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Top five for $25

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What are your top five restaurants where you can get dinner for $25 or less?

I can think of plenty of mediocre places that I don’t think are worth the $25, but only a handful of good ones, and I’d like to expand my horizons. I’m looking for something better than Fanelli’s, Old Town, Coffee Shop, and Blue Moon Café. (Of course, others may disagree.) Also, it would be nice if it were actually possible to get a seat and not feel like you are eating on the 5 train at rush hour, but I realize at these prices you can’t have everything.

($25 should cover entrée, drink, tax, and tip. Places with seating only – no standing at counters or carts to consume the meal.)

Here are my top five:
1. Shake Shack
2. Café Gitane
3. Kuma Inn (LES pan-Asian, BYOB)
4. Nha Trang (Chinatown Vietnamese)
5. Inoteca (a stretch, since you would be limited to one panini and a glass of wine)

Burger Joint and Café Habana are too crowded to make my top five, although they serve excellent food.

Thanks for posting, can't wait to hear your recs!

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  1. How about Florent down in the meatpacking district? Steak frites might go over your $25 limit, but not by much. There are plenty of other cheaper options too.

    1. don't know if i can come up with 5, but
      1. palacinka, in soho (great crepes)
      2. hummus place (great hummus)

      ran out of places but more may come to mind.

      2 Replies
      1. re: cupcakeparade

        Royale on Ave C
        Sophies on 3rd and 40th
        Cafecito

        1. re: princeofpork

          sophie's is a chain - and the one you listed, on 3rd and 40th (i thought it was lexington anyway) is closed due to the steam explosion recently. i am not sure if they will be opening this location again.

      2. 1. Taisho (skewers and japanese style tapas)
        2. Max's (east village italian pasta; great when consistent)
        3. Kun Jip (best homestyle korean hands down in manhattan)
        4. Cafe Gigi (homey cafe, reminds me of college days BYOB)
        5. Esperanto (Ave. C trek; entrees are around $15; festive latin boho atmosphere)

        1 Reply
        1. re: khy201

          This would mean an entree of $11.00 to $12.00. Try a chinese restaurant like Wo Hops

        2. I'll cheat (ie, not necessarily the top, and not necessarily in this order)

          1. Szechuan Gourmet (E. 39th, 5th/6th)
          2. Sapporo East (1st Ave/10th)
          3. Spice Cove (E. 6th, 1st/2nd))
          4. Pongsri Thai (Chinatown - Bayard, Mulberry/Baxter)
          5. Luzzo's (1st Ave, 12th/13th) - cutting it close for $25 all-inclusive

          1 Reply
          1. re: racer x

            Thank you all for posting. Does anyone else on this board have any additional suggestions? It is amazing how difficult it is to find a good (sit down) dinner for one for $25 or less in Manhattan. And yet there seem to be no lack of mediocre options.

          2. No Order - the food is all to different for cross comparison
            1. Mole BYOB
            2. Cube 63 BYOB
            3. Barbone
            4. Royale
            5. Kuma Inn

            11 Replies
            1. re: oliver_selwyn

              I just went to Mole (open 3 months). Guacamole is made tableside and is very good (@ $9).

              1. re: financialdistrictresident

                OMG, I can't wait to try Mole. Thank you both. I love Mexican food. And it's brand new. Thank you thank you.

                1. re: KateC.

                  KateC, oliver_selwyn posted a review of Mole yesterday. I also posted a long list of restaurants under another recent < $25? post.

                  1. re: financialdistrictresident

                    OK, I am totally going to Mole this weekend. Toothpaste-style guacamole! Ha, Oliver, you are cracking me up. (Note for readers: His point was that Mole does NOT have toothpaste-style guacamole.) I'm a California transplant, and have been searching for that elusive "not expensive but good" Mexican. In fact, a less than satisfactory experience at Blockheads Tuesday night when friends cancelled dinner at Diner in Williamsburg is what prompted both of these posts about cheap eats in Manhattan. I am a regular at Barrio Chino, but CalJack, it had not occured to me to drink only ONE margarita -- sounds like a challenge, but I'll give it a try. :) Also, re Chinese, some of the better places can get quite expensive, so as a single person, you might be limited to only one chicken with vegetable dish, but I am not that familiar with Chinatown Chineese and I really appreciate these suggestions and I am looking forward to trying many of these. Also, Barbone sounds amazing too (if I can stick to just one dish). Also, re Williamsburg and its cheaper prices, CalJack, don't I know! (I have posted about that elsewhere and am currently being roasted for it). But, see, that's the whole problem: How do you find a place like that in Manhattan? Please keep posting your suggestions everyone. I'm going to try some of these places and let you know. Thank you!

                    1. re: KateC.

                      I finally managed to try Mole last night. Very good, loved the bartender and my waiter, great virgin margaritas, fun atmsophere made even more fun by the BYOB policy. Definitely worth a try. However, for those of you who have not yet been to Barrio Chino, I just have to say the food is a hair better at Barrio Chino. Order the guacamole, chicken enchiladas with green sauce, steak, and flan.

                      1. re: KateC.

                        Amen sister...love Barrio Chino and am dying to try Mole.

                      2. re: KateC.

                        Oh, and if anyone is trying Barrio Chino, go no later than 6:30 on any day or you will never get a seat.

                        1. re: KateC.

                          Have you tried La Esquina yet for great Mexican food? (definitely the best I've had in the city) I don't go to the fancy/expensive place downstairs but the cafe upstairs (walk in only).

                          1. re: jdream

                            No, I haven't. I'm very confused by the place. I am not interested in the takeout counter, and I have been turned away from some other doorway twice. Where is the entrance for the cafe upstairs? What are the prices like? Thanks!

                            1. re: KateC.

                              I'm unsure of street names. But if the main entrance/outdoor tables are on the northfacing block then the cafe entrance is to the right on the west facing block... or you can just ask someone who works there...

                              1. re: jdream

                                OK, I'll give it a shot. I went inside to the takeout counter and was turned away from another doorway inside there. Thanks!

              2. Frank (Italian, but gets very crowded)
                Galanga (Thai)
                Mancora (Peruvian)
                Flor's Kitchen (Venezuelan, new location in WV is lovely - though may be a bit pricier than original Ev location.)
                Tea Adore (Tea house with great simple French sandwiches and soups - but close at 6)

                1. Le Grainne Cafe (9th Ave/21st St) croque monsieur, mussels, crepes
                  Natori (St Mark's betw 1st/2nd) little Japanese dishes
                  Rai Rai Ken (10th betw 1st/2nd) ramen (Ok, you are at a counter, but its cheap and I like it)

                  1. Kuma Inn and Shake Shack would easily own 2 of my top 3 spots, but since you've already found them - and since Royale and Frank have already been referenced - I'll venture in other directions, in no particular order ...

                    1. Cafe Asean (on W. 10th St - the asian-inspired dishes are exciting, although far from flawless, but the value is undeniable and the space is cozy, inside and out)
                    2. NY Noodletown on Bowery or X.O. Kitchen on Hester (not sure how much Chinatown you can take, because pretty much everywhere there will meet your criteria)
                    3. Itzocan Cafe (Minuscule space, fantastic mexi-french flavors on 9th St between 1st & A)
                    4. Veselka (the burger stalks me while I sleep, but apparently they serve other stuff too)
                    5. Moto (on Broadway in Williamsburg - I know this is cheating, but the outer boroughs offer just what you're looking for in so many remarkable ways. Post your query to that board and see where it takes you. The atmosphere at Moto is indescribably warm, hip, and rustic, they have live music every night starting around 9, and the eclectic menu always brings me back to try something new the next time).

                    You could conceivably meet your stipulations at either Momofuku branch if you can manage restraint amidst temptation, but that might be asking too much, and the noodle bar tends to pack em' in pretty tight. Lupa could work for you as well, but beware the crowds. Ditto at Barrio Chino, although things can get really salty really quickly, and asking anyone to drink just 1 of those margaritas is somewhat cruel and unusual...

                    good luck!

                    1. New Malaysia in the chinatown arcade.
                      Congee village.
                      cafe mogador

                      1. Mandoo Bar on 32nd St. between 5th and Broadway
                        Sripraphai in Woodside, Queens
                        Arunee in Jackson Heights, Queens
                        Tia Pol on 10th Ave., between 22nd and 23rd Sts.
                        when I think of a 5th one, I'll write again...but I think all of these are great.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: Dessertsny

                          $25 will not get you very far at Tia Pol...and she asked about Manhattan! The options in teh outer boroughs are endless...

                          1. re: Dessertsny

                            Sripraphai is AMAZING...best thai in the five boroughs

                          2. Ali Baba, Tulcingo del Valle, cafecito...can't think of the other 2!

                            1. Fun game. Mine:

                              Thai Market
                              Saigon Grill
                              Flor's Kitchen
                              Chennai Garden
                              Onigashima

                              Thai Market is the only place that gets insanely crowded.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: cimui

                                Chennai Garden is awesome. Wonderful vegetarian Indian and their all-you-can-eat lunch buffet for $6.95 is the best deal in town.

                              2. I agree, fun game. My picks (in no particular order):

                                1. Queen of Sheba on 10th Ave. and 46th St. Etheopian.
                                2. Vegetarian Dim Sum House on Pell St. in Chinatown.
                                3. Saravanna's on Lexington at 26th. South Indian vegetarian.
                                4. Pam Thai 2 on 47th (I think). Not to be confused with the original Pam a few blocks North.
                                5. Cho Dang Gol on 35th St. between 6th and 5th. Korean.

                                So two of those places are just vegetarian, but the others serve mostly meat dishes. And even my meat-loving omnivore friends have enjoyed Vegetarian Dim Sum House and Saravanna's.

                                1. In no order....
                                  1) La Esquina (cafe, not downstairs)
                                  2) Caracas Arepa Bar
                                  3) New Green Bo
                                  4) Malatesta (most pastas, other than specials, hover around $10)
                                  5) Westville (east or west)

                                  1. Again, no order:

                                    Westville
                                    Congee Village
                                    El Centro
                                    Turkuaz
                                    Swagat

                                    3 Replies
                                    1. re: piccola

                                      Can you tell us a little bit about some of these places? Thank you!

                                      1. re: KateC.

                                        Sure thing:

                                        Westville (the original location)- Tiny but comfy, with great homestyle food including burgers and hotdogs. Best bet: the "market sides," dishes made from greenmarket produce that you can get individually as a side dish or 4 as an entrée.

                                        Congee Village (both locations, though I tend to prefer the quieter Bowery one) - Bustling Chinese restaurant with tons of room for groups and a huge menu. You can eat to bursting for less than $10. Specialty is the congee (duh)- the veg version has gingko nuts.

                                        El Centro - A trendy-ish Mexican joint in Hell's Kitchen that serves fresh versions of the usual suspects plus awesome drinks. The ambiance is really cool.

                                        Turkuaz- A beautiful Turkish restaurant, a really affordable date spot. When you're not trying to be romantic, try the buffet - it's an even better deal.

                                        Swagat - Classy Northern Indian on the UWS. Small but not cramped. One of my top 5 bread baskets in the city.

                                        1. re: piccola

                                          Thanks! And now that you mention it, I've been to El Centro.

                                    2. 1. Nook (BYOB)
                                      2. Burger Joint
                                      3. Chance (BK)
                                      4. West Side Chef Chinese
                                      5. A.O.C. Bedford (BYOB Mondays)

                                      3 Replies
                                      1. re: kam0424

                                        Thanks! What do you order at A.O.C.? I've been there and liked it but what I ordered wasn't outstanding. I'm not familiar with Nook, Chance, or West Side Chef Chinese. (Interesting name.)

                                        1. re: KateC.

                                          I love the octopus carpachio, the cheese selection was outstanding (there was a sheep's milk cheese that i would def go back for!) and the escargot. The only entree i've had was the duck which was good. I usually just get apps and make a meal out of it. And the crepes suzette are a lovely ending.

                                          1. re: KateC.

                                            We ate at Nook last year and thought it was very good, especially the Hungarian goulash. It's tiny, though.

                                        2. Excluding Chinese food, because that'd be a whole separate list. I don't have any top 5s under $25, but these are places I like that no one has yet mentioned.

                                          1. ñ
                                          2. Tartine
                                          3. Village Yokocho
                                          4. Bubby's
                                          5. Tea and Sympathy

                                          8 Replies
                                          1. re: mengathon

                                            Great call on bubby's, their veggie burger and potato salad are amazing!

                                            1. re: mengathon

                                              I've never eaten at N (sorry, can't do the symbol), though I love it as a bar. What do you recommend for food?

                                              1. re: piccola

                                                When I first started going to ñ maybe 5 years ago, they had this one dish of bonito belly crudo (spanish white tuna), white asparagus tips, with garlic aioli and spanish caviar of indeterminate origin, served on little toasts for 6 or 7 dollars. It was my favorite dish in all of NYC, taking into account the price. For some unknown reason, they removed it from the menu maybe a year and a half ago. I ask the bartender everytime I go, and they always say they're considering bringing it back. If they do, I'd recommend that.

                                                Of the other dishes, my favorites are:
                                                -tortilla española.
                                                -black pearls. pork and veal? meatballs in squid ink sauce
                                                -truffled ham croquettes.
                                                -grilled octopus two ways. with spanish paprika and chocolate
                                                -bunny loin with parsley? aioli.
                                                -gambas al ajillo. it's inconsistent. the shrimp was overcooked the last time i was there.

                                                1. re: mengathon

                                                  I think I remember why I never eat there: nothing vegetarian on the menu. :-)

                                                  1. re: piccola

                                                    Ha, sorry dear. They recently added a shaved asparagus salad with baby spinach and fennel, tossed with a truffle oil vinagrette that was quite tasty. Their cured olives are also quite delicious. But the tortilla is definitely vegetarian, and well worth ordering twice.

                                                    1. re: mengathon

                                                      Where is ñ, exactly? I'm having a helluva time tracking down any info, both on chowhound and otherwise...
                                                      Your descriptions of their dishes sound delicious.

                                                      1. re: CalJack

                                                        ñ is at 33 Crosby St. between Broome and Grande. Crosby is a small side street between Broadway and Lafayette.

                                                        The place is tiny and has no visible awnings on a relatively empty street. I always tell people to find Balthazar, walk south on Crosby until you see a beautiful loft complex on your right hand side. ñ will be across from it.

                                                        A caveat: it won't be the best food you've ever tasted, but it's inexpensive and a large beer pitcher of sangria good for 6 or 7 glasses is only around $20. And cash only. Enjoy.

                                                        1. re: mengathon

                                                          Oh my goodness, I've been there too. Crazy. I think there are only actually five restaurants in all of NYC.

                                            2. I just mentioned this one on another post: Piadina 57 W. 10th, puts out authentic italian that won't break the bank. try the garganelli with green peas, ham and cream sauce - simple and delicious.

                                              1. I might have to replace Inoteca with Old Town as my No. 5. I've been there three times in the last two months, and if you sit upstairs facing the window, the atmosphere is very pleasant. It's peaceful and not crowded. The cold asparagus soup special was mighty tasty and fancy. I got very excited because the first time I went back, the burger was much better than I remembered, outstanding in fact (as good as Donovan's in Queens). But the next two times they were just ordinary like usual. Still, very soothing for under $25.

                                                3 Replies
                                                1. re: KateC.

                                                  Saigon Grill is an easy fit - an entree, a soup or appetizer, and a cold beer will cost under $25.

                                                  RUB for a platter and a beer, and you can even add some deep fried oreos or a second meat to the platter.

                                                  And, both of these places have options for watching sports on a flat-screen t.v. while you eat (the bar at the Village Saigon Grill and the front room at RUB).

                                                  1. re: KateC.

                                                    Are you referring to Old Town Bar on 18th St. (Broadway/Park Ave. South)?

                                                    1. re: Desidero

                                                      Yup, that's the one. They have an upstairs dining room that's not so crowded. Good specials.

                                                  2. Pepe Verde in the W. Village (though I haven't been in almost 2 years - is it still there? still good?)
                                                    Pho Viet Huong (my fav. Chinatown Vietnamese)

                                                    someone else mentioned PongSri in Chinatown -- I agree, that place is great Thai food. And Westville is great too -- though it can be hard to get a seat

                                                    1. I think I'm beginning to see that my big problem here in terms of affordability is that I am almost always limited to Chelsea, Union Sq, East Village, Nolita, LES. (Not counting the other boroughs.) No wonder everything is too expensive! I'm thinking of starting a 5 best for $40 list -- but I can't even think of five! Oh, it's too pathetic.

                                                      1. Bianca on Bleeker Street.

                                                        They have the best panna cotta ever. Really, it will change you life.

                                                        1. 1. Satsko (on Eldridge) Chef's specials are always amazing and usually under $17
                                                          2.. Pio Pio (UES, although I'm sure their other locations are just as tasty): If you go with friends you can even get more than one pitcher of sangria and with the tip you'll each pay around $20 and still have food leftover
                                                          3. Bon Chon (If you consider chicken wings and fries a meal, then DEFINITELY top five)
                                                          4. Seoul Garden, also in K-town, best silken tofu soups
                                                          5. L'Express

                                                          1. 1. Skyway Malaysian (Allen St. between Division and Canal)
                                                            2. Azuri Cafe (falafel et al., 51 St. and 10th Av.)
                                                            3. Grand Sichuan St. Marks (between 2nd and 3rd) or Chelsea (9th Av. and 24 St.), as long as you get Sichuan or Hunan dishes only
                                                            4. Han Bat (Korean, 35 St. a bit east of 6th Av.)
                                                            5. Congee Village (Cantonese, Allen St. just south of Delancey)
                                                            And if I can have a #6, I'll choose Great N.Y. Noodletown, Hong Kong-style on the corner of Bowery and Bayard.

                                                            1. My favorite under-25 spot in the city is Caracas Arepa Bar on 7th street. They have a great selection of authentic Venezuelan arepas and cachazas.

                                                              1. Great list idea. I'm going to go with the following, in no particular order:
                                                                -Ramen Setagaya: chashyu ramen, seaweed salad and a beer
                                                                -La Esquina (the upstairs takeout counter): pollo rostizado, aquacate con queso or bistec tacos - plus a mango boing
                                                                -Stoned Crow: a cheeseburger and fries with a brooklyn lager, with a great jukebox
                                                                -(This one sorta pushes the $25 limit): nice to sit at the bar at Blue Ribbon Bakery with the Steak Tartare ($15) and a glass of wine
                                                                -Dim Sum Go Go - as many steamed dumplings as I can eat and a Tsing Tao - still under $25!

                                                                1. Just wanted to revive this thread! Any new places?

                                                                  mine would be ( in no order)

                                                                  1.Inoteca
                                                                  2.Tartine
                                                                  3.caracas arepa bar
                                                                  4. cafe orlin
                                                                  5. cafe cortadito