I’m a big believer in leaving as much “stuff” at home as possible. Otherwise, I’ll become weighed down by things I don’t need when I’m out in the city. That includes bottles of water and snacks. Luckily, you don’t need to tote around snacks to satiate hanger. You just need to know all the places for free water, easy snacks, and cheap food NYC tourist traps would hate for you to find.
Check out a Google map of the city’s bodega’s, grocery stores, and drug stores here. The map is divided into categories; if you just want to view drug stores, simply “hide” the grocery and bodega categories by unchecking the box on that layer.
Cheap Eats NYC: Best Places to Find Snacks, Food, and Water
Bodegas: These small family-owned shops offer basic necessities, snacks, drinks, and deli sandwiches. They also usually have a cat or two lounging around the dried goods aisle. So there’s that.
Grocery stores: New York has several grocery store chains, including Whole Foods, C-Town, Associated, and Trader Joes. We also have plenty of locally owned specialty markets, too.
Drug stores: Most Duane Reades, CVSs, Walgreens, and Rite Aids carry cheap snacks (granola bars, power bars, nuts, and pretzels), and some Duane Reades even sell fruit and grocery items.
Restaurants/Food Carts: You can get some cheap food options at some restaurants, fast food chains, and food carts. You can check out my article on these places here.
Newsstands: Most newsstands sell cheap snacks, candy, gum, and water.
Where to Find Cheap Snacks in NYC
Most tourist attractions sell snacks at bloated prices. If you’re feeling your blood sugar drop and need a quick snack, pop into a grocery store or a drug store. Both sell inexpensive snacks and protein bars.
When I’m hungry before or on a tour, I head straight for a Duane Reade because they almost always have $1 bags of nuts and individual servings of cheese. Some Duane Reades even sell fruit and veggies. I’ve also seen single servings of hummus with pretzels and cheese and crackers, too.
Best Cheap NYC Restaurants/Food Trucks
Restaurants: You might want to opt to head to a restaurant for a cheap snack, too. You can find inexpensive (and tasty!) restaurant food for under $5 in my upcoming book, NYC in a Day.
Food Trucks: The city has food carts on nearly every corner. Some offer pricier fare that you can normally find in restaurants. Yet most of our food carts are halal, pretzel, and hot dog carts.
You can get what New Yorkers refer to as a “dirty water” hot dog for around $2. These bare bones dogs come with ketchup, mustard, onions, and sauerkraut. Pretzels and gyros usually cost less than $5 at most carts.
Fast Food: You’ll find McDonalds and Burger Kings a plenty in the city. Yet you might want to head to Shake Shack, Gray’s Papaya, or Xi’an Famous Foods for some higher quality New York fast food instead.
Where to Find Cheap and Free Water in NYC
Street Carts: The corners of the streets of NYC are covered in food trucks. You can usually buy a small bottle of water for around $1 or a larger bottle for around $2. The more touristy you look, the more they’ll charge you. I usually just grab a small water and hand the guy $1, smile and say, “It’s a dollar, right?”
Newsstands: The various newsstands in the city (in subway stations and on street corners) sell bottled water for around $1.
Water Guys: I almost always buy bottles of water from the city’s “water guys” or guys who wander the city with coolers of water to sell for $1. You’ll usually find them in parks, on the Brooklyn Bridge, and up in Harlem.
Drug Stores: Almost all Duane Reades, CVSs, Walgreens, and Rite Aids sell bottled water for around $1 plus tax.
Grocery Stores: You can find bottles of water in most grocery stores for about $1. In fancier grocery stores, like Whole Foods, you sometimes need to walk to the bottled water aisle (not chilled) to find cheaper waters than you would find in the cases up front.
Bodegas: Bodegas often sell bottled water for around $1-$2.
Drinking Fountains: You can get free drinking water at one of the city’s many fountains, often located outside public restrooms. I like to carry a collapsible water bag that I can refill as I go. It doesn’t take up much space when I’m not using it and doesn’t add a lot of weight to my bag.
One of the top questions I hear from tourists is, “Is the water safe to drink?” Most people are surprised to hear that not only is the water safe to drink—it tested as better quality drinking water than some bottled brands, like Evian and Aquafina.
Don’t refill your water bottle from the tap in a public restroom as some bathroom water is not “drinking quality”. It’s best to fill your bottle at a water fountain or at a Starbucks (for free).
Speaking of Starbucks, most locations will give you a free Venti water with ice if you ask nicely.
Where to Find Grocery Stores in New York
Not everyone wants to eat out at a restaurant for every meal. If you’re staying in an apartment, hostel, a suite with a kitchen, or with a friend, you might want to prepare some of your own food back at the ranch. You’ll save time and money this way.
Many of the guests on my tours opt to make their own breakfast before leaving for the day to save a few bucks—and get a healthier start than what you might find in a diner, deli, or street cart.
Luckily, there are plenty of grocery stores in the city—though we kind of hide them a bit. You can check out a list of some of the most popular on the ink at the top of the page.
You also might want to consider grocery delivery if you’re planning on preparing your own meals. Many New Yorkers choose grocery delivery when they don’t want to lug bags of food home on the subway.
The most popular delivery services are Fresh Direct and Instacart.
Delivery fees run roughly $6 per order (though Fresh Direct usually offers a free trial of their unlimited delivery service), and Instacart charges an additional service fee, too. It’s also customary to tip your delivery person around $1 per bag or box of food.
Where do you find cheap eats in NYC? Share your suggestions in the comments!