The Best Cheap Meals in New York City

by Allie Gemmill
Jan 3, 2018 at 5:00 p.m. ET

Whether they've lived here three months or 30 years, ask any New Yorker how expensive it can be to eat in any of the five boroughs, and you'll likely be met with eye rolls and shrugs. That defeated response comes courtesy of the fact that it's very easy to spend a big ol' chunk of change on good grub here in NYC. As such, finding a place that not only serves up good food but at an affordable price (think $20 or less) is like finding an ocean in the Sahara Desert (read: rare and treasured).

And so, with cheap eats on the brain and a yearning to find some goodies across this great city, we've put together a shortlist of the best places to eat for $20 or less. Keeping in mind you can likely get at least a main and a drink at this price point, it's hard to argue you're getting anything less than the best for your buck. Additionally, because variety is the spice of life, don't expect to find any of your typical chains or just a bunch of burger joints (although we did find a few good ones!) here.

Are you ready to whet your appetite for good NYC eats? Then keep reading.

1 /15: Between the Bread

1/15 :Between the Bread

Overstuffed sammies on the fly and on the cheap sound pretty good, right? If you're a sandwich lover who needs to get their fix ASAP, get the best bang for your buck at Between the Bread (various locations in Manhattan), who pride themselves on fresh and sustainable ingredients. Grab soup for around $6 and sandwiches from $10 to $13. 

2 /15: Baohaus in Manhattan

2/15 :Baohaus in Manhattan

Baohaus has locations in both New York City and Los Angeles, so if you happen to be in the Big Apple, you cannot skip over them. It's hard to keep your tummy from rumbling while perusing their Instagram as your eyes gaze upon the wonder of bao buns overflowing with spiced chicken, shredded beef and steamed vegetables. Go for the Chairman bao ($4.55) or Uncle Jesse bao ($4.05) if you're a first-timer, and add some taro fries ($4.05) and a cold green tea ($3.55) while you're at it. 

3 /15: Soho Tiffin Junction

3/15 :Soho Tiffin Junction

If Chipotle decided to go on a year abroad to India, it would come back as Soho Tiffin Junction. Hefty portions of exquisite Indian fare are being served up at this Greenwich Village restaurant and creating a big ol' fanbase in the process. Everything is fresh and able to be customized to your heart's desire. Maximize your dollars by building your own bowl (bases include cauliflower rice, superfood or quinoa) starting at around $6. 

4 /15: Cheese Grille in Manhattan

4/15 :Cheese Grille in Manhattan

If you're a sucker for a good grilled cheese, then Cheese Grille in the Lower East Side is the place for you. Go for a classic grilled cheese ($6) or get adventurous with a Little Italy ($8), Mediterranean ($9) or sloppy joe ($8.50). You can also add specialized ingredients like avocado, truffle oil, pepperoni or caramelized onion and still come in at around the $12 to $14 mark; it doesn't get much better than that. 

5 /15: Toad Style

5/15 :Toad Style

Vegan eaters will sing for their supper when they enter through the doors of Toad Style in Brooklyn. Their Instagram alone is droolworthy and likely able to convert even the most major of the meat lovers in all five boroughs. Choose from their hefty sammies with a vegan twist like their cheeseburger, banh mi or grilled cheese ($9 to $11) and from sides like cheesy broccoli ($8), cheese fries ($7) or a Greek kale salad ($8). 

6 /15: A&A Bake & Doubles Shop

6/15 :A&A Bake & Doubles Shop

Specializing in Trinidadian eats, A&A Bake & Doubles Shop is a Bed-Stuy haven in Brooklyn. Doubles, hailing from Trinidad, are wraps of fried dough with spiced chickpea mixtures plopped into the center; A&A manages to elevate the art of the double without elevating the price. Seriously, you can eat like royalty at A&A Bake & Doubles for less than a fiver if you really want to. Word on the street is one overstuffed double will run you something like $2, so what are you still doing sitting on your couch reading this?

7/15 :Blue Collar

As Refinery29 notes, it's hard not to compare Blue Collar to Shake Shack, but if you want something fresh and authentic, then you should splash out on the former over the latter. Get a peanut butter shake ($5.75) or classic vanilla shake ($5) to go with your cheeseburger ($5.45) or double hamburger ($6.45), and then unbutton your pants to make sure you can breathe properly as you wolf down all the Blue Collar goodness.

8/15 :Purbird

In Brooklyn, Purbird is ruffling feathers (in a delicious way) with its affordable and healthy approach to its dishes. You could get half a chicken for $10 if you're feeling particularly carnivorous, or maybe mix it up with a chicken burger ($7), a Purbird chicken handheld pie ($6.50), a side of jalapeño mash ($6) or Purbird mac and cheese ($7) and get a varied but exciting taste of this eatery. 

9 /15: The Halal Guys

9/15 :The Halal Guys

The Halal Guys have an international stronghold on halal cuisine done fast and done well, so why not check them out the next time you're in Long Island City in Queens? The chicken sandwich, beef gyro sandwich and falafel sandwich are $6.49 each, so you don't have to get picky. Plus, you can add a side of fries ($2.50) or baba ghanoush with pita ($2.99). 

10 /15: Arepa Lady

10/15 :Arepa Lady

In Queens, Arepa Lady is quickly making a name for itself — and it's not difficult to see why. Specializing in arepas (white corn cakes puffed up and stuffed with all kinds of goodies), Arepa Lady will make your stomach happy and your wallet even happier. Arepas start between $5 and $7.50, with the option to customize based on the fillings you want.  

11 /15: Lechonera & Pollo Sabroso

11/15 :Lechonera & Pollo Sabroso

If you're in the Bronx and craving fragrant meats of Hispanic origin, go to Lechonera & Pollo Sabroso. You'll be able to fill up on a ton of delicious bits for under $20, and you'll likely stay full the rest of the week. Go for the sandwich Cubano ($6) or pernil mofongo (spiced pork with garlic mashed plantains) for $7 if you want to fill up on the cheap. Or if you do want to splurge a little more, definitely go for the pechuga de pollo al limón (chicken breast in lemon sauce served with tostones and rice) for $13.95 or chuletas fritas (fried pork chops) for $11.95. 

12 /15: Gurra Café

12/15 :Gurra Café

Bronx restaurant Gurra Café specializes in authentic Albanian eats that will be sure to warm you all the way through. Recommended by Eater, Gurra Café boasts house-made cevapi and pleskavici (minced-meat burgers) as well as hearty stews, goulash and mashed potatoes.

13 /15: Knish Nosh Knishes & Franks

13/15 :Knish Nosh Knishes & Franks

Jewish comfort food doesn't get much better than Knish Nosh Knishes & Franks in Rego Park, Queens. Sure, you'll want to make the requisite pilgrimage to Katz's at some point in your life, but Knish Nosh? That's a must-do every single time. Specializing in — you guessed it — knishes, I'd recommend the noodle kugel ($5), brisket pierogies ($3) or the stuffed cabbage ($3.50 each). 

14 /15: Hillside Dosa Hutt

14/15 :Hillside Dosa Hutt

Are you a fan of Indian food but looking to fill up on the cheap? Hillside Dosa Hutt in Queens is the place to go. They specialize in dosa (think sour crepes filled with vegetables warmed by spices like cumin, ginger, turmeric and ginger). Definitely consider the onion chili-cheese dosa ($5.50), mixed vegetable dosa ($6) or if you want something a little sweet, the chocolate dosa ($5). Add a mango lass ($3) and a side of rice ($2.50), and your good to go.

15 /15: Taqueria Diana

15/15 :Taqueria Diana

Don't be afraid to let your imagination run wild while scanning the menu at this East Village eatery. With a majority of the dishes coming in at under $10, you could put together a veritable feast on the cheap. Definitely consider the carne asada tacos ($3.22) or the al pastor burrito ($8.27) with a side salad or extra guac (don't worry, you'll definitely be able to afford it).