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Food + Drink

The Best NYC Bites Under $20

In the land of Michelin-starred restaurants, $100+ gourmet prix-fixe menus, and costly novelty products, finding an affordable and decently tasty bite to eat can seem like a tall order. Alas, $1 pizza slices and street kebabs are not the only answer – we've got 11 stellar options for breakfast, lunch and dinner, all under $20.

A Brooklyn-based writer and editor, Chelsea's work has appeared in Matador Network, The Huffington Post, the TripAdvisor blog, and more. When not planning her next trip, you'll usually find her drinking way too much iced coffee (always iced—she’s from New England) or bingeing a Netflix original series.

See recent posts by Chelsea Stuart

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Pre Fab Sprouts, Egg Shop, SoHo

Egg Shop operates under a fairly simply philosophy: eggs are an every meal ingredient. With that in mind, of course, egg sandwiches dominate the breakfast menu, but things get a little more inventive when it comes to evening eats. Peep the dinner menu and you'll spot the $16 Pre Fab Sprouts – a dish of cage-free, organic poached eggs, roasted Brussel sprouts, cauliflower, baby carrots, preserved lemon, feta, fresh herbs, and tahini that will please any gourmand on a budget.

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Photo by Zack DeZon


Impossible Burger, Momofuku Nishi, Chelsea

By now, most people have probably heard about Impossible Foods' meatless burger, since the veggie patty that looks, smells, tastes, and "bleeds," like beef made headlines this summer when it was added to David Chang's menu at Momofuku Nishi. The Silicon Valley-engineered meat substitute is a combination of textured wheat protein, coconut oil, and potatoes, that's supposed to taste as good as the real thing. But how does the plant-based imitation burger hold up to, say, Shake Shack? That's for you to decide, and at lunchtime, the Impossible Burger, with fries, is a steal at just $12. Oh, and pointer – you order it like you would a normal burger, so make sure you tell them if you want it rare or medium rare.

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Challah French Toast, Harefield Road, Williamsburg

Step away from Williamsburg's main thoroughfare – Bedford Ave – and you'll find that the neighborhood joints on other blocks are not all as expensive. Around the Graham Ave L stop, keep your eyes peeled for Harefield Road, an unsuspecting bar and patio tucked next to an art supply store. Come Saturday and Sunday, the pub transforms into an under-the-radar brunch spot, serving $13 (simply unheard of) dishes in their sunny backyard that come with your choice of coffee or tea, and Mimosa or Bloody Mary. "Do I go breakfast or lunch?" is always a crippling question, but without fail, we always land on the the fluffy challah french toast dusted with powdered sugar and piled high with fresh fruit.

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Souvlaki Pita, Souvlaki GR, LES & Midtown

Dreamy Mykonos may be a 10+ hour flight away from NYC, but if we were to blindfold you and plop you down in Souvlaki GR, we're certain that the blue-shuttered, Aegean white wash walls and exposed-bulb string lights would have you thinking you'd been transported straight to Greece. The authentic – no really, it's run by first-generation Greek owners – grill started as a food truck in 2010 (which can still be found kicking around Midtown, Hudson Square and Wall Street) before it opened two brick and mortars; a flagship LES locale, and a brand new Midtown taverna. The entire menu delivers, but you can't go wrong with the trusty Souvlaki Pita with chicken or pork, tomato, red onion, fries and tzatziki. Ringing in at only $6.50, it also leaves plenty of budgetary wiggle room so you can tack on dips and pita – like hummus, fava or skordalia – or hand-cut Greek fries with feta cheese and oregano.

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Lady Pizza Girl, Emily, Clinton Hill

NYC is rich in a lot of things – architecturally-innovative skyscrapers, world-renowned cultural institutions, and oh...yeah, really freaking good pizza. So what sets Emily apart from the city's countless pie slingers? To start, the husband-and-wife owned and operated Clinton Hill shoppe serves up gourmet pizza crafted from hand-mixed doughs and hand-made mozzarella, and secondly, they do so in a warm and cozy New American bar atmosphere, where tables are close enough to the wood burning oven that you're almost forced to drool over every pie being pulled out. Our under $20 pick of the menu is the Lady Pizza Girl – a white pizza with ricotta, havarti, mushrooms, pickled chili, mixed herbs and basil.

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Photo by Camille Becerra


Dragon Bowl, Cafe Henrie, LES

If you're looking for a tasty yet healthy meal in a fun (see: blue and pink formica tables, white pegboard walls, and general low-key 80s vibe), buttoned-down environment, Cafe Henrie, in the LES, is calling. The buzzy, Instagram-approved joint serves rotating menus from chefs in residence, and on Camille Becerra's menu, you'll find our favorite dish: the Dragon Bowl. The flavorful (and delightfully colorful) recipe calls for a mix of coconut grains, spring vegetables, fresh greens, pickled veggies, house sprouts, herbs, and your choice of sauce, be it carrot-harrissa yoghurt, beet tahini, chili and bone broth, or gentlemen's relish that in total runs for $14. From there, you can also mix things up with add ons like turmeric poached egg or tea and ginger poached chicken.

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Ike’s Vietnamese Fish Sauce Wings, Chicken Wings, Pok Pok, Cobble Hill

Ok, so we know we prefaced this whole list with the fact that Michelin-starred joints aren't the ones serving wallet-friendly meals, but at Pok Pok NY, you can dine on award-winning dishes for less than the cost of an NYC movie ticket. That's right, for a taste of Northern Thailand in Brooklyn, just head for Cobble Hill. The entire menu packs a punch, but our stomachs want only for Ike's Vietnamese fish sauce wings. For $15.50, you'll get a plate of wings marinated in fish sauce and sugar, deep fried, then tossed in caramelized Phu Quoc fish sauce and garlic and they come paired with a Vietnamese table salad.

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Double Decker Broccoli Tacos, No. 7 Restaurant, Fort Greene

It's not everyday that we come across a restaurant with a broccoli-centric menu, so when we do, we take note. At No. 7 in Fort Greene broccoli dishes rule the roost, and the spot rocks what chef Tyler Kord, and the neighborhood, have deemed a “casual badass” atmosphere – thanks to a dimly-lit, bar-focused dining room. Naturally, you have to go with one of the veggie-packed plates, and for us, that's the Taco Bell-inspired $12 double decker broccoli taco, with feta, fried shallots, and black bean hummus piled first in a hard taco shell, then wrapped in a soft shell.

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Rosewater Waffle, Jack’s Wife Freda, SoHo and West Village

Fair warning: if you're anything like us, you'll probably spend more time artfully arranging your dishes and photographing them, than actually eating them when it comes to Jack's Wife Freda. While almost every aesthetically-pleasing dish catches our eye, the $11 Rosewater Waffle – topped with Lebanese yogurt, mixed berries and honey syrup – has our heart. And the story behind the spot? It's as sweet as their breakfast staples. The bistro's menu is inspired by the dishes that husband-and-wife owners Dean (from South Africa) and Maya (from Israel) grew up with, and the spot is named for Dean's grandparents.

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Photo by Andrew Rowat


Burrito, Mission Cantina, LES

Mission Cantina – chef and owner Danny Bowien's impossibly hip spot fashions a menu from two odd bedfellows that don't often mix in the culinary world– Mexican and Chinese. But take a step back, and you'll realize he's really just giving the people what they want: a one stop shop where guacamole, ceviche and fish tacos are served alongside General Tso's, crispy pork spring rolls, and matcha soft serve ice cream (plus a burger or two, for good measure). Step inside the mint green and white tiled facade, and you'll find geometric yellow and bubble gum pink upholstered bench seating, marbled teal table tops, strings of mini-lantern lights, and camouflage wallpaper. While we advise going for one of everything, keeping to our quota we've got to go burrito; the $18 behemoth comes in veggie, Chinese, or fried chicken and is more than enough for two people.

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Customizable Hot Dog, Crif Dogs, East Village

Starting at $3.25 and running – at their most expensive– to $5.50, Crif Dogs are a no brainer when it comes to cheap NYC eats. You can customize your own Crif Dog (smoked beef and pork) or New Yorker (all-beef) to your liking with toppings both conventional – mustard, ketchup, relish, and non – taylor ham, egg, avocado. Or, you can let their existing menu do the work for you, with options like the Jon-Jon Deragon with a liberal schmear of cream cheese, and sprinkles of scallions and everything bagel seeds, and the bacon-wrapped Tsunami, with teriyaki sauce, chopped pineapples and green onions. If you can't choose just one, or you're grabbing a bite with friends, they also serve up "paks" to suit every appetite. Paks 1 through 4 range from "enough for one dude with a monster case of the munchies" to "a biblical combo of indulgence, if you may, one of the 7 deadly sins. Live long gluttony."

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