Tag Archives: Hidden gems

Cheap Eats NYC: How to keep your date (and wallet) happy

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.

Click for their menu. 

MIMI CHENG’S DUMPLINGS in the lower East


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!!

Click for their menu. 

S’MAC in the East Village


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.

Click for their menu. 

Gaia Italian Cafe in the Lower East Side


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!!

Click for their menu.

Happy eating, and happy dating!!


Good enough to eat? Let’s see.

Good Enough to Eat consistently has a long line of hungry Manhattanites assembled alongside its outdoor white picket fence. After all, you cannot exact blame people for wanting food “good enough to eat”. The line is worthwhile, because the food is even better than good. It is classic, hearty and generous in portion size.

impressively long line!

Even if you are far away from the possibility of a home-cooked meal, this place sure is the next best thing. The wait staff is kind, warm and attentive. And, even if for just a second, you forget you are caught in the urban bustle that is Amsterdam Ave.

Don’t get me wrong. The restaurant is not particularly peaceful or spacious. But the atmosphere and cuisine give you the impression that there may be a rooster perched up on the roof outside waiting to wake you up. And even if this is just a feeling, and there is no rooster looking over the Upper West Side, there will be bold, rich coffee in circulation to do the rooster’s job. Cows and other farm-related knick-knack decorations line the brick walls, giving the space even more of a country feel.

The omelets are served loose by default. If you are opposed to this and are only a fan of things well done, you have the option to request some more cook time. I thought it would come out completely liquid-y, it was only slightly runny and very fluffy. Restaurants tend to overcook their omelets, so I highly recommend giving this alternative method a chance. The provençal goat cheese omelet, with an abundance of roasted pepper bits and onions, is a great choice. Portions are generous, egg and omelet dishes are accompanied by buttermilk biscuits and strawberry butter. I had never tried strawberry butter before, but the homemade creamy concoction did not disappoint.

Even with a reservation, a large group might be difficult to accommodate. This is the perfect destination for a couple or a small group of friends.

Egg, a minimalist’s brunch heaven

I normally think brunch is a snooty kind of meal (I picture one Elle Woods type character exclaiming to another, “Let’s BRUNCH. We can get mimosas and…”) but at Egg, breakfast and lunch are combined in a low-key and down to earth way.

Egg has a childish appeal, with crayons in a cup as centerpieces and plain tables covered in white paper, waiting to be scribbled on. There are school chairs—you remember the stackable ones, right? Each table does not necessarily have the same kind. In any other restaurant, all this would look tacky. At Egg, it creates a young, fun, vibrant and natural atmosphere.

Dining at this restaurant makes one feel close to a wholesome rural farm, despite its placement smack in the middle of North Williamsburg, This is no coincidence. Egg has its own farm in Oak Hill, a town with 200 year-round residents.

The country ham slices are thin, lean shavings. Upon my first bite, I encountered an unfamiliar taste. I realized that, when it comes to ham, I am unfortunately accustomed to processed flavor. It was a nice surprise, to say the least.

Granola is my absolute favorite breakfast food. I have tried all sorts of fruit/nut/sugar/honey/oil varieties, but Egg puts the majority of them to shame. The granola contains dried cranberries, sesame seeds, flax, chia and nut slivers. Fresh, lightly textured yogurt lies beneath all of the goodness. And the dish is topped with a honey drizzle. Everything is toasted, but only to the point of crunchiness. There is nothing worse than burnt granola.

For those of you who are pancake lovers, Egg ensures a generous stack of three. They are enormous.

Egg offers numerous sides. The breakfast selection is more grain, bread and meat focused—featuring items like buttermilk biscuits and candied bacon. The lunch selection is more overtly Southern—collard greens, mac and cheese, etc. If you are between two meals, ordering a meal and a side will serve as a compromise.

Disclaimer: I did not end up trying any of the egg dishes, but I am sure if you do, Egg’s eggs will live up to the expectation.

Things to note: There are no reservations. The waiting process operates similarly to that of a medical office. The only difference if that what awaits you is not a shot, throat swab or lolli. Instead, what awaits you is an assortment of completely natural items, straight from Mother Nature herself. Upon entrance, you stand in a small room with glass windows that allow you to see the restaurant. It functions solely as a waiting room. You personally sign in on paper located on a desk in the room until the hostess comes out from the restaurant to cross the next name off the list and show the party to its table.

Take a look at the website for separate Breakfast, Lunch and Weekend Brunch menus. Any meal will be a great one, but one menu may have something that calls your name a little louder.

135 N 5th St
(between Bedford Ave & Berry St)

Take the L to Bedford.

Spicy and Tasty

Happy Chinese New Year!  This editor is heading downtown to Chinatown to see the parade (Year of the Snake) and invites you to check out Melina’s appropriately themed Hidden Gems article of the week.

With a name like that, who wouldn’t want to give it a try?

That was a rhetorical question, by the way. Maybe (hopefully) Spicy and Tasty sounds better in its original Chinese dialect. Despite its awful name, the restaurant serves food that lives up to the claim.

Spicy and Tasty is located in the heart of my favorite Chinatown.  Flushing, Queens is not really called Chinatown, but I would argue that it is more Chinese than the one in Manhattan. Wikipedia seems to agree.

As you walk down the street, you will notice that there is one Chinese restaurant after the other. I lost count.

So if Spicy and Tasty is a restaurant among a handful of similar restaurants, why should you not keep walking to the next place?

Spicy and Tasty offers some American Chinese-food favorites, but has incorporated more traditional dishes onto its menu. I am willing to bet that you would never find Beef Tripe and Pork Liver on the menu at your local take-out joint.

The menu is a little difficult to navigate, which makes it a learning experience too. The dessert is mixed in with the savory dishes on the menu, so you just might glance over it. I suggest you pay attention and save room for something sweet for the end.

My friend and I decided to split an order of beef with scallions. We were worried that it wouldn’t be large enough, but there was no need for that. It had an overly generous amount of beef. The soy-based sauce was rich but not too salty. Even after finishing the plate, I did not feel the need to gulp down water.

The sesame rice balls with rice wine sauce dessert is located in the Szechuan Delicacies section, alongside wonton in chicken soup. See what I mean about the hard-to-navigate menu? All that aside, don’t leave this place until you try this soupy dessert. It is the most interesting and unexpected item I’ve ever ordered. The rice balls are quite gelatin-y. The liquid in which they swim looks like it has cabbage bits. Those shreds are actually egg.

Take the 7 all the way to Main Street. The walk to 39-07 Prince Street shouldn’t take much longer than a few minutes.

Note: Not everything on the menu is spicy. But everything is tasty.

Cash only.

Rincon Criollo

When you want to experience a little taste of Cuba without having to apply for a travel license, try out this edition of Hidden Gems…

If Rincon Criollo was in La Habana, it would be the neighborhood restaurant that families would frequent, old men would play cards in, and tourists would come to in minute numbers (only those who actively avoid tourist traps and befriend kind locals who are willing to offer the inside scoop). It radiates an aura of traditional and down-to-earth hospitality.

Cuba has a history infused with European and African elements. Rincon Criollo means Creole corner. Creole implies syncretic culture and ancestry. This can best be heard in the musical styles of Afro-Cuban son and salsa—with their unique blend of congas, percussion, brass and piano.

Creole can best be tasted in a restaurant like this one.

The ham croquettes, a typical Spanish tapa item, are a wise choice of appetizer. Every entrée comes with a side of rice and beans (or your choice of substitutes from the sides section of the menu). You will walk out of this restaurant full, even if you did not intend for that to be the case.

The yucca (cassava) comes crispy and fried or baked and drenched in a garlic sauce. It is one of their specialties, so you should try it in at least one form. The plantains are very well-prepared. The menu offers both a sweet (Madura) and savory (Verde) option.

The pan de pudin, a Cuban bread pudding, has an unexpectedly solid consistency. If you are not usually a fan of bread pudding because of its soggy characteristics, this is for you. If you like bread pudding to begin with, this will be a nice change. Flan is usually too syrupy for me, but this version is not. In case it was not clear enough, you would be doing yourself a large disservice by skipping dessert.

PS- If you want to give a friend a birthday celebration that is the perfect combination of hilarious, unforgettable and uncomfortable, make sure you let someone at the restaurant know. It becomes dark, there are flashing multicolored lights and a server wearing a ridiculous hat begins to sing, as the rest of the wait staff chimes in.

PPS- Rincon only accepts American Express & cash

Take the 7 to Junction Boulevard. It is in an area called Elmhurst, Queens’ unofficial Latino-town.

A café buried in the depths of campus

Melina comes back with HIDDEN GEMS and this time has got a place on campus.  Now, there’s really no excuse not to go mine this newest gem.

Only 1 in 10 Columbia students knows about this place.

Okay, I made that ratio up…but I am sure that the real statistic would be in that ballpark if anyone did that kind of research.

Housed in the building of Avery Architectural Library, deep deep (deep) down in the basement, Brownies Café is a non-Columbia owned eatery. That fact alone gives it promise. It is a campus gem—a best-kept secret with enough people in on the secret to keep the business alive and running.

Getting to the basement is the hard part. When I ask friends to meet me there, I keep my phone handy because I expect a call requesting directions. If you remember the following directions, you will arrive at this wonderful destination. Continue reading A café buried in the depths of campus

Coppola’s: Naples in the UWS

It feels like Italia

Whenever I read Melina’s Hidden Gems series, I always feel like I’m reading the briefing by our resident intrepid food spy.  Go forth and conquer with Melina, and bring back some delicious Italian food while you’re at it.

Coppola’s- Authentic Italian, the Upper West Side location

206 West 79th Street 
New York, NY 10024


Hunger emerged as I was on an ambitious walk from 59 street all the way back to 116th.

Coppola’s suddenly came into my line of vision—the answer to my prayers. The restaurant is semi-underground and doesn’t look like anything special from the outside. The “don’t judge a book by its cover” saying very much applies.

Upon entrance, you feel as though you have been transported to a small Italian village, where grandma (or nona, as they say) is busy in the kitchen, spreading aromas of cheese and fresh tomatoes throughout the entire home.

I asked the waiter for some bread for the table, and he said it was on its way out from the oven.  Straight out of the oven. Bit into the crispy outer layer to find a warm and soft inner later. Topped with just the right amount of herbs. AND the olive oil was served in a mini glass bottle in the middle of the bread plate.

The menu featured foods ranging from…

Continue reading Coppola’s: Naples in the UWS

An abnormal approach to Chinese

image courtesy of seriouseats.com

Melina starts off our official fall season schedule with one of her Hidden Gems posts.  This week, she investigates what happens when Chinese + Kosher + Vegetarian all come together in one Chinatown gem.

Saying this establishment is atypical would be a severe understatement. Buddha Bodai is a Chinese restaurant in Chinatown. That much is typical. I’ll add a few words. It is a Chinese Kosher Vegetarian restaurant in Chinatown. See what I mean?

Normally, the only Kosher restaurant I trust is a delicatessen. Upon researching this place, I could not help but think about how much Chinese flavor would be lost without beef, pork, chicken, shrimp and crab.

From the outside, the place is nothing special. From the inside, the same statement holds true. Despite this, every single item that I tried on the menu (and I sampled at least seven) was worthy of an ode.

Continue reading An abnormal approach to Chinese

Hidden Gems: No Name Bar

photo courtesy of cdn.brownstoner.com


After our August hiatus (partially induced by the Editor having her wisdom teeth removed and not having a particularly great time with it), we’re returning for the fall semester starting with one of Melina’s HIDDEN GEMS posts.  Hidden Gems will be appearing on every other Sunday, starting September 16.

Not named “No Name.”

Actually has no name.

Has no number either.

And the biggest shocker in today’s day and age—has no website.

I would argue that it is one of Greenpoint’s/Williamsburg’s best kept secrets. Keeping an establishment a secret seems to be a bad business move, but when a place remains filled, busy-but-not-too-busy, the owners behind the operation need not take any course of action.

The first time I went inside, I ordered a drink, stuck around for a little while, and then left. I was impressed with the laid back attitude, and the cave-like ambience.  Looking back on my initial contentment, I was naïve. I was not aware of the fact that this place has a hidden noodle bar on the level under the actual bar. Yep! Asian-inspired cooking is going on in the basement whenever the bar is open. And the food is well worth the trek to Brooklyn.

I am going to save you all some time by telling you exactly what to do to access the noodle bar and claim your secretive and fresh dish.

Instead of asking the bartender a million questions like I did, here are the steps.

Continue reading Hidden Gems: No Name Bar

Hidden Gems: Peter Pan Donuts

Melina returns this Sunday to introduce us to the donut shop of your dreams… Peter Pan. It may be out in Brooklyn, but it’s well worth the trek. 


Peter Pan Donuts

Where it is not located: Brooklyn @ ‪727 Manhattan Avenue, NY 11222-7026

(718) 389-3676

This amazing bakery may not qualify as a hidden gem to the local Greenpoint community’s faithful customers, but the average dessert enthusiast in Morningside has probably been too busy indulging in Dunkin’ or maybe the Hungarian Pastry Shoppe (if they have a little culinary integrity) to notice this little shop.

This place changed Tina Fey’s life after she got a taste of donut heaven during a break from the set of 30 Rock. It could change yours too. I’d be willing to bet money to guarantee your satisfaction, but I am a college student… so I cannot take that risk.

Peter Pan has an old-school charm and a diner-vibe.

There is definitely a donut for everyone, but PLEASE do not restrict yourself to just one. It would be the greatest tragedy of all. Split a few flavors with friends. Even if you aren’t necessarily a cream fan, I advise you to get the white-cream filled donut. And the red velvet too, if that’s your thing. Think of the best red velvet cake you have ever tasted, and then multiply that happiness by three. That is how you will feel.

The line is usually lengthy, but it goes pretty fast and I promise that it will be worth the wait. Your tummy will thank you.