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visitor wants one perfect (and cheap) dinner

Struggling to come up with a dinner restaurant for 4 for this weekend. We're visiting NY and want to try someplace new to us. Criteria:

-not too trendy, quiet enough for catch-up conversation
-but fun, happy
-chowish. delicious. feels like a new york find. makes us sad not to live in ny. tastes that stay with you.
-budget (don't know exactly, but cheaper=better and I don't want to propose a place that is much more than 15-20 an entree. dirt cheap would be acceptable too.)
-vegetarian friendly (need not be vegetarian but can be)
-not ethiopian, mexican, pizza, thai or chinese, they've been nixed. absolutely anything else. ethnic hole in the wall or locally-grown, seasonal produce new american kind of place--though i imagine the former is more in our budget.
-my inclination is to want to be downtown (maybe have some il laboratorio after dinner) but am willing to go anywhere for the right place.

thanks in advance!

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  1. Off the top of my head, I would go to one of the Indian Rest on E 6th Street. Can't say which one, as I haven't been in a while. The street is classic NY (lined with tons of Indian Rest), cheap, lots of veggie choices and a fun neighborhood to walk around.

    1 Reply
    1. re: harryharry

      i have to disagree. those 6th street places are inexpensive but the food's below average. for your one meal in new york, you deserve a lot better. the real little india in manhattan is on lexington avenue in the high 20s / low 30s, where there's a variety of truly excellent places still reasonably priced. if you had time, i'd also recommend going for indian food queens.

    2. How about Filipino? The Kuma Inn is on the 2nd fl on Ludlow off Delancey, so it feels like a find, and it's got really unique delicious cuisine you don't encounter that often. Menu is tapas-style, so it's good for sharing.

      If you prefer Italian, Frankie's or Falai would also work, although those are a bit pricier.

      Do NOT go to 6th St for Indian. Although it is a really fun neighborhood to walk around in as HarryHarry says, the food is uniformly awful.

      1 Reply
      1. re: oolah

        Kuma Inn is delicious but because of the small plates nature, you need a good amount to fill up. I'd say it's more like $40pp.

        1. try 3 of cups on 2nd avenue in the east village about 5th street--very nice itialian food and reasonably priced--great pizzas too-

          1 Reply
          1. re: marlie202

            3 of Cups is on 1st Av. and 5th St. I live nearby but have never gone there for dinner (I've been to their bar, which is ridiculously loud and where they allow people to smoke illegally, both of which were huge turnoffs for me). What do you recommend there other than their pizza?

          2. il laboratorio closes at 6pm on weekdays and 7pm on weekends so it usually doesn't work for after dinner. isn't that strange? i usually on crave ice cream/gelato after dinner or late night!

            3 Replies
            1. re: asm305

              damn. thanks for the info. this probably explains the faint memory i have of having tried to go there unsuccessfully. maybe i'll squeeze it in during the day.

              1. re: edamame

                Cones on Bleecker (a little farther west than most of these suggestions) is probably open that late, and I love Cones.

                1. re: edamame

                  Sundaes & Cones on E 10th between 3rd and 4th Avenue is definitely open late (11:30pm most days) and has great flavors. But it is ice cream, not gelato.

              2. lavagna, on e.5th btw a & b, is always a solid, delicious choice.

                1. becco. go for the salad/antipasto/pasta menu. get out of dodge for $22pp. before tax, tip, wine.

                  1. Definitely not Becco! As I've mentioned many times before on this board, the last time we were there -- and it will be the last time -- the ayce pastas were mediocre at best, and the noise level was so insanely high, the only way we could converse around our table was to shout. (See first item on o.p.'s list.)

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: RGR

                      respectfully disagree. becco meets most of the op's requirements. my modest take was that $22 was a pretty good price point. the room is pleasant, the owner is lidia bastianich, the pastas are served table-side, you can have as much as you want, vegetarians will do just fine and yes, you can get out of dodge for $22.

                      neither my girth nor my hearing are what they should be. still, becco is pretty solid if you're on a tight budget and eschew chinese, thai, etc.

                      1. re: steve h.

                        Hey, steve h., My objection was not to the cost of the ayce special. It would be a great deal if -- and it's a giant if -- the pasta wasn't so mediocre and the noise level didn't produce a pounding headache. The fact that Lidia owns Becco isn't a big draw for me and means absolutely nothing in the face of what I see as these major shortcomings.

                        P.S. I happen to have a cousin who is deaf, but I still wouldn't recommend it to her because there are plenty of other places where she can get far superior pasta without spending a fortune.

                        1. re: RGR

                          becco is fine. hardly think that $22 is a fortune. wines are pretty reasonable, too. all-in-all, a more than decent mid-town destination if on a budget.

                          spring is around the corner. crudo at esca is calling.

                    2. Yakitori Totto. Lots of small plates, not entrees really. In midtown, but one of those only-in-New York places (unless you are in Japan).

                      1. Inoteca. Good prices, very new york, tasty food. the quietness could be a problem, but asked to be seated downstairs

                        1. Via Emilia! It's really affordable and stylish, with foods I've never had anywhere else (Gnocco Fritto) and outstanding takes on familiar foods (Lasagne). Plus, you can get a delicious bottle of wine for abour $25. While they might get crowded, they'll never rush you out, and they have the most comfortable booths. I love this place!

                          http://www.viaemilianyc.net

                          1. thanks all!
                            oolah, we took you up on your kuma inn suggestion and it was really fun. very new york, vegetarian friendly, unique, perfect for catching up with friends. and i love not spending that much money but trying lots of different tastes. i thought the food was a bit hit or miss, mostly hit. sometimes a little too salty or not quite exciting enough--e.g. they could clearly rock the summer rolls if they tried but they tasted just like any other place's--but on the whole a definite success. unfortunately, we tried to hit il laboratorio for a pre-dinner ice cream tapa (given that it doesn't stay open late) and turns out it closes at 6 every day of the week now. i'm not destined to eat there i think.

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: edamame

                              Acc. to Chickalicious' website, their hours are Wed.-Fri., 3 - 5 p.m., and 7 - 10:45 p.m.; Sat. & Sun., 3 - 10:45 p.m. The message on their answering machine confirms this.

                              http://www.chikalicious.com

                              1. re: edamame

                                Glad you enjoyed it! Too bad about Laboratorio -- but on the plus side, it's an excuse to head back to NY soon.