In just a few hours, the sun will set on day three of the cheap eats challenge known as The Contest. Seven Eater editors are still in the running...but for how long? Here's a roundup of what everyone ate for lunch today. If you're playing along at home, please share your day three meals in the forums, and don't forget to tag any photos on Instagram or Twitter with #thecontest.
Lunch on Wednesday, July 15:
Player: Robert Sietsema
I came out of the dentist's office around 1 p.m. with my lip the size of a rubber tire. He'd told me to eat only soft things for the rest of the day. I headed over to Five Guys intent on getting a plain order of french fries, but as I stood in line, I realized the guys in front of me were using every opportunity to customize their burgers. Why not the fries, I thought? Accordingly, I asked that pickles be put on my fries and the clerk readily assented, though he insisted on putting the mustard on the side.
Cost for lunch: $2.99
Player: Sonia Chopra
Purchase: 1/4 baguette ($1.25) and upma ($3.99). Remainder: $2.26
Order/Strategy: Full and caffeinated from my breakfast, I made the journey to Tribeca around 12:30 to meet a fellow competitor who was very invested in the laminated baguettes from Arcade Bakery, a place that was 100% out of my way but keeps tricky hours so it felt this was an opportunity, despite the fact that I really should have been saving my dollars for citrus and/or vegetables to stave off any vitamin deficiencies. Turns out it was 100% worth it for my share of the flaky-fresh baguette wrapped in croissant dough and topped with "everything bagel" spices. I cannot tell you how good this baguette was, Cheap Eats Week or not. A full baguette is $5, and I split half with a friend and convinced a coworker — our fearless leader and EIC — to go in for half of that half, which was still a good (approximate — I'm no architect) six inches for $1.25. I tore it off piece by piece and ate it standing up, a true midday indulgence.
My plan was to counter the baguette's carby nature with a $1.50 dolma from this Turkish place across the street from our office but the stuffed grape leaves weren't available today. What was on offer was the all-day Indian breakfast menu featuring dosas, vada, and upma (turns out this place is much more Indian than it is Turkish, despite the name — at Eater HQ, we suspect a change in ownership). The upma was a little spendy at $3.99 but an order came loaded with veggies with a hearty squiggle of chutney on top, and the semolina's grits-like consistency makes it very filling. I scarfed down half around 2:30 and have the rest for later, along with those Hokkaido chiffon cakes that I purchased on impulse yesterday. It's now 5:18 p.m. and I'm feeling pretty good, but I am drinking citrus Emergen-C mixed with hot green tea (I know how this sounds, but you should try it) and wondering how many cherries I can get for 26 cents, as I'm not anticipating needing more than $2 for dinner (...unless, of course, we come across any sneaky PRICE HIKES).
Arcade Bakery. 220 Church Street. (212)227-7895.
Mmm Enfes/Shawarma Doner House. 70 W 39th Street. (212) 827-0801.
Player: Daniela Galarza
Purchase: Halal Guys (14th & 2nd), small mixed platter over rice; Stella Di Sicillia Bakery (Bushwick), 6 small cookies.
Cost: Lunch, $5.99; Cookies: $1.85 Remainder: $2.16
Strategy: Today's strat revolves around the Halal Guys' massive pile of chicken and rice. I can make one small platter last for three meals. (Is this partially because the mayo-heavy white sauce makes my stomach churn? Ok, yes. Still.) While eating lunch today, I found myself picking through the mixture to get to the limp salad they throw into the bottom of the container. I maybe miss vegetables just as much as I miss dessert. My diet is suddenly, starkly free of leafy greens. Found myself daydreaming about arugula dressed with lemon on the train.
Dessert: I woke up with a headache and neither water nor coffee nor Advil nor a sandwich helped. As soon as I took a bite of a cookie at Stella's bakery the pain in my head receded. Could I be addicted to sugar? I'd hoped an Italian bakery selling cookies by the pound would yield a deal. The deal was good, but not great. I've satisfied my sugar craving, but only for now, and only have 2 bucks left for dinner.
Player: Amanda Kludt
Purchase: 1/4 of a Everything Laminated Baguette
Place: Arcade Bakery
Strat: This afternoon was comprised of the highest highs and the lowest lows. Aside from my Monday night McDonald's sundae, eating one quarter of the Everything Laminated Baguette was my peak culinary experience this week. It's a straight-up masterpiece. Do people know this thing exists? It's a baguette on the inside but with a crispy, crackly croissant-like crust that IS THEN doused in everything bagel spices. It filled me with great joy.
For my second mini-lunch I ate the spicy cod roe onigiri that I bought at Zaiya this morning. It was so sad and now I take back all those nice things I said about them.
Player: Jarret Meskin
Purchase: Two $1 slices
Strategy: Back in Midtown today, I found myself gravitating towards my favorite dollar-slice shop in all of Manhattan for lunch, 99 Cent Fresh Pizza on 40th. There are multiple 99 Cent Fresh Pizza locations scattered throughout NYC, but this one will always remain my favorite. Two plain slices - always fresh, always delicious - consumed in a matter of minutes and I was on my way.
With my $1 banana purchase for breakfast, this leaves me a whopping $7 for dinner.
Slice count: 7
99 Cent Fresh Pizza | 143 West 40th Street, New York, NY 10018
Player: Vince Dixon
Order/Strat: I stood in line with hundreds of other people for a free Wahlburger, but after about an hour (and a few publicity shots of the long line), the Wahlburger staff told everyone they were giving out 100 burgers, upsetting a lot of people.
After that I went to Wendy's for a chicken wrap and side salad for $4, completing my fast food lunch.
Player: Greg Morabito
Order/Strat: Threw $4 toward a Popeye's order with my desk neighbor Helen Rosner. This is half of it: a breast, a thigh, and some corn on the cob. Chicken was smaller than I remember, but completely delicious. Corn was awful.
Gotta say that The Contest is starting to get under my skin a bit. My wife is abstaining from this challenge, but I picked up something for her from the grocery store on the way home last night and I got these weird cravings for things walking down the aisles. Like, "Oh, yeah, tortellini I remember you." A can of Dona Maria mole sauce looked particularly appealing. I think I was just excited by the notion that if I wasn't playing The Contest, I could pick up anything off the shelf and eat it. It's kind of like seeing someone light up if you've quit smoking: Do you really want that cigarette? Or do you want the freedom to smoke that cigarette?
I have no idea what I'm going to eat tonight. If I tap out, this will probably be the night.