- Yelp/Trieu G.
- We tried the New York Times’ five highest-rated cheap restaurants. The offerings ranged from barbecue and Thai food to noodles and veggie burgers. While some weren’t as impressive as we hoped, others offered bold flavor combinations at excellent prices.
The New York Times reviews an impressive variety of restaurants, from high-end Manhattan institutions where meals can cost thousands of dollars to small falafel shops where you can find a gyro for under $10.
But, most of the restaurants that receive stars from the Times’ critics tend to fall on the more expensive end. Of the 274 restaurants that hold two-, three-, or four-star ratings (unlike traditional arts criticism, most restaurants don’t receive stars, so a one or two-star rating is a positive designation), only five are labeled as “inexpensive” by the Times.
We went to all five, and while we were mostly impressed, a few didn’t quite live up to their billing. We ranked the five best cheap restaurants in New York City, as designated by the Times.
5. Spicy & Tasty
- Yelp/Sandy C.
Located in Flushing, Queens, this Chinese restaurant was reviewed by a former Times’ restaurant critic (and current columnist), Frank Bruni, in 2006.
He said the restaurant “deserves citywide attention from food lovers whose primary interest isn’t simply a modestly priced meal off the beaten path, but a hugely enjoyable, eye-opening experience.”
He praised its liberal use of peppercorns and chili peppers, which deliver a hot, tingling sensation when combined. That combination appeared in a few of the dishes I tried – beef tendon, lamb with red chili sauce – but the restaurant’s use of heat was more interesting in theory than in practice. What was missing were the distinctive flavor combinations that defined our favorite of the Times’ recommendations.
We found Spicy & Tasty to be something of a one-trick pony.
4. Mighty Quinn’s Barbecue
- Yelp/Kevin F.
Critic Pete Wells loved this East Village barbecue joint, calling the pulled pork “staggeringly good” and claiming that the baked beans “may be the best I’ve tasted.” Of course, we had to try both.
And while we enjoyed them, the precise balance of textures and rich flavors Wells identified weren’t so vivid when we visited. While our meal was satisfying, it seemed a little mild compared to the more decadent offerings at Hill Country Barbecue (which also received a two-star rating from Wells).
3. Superiority Burger
- Yelp/Jeff O.
Many vegan alternatives to traditionally meat-based dishes end up feeling like a compromise. You sacrifice immediate pleasure for the comfort of knowing that you’re not clogging your arteries. But that compromise is not necessary at Superiority Burger, which operates in the East Village.
Wells praised many of the veggie burger joint’s less traditional dishes – a sloppy joe made with tofu rather than ground beef, a variation on a Philly cheesesteak made with yuba and cashew cheese – but the signature burger, which replicated the umami sensation of a beef-based burger without loads of grease, was more than enough for us.
- Yelp/Hannah A.
We shared Bruni’s enthusiasm about this Thai restaurant in Woodside. He situated Sripraphai in the tradition of Thai cuisine, noting that it excelled at “the balance of sweet, sour, salty and hot … which focuses on bold flavors in blissful harmony.”
We agreed wholeheartedly. The sweet sausage and cucumber salad was bracing in its combination of sweet, spicy, and savory flavors, delivering generous quantities of each. And, the drunken noodles with chicken was dense, but similarly precise in its balance of flavors.
1. Little Tong Noodle Shop
- Yelp/Trieu G.
New York City has no shortage of great noodle shops, but Little Tong Noodle Shop may be the best. Wells noted how “the characteristic Southeast Asian tension of saltiness, sourness and chile heat creeps into [the restaurant’s] noodle bowls” and praised the grandma chicken mixian as “the most interesting chicken noodle soup in the city right now.”
We agreed on both counts and were delighted by the tenderness of the chicken in the grandma chicken mixian. Its flavor defined a broth that had just enough heat to make things interesting. And, we were even more surprised by the Chinese broccoli salad, which made a traditionally boring vegetable vivid and flavorful.