While official editor Contest judge Lockhart Steele takes his time assigning points for days four and five, it's time to announce the reader winner. Choosing a winner among the five readers that completed The Contest — our Cheap Eats Week stunt wherein a handful of brave and reckless readers and editors tried to eat out in New York for $10/day — is an unwelcome task.
Does it go to the intrepid Sam Kim, who used his Jackson Heights home field advantage like a true pro and rendezvoused with a couple of editor contestants for Team Play?
Or should Ross Velazquez win for his epic Kalustyan's platter that lasted him two days?
Or Meddafore, the master of Midtown and the LES?
Or perhaps it goes to Mishmashed, who survived encounters with steam table deli food, bodega tuna salad, and multiple types of gelatinous balls.
The shelves & fridges at the Sugar Club were lined with an overwhelming variety of strange Thai sweets I'd never seen before. But the challenge has me pushing sweets way down my list of priorities. I was about to walk out empty-handed when I saw a container of cilantro mixed in w/a bunch of sweets. Tucked under the cilantro were these little gelatinous balls. The ingredient list was short- tapioca pearls, peanuts, vegetable (oil, I'd guess), sugar & salt. There was also a green chili pepper on the side. I bit into one & it tasted the way I'd morbidly imagined Mr. Peanut's heart would taste. A pure, intense peanut flavor w/equal amounts of sweet, salty & umami. Alternating chewy bites w/the cilantro & chili was the most interesting snack I'd had all week. I could've easily eaten the whole box myself, especially as the husband wasn't over the moon for them. As I walked out, I saw the girl behind the register was eating the same tapioca balls. I wondered if the stray box I found for sale was just staff leftovers. Turns out the balls are called Saku Sai Mu, a common street food in Thailand. Most versions include ground pork in the filling, but I found the simple, super-peanutty flavor of these to be incredibly appealing. My best cheap eat so far, with my half coming in at $1.75. #Eater #thecontest
Strong players, every one. But in the end we tip our collective hat to Sam Kim. While we had to handicap him for his friendships with Eater editors Sonia and Daniela — note Contest Judges, Reader Division Amanda Kludt and Robert Sietsema do not know Kim — he clearly played the strongest game, finding affordable gems left, right, and center.
On the outskirts of Astoria, you can find Kesso Foods, owned and operated by a small Greek family since 1986. They add live cultures to the milk, bake it in the oven, and strain through cheesecloth overnight. $4 for 16oz, or $3 for 8oz and you can add honey, fig/apricot/apple compote or sour cherry, and various nuts/granola. You can also get it at Zabars, Fairway, and Whole Foods if you can't make the trek.
Kim wins dinner with Eater critic Robert Sietsema and Eater EIC Amanda Kludt, and he gets his $50 back. All reader competitors who made it to the end get a $50 donation made in their name to the Kips Bay Boys & Girls Club.
Readers: you are champions. We salute you.
Eater Video: Dining on a dime