As residential rents soar in the East Village, it’s something of a modern miracle that you can still get an inexpensive bite to eat. Sure there are fancy places where you can blow a hundred dollars or more on dinner, but there are still places where five or ten dollars goes a long way. Here are my favorites, some of which even furnish dining rooms with comfortable furniture.Read More
East Village’s 10 Best Cheap Eats
Where you can dine for an average of $5 or less
Vanessa's Dumpling House
The second branch of the Lower East Side dumpling stall has an expanded menu, including a handful of Japanese dishes. Chinese dumplings are still the most important offering, whether stuffed with meat, seafood, or vegetables. The pork dumplings in spicy sauce with a splash of sesame paste are one of the best things, or go for one of the wedge-shaped sandwiches on sesame bread, which top out at $6.
Zaragoza Mexican Deli Grocery
Propel through the grocery section in the front of Zaragoza to find a darling little dining room in the rear, where the food of Puebla has been served since 2000. One specialty of the house is chicken or potato flautas, but you may also get tacos, enchiladas, egg-stuffed Mexican meatballs in chile gravy, shredded beef with chipotle sauce, or cheesy chiles rellenos, depending on what the cook has whipped up that day.
This St. Marks cheap eats mainstay peddles the Japanese noodle less ubiquitous in New York, udon — thick, spongy, farinaceous ropes of pleasure, swimming in a rich sweet broth and topped with bonus ingredients. Sure the walk-down space is cramped and dim, but the soups are delicious, including my favorite, fried chicken. The shrimp tempura is equally good, and curries are also available. Cash only.
Walking into B&H is travel in a time machine, sending you back to the days when Second Avenue was known as the Yiddish Broadway. It’s also one of the few specimens of the Jewish dairy restaurant remaining in the city; it’s been around for more than 70 years but was upgraded slightly after an explosion damaged the space. You can’t go wrong with one of the vegetarian soups sided with buttered, house-made challah bread sweet as brioche. The place sells fish sandwiches and entrees, too. Sit at the formica lunch counter and kibbitz with the regulars. Cash only.
Classic Middle Eastern food — some of the best of it vegetarian — is the forte of Rakka Cafe, which has been on St. Marks for more than three decades. A vegetarian combo might include freshly fried falafel, babaganoush, tabouli, and labneh served with a stack of warm pitas. Meat sandwiches such as lamb shawarma are also bargain priced, and there’s outdoor seating in warm weather.
This coffee bar produces some of the city’s best joe with its own proprietary blends of beans. But a closely held secret is the baking program, helmed by co-owner Liz Quijada. Find a shifting roster of cakes, sweet breads, cookies, and miscellaneous savory items like fritadas and pressed small sandwiches, too. So it’s one of the best places in the East Village for a snack, as the samba floats up around you and happy customers chatter in Portuguese, Spanish, or English. Cash only.
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Ray's Candy Store
Right on Tompkins Square, the East Village’s iconic snack shop crams a lot of food into a small narrow space with no seating. However, you can stand at the counter and eat your twice cooked french fries, toasted cheese sandwich, ice cream sundae, hot dog with chili, fried Oreos, nachos, or surprisingly good beignets, which get a sprinkle of powdered sugar as they’re passed across the counter. Yes, the place is a lovable mess, with pictures of rock stars on the wall. Cash only.
It started out as an Italian bakery three decades ago and gradually, most of the baked goods disappeared in favor of Pueblan antojitos. This place was on top of the breakfast taco and burrito thing before any other establishment in town caught on. My favorite dish is chicken enchiladas with guajillo chile sauce, red as a brick and fiery has hell.
Pak Punjab Deli & Grocery
Of several Punjabi canteens in the East Village, this one is the best. It’s also a convenience store, providing only three window stools for dining in, but the food verges on the superb. I’m talking about potato samosas bigger than a wrestler’s fist for only $1.50, and “small” servings of chicken curry and pullao rice for $5 that are really much bigger than the designation implies. Ask for chutney and get some very nice green raita on the side.
This Puerto Rican cafe has been a neighborhood gathering place since 1976, opened by the late Adela Fargas, and it’s still often a lively scene. The paprika dusted rotisserie chickens are fabled, but you’ll do just as well with roast pork served with rice and beans, an avocado or octopus salad, or a Cubano or other pressed sandwich. The dining room is comfortable, and the garlicky aroma of the food drifts down Avenue C. Cash only.