Whether you're old or young, there are just some times when you are as broke as the ten commandments, and as hungry as castaway. Where to go then? Is there any way to fill up on five bucks? Yes. Yes, there is.
There's some debate over who has the best banh mi sandwich in New York, but few would debate that this East Village sandwich mecca is one of the very best. The bread is light and crispy, the meat and cilanto and carrots are cheap, and the price, as ever, is amazingly low. Look for Vietnamese meatballs when they're available.
I'm amazed, looking at the other tips here, that so many people are blown away by Muzzarella's pizza, which if the truth be told is only average. Their foccacia, though, is unique and delicious and makes a perfect walking around snack.
Although it's primarily known as an Italian specialty shop, famous for its cheeses, those of us in the know hasten there for the cheap but lovingly made sandwiches, which are some of the best in town. The porchetta sandwich in particular is a masterpiece of fat and salt and shoulder meat, on a crusty roll from nearby Parisi bakery.
The flagship of the mighty Gray's Papaya chain, this store sells hot dogs and sugary fruit drinks. Did I mention hot dogs? They're cheap and snappy, and brown, and -- most importantly -- served on toasty hot buns, which makes all the difference.
When seeking pho, the rich noodle soup of Vietnam, a person in Chinatown has many choices, but mine is Bo Ky. There are so many things you can have in the soup, from fishballs to beef tendons, but the most important one is hot chile oil. Don't forget that!
Vegetarian food tends to be associated with hippies, leftists, and, of course, health cranks, but this ancient East Village diner, a relic of the days of kosher cooking, makes some of the homiest and best vegetarian food in the city. Pierogis are what people love best here, but really, the whole menu works. You could almost forget it's vegetarian!
One of the secret pleasures of living in the East Village consists of knowing that an otherwise unremarkable newsstand run by unremarkable Indian men has, hidden away behind the counter, makings of an egg cream. Back in the day, candy stores sold papers and egg creams (a classic NYC drink made of chocolate milk and seltzer) and the Gem Spa is the last survivor of this ancient race.
You come here to get -- no surprise -- meat pies, the square orange ones that are more commonly seen in pizza joints or at Golden Krust. These are so, so much better though: spicy and unctuous and warm and with a flaky crust so rich that it's almost another kind of meat. Get a big piece of coco bread to fold it in if you want -- but it's not necessary.
Empanada Mama makes many different varieties of above-average empanadas, both fried and baked, and all of them are cheap. They're great to grab on the go, but I like to get a dozen different ones, as one might at a donut shop, and set them out at a party or for the game. My own favorite is the fried beef empanada, which is enjoyably greasy and piquant.
A slider, it should be noted, is different from a hamburger not only in size but in approach. They're smaller, softer, more delicate in every way. Mark, on St. Mark's Place, specializes in them and they're fresh and hot and very good. Get two.
If you've ever eaten baklava in a typical Greek diner, you've never eaten baklava. This Turkish mini-chain imports their pastries, all different varieties of baklava and bureks, half baked from Turkey and finishes them here. They're made of the highest quality dough, butter, pistachios, walnuts and more, and you can mix and match them as you like.
If you have ever eaten shwarma at one of those innumerable falafel spots in which the "meat" consists of a pre-formed gray wad, you haven't eaten shwarma. The real consists of lamb or pork, sliced and seasoned and piled high on a stake, bathing in its own juices as it turns slowly, alluringly, next to a fire. Kuti's does lamb and it is worth travelling from the Battery to Harlem for.
What would you say if I told you that there was a place where, for less than $5, you could get an unutterably rich, juicy, crusty pork chop dressed with coarse ground pork and sauce and pickled vegetables, all over warm, moist rice? Would you say I was crazy? Maybe I am. But it exists. It really does.