While living in Manhattan, I paid my school loans off within two years. To do this while living in one of the most expensive cities in the US meant I had to eat cheap– like $5 and under cheap. But with all the delicious street food in New York, you’ll get the most bang for your five bucks!
Check out these cheap eats in New York for $5 or less that I frequently ate.
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Ess A Bagel
I don’t know about you but when I think of New York, I think of bagels & pizza, and to avoid bagels in this city is like avoiding the stench of New York City garbage on the streets on a hot, summer day— it’s impossible.
If you’re going to join in on the unavoidable, check out Ess A Bagel. This bagel represents the New York bagel like no other.
They’re huge, dense, and oh so satisfying with that never ending (but sadly ending at the end of the bagel) chew. You can’t go wrong with any of the bagels with a generous portion of cream cheese.
You know when you write a word too many times, and it starts looking weird…
That’s what happening with the word ‘bagel’.
Price: $4.30 for a bagel (1.25) & plain cream cheese (3.05)
Bagels and bacon, egg & cheese sandwiches are your quintessential go to breakfast (other than bagels) in this city that never sleeps, but how about going outside of the box and trying Manousheh?
It’s fresh, light, tangy, doughy, and so satisfying. On top of all that, it’s authentic and mouthwatering delicious.
For breakfast, try the Labneh Manousheh, but any of them will fuel you for your busy day ahead.
Price: $5 for the Labneh, Zaatar, and Lahem Bi Ajine, which there’s no way to pronounce wrong once it’s in your mouth.
Joe’s Pizza (the Greenwich village location, not Union Square or Williamsburg one) is your dictionary definition of a New York slice.
The dough is crunchy but soft at any point of eating the pizza whether it’s right of the oven or cold, the simple yet satisfying sauce is made from tomatoes imported from Italy, and the cheese— oh the cheese— it’s high quality mozzarella that they never skimp on.
Altogether, you get one helluva amazing slice of pizza that folds in half perfectly without ever letting the cheese ooze off. Everything is exactly where it’s supposed to be with each and every bite.
Can you tell I love Joe’s Pizza? I used to live a 3-4 minute walk from here and ate it 3x a week or more even though I’m lactose intolerant. Somehow, the cheese at Joe’s didn’t make me sick, which is weird because every other cheese just puts me over the top.
It’s magic, and I’m really lucky to have been Joe’s neighbor.
Price: $2.75 for a cheese slice. There’s no need for pepperoni or anything added. The cheese slice is where it’s at.
Update 9/20/17– So sad. This place has been closed. If you want to have delicious dumplings, try Joe’s Shanghai for soup dumplings (part of my Cheap Places to Eat in Manhattan post).
A few years ago, I made a personalized food tour for my husband (then boyfriend) for his birthday in Chinatown. We started off at Prosperity Dumpling, which was a bad idea. Back then, five dumplings were only $1 so he went ham and bought 15 dumplings for $3. We ate them all, but were entirely overstuffed for our next 4 stops.
Being the champs we are, we got through my food tour but then sprawled out on a random sidewalk with our terribly awesome food coma. I’m sure pedestrians loved us.
Since then, Prosperity Dumpling has raised their prices to $1.25 for 5 dumplings (yes, a whole quarter), but it’s so worth going to. The meat is juicy and flavorful and will literally drip down your chin as you burn your tongue slightly from the first bite. The dumpling skin is fried yet chewy and so thinly rolled out that you got the best ratio of meat to dumpling skin.
Make sure to put on a mixture of soy sauce & their hot sauce, and also, bask in the glory of a true hole in the wall establishment. God bless Prosperity Dumpling with their 12 workers in the world’s smallest kitchen rolling out dumplings faster than we can order.
Bonus: They open at 7:30AM so party all night long ’till the sun comes up, then head to Prosperity Dumpling for your fourth meal… or breakfast.
Price: $1.25 for five fried pork & chive dumplings.
I was never into red velvet cupcake. I just didn’t get what the big deal was. It wanted to be chocolate but didn’t quite cut it. But that was until I had a red velvet cupcake at Sprinkles, and I got it.
I now understand red velvet does have its own flavor, and as for cupcakes in general at Sprinkles, they’re literally cake in the size of a cup like how cupcakes should be.
There is no textural difference between cake or Sprinkles cupcakes, and the homemade frostings just add even more sweetness to the already great base.
I lived near this place as well in the Upper East Side, and considering that Upper East Side is what I deem the privileged white man’s food desert (great restaurants are pretty rare to just stumble into; you have to know where you’re going or spend a lot of money), Sprinkles was my go to place when I wanted something good, just like Joe’s was my go to place in Greenwich Village.
I miss them both, but luckily, I’ve got the best fries in Amsterdam near me now, which I’m about to go to soon… the addiction is real.
Pro Tip: Sometimes Sprinkles has a buy one, get one free deal if you whisper them their secret code found on their Facebook or Twitter page. I hope you literally whisper it. It’s all part of the fun. Also, you get a free cupcake on your birthday if you sign up for the bday club on their site.
Price: $3.75 for a cupcake inside the store or $4.25 at the cupcake ATM, but might as well get it inside, save .50 cents, and listen to their brain washing Sprinkles song while standing in line— “I love Sprinkles. Sprinkles is the best. I love Sprinkles. Sprinkles is the best.”
Remember when I mentioned earlier that dessert could be a meal. Well it’s because of Levain cookies. You’ll get in line, smell the chocolate and sugar wafting in the air, get to the front and wonder why the cookies cost $4 but buy a couple anyways, eat an entire cookie asap because it’s so crunchy on the outside and gooey, warm, and chewy on the inside, then start feeling stuffed not knowing whether it’s from a natural high or the cookie itself.
I know— there’s a lot of emotions when it comes to getting and eating this cookie, and the whole experience really packs a punch to your senses.
Price: $4 a cookie (from memory), but the one of the best $4 you’ll spend in your life
If you think you can spare another $5 bringing you to a total of $10, then you’ll be opening up your palette to pho, fried chicken, barbecue, and so much more. Check out this list of 15 cheap eats and 10 Things Not to Do in New York City for tips from a local!
Bon appétit folks! xo.
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