How to eat a full day in NYC’s restaurants for under $20

Living in NYC is like having a long term relationship: ya don’t necessarily love everything about the guy, but you surely can’t image your life without him.  

Dealing with lousy transportation, constant traffic, wet garbage, and more rats than people has surely worn me out over the years. However, one of the big reasons for why I am still here is, hands down, THE FOOD.

My relationship with NYC transit.
My relationship with NYC rats.
My relationship with NYC food 😀

I’ve had plenty of special meals in New York City, including lunch at Ellen’s Stardust Diner, hot dogs at PDT, Queen of the Night immersive theater dinner, and more fancy rooftop appetizers than I can count. However, it’s the random hole-in-the-wall joint, the neighborhood’s favorite, that make New York’s food scene truly special.

While it is normal to spend half of your paycheck on meals in New York, it is also entirely possible to eat out all day for less than $20 a day. When on a budget with no desire to cook for myself (aka, every week), here is what I do:

Breakfast – $6.48

Breakfast is my favorite meal of the day. I love when my days start with a cup of coffee, oatmeal and great company. There’s nothing better than that.  Unfortunately, I don’t get to have breakfast as often as I’d like, but when I do, you’ll find me at the City Kitchen sharing a cafe au-lait donut with my favorite person. 

Here’s the breakfast bill: Café au lair donut: $3 + Small americano coffee: $3 +Tax: 48 cents = $6.48

My favorite sweet breakfast.

Btw, if you’re with someone who prefers a salty breakfast, there’s also a breakfast burrito stand across from the donut places.

Lunch – $6.00

Lunch is my least favorite meal of the day because It’s disruptive to my day at work. For that reason, I generally get the cheapest and most efficient option for lunch – $6 chicken over rice OR vegetarian falafel gyro from a local halal cart (which is also my favorite food in New York City). 

My lunch bill comes out to $6 (pro tip: agree on the price prior to ordering!).

NYC’s most popular halal cart  “The Halal Guys”. Photo cred: @thehalalguys

Dinner – $7.43

My stomach runs the show after 7PM. Whatever weird diet I am currently on, whatever my workout routine, it all doesn’t matter at dinner time. It doesn’t help that in my marriage, lots of things happen over dinner – this is when we finally catch up, reflect on our day and wind down. As the conversation continues, the dishes keep coming. Here’s where it all goes down:

  • Maoz: I order falafel sandwich, and Camilo gets a meat version. Both are excellent and come with a complimentary salad (hot & cold) bar. Let’s just say I’m surprised these people haven’t started limiting the definition of “complementary” strictly based on the number of pounds of baked cauliflower I consume as part of the deal.
  • Bao Shoppe: a bit more expensive for our $7.50 budget, but I have to mention it, because this is one of my favorite recent NYC discoveries. The best way I can describe it is “American/pan-Asian food experiment”. This place is so cool. The curry fries are just divine!
Bao Shoppe’s fries <3

Here’s the dinner bill: Pita pocket with falafel & complimentary veggie bar: $4.89 + $1.99 = $6.88 + tax ($.55) = $7.43

Grand total: $19.91

There! You just ate like a king for less than $20/day! Ooookay, okay, it’s more like $25 since you do have to tip, too. But for that price you’d only be able to get a loaf of bread, some tomatoes and cheese in New York, so, not bad! And also, while there’s a lifetime worth of incredible dining options in New York City, these places still serve some of my favorite meals in NYC. 

Are there any other cheap favorites out there? Anything worth recommending to other NYC visitors?


2 Replies to “How to eat a full day in NYC’s restaurants for under $20”

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  2. […] you haven’t already, check out our guide for what to see in NYC! Also, we recently wrote up a list of eat cheap (but delicious) meals in NYC and a list of free winter […]

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