Cheap Eats in NYC for the Family


Back again from NYC. I had some success finding inexpensive places to eat (or cheap eating strategies might be a better description), but still found it hard as a tourist to find myself at the right location when hunger struck. “Inexpensive dining” means different things to different folks. When I was in college and down to my last lire–predating the Euro–I managed to live on three scoops of gelato a day. This of course does not meet the nutritional requirements of anyone let alone a family, but I was in survival mode at the time. I am including here some of my barebones survival suggestions, which once or twice a day may work well enough for folks working within a strict budget.

Carb and Go: New York City is the land of bagels. Bagels can be found in most deli’s and bakeries with a variety of schmears (cheese spreads) to go along with them. Bagels can be purchased for as little as $1.00; schmears are extra.

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Chinatown: Like my hometown of Seattle, Humbows (meat or vegetable filled bread rolls) are inexpensive and cover more than one food group. They can be found all over the Chinatown District in NYC for just a few dollars.

Tacos are your friend: One of our teen readers suggested the very tasty Oaxaca Taqueria restaurant chain. It is a small chain of restaurants with three locations on Manhattan (East Village, West Village and Upper Westside) and two in Brooklyn. A single taco can be purchased as well as a combo meal that can be “shared.”  You can check out their website at  Along with affordability they support local food sources and taste great to boot.

Pizza, Pizza Pizza Slices: The ubiquitous pizza by the slice–a mainstay of teenagers–can be found also around and about the city for bargain prices.

Street Meat: The Street vendors are highly regulated (I have been told) by the city. They are safe and fast places to eat. Frequently they are also less expensive than dining in, but not always. Check out for a locator map. We found some conveniently located at the southwest corner of Central Park and throughout other tourist sites. [Note: the map feature of is no longer available, but the website does highlight street food.]

Grand Central Market: If you are visiting Grand Central, consider walking through the small market on the street level. It is interesting in and of itself. Additionally, it has a few good deals. We found single serving quiches for $5.50, salmon spring rolls at Pescatore for $2.50, and baguettes for $2.50 at Zaro’s bakery. There are many other temptations to be had, but at higher price points.

Thank Goodness for Trader Joe’s:  The least expensive grocery store we could find is Trader Joe’s with locations in the Upper Westside, Gramercy and Chelsea.  Their prices reflect the same prices we pay elsewhere around the country.  The lines are long but move quickly.  If you are not familiar with Trader Joe’s, they cater to the health conscious, fare trade, gluten free kind of folks. Which means you may not be able to purchase a bottle of coke, but none-the-less they have great wholesome food at very reasonable prices. Grab a block of cheese some lovely, salmi, whole grain crackers,  fruit juice for the kids and have a picnic on the Highline.

Mini-Markets: There are fancy mini-markets all over NYC. Any parent can navigate those well enough. They certainly are less expensive than restaurants, but not as much as one might hope for or expect.

The biggest problem for eating within a budget really comes down to location. Often we were just not near a convenient budget eatery while visiting such and such. A little pre-planning may help with this, an I-Phone or other device with mapped out locations. A few granola bars hidden away may buy some time until the culinary establishment of choice can be found. Every family has their limits.


I would love to hear from locals and other visitors about what has worked best for them in NYC.

~ Holly


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