Cheap Eats You Want to Brag About
Once upon a time, I lived in NY and could not afford to eat. When I moved away, I came back to eat at all the places that non-New Yorkers suggested one eat at (mostly celebrity chef joints). But now that I'm even wiser, I want to try some great foodie eats that aren't going to wreak havoc on the expense account, but are definitely worth seeking out. I'm not looking for killer slices of pizza or falafel. For example, I wouldn't mind getting my hands on some amazing Korean fried chicken or yakatori. Some ridiculous cured meats or fried fish might also be worth writing home about.
If you were coming to my neck of the woods, I'd want you to not only try a Jose Andres joint, but also dig your mouth and hands into a bushel of blue crabs and some Viet noodle bowls.
So throw some suggestions my way.
Since you mentioned Korean Fried Chicken I have to recommend Mad for Chicken. It's the best in the city IMO and the spot is just so much fun.
For seafod I would head to Upstate Oyster bar. Almost everything on the entree menu is under $20. So far their head on shrimp special and another scallop dish really blew my mind. It's some serious good cooking in a laid place atmosphere and very reasonable. Plus they have a great (but small) beer and wine list.
Xian's Famous Foods is cheap and delicious. Explore the menu and see what your favorites are, but I love the spicy lamb noodles.
I know you said you aren't looking for killer slices of pizza, but South Brooklyn's margherita slices are great.
You can pig out at Legend and have a bunch of delicious food if you stick to Sichuan items. Szechuan Gourmet (I frequent the 56th St. branch) is even better. Neither place is super-cheap, but you won't pay $40. Don't get cocktails at Legend, though; if you go during their happy hour, you can have some whiskey (they have Tullamore Dew).
Zabb Elee was mentioned. It's a bit inconsistent, but on a good day, you can have a really delicious meal there. Items I'd recommend include larb, yum, som tom, sausages, and the Isaan soups listed on the 2nd page of the menu.
And of course, Great NY Noodletown. Wonderful roast duck, soothing beef stew, excellent dishes with pea shoots or flowering chives, and some of the best congee around.
And if you're on the Upper West Side, Jerusalem Restaurant serves some of the best falafel or shawarma you can find in Manhattan, at very cheap prices, with excellent sides. It's far superior to Mamoun's - which is fine, so I'm not slamming them at all.
Those are just a few ideas for starters. I'll come back to this thread later. Writing about all this good food is making me hungry!
While it may not be unique enough to be "foodie," Coppelia is one of my go to places when I want a sit down meal but don't want to spend much:
I'd argue that by NYC standards it's actually under priced (they often don't even charge for coffee at breakfast).
I recently went to the Bowery Diner for the first time and felt the menu was pretty interesting and everything was reasonably priced:
I lot of restaurants have excellent prix fixe deals, but they often apply to only specific days/hours.
roast potatoes and pork at Porchetta, cocnut shrimp sandwich at Num Pang. Ribs at Georgia's, Salmon Croquettes at B&H Dairy, Burgers at Big Nick's, Potato pizza at Grand Daisy, Meatballs at the Meatball Shoppe, Scallops with mango at Haru Hana in Ktown ( i'll be ridiculed for this one, since it is Japanese in Ktown and a chain but it is run by Korean people and the dish is delicious.
I'll drop up to $40 on myself. But I want to make it go a long way -- not just on oysters and a glass of St. Emillion. I loved my meal at Craft and DBGB, but I'd rather have something memorable and maybe try a few dishes that I can't get in another town... at least not done as well or with as much availability.
$40 for food only or including alcohol? It's easier to give a recommendation for a price point when you include only food.
Recently I had way too much food at Mission Chinese on the Lower East Side, and definitely spent less than $40pp for food only.
You may also want to look into the Sunday Suppers at Public and Marc Forgione.