How To Eat In New York City On A Budget

New York City is a food lover's dream, where practically any cuisine is available at your fingertips. There are countless restaurants, corner stores, and pop-ups to choose from; you may find yourself wanting to try a bit of everything. But while your taste buds will thank you for exploring the many offerings, your wallet won't. The costs of eating out in this city can add up fast. While some major cities offer more affordable Michelin-star dining, New York restaurants tend to be pricey.


When I first moved to the city, I was shocked by the prices and unsure how to navigate the food scene without spending way more than I was comfortable with. But after a couple of years living here and taking the advice of more seasoned New Yorkers, I've found ways to save money while eating well. Whether you're just visiting, moving to the city, or trying to cut back on spending, there are lots of ways to stretch your food budget while still indulging in some of the best dishes. Follow these 12 tips to make the most of your time in NYC without getting a shock when the bill comes.

Try an affordable New York slice

Although New York is one of the most expensive cities in the U.S., some of the most iconic New York dishes are still affordable. Pizza is the food NYC is most famous for, and you can find it readily and cheaply. New York-style pies are larger and thinner than other styles but Brooklyn-style pies are even bigger. Although this claim has never been proven, many believe that the minerals in New York's water add to the crust's distinct chewy texture and flavor, making it hard to replicate an authentic NYC pizza anywhere else.


This dish is world-famous, and with good reason. Classic New York Pizza lives up to the hype, and no visit to the city is complete without having a slice or several. To save money, don't go to a sit-down pizza parlor. Instead, go to one of the many pizza shops, such as 2 Bros Pizza or Dollar Pizza Slice. There are so many pizza locations that you can find a cheap one in practically every corner of the city. Although you can buy whole pies, these spots sell individual slices that you can eat on the go by folding the thin crust in half and enjoying as you walk. You used to be able to get a dollar slice, but nowadays they're closer to two or three dollars per slice. Still, you can get a slice or two for an affordable, iconic, filling meal.


Fill up on bagels

This is another NYC classic that you can get for a reasonable price. Bagels are an iconic, satisfying, and customizable breakfast. Like pizza, this is another food you'll find all over the city. There are so many bagel shops throughout New York that it's a bigger challenge to narrow down which one you want to go to than to find one. Tal Bagels, Bagel Talk, and Bo's Bagels are just a few favorites, but there are many more to choose from. You can also order a decent one at most bodegas (corner stores) and get an even better price.


This is one dish that NYC has perfected, and you don't want to miss it. A fresh New York bagel has a light, malty flavor, a dense, chewy texture, and a slightly crisp exterior, and there are so many delicious spreads and add-ons to try. The price will vary based on where you get your bagels and what add-ons you order. A plain buttered bagel is the most affordable option, while cream cheese, lox, or vegetables are extra. Getting a bagel sandwich with eggs, bacon, and other fixings is pricier. But even with add-ons, bagels are still a fairly good deal. Plus, the shops tend to pile on the cream cheese and toppings, so you'll get plenty of bang for your buck.

Go to Chinatown

If you want ample portions of sensational food, then head to Chinatown. Take the subway to Lower Manhattan, just South of Canal Street, and you'll find yourself in the area of the city where Chinese immigrants built a vibrant community in the late 19th century. Today, Chinatown has the largest population of Chinese Americans, making it an excellent place to explore this fantastic cuisine.


This sector offers a variety of cuisines like Cantonese, Malaysian, Hunan, and more. Walking down the street, you'll stumble upon plenty of wonderful options. Some popular places that are great for eating on a budget are Wah Fung #1 Fast Food, Fried Dumpling, and West New Malaysian. Wah Fung is especially known for its roast pork and BBQ pork. You can get these beloved dishes and others at fast food prices. Fried Dumpling is another Chinatown favorite, where you can get five pieces of flavorful and satisfying fried dumplings for less than $2. West New Malaysian offers a wide array of meals in large servings, so you never leave hungry.

Try food trucks

Food trucks make for an affordable and laid-back dining experience that you can have on the go. NYC has a lot of street vendors, so there's a variety of cuisines to choose from. Whether you're in the mood for a full meal, dessert, or snack food like pretzels or crispy French fries, there's a food truck for you. Opting for street food also means you don't have to worry about making reservations or sitting in a stuffy restaurant. You can get unbelievable dishes at an inexpensive price and eat the food while sitting in a park or taking in the incredible sights of the city.


There are some particularly famous trucks like The Halal Guys, King Souvlaki, and Diso's Italian Sandwich Society. These options often have long lines because they've become big tourist attractions. If you don't mind a wait, then they're great trucks to try. But you can also find lesser-known vendors and get a great meal with less of a line.

You'll find plenty of vendors around Bryant Park, in lower Central Park, outside museums, and in most places that get a lot of foot traffic. If you don't want to leave things up to chance, you can use Street Food Finder to sort through the many vendors and locate the exact truck you want. With so many to choose from, you won't be disappointed. 

Look out for free food

Although the countless food options in New York can seem overwhelming, it also means there's always a bargain somewhere. Many places have promotions, samples, or free food days that you can take advantage of to stay fed for cheap or even free. By looking out for deals, you can find pop-ups and special events throughout New York.


If you're enjoying a day shopping or taking in the sights, you may stumble upon a free sample or special deal entirely by chance. However, if you don't want to leave your savings up to fate, you can be more proactive than that. Following your favorite restaurants, dessert shops, cafes, and bars on social media is a great way to get notified of any events they're having. You can also follow Freebies By CB and NYC For Free on Instagram. Both of these accounts do a great job curating free events and food deals. So instead of trying to find samples in the wild or scouring the internet for deals, you can hop over to one of these pages to get notified of free food in your area and plan a deliciously cheap outing accordingly.


Pack water and light snacks

If you're doing a lot of sightseeing in New York City, you'll quickly find yourself hungry and parched. While exploring a walkable city is lovely, it can get tiring without enough food to fuel you. While you want to enjoy the NYC food scene, stopping to purchase food every time you get hungry or thirsty will add up very quickly. Bringing bottled water and a few granola bars or other easy snacks can save you from dipping into your meal budget for an overpriced bottle of water and food at a bodega. Instead, pick up a few of your favorite snacks and drinks for a reasonable price at a grocery store, and you'll save lots of money while you're out.


Planning ahead like this allows you to budget for bigger meals so you can enjoy yourself without stressing out about the money. It also helps you avoid impulse purchases of overpriced items when hunger takes over. Along with the savings, a packed lunch can make an excellent experience in its own way. Enjoying something as simple as a homemade peanut butter and jelly sandwich and fresh fruit while sitting in Central Park is the perfect lunch on a budget in New York.

Ask locals for their favorite spots

A surefire way to spend too much on food in New York City is by visiting the top tourist attractions. When I first moved to the city, one of the trickiest parts of dining out was constantly finding myself at overcrowded and overpriced locations. While the food was often good, the waiting time and money spent made it hard to enjoy. This was a result of getting all of my restaurant recommendations from Google. If you're just searching for "the best food in New York," you'll get the same answers as everyone else searching the same question and end up wading through a hungry crowd.


So instead of relying on those sources for all your planning, ask locals for their favorite spots to find lesser-known, more affordable options. This will not only give you a break from the crowds but also allow you to have a more unique, authentic, and reasonably priced dining experience. If you're a big planner, you may be tempted to pick everywhere you want to eat in advance of visiting the city, but leaving some room to chat with locals and take their recommendations can make a big difference in your culinary experience. 

Be mindful of drink orders

Many New York City restaurants offer an array of tempting specialty drinks. Whether at a cocktail bar or a restaurant with a cocktail menu, these beverages with delicious flavors, refreshing mixers, and unexpected liquor infusions can make an exciting addition to your night. But while these menu items are tasty and fun, they can easily add an extra $20 or more to your tab (and that's if you only get one). Planning ahead to budget for drinking along with your food is always a good idea, especially if you plan to order alcohol with dinner or go out to a bar after your meal.


To cut back on how much you spend, you can always opt for more affordable drink options. While specialty cocktails draw a lot of attention, more standard bar menu items like a simple mixed drink, cider, or beer will cost you a lot less. You can also reduce costs by going out earlier and taking advantage of happy hour deals. Mary's is an excellent neighborhood bar where you can order $12 cocktails, $6 beers, and $10 wines at happy hour. Clinton Hall is another great destination for $6 drafts and cheap finger foods. Lastly, you can enjoy $9 margaritas during Hidden Lane's happy hour special.

Look out for great breakfast deals

If you're tired of bagels, get your next breakfast at an old-fashioned diner. NYC diners have a nostalgic feel that makes them great to visit, and you can often find good deals on breakfast combos. A large plate of morning favorites like eggs, hash browns, pancakes, and bacon makes for an affordable and filling meal that will keep you energized throughout the day. 


While exploring the East Village, you can stop by B&H Dairy Kosher Restaurant. This kosher eatery has been in business since 1938, serving classic diner fare using all kosher ingredients. Open every day (Monday – Friday 7:00 a.m. – 11:30 p.m., Saturday – Sunday 7:00 a.m. – 12:00 a.m), this is an excellent option with an all-day breakfast menu. 

Georges New York is another old-fashioned diner with classic American cuisine and an outstanding breakfast menu featuring all kinds of eggs, waffles, French toast, and other favorites. It's in the financial district, near The Battery, making it the perfect place to stop for breakfast or brunch on your way to see the Statue of Liberty. 


Westway Diner is another good place to have a satisfying meal on a budget; its Hell's Kitchen location makes it another great place to stop while exploring the city.  

Take advantage of takeaway boxes

Don't forget to ask your waiter for a takeaway box so that you can package up the remaining food to take with you. This helps to avoid food waste and allows you to save money when you can eat the leftovers instead of buying a whole new meal for lunch the next day. This is true anywhere, but in New York, where food costs are quite steep, it feels even more wasteful to toss out a portion of uneaten food.


Many restaurants give large servings, so you may have a full meal's worth of food remaining. However, even if you just have a small portion left, it's still a good idea to get a small bag. You can enjoy the leftovers as a smaller snack or add them to another meal to repurpose them. If you're worried that the leftovers won't taste as good when not served fresh, try these helpful tips for reheating steak or leftover fried chicken, for example, so that it tastes as good as new.

Check out affordable desserts

Having a sit-down dinner at a nice restaurant is a beautiful experience perfect for a birthday, date night, vacation, or any special occasion. But there are certain things we don't recommend ordering from a fancy restaurant. Although you may have budgeted for your meal, the bill can go up quickly if you order many drinks and desserts. If you notice steep dessert prices on the menu, you can skip that expense and still satisfy your sweet tooth by going to a laid-back and affordable dessert spot to finish the night. 


Try the affordable ice cream served in novelty cones at Taiyaki NYC for an Instagram-worthy treat. Or, pick up a gooey chocolate chip cookie from NYC's famous Levain BakeryRay's Candy Store in the East Village is another local favorite that's perfect for a late-night sweet. The deep-fried Oreos are a popular order served in a large plate with enough powdered sugar-coated, batter-dipped Oreos to share. You can also order egg cream, milkshakes, soft serve ice cream, deep-fried Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, and other mouthwatering dishes at this treasured New York shop. These options are cheaper than a lot of formal restaurant dessert menus, and you may even enjoy them more. 

Enjoy a steak dinner for a bargain

Just because you're on a budget doesn't mean you can't have a luxurious evening. A steak dinner is perfect for a special occasion, but often, the price tag puts it out of reach. Fortunately, NYC has a few steakhouses with surprisingly good deals that make the indulgent dinner doable. 


New York-based TikTok foodie Jonathan Choi recommends Legasea Bar & Grill for the best bargain steak in the city. In a video shared on his account, you can see him enjoying slices of tender ribeye steak with a side of steak fries, salad, and dipping sauces while visiting the midtown location. While Choi's TikTok says you can get this steak dinner for just $45, the price has now increased to $49. But that's still a deal, considering that this is an all-you-can-eat special, so it's a good option for any meat lovers who will be helping themselves to more than one steak. 

You could also go to Le Relais de Venise. This world-famous French bistro has locations in New York City, London, Paris, and Mexico City. The steak dinner may be one of the best offers you can find at just $34.95 for steak and fries as of November 2023. While many steakhouses will run you well over $100 for a meal, you can savor succulent steak while saving money at one of these locations.