A Local's Guide To Spots For Cheap Eats In Midtown Manhattan

Bagel sandwich, Korean chicken, Manhattan
Bagel sandwich, Korean chicken, Manhattan - Static Media / Shutterstock / Instagram

As a food writer who calls the Lower East Side home, I, like all who live in New York City, sometimes have to make an obligatory trip to Midtown. It's not my favorite place to be — too many lights and too much noise and too much commerce. But it doesn't always have to be dreadful, especially if you factor in some time to get a great, cheap meal.

With years of experience as a food writer and cook in some of the city's professional kitchens, I know firsthand that cheap, dank food is something we all can agree on, even in the ever-polarizing world we trudge through. In this guide, I dive into the top spots where you can savor quality food without spending a fortune. These hidden gems offer great value, quick and delicious bites, and even some amusingly gritty convenience — all for about $20 or less per person.

Read more: Restaurant Foods That Always Taste Better Than What You Make At Home

AweSum DimSum

Various dim sum to-go
Various dim sum to-go - awesumdimsum/Instagram

AweSum DimSum has one location near Times Square and another by Gramercy Park. This contemporary dim sum restaurant offers a modern twist on traditional Cantonese cuisine. Known for its small, bite-sized portions served in bamboo steam baskets, AweSum DimSum got a buzz for its authentic flavors and innovative bites.

The menu includes a variety of steamed, fried, and baked dim sum, such as soup dumplings, BBQ pork buns, and truffle-infused xiao long bao. Favorite menu items include the crispy shrimp roll and the Peking duck spring rolls. Have room for dessert? AweSum DimSum tends to debut seasonal treats, such as autumnal mooncakes, wintertime chocolate lava buns, or its summertime mango pomelo delight. It also offers daily specials and a catering menu for special events.

awesumdimsum.us

Multiple locations in Midtown Manhattan

Café China

Moon cake blue plate, cup
Moon cake blue plate, cup - cafechina/Instagram

Café China is located near Bryant Park, where co-owners Yiming Wang and Xian Zhang have transformed a 1930 three-story building into an elegant Shanghai-inspired venue. The restaurant serves a variety of Sichuan food, including popular items like pork dumplings in chili oil, spicy cumin lamb, and shrimp fried rice with Chinese sausage.

This spot is celebrated for its affordable yet high-quality eats, making it a favorite for both quick lunches and group dinners. Regular specials include a range of dim sum options. With critics lauding the crystal shrimp dumplings and vegetable potstickers, diners love Café China for its authentic flavors, cozy ambiance, and budget-friendly prices.

cafechinanyc.com

(212) 213-2810

59 W 37th St, New York, NY 10018

Ess-a-Bagel

Dozens of rainbow-colored bagels
Dozens of rainbow-colored bagels - essabagel/Instagram

Ess-a-Bagel is a beloved New York institution known for its fresh, handmade bagels. Established in 1976 by Florence and Gene Wilpon, as well as Aaron Wenzelberg (Florence's brother), this family-run bagel shop continues to be operated by Florence's sister, Muriel, and niece, Melanie, as of 2013.

The menu features a variety of bagels with extensive toppings, including over two-dozen types of cream cheese (with tofu spread options, to boot), as well as signature sandwiches like one with Nova Scotia lox and scallion cream cheese. Favorites here also include the whitefish salad on a whole wheat everything bagel, or a classic egg and cheese with your choice of meat. It's an ideal spot to grab a great bagel sandwich on the low.

ess-a-bagel.com

Multiple locations in Midtown Manhattan

Forsyth Fire Escape

Scallion pancake burrito, egg, bacon
Scallion pancake burrito, egg, bacon - forsythfireescape/Instagram

Founded in 2021 by Isabel Lee and Luis Fernandez, you'll find Forsyth Fire Escape in Chelsea's Olly Olly Market, located near the High Line. This eatery started as a pop-up early on during the COVID-19 pandemic, cleverly serving burritos at a safe distance: lowered down to street level from a fire escape.

The menu features the signature scallion pancake burrito, a fusion of Chinese, Thai, and Dominican flavors, including pernil, fried queso blanco, guacamole, and lemongrass chili crisp oil​. Also serving a refreshing coconut iced tea, this spot is lauded for its affordable, flavorful eats, and the unique cultural blend in each bite. Regular specials include freshly made burritos available from lunch to dinner until they sell out. Forsyth Fire Escape stands out for its creative approach and delicious, budget-friendly meals.

forsythfireescape.com

(212) 589-8185

601 W 26th St, New York, NY 10001

Grace Street

Basque burnt cheesecake with granola
Basque burnt cheesecake with granola - gracestreetcafe/Instagram

Grace Street is located just a short walk from the Empire State Building. This Korean dessert café was established to create a welcoming space — what it calls "a covenant of care and compassion" on its website — for sharing delightful moments over unique, handmade desserts.

The menu features a variety of specialty drinks and desserts, including popular but cheap items like the matcha Basque burnt cheesecake, honey boba red bean lychee jelly, and lavender milk tea. This spot also offers unique treats like milk tea boba toast, mango madness shaved ice, mochi waffles, ho-dduk (Korean donuts), and matcha beignets. Grace Street is great for its affordable prices and expert sweets, making it a favorite for cheap eats in the area. The shop occasionally offers specials and deals, especially for its dessert and boba catering services​.

bygracestreet.com

(917) 745-2125

17 W 32nd St, New York, NY 10001

Kung Fu Little Steamed Buns Ramen

Cold and spicy noodle, cao cao
Cold and spicy noodle, cao cao - kungfulittlesteamedbuns/Instagram

Kung Fu Little Steamed Buns Ramen can be found near Times Square. This cheap and delicious spot specializes in Chinese cuisine, offering a variety of soups and dumplings (and yes, soup dumplings, too). Known for its cheap but well-executed regional Chinese food, Kung Fu has earned itself a shiny Bib Gourmand rating from the Michelin Guide.

The menu at Kung Fu features fun street food like the steamed pork buns, scallion pancake with sliced beef, plus some Japanese fusion: a variety of ramen options, including spicy beef ramen and roast duck ramen. The fried la mian noodles are pulled by hand and stir-fried with bok choy and carrots. There's a ton to choose from on the seemingly endless menu at Kung Fu — it's perfect for late night eats on a romp around Midtown, or for a sustenance recharge on a long day of showing tourist friends and family around.

kfkitchennyc.com

(917) 388-2555

811 8th Ave, New York, NY 10019

NY Pizza Suprema

Pepperoni pizza cups, grease, cheese
Pepperoni pizza cups, grease, cheese - nypizzasuprema/Instagram

NY Pizza Suprema is located directly across from Madison Square Garden (which the pizzeria predates) and Penn Station. Founded in 1964 by Italian immigrant Salvatore Riggio, this family-run pizzeria has been a staple in the neighborhood for decades, continuing under the same family's ownership​.

The menu offers a wide variety of pizzas, including this spot's famous upside-down grandma slice, Sicilian slice, and white spinach dip slice. Other popular and slightly more adventurous choices include the breaded chicken bacon ranch slice and several vegan choices​. NY Pizza Suprema frequently features as one of the top pizza spots in NYC — including making it on our best Manhattan slice shops list — and is celebrated for its quality and value for money. While there are no regular specials, the reasonable prices and generous portions make it a Midtown staple for cheap eats​.

nypizzasuprema.com

(212) 594-8939

413 8th Ave, New York, NY 10001

Pocha 32

Crunchy Korean scallion kimchi pancake
Crunchy Korean scallion kimchi pancake - Joshua Carlucci/Tasting Table

Pocha 32 is right in the heart of Koreatown, just a quick walk from the Empire State Building. Established as a Korean pub, Pocha 32 offers a vibrant atmosphere with tables often adorned with hollowed-out watermelons filled with soju cocktails, a unique drink presentation that has become a signature of the restaurant​.

The menu features a variety of Korean bar foods, including hearty picks like budae jjigae (a spicy sausage stew), seafood pancakes, corn cheese, BBQ stuffed squid, and fried chicken. Pocha 32 is particularly known for its soju drinks, served in creative ways (as mentioned above). It occasionally offers promotions such as a 5% discount on direct online orders, or when paying in cash in the restaurant. Loved by students and longtime locals alike, Pocha is a favorite for late-night gatherings, sweet drinks and spicy grub, and fueling up before belting your heart out at karaoke night.

pocha32.com

(212) 279-1876

15 W 32nd St, New York, NY 10001

Shanghai Time

Pan-fried soup dumplings
Pan-fried soup dumplings - shanghaitimenyc/Instagram

Near The New York Times Building sits Shanghai Time, a family-owned establishment that focuses on authentic Shanghainese cuisine — it's particularly famous for its dumplings. The menu features a variety of traditional foods, including sheng jian bao (pan-fried buns) and xiao long bao (soup dumplings), which are arguably the most popular items​.

Shanghai Time offers a cozy and casual dining experience, perfect for enjoying homemade dumplings with a modern twist. The restaurant has online ordering for pickup or delivery, which makes grab-and-go super easy in a pinch. Occasionally, this spot has special deals for online orders, including discounts and free delivery for larger orders​​. Shanghai Time is a worthwhile spot for cheap but very well-done dumplings — a rarity in the pricey bustle of Midtown.shanghaitimenyc.com

(646) 351-6699

273 W 38th St, New York, NY 10018

Sofia Pizza Shoppe

Two slices pizza, paper plates
Two slices pizza, paper plates - sofiapizzashoppe/Instagram

Sofia Pizza Shoppe in Midtown East is right by the iconic United Nations Headquarters. Opened in 2016 by pizza enthusiasts Matthew Porter and Tom DeGrezia, the pizzeria has become known for its dank pies, and was another that made our recent slice shop guide.

The menu features a variety of pizzas, including the award-winning spinach dip pizza and the DoughDici, which is a thick, square pie with hearty, chewy crust and crispy exterior toppings. Other great choices are the Margherita, Sicilian square pizza, and the upside down square pizza. It also offers pizza by the slice, such as the classica and pepperoni. Sofia Pizza Shoppe occasionally offers discounts, like 15% off for online orders, and hosts special pizza events. Known for its delicious and reasonably priced pizzas, it's a solid spot for both locals and visitors seeking great New York-style pizza without breaking the bank​.

sofiapizzashoppe.com

(212) 888-8816

989 1st Ave, New York, NY 10022

Spice Symphony

Seabass manjali up close
Seabass manjali up close - spicesymphonynyc/Instagram

Spice Symphony, which was established in 2012, offers a unique blend of traditional Indian and Indo-Chinese cuisine. The restaurant is known for its modern twist on classic plates, using fresh local produce and authentic spices​. The menu includes popular plates like chicken tikka masala, lamb rogan josh, and Goan fish curry, as well as Indo-Chinese specialties, such as chili chicken and hakka noodles. Not to mention its freshly baked naan. Spice Symphony also caters to various dietary preferences, offering vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free options​.

This spot occasionally has lunch specials and other cheap deals. Loved for its affordable prices and high-quality food, it's a solid pick for those seeking delicious and budget-friendly meals in a sophisticated setting.

spicesymphony.com

Multiple locations in Midtown Manhattan

Sullivan Street Bakery

Capicola, chiles, olives, fennel, cheese
Capicola, chiles, olives, fennel, cheese - sullivanstreetbakery/Instagram

Sullivan Street Bakery has two locations in New York City: one in Hell's Kitchen near the Hudson River and the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum, and another in Chelsea. Founded by Jim Lahey in 1994, the bakery has grown from its original SoHo location to become a staple in the New York City bakery scene. Lahey, a former sculptor-turned-baker, brought traditional Italian bread-making techniques to the city, focusing on high-quality ingredients and artisanal methods​.

The goal? For Sullivan Street, it's simple: "Making the best possible bread," per its website. The menu features a variety of breads, Roman-style pizzas, pastries, and sandwiches. The good stuff includes the bomboloni (Italian doughnuts), pizza bianca, and the lemon oil breakfast sandwich. This bakery is known for its affordable, delicious baked goods, making it a favorite for cheap eats​. It's made a name for itself for having some of the best bread in NYC, having been served on some of the city's most acclaimed restaurants' tables.

sullivanstreetbakery.com

Multiple locations in Midtown Manhattan

Sushi 35 West

Nigiri sushi tasting box
Nigiri sushi tasting box - sushi35west/Instagram

Located close to Penn Station, Sushi 35 West is a hidden gem nestled in an industrial building and offering a unique dining experience. The restaurant is run by itamae Jacky Ye, who previously worked at top NYC sushi restaurants before opening his own place​.

The menu features a variety of sushi options, including popular items like the premium sushi platter, which includes 10 pieces of nigiri and a negitoro roll on the cheap. There's also an even cheaper lunch set with six pieces of nigiri and a roll. Other favorites are the spicy tuna rolls and the 35-piece omakase platter​. Sushi 35 West is known for its high-quality, affordable raw fish, making it a favorite for cheap sushi in Midtown Manhattan. While primarily a takeout spot, it does offer limited seating for dine-in.​sushi35west.com

(646) 882-6666

224 W 35th St, New York, NY 10001

The Halal Guys

Halal platters, rice, falafel, shawarma
Halal platters, rice, falafel, shawarma - thehalalguys/Instagram

Though there are other locations throughout NYC, The Halal Guys' original spot is at the corner of W 53rd Street and 6th Avenue, close to landmarks like the Museum of Modern Art and Central Park. Founded in 1990 by three Egyptian immigrants, the original cart quickly gained fame for its affordable, flavorful halal platters and sandwiches. Over time, it became one of the best halal carts in the city and has expanded across the United States​​ and internationally.

The Halal Guys has since rooted itself as a Manhattan staple — it's reportedly imitated across the city, even right next to the OG cart. Its menu features chicken and beef gyro platters, falafel sandwiches, and its iconic white and red sauces. The chicken over rice and gyro platters are particularly well-loved, known for their generous portions and delicious seasoning​. Plus, The Halal Guys seems to be almost inflation proof. It's still dirt cheap but just as tasty.

thehalalguys.com

(347) 527-1505

W 53rd St & 6th Ave, New York, NY 10019

The Kunjip

Korean BBQ meat, vegetables
Korean BBQ meat, vegetables - thekunjipnyc/Instagram

Right in the heart of Koreatown and just a few steps away from the Empire State Building, you'll find The Kunjip. This bustling Korean restaurant is a family-run business, and it has been a staple in the area since 2002, renowned for its authentic cuisine and lively atmosphere.

The menu at The Kunjip includes a variety of traditional Korean food, such as bibimbap, bulgogi, and an array of stews and soups like kimchi jjigae and soondubu. Popular plates include the seafood pancake (hae-mool pajun), spicy pork bone and potato casserole (gamja jungol), and its BBQ options like black pork belly and marinated short ribs. Complimentary banchan (small sides) are served with every meal, and the meal ends with a refreshing cinnamon tea. The Kunjip has a bunch of lunch specials during the weekdays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. It's a must-try, K-Town banger for your buck, budget, and taste buds.

kunjip.nyc

(212) 564-8238

32 W 32nd St, New York, NY 10001

Tradisyon

Pig hock bok choy
Pig hock bok choy - tradisyonnyc/Instagram

Tradisyon is located within the Urban Hawker food hall close to Rockefeller Center. Founded by chefs Anton Dayrit and Bianca Vicente, who have worked at prestigious NYC kitchens like Jean-Georges and ABC Cocina, Tradisyon brings authentic Filipino comfort food to the heart of the city​.

The menu features classic Filipino items such as BBQ chicken with rice and vegan pancit. Some great picks include the pork adobo, known for its tender meat in a garlicky soy-based sauce, and crispy lumpia, ideal for a quick snack​ and all wrapped up in a brown paper bag. Tradisyon occasionally has a special menu, particularly for catering and party trays. Loved for its affordable and flavorful food, this Urban Hawker staple provides a taste of home-cooked Filipino food at unbeatable prices in the city.

tradisyonnyc.com

(646) 866-6900

790 9th Ave, New York, NY 10019

Utopia Bagels

Boiling bagels in big vat
Boiling bagels in big vat - utopiabagels/Instagram

Though it was first established in Queens in 1981 by Anthony Pantaleo and Scott Spellman, Utopia Bagels now has a location near the NYU Langone Medical Center. It has since become a beloved institution, known for its hand-rolled, kettle-boiled bagels baked in a 1947 carousel oven.

The menu includes a wide variety of bagels with diverse toppings and spreads, such as scallion cream cheese, lox, and signature sandwiches. Classics include the everything bagel with scallion cream cheese and the bacon, egg, and cheese bagel sandwich​. Vegan and gluten-free options are also available. Utopia Bagels occasionally offers specials, and even gave out free bagels to the first 100 customers during its Midtown grand opening in 2024​. This spot is cherished for its high-quality, affordable bagels, making it a key player for cheap eats​.

utopiabagelsny.com

(646) 914-6981

120 E 34th St, New York, NY 10016

Westway Diner

Butternut squash ravioli, white sauce
Butternut squash ravioli, white sauce - westwaydiner/Instagram

Westway Diner is located near the Theater District and Times Square​​. Opened in 1988, this family-owned and operated diner has become a local Theater Row favorite for its extensive menu and classic diner ambiance.

The menu includes a wide variety of breakfast items, sandwiches, burgers, and typical diner fare. Favorites include its pancakes, chicken and waffles, and the Popeye omelette, made with fresh spinach, chicken, avocado, and egg whites. It also offers hearty deli sandwiches and giant slices of cheesecake​. Westway Diner occasionally offers daily specials, giving it a reputation, even amongst the stars, as a go-to spot for affordable, delicious meals​. Loved for its friendly service, generous portions, and reasonable prices, Westway Diner is a cherished spot for cheap eats in a cozy, Americana setting.

westwaydiner.com

(212) 582-7661

614 9th Ave, New York, NY 10036

Methodology

Sky, looking up, surrounded skyscrapers
Sky, looking up, surrounded skyscrapers - Dibrova/Getty Images

To pick the best cheap eats in Midtown Manhattan, I started by checking out the quality and consistency of the food to make sure every meal is tasty and well-prepared. I also looked at value for money, aiming to find spots where you can get a good, filling meal for $20 or less — which means you'll leave satisfied without breaking the bank.

I then focused on what makes each place unique. This could be the atmosphere, friendly service, any regular specials or deals, or idiosyncratic items that you won't find anywhere else. To keep things local and authentic, I skipped all the chain restaurants in Manhattan, and instead wanted to highlight unique local gems that truly represent Midtown's diverse food scene. Finally, I listed these restaurants in alphabetical order to keep it fair and easy to navigate. This way, you can quickly find and enjoy some of the best budget-friendly dining spots on your spin around the maze of Midtown Manhattan.

Read the original article on Tasting Table.