NYC has arguably the best restaurant scene in the US. Each week, there are crazy food creations being added to menus; from raindrop cakes to ramen burgers, New York really has it all. But as much as I love trying new foods, I can’t say that I truly enjoy spending 90+ minutes at a restaurant, no matter how good the food is. When I started looking for fast, cheap places to eat in NYC, I was surprised at how hard it was to find a good meal that fit my requirements. I didn’t want to spend my money at any old chain like Chipotle, but I did want a quick bite that wasn’t loaded with fat and salt. After two years of living in the city, I’ve finally found my go-to eateries when I’m exploring the city but don’t want to sit down for a long meal. The restaurants listed below are fast-casual, local chains. I’ve chosen places that’ll fit a range of budgets; whether you have $1 or $15 to spend on a meal, I’ve got you covered. While not all these eateries are mega healthy, they’re all delicious in their own way.
Minigrow is a healthier take on fast-casual dining. You can create your own bowls from a variety of bases, toppings, and sauces. The bases are super versatile and feature things like raw beet noodles, fresh spinach noodles, brown rice, and leafy greens. What I like best about Minigrow is the effort they put into sourcing and making their food; all of their proteins are hormone and antibiotic-free, and they have a ton of vegan and gluten-free options, which is rare for a chain like this!
Mighty Quinn’s BBQ
Mighty Quinn’s is nowhere near as healthy as Minigrow, but it’s seriously tasty and definitely worth the money. Mighty Quinn’s specializes in barbecue and has just a handful of menu items. Orders are ready in under 10 minutes, and the food comes out piping hot. The crispy chicken sandwich is good here, but the pulled pork is my absolute favorite. Whatever you do, make sure to get a side of baked beans with your order; they mix in the burnt ends from the brisket, which makes for the richest beans ever.
Tall Girl Tip: If you have any allergies or don’t eat meat, don’t bother coming to Mighty Quinn’s. Their food is incredible, but the menu is hard to navigate with dietary restrictions.
Mamoun’s is the place to get falafel in NYC. Open since 1971, Mamoun’s serves your typical Middle Eastern fare (baba ganouj, tabbouleh, falafel, shawarma, etc). There’s a number of vegetarian options here, as well as hearty pita sandwiches for all you meat lovers. I always get the pita sandwich with falafel, but I’ve been told the kafta kebobs are good too. Everything here is super cheap and surprisingly filling. They have two locations in Lower Manhattan, but the one in Greenwich Village is the original.
2 Bros Pizza
2 Bros is one of the few dollar slice places left in the city. The pizza isn’t the best you’ll ever have, but it’s pretty good and is dirt cheap. The typical New York slice is on the thinner side and it spills over the edge of your plate. Fold it in half and eat it while you’re walking for the full experience. Just make sure to grab napkins to wipe the grease from your hands!
Vanessa’s Dumpling House
NYC has a lot of cheap food options, but Vanessa’s is the cheapest of the cheap (and still insanely delicious). Go for an order of eight dumplings (all $5 or less), plus a stuffed bun or sesame pancake. Two or three menu items will be more than enough to fill you up, and will cost around $10. However, you can only pay with a credit card if you spend over $15, which is tough to do if you’re just buying for yourself. One word of caution: the Chinatown location is packed on the weekends, so the wait might be a little longer.
Mulberry & Vine
With a motto like “Live Dirty, Eat Clean,” it’s tough not to love Mulberry & Vine right away. If you’re looking for truly healthy fast casual food that isn’t a salad, you need to hit this place up. For around $12, you can build your own plate with options like Thai chili noodles, Vietnamese chopped salad, quinoa and corn, and more. You can go totally vegetarian or pair your sides with meats like braised chicken or roasted salmon. A plate was more than enough food for me, and although it was incredibly filling, it still felt light and fresh somehow.
Only in New York could you find vegan sushi this amazing. Beyond Sushi serves up a variety of soups, salads, dumplings, and sushi rolls, most of which are totally vegan (and a handful are just vegetarian). The La Fiesta roll is my personal favorite, as it has a kick of heat to it. The lunch specials are all $13 or less and can easily be taken to go.
Xi’an Famous Foods
Xi’an Famous Foods is no-frills Chinese food at its finest. Each dish features their hand-pulled noodles, and everything is served on a Styrofoam plate. The food is pretty cheap, and you get a big portion. My all-time favorite dish is their spicy cumin lamb noodles; they’re just spicy enough to make you eat a little slower, but not so spicy that you can’t finish the whole plate. The noodle soups are ultra hearty and are perfect in the winter. There’s a Xi’an Famous Foods near Times Square that I always visit before seeing a show (because all the other food near Times Square is super expensive!).
Dig Inn features produce from minority-run, small scale farms and has a slew of fresh, hearty meals on their menu. Their menu rotates seasonally, so there’s always something new to try. No matter the season, they always have at least one vegan main on the menu, and they’re really good about labeling other allergens on their menu, such as dairy and gluten. I really like their chicken (whatever the seasonal flavor is always tastes good), and it’s always tricky picking between their many sides.
The Halal Guys
The Halal Guys is no longer a New York-only chain, but I’ve mentioned it on this list because it started as a food cart in the city. The portions here are massive, and the red sauce is super spicy, so order with caution! If you eat meat, get the beef gyro platter. I’m sure it’s terrible for you, but it’s really tender and flavorful. If you’re devouring it yourself, be prepare to carry around your leftovers for a bit.
Although they sell burgers and ribs, stick to the chicken dishes at Chirping Chicken (it’s their specialty, after all!). You can buy plain broiled chicken, or make it a meal with sides and pita bread. I find the quarter chicken meal plenty filling, and it’s only $13. The service here is pretty fast, and they have locations scattered around the city.
For lack of a better description, indikitch is the Chipotle of Indian food. First, you choose your style of dish (feast, bowl, sandwich, etc), then the type of protein and sauce you want. You can get a big meal for around $10 here, and the food really hits the spot.
Num Pang is a Cambodian sandwich shop serving up bahn mi-style sandwiches (crusty white bread, marinated meats, fresh toppings). Don’t waste your money on the salads here; they’re good, but the sandwiches are better. Go for a ginger barbecue sandwich with a house-made blood orange lemonade on the side. The sandwiches don’t look that big, but just one should fill you up.
Hopefully there’s a restaurant on this list that catches your eye! My stomach is actually growling after writing this post, and I might have to go down a few handfuls of trail mix to tide me over until dinner.
Tell me: Are you willing to spend a little extra money on food while you’re traveling, or do you try and stick to a strict budget? For me, it depends on how long I’m in an area. When I visited Charleston I didn’t worry too much about budgeting my food since I was there for less than a week.
Looking for more NYC restaurant recommendations?
- 11 Bakeries in NYC I’m Currently Obsessed With
- 10 NYC Ice Cream Shops I’m Currently Obsessed With
- The 10 NYC Restaurants I’m Currently Obsessing Over