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New York’s Most Affordable Standout Restaurants, According to 14 Chefs

Jo Park of Kāwi is head over heels for Xi’an Famous Foods. Photo: An Rong Xu

Chefs toil away in small, cramped kitchens for hours at a time, often for little (or sometimes even no) pay. But on those rare occasions when they get some time off, they still need to eat well, so Grub asked 14 chefs where they go when they want to eat some great — and affordable — food. Uni, pizza, and classic burgers are all present and accounted for. Take a look, below.

Jo Park
Head chef, Kāwi
“I’ve been obsessed with Xi’an Famous Foods since I began working in the kitchen at the original Momofuku Ko location and someone brought it in for lunch. I loved the robust flavors and have been going ever since. My go-to order is the A1 (cold skin noodles), L1 (tiger vegetables salad), and F1 (chang’An spicy tofu), which I turn into my own little bowl.”

Sirichai Sreparplarn
Chef-owner, Ugly Baby
“I love Bep Ga, a Vietnamese restaurant in Chinatown. Their chicken rice is exceptionally good — it’s simple and perfect in every way. You wouldn’t imagine that they only charge about ten bucks for it. This dish should motivate every hungry person to make their way to Chinatown.”

Katy Moore
Chef de cuisine, Gertie
“It’s a classic, but Corner Bistro is my go-to for an easy lunch in the city. No fuss, no frills. They don’t care who you are as long as you have cash and are ready to order when they get to your table. As far as I’m concerned, the only way to go is a bistro burger, fries, and a beer. Unconfirmed rumor: the fries are cooked in beef fat (I choose to go with it). Bring people from out of town, but only if you like them.”

Sara Jenkins
Chef-owner, Porsena
“I stumbled on Davelle because of the uni pasta. I’ve made uni pasta for many years (in a very Italian way) so I was really intrigued to go and check it out. But I really loved it for everything in the end. As a sake bar, it’s a great way to learn and taste. Its small with a tight little menu and run by a passionate owner who is there helping you have a good time and navigate the menu whether you are familiar with Japanese food and culture or not.”

Desiree Tuttle
Head chef, Achilles Heel
“What was once a kept secret is now just a super popular and DELICIOUS Ethiopian restaurant. The format of the menu at Bunna Café is simple and each dish is perfectly seasoned. I like to get an order of the lentil sambusa (the Ethiopian equivalent to an Indian samosa) to start. Then you pick your ‘dishes.’ Pick five if you’re hungry, seven if you’re starving, and nine if you’re scared you’ll never eat again. All the dishes are scooped onto a tangy sourdough-esque ‘flatbread’ that reminds me more of a sassy crepe with a tang that also happens to be your eating utensil — so fun. When I leave Bunna, my heart and soul are happy and my stomach is thankful.”

The Corner Bistro is a no-frills classic for a reason. Photo: Melissa Hom

Mike Fadem
Chef-owner, Ops
“I’d have to say Superiority Burger. It’s my favorite restaurant in the city, but also happens to be pretty cheap. The space is cramped, but the staff makes you feel comfortable. It’s some kind of miracle how many people can fit in this tiny room and yet it actually feels good to be there. Maybe it’s not a miracle and it’s the generosity and love in the food they make. I love everything on the menu, the burger and the New Creation are my favorite, or, Mondays, the TFT (tofu-fried tofu) ice-cream, and water. Perfect meal every time.”

Justin Smillie
Head chef, Upland
“Whenever I’m craving ramen, I always go to Totto Ramen. With a few different locations in Midtown, it’s nice to know there’s always a Totto Ramen nearby. I only ever order the spicy paitan with either pork or chicken and an extra egg is a must, too! The house-made spicy sesame oil compliments the chicken paitan broth and while there’s sometimes a bit of a wait, the service is always quick and easy. I also love the Hanoi-style beef pho from Hanoi House on Saint Mark’s Place. You can taste the quality in the broth (it’s cooked for 16 hours); the black Angus filet mignon and brisket is also thinly sliced and layered nicely in the broth. The best part is having the option for additions to my bowl of pho. I typically add on bone marrow or tendon terrine. Both restaurants offer really satisfying meals and I love that both meals can be enjoyed for under $25.”

Heather Fuller
Chef-owner, Madcap Cafe
“My favorite cheap meal is the Tingly Lamb Hand-Pulled Noodles at Very Fresh Noodles in Chelsea market. It is $12 and you can get a beer at the filling station for $6. It is so delicious. I love it because they put so much work into building an awesome broth. They braise the meat just right. The chile oil alone has at least ten ingredients. They hand-pull the noodles right there while you wait and it couldn’t be fresher!”

Nick Perkins
Chef-owner, Hart’s, Cervo’s, and the Fly
“When we were building Cervo’s a few years ago, my business partner Nialls and I would duck out to Wu’s Wonton King a block away and warm up with hot tea and wonton soup because that winter was cold as hell. Wu’s has the best wonton soup: you can get it with a ‘clear broth’ or a ‘bone broth.’ I honestly don’t have a preference, I just change them up based on what I’m feeling. The wontons are great too; each one has a whole shrimp inside, packed in ground pork. If you want, you can also get the soup with noodles in place of two wontons. If you’re feeling fancy or just want some greens, get a heaping side of pea shoots with garlic. To this day, I’m still not tired of this soup and probably get it at least once a week in the colder months.”

Greg Baxtrom
Chef-owner, Olmsted
“My favorite less-expensive restaurant is LOOK by Plant Love House on Washington Avenue [in Brooklyn]. More specifically, I can’t get enough of the Yum Pak Boong Grob salad. It’s the best $12 you’ll ever spend. I like it so much that we sometimes have a version of it on our menu.”

Meat Hook’s Ben Turley suggests getting to Prince Street Pizza before the nighttime crowds. Photo: Melissa Hom

Ben Turley
Co-owner, the Meat Hook
Prince Street Pizza and Spring Lounge are so close and they’re both so good as long as you can get there during daytime hours to avoid the line at Prince Street and avoid the crowds at Spring Lounge. Prince Street is one of the top five slices in NYC and it’s priced to move straight into your belly. All the touristy famous-people pictures on the wall, and all the NY ‘you can’t order fast enough’ attitude that makes you love living here. But there’s no booze. However, four minutes away is a bar that opens at the thank-God hour of 10 a.m. Spring Lounge [gets packed] after 4 or 5 p.m., but man, it’s great during the day. Grab two beers to wash down your slice (you only need one) and you’re cruising towards your nap for less than $20.”

Leah Cohen
Chef-owner, Pig and Khao
“My favorite spot in Manhattan to indulge in some ‘cheap eats’ is Los Mariscos in Chelsea Market. It’s all about seafood and my go-to order is a fish taco, spicy shrimp taco, and a Michelada ( … but these days I’m enjoying the watermelon juice. Altogether it costs like $20. My second favorite element is that the entrance is somewhat hidden inside Chelsea Market, so when you walk down the little hallway, you immediately feel transported to a city in Mexico. To top it off, the vibe is super fun, with great music.”

Libby Willis and Bill Clark
Chef-owners, MeMe’s Diner
The Islands on Washington Avenue is an affordable and comforting spot. Sometimes after a particularly long or busy brunch shift we will treat the team to lunch from the Islands [before] dinner service so we can all just sit and have a homey meal. We order a couple of trays of jerk chicken or curry goat. The trays come with rice and peas and buttered cabbage. We always order extra cabbage, it’s so good! The food is spicy, rich, and tastes like it was made specially for you.”

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