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The Contest: Day Two Lunch Comes With a Free Side of Pathos

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Vital updates on the greatest New York cheap eats challenge of all time.

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[A samosa by Robert Sietsema]
[A samosa by Robert Sietsema]

How did the remaining eight editors participating in The Contest tackle lunch on day two? Some strategies were similar to those employed on day one, but there were quite a few wildcards in the mix, too. Some editors are in a reflective mood, 36 hours into this $10-a-day eating challenge. Here's a roundup of day two lunch.

Oh and one reminder: If you're playing along at home, make sure to tag any photos with #thecontest, and we'll share our favorites.

Editors in Competition: Lunch on Tuesday, July 14:

Player: Sonia Chopra

Purchase: Hokkaido chiffon cakes (2 for $1), alleged coconut tart ($1.25).Remainder: $6.50

Strategy: They say bad luck comes in threes, and they might be correct. After a successful paczki breakfast run, I thought I had my game plan for lunch set: I'd stop by the Yonah Schmmel's Knish Bakery on Houston and pick up a $2 latke along with some cheap fruit from a stand on Bowery and eat those with my banh mi. Problem number one has also afflicted a few of my colleagues this week: The latkes, promised online for $2, are now $2.50 at the "knishery" — and more troublingly, they're only sold on the weekends. Today is Tuesday. It's also raining. I duck under an awning and pull out my phone to look at the spreadsheet I made for the week (surprised?) and decide to regroup and head to an Indonesian restaurant, Sanur, in Chinatown. When I get to Doyers Street, I learn that the establishment is closed for renovations: strike two. What now? There's always cheap, abundant fruit... except, no, there's not, because all of the vendors have packed up due to the rain. Strike three!

Here's what I know: I do have half a sandwich in my fridge, and I'm looking forward to a heavier, shared dinner with a teammate. But it feels like a cop-out to skip ordering lunch entirely, plus it's 2 p.m. and I'm hungry and I'm not really looking forward to the sludgy walk back to East Village. So I pop into a few bakeries of indeterminate origin to scope them out and end up ordering a cute little coconut tart from Nice One Bakery (I did not notice until I got home that I actually was given an unwieldy lemon-y pastry instead, which of course I am taking as a sign that I need more vitamin C in my life) and two Hokkaido chiffon cakes for $1 at Pie Pie Q. Let the record show that I thought hard about getting a matcha tart (trendy and good for you, kind of) or pineapple tart (citrus to prevent that pesky scurvy) but was swayed by the cute chiffon cakes, the sign proclaiming their "bestseller" status, and the 2-for-1 deal.


Vince Dixon:

Order/Strategy: When I decided to eat under $10 at NYC street carts I knew I had to pay a visit to the "tamale lady" in Harlem. I've heard amazing things about her food and Yelp reviewers give her five stars!

I got to the corner of 145th and Broadway and ordered two chicken tamales (one spicy, one mild) for $1.50 each. I had them for lunch (along with the 50 cent apple I bought from the fruit stand across the street) and they were great! Not bad for a couple of tamales being sold from a cooler inside of a shopping cart from a street corner in Harlem!


Player: Robert Sisetema

It was one of those days when I got lost in a writing assignment, and looked up to discover it was already past 1 p.m. and I hadn't made my lunch plans yet. I was famished after my 75-cent fruitaterian breakfast. I decided to hop on the F for Jackson Heights knowing I'd have plenty of options there, running to Tibetan, Indian, Korean, Chinese, Mexican, Peruvian, and Colombian.

The drizzle had intensified as I stepped out onto Roosevelt Avenue, dodging car service sedans. Spotting a brand-new Chinese bakery, I stepped inside to inspect the merchandise and discovered an amazing deal: a $1.85 ham and cheese sandwich with plenty of lettuce. I made a mental note and went to inspect two momo carts across the street. The momos are large but bland, and filled with something that could be mistaken for a Swedish meatball.

I next hopped over to Merit Kebab, a place that used to be called Merit Farms several years ago, selling trashy deli food, much of it fried. Now their specialty is hot-from-the-fat vegetarian samosas. They're huge, stuffed with carrots in addition to the usual potatoes and peas, and flecked with cumin and black mustard seeds. Two proved almost more than I could eat of these delicious fried dumplings, or maybe they're more like tetrahedral empanadas.

That left me an imperial $6.75 for dinner. I rubbed my hands in anticipation.


Player: Daniela Galarza

Purchase Princesa Bakery.

Cost: $6; Remainder: $3.50

Strategy: Rainy day change of plans. The friend I was supposed to meet later had to cancel (she's got the flu, poor thing), and it's raining cats and dogs outside so I opted for delivery. This Cuban sandwich stuffed with melty pork, meaty ham, onions, pickles, peppers, mustard, mayo, and cheese hit the spot. Plus, I only needed to eat half before the thought of a nap began to sound nice.

Leftovers: Half a sandwich.

Mood: Happy and full, like the Pillsbury Dough Boy.


Player: Devra Ferst

Order: Scrambled egg and greens at Court Street Grocers

Cost: $4

Order/Strategy: Cheap Eats Week or not, I need my fix of eggs and greens. The portion was a bit small, so glad I have my emergency apple on head from last night!


Player: Jarret Meskin

Purchase: Three dollar slices: $3

Strategy: Today's weather really limited how far I was willing to travel, so I finally tried out the dollar-slice joint near my apartment, Krust Pizzeria. I've looked in a few times and never really been impressed, as Krust constantly has 8-10 sad looking pies just sitting there waiting to be reheated. I'm glad I got three slices this time, as the crust from Krust is quite thin, but proved tasty nonetheless.

I'm really hoping the judges award me points for my dedication to dollar pizza.

Slice count: 5

Krust Pizzeria | 226 East 14th Street, New York, NY 10003


Player: Amanda Kludt

Meal: Small vegetable plate

Place: Dig Inn

Cost: $5.51

I like to call Dig Inn (which is actually a chain of a few Manhattan restaurants) the Slop House. You slowly move down a counter, cafeteria style, as Dig Inn employees slop spoonfuls of vegetable matter into a sectioned off tray. There's cauliflower slop, mac 'n' cheese slop, kale slop, green bean slop. They're all pre-made, mostly room temperature, variations on salads. I find it demoralizing to be in there, with the line that snakes back and forth three times, the office drones slowly shuffling down the counter choosing their favorite slops. It's kind of like the cafeteria scenes in Orange is the New Black except there are fewer big personalities and our incarceration is more figurative and less soul-crushing (I hope!).

And yet. And yet I go there about once a month when I want a big pile of vegetables, like today! I was pretty lucky because I didn't get any duds in my $5.51 vegetable plate. Over a base of barley I had tofu salad with raisins and green beans, lentil salad with apples, carrots, and celery, and cauliflower with chickpeas and capers and currants. I ate half at 1:30 and will eat the other half at 4:30 so I'm not hungry for dinner until later. Fingers crossed judges aren't docking points for the sheer ugliness of this plate.

Remainder: $4.49


Player: Greg Morabito


Location: Sophie's Cuban, 401 East 68th Street

Order/Strategy: I had an appointment in the middle of the day in New York's worst neighborhood for cheap eats: The Upper East Side. I did some research in anticipation of this meal, and Sophie's looked like a lunch option that might work because of one section on the otherwise moderately priced lunch menu: empanada alley.

I got the crispy beef pie ($2.19), which was sitting in a little cage under a heat lamp with all of its empanada friends before I ordered it. Zero cook time. Transaction and consumption of this foodstuff took less than 90 seconds. I was starving and this was truly delicious — and piping hot! I wish I'd had about six more. I'm fighting off hunger pangs now [5:45 p.m., as I write this], but thankfully, dinner is just around the bend.

Yesterday, I did NormCore cheap eats in Brooklyn. Today I did fried starchy things in Brooklyn and Manhattan. I will attempt to go for the Greasy Starch Tri-Borough Triple Crown tonight. Tomorrow's theme has not been decided yet. But perhaps like a spirit animal or nickname, you don't choose it. It chooses you.

Editors Out of Competition: Lunch on Tuesday, July 14:

Player: Meghan McCarron

I have two major handicaps in The Contest: I'm just visiting New York and lack deep knowledge of cheap go-to's, and I'm gluten intolerant, so dollar slices, dumplings, egg & cheese sandwiches, hot dogs, etc are all out. That said, I wanted to take a crack at a day of play.

Breakfast was a bowl of miso soup and 'wild rice' from Woorijip Authentic Korean Food, both sides available for their lunch dishes. The cost: $2. Not going to lie, I was feeling pretty pleased with myself. Lunch, however went off the rails. I had an interview at two, a regular occurrence that always makes me eat on the fly, but NYC offered fewer options for getting myself fed quick and dirty. I bought three bananas from a fruit cart for $1, and proceeded to consume all of them over the course of several hours. Desperate for a quick actual meal, I ordered a bun-less hot dog and potato salad ($3) at Frank's in Carroll Gardens. The hot dog was great, but the potatoes were undercooked and mushed up solely with (maybe) mayonnaise. That said, I would have never sat in that deli and listened to the proprietor tease a kid family member for wasting time during her summer. For dinner, I hit Mama's Empanadas in Astoria. Two corn empanadas would have only set me back $3.35, but when my friend suggested we order guacamole, I broke. Not just any guacamole: garlicky perfection surrounded by long, thin plantain chips cut lengthwise and fried, a guacamole flower. I have no regret


Player: Kat Odell

From: Rainbow Falafel — a total hole in the wall hidden gem on 17th Street  and I always fall for the fried cauliflower. In this case, a fried cauliflower sandwich with hot sauce and tahini.

Price: $4.75

Breakfast ($2.50 + $4.75 = $ 2.75 for dinner)


Player: Hillary Dixler

Location: Xi'an Famous Foods; 14 E 34th Street

Cost: $5.25

Order, shared with Meghan McCarron: Spicy Cucumber Salad, Mi Pi Cold Rice Noodles

Strategy: After eating a sesame pancake only an hour or so before lunch, I decided not to max my budget, instead opting to split lunch with Meghan. These cucumbers — which are excellent and a new must-order for me — are the first real vegetables I've consumed within the confines of The Contest. I ate them gleefully. Not sure yet what my dinner strat is.


The Player: Helen Rosner.

Order/Strategy: Today all I have eaten is $3 worth of dumplings.