New York City, New York
Of all of the neighborhoods in Manhattan, Midtown has to be the worst place to get a decent meal – most of it is a corporate and tourist-trap wasteland. If there’s good cheap food to be had near Times Square, I’ve never heard of it and the best thing to do if you’re on a budget is leave.
[There is actually one exception: a street cart on the corner of 6th Ave & 46th Street. He's there longer than any other street cart - I've even seen him there Sunday nights. Just look for the cart with the line forming. Great falafel and kebabs, excellent & super clean.]
So leave Fifth Avenue and walk west through Times Square and the Theatre District, past 8th Avenue into Hell’s Kitchen. Hell’s Kitchen is defined by the old tenement buildings lining the blocks and the reputation that it had been, for many years, a bit of a dangerous place.
Times have really changed.
Hell’s Kitchen has to be the best place to get food in the whole city. There are great options representing cuisines from Afghani to Ethiopian to Peruvian to classic American burgers at Island Burgers and Shakes (a very good burger – on 9th Ave between 51st and 52nd Streets). Here are some of my favorites:
Happy hour at the Mexican place on 9th Ave. and 52nd Street (I never remember the name) with big $4 margaritas and free tortilla chips and fresh salsa. It’s something I still try and get to occasionally, even though I live in Brooklyn now. Try and get the table at the window to watch the neighborhood walk by.
Cheap produce is available at the unimpressive-looking Stiles markets on 52nd Street between 8th & 9th Avenues (under a tent next to a parking lot) and opposite the Port Authority Bus Terminal on 9th Avenue. Green markets don’t really exist in New York like they do in other cities, but places like Stiles have good variety on the cheap.
More expensive gourmet & health-food groceries can be found at Westerly Market on 8th Ave. at 54th Street and at the Amish Market on 9th Ave. and 49th Street. Make sure to eat your fills of olives at the olive bar. Over the years, the Amish must have lost a fortune in free samples. A little further down 9th Ave. is a tasty cheese shop with a lot of variety near 44th Street.
If you venture further out to 10th Avenue, head down by 47th Street for Tehuitzingo and some tasty authentic Mexican fare or go where all of the cabbies go to eat at the Desi Deli at 10th Avenue between 50th & 51st Sts. They just expanded and now have seating – you used to have to stand, but the Punjabi food was worth it. In my humble opinion, the best falafel to be had in the entire city is at Azuri Café on 51st Street at 10th Avenue. Just ignore the gruff owner and order what you’d like. I have never seen so many ingredients go into a falafel sandwich anywhere else. At both Desi Deli and Azuri, you’ll have a hard time spending more than $10.
On 47th Street between 9th & 10th Aves (right next to 10th Ave, really), you’ll find one of the city’s few Ethiopian restaurants and one of the best, Meskerem. With most entrees under $10, you can really feed well.
If it’s summery and warm and you want to find a rare garden spot, find Druids at 736 10th Avenue and head to the back of the house. Dinner will cost you about $12-15 an entrée for quality upscale pub fare. Lunch is cheaper – a burger and a beer will cost you $10 or so. It’s a good place to sit and you won’t be rushed. Even rarer still, you can have a drink and smoke in the same place. New York’s smoking laws now require that you stand outside with your cigarette and our drinking laws require that your drink stay inside.
If you’re looking for cool places to drink, check out Rudy’s Bar & Grill on 9th Avenue between 44th & 45th Street. Just look for the 6-foot tall pig in a hat. Rudy’s is one of the few places in the city where guys in suits will mingle with career drunks and hipster kids for cheap beer and free hot dogs. A must visit if you’re in the neighborhood and of legal drinking age. The house beer is under $3 a pint, but it’s pretty watery. Rudy’s is also one of the few bars in New York that actually smells a little bit worse since the smoking ban. A must visit if you’re in the area and want a little local “charm.”
There’s so much in Hell’s Kitchen and it’s the closet place you can go to get a feel for what a Melting Pot really is.
To find any of these places, check out: CitySearch.