clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The Contest Day 4: Veggie Tacos, Garbage Pizza, and Hacked Profieteroles

New, 1 comment

Catch up on all the action from New York's greatest budget dining competition.

Eater's $10 per day dining challenge, The Contest, ends tonight at 11:59 p.m. Right now, the six remaining editors in the competition are figuring out their last budget meals. If you're playing along at home, please share your day five meals in the forums, and don't forget to tag any photos on Instagram or Twitter with #thecontest — we'll share our favorites.

Here, now, is a recap of what everyone ate last night:

Dinner on Thursday, July 16

Player: Robert Sietsema

I went with a couple of friends to Sunset Park's Chinatown, participating in The Contest but also trying to suss out a place I might use for a future review. I had $5.60 left for the day, meaning I could spend $16.80 total on behalf of all three of us. If I ate one-third of the dishes ordered, I'd be within the required $10 per day.

My intention was to visit a new Vietnamese restaurant and we'd share a bowl of pho and maybe some spring rolls, but when I got off the N train at 62nd Street, I spotted a small cafe offering the cuisine of Guilin, a city in southern China known for its twin pagodas, the Sun and the Moon.

Almost all the dishes on the menu cost from $5 to $6, so if I chose three dishes carefully, I could use up my entire allowance. The menu was fascinating. Most dishes were based on floppy rice noodles something like spaghetti. Due to the city's proximity to Hunan, many of the dishes are wicked spicy, an effect achieved via both chile flakes and small pickled peppers much like Thai bird chiles.

The "Guilin style cold rice noodles" ($5.50) were moistened with a thin but flavorful sauce but also came with a bowl of broth on the side, said to have medicinal properties by a helpful Chinese woman who leaned over to explain the dish to us. It was garnished with tiny peanuts, fronds of cilantro, pickled mustard greens, and strips of pork belly sliced thin and cured. The other two dishes were great, too, including a Cantonese style stir fry of vegetables over rice, and a spicy hot bowl of funky cured pork and more rice noodles. Needless to say, I'm going back to Taste of Guilin, a place that claims to be the only Guilin-style restaurant in town.

Total tab: $16.50; divided by three, $5.50.

Total spent for the day: $9.90


Players: Sonia Chopra and Jarret Meskin

Purchase: $1 tacos, plus an apple on the way home. Remainder: $0

Order: In addition to being teammates, Jarret and I are neighbors, so it made sense for us to check out nearby Mission Cantina's dollar taco deal. I had $2.50, Jarret had $4, and two types of $1 tacos were on offer. Both sounded pretty interesting: chickpea enfrijoladas and miso-braised lettuce stems (vegetarian!). We both ordered one of each, and after trying them, Jarret — with his additional $2 to spend — got a couple more chickpea tacos, served with hot pink hard eggs and tomatillo and the clear favorite of the two. The lettuce stem tacos were surprisingly spicy; the micheladas helped. On the walk home, I managed to buy a 75-cent apple for my last 50 cents. We all have a lot of big takeaways from this week but a good one is that you should always try to negotiate down fruit vendors.

Strategy: I've had dinner with contest participants all four days thus far, and I love the extra conviviality it's giving the competition. Also still sticking to my other guidelines: eating vegetarian, not repeating cuisines, and not going to restaurants I've already been to* so I'm feeling pretty good. Also! In between lunch and dinner, I took advantage of one of the free mini Clif bars that Amanda got near Bryant Park, which had a tiny bit of dark chocolate and was a perfect mid-afternoon snack.

*I have in fact been to Mission Cantina in the past but the restaurant changes conceptually often enough that it feels like a different place every time I go, so for the purposes of #thecontest I'm considering it new.

Mission Cantina. 172 Orchard Street. (212) 254-2233.


Player: Vince Dixon

For dinner I paced around the Urban Spaces food booths in Herald Square. Everything was expensive, of course, but I finally found Asia Dog, a New York-based restaurant selling hot dogs with Asian-inspired toppings.

I asked for whichever "Asiadog" had the most stuff on it. That was The Vihn, a hot dog inspired by Vietnamese Banh-mi, with pickled carrots, cucumbers, cilantro and a few other fresh ingredients.

That$5.....So I had $1.60 to buy some sort of side. I walked around searching for the right spot, starting to regret spending $5 on one hot dog. Then I stumbled on Korea Way/32nd street......[cue heavenly music]

There were tons of Korean restaurants crammed onto one side street. I dropped by every store to find something cheap and finally found Woorijip, which had $1 salads, soups and rice. I chose a $1 beansprout soup, leaving me with 60 cents.

I still didn't think an Asian hot dog and soup would do the job. I visited a fruit cart (Okay, not international or brick and mortar-based, but I hit up most of Asia already...). The apples were 75 cents. I told the guy working there I wanted one but only had 60 cents. He said fine, took the change and gave me a delicious red and green apple....That's it--$10 and three New York-based,"multi-cultural" restaurants. Day 4 is done.


David Yee:

7:00 PM, $0.00: Every day this week, I’ve saved at least six dollars for dinner, but I walk out of my office today having spent nine of my allotted ten bucks. It’s time to play the Alligator Lounge.

I’ve heard of the pizza at the Alligator Lounge, but I’ve never eaten it. Last night, my colleagues played the Crocodile Lounge, its Manhattan counterpart, which shares the same loophole: You buy a beer, you get a ticket for a small, mediocre, free pizza. At this time of day, the bar is nearly empty, and we stroll right up to a sidewalk table. I order the beer. I get the ticket. The pizza oven is in the back, smoldering dimly, economically wood-starved, and manned by a guy who looks like the kind of guy who makes people free pizza all night and never gets tipped. I drop a dollar in the jar and order a plain pie; he tells me to go away and come back in ten minutes. Half a beer later, a bell rings, and I have a pizza.

Everything about this pizza is slapdash: misshapen, with only about half the surface area becheesed or ensauced. It’s like a Tombstone pizza baked by the undead. But I am hungry, and in seven minutes, it is in my belly. I order another beer. Ticket. Guy. Tip. "Ten minutes." Bell. The second pizza is more conventionally round, but still looks like a flatbread with a smaller pizza superimposed on it (Hot free pizza tip: Cover with pepper flakes and oregano before devouring.)

As my wife and I finish our second pie, a wonderful couple next to us offers us two free tickets; they have eaten expensive tacos down the block and are not hungry. My first thought: "No way this will fly with the rules committee." My second thought: "I cannot possibly eat another one of these zombie pizzas."

I have a dollar.

8:00 PM, $0.90: I have seen others play the Munchkin card this week, and the first part of my nefarious dessert plan is to purchase as many as one dollar will bear. The exhausted cashier at my local Dunkin’ Donuts, when I ask if she has any Munchkins left, points over her left shoulder to five deflated glazed donut holes. At thirty cents a piece, I buy three of them and head up the block.

NOTE: Momofuku Milk Bar has great soft-serve. I buy it a lot. I have paid for this soft-serve several times, both alone and with other dessert products purchased at their Williamsburg location. I always pay full price. I am not a bad customer. I mention all of this because, tonight, I ask for a free sample of their cereal milk ice cream, carry it to the side of the store, cut open my Munchkins with a coffee stirrer, and stuff them full of my free ice cream. These profiteroles are immeasurably better than three day-old Munchkins. They are, for my only dessert this week, a fantastic dessert. I recommend you buy many more, fresher, Munchkins, and pay full price for a lot more tasty Milk Bar ice cream, and make them yourself. I did this for the contest, and I spent ninety cents.

This leaves me with a dime. I’ve eaten four meals today. Take that, dreams.


Player: Greg Morabito

Order/Strat: Greenpoint, BK has maybe five good restaurants, and Franklin Pizza is not one of them. It's not even the best slice place in the hood. I owed it to myself to go to a better pizzeria, or even some place that didn't serve pizza, but I was starving, it was 8:30 p.m., and I did not have the energy to take the train or walk to a different neighborhood to get something to eat. Pizza was the only thing I could think of that cost $2.50 anywhere near my apartment, so I went to the closest pizzeria:


My favorite thing about Franklin Pizza is its schizophrenic decor. Look, it's John Wayne and Marilyn:

And N'Sync's gold record and cassette for "It's Gonna be Me."

And why yes, it's some wall ornaments salvaged from an old Spanish restaurant:

Mets? Yankees? James Dean? Sure, they're all chill:

Mission Cantina

172 Orchard St, New York, NY 10002 (212) 254-2233 Visit Website