I have to thank culinary cool guy Anthony Bourdain for inspiring this blog post. Truly, I am a fan of the surly and sexy Bourdain but I don't always agree with him - he comes across like the class bully when he picks on cooks like Paula Deen and Rachael Ray that don't share his high brow palate. However, I immensely enjoy his shows and books - my Dad was a chef and when I read Kitchen Confidential it sparked great conversations between us. Bourdain's memoir really helped me to understand just how hard my Dad's job was and all of the drama that happens in the kitchen.
I just finished watching the New York episode of Bourdain's new Travel Channel show The Layover and was surprised to see that we have some fave places in common, like the swanky Bemelmans Bar at The Carlyle. However, there was one moment where I screamed at the television. While ambling his admirably lanky form (how does he stay so thin?) towards the stairs leading to the High Line elevated park, two young men asked Bourdain where they could eat in NYC for $15. I know that the fellas put him on the spot, but the best Bourdain could offer up was Papaya King (hot dogs) and Shake Shack (burgers). Don't get me wrong, a Papaya King dog with mustard and onions is tubesteak perfection - especially when paired with their sweet and frosty papaya concoction. I've been eating Papaya King hotdogs since I was a little girl and even Julia Child proclaimed them the best in NYC. And, Danny Meyer's Shake Shack absolutely does put out a high quality and tasty burger but I think that Anthony could have given those guys better advice.
Bourdain chowing down on the classic Papaya King 2 dog and a drink recession special. (Image courtesy New York Magazine)
Listed below are the suggestions I would have offered those two hungry and broke young men looking to fill their empty stomachs in Manhattan. They could eat at my picks and still have money leftover for a hot dog at Papaya King!
Indian meal from Tiffin Wallah (image courtesy Yelp.com)
Indian - There is a thriving Indian restaurant scene in the East Side neighborhood of Murray Hill that has been nicknamed Curry Hill. You can find some great deals here - the food is spicy, filling, and delicious. Curry in a Hurry, Tiffin Wallah and Curry Leaf are popular choices. There is also a cheap but delicious Vietnamese restaurant called L'Annam that serves up generous portions. When dining with a friend, you can save even more money by ordering two appetizers and sharing an entree.
El Aguila Tacos (image courtesy Yelp.com)
Mexican - New York has finally caught up with the West Coast and you can find taco trucks all over the city. But for a sit down meal, try El Paso Taqueria, El Aguila or Las Delicias in East Harlem. El Aguila, is a fave of celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson, and they have a deal for 2 tacos and a medium homemade drink for about $5.99. I like the tacos al pastor (pork marinated with chiles and pineapple) paired with horchata (rice drink) or agua de jamaica (hibiscus).
Bocadillo from Despaña
Despaña - Soho is one of the most expensive neighborhoods in NYC but one of my favorite places for a fabulous nosh is Despaña. Known for stocking some of the best ham, cheese, and other goodies from Spain, Despana also makes wonderful food. Head to the back of the store and order one of their hefty bocadillos (sandwiches).
Roast Chow Fun from Hop Kee (image courtesy Yelp.com)
Chinatown still offers some of the freshest and most delicious meals in NYC. Usually, my strategy is to wander around and pick a no frills looking spot that is busy with locals. However, I will let Anthony Bourdain have the last word - he once featured old school Cantonese restaurant Hop Kee on his show No Reservations. Those two hungry youngsters could each fill up on wonton soup and share some Roast Pork Chow Fun.