In the thousands of times that I’ve visited New York City in the past, I had never spent time in Harlem. Now that I’m living here, I’ve made it a point to experience all parts of Manhattan. So, when a friend from home came to visit this past weekend, I saw it as the perfect opportunity to charter new ground. Thus, we journeyed North-East, out of the Mo-Hi bubble, and into Spanish Harlem. While Harlem houses rich culture, it also houses rich food. After walking around a bit, we came across a notable gem: Restaurant San Cristobal, also known as Cafe Ollin.
Restaurant San Cristobal is a small Mexican restaurant. Walking through their doors was like walking into Mexico. The quaint little restaurant is covered with Mexican-style ornaments and they play traditional music.
The decor was almost as amazing as the food (and their prices). We each ordered our own tacos and shared one of their famous tortas (a kind of sandwich), all for under $20.
I had ordered the “chicken taco con todo.” What delighted me most when seeing this dish come out was how green the avocado was. All ingredients were fresh, which was reflected in the quality of the taste.
This is their traditional “cemita” with breaded steak. It is a sandwich filled with black beans, lettuce, tomato, avocado, oaxaca cheese, and chipotle. The chipotle added the perfect bite to this sandwich, satisfying all taste buds.
So, he next time you’re in the mood for Mexican and are planning on getting Chipotle, consider Restaurant San Cristobal. It’s authentic Mexican food that will probably end up costing you less.
As learned from the women of Sex and the City, dating in New York City can be rough. It’s even rougher when you’re a college student, living on a college student budget. If your parents are anything like mine, they are reluctant to give you much “food money” because of the amount they’re already spending on your meal plan. With that being said, living in one of the most expensive cities in the country doesn’t help much either. No one wants to blow his or her entire weekly allowance on a first date. Unfortunately, this leaves little room for “wining and dining.”
Don’t worry, though, there is hope! Believe it or not, nice date spots that won’t break the bank exist. So, in an effort to ensure that you don’t disappoint your date and get to see them again, I’ve compiled a list of tasty (cheap!) spots.
CREAMLINE NYC in Chelsea Market
Chelsea Market is an experience in and of itself. Inside its brick walls lie dozens of restaurants and shops. One of which, is the all-American restaurant, Creamline. From peanut butter/jelly/banana sandwiches to grilled cheese fingers to fried oreos, Creamline NYC satisfies all of our childhood cravings. Follow dinner with a walk on the High Line, which is right to the market. Trust me, you’ll need to walk off this meal.
P.S. DO NOT skip the malted milkshake. Worth every calorie.
Treat yourself, and your date, to some mouthwatering dumplings at Mimi Cheng’s. My personal fave is the steamed ‘Reinvented Classic’ dumpling, made with pork and baby bok choy. The laid back environment is the perfect place to bring someone you’re just starting to get to know. For dessert, order the caramel apple pie dumplings- they are a must-have!!
S’Mac, aka Sarita’s Macaroni and Cheese, is basically every mac and cheese lover’s dream come true. They offer specialty mac and cheeses and made-to-order mac and cheeses. For me, the best option is the build your own mac and cheese. With 15 cheeses, 4 herbs, 12 veggies/condiments, and 6 proteins to choose from, there is something for everyone. It’ll be hard for your date not to be satisfied. And, if you’re “of age,” follow dinner with drinks at one of the quirky bars that the East Village has to offer.
As long as Gaia exists, there’s no need to spend $25 on a plate of pasta at some fancy Italian restaurant. This little hole in the wall serves up prime Italian food with rich flavors. My personal favorite is the spinach and ricotta gnocchi; it’s the perfect consistency! They also do daily pasta specials, which keeps things interesting (hopefully like your date).
Warning: they do close relatively early and fills up quickly, so plan ahead, and make a reservation!!
Spring break came and went and while everyone was waiting for Spring to spring, I decided to go to Brazil, and what a trip it was! I was in Rio de Janeiro for about a week, and spent a night in Buzios, a beautiful seaside town three hours from Rio.
One of the great things about Rio was the incredibly diverse and inexpensive variety of street food that was offered. From churros to popcorn (yes, popcorn) to other stuff with unknown names, Rio was a gastronomic delight.
On my first night in Rio, I saw many small pushcarts that were set up around a town square. I had just indulged in a rather heavy dinner of the carnivorous variety and was looking for something sweet to balance out the intense saltiness of the meal. Unlike the churros in the U.S. that come with a cup of chocolate sauce, the churros in Rio had the sauce inside the churro. You could get either chocolate or caramel, and obviously I chose to get both. Upon ordering, the man would stick the churro into a contraption and pull on a lever, dispensing oodles of chocolate and caramel sauce into the churro, so that when you bite into it, the sauce oozes out into your mouth.
Later we decided to pop into a bakery in Lapa, the nightlife district of Rio. People go to Lapa for the clubs, the samba, and the dubious roadside stalls serving up caiparinha, the national cocktail of Brazil. I thought I needed something sweet (again) and got myself these cakes that were sitting in a display in the bakery. Few people I met in Rio spoke English well enough for me to ask them to describe the food to me, and I had absolutely no ability to converse in Portuguese myself. What transpired was a rather intense session of pointing and gesticulating – and I eventually got three desserts to share with my travel companions. The first I guess was an egg custard tart, similar to the Portuguese egg tarts that I get back home in Singapore. The other was similar to a creme caramel that are a staple in mid-price French eateries, which I felt was just a little too sweet even for my sweet tooth. My favorite was a yellow cake with a crunchy brown bottom. I have no idea what it actually was; but I guessed it was a sort of tapioca cake with lots of brown sugar at the bottom. It was extremely tasty, although it was impossible to gorge on because it is quite heavy.
One of my favorite dishes was from a stall at a market near Ipanema Beach. The market is there every Sunday and is a place for local artists to showcase and sell their unique creations. What I got was an amazing sandwich of doughy fried bread, some sort of lentil mash, okra stew and shrimp with its shell on. It was a wonderful combination of some pretty funky flavors with crispy bread and fresh shrimp. The best part was that it was less than 3 US dollars!
I had many other interesting dishes in Rio and I wish I could feature them all. What I can say about Rio is, go there and try whatever you can find on the streets. There are fantastic flavors and intriguing dishes and nothing is really too strange or too out there. Brazilian food is not the most elegant and can be a little heavy, but it is an absolute delight. Brazilians, and Cariocas (people from Rio) especially, love to have a good time without too much fuss, and that is reflected in the food of this city.
Indian food! We all love it, at least I do. But I rarely get to enjoy it. My entire life I have been fascinated by the colors of India – both in the textiles and in the food. I have been craving Indian food for the past few weeks and when the time came for me to choose what cuisine to explore next, there was no better option. In order to find a good Indian food place around Columbia, I decided to ask a natural expert in all things Indian, my friend from Delhi. I ceaselessly ask her questions about the different festivals that she celebrates, the kind of food she eats, the way she eats it, and Bollywood films. Luckily, she is eager to teach me everything. Thus, I came to her with one request – bring me out for a good Indian meal, please. And so she brought me to Doaba Deli on 107th street and Columbus Ave.
She warned me that the restaurant was very casual (and by that, she meant very casual) and different from Indian food commonly served at restaurants, but more like home-cooked food. I had a feeling I was in for a treat, and boy was I right!
We walked into a make shift seating area with three tables, each with four chairs, and an area to stand to quickly eat. Up two steps was the way into the kitchen where you order your meal. There is a cart with the daily specials. The basic order is a tray with four special options and a side of naan or rice. Additionally there is an entire menu of different vegetarian dishes, different bread sides, and different desserts to order.
During my meal, I got to try a large selection of different dishes and they were all absolutely delicious. If you tend to shy away from Indian food because of the heavy spices, then you would prefer the food at this place as it was relatively less spiced than other Indian food I have had and it definitely did not feel as heavy. The list of the dishes is as follows: gourd squash, yellow curry yogurt sauce, mashed greens, spinach and potato, eggplant and potato, dal (lentils), paneer with peas, and chickpeas.
We also ordered a dish called ‘samosa chaat’, which was samosa (fried, potato-stuffed pastry triangles) and chickpeas topped with yogurt, coriander sauce, tamarind sauce, and a spicy red sauce. It was a burst of flavors, but well balanced. This is a typical Indian street food dish. The warmness and heaviness of the samosas was cut by the tanginess of the yogurt and the fresh flavor of the coriander.
I apologize for not being able to particularly point out each individual flavor in the dishes, but Indian food is all about the mixture of spices. To make up for this, I have done some research about the typical spices used in Indian dishes. Cardamom adds a fragrant flavor, chilies add spice, coriander adds a fresh and earthy flavor, cloves give a rich flavor, tamarind gives a tart flavor, and turmeric gives a bright yellow color. Most of the dishes include a variety of these spices in different proportions. Thus, each dish has a hint of each of these flavors, and depending on the dominating flavor it is evident which spice was used most heavily.
There is no fork or knife served with the dish, only a spoon for the rice. The rest of the meal is eaten with your hands. You rip a piece of naan and scoop up food into your mouth or spoon food into your bowl of rice and mix it.
During the meal, I could not help but notice all of the Indians coming in to get a quick dinner or chai tea. They were definitely regulars and were friendly with the old lady who served the dishes. It did not feel as if I were eating in public, but rather as if I was in someone’s kitchen. Many people shared their tables, if there was no other room. Do not expect to have a private or served meal. Instead, expect a very comfortable and casual atmosphere with no pretentions.
For dessert we ordered a gulab jamun (fried dough ball soaked in sugar and oil). It is good, but nothing extraordinary. In fact, it is quite bland compared to the rest of the meal. Before taking a bite, you should press it down to squeeze out the oil.
Overall, the meal was an incredible experience full of satisfying food and cultural immersion. It feels as if you have left New York walking into Doaba Deli and have stepped into a true Indian corner shop with the smells of the local cuisine and the sounds of the local language. There is even a small section to buy all sorts of Indian biscuits. Another benefit are the very low prices. A generous meal can easily cost between five to ten dollars per person. I am so glad to have found such a good, casual eat-out place right by Columbia. I definitely plan on coming again, and highly recommend it to anyone.
It’s Friday night. You’ve just left a show at the United Palace Theater in Washington Heights and step onto the sidewalk ravenous. You look across the street and see a friendly looking restaurant on the corner with a warm glow coming from one of the windows. Upon closer inspection, you realize that the glow consists of rows and rows and rows of rotisserie chickens roasting, dripping in Dominican goodness. You’ve reached the midnight meal of your dreams.
Washington Heights is home to one of the city’s largest Dominican populations. If you’re looking for authentic Dominican food in NYC, this is the place to be. The original Malecon restaurant is located just a few blocks from the 168th St. stop on the 1, but for those who can’t make it up to the Heights, the wonderful owners dropped a second location much closer to Columbia down on 98th and Amsterdam (having been to both, I can assure you there is no difference in quality between the two). In this article, I’ll cover the original restaurant whose hours extend a fair bit later to 2 A.M.
The inside of the establishment is much larger than the view from outside would lead you to think, with plenty of seating within boasting views of the glorious chicken ovens. Judging by the décor of the place, you would expect the price range of this meal to be up towards the $15-20 range; this is not the case. An entire chicken will only run you $10, and believe me when I say that one Malecon chicken is much more than you could ever ask for.
My first trip to Malecon stemmed from a recommendation my friend who lives in Washington Heights gave me, selling it as the ONLY place to go for the best food in the neighborhood. I was instructed to not even look at the menu but to order a single chicken with beans and rice, no questions asked. I remember watching the guy working the ovens pull out chicken after chicken, throw it down on the cutting board, and in three or four swift motions, cut the chicken with scissors into a few big sections.
When the chicken is brought to you, it comes out with two little containers of a green sauce. When I asked friends about how to describe the green sauce, I heard “life-changing,” “I’d put it in my water if I could,” and “it could make John Jay’s food edible”. These are not understatements. The Malecon green sauce would make a criminal turn himself in. The Malecon green sauce would bring Congress together to actually get things done. I’m heavily convinced that this green sauce could even cut through the bureaucracy of Columbia’s administration. Pour it over your entire meal. As if you’ll need more food, you get fresh baked bread for free for your table.
This chicken is everything you could ever love about food. Cooked to perfection, it’s juicy with a slightly crispy skin covered in seasoning. The meat almost falls right off the bone, so as much as you want to keep it classy with the silverware, the real way to go is to just pull and chow. Not to be ignored, the rice and beans are an essential part of the Malecon experience in order to avoid a meat overload. Together, the three components of your meal complete a legendary trifecta of flavors.
I quickly discovered that the best ratio of food to price at Malecon for one person is one half-chicken, a side of rice, and a side of beans. For two people, including tax and tip, your bill will only just pass the $20 barrier. If you bring the whole gang and order a couple chickens and some sides family-style, you can bring the price down to something like $7 each.
All being said, next time you find yourself craving a late-night meal that will comfort you like only your mother could, Malecon will be there waiting for you with open arms and chicken wings. I give Malecon a rating of 5 green sauce-colored stars.
My first experience with Beard Papa’s was my junior year in high school, when a friend of mine introduced me to it. We have been best friends ever since. It has also been able to avoid becoming a huge city trend to the point where it is crowded all the time with long lines. With only one location, the Upper West Side (Broadway, between 76th and 77th), this pastry shop finds itself in a neighborhood that is not overwhelmingly busy, but still holds the fast paced life of the city. Location is definitely the main reason for Beard Papa’s laidback and relaxed environment. You can easily step in, purchase items, and depart in a span of only five minutes or you can choose to sit and enjoy the calm sitting space.
Beard Papa’s is loved in the city. It’s a great way to begin my “Worth the Hype?” series because I thought instead of exposing a place that would be full of disappointment, I would introduce to you a shop that definitely upholds its reputations of producing some of the best Japanese desserts. As it is known for it’s cream puffs, I am not ashamed to say that I’ve tried the green tea and honey, vanilla, dulce de leche, and cocoa puff flavors. I must admit, I was not disappointed in the slightest. The cream puffs are filled in front of you, and then sprinkled with confectioner’s sugar. Biting into a Beard Papa’s cream puff includes first breaking the crispy and crunchy puff pastry surface, and then reaching the center of cream that oozes out as your teeth press down to bite. The cream puffs are so soft and fluffy that you feel like you have stepped off Earth for a second and are walking amongst the clouds.
Frozard ice cream puffs are also available, which is basically a cream puff cut in half and filled with soft serve ice cream. I tried the green tea ice cream puff and it definitely met my expectations.
The fondants are also worth the hype, and while not advertised as Beard Papa’s greatest creation, I think they are its greatest asset and the reason why I always go back to Beard Papa’s. The fondants, if purchased to stay, are warmed up for you, but if purchased to go, be sure to refrigerate and then microwave it for a little before eating. The two fondants that I have tried are the chocolate fondant and the green tea fondant. The fondants have a nice crust at the bottom, a fluffy cake, and are filled with the great melted chocolate or green tea cream. If deciding what to get at Beard Papa’s, this is a must. Chocolate fondant cookies are also offered at Beard Papa’s and like the fondants, have the chocolate filling inside that melts in your tongue with every bite.
Other desserts at Beard Papa’s include mocha ice cream, Paris-Brests, and eclairs among others. The drink selection includes basics such coffee, cappuccino, and chai latte but also includes their signature drinks which include the green tea latte, Belgium dark hot chocolate, and “Fruit’n Tea”, which is tea with cut fruits.
Beard Papa’s is extremely affordable, with the most expensive item being a 16 oz. double shot mochaccino, sold for $4.50 and its least expensive item being a mocha ice cream for $1.75.
Extremely inexpensive and with such a wide variety of seasonal flavors and new pastries, Beard Papa’s is the perfect place to go for dessert. They know what they’re doing and do it well. It is definitely a place worth the hype it has gotten. As one of my favorite dessert places, I would recommend it to all.
Located on Broadway between La Salle St and Tiemann Place, just before the 125 St. 1 train stop, this Middle Eastern eatery offers authentic hummus (voted the most authentic in Morningside Heights in our hummus competition), some falafel, labneh, kebabs and shawerma. They also have some traditional Middle Eastern stews like bamieh (okra with tomato sauce), and desserts like baklava and knafeh (check out my previous post about this delicious dessert!).
Warning: this is not a fancy place. It is probably one step up from a Halal cart. But it’s good. And it’s cheap. You’ll walk in to a long, narrow room, with a counter on the right behind which the owners prepare their kebabs, and shawermas. There is also a glass display where they put all of their desserts and skewers of raw meat ready to be grilled. I don’t think the raw meat is very appetizing, so, if you think that would turn you away, try not to look at the glass case until after you’ve finished your meal!
Walk further down the narrow room and you’ll find tables are set up, as well some nicely cushioned booths. Covering the walls are some “Jordan Tourism” advertisement posters, owing to the country of origin of Falafel on Broadway’s owners.
For me, the ideal night out at Falafel on Broadway will include some hummus, falafel, warm pita bread, a good shisha, and a cup of black Middle Eastern tea. Get a deck of cards to play with your friends as you snack, smoke shisha, and listen to Middle Eastern classics playing in the background, and it’ll be just as if you were in a small shisha place in the Middle East!
Last week we dealt with the infamous ramen noodle. This time, my four buddies and I head into the world of Pho and vermicelli, the rice-based cousin of wheaty ramen. We do so at Saigon Shack, a Vietnamese sandwich and noodle shop at 114 Macdougal Street, a few short blocks away from Washington Square Park.
From the outside, it’s somewhat difficult to see the restaurant itself, as there is always a crowd waiting for seats and blocking the glass storefront. If you decide to be brave and shove your way through this crowd, though, you’ll see an equally packed, unpretentious interior made of brick and wood. The crowd was somewhat deceptive, though; we had to wait only 20 minutes for our 5 spots at a common table. Still, though, the wait wasn’t fun, and it would have been much worse if it had not been for Thelewala, an Indian Street food restaurant that we found right next door.
This place gets top marks for saving us from our pre-meal starvation without forcing any of us over our $13 cap. We got a Thelewala Chicken roll, (Chicken, fried eggs, red onions, house blend spices and lime wrapped up in a warm, soft roti) and a Chicken Malai roll (the same, with lime and house spices) for $5.50 each to split between the five of us. $2.10 per person, we thought, was well worth it. Thelewala’s approach is similar to that of other Indian street food vendors; neither of these rolls were unprecedented creations, but their execution made them stand out against their peers. They were packed with complex flavor, they were hot and substantial, and most importantly, because this is not the case with most other rolls, they were moist and tender. The rolls were relatively small, making them not ideal for five-way sharing, but they were good enough to makes us all happy with what little we got.
My only regret is that we had to eat them so quickly… As we were eating these outside Saigon Shack, our table was called after a reasonable 20 minutes (only 5 minutes longer than we were told it would take.) Bringing outside food into the restaurant is taboo, so we had to scarf our rolls down. Somewhat of a waste. Still worth it.
After being seated at the common table, we got settled in quickly with menus and water. We were so happy with out first 5-way appetizer split that we decided to do it again in Saigon. We got Grilled Pork Chop Summer rolls: $5 for 4 rolls of crisp greens wrapped up with noodles and a generous portion of meat by a wide, translucent rice noodle. (My friend Jen took one for the team and selflessly went without a summer roll; I’d like to take this chance to memorialize her noble action. Thank you Jen Chan. You, of course, missed out tremendously.) These, again, were delicious. Crunchy and chewy, warm and cool, they were just what we needed to clean away the lingering spice leftover from the Thelewala rolls.
Finally, it was time for the main course. All four of my friends got the $8 S.S. Spicy Special Noodle, a spicy compromise for the indecisive meat lover: rather than just one type of meat, it featured smaller portions of beef, roast pork, and vietnamese ham, all of which were very fatty and tender, stewed to perfection. Spiced with what I’m guessing was Sriracha, it was a little too much for my delicate palate; I’m a bit of a wuss when it comes to spiciness. For the masochists, though, Saigon Shack provided us with plenty of extra chili peppers and Sriracha for an optional heat boost. The noodles themselves I thought were a tad over cooked. This may have been because I was only allowed to eat the scraps in the bowl fifteen minutes after it was first served, though, so I won’t be too harsh on this point. All four of my buddies, after all, gave an enthusiastic two thumbs up to their pho, the classic, thin Vietnamese rice noodle that they had all been homesick for. (There aren’t many Vietnamese restaurants around Morningside Heights)
I, for the sake of diversity, got Roast Pork over Vermicelli for $8, with an extra egg for another $1.50. The dish was simple, but high quality: roasted meat over dry rice noodles, covered with a layer of chopped lettuce, served with a pungent orange colored sauce on the side. The food was very accessible. Further, the portions, given the price, were fantastic. I actually ran out of noodles before I ran out of meat, which I’m pretty sure has never happened to me ever. 10 points to Saigon Shack for generosity with their protein.
I have only two regrets. First, I’m not sure the egg was worth it. It was a tasty egg, for sure, and it looked nice on the dish, but it was too small to really affect my experience of the dish as a whole. Second, our pork summer rolls were essentially a more expensive version of my dinner wrapped up in rice noodle, making my order somewhat redundant. Next time I’m back, which I’m sure will be fairly soon, I’m planning on either trying out another appetizer or ordering the roast pork vermicelli, sans egg, as an appetizer.
In spite of our imperfect ordering, we got out of a double-restaurant dinner at Saigon Shack and Thelewala for $10.35 each, (or in my case, $12.85, with the extra egg.) That’s a lot better than a meal swipe.
There’s no better way to introduce a blog about cheap eats than with a celebration of ramen, the foundation of any proper poor-college student diet! And so, my first venture into culinary criticism takes me and my buddy to Terakawa Ramen, a small noodle bar on 57th street and 9th avenue, just two blocks away from the Union Square subway stop.
We, of course, refused to use this subway stop, convinced that the $4.50 it would cost for the round trip would be better spent on more noodles. It turns out we were right, too, because these noodles were pretty good.
After skimming the short menu, which included various meat-over-rice dishes, gyoza, about six flavors of ramen, and ‘Tokyo Fried Chicken’ (which I’m getting next time), I ordered a $9.00 bowl of Terakawa Ramen, as seemed most appropriate. This dish, the restaurant’s implicit, perpetual special, is described accurately on the menu as “pork bone based noodle soup and bamboo shoot, red ginger roast pork, boiled egg, scallion, kikurage.” While the toppings made for a pretty presentation, the real star was the rich, thick, almost creamy broth, which overpowered the other flavors somewhat. Surprisingly though, the noodles failed to absorb much of this flavor and, when eaten on without any other ingredients, lacked appeal. However, my experience was dramatically improved when I happened upon this eating strategy, which I now recommend: use the soup spoon to ladle out some broth, use the chopsticks to put noodles and other toppings in said spoon, then eat! Problem solved. The pork was tender and tasty, while the hard boiled egg had a pleasantly complex, almost sweet flavor, but neither was much of a factor in the dish as a whole. This is because the portions of these protein elements were small, as is usually the case; I ate the two thin slices and half-egg right away, almost as an appetizer. Ordering an extra 2 pieces of pork for $2.00 might have helped, but I opted to spend that money, or $1.50 of it, on an extra portion of noodles. (In the photo, you can see these to the right of my bowl).
These extra noodles made my night and make Terakawa Ramen stand apart from its comparably priced competitors. While the option to pay for extra ramen is not itself a novelty, the massiveness of this extra portion is surely unprecedented. With the leftover broth from my first bowl, I used these extra noodles to get two bowls for a little more than the price of one. My friend and I, had we been less ravenously hungry, might have shared a single bowl, but we wouldn’t have felt comfortable doing so after taking up two of the eleven seats in this tiny restaurant.
Terakawa Ramen looks and feels more like a bar than a restaurant; its eleven seats wrap around a u-shaped, wooden counter top, behind which stands the single waitress. This friendly waitress took our orders quickly, topped off our water promptly (which we needed, considering the richness of the broth,) and had us in and out within 30 minutes. Still, I wouldn’t suggest bringing a group of more than three people here unless you really don’t mind a wait. Otherwise, if you’re hungry for thick brothiness or looking to carboload for a marathon without breaking the bank, Terakawa Ramen is your place!