More than any other city in the world, it can feel impossible to navigate through the thousands of restaurants and bars of New York City. Artists and performers, with their limited budgets and distinctive tastes, are particularly challenged in differentiating between the gems and the dumps. Fortunately, Troubavore's first guest writer Lindsay Ohse is here to help guide the way.
Lindsay Ohse is an experienced chef and informed gourmand whose culinary skill set ranges from personalized birthday cakes to homemade soup dumplings. She also happens to be one bad-ass soprano and has sung leading roles with Portland Opera, Opera Southwest, Intermountain Opera, and Des Moines Metro Opera, among many other companies. Lindsay has been a resident of Manhattan since 2013 and has compiled an exceptional list of her favorite affordable destinations that will appeal to the stomach and wallet of every starving artist. She shares her wisdom below...
The divine Vanessa’s Dumpling House sits between Chinatown and the East Village, so it’s a great place to grab a quick meal between picking up a cheap new phone case and exploring the newest hipster shops. There are numerous options for dumplings, boiled or fried, but I tend to favor the traditional pork and chive. At $1.25 for four, it’s an amazing deal. You can also get your dumplings in soup, which is a fantastic antidote to those bitter NYC winds that can catch you unawares. My personal favorite item on the menu, however, is the sesame pancake with roast pork. It’s a giant sandwich packed with succulent bits of fatty pork that have been cooked for hours, topped with a fresh relish of cilantro and carrot. For only $2.50, you’ll definitely be full. In addition to the great hot items on the menu, you can also take home a bag of frozen dumplings — 50 for only $10! As a testament to how great this deal is, I’ve got two bags in my freezer at this very moment.
I can’t talk about cheap food without including dim sum — it is an experience. There are so many places in NYC’s Chinatown that offer this fun delicacy, but an all-around winner is Jing Fong Restaurant. It may not win in every category, but the price, decor, and variety lead me to recommend it. You ride a giant mirrored escalator to dim sum heaven, where you’ll be seated in a massive dining room, complete with chandeliers and cheesy 90’s Chinese restaurant decor. Seating is family style, so be prepared to sit with strangers. On the bright side, you can make friends with anyone if you possess a mouth full of dumplings. Order the siu mai, a pork and shrimp dumpling with water chestnuts and mushrooms. Fill up on shrimp rice rolls and BBQ pork buns, and then order some steamed Chinese broccoli so you can pretend you’re making healthy choices. An important thing to note is that dim sum is usually only served between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Don’t arrive at 2 p.m. and expect to be served the freshest dumplings. They’ve been riding around on a cart for hours! The other bonus about Jing Fong is that every dim sum dish is only $2.75 if you come on a weekday. If you venture out here on a weekend, prepare to pay a myriad of prices depending on which dumpling you select, in addition to an having an extremely long wait to be seated!
Panna II is one of many Indian restaurants located on “Curry Row” in the East Village and it certainly wins in terms of kitsch and atmosphere. Walking in is like entering a chili-pepper light rave, with wonderfully tacky baubles and garlands hanging from every inch of the rather low ceiling. Seating is crowded, tables are small, and the restaurant is cash only, but don’t let that stop you from experiencing a meal here! The food itself isn’t the best Indian cuisine you’ve ever tasted, but it’s certainly reasonably priced (you can get an appetizer, entree and dessert for under $15). The waitstaff is always amusing, so prepare for some banter and bad jokes. If you tell your waiter it’s your birthday, you’ll be treated to a full Bollywood-style disco number. The other fun aspect about this place is the BYOB policy. Save money by bringing your own drinks, and the food will taste even better!
When you’ve just finished an audition at NOLA or you’ve spent too much time wandering around the shops at Columbus Circle, sometimes you need something quick and cheap, but still tasty. Bella Vita Pizzeria fulfills all of those qualifications! While it might not have the value of the mystical $.99 slice, it’s way tastier and has lots of interesting options. For $2.75, you can get a plain slice of cheese, topped with actual fresh mozzarella instead of plastic grated garbage. I recommend you go a step further and order one of their specialty slices, ranging from $3.25 - $4 per slice. Have you ever had a slice of ricotta, broccoli, and artichoke pizza? Live your life to the fullest and try it! They’ll pop your slice into the brick oven and you will soon be in possession of pizza that makes both your tastebuds and your checking account happy. Be sure and sample the garlic knots (three for $1.25), as that’s truly the best snack to take with you when you head out to your next adventure.
Welcome to the hipster mecca of Harlem! Harlem Public boasts a unique menu and a diverse lineup of drinks, including seasonal cocktails, local brews, and an ever-changing selection of beer and cider on tap. The reclaimed wood decor and Edison lightbulbs will make you feel like you’re cool enough to wear a slouched beanie and glasses without lenses. Order the fried chicken thigh sandwich ($10.95) and enjoy the perfectly cooked behemoth with a branded brioche bun. If you’re not hungry enough for a full meal, split an order of poutine ($9.95) or the fried pickles ($7.95) and revel in the fact that you’re alive. For an extra dose of ridiculous fun, pop into At The Wallace, the neighboring bar (same owners!) for my favorite drink, “The Low-Life”; it’s a shot of Low and Slow whiskey and a tiny bottle of Miller High Life. The bar also has $4 drafts, a large collection of rotary phones, an over-sized Jenga set, and a photobooth so you can commemorate your evening of good choices.
Burger Heights is the locally-owned answer to the more corporate Shake Shack. You can get their classic Heights Burger and a side of sweet potato fries with Maple Mayo for around $8, which is an amazing deal, considering the fries are made in-house, and the burger patties are always made with fresh ground beef. My biggest weakness at Burger Heights, however, lies with the dessert — for $5.25, you can get a shake, hand-made with amazingly flavorful gelato (Nutella is the best!). This cute restaurant also has turkey burgers, veggie burgers, hotdogs, fish sandwiches, cheese fries, and Boylan sodas! Get take-out by ordering online, or stay in to eat and watch the residents of Washington Heights jealously eye your delicious meal.
If you’re looking for a nice restaurant to celebrate a successful audition or impress a cute soprano, Saggio is the perfect place. Walking into this quaint southern Italian gem, you’ll start to panic that perhaps you’ve picked a restaurant that’s TOO expensive, but you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the prices. This is comforting Italian food at its best. The rigatoni with meatballs and sausage ($14) is so wonderfully simple, but the complexity of the sauce turns your meal into a magical experience. If pasta isn’t your thing, order the roasted rosemary chicken ($15) and enjoy peasant food with an unexpected elegance. The waitstaff goes out of their way to make you feel welcome, including plying you with an abundance of delicious rustic bread while you wait for your meal. If you find yourself uptown on a weekend morning, they also serve a fantastic brunch, where you can get eggs parmigiana ($8) which will be more delicious than anything you find at your local diner (and cheaper too!).
Vanessa’s Dumpling House_
118A Eldridge St.
New York, NY 10002
Jing Fong Restaurant
20 Elizabeth St.
New York, NY 10013
93 First Ave.
New York, NY 10003
Bella Vita Pizzeria
158 W 58th St.
New York, NY 10019
3612 Broadway Ave. (between 148th St. and 149th St.)
New York, NY 10031
At the Wallace
New York, NY 10031
177 Wadsworth Ave.
New York, NY 10033
829 W 181st St.
New York, NY 10033
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