus at 8:53 AM on March 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Prosperity Dumpling

Mahmoun's Falafel
posted by John Cohen at 8:54 AM on March 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

I got a 99c egg sandwich in Penn Station recently. It had egg and bread. And butter! I did not get sick. It was very fast. They seemed to have a variety of breakfast options, many of which would be under three bucks. I really doubt they have a website.
posted by molecicco at 8:54 AM on March 12, 2012

Oh, yes! Mahmoun's falafels are a step above any other falafel in that price range. I like the one on MacDougal better than the new one on St. Mark's.
posted by griphus at 8:55 AM on March 12, 2012 [3 favorites]

Best answer: The spicy cumin lamb burgers and pulled pork burgers at Xi'an Famous Foods in St Mark's are $2.50 and $3 respectively, and they are AWESOME. (Although not a "burger" in the traditional sense.)

The place is a tiny hole in the wall. It also has delicious soups and noodle dishes starting at $4 and rising to $9; most are in the $5-6 range. The lower end of the price spectrum may impress him as the food is really spicy and good and the portions are pretty generous.

The noodles are hand-pulled. You could pay a lot more for handmade noodles in NYC.
posted by alleycat01 at 9:05 AM on March 12, 2012 [7 favorites]

Most authentic tacos I've found thus far; I hope you can speak Spanish



I can't even believe I'm giving this away- it's one of my favorite hidden gems.
posted by teabag at 9:07 AM on March 12, 2012 [4 favorites]

(Also, the place is tiny so you might not get to sit, but if your bf's dad is willing to spring for a beer, you can buy your food and eat it at 2 or 3 bars/pubs in the area -- they have a little map printout pointing out which pubs are amenable to this on the Xi'an door.)
posted by alleycat01 at 9:07 AM on March 12, 2012

How about free? Pretty much all through Zabar's you can get free samples of smoked fish, cheeses, pastries either on offer or by asking nicely at the counters - I'm guessing there will be something comparable near you if adding in the travel expenses is an issue.
posted by Mchelly at 9:08 AM on March 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Take the L to Jefferson for Tortilleria Mexicana Los Hermanos
posted by the jam at 9:09 AM on March 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you're willing to head out to Queens, Mama's Empanadas are surprisingly good for the price / decor / experience.
posted by gauche at 9:10 AM on March 12, 2012

Best answer: Tasty Dumpling and Wah Fung #1 Fast Food in Chinatown are both quite good--$1.25 dumplings and $3.00 enormous pork over rice, respectively.
posted by mlle valentine at 9:10 AM on March 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh, and there's also Crocodile Lounge (East Village) and Alligator Lounge (Williamsburg) which give out free personal pizzas with every drink order.

You'll have to wade through lots of college kids and it's not as ethinc and exciting as some of the stuff mentioned above, but it's free pizza. Free.
posted by alleycat01 at 9:15 AM on March 12, 2012

I suppose it would be possible to graze on the dishes of free chocolate at Mast Bros. and slip out without buying any. If that ain't beating the system...
posted by emelenjr at 9:39 AM on March 12, 2012

Little Lads has a vegan/vegeterian buffet for 4.99. Healthy and cheap!
posted by duddes02 at 9:55 AM on March 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

A bit over your price range, but the best food I've had in NY was at Caracas Arepa Bar. Most items are $5-$8.
posted by MrMoonPie at 10:06 AM on March 12, 2012 [3 favorites]

Walking along Eldridge St in Chinatown (take the B or D to Grand St and walk East) you will find many excellent little dumpling, soup, and bakery places that will have great food for less than 3 dollars. I prefer Prosperity Dumpling, but Vanessa's Dumpling House it a bit trendier, has more places to sit, and has cute little sandwiches made with Scallion Pancake. Walking Westward along Grand or Hester, you'll find some other great little bakeries and tea shops with good cheap deals. I wholeheartedly recommend the Hall of Meat (actually called Deluxe Food Market), which stretches through an entire block between Elizabeth St. and Mott St and has prepared food and a giant butcher counter with exotic meats (including frogs, alligators, and all kinds of little birds) that's a fun New York Tourist experience just to walk through.

St. Mark's Pl between 3rd and 1st ave has many great little eateries. As mentioned, Mamoun's has $2.50 for the best falaffel in the city, Two Bros. has dollar slices of decent New York pizza.

If you take the 7, F, M, or R train to Jackson Heights, you'll be able to get the best cheap tacos in New York from the food carts right around the train station ($2), and walking around within a three-block radius will lead you to discover great hole-in-the wall Indian, Filipino, Chinese, Nepali, Colombian, and Mexican spots that will fix you up nicely for $3.
posted by Jon_Evil at 10:23 AM on March 12, 2012 [4 favorites]

Yes, fried dumplings on Mosco street at place named (or signed at least) 'fried dumplings' has 10 dumplings for $2 plus $1 for water- best $3 for food in city.

Caracas Arepas is awesome but not so cheap and often long lines (or am I just scared of my favorite places getting too busy!?)
posted by bquarters at 10:38 AM on March 12, 2012

OK, and one plug for something that's great value for the money AND an "NY experience," although not as cheap as a $2 egg sandwich: the $6 lamb-and-chicken over rice combo from the Halal Guys on 53rd and 6th.

Great for late-night eats, and the portion is giant so it can easily be split between 2 people (or saved for a second meal), bringing your cost down to $3/pp. There are often lines, but they move fast. Dump in a tub of white sauce and a scant 1/3 of the red sauce, mix, and enjoy. There's a reason they have almost 2,500 reviews on Yelp.
posted by alleycat01 at 10:54 AM on March 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Burger joint inside the parker meridien. Cheap burgers. Tasty. Great setting.
posted by chasles at 11:27 AM on March 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Not meals, and I sort of hate myself for outing this, but Artopolis in Astoria (right off the Ditmars stop, inside this sort of Greek strip-mall place.) It's a bakery, it is phenomenal and it is dirt-cheap; whenever I'm shopping there I get more homemade cookies/pastries/etc than it is probably advisable to eat in one sitting for less than $5.
posted by dekathelon at 12:13 PM on March 12, 2012

Best answer: The roast pork buns at Mei Li Wah (64 Bayard Street in Chinatown) cost 80 cents each (two are a full meal; one is the best snack you could ask for) and are fantastic.
posted by nzle at 12:51 PM on March 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

I love love love Burger Joint, but the hamburgers are $7, which isn't going to feel like a bargain to someone who isn't from New York, and certainly not to someone whose ideal is an under-$3 meal.

Mike's Papaya on Reade Street is way cheaper than either Gray's Papaya or Papaya King, if you're looking for the cheapest decent hot dog in NY. It is crazy cheap, and comparable in quality to Gray's.
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:11 PM on March 12, 2012

What about all those pizza places where you can get 2 big slices and a can of soda for $3? It's been a while since I did that so I can't really recommend any in particular, but I was pretty surprised the last time I was in NYC to see that lots of places still offer that deal, especially for lunch.
posted by lunasol at 3:47 PM on March 12, 2012

Williamsburg? Hell, take him to the "Endless Summer" taco truck on Bedford. Also, there's a little cafe - I forget the name, just around the corner from Broadway on Havermeyer. They do breakfast/diner fare for insanely low prices. The Broadway area between Havermeyer and Hewes has a number of these places.
posted by Decani at 4:07 PM on March 12, 2012

My sister is the same way, and she still talks about the free pizza at Crocodile Lounge, mentioned up above by AlleyCat01. Even I still can't believe that you get a full-sized pizza for free.

Hop Devil (EV) used to do great $1 tacos on Taco Tuesdays, but I think they have raised prices or cut that back now.

Also, though there is nothing particularly dirt-cheap there, the prices aren't crazy, but she was wowed by the size of the menu the portions and thus the value at Big Nick's on the Upper West Side.

While the Burger Joint at the Parker Meridien (mentioned above) isn't that cheap, it feels like such a crazy good deal when you build up to walk in there, and the cheapskate feels so overwhelmed..."why here? this is going to costs a fortune!" And you tell them that you know of this little burger dive that no one knows about (shhh, don't tell them that everyone knows about it)...and that it is hidden behind red velvet curtains....when the cheapie walks in and suddenly feels so comfortable after wandering midtown and that lobby, it is awesome.

A bit further downtown, she loved cheap Banh Mi sandwiches-- I usually take people to the one that is in the Jewelry Store...I think it is called Saigon or's on the east side of Grand (I think), just South of Broome. Again, building it up helps..."there is this great cheap sandwich shop hidden in a jewelry store!"

Not food: but most museums have a free night that always wows people, but the pay-what-you-wish at the Met is another good way to knock the tube socks off the cheapskates.
posted by This_Will_Be_Good at 6:20 PM on March 12, 2012

Samad's Gourmet muffins
apparently still $1.50, they have a wide range of flavors, they are baked fresh and the texture is great.
I'd go up to NYC just to bring back a bag of them, but even on the Chinese bus, that wouldn't be cheap.
posted by bad grammar at 6:58 PM on March 12, 2012

Mahmoun's falafel sandwich - 2.50
right next door 2 bros slice - 1 dollar
St. Marks Place, East Village
posted by saul wright at 7:51 PM on March 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Dirty water dog with mustard and kraut. A classic!
Bagel with a schmear
Yonah Schimmel knishes
Egg on a roll (at 3 am with a copy of the Times for maximum enjoyment.)
I think you can get a bag of zeppolis in Little Italy for about 3 bucks.
You can probably get a good cupcake for three bucks
posted by elizeh at 8:19 PM on March 12, 2012

neroli: "For cheap eats that actually are good, check out this site, a collaborative effort by a bunch of notable food bloggers."

Just note that I skimmed through it and everything starts at $5. I don't doubt that their selections are quality, but $6 for a chicken biscuit and $7 for a felafel veers, in my mind, towards pricey.
posted by Deathalicious at 7:16 AM on March 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Xi'an Famous Foods (Chinese) - $3 lamb burger! loved by Anthony Bourdain.
posted by dracomarca at 7:27 AM on March 13, 2012

Best answer: Also, a $2 egg sandwich is hardly braggable in my opinion. That's basically the cost of getting one of the food cart near my "work" (might be $2.50 but let's say that covers inflation since whenever your father last visited NYC). Granted, Philly is cheaper than NYC, but it sounds like he just cares about getting something cheap, not getting something remarkable. He "beat the system" because in his mind most people just aren't clever or industrious enough to seek out good bargains and will just buy whatever's in reach.

My dad gets similarly excited about cheap things (he went a bit ecstatic over of a bag of six socks for the equivalent of maybe $2-3 when we visited a market in London).

So I think, from a psychological point of view, it has to be a bit of a "find". That's why I think something that is cheap in its very nature -- like a hot dog -- probably won't cut it. Similarly, a cupcake isn't a meal, even if it's under $3, and he might even scorn the idea of shelling $2.50 on a single cupcake when, in other circumstances, you can buy a dozen for $5.

Is this really purely a dollar thing, or is it a value thing? Because Cong Ly has the "Cheapest pho I've seen in Chinatown, and also the most authentic." but it is four dollars. For that four dollars your dad will get a huge steaming bowl of soup which is a far better deal that one anemic hot dog.
posted by Deathalicious at 7:35 AM on March 13, 2012

You can get eggs, hash browns, challah bread, OJ and tea or coffee for $5 at B & H Dairy. It's definitely worth a visit--a little hole-in-the-wall in the Village that's been serving kosher dairy (no meat) food since the 30's.
posted by janerica at 12:32 AM on March 15, 2012

I forget if NYC has a Costco or not, but one thing that super cheap people get big satisfaction out of doing, in my experience, is going to Costco and gorging on all the free food samples. One 90 yr old man in my circle has been known to say "let's go get lunch" and take his guests to Costco for the sample fest.
posted by cairdeas at 5:14 PM on March 15, 2012

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