Just in case the new administration brings a double-dip recession along with it, it's sensible to count pennies while engorging one's mouth with some delicious eats. And it turns out there are still places around Manhattan where that can be done. Here are 10 of the most affordable and yummy of the bunch:
MANNA'S SOUL FOOD AND SALAD BAR
With four locations in Harlem, this is a rather unfettered but definitely delicious trip into jerk chicken, honey glazed ham, smothered pork chops, collard greens, sweet potatoes, banana pudding, sweet potato pie, and the works. I have never been so satisfied at what seems like a salad bar but is actually a soulful feast for the senses. And my two friends and I stuffed ourselves for under $40.
JACOB RESTAURANT: SOUL FOOD AND SALAD BAR
129th Street and Lenox Avenue; 143rd Street and 8th Avenue
Similarly, this Harlem staple—which avoids trans fats—is rich in chicken, fried fish, greens, and cornbread. The décor is slightly slicker than Manna's and the price is a bit lower. Heaven awaits in Harlem.
PATRIZIA'S OF MANHATTAN
462-466 Second Avenue
This two-floor pizza restaurant—part of a citywide chain---is everything the Olive Garden should be. It's spacious and friendly, and the food—from calamari to pizza to lobster—is scrumptious, with lovely portions served till you drop. My recent New Year's Eve dinner there was an orgiastic dream come true, and for $70 included all manners of beverage and dessert. Non-holiday meals there are much cheaper, of course.
73-Seventh Avenue South
The ultimate in fusion cuisine is this Indian taqueria—a hole in the wall where they happen to serve marvelous mashups. Start with roti or naan, add something like chicken tikka masala or lamb kabob, and throw in a side like chips and chutney or rice and lentils. The result is something zingy and extraordinary (and dirt cheap). Thank you, India—and you too, Mexico.
285 Third Avenue
My mother used to order takeout from this unassuming joint, and I always prayed she never sauntered by it to see how skank it actually looks. (She never did, mercifully.) But who cares? The $2.25 wonton soup is the best in town, and for the same price, they also have an egg drop soup with wonton noodles. The shrimp lo mein for $5.95 is also a treat, and there's tons more, all old-school Chinese served with a sort of rugged professionalism.
This purveyor of organic and all natural burgers first of all has a wonderful artsy-craftsy look that reeks of hipsterism, but not in a clichéd or annoying way. And the food is wackily enjoyable, from the greens to the "wiches" to the burgers, whether Buckaroo, Grindhouse, or Fire Quacker. It's all pretty reasonably priced, including the sides (spicy pickles are $3.95 and Brussel slaw, $3.85).
388 Third Avenue
It's pretty much a dive, but the pizza is good and cheap, and you can't beat "the Parmigiana Corner" of the takeout menu, which offers meatball, sausage and peppers, and eggplant parm, with pasta or salad, for $10.95
HOP WON EXPRESS
139 E. 45 th Street
Another old-style Chinese restaurant—the kind with hanging roasted pigs—this is a counter-serve experience with a light-up board full of the specialties and daily specials. I like shrimp chow mein with rice and egg roll for seven bucks, and it's perfectly delish.
SOPHIE'S CUBAN CUISINE
369 Lexington Avenue
For nine dollars, you can get a meal at this unassuming fast-food place, including two sides, whether to stay or to go. Everything from ground beef stew on Monday to bacalao on Friday, with a wealth of rice, fried pork chops, and steak sandwiches in between. It's as delicious as a trip to the new Havana.
56 E. 34th Street
Serving "good food that's good for you," Freshbites offers an array of stuff, like breakfast, "lunch wagon packages," and "create your own salad bar" items. It's an intricate experience full of grains, greens, and add-ons, and it's worth navigating because it's not too pricey, and how can you argue when the add-ons include "all natural citrus marinated chicken" and "soy marinated panko crusted tofu"?
Splash photo via Taco Mahal Instagram