|From the Supplement to the 123rd Annual Meeting
Cheap Eats in New York City
New Yorkers spend exorbitant amounts of money on rent and mortgages. But luckily, we can eat cheaply and abundantly, particularly in the city’s ethnic enclaves. Here is an abbreviated gastronomic tour of cheap eats in the five boroughs. (See box on p. 54 for cheap food within a few blocks of the meeting hotels.)
There are still a few places to experience the pre-gentrification Lower East Side. Two classics of New York City gastronomy are Katz’s Deli and Russ and Daughters Appetizing Store.
The sandwiches at Katz’s (205 E. Houston St., 212-254-2246, www.katzdeli.com) are no longer cheap but each one can easily feed two. And you’re paying for an unforgettable experience. Opened at this location in 1888, Katz’s serves the best artery-clogging pastrami, corned beef, and specials in the world! Right down the block is the famous Russ and Daughters (179 E. Houston St., 212-475-4880, www.russanddaughters.com). Owned by the same family for four generations, this appetizing store is a New York City gem. The owner Mark Federman and his kin sell bagels, smoked fish, cream cheese, and a host of other delicious treats. There is no place to sit in the store, but if it is not too cold you can sit outside on the benches down the block (in front of American Apparel).
Essex Street Market (120 Essex St., 212-388-0449, www.essexstreetmarket.com) is worth a side trip. Opened in 1940 to remove peddlers from the streets of the Lower East Side, the market recently received a makeover from the city’s Economic Development Corporation. It is a fascinating commercial space that caters to local residents and visitors alike and should be a model for preserving the old while welcoming the new. Closed Sundays.
There are numerous delicious restaurants and bakeries in Chinatown. Try the pork buns at Lucky King (280 Grand St., 212-219-8434) for just 80 cents apiece. The popular Congee Village (100 Allen St., 212-941-1818, www.congeevillagerestaurants.com), near the border between Chinatown and the Lower East Side, is one of New York’s premiere Cantonese restaurants.
In the East Village, stand-outs include the Ukrainian coffee shop Veselka (144 2nd Ave., 212-228-9682, www.veselka.com) and Little Poland (200 2nd Ave., 212-777-9728). Each serves delicious, hearty soups like Ukrainian borscht and mushroom barley. Or indulge in the handmade pierogi, stuffed cabbage, or bigos (a hearty Ukrainian stew).You can eat like royalty for under $10. Don’t forget to ask for an order of challah with butter.
On First Avenue, have dessert and an espresso at De Robertis Caffe (176 1st Ave., 212-674-7137, www.derobertiscaffe.com). In the East Village since 1904, De Robertis’ features delicious Italian pastries including cannoli, cassatine, and pignoli cookies.
In the east 20’s on Lexington Avenue in Murray Hill is the aptly named Curry Hill. (There are also Indian restaurants on East 6th Street in the East Village). There are plenty of good choices for vegetarians and carnivores alike. If you want to sample South Asian cuisine, visit Kaluystan’s grocery and spice store (123 Lexington Ave., 212-685-3451, www.kalustyans.com). It’s worth it for the intoxicating smell alone. There are bins full of treats. Upstairs there is a little café. My favorites are the grapes leaves and samosas.
In the 30’s around 5th Avenue, in the vicinity of the Empire State Building, the CUNY Graduate Center, and Macy’s, lies the heart of Koreatown. Mandoo Bar (2 W. 32nd St., 212-279-3075) is a great place for pan fried dumplings (mandoo) and bibimbop, a Korean-style rice dish stirred in a stone pot at your table. Around the corner, Bon Chon Chicken (314 5th Ave., 212-221-2222) serves a mostly young, hip, and under-30 Korean crowd the best fried chicken ever. Be prepared to wait.
In Chelsea, La Taza De Oro (96 8th Ave., 212-243-9946) serves fantastic Puerto Rican delights such as pernil (roast pork) or ropa vieja (shredded beef) accompanied by rice and beans. Order the flan for dessert. For Dominican food, travel all the way uptown to Washington Heights. The neighborhood was known as the Jewish Alps when it was home to refugees from the Holocaust (including my father-in-law.) Now it is home to a vibrant Dominican community. El Malecon (4141 Broadway, 212-927-3812) is an excellent choice for arroz con pollo.
Most of the good cheap food in New York City is in the other boroughs—Russian, Chinese, Caribbean, Mexican, and Arabic among others. Here are a few highlights.
Before it is all lost to redevelopment, take the F train to Coney Island to buy a hot dog and fries at Nathan’s Famous (1310 Surf Ave., 718-946-2705, www.nathansfamous.com) and take a walk on the boardwalk. Or visit the Sideshows by the Seashore. If freak shows aren’t your thing, at least see Marie Roberts’ wonderful sideshow banners on the side of the building on West 12th Street off Surf Avenue. After 27 years of living in New York, this is still one of my favorite ways to spend a Sunday afternoon.
Other Brooklyn favorites include the Mexican La Familia (938 4th Ave., 718-832-7568) in Sunset Park for tortas and the Caribbean and soul food Soul Spot (302 Atlantic Ave., 718-596-9933, www.thesoulspot.com) for jerk chicken, candied yams, and collard greens.
In the Bronx, visit the Arthur Avenue Retail Market (2344 Arthur Ave., 718-295-5033, www.arthuravenue.com). This enclosed market opened in 1940 in the heart of the Italian section of the Bronx. Mike’s Deli is famous for its mozzarella and freshly made hero sandwiches. Closed Sundays.
Queens is a mecca for all things ethnic—there are communities of Greeks, Indians, Guyanese, Chinese, and Bukharin Jews from Uzbekistan, each group with accompanying restaurants, taverns, and grocery stores. Astoria, although gentrifying, is the center of Hellenic New York. Try Athens Tavern (23-01 31st St., 718-267-0800).
Denino’s (524 Port Richmond Ave., 718-442-9401) on Staten Island has been run by the same family since 1937 and was recently voted one of the best pizza spots in New York. It is hard to get to by public transportation, although taking the free Staten Island Ferry is one of the best NYC experiences.
Even though many of these establishments have been around for decades, the only thing you can truly count on in New York City is change—trading rumors about restaurant closings is a favorite local pastime. So check first to make sure these gems are still open. If they are not, others will take their place.
Suzanne Wasserman is a historian and award-winning filmmaker currently working on The Sweatshop Cinderella, about the immigrant writer Anzia Yezierska. She is the director of the Gotham Center for New York City History at the City University of New York, Graduate Center. She is a member of the Local Arrangements Committee.Last Updated: December 15, 2008 1:07 PM