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Jun 30, 2013 07:57 PM

On a hunt for good, inexpensive ethnic food for days spent mostly in Manhattan

Alright. My husband and I are doing a whirlwind trip this July for Friday night, Saturday and Sunday, leaving Monday early afternoon. We're staying in Astoria but will be spending most of our time Saturday and Sunday in Manhattan.

We are from Texas, so we are wanting to steer clear of mexican, barbecue, and burgers, just because those things are so readily available to us.

We are adventurous eaters (my husband more so than me) so we'd like to stay away from chains, and "american" food (steaks, burgers, stuff like that.)

Saturday we'll be going to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and stuff around there, and seeing a show at B.B. King (where I have already been warned not to eat.) that night. We're good with mass transit, so we're open to recommendations around the area. I've been reading different threads and have a good feel for what to look for in Astoria, but not as much in Manhattan.

We like:

Turkish food (my husband lived there for two years)
Japanese (except sushi, I know, we're weird.)
Indian food
Nepali food
Thai food
Vietnamese food
steamed dumplings (or momos)
Jamaican food (spicy is gooooood)
Maaaaybe Russian? I've never had it so I don't know.

My husband speaks a reasonable amount of Turkish, but other than that, we have no language skills, so some level of English friendliness would be good, but neither of us mind pointing at a menu item.

Our budget is probably under $40 a meal for two people, with no alcohol in that calculation.

We got our fill of food carts in Portland, but are open to suggestions regarding them if there are anything that we shouldn't miss.

Also, if there are any decent independent coffee places, we'd like to know ;)


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  1. Your budget is $20pp including tax and tip? Or before?

    You're on the cheap eats end of the spectrum, either way. $20pp is pretty low for Manhattan sit down dining so it's good that you want less common, and not Western European cuisines, but don't miss out on uniquely NY foods.

    Only in NY type foods: bagels and smoked salmon, pastrami on rye, pizza, hot dogs & papaya juice, black and white cookies, cheesecake, egg creams, pickles, halal carts.

    Maybe on Sunday you can take RGR's famous self-guided Lower East Side Tour. (Don't do it on a Saturday as some places will be closed.) You will hit up Russ & Daughters and Katz's among other places. Sub in Pickle Guys for Guss' Pickles and note that Economy Candy's address is incorrect:

    Check out, too.

    Where else will you be in the city? I'd encourage you to go to the Lower East Side, East Village, Chinatown, Curry Hill.

    Places like Pok Pok Pad Thai, Zabb Elee, Mission Chinese, Ippudo, Ngam, Sao Mai, etc. are all in the LES and EV area.

    If you're willing to wait at some of the more popular spots (Ippudo and Mission), you can eat quite well. Or go for lunch when the lines are shorter at these two.

    And you can also do quite well in Chinatown.

    Best dumplings in Chinatown:

    This Indian place in the East Village has been getting buzz:

    The UES near the Met isn't really a hotbed of good, cheap, ethnic cuisines.

    However you can do OK near Midtown/Times Square if you do your research ahead of time.

    How about delicious, authentic spicy Sichuan food at Szechuan Gourmet before BB Kings?

    Also look up where no lunch meal really exceeds $10.

    For coffee, we have a lot of great independent coffee shops. BUT most of them won't be near the Met or BB Kings, so it would need to be a detour to the Joe in Grand Central or Blue Bottle in Rockefeller Center or Simon Sips also near Rock Center.

    Do you have an iPhone? Download The Scoop, an iPhone app from the New York Times, which has all of Oliver Strand's recommendations for coffee. Try Blue Bottle, Intelligentsia, Grumpy, Abraco, 9th St Espresso, La Colombe, etc. we have lots of choices nowadays.

    3 Replies
    1. re: kathryn

      Thanks! The only reason I mentioned the Met and B.B. King's is those are the only two places I know for sure we're going to be as of yet. The rest of the time, we're flexible. But we definitely don't mind going into lower manhattan, or anywhere else.

      I think 20pp before tax/tip is what we're aiming to stay at/under, but we aren't opposed to spending more.

      I do have an iphone so I will definitely get that app.

      Thanks again for the recommendations!

      1. re: originalgeek

        OK, good to know -- if you can go up to $30pp for a few meals, that will definitely help. Or balance a $30-35pp meal with a really cheap $10pp lunch, etc.

        1. re: kathryn

          We could definitely do something like that, cheap lunch, bigger/more spendy lunch.

    2. It's going to be really tough to keep the cost under $40. Manhattan is an expensive place.

      For example Malai Marke, a very good Indian restaurant , runs about $110 - $115 for dinner for 2 with a bottle of wine, tax and tip. If you skip the wine you can bring the check down to around $65 to $70. That's still above your limit.

      I think Legend would work. The menu is vast but stick with the Sichuan stuff. Their mains are quite large and can be split. Order a couple of starters and you should be able to get out of there for for $40 - $45.

      Mission Chinese would also fit the bill. Chinese fusiony with plenty of spice. Go at lunch and get there at 11:45, before they open. They'll be a line.

      I can think of a bunch of places in Brooklyn and Queens for big bang for your buck meals but that's really out of your way.

      I strongly recommend you look at the menus of any place that gets recommended on this thread to get a feel for the prices. You don't want any unpleasant surprises. covers almost every restaurant in Manhattan.

      1. I don't see how Mission Chinese can fit on the budget. But tons of places do: Noche Mexicana on Amst. and 101 or any of the even better Mexican places above 105 on the East Side; Xian Famous Foods or Spicy Village (aka Henan) in Chinatown (along with literally dozens of others in that area). Xian isn't very comfortable, but the food is great: SV is pretty basic, but perfectly comfy and the people are lovely.

        1 Reply
        1. re: swannee

          My lunch for 2 at Mission Chinese on December 26th came to $54.82 with tax, tip, and a couple of beers. 2 starters, 2 entrees. Eliminate the beers and you're down to the low $40s.

        2. There's really no good Vietnamese food in Manhattan (and not much outside of it - probably better in Texas). Almost all of the things you request are better served in the outer boroughs and would easily fit in your budget then, especially the Thai (Elmhurst, Queens), Nepali (Jackson Heights & Woodside, Queens), Russian (Brighton Beach, Brooklyn). If you're staying in Astoria you might want to make a quick jaunt out to Elmhurst, Queens and sample some of NYC's best Thai, Indonesian, then take the short walk up Broadway to Jackson Heights for Nepalese/Tibetan.

          I don't know what's weird about not wanting sushi. Only to Americans and perhaps other people is Japan considered synonymous with sushi.

          For Japanese food, there are a few relatively cheap places in Manhattan where you can scratch your itch. Totto Ramen has some of the best and it's in Midtown West. If you go to Yakitori Totto during the day (also Midtown West), the lunch special is cheap and you can eat a lot of a la carte stuff as well for not too much money.

          If you head to either Williamsburg (Saturday) or Dumbo (Sunday), you can visit Smorgasburg, a wonderful outdoor food stall market, with lots of ethnic and delicious cheap bites available, all budget-friendly. If you choose Dumbo, you get world class views of Manhattan from the gorgeous Brooklyn Bridge Park.