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Posts by: Robyn Lee - The Girl Who Ate Everything
Like American diners, Hong Kong-style tea restaurants (cha chaan teng in Cantonese) offer food that’s mostly cheap, fast and comforting. But unlike American spots, the Hong Kong-style cafés specialize in dishes that blend Chinese and Western cuisine—thanks to the influence of British colonialism. One example is Cha Chan Tang’s standard version of the humble egg sandwich, a diner staple. A folded, omelette-like mass of soft scrambled egg is sandwiched between slices of plush, buttered white bread, with the crusts cut off. If egg alone isn’t enough, you can amp up your sandwich with ham, SPAM®, bacon, tomato or corned beef.
- $2.50 for Small
As its name implies, Yaya Tea Garden specializes in tea drinks, but it also has a large menu of made-to-order onigiri, seaweed-wrapped Japanese rice balls with fillings ranging from seaweed or tuna to a combination of seaweed, imitation crab and egg. One of the best choices is shrimp tempura, which features a large piece of fried shrimp in a light, crisp batter and a bit of mayonnaise. Try one small onigiri for a snack or two for a meal.
If you have a late-night sweets craving, head to this Hong Kong-style dessert shop in Chinatown and try the chilled Mango Pomelo Sago “Soup.” It combines sweet, thick, mango puree fortified with small chunks of ripe mango, plump, sweet-and-tart pomelo segments and loads of tiny, mildly chewy sago pearls. It probably isn’t healthy—but it’s so robustly fruity you can pretend it is.
If you’re looking for a Shake Shack-like burger in Williamsburg, Blue Collar is your best bet. It’s no compromise—their cheeseburgers are great, featuring thin, well seared and juicy patties topped with fresh lettuce, a few slices of tomato and raw onion, pickles, American cheese and secret sauce on toasted potato rolls. Throw in an order of their crisp, skinny fries while you’re at it.
160 Havemeyer St. #2 at S. 2nd St. (map)
Brooklyn, NY 11211
Eisenberg’s Sandwich Shop is an old-school diner that, as the menu proudly touts, has been “raising New York’s cholesterol since 1929.” The vintage atmosphere is a bigger draw than the food, but if you’re going to eat a sandwich in the Flatiron, better to sit on a red vinyl stool at a long counter where you can chat with a friendly sandwich maker than wait in line at a generic deli. The tuna salad sandwich is just right—no bells and whistles: a thick layer of creamy (canned) tuna salad topped with a few slices of tomato and crisp iceberg lettuce on toasted rye (the bread choice is up to you), with a sliced pickle on the side.
- $4.50 for small, $5.50 for large
The West Village is home to a handful of good ice cream and gelato shops. My favorite, which most reminds me of Italy, is L’Arte del Gelato. Their freshly made gelati and sorbetti are invariably creamy and smooth, and their seasonal menu offers a wide variety of flavors—from chocolate-y, to nutty, to fruity, to creamy, to spicy and more. Don’t miss their intensely nutty pistachio gelato, made with Bronte pistachios from Sicily. Pair it with a fruity gelato or sorbet; I’m fond of strawberry, peach, banana and grape.
75 Ninth Ave. nr West 15th St. (in Chelsea Market – map)
New York, NY 10011
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- $3.85 for 1 scoop
This ice cream shop offers classics like vanilla, strawberry and mint chocolate chip, but the main draw is a selection of Asian-inspired flavors, including wasabi, ginger and black sesame. If you’ve never had taro-flavored ice cream before, this is the place to try it. Made with fresh taro and taro-flavored powder, the ice cream tastes like vanilla and sweet potato—subtly starchy and floral.
If you’re craving a quick, savory snack in Chinatown and you’re a fan of fatty pork, head to Mei Li Wah for their famous baked, roast pork buns. These soft, lightly glazed buns don’t skimp on the saucy, sweet and savory roast pork filling. Mei Li Wah also makes a steamed version, but it has a higher bread-to-filling ratio. Stick with the baked buns.
Mei Li Wah
64 Bayard St. at Elizabeth St. (Map)
New York, NY 10013
Meltingly tender chunks of lengua (tongue) layered with ripe avocado slices, crema, crisp red onions, chopped iceberg lettuce, mashed black beans and white cheese in a toasted sesame seed topped cemita roll make for a hefty sandwich that could last for two meals—but probably won’t, because you’ll want to eat it all in one sitting. If you’re averse to feeling like your mouth is burning, make sure to ask for it without the default spicy sauce.
- Photograph by James Boo
To make its Cookies and Cream Sundae, Dessert Club Chikalicious cuts up three of its cookies—The Situation (chocolate chips, corn chips, peanut butter chips, marshmallow and pretzel), Situation Dark (chocolate cookie with chocolate chips, peanut butter chips, toffee popcorn and pretzel) and Chocolate Chip—then mixes the crisp chunks with super creamy vanilla bean soft serve. Each dessert is great on its own, but together they form the best combination of cookies and ice cream you may ever eat. Just make sure to share with one or two people; the portion is huge.
Congee offers much more than just the humble rice porridge that’s its namesake. Don’t miss their salt baked squid, featuring a mountainous pile of lightly battered and tender chunks of crisp, well seasoned cephalopod, sprinkled with salt and pepper and mixed with cashews and strips of bell pepper and onion.
Taim’s falafel sandwiches are at the upper end of the falafel price range, but they’re more than worth it. The flavorful green falafel–fried mashed chickpea mixed with parsley, mint, and cilantro–are moist on the inside, and lightly crisp on the outside. They come in a pillowy soft and fluffy white or whole wheat pita that is nothing like the thin, dry ones many other places use. Along with tahini, creamy hummus, crunchy cabbage, diced tomato and cucumber-based Israeli salad, this is an impressive sandwich.
45 Spring St. at Mulberry St. (Map)
New York, NY 10012
Tiny’s Giant Sandwich Shop offers over 20 sandwiches (and lots of vegetarian options). One of the best menu options is the Spicy Rizzak, a neat stack of sliced turkey, crispy bacon bits, melted cheddar, raw tomato, raw onion and spicy chipotle mayo on fragrantly nutty sesame semolina bread.
Editor’s Note: Since this dish was added to Real Cheap Eats, its price has risen past $10.00. It’s still a part of the guide as a part of our “grandfather” policy.
This nearly 40-year-old burger joint is rightfully famous for its griddled burgers, featuring juicy and flavorful loosely packed patties on simple toasted white buns. Like the restaurant itself, the burger isn’t anything fancy. The cheeseburger comes with thinly sliced red onion and pickles on the side, but it’s still worth going out of your way to get it.
1291 Third Ave. at E. 74th St. (Map)
New York, NY 10021
Pizza bianca doesn’t have cheese or tomato sauce, but it doesn’t need them. This light slab of chewy and crispy Roman-style flatbread comes topped with extra virgin olive oil, sea salt and rosemary. No other ingredients required (it does make great sandwich bread, though).