From childhood on, I’ve always enjoyed eating well. Growing up in places like Palma de Mallorca in Spain; Geneva, Switzerland; and London gave me the opportunity to enjoy many types of cuisines and restaurants. For the past two and a half years, I’ve been living in New York City—first as a grad student at Columbia’s School of Engineering and Applied Science, and now working as an engineer—and over that time I’ve become a New Yorker by adoption. I’ve made a point of trying all kinds of restaurants across the city while always keeping to a modest budget (as we all know, dining out in the city can be quite expensive).
Finding restaurants in the Big Apple that offer quality food and professional service at an affordable price is not too difficult, if you know where to look. There are many resources out there to help you find what you’re looking for. Personally, I don’t like looking for restaurants using a single website—instead, I browse the Internet and come to a consensus based on various guides and reviews. Yelp (which can be rather biased and unreliable at times, as reviews are not written by professional critics), New York Magazine, the Times, and Zagat are a good start.
These guides usually give you a good idea of what you can expect to pay and the service you can expect to receive, as well as comments from fellow foodies. Furthermore, many websites and blogs have compiled lists of top cheap eats around the city over the years. These are updated regularly and offer insights to restaurants you would have never dared to explore. Take, for instance, 27 Sunshine, in the heart of Chinatown just off Canal Street. With its bustling crowd and maître d’ shouting incomprehensible numbers, this place may look tattered at first. But the dim sum served is excellent and probably one of the best in town.
There are countless options out there, so don’t be shy to try something new, as you may be pleasantly surprised when you step outside your comfort zone. Head over to the outer boroughs with their many up-and-coming neighborhoods, such as Sunnyside or Greenpoint, with high-end restaurants and bars constantly opening with prices that are good. For example, Bahari Estiatorio in Astoria is a great place to enjoy an affordable meal (less than $20). The dessert is always on the house, and you might be treated to a shot of Ouzo: an anise-flavored apéritif popular in Greece.
If, like me, you enjoy barbecue, Jeff and Meghan from Marble’s Smokehouse & Banquet Hall in Williamsburg are always offering the best southern-style BBQ at a great price. For those looking to stay local, there is an assortment of restaurants in the vicinity offering great deals as well. My favorite restaurant has to be Celeste, an authentic, Italian hole-in-the-wall on the Upper West Side serving delectable homemade pasta and pizza at an excellent price. Land Thai on 83rd Street and Amsterdam Avenue caters to students—its prix fixe lunch for only $9 offers two courses of great Thai cuisine.
You would be surprised by the number of high-end restaurants in the city that offer prix fixe lunch menus for under $30 and dinner menus for about $50. This might seem like a lot, but that is what even other restaurants end up charging for a three-course meal, regardless of whether the quality is good or not. The benefits here are that you get to taste food from well-known chefs, the portions are generous, and the service is outstanding.
Over the course of the last month, I’ve been compiling a list of my favorite low-budget restaurants. This is currently a work in progress, but ultimately I hope to develop a guide to help fellow students and young, emerging professionals find their way around the dining scenery of the Big Apple—always on a budget.
The author received a master’s degree in civil engineering from the School of Engineering and Applied Science in 2012.
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