I probably spend about 70% of my disposable income on food — a life approach I like to call “ABC” (Always Be Comiendo). But as much as I’d like to be balling at Estela, eating fancy fried arroz negro with squid daily, I work in media and my bank account won’t always let me be great. Which is why it’s necessary to have an arsenal of inexpensive feasting options at the ready. These nine spots, recently featured on NY Mag’s annual 101 Cheap Eats issue, are the latest batch of suggestions for places to eat like a King but spend like a new media editor. In no particular order:
El Rey Coffee Bar and Luncheonette Coffee shop
Helmed by chef Gerardo Gonzalez, this tiny LES luncheonette mixes Mexican and Middle Eastern flavors, with a menu that is heavily veggie and conceptual (where else will you see “evanescence of falafel” as an ingredient?) . The menu is served only from 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., though the pastries are available any time — assuming they don’t sell out early, as they often do.
100 Stanton St., nr. Ludlow St.; 212-260-3950
Carnitas el Atoradero
Like Williamsburg’s Mexico 2000, Carnitas el Atoradero started as a bodega serving weekend specials that eventually grew into a small restaurant operation. Owner Lina Chavez is known for her carnitas, which she bastes in their own fat along with oranges, limes, Fanta, and Coke, as well as her fresh salsas. Though it’s a bit of a trek for those who don’t live in the Bronx, Chavez will deliver to Manhattan for a $60 minimum — enough to get you a week’s worth of food.
800 E. 149th St., nr. Tinton Ave., Mott Haven; 347-590-6989
Though we wouldn’t necessarily include this spot on a list of our favorite tacos in the city, there is one secret menu item that keeps us coming back: the giant, deep-fried fresh masa tortilla known as “the Gorgon.” Served piping hot and crispy, the tortilla gets stuffed with carne asada, guacamole, serrano-chile crema and a sprinkling of onion and cilantro. Also of note: the masa fries. Basically, we’re sold on anything involving fried masa, because duh.
141 Second Ave., nr. 9th St.; 646-678-4018
This place pays homage to corn – most notably in the form of a tamal. The namesake harkens to the Aztec word for this sweet yellow kernel, which they coarse grind to produce steamy leaf-wrapped treats that have been splayed across the pages of just about every New York publication. While they do boast a hearty selection of homemade tortilla tacos, their winning tamales are only $2.50 a piece packed with lickings like mole chicken, spicy chipotle pork and even “dulce” pineapple and raisins. Finish with a fresh fruit Mexican paleta popsicle for $2 and your $5 bill pays the bill.
104-05 47th Ave., Corona; 718-699-2434
Just north of Sunset Park, this back-of-the-bodega Mexican restaurant features something so rare and special that I almost hesitate to write about it: unlimited guacamole. Yes, you read that right. At a time when everywhere and their mother is keen to let you know guac costs extra, El Tenampa is attracting locals to their unlimited condiment bar in droves. Their specials, like chicken enchiladas in mole sauce, are great too — but there’s really nothing more satisfying than piling a plate with guacamole, red and green salsas, sliced radishes and lime, and pickled jalapeños, all for free 99.
706 Fourth Ave., nr. 22nd St., Greenwood Heights; 718-369-7508
If you’re like me, you have a Tex-Mex guilty pleasure — the kind of spot you know is nowhere near authentic but just really hits that “I need nachos drenched in fake queso and a frozen margarita” craving. Güeros is that place. Heads up for homesick Texans: they serve breakfast tacos.
605 Prospect Pl., nr. Franklin Ave., Crown Heights; 718-230-4941
NYC’s first Venezuelen Patacon spot, Patacon Pisao has gained a legion of followers since its first truck opened in Washington Heights in 2005 (which led to a brick and mortar spot in Elmhurst). Patacones are green plantains, twice fried and flattened into patties that are used instead of bread in epic sandwiches. Nestled between the crispy plantains, you’ll find stuffings like shredded marinated chicken, fried queso blanco, lettuce, tomato, and Wasakaka sauce, a mix of garlic, cilantro and orange zest. For a buck, you can add fresh avocado, sweet plantains or black beans. Pro tip: always ask for extra ‘green sauce,’ – we’re not sure what it’s actually called, but this cool and creamy, avocado/cilantro concoction is made by the barrels, cause yes, it’s THAT good.
85-22 Grand Ave., Elmhurst; 718-899-8922
Sometimes you see a restaurant, and you just know it was created with drunk people in mind (RIP Los Perros Locos). Taquitoria is that kind of place, serving only taquitos (which are normally known as flautas, and really only known as taquitos in the frozen food aisles of the grocery store…) to crowds of people who have obviously just been to 18 bars. Drunk eats are a beautiful thing — and these will hit all the crunchy, salty, cheesy spots.
168 Ludlow St., nr. Stanton St.; 212-780-0121