I grew up in New York City and if there is anything you should do when you are here – as a visitor or a local – it’s eat. And eat a lot. When looking for places you must eat in NYC, you have to be careful to weed out the posers, the pretentious, the attention-seekers (and maybe find some of the best places to eat in NYC on a budget, too!).
This, friends, is no small task.
As I’ve lived here and watched this city change into a metropolis of yuppie, trust-funded-30-somethings dictating what is “good service” on Yelp; it is all the more important to sift through the chaff and find some eateries to go to because, well, you’d be doing yourself a disservice if you didn’t.
I’ve compiled a list of places you must eat in NYC based on my experiences living and working here.
I’ve covered Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens and one place in Staten Island (Sorry, those looking for the Bronx, I just don’t know you very well, yet!). I’ve ranged my choices from far-flung cuisine to old-school New York. There’s cheap, extra-cheap, dirt cheap, and stupid expensive – and choices in between (I’m trying to give you some of the best places to eat in NYC on a budget, as well ’cause I get it!).
I’ve covered some of the cheapest ideas I could think of by suggesting 6 cheap nights out in New York in another post.
This, folks, is my ultimate list of places I would send people if they asked me where to go to eat.
I share this list of places you must eat in NYC in the humble hopes that you don’t find yourself sitting down to a spinach and artichoke dip at Olive Garden in Times Square wondering why and how you went so wrong.
So, without further ado…
Anyone visiting and searching for the places you must eat in New York City needs to comply with the local restaurant laws. If you intend to go inside a restaurant (or, really any venue) you must bring proof of vaccination with you. To find out more, you can visit this site.
As a best practice for safety and the current climate, please remember to bring a mask as well.
The Best Places to Eat in NYC on a Budget:
Great NY Noodle Town
– Address: 28 Bowery,
New York, NY 10013. Click here for more information and reviews.
– Phone: (212) 349-0923
– Hours: Monday to Sunday: 9am – 4am
Chinatown is chaotic, noisy, hot, crowded, and full of delicious places to get some food. This neighborhood has some places you must eat in NYC. Great NY Noodle Town is one of my favorite restaurants to go to.
This is no-frills to the extreme. You don’t come here for the service either. You come because this is, easily, one of the best Chinese restaurants in New York, in my humble opinion. It’s also ridiculously cheap, this is one of the best places to eat in NYC on a budget.
I usually get the pork noodle soup and am never disappointed. My sister loves it here so much we went there for her wedding luncheon after she got married at City Hall.
Vegetarians will find plenty to eat off the menu.
Pro Tip: This place is cash only.
The Corner Bistro
– Address: 331 West 4th Street,
New York, NY 10014. Click here for more information and reviews.
– Phone: (212) 242-9502
– Hours: Monday to Saturday: 11:30am – 4am, Sunday: 12pm – 4am
This is one of my favorite places to get a burger in the city. The Corner Bistro is in the West Village and the way the streets align (or, well, don’t align sometimes) down there can make getting around really confusing, so it’s easy to miss this really unassuming spot.
I love how cheap and good their burgers are. There is a full bar inside, so you can get a beer and sit at a wooden table with a million names tagged into it and have your burger on a paper plate because that’s just how it is. It’s cheap (a definite contender for one of the best places to eat in NYC on a budget), it’s good, it’s unpretentious.
Pro Tip: this is a neighborhood spot. You are not going to be catered to like a tourist. Embrace it and you might even get a chance to meet some locals and strike up a conversation.
– Address: 2411 Steinway St,
Long Island City, NY 11103. Click here for more information and reviews.
– Phone: (718) 204-7488
– Hours: Monday to Sunday: 12pm – 12am
I love this Lebanese spot. It’s fast, cheap, and they give you a crap-ton of food. It’s one of the best places to eat in NYC on a budget.
Located in “Little Egypt” on Steinway street, Duzan is a locals-only falafel and hummus joint, serving up delicious grilled meat, vegetarian fare, and mouth-watering pita. We’ve never come away not happy and to feed two people for about $10 USD? I don’t think you can go wrong.
This is not a restaurant, so come in ready to order and you can sit in a booth to eat if you want.
Pro Tip: Walking around the area after your meal is really wild. It’s all Egyptian hookah bars and retail. A very unique neighborhood in Queens.
The Cottage Restaurant
– Address: 2199 Broadway,
Manhattan, NY 10024. Click here for the menu.
– Phone: (212) 595-7450
– Hours: Daily from 11am-10pm
This West Side staple closed in the spring of 2020 and left many Manhattanites feeling like there was a death in the family. That chapter is over, however, as the restaurant has reopened on 78th street! Woohoo!
This Chinese restaurant makes some damn good peanut buttery szechuan dumplings. I come here to eat bowls and bowls of those savory, spicy, pillowy balls of goodness and leave feeling like I got away with something extra special.
This is a small restaurant and is a local favorite so it will fill up quickly during the lunch and dinner rush. Don’t come expecting the best service in the world, but I’ve never left disappointed in the food.
Pro Tip: They give FREE white wine with any entree purchase (if you are here without much extra cash, this is one of the best places to eat in NYC on a budget). Combine that with your spicy dumplings and you’ve got a match made in boxed white wine and dumpling heaven. This is a top for me among places you must eat in NYC.
– Address: 45-23 Greenpoint Ave,
Sunnyside, NY 11104. Click here for more information. (There is also another location in Manhattan)
– Phone: (718) 361-5721
– Hours: Monday to Thursday: 11am – 11pm, Friday to Sunday: 11am – 12am
Peruvian Food at its best. This little corner restaurant hosts some damn good chicken, rice and beans for next to nothing in terms of price. Hello, best places to eat in NYC on a budget!
I’m also impressed with their drink menu and for dinner, they’ll bring you a complimentary glass of house red with your entree – pretty sweet.
Pro Tip: Speaking in Spanish is a plus (although not necessary, all the waitstaff is dual lingual), and if you order a couple rounds, you’ll likely get a couple more on the house.
– Address: 7816 2848, Broadway,
New York, NY 10025. Click here for more information.
– Phone: (212) 222-1566
– Hours: Sunday to Wednesday: 10am – 2am, Thursday to Saturday: 10am – 4am
Just down the street from Tom’s Diner is one of my favorite pizza joints. For pizza, this is among the top places you must eat in NYC.
Look, it’s not a $1 slice you’ll get at the numerous Two Brothers Pizza shops you’ll see around the city. You’ll likely have to fork over a staggering $6 for a piece – yikes. Koronet is, however, home to the jumbo slice. A slice so big, you’re practically eating 2-in-1. It’s a Columbia college student’s wet dream.
Pro Tip: Order a jumbo and watch them slice a triangle from one of the biggest pizza pies you’ve ever seen. They even have boxes for these behemoths, too.
Cheap? I’ve got your number. How about a ‘dog?
I can’t tell you how many times my English language students will tell me about eating a hot dog from a cart in Times Square and how disappointing they were. I mean… Yeah. Those hot dogs are garbage. We call them “dirty water dogs” for a reason: yuck.
Gray’s Papaya is old-school New York. It opened in the ’70s and is a New York City staple. They fry all their frankfurters all day – 24 hours a day – and you can pick up a good, salty, New York hot dog for cheap. Pair that with a cold papaya juice and now we’re talking a classic, plus it’s one of the best places to eat in NYC on a budget!
Pro Tip: Get their “recession special” which is 2 ‘dogs and a juice for only a couple bucks. Totally worth it, in my opinion. You can also watch the world go by as you eat because their counters face Broadway and 72nd street.
– Address: 45-16 Queens Blvd,
Sunnyside, NY 11104. Click here for more information and reviews.
– Phone: (718) 472-4725
– Hours: Open 24/7
Nothing says old-school New York City to me like Alpha Donut. This place is retro as hell. It’s totally no-frills, salt-of-the-earth New York-ness is, in my opinion, refreshing.
Come here for a bacon and eggs plate. Get a plain donut (made there) and a coffee then sit at the old formica counter tops and watch Queens walk by the window. It’s awesome. It’s also on my list as one of the best places to eat in NYC on a budget.
I think this is about as “New York” as you can get and is a definite stop to make among places you must eat in NYC.
Pro Tip: Cash only. Don’t come for the sterling service, but eavesdropping on the locals coming in to talk about their lives is awesome.
Nan Xiang Xiao Long Bao
– Address: 38-12 Prince St,
Flushing, NY 11354. Click here for more information and reviews.
– Phone: (718) 321-3838
– Hours: Sunday to Thursday: 8am – 12am, Friday: 11:30am – 11pm, Saturday: 11am – 11pm
I love this Chinese restaurant. Every time I bring someone out to Flushing, I take them here. The food is dirt cheap, hella good, and the portions are massive. I think this is among the best places to eat in NYC on a budget.
These guys are known for their soup dumplings, so I’d recommend getting an order of that. Their rice dumplings are delicious too.
Pro Tip: There is normally a wait here. Expect to have to stand outside for the better part of an hour. Cash only. After you eat, walk around Flushing: this is a fantastic area of New York City.
Best Places to Eat in NYC for Sweets:
– Address: 4438, 233 Bleecker St,
New York, NY 10014. Click here for more information. (There are a couple locations around the city)
– Phone: (212) 206-1738
– Hours: Sunday to Thursday: 12pm – 12am, Friday to Saturday: 12pm – 12:30am
I know I said I was going to steer you clear of pretension, but this is the one exception I’m going to make because Grom is about as pretentious as they come.
That said: their gelato is Off. The. Charts.
I’ve been to Italy twice. I’ve had authentic Italian gelato and Grom is the real deal. There will likely be a line. You’ll likely have to pay through the nose for your small cup of creamy, cold goodness, but my god will it be worth it.
Pro Tip: They don’t just do gelato, you can get some hot chocolate if you feel inclined and then die of chocolatey goodness.
– Address: 4438, 243 Bleecker St,
New York, NY 10014. Click here for more information. (There is another location in Brooklyn).
– Phone: (212) 242-6031
– Hours: Sunday to Thursday: 7:30am – 10pm, Friday to Saturday: 7:30am – 12am
I love this place. This is a holdover from when Bleeker street was still a poor neighborhood filled with Italian immigrants. Oh how the area has changed! Rocco’s, however, is still very much alive and well.
I used to come here after I got off work when I was at the Cornelia Street Cafe just around the block. I’d swing down to Bleeker and at just before midnight on a Saturday I’d pick up a sfogliatella. If you’ve never had a sfogliatella you’d best get your butt to Rocco’s and get one. Easily my favorite Italian dessert.
Pro Tip: They have a great space in the back of the bakery to sit and drink a cappuccino and nibble a pastry. It’s really chill and a nice place to take a breather.
– Address: 623 Vanderbilt Ave,
Brooklyn, NY 11238. Click here for more information. (There are several locations around the city; more info here)
– Phone: (347) 240 – 3926
– Hours: Sunday to Thursday: 12am – 11pm, Friday to Saturday: 12pm – 12am
For places you must eat in NYC: this is a top. But, go after you’ve gorged on Nacho Mach Taco because Ample Hills is all about the ice cream.
They make ooey-gooey ice cream crammed full of home made treats. Cookies, brittle, brownies, candies, fudge… I could go on, but you really need to experience their ice creams for yourself. I wouldn’t say this was cheap, but it sure beats the heat on a hot day.
Pro Tip: If you go on the weekend you WILL wait in line. If there is any way you can go during the middle of the day on a weekday, you’ll sail right in.
Best Places to Go With a Group:
Kang Ho Dong Baekjeong Korean BBQ
– Address: 5401, 1 E 32nd St,
New York, NY 10016. Click here for more information and reviews. (Another location in Queens)
– Phone: (212) 966-9839
– Hours: Sunday to Thursday: 11:30am – 1am, Friday to Saturday: 11:30am – 5am
I’ve come here a couple of times with some of my Korean students who have all remarked that this place is the real deal.
Located in “little Korea” on 32nd street, Baekjeong is a goodeats. They have personal BBQ grills at each table and a nifty extractor that comes down to suck up all the smoke from the food cooking on the flames. There is a ton to choose from on the menu and everything is fresh and yummy (although I’m partial to their pork).
Pro Tip: This restaurant is best enjoyed in large groups, so I would not recommend coming here as a couple because the serving sizes are HUGE and expensive if only split two ways.
– Address: 1900 Broadway,
New York, NY 10023. Click here for more information. (There are multiple locations around the city, check here for more information about those branches).
– Phone: (212) 496-5700
– Hours: Monday to Thursday: 7:30am – 12am, Friday: 7:30am – 1am, Saturday: 9am – 1am, Sunday: 9am – 12am
I love the brunches they have at these locations. They’re usually packed with people, but well worth the short wait to get a table on a Sunday morning.
I’m a huge fan of their salads which are robust, flavorful and filling – words I don’t normally use to describe a salad.
Pro Tip: I love the bathrooms at these places. They are huge and have individual rooms for each toilet for the ultimate amount of privacy.
– Address: 2880 Broadway,
New York, NY 10025. Click here for more information.
– Phone: (212) 864-6137
– Hours: Open 24/7
Arguably one of the most famous diners in the city, I put this on the list because I grew up eating here and don’t give a damn if it was on Seinfeld. The interior is not like in the show and, other than the sign out front, there is nothing about going there that feels any different from your standard New York City diner.
That’s why I like it.
This is open 24/7 and you can get yourself a malted vanilla milkshake at 3am if your heart desires and no one would give a rat’s ass about your life decisions – as long as you leave a tip.
Pro Tip: You know how New Yorkers have a reputation for being nasty? You’ll find that stereotype alive and well here if you take up too much time at a booth on a Saturday morning. When the waitress wants you out, she’ll put that check down and practically demand you pay up or order more if you’re going to stay. You’ve been warned.
– Address: 700 W 125th St,
Harlem, NY 10027. Click here for more information. (There are multiple locations around New York State and another in Brooklyn).
– Phone: (212) 694-1777
– Hours: Monday to Thursday: 11:30am – 11pm, Friday to Saturday: 11:30am – 12pm, Sunday: 12pm – 10pm
The people that run Dinosaur BBQ are some of the most accommodating, helpful people. So much so that Jackson and I used these guys to cater our wedding. Their BBQ is fantastic, their service is excellent, and I’ve never been disappointed by a meal here.
There are a couple of branches in the city – I’ve been to the one in Brooklyn and in Harlem – and both are great. Massive food halls that can seat a lot of people are a rarity in New York City, but these guys can provide.
Pro Tip: The branch in Harlem is not too far from the Hudson River and you can take a lovely post-dinner stroll along the water after you’ve stuffed yourself.
The Mermaid Inn
– Address: 570 Amsterdam Ave,
New York, NY 10024. Click here for more information. (There are 2 other branches in Manhattan).
– Phone: (212) 799-7400
– Hours: Monday: 5pm – 10pm, Tuesday to Friday: 5pm – 10:30pm, Saturday: 11am – 2:30pm/ 5pm – 10:30pm, Sunday: 11am – 2:30pm/ 5pm – 10pm. Happy Hour: From 5pm – 7pm Everyday.
I am suggesting this placed based solely on their happy hour because their happy hour is awesome. What would otherwise be an expensive seafood dinner, from 5-7pm everyday, becomes a chance to sample some delicious goodies for a great price.
I love their $1 oysters on the half shell, fish tacos, and calamari. Hot damn, that’s good stuff. Pair that with a cheeky $8 bubbly and I’m a happy camper.
Pro Tip: Show up at 5 to get a table, otherwise you risk getting seated too late to fully take advantage of the sweet happy hour deals.
The Hummus Place
– Address: 360 Amsterdam Ave,
Manhattan, NY 10024. Click here for more information and reviews. (There is an additional branch in the West Village).
– Phone: (212) 595-7450
– Hours: Sunday to Thursday: 11:30am – 11:15pm, Friday to Saturday: 11:30am – 12am
When I need a quick hummus fix in the city, I’ll go to the Hummus Place. Their pita bread is fresh as hell and they do hummus right. There are plenty of vegan and vegetarian options that’ll make any guest you might want to bring here happy.
I love their hummus sampler. I like plates of food that can offer a bunch of complementing flavor and leave me full and happy.
Pro Tip: Their spicy sauce is to die for. When my sister-in-law last came here she had to get some for take-a-way so she could eat more at home. She’s not crazy, it’s really damn good. They sell it by the cashier.
Taverna Kyclades – Address: 33-07 Ditmars Blvd,
Astoria, NY 11105. Click here for their website. They also have two other locations in the city.
– Phone: (718) 545-8666
– Hours: Monday to Saturday: 12-11pm; Sunday 12-10:30pm.
This is a classic, somewhat polished, Greek restaurant in Astoria, Queens (as well as the Lower East Side and Bayside, Queens!). When I need to impress people with specialty cuisine, I’ll take them here.
The reason Taverna Kyclades is one of the places you have to eat in nyc is because this can offer you huge portions, authentic Mediterranean food, and all at very reasonable prices.
I love their grilled fish (whatever they happen to have that night, really), lemon potatoes, roast beets, and Peasant Salad. I’ve never walked away hungry or dissatisfied. Oh, and they give you complimentary galaktoboureko at the end of your dinner (if you’ve never had this dessert, you’re in for a TREAT).
Pro Tip: This restaurant does not take reservations beforehand, so if you intend to show up with a group at dinnertime, you may have a wait in front of you. The house will offer free house-red or house-white wines for those waiting, however, so the wait for a table never feels too bad.
Taverna Kos (Koakos Syllogos Hippocrates)
– Address: 4119 23rd Ave,
Astoria, NY 11105. Click here for directions and reviews.
– Phone: (718) 728-3325
– Hours: Monday to Sunday: 5pm – late
Unlike it’s more popular neighbor, Taverna Kyclades, this small, unassuming Greek restaurant took me a while to realize that it ever was a Greek restaurant. It looks like a center for a private club.
After you sit down, however, you will be treated to some of the best Greek food in Queens (and there is no wait!).
This place is cheap, good, and unique. Honestly, it’s one off-the-beaten-track, locals-only spot that really packs a punch in terms of flavor and value. I highly recommend getting their tsatsiki and grilled calamari because: damn that’s good stuff.
Pro Tip: Cash only. The owner usually sits outside smoking a cigar, make nice and say “hi” and you might even get a free carafe of red wine.
– Address: 668 Bay St, Staten Island, NY 10304
Here is their website for more information.
– Phone: (347) 857-6619
– Hours: Tuesday to Friday 12pm – 3pm for lunch; then 5pm – 10pm for dinner. Saturday and Sunday buffet open all day, 12pm – 10pm. Closed Mondays.
Here’s a reason to go to Staten Island. If you have access to a car, you can cross the bridge and after a short 10-minute drive find yourself at the best Sri Lankan restaurant in New York City. This is about as off-the-beaten path as you can get when visiting NYC.
I don’t know if you have ever had Sri Lankan food (we wrote about this country’s delicious cuisine here), but it is a fantastic cuisine and often passed over for its more well-known neighbor, India. Lakruwana is an awesome experience! It’s funky, cozy, strange, and delicious. Oh, and it’s really budget-friendly.
This is a local favorite. People will come from miles around to eat here. It is vegan and vegetarian friendly. Even the New York Times has raved about this place to eat in NYC on a budget. You can come for a dinner for two (like we did) or come with a larger party.
Pro Tip: Go for the all-you-can-eat buffet on the weekend. It’s only $14.95 per person (tax not included) and you can roll yourself home. A really great deal!
– Address: 64-13 39th Ave,
Woodside, NY 11377. Click here for more information. (There is one other location in Brooklyn).
– Phone: (718) 899-9599
– Hours: Thursday to Tuesday: 11:30am – 9:30pm, Closed on Wednesdays.
Thai food lovers: rejoice! Here is some authentic, brings-you-right-back-to-that-beach-in-Thailand food. This place is off the hook and a definite stop on the list of places you must eat in NYC.
They are usually pretty busy for dinner, so expect a little wait, although the restaurant in queens is large and can accommodate a lot of people. There is a beautiful garden in the back you can sit and eat in, if you feel to.
Pro Tip: Cash only! After dinner, walk around the area. This part of Queens is authentic, wacky, and full of vibrancy. It feels completely different from the rest of New York and is a great area to explore.
The Jackson Diner
– Address: 3747 74th Street,
Jackson Heights, NY 11372. Click here for more information.
– Phone: (718) 672-1232
– Hours: Sunday to Thursday: 11am – 10pm, Friday to Saturday: 11am – 10:30pm
Here’s some Indian food to fill your belly. These guys serve up a massive all-you-can-eat buffet for lunch and dinner – come hungry.
I’ve only ever been here for the buffets because at $11 USD per person, it’s a great deal and you can really stuff yourself with delicious Indian food. This would be a great stop among the best places to eat in NYC on a budget.
Pro Tip: This restaurant is located in the Indo-Pakistani neighborhood of Queens. Taking a chance to walk around is highly recommended.
Nacho Macho Taco
– Address: 417 Prospect Pl,
Brooklyn, NY 11238. Click here for more information.
(There are two locations in Brooklyn; hours are the same).
– Phone: (718) 622-2727
– Hours: Monday to Thursday: 11pm – 11pm, Friday and Saturday: 11pm – 12am.
Good, cheap Mexican food here, folks. We love Nacho Macho Taco. It’s cheesy, it’s saucy, there’s outdoor seating… it’s all things. Plus, there’s a great happy hour. These restaurants are some of the best places to eat in NYC on a budget.
The location we go to in Brooklyn in close to Prospect Park, so whenever we feel like fueling up on a quesadilla we stop in here and get our food on. It’s no frills. The restaurant is pretty small, and the interior has a bunch of big-sceened TV sets most likely playing soccer or baseball.
Pro Tip: Sit outside if you can. It’s a great place to sip a Dos Equis.
The Good Fork
– Address: 391 Van Brunt St,
Brooklyn, NY 11231. Click here for more information.
– Phone: (718) 643-6636
– Hours: Tuesday to Friday: 5:30pm – 10:30pm, Saturday: 10am – 3pm/ 5:30pm – 10:30pm, Sunday: 10am – 3pm/ 5:30pm – 10pm, Closed Mondays.
This is a really cozy brunch spot in Red Hook. Their food is delicious and they have a lovely backdoor deck you can sit outside to eat on.
I like that their bathroom has an entire wall made of green bottles and concrete. It was a nice touch.
It really doesn’t feel like you are in New York in this restaurant. It’s airy, it’s light, and it feels like you’ve walked into a New England get-a-way. Plus, their Asian Fusion is really delightful.
Pro Tip: This is not too far from Brooklyn’s IKEA which is another trip worth taking.
– Address: 138 Orchard St.
New York, NY 10002. Click here for more information.
– Phone: (212) 466-4633
-Hours: Tuesday to Sunday: 6pm – 10pm
Hello tasting menu.
Put on your favorite Saturday night clothes and go down to the Lower East Side to this small, unassuming masterpiece of a restaurant. This is a $400+ dinner for two, so if you are looking to eat in NYC on a budget, this is not the place for you.
That said: a tasting menu like this is a great reason to drop a chunk of your tax return. It’s delicious! The wine pairing really elevated the experience. We found that eating here was similar to being in a really awesome art gallery, except we got to eat the art.
The tasting menu was described to us as American-Fusion cuisine and changes seasonally. The dishes can be made vegan and vegetarian.
Pro Tip: Make your reservation well in advance (at least a week) as this isn’t a large place and it is very popular.
– Address: 178 Broadway,
Brooklyn, NY 11211. Click here for more information.
– Phone: (718) 387-7400
– Hours: Monday to Thursday: 11:45am – 9:45pm, Friday to Saturday: 11:45am – 10:45pm, Sunday: 12:45pm – 9:45pm
If you need a reason to splurge and go all-out fancy, Peter Luger will indulge.
This is a really old steak house that caters to a class of snobs the likes of which you won’t find in most places in New York City. But, they really live up to their reputation. Everything on the menu is fantastic.
But, if you go and don’t order a steak you are doing yourself a grave injustice.
I love how old-school everything is. I mean, when do you ever get a chance to sit in a restaurant that has been serving steak since the 1800s?
Pro Tip: They will do lunch specials and promotions if the budget won’t allow for a $100 steak dinner for two.
Looking for any tips to know before you go to New York? I’ve whipped up a couple that I think everyone coming to this city should know.
Any questions? Leave them in the comments.