17 cheap thrills in restaurant and bars, oysters to air hockey

During Crave Fishbar's oyster happy hour, bivalves are only $1 each.
During Crave Fishbar’s oyster happy hour, bivalves are only $1 each. Photo Credit: Jeff Bachner

New York City is, notoriously, one of the most expensive cities in the country. From sky-high rents to ever-rising transit costs to $20-plus cocktails to spendy boutique studios, you can feel the pinch at nearly every aspect of city living.

But it’s not all wallet-draining; throughout the five boroughs, you can find plenty of cheap thrills — that don’t skimp on quality — that make living here a daily adventure.

Here’s a look at our top picks in food and drink for the thrifty at heart, as selected by: features editor (and cheese lover) Meredith Deliso, associate editor (and cheap eats enthusiast) Sarina Trangle, reporter (and happy vegan) Alison Fox, frequent food contributor Melissa Kravitz and culture writer Jordan Hoffman.

And, for more cheap thrills, check out our 16 picks for outdoor adventures as well as 17 ways to get cultured.

Oyster happy hours

A single oyster can easily run you $3 or $4 a pop, which quickly adds up when you are ordering a dozen or more. But enter the oyster happy hour. Time it right and you can slurp up bivalves at just a $1 each. Need some direction? You can find a daily deal at both Crave Fishbar’s midtown and Upper West Side locations. (MD) 

You want dumplings? White Bear has them, including the No. 6 - pork dumplings with mildly spicy pepper sauce.
You want dumplings? White Bear has them, including the No. 6 – pork dumplings with mildly spicy pepper sauce. Photo Credit: Colter Hettich

Dumpling crawl through Flushing

Rent week doesn’t have to mean instant ramen or leftover pizza when you have a MetroCard and a few bucks in your pocket. Taking the 7 train to the last stop, Flushing-Main Street lands you in Chinatown, where half a dozen dumplings cost only a few bucks. Some of the best are found at White Bear, where succulent pork wontons are coated in chili oil; soup dumpling destination Nan Xiang Xiao Long Bao; and Tian Jin Dumpling House, where you can dictate your desired dumpling filling to your particular taste. (MK)

5 Burro Pizza is among the $1 slice options in the city.
5 Burro Pizza is among the $1 slice options in the city. Photo Credit: amNewYork

The dollar slice

Amid the growing crop of sit-down pizzerias and fast-casual options, you can still seek a quick, convenient and delicious meal on the go at the city’s dollar slice joints. They may not be as ubiquitous as they once were, but at chains like 2 Bros and 99¢ Fresh Pizza, you can always find crowds chowing down on the iconic city food. (MD)

Queens Night Market vendors have included Moon Man, which specializes in Southeast Asian sweets.
Queens Night Market vendors have included Moon Man, which specializes in Southeast Asian sweets. Photo Credit: Meredith Deliso

Global eats at the Queens Night Market

Bring a buddy or two and feast on specialties that hail from dozens of different countries at this seasonal food festival in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park. Most dishes won’t cost more than $5 or $6, so you can get pretty far — and full! — with a few bills by strategically sharing. You can even go back for seconds of your favorites. (MD)

Fast-casual noodles at Pasta Flyer

Shelling out $164 for a five-course prix-fixe menu at Del Posto may not be in the cards, but how about high-quality pasta at under $10? At former Del Posto executive chef Mark Ladner and partner Nastassia Lopez’s counter-service pasta spot on Sixth Avenue, find quick-cooking imported Italian pasta with homemade, hyper-flavorful sauces. (MK)

Oversized cookies at Chip

Levain Bakery may always reign supreme on the Upper West Side, but the joy of oversized cookies spread east of Central Park last year when Chip opened in Astoria to predictably long lines and sold-out daily flavors (subsequent locations have followed in the Gansevoort Market and again in Astoria). The baseball-sized, gooey-centered cookies ($3.50) are served warm in flavors like chocolate chip walnut, blueberry cheesecake and oatmeal apple pie. Buy five and you get one on the house. (MK)

Shoppers at the Union Square Greenmarket.
Shoppers at the Union Square Greenmarket. Photo Credit: Linda Rosier

Haggling at the city’s farmers’ markets

Eating farm-to-table doesn’t have to be overpriced in the city — especially if you are cooking yourself. Perusing NYC’s green markets just before closing may limit your selection, but boost your potential for deals and bulk bargains — no vendor wants to bring back unsold produce or baked goods. (MK)

Japanese treats at Panya Bakery  

Earning cult status among NYU students and longtime East Villagers, this Japanese bakery dating back to 1993 offers a decadent selection of sweet and savory croissants and breads, stuffed with everything from Japanese sweet potato to spicy tuna, for as little as $2. Those looking for a little more sustenance can go for the crispy chicken, pork or fish katsu served on freshly baked bread. (MK)

To-go pizza in Brooklyn Bridge Park

There aren’t many things better than a coal-fired pizza, but an amazing coal-fired pizza with a view might just be it. Grab a pie to go from Juliana’s Pizza in DUMBO ($23 for a large margarita) with its crispy, slightly burned crust and take it down the block to Brooklyn Bridge Park where you can grab a seat and take in unobstructed views of the skyline and the iconic bridge. Try to go on off-peak hours because if the line is too long, the pizzeria tends to turn down to go orders. (AF) 

Reuben Shorser makes a 13 Spice Pork Jianbing at Jianbing at the Dekalb Market Hall.
Reuben Shorser makes a 13 Spice Pork Jianbing at Jianbing at the Dekalb Market Hall. Photo Credit: Linda Rosier

Outlet shopping and lunch on Fulton Street

Shopping for a deal doesn’t have to mean leaving the city. Rather, head to Fulton Street in Downtown Brooklyn where nearly a dozen discount or outlet shops line the stretch, including Century 21, Nordstrom Rack, Banana Republic Factory Store, Ann Taylor Factory Store and a Gap Factory Store. After working up an appetite shopping, finish the day by sitting down to a bowl of noodles at Han Dynasty or grabbing a scoop of The Munchies ice cream from Ample Hills Creamery at the extensive food court, DeKalb Market Hall. (AF)

Flagship Brewery on Staten Island offers tours for $5 on Saturdays.
Flagship Brewery on Staten Island offers tours for $5 on Saturdays. Photo Credit: Jillian Jorgensen

Borough beer tours

Suds-swillers have plenty of inexpensive opportunities to see their drink of choice get made. Brooklyn Brewery, smack in the heart of hipster Williamsburg, offers small group tours on weekday evenings for $18 (includes four tastes). Flagship Brewery on Staten Island offers $5 tours on Saturdays; Bronx Brewery has multiple free tours on Saturdays and Sundays; and SingleCut Brewery in Astoria offers a free tour Sunday evenings. (JH)

Stuff yourself at Sushi Para 88

For $20 at lunch and $27 at dinner, this Upper East Side eatery offers all-you-can-eat rolls. It is one of the few BYOB restaurants left, too, which makes it easy to wash down all the fare, without weighing on the wallet. (ST)

Prime-time happy hour at Cubbyhole

This colorful queer bar on a prominent corner of the West Village offers one of the best happy hours in town: Tuesdays bring $2 margaritas until 1 a.m. while Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, draft beers and PBRs are $3, with house cocktails running $4, from 7 p.m.-1 a.m. All the cash you save can be spent on the jukebox in the back. (MK)

Indian buffets in "Curray Hill"

Bring your stretchiest pants to fill up on curries, biryanis, naan and more at the slew of fragrant all-you-can-eat Indian cuisine buffets loaded up in the East Midtown neighborhood belovedly nicknamed Curray Hill (yes, it’s part of Murray Hill). Dhaba’s daily spread of spicy specialties is favored by neighbors and buffet-seeking travelers alike, while Chennai Garden offers a completely vegetarian spread. (MK)

City Island Lobster House is a favorite for seafood.
City Island Lobster House is a favorite for seafood. Photo Credit: Corey Sipkin

Savor seafood on City Island

The biggest challenge for day-trippers may be deciding where to dine. The isle offers several quality seafood joints, from the cafeteria-style dining offered at Johnny’s Reef to the Original Crab Shanty, serving up feast platters for under $80, to the more splurgy but generously-portioned servings at City Island Lobster House. (ST)

Air hockey appreciation at Manitoba’s

The East Village dive bar has a lone air hockey table in the basement, which means games can generate a following. Do not be surprised to leave the watering hole minus a few fistful of quarters, but also with some new friends. Manitoba’s has a photo booth among all the punk memorabilia upstairs, which is an ideal place to celebrate any wins. (ST)

Killer karaoke at Punch Bowl

This Irish pub’s Friday evening karaoke can draw an impressive array of vocalists. The Kingsbridge bar, which was built in 1901 and got through Prohibition by posing as an ice cream parlor, maintains a casual vibe, with regular trivia and dart games. (ST)