(684-3rd Avenue at 43rd Street and several other locations)
This is yet another Chipotle-style custom-made food joint, but I actually prefer it because the udon noodles with steak, Saigon sauce, and fried garlic happens to be one of the most delicious things I've ever tasted, and it comes in at under nine bucks. It's fun to mix up whatever Asian treat you like, combining your fave noodles, sauce, and toppings. After all, everyone wants to be a director!
(64 University Place bet. 10th & 11th Sts. and 1505-First Avenue, bet. 78th-79th Sts.)
I've gone to the University Place branch of this grocery store/caterer for some quickie meals. In between shopping there, you can sidle up to the counter for extremely tempting lunch specials, which you then eat at an unceremonious wooden table. I've gotten steak, pasta, brussels sprouts and a drink -- all for peanuts. The prices went up not that long ago when they realized how people were panting for this stuff, but still, you get a lunch of meat or fish plus pasta or potato plus a veggie, plus water, Snapple or coffee for nine bucks!
(1980 Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard, between 119th and 120th Sts.)
I've stopped in here repeatedly for amazing jerk chicken, beef stew, collard greens, and all kinds of other Caribbean delights. The place is small and unassuming, but it's all about the food. Just go to the counter, get your cheap eats, sit your ass down, and enjoy.
(307 E. 9th Street)
The East Village lives with this cozily unpretentious restaurant, where you can grab huevos rancheros and organic coffee, served in a relaxed but lively environment. It's great for monthly gabfests with friends willing to kick their proverbial shoes off and get down.
(70 University Place)
This casual sports bar is one of my favorite lunchtime destinations. The specials are dirt cheap (My particular favorites are the meatball bowl and the salad with chicken fingers) and they come with beverage or coffee. What's more, the service is swell, and I've never come away having paid more than a total of 13 bucks. A burger with fries, lettuce, tomato, onion and pickles is only $8.95. Belch.
(140-Second Avenue, near St. Marks Place)
Stately ambience, nice Ukrainian specialties, and a real sense of neighborhood history make this my kind of borscht palace. We have to treasure any place where we can get kasha varnishkes with a side of mushroom sauce, since there aren't that many of them left in Manhattan. And this one's the real deal.
(2888 Broadway between 112th and 113th Streets)
I had a really scrumptious lunch at Amigos recently and found it to be a warm hangout with terrific eats that won't break the bank. (Chicken tortilla soup is $6 and slow cooked pork carnitas are $14.) And it was nice to revisit my old college neighborhood. Yes, I went to Columbia, you know. Ivy League. Hola!
(564-3rd Avenue at 38th Street)
Gourmet sandwiches, Euro toasts and grilled cheese, entrée salads, and vegetable sides are the wondrous order of the day at this highly practical caterer with counter service and some tables. For a mere eight dollars, I always get an oven-baked salmon sandwich with avocado, tomato, and arugula. Instead of spicy mayo, I ask for some olive tapenade spread on it, and they oblige. It's a real Murray Hill treat.
(162 W. 56th and 116 Stanton Street)
I've been to the uptown one a couple of times and enjoyed the Mykonos-style white walls and blue tables, the charming service, and the deliciously authentic avgolemono soup ($6) and loukaniko pita with traditional Greek sausage ($7). By the end of the meal, I always feel like I've been away and need to open my mail.
(316 W. 39th Street; 212-465-0592)
This Dominican treasure is a small takeout place with just a little bit of counter seating, but it's got my kind of eats—and prices. The lunch special is so delicioso I'm always fantasizing about my next trip there. Rotisserie chicken is only$6.50, beef stew is $8, and so is onion steak, and they all come with rice and beans. There are also fascinating specialties like ox tail and tripe soup. Vamonos!
Wait, let me add one more for safety:
(75-Lexington Avenue, near 26th Street, and other locations)
OK, go ahead and laugh, but I happen to adore the fact that, depending on whatever specials Popeyes is serving at the moment, I can usually pile on some chicken, a side (like cole slaw), a biscuit, and a beverage for six bucks plus tax! I'm popeyed just at the thought of it!