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Jan 7, 2008 06:50 PM

I'm sick of pizza! (cheap eats query)

My observation of NY cheap eats (I am an LA hound):

Cheap, delicious food that shines and is widely available in NY:
- Pizza
- Americanized Chinese food
- Hot dogs

Cheap, delicious food that shines and is widely available in Los Angeles:
- really authentic, delicious al pastor tacos for $1 each (taco table on Vermont just north of the 10 freeway)
- a giant bowl of hand pulled noodles and spicy beef tendon soup for $5 (at Malan in Hacienca Heights)
- fantastic korean hotpot and bulgogi for $10 (enough food for 2 people at Beverly Soon Tofu in Koreatown... free raw spicy crab panchan included at the joint across the street)
- huge bowl of vietnamese pho for $4 (enough for 2 people in Little Saigon)
- big plate of authentic chicken pad see ew for $6 (enough for 2 people: Sanamluang Cafe in Thai Town)

In LA, there is a virtually endless list of these types of meals... most of them quite healthy, Asian foods cooked not primarily for "the white man", but for those members of the community who live there. (Having spent 7 months traveling through Asia last year, I can vouch for the fact that there is no "dumbing down" of the cuisines that I refer to above, and all are excellent examples of their kind, whether here or in their representative Asian countries)

Help me, New York hounds........ I refuse to believe that your options for an outstanding $5/person meal are limited to pizza, hot dogs, and Americanized Chinese!

I have a feeling Indian food must be somewhere on your list.


Mr Taster
(who is staying with his sister in Brooklyn, Clinton Hill just south of Williamsburg-- but as always, will travel for excellent chow)

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    1. While I agree that you should do a search of cheap eats on the Manhattan board, don't listen to the nasty comments from the above poster - Brooklyn is awesome (as is Asian food) and there are tons of really good cheap eats there, so make sure you search the outer boroughs board, too.

      1. re: scarlet starlet

        I actually did post this in the Outer Boroughs board as well, but it looks like the powers-that-be zapped it.

        I do realize that "cheap eats" is a popular topic but my question is a little more pointed.... to recap:

        Cheap eats which NY does way better than LA.
        (Hot dogs, pizza, and NY style Chinese food excluded)


        Mr Taster

      2. If I may analyze your suggestions, il Trifulau....

        Love the Spanish restaurant suggestions (La Nacional, Despaña) because other than a spanish foods importer in San Pedro (La Española), LA has virtually no worthwhile Spanish/tapas restaurants to speak of.

        The Mexican restaurant suggestion (Tehuitzingo) isn't particularly relevant to my question because, as we Angelenos say, "LA is the second largest city in Mexico" (food and other-wise).

        Melampo-- like the suggestion... LA's Italian immigrant community is lacking, and while we have many excellent, expensive Italian restaurants, we have virtually no excellent cheap italian places. I'd love to hear some suggestions for cheap, delicious Italian food.

        As for Asian food, LA has some of the largest Asian immigrant communities in the country (Philippines, Thailand, Taiwan, China, Korea, Japan, ad infinitum), and as such I don't think NY can compare in terms of sheer scope, volume and quality of these cuisines. I should add that most of these restaurants fit into the super delicious/under $8 category, and nearly all of them serve an almost exclusively native clientele.

        Keep the suggestions coming

        Mr Taster

        1. Am I the only person who finds this post to be pretty ridiculous (il Trif's)? Get out of Brooklyn and don't ever go there again? Why?

          The places I would like to suggest are primarily Chinese so scratch that. Malecon in Washington Heights is good for Dominican, but there are better picking in the Bronx, though the street cart scene is awesome up there in the summer. Go to Katz's Deli. It will only fit the bill if you share a sandwich, but go. Frank on the LES has good Italian food. I don't particularly like Italian restaurants, but that's because my mother, grandmother and self can usually toss something better together.

          Make a Queens and Bronx post on Outer Boroughs.

          1. re: JFores

            I specifically avoided mentioning Katz's pastrami because

            1) It is out of price range for this post, and
            2) LA has Langer's, which The New Yorker has declared the best pastrami in America (sounds like sacrilege, I know, but since I am very familiar with both pastramis I have to admit that Langer's edges out Katz's.... but just slightly)


            OK, now let's watch as this thread spins out of control...........

            Mr Taster

            1. re: Mr Taster

              Having loved Katz's pastrami for years, I would certainly look forward to trying Langer's if/when I'm in LA. If Katz's is, indeed, number two, it's as good a number two as it gets. That said, I get tired of the "best" argument. In the end, it obscures the point. If you have, indeed, tried both, I would be far less interested in reading about what you feel is best, and more interested in the differences in taste, texture, experience, etc. When people actually talk about food on this site, the threads make for a great and fascinating read.

              Mr. T -
              There's lots of great cheap food in NYC. If you maintain an open, adventurous mind, and are truly willing to veer from what appears to be the forgone conclusion of your post, you will find love and happiness eating such dishes as the Chinese Watercress salad or the charred pork tips (or just about anything else) at Sripraphai (Woodside, Queens), the outstanding Chicharron de pollo at El Mundo Fried Chicken (Washington Heights), the filling and delicious Cheb Jeune at La Marmite(West Harlem Senegalese), any of a choice of 8 or 9 crispy and tasty Banh Mi at Ba Xuyen(Sunset Park, Brooklyn) or the tangy, amazing Vietnamese crab noodle soup made with real crab, heart and soul at World Of Taste Seafood (Jerome Avenue, the Bronx). This is only a partial listing, along with some of my fellow poster's excellent suggestions, of cheap eats available in NYC.

              If you are you truly interested in debunking the negative assumption of your post, then get out there and explore the vast edges of the city, eat hearty, and enjoy.

              1. re: Polecat

                I agree. Mr Taster, if you approach NYC with the notion that the city will consistently pale in comparison to LA, of course you will be disappointed. I will say that in Manhattan, you have to dig a bit deeper for delicious cheap eats; but in Queens they are bountiful and wonderful and a true reward. Keep your mind and taste buds open, and I think you will be surprised and satisfied.

                1. re: chompchomp

                  Hi Polecat and chompchomp

                  Please understand that I am not here to bag on NY vs. LA... I am only trying to point out that each city has its distinct strengths when it comes to excellent, cheap food.

                  I am not complaining about NY's Chinese/Thai/Korean, etc. food so much as to say that since I live in LA, I've been-there-done-that. I'm looking for different pastures on which to graze, and in Manhattan and Brooklyn I've been disappointed (aside from the pizza, hot dogs and thick-skinned eggrolls which are non-existent outside the area). I've had some very good *expensive* food in New York, but I've had real difficulty finding great cheap food.

                  Senegalese is an excellent suggestion as I know of no significant Senegalese community (or restaurants) to speak of in LA. For my purposes, banh mi is a moot point because in LA for example the shop Banh Mi Che Cali in Westminster (Little Saigon) you can buy superb foot-long Banh Mi sandwiches... 3 of them for $4, on a baguette to rival bakeries in France, and just out of the oven. When you bite into it, you hear the crispy crackling of a million newly created crumbs falling into your lap. It's awe inspiring.

                  As for Katz's, I've discussed this elsewhere of Chowhound in the past, but I will say to summarize, both pastramis are extraordinarily tender, and incredibly flavorful (I had some pastrami at Junior's a few days ago with my sister and while the pastrami was tender, the flavor was bland by comparison to Katz's and Langer's). Truth be told, I think I actually like Katz's seasoning just a hair more than Langer's, and Katz's serving of pastrami is much more generous. However where Katz's gets edged out by Langer's is in final sandwich product... Langer's has their rye baked by a local bakery, which they then "steam toasteded" to order, and is delivered to Langer's slightly underdone. The result is that rather than the chewy soft bread out of the plastic bag that you get at Katz's, Langer's bread is fresh baked with a super crispy crust, which adds an amazing added element of texture to the sandwich, edging the total taste experience just slightly ahead of Katz's.

                  So... to recap... both awesome. For sheer pastrami goodness and volume = Katz's. For total sandwich experience = Langer's.

                  Mr Taster

                  1. re: Mr Taster

                    Native Angeleno here; I'd say that if you haven't checked out New York's Fujianese food, you shouldn't write off all New York Chinese as "been-there-done-that."

                    I've been away from L.A. for some time, but a quick search of the boards suggests that my hometown still doesn't have much Fujian or Fuzhou chow - though I do find mentions of a decent place downtown. (Yes, there's overlap between Fujianese and Taiwanese, which is well represented in L.A. - and in your household, I gather - but as you know they're not identical.)

                    In New York, by contrast, immigrant demographics have made Fujianese the fastest-growing cuisine in Manhattan's Chinatown as well as the smaller Chinatown in Brooklyn's Sunset Park neighborhood (straight shot from Manhattan on the N or R subway lines, if you're game). Unfortunately it is under-explored on this site. Brian S and others have sampled a handful of places, but for the most part hounds (me included) have just scratched the surface.

                    A few that have come up on the board are Good Good Taste in the newer, eastern quarter of Chinatown ( and, in Sunset Park, Everett, Wang Cun Ju and Ren Ren, f.k.a. Sheng Xiang ( ).

                    To muddy the waters a bit, many Fujianese have opened small eateries that specialize in wheat noodles from Lanzhou or other parts north. They're popular among Chinese from all over. But beyond the noodles (which you have in abundance out west), check the menu for Fujianese specialties like fish balls stuffed with ground pork, usually listed as appetizers. These snacks would meet your $5-a-head criterion. A full meal at a Fujianese restaurant, like a full meal at any Chinese restaurant, probably would not, but you could always split a dish with a friend.

                    Good Good Taste
                    13 Market St, New York, NY 10002

                    Wang Cun Ju
                    5609 8th Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11220

                    Ren Ren
                    5318 8th Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11220

                    5721 8th Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11220

        2. You're making me really jealous, Mr. Taster. I've lived in LA and I have to agree that it is a mecca of cheap food, especially Mexican, Chinese, Vietnamese, and Korean. But you have to drive, there, and think of all that money you waste on gasoline!

          There are many things that NYC does well. A few faves:

          Halal Cart on 53rd and 6th
          Cafe con Leche for Dominican
          Sukhadia's for Gujarati Indian, chaat, and sweets
          Saravana's or Chennai Garden for dosa and other s. indian dishes
          Mamoun's Falafel

          Given our public transport commuter culture in this town, street vendors are a great municipal treasure that I don't think LA has. There are lots and lots of great carts around. Do a search for "street vendors" on this board to find other options.

          6 Replies
          1. re: cimui

            Hi cimui-- I'm glad to meet someone who knows exactly what I'm talking about. Minus the Mexican and dumpling suggestion on your list (for reasons I've elucidated above), I love your suggestions... particualrly the dominican suggestion since LA has almost no caribbean restaurants. Isn't flatbush in brooklyn the center of a caribbean community? There must be some fantastic cheap eats joints there. Where are they?

            It is true that street vendor carts in LA are few and far between, but what we don't have in carts we have in taco trucks (that's our equivalent). However in Latin american pedestrian areas, you will often find carts selling Tijuana dogs (1/4 lb hot dogs wrapped in bacon with peppers and onions, $3), mexican fruit (watermelon, pineapple, mango, papaya, cucumber and jicama seasoned with cayenne, salt and lime juice) and every so often you find the odd taco table (just a table, no truck)

            In New York, I find that although street carts are ubiquitous, it's rare to find a street vendor that does not sell the typical hot dog-pretzel-nuts rotation. I really like the Halal cart suggestion.... any other different/delicious street carts? (this should probably be its own topic.... street carts not selling the dog/nut/pretzel thing)

            Thanks again for your suggestions... keep 'em coming

            Mr Taster

            1. re: Mr Taster

              I went ahead and started that street vendor thread:


              Mr Taster

              1. re: Mr Taster

                Mmm.... the thought of fruit vendors is making me drool a bit on my keyboard.

                the better known street carts include:

                the jamaican dutchy (51st near b'way; i like this one a lot)
                daisy mae's bbq
                hallo berlin (various wurst)
                the dosai truck (washington square south; vada available tuesdays)
                veronica's kitchen (see
                )kwik meal (see
                )choux factory cream puff cart (location varies; there's a number you can call to find out where it is that day)

                This might also be a good website for you:

                I don't remember seeing a lot of Venezuelan places around in LA. If you want it, here, try the arepas at Flor's Kitchen or Caracas Arepa Bar. There's a reportedly good arepas vendor in Queens (see if you don't mind the travel.

                And last, but not least, try some of the Senegalese places on 117th and 116th. Africa Kine is one of the better known. If you can get out there during lunch, I've heard it's better. I've only been at dinner time, and even then it's good. For a $10 plate, you get enough to feed yourself for 2-3 meals.

                I know that Brooklyn is a fantastic place for good, cheap eats, though I'm embarrassed to say I don't venture out enough to know where the best of anything is. WHy don't you ask on the outer borough's board (phrase the question differently so it doesn't get tagged as a duplicate) for specifics?

                1. re: cimui

                  This is a fantastic response-- *thank you* for all your fantastic suggestions. I have reposted on the Outer Boroughs board at this link:


                  Mr Taster

                2. re: Mr Taster

                  They're mostly on Nostrand and you can basically sample it all. Don't be so fast to condemn all that is Chinese in NYC. While Chinatown might not meet what you're looking for, Flushing is amazing. One food mall (in which no English at all is spoken or written) can have restaurants specializing in the foods of Sichuan, Xinjiang, etc with sinfully low prices. The Flushing food scene is extensive and rivals LA Chinese on a restaurant by restaurant basis. For example, the Szechuan food there is very very high quality. For street food, there's a wide variety of Hispanic (mostly Ecuadorian and Mexican) eats in Jackson Heights. This area is also home to a few excellent Colombian bakeries and an El Salvadoran cart with delicious pupusas, but that's probably irrelevant. Great pan de bonos, though. A few blocks over from there is Elmhurst which has three Thai restaurants (Srip, Zabb and Chao) which rival LA's equivalents. At Chao and Zabb, the customers are almost exclusively Thai. Going deeper in and then past Corona you hit Forest Hills which is home to one of the world's largest Bukharan Jewish communities (larger than Bukhara's now.) Incredible kosher Uzbek kebab joints which also serve bowls of lagman, pelmeni, tea, etc.

                  That's a preview of what can be put into a Queens post. In regards to Dominican, go to La Economica at 231st in the Bronx. It's BARELY out of Washington Heights so I might as well post it here. Get a whole chicken and be amazed. For a dumbed down version, go to Malecon on 175th in Washington Heights.

                  1. re: JFores

                    Hi JFores... thanks for all your extremely interesting and useful posts.

                    I do know about Flushing's Chinese restaurant scene as my wife is Taiwanese and has relatives who live there. However LA has many great, cheap regional Chinese restaurants and I'm looking for cuisines and foods that are not represented well in LA.

                    So far, I have been disappointed with the city's offerings of ethnic foods (though admittedly I have not gotten around too much), which seem on the whole to be way overpriced and caters almost exclusively to a non-ethnic (yuppieish) and trendy clientele (Brooklyn, I'm looking at you...). We have plenty of those types of scenes in LA, which is why I avoid the yuppie factor entirely by taking the 30 minute drive to the Chinese communities of the San Gabriel Valley where I pay 1/3 of the price for food that is 100x tastier, and whose customer base would not accept changes in the recipes which most Americans expect.

                    Certainly that Uzbek kebab joint is right on target. Even though we have one prominent Uzbek restaurant in LA, we certainly don't have the massive community to back it up. I'd love to check it out if I have the time.

                    Mr Taster

              2. Note that your list of California cheap eats consists of Asian food, tacos, and more Asian food. The Asian food in California isn't any better then it is here. I can't vouch for LA, but the concept of a Noodle and dumpling House is pretty foreign to Northern California, where cheapness seems to cloud peoples taste buds when Asian food is involved. In fact, it's so bad out there that the second anyone mentions Pan Asian, Asian anything, I don't trust their suggestions.

                Now the tacos.... New York has real mexicans now...and sometimes they make tacos. Unfortunately, it takes effort to find them. So the point is, aside from decent Thai food, New York has you covered.

                There's also an endless list of foods in New York you can't get as readily on the West Coast or as good. Pirogies, Cubano Sandwiches, rice balls, jamaican beef pattys, croquets, empanadas, a decent Porterhouse (okay not cheap eats, sorry), burgers, french toast, hot cocoa, retro style cake, knishes, bagels, dosas, egg and cheese on a toasted roll, etc. etc.

                9 Replies
                1. re: sugartoof

                  I didn't forget about all those delicious bagels, knishes, and pickles, which NY has in spades over LA. The reason I didn't include them is that I know where to go for them.... every trip to NY ends me up in the LES where I bring home a jar of Gus's, a bag from Kossar's, some knishes from Yonah Schimmel's and a big tub of whitefish salad and belly lox from Russ & Daughters

                  The latter is definitely not cheap eats, but a trip to NY is not complete for me without it... there simply is no equivalent for these items in LA because what is available is of very poor quality by comparison. Add Junior's cheesecake to that list as well. Even the best LA cheesecake, though tasty, sucks by comparison.

                  Similarly, I have been regularly disappointed here by the Thai and Japanese food (had some expensive, mediocre rolls at Dushi D in Clinton Hill). I really have no desire to try NY's representations of these foods, because they are on the whole a better bang for the buck back in LA, no matter how hard we try.

                  To conterpoint your Mexican argument, I would feel perfectly satisfied going back to LA without having eaten a single NY taco. The goal here is to find excellent representations of what I can't get in LA, and LA is certainly not wonting for tacos.

                  I'm looking for that Junior's Cheesecake. That Kossar's Bialy. That cheap, delicious item that you just can't get in LA.

                  Mr Taster

                  1. re: Mr Taster

                    not sure about the Hummus in LA but as an Israeli - the Hummus place is as close to real thing in NYC. Limited menu but really good Hummus and Lebenah.
                    Also amazing falafel at Taim in the west village

                    1. re: slewlew

                      Hi slewlew... where is the Hummus Place? For comparison, my favorite Israeli/middle eastern is a small food stand at the LA Farmer's Market called Moishe's.

                      Mr Taster

                      1. re: Mr Taster

                        If I'm not mistaken, I think it's on MacDougal in the W. Village, just south of Third St.

                        1. re: Mr Taster

                          the original is on st. marks.
                          it's thicker then moishe's but you're not going to be blown away taste wise.
                          better yet, go to holy land market across the street from hummus place, and buy their pita. last i checked, los angeles was still serving thin floppy cardboard as pita. try the big fluffy israeli stuff here in NY.

                            1. re: sugartoof

                              Even better, though in Brooklyn, is the fresh pita from Damascus Bakery on Atlantic Ave. Make sure you get the fresh stuff though- it's in a bin on your right as you enter in plain plastic bags. They also sell the factory-made stuff in the fancy packaging which is like a different comestible entirely.

                            2. re: Mr Taster

                              the one on st marks is better then west 3rd i think. the serve the same fluffy pita you an get at the holy market right across the street. Also check out the labeneh - it is great.
                              Also try Taim for falafel and sabich in the west village!

                          1. re: Mr Taster

                            Well you might have phrased your challenge a little better in that case. Plus we don't know exactly what you have tried, so we're going to list them anyway.

                            For every krappy Katz's deli suggestion you're getting, there's a fried potato pirogie one right behind it. You're getting some great suggestions, but it sounds like you're approach to this is a little bit contrarian.

                        2. You may want to search the Village Voice archives for reviews by Robert Sietsema, who is the NY equivalent of Jonathan Gold. He's always uncovering interesting cheap eats, especially ethnic holes-in-the-walls, in all the boroughs.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: pronek

                            You said the magic password... Jonathan Gold. I'll definitely check out Mr. Sietsema's reviews.

                            Mr Taster

                          2. I just wonder how Mr. Taster is going to get his disinterested sister to travel to all of these places without making her extremely irritated.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: oyvey

                              That's a whole other nut to crack. Usually I have to do these journeys on my own. oy vey.

                              Mr Taster