New York brings to mind several things for people who have never been there.
It’s big and hectic, the people aren’t nice, and everything is expensive.
Let me address those one by one.
1. It’s big and hectic. This is 100 percent true.
2. The people aren’t nice. I think this is false. They’re just in a hurry because it’s big and hectic.
3. Everything is expensive. Partly false, and let’s stick with this one.
Rent is expensive. Taxis are expensive. But if you’re visiting the Big Apple for the first time and looking to try some delicious food for a decent price, let me share with you my guide to bargain dining in New York, a city I know quite well after living just outside it for a bit and spending lots of time in it over the last 12 years.
It covers a handful of restaurants, each one economical and elegant in its own way. Because no two restaurants serve the same food, I won’t rank them. Instead I’ll list them in alphabetical order.
If you can get a great dish for under $30, that qualifies. I’m also sticking to Manhattan, just to keep it simple, despite the fact that Brooklyn and Queens are home to some of my favorite places.
This should give you a good start to eating out in New York. Enjoy!
Caracas Arepa Bar
93 1/2 E. 7th St., East Village
For Venezuelan-style arepas — the best kind! — go to Caracas Arepa Bar. There are four locations, each one easy to find thanks to the directions on the restaurant’s website.
I’ve been to the one in Manhattan.
The arepas are authentic and they won’t break the bank. The most expensive one is $8.50.
If you go on a weekday between noon and 4 p.m., you can get the lunch special, any arepa plus soup or salad for $8.50.
I got there 10 minutes too late for the special but De Pabellón, an arepa stuffed with shredded beef, black beans, salty cheese and sweet plantains, was enough to hold me until dinner, which I rarely eat before 9 p.m. when I’m in the city.
359 Columbus Ave., Upper West Side
A friend brought me to Isabella’s during a trip to the city 10 years ago, and I’ve gone back often ever since.
It’s good for brunch, for lunch, for dinner, for almost any occasion really.
The last time I went I had the blackened swordfish, which came with crab and sweet potato hash and sweet red coconut curry, all for only $28.
I might have gone for brunch on that same trip, although I can’t remember. I just know I love the crab cake Benedict ($18).
I love it all, actually.
169 E. 106th St., Spanish Harlem
Originally called La Fonda Boricua and now known as just La Fonda, what has remained the same is the authentic and inventive recipes that accentuate the best food from Puerto Rico.
I might recommend this restaurant as much as any other, if only because the large Puerto Rican population in New York means these ethnic dishes are a must to get the proper flavor of the city.
You can go with mofongo or the pernil, both classics, or you can be more daring and order the glazed salmon or tilapia in a homemade passion fruit sauce.
No matter what you pick, you’ll spend only in the high teens or low 20s.
630 9th Ave., Hell’s Kitchen
My sister’s friend told her about Nizza, and during a trip she and I made to the city, we decided to check it out. It was, after all, just up the street from our hotel.
I learned that Little Italy, while charming and with its share of good Italian restaurants, is not necessary for good Italian food at a good price.
At Nizza you can get a lamb sirloin for $22.75. Or if you feel like pizza, enjoy a piccante pie with spicy Italian sausage, roasted hot peppers and smoked mozarella for only $14.75. There are various specials as well, depending on the day, such as monkfish piccata.
Most people are drawn to the variety of fancy restaurants on nearby W. 46th St., a popular stop among theater-goers, but if you’re looking for a better deal, just turn the corner on 9th Avenue and head to Nizza.
1125 Lexington Ave., Upper East Side
New York is famous for its Jewish delis with delicious sandwiches, and Pastrami Queen is one of the best.
I went with the corned beef sandwich and baked potato knish, enough for two meals, even though it cost me only $19.
You should see their sandwiches. They are stuffed with meat, as if they’re trying to imitate the skyscrapers that dot the city.
If Pastrami Queen isn’t the best reason to ride the green line on a visit to the city, I don’t know what is.
What’s your favorite bargain dining option in New York City?