New York City is famous for its ethnically diverse culinary scene and experimental, trendy restaurants. But it’s also known for being one of the most expensive cities in the world. Diners can easily shell out over $100 per person at an upscale restaurant or around $50 at a mid-range restaurant in Midtown. Luckily, some of my favorite restaurants in New York are also the cheapest. Check out some of the best cheap food NYC has to offer for under $5.
Or, if you’re out and about in the city and need some cheap eats pronto, checkout my Google map of cheap eats for under $5.
Cheap Food NYC: Best $5 and Under Eats by Category
The best falafel in New York City is also dirt cheap. This Lebanese falafel is super crunchy on the outside and bright green on the inside. Dip it in the creamy tahini or red-hot chili sauce. Ask for it in a sandwich, and you’ll get three falafel balls stuffed into a pita, piled high with lettuce and tomatoes.
What to get: falafel sandwich – $3.50
Best Pizza in NYC
Pizza is one of the reasons travelers make the trek to the Big Apple. Plus, it’s cheap food NYC is known for. Luckily, you can’t walk five blocks without spotting a sign for $1 slices. But if you’re like me, you don’t want just any pizza (unless it’s 1 AM), you want the best pizza in New York City.
Best Cheap Pizza in NYC: Bleecker Street Pizza
Bleecker Street is–hands down–the best pizza in Manhattan. This is the pizza I order when I’m depressed. This is the pizza I order when I’m celebrating. This is the pizza joint I send all my tourists to.
I had the joy once of talking to the owner, who relayed to me how the pizza is made: they start by rolling out their dough on high-end herbs, spices, and parmigiano regiano cheese. They top the dough with a garlicky, chunky marinara. Then, they add fresh mozzarella, more parmigiano regiano, fresh basil, and good quality olive oil.
What to order: Nonna Maria (margarita-style) pizza – $3.50
This is New York, so you can’t just include one type of pizza on any “best” list. Artichoke is really different than most pizza places in the city. Their namesake slice, the artichoke pizza, has a medium-thick crust (not very New York at all!). But it essentially tastes like they dumped hot artichoke dip on top of a pizza.
The bechamel sauce is velvety and thick. The dough tastes like an ultra crusty bagel. The mozzarella and parmigiano regiano cheese atop gets all bubbly and a little brown on the edges. The slices are so ginormous, you could even share it with someone (though I wouldn’t).
What to order: artichoke pizza – $5
If you want to eat like a local, you’ve gotta shop where they do. Neighborhood pork stores, dairies, butcher shops, and bodegas all serve up some of the some of the most authentic cheap food NYC is known for.
This neighborhood pork store has been serving Greenwich Village’s Italian American community for more than 100 years. Part Italian grocer, part deli, Faicco’s is known for its hearty sandwiches and hefty cuts of meat. Yet one of the best items on the menu isn’t the bresola sandwich–it’s the humble arrancini.
Thick, creamy risotto, sprinkled with cheese, breaded, and deep fried into a golden orange ball. Just make sure you ask for the “rice ball” instead of arrancini. These guys are down to earth and don’t take kindly to your fancy schmancy big city words.
What to order: rice ball – $1
Most New Yorkers will roll their eyes at you if you mention you’re headed to Little Italy for some “authentic” Italian food. They might even shout, “Little Italy! That’s only for the tourists!”
Tell them to keep their pants on and simmer down. You’re going to Alleva, the oldest dairy in the United States.
These guys have just about everything here, from their own handmade ricotta and mozzarella, to yummy salumi and olives. You can put together a fancy cheese plate here in
three shakes two shakes of a lamb’s tail.
What to order: paper plate of fried mozz – $4
Dumplings are as ubiquitous in New York as pizza and pigeons. Most of the best dumpling shops are located in Chinatown (though some have expanded to other neighborhoods). Dumplings range in price a little but almost never cost more than $3 for four (though you will find hipster dumplings in Greenwich Village in the $10 range).
I found these dumplings by mistake when my old fave dumpling shop closed down on the Lower East Side. China North’s dumplings are so freakin’ flavorful. They have tons of garlic and ginger in every bite. The lady who runs the counter is suspiciously nice, and I didn’t expect a whole lot from such a friendly dumpling environment (visit a few dumpling shops in NYC, and you’ll understand what I mean).
What to order: 12 pan-fried pork dumplings for $3 or 10 boiled veggie dumplings for $3.50.
When I’m in Chinatown proper (or when I don’t want to order 12 dumplings), I tend to stick to Tasty Dumpling. These dumplings have a great crunch on the outside and are very soft and chewy on the inside. The pork is super moist.
What to order: five pan-fried pork dumplings for $1.25.
Vanessa’s is my original dumpling shop. I love their huge menu and fantastic prices. I rarely order the dumplings here anymore because there’s so much else to try. The sesame pancake with crispy duck is one of my favorite food items. Ever. The sesame pancake is more like a fluffy piece of bread, stuffed with cucumber, carrots, and some really tasty duck. I squirt a healthy dose of the watered-down sriracha that’s available at every table on top.
What to order: sesame pancake with crispy duck – $3.50.
This place is known a little less for their dumplings than they are known for their hand-pulled noodles and spicy lamb burgers.
Situated on the Silk Route in China, Xi’an got plenty of Middle Eastern spices, including cumin and lamb. Tender ground lamb is piled high on a “bun” that’s really more of a pancake. It kind of resembles an English muffin more than a burger bun. This burger is super spicy, so if you’re sensitive to heat, order the pork burger instead.
What to order: spicy lamb burger – $4.79 – $5.65 (depending on the location) or the pork burger – $3.88 – $4.66.
The Mei Li Wah is one of my fave hole-in-the-wall dim sum places. But the thing that they do better than anyone else in NYC is the baked roast pork bun. This pork bun is the real deal.
Sweet and savory minced barbecued pork is stuffed inside a slightly sweet dinner roll (think King’s Hawaiian).
If you’re feeling “healthy” you might feel tempted to order the steamed pork bun instead. This would be a mistake. The baked roast pork bun is by and large the superior bun here.
What to order: baked roast pork bun – $1.20.
If you’re like most travelers, you’ll probably feel a strange desire to try what New Yorkers refer to as “dirty water hot dogs”. These are essentially any hot dog sold by a street vendor. They usually cost between $1 and $2. If you pay more than $2, you’re being taken for a ride. A dirty, dirty hot dog ride.
The dirty water hot dog is an essential part of the NYC experience. But if you want a superior dog, you should check out Sons of Thunder, too.
Nothing on Sons of Thunder’s menu is crazy pricey. They are probably more well known for their poke bowls than they are hot dog. Even the poke is pretty affordable here. You can get a huge portion for around $10. But if you’re on a budget, stick to the hot dogs.
What to order: bahn mi or Chicago-style hot dog – $4.50.
Bagels and Bialys
My favorite bagels in New York City are Kossar’s bagels. There. I said it.
It’s super easy to mess up a bialy. If you’re not careful, you’ll end up with a disc of dough that you could use as a hockey puck on a cold winter morning.
If you’re not familiar with this carb-o-licious treat, they are essentially cousins of the bagel. The only difference is that bagels are boiled before they are baked–bialys are not. Both the bialys and bagels at Kossar’s are soft and chewy. The bagels are fluffy (but not too fluffy) and have a nice crunch when toasted.
I like to order mine with the double onion schmear. I’m not making a whole lotta friends that day, but that’s okay with me. I don’t want to share my biyalys anyway.
What to order: everything bagel or garlic bialy with double onion schmear – $3.50.
West Indian/Caribbean Food
I couldn’t write an article about cheap eats in NYC without giving a shout out to my own neighborhood. Lefferts Gardens’ huge Caribbean population shaped the neighborhood’s culinary vibe. You can find plenty of West Indian food including jerk chicken, doubles, and roti here.
Peppa’s has kind of ruined me for all other jerk chicken. It’s fast, it’s fresh, it’s flavorful–and it’s cheap. You can get a half a jerk chicken for only five bucks. They’ll also give you some dipping sauces if you say pretty please. It is essential that you get these sauces.
They serve a couple other things here that I just can’t seem to convince myself to care about because I’m too busy licking sticky chicken sauce off my fingers.
What to order: half a jerk chicken with sauces – $5.
Sometimes you don’t always want to order an entire jerk chicken.
Just kidding. You do.
But for the days when you’d rather eat something small and fried instead of big and charred, doubles are the way to go.
Picture this: fried dough, smeared with chick pea mash, and doused with tamarind sauce. Again, always say yes to the sauce.
Doubles only cost $2, so I usually order two to eat at Prospect Park–a mere two blocks away.
What to order: doubles – $2.
There’s plenty more good cheap eats in NYC, so check out my Google map of all of them. I regularly update the map, so check back for more cheap eats.
You can get more ideas on how to find some of the cheap food NYC tourist traps don’t want you to find in my article on finding cheap snacks, food, and water. Or, get even more money saving tips in my book, NYC in a Day, or by signing up for my mailing list using the form below!
What are your favorite cheap eats in NYC? Let me know in the comments below!