Sure, the economy sucks, but that’s no excuse for not eating well, especially in the East Village, where starving artists co-mingle with a thriving Latino population, and even the most jaded Upper East Siders will “slum it” for evening to partake in the hipster fabulousness of the non-stop, late night cocktail/party scene that is synonymous with the LES. Hard times or not, everyone loves a good bargain, and these haunts won’t disappoint – your taste buds or wallet. And for those of you who, come the wee hours are stumbling aimlessly in uncharted territory, begging for something tasty to soak up all that you’ve just imbibed, I’ve made it easy for you. Print this Top 10 list and the complete Eye For Style map before you head out. You can thank me later…
1. Artichoke Pizza – 328 E 14th St @ 1st – 2nd Ave
Hands down, the best slice in the ‘hood. They only fire up 4 types of pizza – classic margherita, artichoke (with a cheesy, creamy sauce), crab, and Sicilian – and they’re all freaking delicious. Don’t let the long line and erratic hours keep you away. It’s worth it. Grab your slice, cop a squat on a nearby stoop and enjoy the bustling scene on 14th Street, as seating at this joint is highly coveted and minimal at best. Better yet, head southeast to nearby Tompkins Square Park for an alfresco pizza picnic – a perfect, cheap summer date on your way for drinks at one of the many cool watering holes on Avenue B and C.
2. Snack Dragon Taco Shack – 199 E 3rd St @ Ave B
Amazingly delicious tacos for only $5! I love the carne asada and the fish tacos remind me of being in California, where good and plentiful Mexican food abounds. It’s a lot more difficult to find it here in Manhattan, but these tacos fit the bill nicely when my cravings stir. These tacos are full of flavor, very simply prepared with that winning combo of onion, cilantro, and salsa. The place is really small and quirky. I honestly have no idea when it’s open and they don’t have a phone. You just have to take a gamble and walk over there. If they are open, you’re in for a tasty treat. Get one of each to really fill you up and some of their fresh berry lemonade to wash it all down.
3. Mama’s Food Shop – 200 E 3rd St @ Ave B
This place is down home, comfort food done right – huge platters of mac & cheese, fried chicken, collard greens and salads – all made with fresh, local ingredients. You can get a heaping plate of food for $13, practically enough for 2 meals. Pick your protein and add a couple of lovely side salads, or opt for an all veggie salad medley. Stay and enjoy the eclectic décor, a mish-mash of retro furniture that makes you feel like your hangin’ out on Mama’s back porch in the South somewhere, chillin’ with your neighbors, shootin’ the breeze. And make sure you say yes please to a piece of cobbler.
4. Paul’s Da Burger Joint – 131 2nd Ave @ St. Mark’s Place
Wow, what a freaking good burger! So far, the best one I’ve had in NYC. So huge and juicy, once you pick it up and start eating it, it’s hard to put down. The bun will get soggy from all the drippings quickly, so I suggest you dive in with full abandon and power through until you finally surrender. If you manage to finish one of these monsters, and still have room, I suggest you head down the block to my next pick, for the best french fries at:
5. Pomme Frites – 123 2nd Ave @ St. Mark’s Place
These Belgium, thick cut fries are absolutely outstanding. Even a “small” here is a huge pile of golden crispy potato magic, all wrapped up in a white paper cone. And what’s even better than the fries? The 40+ mayo and mustard based sauces that you can pick from to accompany them! Do ask for the sauce on the side though. They do tend to be a little too liberal with it, which can be overkill and potentially make the fries soggy. They’re a great snack to share with a friend and goes great with a Paul’s Burger, if you’ve got the stomach for both. I double-dog dare ya.
6. Dumpling Man – 100 St. Mark’s Place @ 1st Ave
Between the hours of 3 – 5 pm, you can get a 6 piece seared dumpling plate and a drink for a mere $3.50. That’s cheap – and filling! When I’ve gone to Dumpling Man during other hours of the day, I’ve opted for the “Mix It Up”, whereby you can choose a combination of their dumpling offerings: chicken, pork, veggie, shrimp, “surprise”, or sweet. I probably like the pork best, which is somewhat curious because I’m not a big pork fan and typically don’t eat it a lot, but they do have the most flavor. The chicken ones are great too and have been voted “best chicken dumplings” according to various local foodie rags. The “surprise” dumplings of the day are usually especially yummy, often with stuffed with combinations of ingredients like ginger and scallions, yam or spinach, lemongrass and chestnuts. They also have daily soup specials, like corn & quinoa or traditional miso.
7. Mamoun’s Falafel – 22 St. Mark’s Place @ 2nd – 3rd
I’m a big fan of the chicken or lamb shish kebob sandwich, for a whopping $5. It comes with a lot of juicy, flavorful meat stuffed in a pita with iceberg lettuce, chopped tomato, parsley, onion, and a delicious spoonful of tahini sauce. The falafel, hummus, and baba ganouj are also all very good in their own right and only $2 – 3 a pop. Put ‘em in a sandwich or go for the plate, which is even more food for just a couple bucks extra. This is good, delicious, filling food, right in the thick of the St. Mark’s punk and street vending madness.
8. S’mac – 345 E 12th St @ 1st Ave
Mac and cheese made 10 different ways and served in a skillet. What’s not to love? Choose from old school versions like the all-american or 4-cheese, or something with a bit of a twist like the nepoletana pizza. If you’re feeling even more adventurous, try the parisienne (with figs and shitake mushrooms), spicy cajun or masala-style varieties. Whether you want just a nosh or are hungrier for a major munch, S’mac delivers a variety of sizes and some unique flavor combinations that really satisfy.
9. Café Orlin – 41 St. Mark’s Place @ 2nd Ave
This place has some of the best everyday brunch in the city for super reasonable prices. I’m a creature of habit when it comes to what I usually order – pumpkin pancakes slathered in cinammon vanilla yogurt and/or their mushroom shallot scramble with toast. Everything on the menu sounds delightful though and the portions are substantial. Try and get a spot on their sidewalk patio. It’s a bit of a squeeze, but you’re in prime position to watch all the activity bustling along St. Mark’s Place. I haven’t been here for dinner yet, but I have visited their sister restaurant, Café Mogador, located just a few doors down for one hell of a memorable meal with friends. Both these places serve up sophisicated, Middle Eastern and Meditterranean fare, without breaking the bank.
10. Westville East – 173 Ave A @ E 11th St
This place has spectacular food, for carnivores and vegetarians alike. One of my favorite things on the menu is their veggie plate – a mound of your choice of the latest seasonal farmers market vegetables. Eggs and burgers are also not to be missed. The space is beautiful, airy and open. Floor to ceiling windows line both facades of the building, providing lots of opportunity for hipster watching along Avenue A. It’s cheap AND healthy, which is a major plus in my opinion, and often not easy to find around these parts.
Want to know my favorite Cheap Eats in the West Village? Click here for the latest Eye For Style map.
For Time Out New York’s picks for Best Cheap Eats in NYC, check out this week’s cover story.
What are your favorite cheap eats? Comment below with your personal picks. All recommendations welcome!