Cheap Eats

During a decade of trying to build an acting career in New York City (with limited success), I developed a habit for seeking out cheap places to eat. Its a habit that persists, with my instincts almost always leading me to the cheapest Chinese place on the block.

All five boroughs of New York City are dotted with inexpensive, hole-in-the-wall Chinese restaurants (aka Greasy Woks) that are independently-owned and run by Chinese immigrants working long hours in unpleasant conditions. The menus are almost all identical and the food ranges from barely edible to surprisingly good. Most cater primarily to take-out/delivery and often have only a handful of dirty tables for folks who want to eat there.

If you're looking for a place to host your wedding reception, these restaurants aren't for you. But if you're looking for a place to grab a quick bite and prefer fresh vegetables to partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, then you're in business. And, surprisingly, despite skyrocketing rents and frequent displacement of other businesses, these Chinese places seem to hang around for years - perhaps because of their small footprint, industrious owners, cheap workers and uncanny ability to operate profitably in crappy neighborhoods and buildings.

This page also includes some restaurants serving other cuisines that are distinguished by fairly reasonable prices.

Fo Ying, 811 8th Ave (at 49th St - one of a pair of little Chinese places just outside the theatre district on 8th Ave
10/23/2007 03:12 PM
Fo Ying, 811 8th Ave (at 49th St - one of a pair of little Chinese places just outside the theatre district on 8th Ave
China Gourmet, 877 8th Ave (btw 52/53rd st) - the other cheap Chinese place in the theatre district
10/23/2007 03:19 PM
China Gourmet, 877 8th Ave (btw 52/53rd st) - the other cheap Chinese place in the theatre district
Fast Wok, 70 7th Ave @ 14th St - cheap Chinese in the heart of expensive Chelsea
11/8/2007 07:47 PM
Fast Wok, 70 7th Ave @ 14th St - cheap Chinese in the heart of expensive Chelsea
Village Yogurt - 547 Ave of the Americas @ 14th St - steamed vegetables never tasted so good
12/11/2007 03:02 PM
Village Yogurt - 547 Ave of the Americas @ 14th St - steamed vegetables never tasted so good
Village Yogurt
12/11/2007 02:44 PM
Village Yogurt
King Food Pan, 422 Amsterdam btw 80/81st St
2/28/2005 06:05 PM
King Food Pan, 422 Amsterdam btw 80/81st St
Mayluck Chinese Food, 149-11 Jamaica Ave, Jamaica, Queens, NY
11/21/2008 03:03 PM
Mayluck Chinese Food, 149-11 Jamaica Ave, Jamaica, Queens, NY
Lo Mein
11/21/2008 02:51 PM
Lo Mein
Yatagan Kebab House - 104 Macdougal St, Greenwich Village
12/4/2008 05:35 PM
Yatagan Kebab House - 104 Macdougal St, Greenwich Village
Yatagan's Doner Kebab (i.e. Schwarma)
12/4/2008 05:23 PM
Yatagan's Doner Kebab (i.e. Schwarma)

La Caridad is one of a dwindling number of places in the city that serve both Chinese and Cuban cuisine. It was a melange I found truly bizzare on first moving here, but it makes sense when you understand that Cuba had a large Chinese population that picked up the culinary habits before migrating to NYC. They used to occupy more space on this corner before loco rent forced them to divide the space and rent half to another business. Not as cheap as some of the other places on this page, but it's also a legitimate sit-down place to eat, albeit fairly spartan. The Cuban side of the menu is generally better than the Chinese side, although the Chinese side is more than acceptable and leans toward the older, more sedate Cantonese style that once dominated the Chinese-American culinary landscape.

La Caridad, 2199 Bwy @ 78th St
10/16/2007 05:32 PM
La Caridad, 2199 Bwy @ 78th St
La Caridad
9/10/2006 10:44 AM
La Caridad
La Caridad
9/10/2006 10:43 AM
La Caridad
La Caridad
9/10/2006 10:44 AM
La Caridad
Dinastia China, 1145 W 72nd (just east of B'way)
6/17/2005 05:22 PM
Dinastia China, 1145 W 72nd (just east of B'way)
Sabroso, 117 East 60th St (defunct)
3/13/2008 03:13 PM
Sabroso, 117 East 60th St (defunct)
Sabroso
3/13/2008 03:13 PM
Sabroso

Margon is a great (and surprisingly reasonably-priced) Cuban lunch place at 136 W 46th St that managed to survive the Disneyfication of midtown. The spartan basement surroundings and loud salsa scare away the tourists, leaving la sabor de casa to the locals.

Margon
11/4/2013 01:56 PM
Margon
Margon
11/4/2013 02:01 PM
Margon
Margon
11/4/2013 02:15 PM
Margon
Margon
11/4/2013 02:16 PM
Margon

I stumbled on Bangkok Tasty in Astoria, Queens when earlier, more-elaborate dinner plans fell through and was pleasantly surprised. The decor was a step up from what would have been expect from the outside and if you ate in, they served you on a real ceramic plate. The pad see-ew was delightful, leading me to believe that the rest of the menu was probably pretty good. Others agreed. and by the time I made it back, the decor had been upgraded to make it more suitable for dining in.

Bangkok Tasty - 29-06 23rd Ave, Astoria
4/2/2008 08:52 PM
Bangkok Tasty - 29-06 23rd Ave, Astoria
Bangkok Tasty
4/2/2008 08:45 PM
Bangkok Tasty

I worked in Rockefeller Center for a number of years and New Wing Wah was a close, cheap place just around the corner. The food wasn't that great, but it was inexpensive and reliable and the fella that ran the place was always pleasant and happy to recommend some of the odder things on his menu. Hing Won opened down the street and that pretty much doomed NWW within a few months.

New Wing Wah, 60 West 48th St
2/11/2005 02:32 PM
New Wing Wah, 60 West 48th St
New Wing Wah
2/11/2005 02:34 PM
New Wing Wah
New Wing Wah
1/6/2004 02:00 PM
New Wing Wah
New Wing Wah - no mas
10/3/2007 02:09 PM
New Wing Wah - no mas
Hing Won Express - 48 West 48th (btw 5th/6th) - excellent noodle soups
10/3/2007 12:46 PM
Hing Won Express - 48 West 48th (btw 5th/6th) - excellent noodle soups
Hing Won Express
10/3/2007 02:15 PM
Hing Won Express
Kar Won - 116 East 60th St - same guy that owns Hin Wong
3/13/2008 03:12 PM
Kar Won - 116 East 60th St - same guy that owns Hin Wong
Kar Won
3/13/2008 03:12 PM
Kar Won
Kar Won
3/13/2008 03:13 PM
Kar Won
Kar Won - beef stew noodle soup
3/21/2008 07:38 PM
Kar Won - beef stew noodle soup

Supposedly, Mill Korean used to be a fairly traditional diner serving Columbia University students until a Korean employee became the owner and turned it into an outlet for his home-country fare. Korean in the city has a tendency to be surprisingly expensive, but this one has been reasonably-priced and generally tasty. The atmosphere is also fairly pleasant. I'm particularly partial to the Chab-Chae.

Mill Korean - 2895 Broadway (across from Columbia Univ)
4/20/2008 12:53 PM
Mill Korean - 2895 Broadway (across from Columbia Univ)
Mill Korean
4/20/2008 12:53 PM
Mill Korean
Mill Korean
4/20/2008 12:58 PM
Mill Korean
Mill Korean
4/20/2008 01:10 PM
Mill Korean

I was introduced to Yum Thai when I was working across the street at Lamb's Theatre (which also no longer exists). Best chicken pad thai I've EVER had. However, it never struck me as the cleanest place in the theatre district and the health department apparently agreed, shutting it down for good in November of 2007.

Yum Thai - 123 West 44th St
8/30/2006 01:05 PM
Yum Thai - 123 West 44th St
Pad Thai
9/7/2007 04:53 PM
Pad Thai
Yum Thai
11/8/2007 06:42 PM
Yum Thai
Yum Thai
11/8/2007 06:42 PM
Yum Thai

Chinatown is, of course, the premiere spot for both cheap and expensive Chinese food. The dozens of restaurants are both universally good and (to my Western eyes) virtually indistinguishable. Big Wong is my favorite old-school Cantonese place in the heart of Chinatown. Food is simple but good, and cheap...as long as you order from the regular menu and not the "Special" (aka tourist) menu.

Big Wong, 67 Mott St
10/27/2006 07:33 PM
Big Wong, 67 Mott St
Big Wong
8/15/2007 03:14 PM
Big Wong
Big Wong
9/5/2007 05:31 PM
Big Wong
Big Wong
9/5/2007 05:22 PM
Big Wong
Wonton Garden, 56 Mott St
8/31/2007 10:12 PM
Wonton Garden, 56 Mott St
Wonton Garden
8/31/2007 10:12 PM
Wonton Garden
Sun Sai Kai, 220 Walker St
9/14/2007 04:49 PM
Sun Sai Kai, 220 Walker St

Sunset Park, Brooklyn is home to a Chinatown that is smaller and more spacious than the one in Manhattan, but has a similar intensity and panoply of cheap and inexpensive eateries.

Kitchen on 8
7/10/2008 03:29 PM
Kitchen on 8
Kitchen on 8 - Roast duck noodle soup
7/10/2008 03:14 PM
Kitchen on 8 - Roast duck noodle soup
China Delight, 4009 5th Ave, Sunset Park, Brooklyn
10/31/2008 05:42 PM
China Delight, 4009 5th Ave, Sunset Park, Brooklyn
China Delight - Chow Gai Kew
10/31/2008 05:52 PM
China Delight - Chow Gai Kew
8th Ave @ 60th St, Sunset Park, Brooklyn
7/10/2008 02:59 PM
8th Ave @ 60th St, Sunset Park, Brooklyn

The working-class neighborhoods of the city frequently house cheap fried chicken places. Pressure-cooked fried chicken is inexpensive and irresistably tasty in a primal sort of way.

Kennedy Fried Chicken, 3214 3rd Ave, Melrose, The Bronx
7/18/2008 02:10 PM
Kennedy Fried Chicken, 3214 3rd Ave, Melrose, The Bronx
Kennedy Fried Chicken
7/18/2008 02:17 PM
Kennedy Fried Chicken
Crown Fried Chicken, 3151 Fulton Street, Brooklyn, NY
5/6/2008 03:52 PM
Crown Fried Chicken, 3151 Fulton Street, Brooklyn, NY
Crown Fried Chicken
5/6/2008 03:56 PM
Crown Fried Chicken
Jimmy's Luncheonette, The Bronx - great southern cuisine
5/24/2005 01:40 PM
Jimmy's Luncheonette, The Bronx - great southern cuisine
Jimmy's Luncheonette, The Bronx - serious lunch
5/24/2005 02:01 PM
Jimmy's Luncheonette, The Bronx - serious lunch
Maximum Halal, 94 St. Nicholas Place (@ 145th St)
11/2/2007 04:50 PM
Maximum Halal, 94 St. Nicholas Place (@ 145th St)