In 1992, my colleague Eric Asimov invented a new column for the Times that sought out “restaurants where people can eat lavishly for $25 and under.” By the time it was retired, about a decade ago, dining out in New York had become expensive, even at the cheap end, and the column’s writers were regularly blowing past the $25 limit.
Still, restaurants where that amount purchases an excellent, satisfying meal do exist, even today. In fact, you can do pretty well for less than that. How much less? It’s possible to eat in these three restaurants for around $10. Tax and tip may bring you over that limit, depending on what you order, how much you eat, and whether you want fries with your burger (you do).
Taiwan Pork Chop House, Chinatown
Before it was Taiwan Pork Chop House, the restaurant at 3 Doyers Street with the salmon-and-oatmeal-colored checkerboard floor was called Excellent Pork Chop House. Both names are factual. The pork chops are caramelized in a pan with a dusting of five-spice powder, the way they would be in Taiwan. And they are excellent. So good, in fact, that you may want to order an extra one as a side, for $3, although the standard way to enjoy them is over rice with pickled mustard greens and minced pork sauce ($8.25). This is the first item on the menu. The second is a whole chicken leg, fried until the skin crackles, and it is at least as good. Wontons in spicy oil ($6) are more wrapper than filling, but it’s still fun dredging them out of a lake of chile oil. Noodle soups are worth exploring, too.
Lovely’s Old Fashioned, Hell’s Kitchen
The city is in the midst of a small but nontrivial lunch-counter revival, as seen at Reveile Luncheonette, S & P Lunch, Salty Lunch Lady’s Little Luncheonette and other places. At the same time, it is seeing a proliferation of joints selling good, ungimmicky midsize burgers with prices in the single digits. It was probably inevitable that these two vectors would cross. But it wasn’t at all guaranteed that their intersection would be as easy to like as Lovely’s Old Fashioned. A 10-seat counter that opened in Hell’s Kitchen in April, Lovely’s is a nongreasy spoon with smart details. The cooks wear paper hats, two flavors of mini-Bundt cake are sold by the register, and the soft drinks include pineapple Fanta and red cream soda from Kutztown Soda Works. The details on the burger ($7 for a single, $7.50 for a single with cheese) are well-considered, too. The bun is buttered and toasted, and the patty has been seared on the griddle but not completely steamrollered. The onion rings ($5) are thickly battered and sweet; the wide, wavy fries ($5) seem to be related to cottage fries, steak fries, potato chips and pommes soufflés, although ultimately they may be unclassifiable.
B & B Restaurant, Chelsea
Vast, busy and restless, B & B is the Grand Central of steam-table restaurants. Customers mill around, inspecting the day’s assortment of West African stews, braised meats, whole fried fish and starches — fonio, fufu, jollof rice are pretty much constants. There’s Caribbean cooking, too: Curried goat and jerk chicken are almost always available, along with maduros and rice and beans. Once you’ve loaded up on hot food, don’t forget the salad bar. Almost everything is priced at $7.99 a pound. Labels are rare, but do appear from time to time so you don’t confuse the potato leaf sauce with the cassava leaf sauce.
Where to look for me
I keep all kinds of restaurant lists. One of them, updated constantly, keeps track of newer places that intrigue me. What follows is a way shorter version of that list.
When I say I keep restaurant lists, I mean I keep them — restaurants aren’t deleted unless they close. Farra, a small wine bar, is on my list with an opening date of March 2020, minutes before the world blew apart. I finally got there recently and was glad I did. Farra is a sister restaurant to Atera, next door. They share a wine list, which explains why a 20-seat wine bar has bottles selling for thousands of dollars. I drank cheaper stuff, though, and ate some extremely appealing, original plates devised by the chefs Ronny Emborg and Dustin Mehrtens. I won’t soon forget my surprise at discovering that golden beets and pineapple really do go together (in a chilled appetizer sprinkled with chopped pistachios and topped with a white blob of burrata). My favorite dish of the night was a bowl of rice — sticky, crunchy, golden, warm. I stirred it together with raw scallops, beads of trout roe and an egg yolk, after which nobody at the table spoke for at least five minutes.
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