20 Great Meals Under $20.09
Get out your twos and fews—it’s our oh-so-timely cheap-eats roundup.
Times are tough.
With the economy down, we’re saying goodbye to caviar and foie gras—at least for this month anyway. Taking our cue from the financial pages, we’ve compiled a list of our favorite in broke-as-hell bites, showing you that you don’t need to be a Rockefeller to eat well in Westchester—though it certainly helps if you want a table at Blue Hill at Stone Barns on Saturday night.
Some of our list is about great value, but mostly it’s just about great, dirt-cheap dining—and that includes burgers, pizzas, chili dogs, and tacos, punctuated by an occasional double-sawbuck splurge. We’ve watched the pennies on our end, so you’re on your own for tax, tip, and beverages, unless we mention otherwise.
So—where are the recessionistas dining this year? Here goes…
2 Beef Patties ($1.63 each)
620 S Fulton Ave, Mount Vernon (914) 699-9898
Duck into this Mount Vernon eatery for our cheapest treat of all. These meaty pockets are encased in an addictive, resilient, impossibly flaky dough, colored a suspicious saffron yellow. Bite in, but be prepared (and lean forward over your napkin): these fist-sized pastries hold a volcanically hot surprise. And while their finely ground beef filling might not be sirloin, with its handfuls of Scotch bonnets and seasoning, we’re not complaining. This is delicious, spicy, stick-to-your-ribs food that’ll warm the corners of your soul—plus, call us cheapskates, but we love that a satisfying meal costs less than the Sunday paper.
Breakfast Special: 2 Eggs, Toast, Home Fries or French Fries, Coffee, And Juice
1927 Palmer Ave, Larchmont (914) 834-5558
Before there were more Starbucks than mailboxes, there were coffee shops—and every town had one. These were modest spots, with short-order cooks and spinning stools, the kinds of joints at which you usually ran into a friend or two. But while most of our towns have lost their coffee shops (sacrificed to $4-a-cup barista bars), the Harbor House lives on, slinging eggs, burgers, and tuna melts to everyone from construction crews to yachters.
Our favorite cheap eats at this cash-only, breakfast/lunch spot come from Harbor House’s breakfast special menu, where the full gamut of eggs, pancakes, French toast, and waffles is offered for under seven bucks. The cheapest of all? For $4.50—about what you’d pay for a Grande Caffe Frooziata at Starbucks—you can tuck into a totally satisfying breakfast of two eggs any style, toast, home fries or French fries, OJ, and an endless cup of coffee. The linoleum may be a little worn, and the waitress a little stern, but, at these prices, who cares?
2 Chili Dogs with Cooked Onions ($2.50 each)
Texas Chili Restaurant
8 S Main St, Port Chester (914) 937-0840
Manhattan may have its Gray’s Papaya/Papaya King wars (not to mention its Magnolia vs. Buttercup and Pearl vs. Mary’s Fish Camp rivalries), but Port Chester has its own venomous restaurant drama. Pat’s Hubba Hubba, Port Chester’s august greasy spoon, has spawned its own competing spin-off, Texas Chili Restaurant—and just as in the Magnolia saga, it was opened by a former Hubba’s employee. Gossip abounds about whether Pat’s Hubba Hubba has given its blessing, but Texas Chili Restaurant is serving up Hubba’s whole shtick—and right down the street, too. With bigger, cleaner, more brightly lit digs, shorter lines and—of course—a beanless, black pepper-spiked chili suspiciously akin to Hubba’s, Texas Chili is our pick this year. We love this little joint’s split dogs with sautéed onions and chili, so greasy that they soak the paper. Yum.
Cuban Sandwich ($5.50)
194 Beekman Ave, Sleepy Hollow (914) 631-6393
Let’s say you’re looking for more nutritional bang for your buck: we’d advise a cheap, cheap, cheap Cuban sandwich at Corona’s. It’s a Westchester budget classic, and a complete, well-balanced meal—if you’re willing to count pickles as a vegetable, that is.
Corona’s huge, crusty two-fister holds slices of salty pink ham and garlicky roasted pork loin, highlighted by gooey melted Swiss cheese and tart pickles. Pressed until cracklingly crisp outside—and so fragrant that your mouth will water—this is a sandwich to walk miles for. In fact, this sandwich makes us dread the inevitable redevelopment of Sleepy Hollow’s riverfront, because when fat-walleted residents move in, modest 13-stool lunch counters like Corona’s move out.
3 Tacos al Pastor ($2 each)
Little Mexican Café
581 Main St, New Rochelle (914) 636-3926
Imagine thin fillets of tender pork, rubbed with chili and spices, then strung up onto a long spit under the bizarre ornament of a whole, peeled pineapple. As the spit rotates before a glowing electrical element (actually, it’s Little Mexican’s re-purposed gyro machine), the red, chili-spiked pork roasts. Meanwhile, pineapple drips and oozes, slowly caramelizing as it lends the spiced pork its tropical fruitiness.
Belly up to Little Mexican’s worn, wooden bar, which lies just in range of the comforting crack and thud of its pool table. There, the counterman will shave off some tender, chili-flecked pork, wrap it up in a corn tortilla with crisp cilantro, raw onion, and—if you ask—a slice or two of caramelized pineapple. This is a sublime bite—tender, porky, chili-hot, and fruity—and a steal at only $2 per taco.
Lamb Souvlaki Sandwich
175 Valley St, Sleepy Hollow (914) 631-4300
Move over, Lefteris! While everyone loves the old standby, there’s a new Greek in town—and this year, we’re featuring the challenger. Santorini, a small, family-run Greek in Sleepy Hollow, is gaining fans for its meticulously fresh fish and rich, warm, delectable hummus. Great, but here’s the clincher: at only $6.95, Santorini’s lamb souvlaki sandwich is a new standard in cheap-eats Greek. This hand-held feast starts with tender cubes of lamb, which are marinated in garlic, herbs, and oil, then char-grilled to add a smoky sear. When the juices are running, the chunks are loaded into a warm pita with crunchy green peppers and piles of onions, only to await its crowning glory. Topping it all is Santorini’s super-lush tzatziki: ultra-rich, with a concentrated base of strained Greek yogurt and sour cream. Each mouth-filling bite is meaty and creamy, tangy and herbal—plus, for $6.95, it tastes like at least 10 dollars worth of dairy.
2 Slices Pizza Bianco ($3.50 each)
All’ Antica Pizzeria and Restaurant
8 Depot Pl, Scarsdale (914) 472-4848
This Scarsdale newbie located just behind the train station is no run-of-the-mill slice joint. With thin, cracker-crisp crust and trendy toppings like hummus, green salad, grilled fennel, and marinated portobellas, it slots right into its chic, downtown surroundings. But while a trip to Zachys will certainly kill the budget, a great meal at All’ Antica won’t: two huge, loaded slices run just about seven bucks. Our favorite? All’ Antica’s gooey pizza bianca, packed with milky ricotta, fresh mozzarella, Parmigiano Reggiano, and salty, funky sheep’s-milk Pecorino Romano.
2 Meat Samosas ($1 each) and Chicken Curry ($5.99)
Westchester Grocery (Kahn’s Indian Kitchen)
546 Commerce St, Thornwood (914) 747-0445
We’re going out on a limb here: Khan’s is folding up the best samosas in Westchester—at any price. Flat while others are
pyramidal, crisp while others are doughy, spicy while others are bland, and meaty while others are potato-laden—these samosas are delicious, and a bargain at only a buck. In fact, two or three samosas (which come in meat, chicken, or veg) make a great meal by themselves, but then who could ever resist Khan’s curries?
This modest Halal butcher-cum-Pakistani grocery holds only a few worn tables, and diners select pre-prepared meals from a deli case in back—but ambience isn’t everything. This is great food that defies its modest surroundings. While Khan’s selection changes, and there’s no paper menu (the list is handwritten daily on a board), we’re wild for Khan’s bony meaty chicken curry. (If you don’t want to gnaw on saucy bones, boneless chicken costs a buck more.) On our last visit, we struck gold with a delicious, saffron-colored, cilantro-flecked chicken curry, redolent of chili, ginger and tangy spices. With gloriously balanced flavors and budget-friendly prices, this Thornwood hole-in-the-wall is an incredible find.
Pastrami on Rye with Bowl of Pickles
387 N Central Ave, Hartsdale (914) 428-5320
2574 Central Ave, Yonkers (914) 793-3131
If you’re looking for the classic New York deli—with chipped crockery, brusque waitresses, and gut-busting, sodium-and-cholesterol-packed sandwiches—then Epstein’s is the place for you. Hectic, noisy (and with a little bit of New York ’tude), Epstein’s is the real deal—plus, its sandwiches are always delivered with a bowl of pickles. This side is perfect for a delicatessen: acidic pickles make a thoughtful palate cleanser after all of that fatty, fried food.
While some opt for burgers, and others, blue-plate specials, we’ll always go for Epstein’s pastrami on rye. In it, salty, pepper-cured and brined beef slabs are steamed whole until fork-tender, then sliced and loaded into Rockland Bakery rye bread, and served under a shmear of yellow mustard. This ain’t rocket science, folks—but it is a great sandwich. And with a county packed with Subways and Quiznos, isn’t that enough?
Cheesesteak with Sweet Peppers and Onions
Rocky’s Millwood Deli
235 Saw Mill River Rd, Millwood (914) 941-2165
Pop quiz: it’s 3:30 am in northern Westchester and you need a tasty cheesesteak. Where do you go?
The answer, of course, is Rocky’s—tucked next to Millwood Hardware. This deli/convenience store/sandwich shop is open 24/7 at Routes 100 and 133, slinging yummy, griddle-seared, yellow-cheese-slathered steak sandwiches to wide-eyed (and often tipsy) revelers until the wee, wee hours of the morn. And it doesn’t stop there. When all the partiers are at home with bed-spins, Rocky’s is reborn as coffee shop, dishing out newspapers and breakfasts-on-a bun to a whole new onslaught of early risers.
Whatever the hour, we’re fans of Rocky’s cheesesteaks. Beefy, greasy, with sweet sautéed onions, crisp peppers, and gobs of yellow cheese, there’s nothing better after a hard night out. But given the crowd—we’ll probably call in our order after midnight.
Dim Sum Basket of Chicken Feet ($2.95) And Sichuan Bean Curd/Mapo Doufu ($6.95), Including Tea, Choice of Soup, And Rice (White or Pork Fried)
3 Barker Ave, White Plains (914) 288-0188
If you’re hungry and broke, head over to Aberdeen where you can count on at least two additional meals salvaged from your doggy bag. While this modest Chinese restaurant nestled in the Marriott Residence Hotel is a Westchester dim sum legend, sophisticates decline user-friendly dumplings. Instead, they head for Aberdeen’s gooey, succulent deep-fried chicken feet. Crunchy and gelatinous, greasy and addictive—each bite disproves the notion that Americans don’t like to recognize the animal they’re eating. Wash it down with loads of free tea, and then move on to one of Aberdeen’s lunch specials, which come with your choice of soup (won ton, egg drop, or hot-and-sour) and white or pork fried rice. Our favorite is Aberdeen’s version of the classic Mapo doufu: bean curd Sichuan style. Here, crunchy bits of stir-fried ground pork are tossed with chili sauce, grassy green peas, scallions, and briny pickled Sichuan cabbage—all spiking mounds of creamy tofu cubes. Hot, briny, slick, and silky, it’s an age-old dish to soothe the spirit.
Kang Dang Lunch Special with Thai Spring Roll, Soup or Salad
Red Lotus Thai Restaurant
227 Main St, New Rochelle (914) 576-0444
Looking to stretch your dining dollar? Then hit this Thai standard’s lunch special, which offers dinner-sized portions (plus a complimentary soup, salad, or spring roll) for only $9.95. As a bonus, Red Lotus’s pretty dining room offers a tropical respite from February’s chill. Despite its Route 1 strip mall location (and unlike most of the restaurants in our roundup), Red Lotus features fresh flowers, tablecloths, and a sultry, color-drenched décor.
Since Red Lotus’s salad and spring roll are just about what you’d expect, we’ll always opt for their soup. Its daily selection varies, but we love finding Red Lotus’s tom yung gai, a warming, chicken-y slurp spiked with chilis and funky/briny fish sauce. To follow, we’re fans of kang dang with beef—a deep bowl of Thai red curry and creamy coconut milk, studded with beef, bamboo shoots, and crunchy, brightly flavored green beans. Each dish is plentiful, plus, it comes with a giant cone of jasmine rice—you’ll definitely be foraging dinner out of your doggy bag. And, at this price, you can even afford a $5 Sing Ha or Chang beer.
Smoked Sausage Sandwich Lunch Special with Baked Beans and Refillable Soda or Homemade Sweet Iced Tea
Q Restaurant and Bar
112 N Main St, Port Chester (914) 933-7427
487 E Main St, Mount Kisco (914) 241-7427
We’ve written so many teary-eyed paeans to Q’s pulled-pork sandwich that we needed to change it up. While our standing order is still divine, this year, we’ve gone rapturous for Q’s smoked sausage sandwich lunch special, which features juicy kielbasa that’s been spun around Q’s massive smoker until it’s fragrant and bursting with flavor. Sliced onto a potato roll and served under the creamy crunch of Q’s daily house-made slaw, this smoky, meaty sandwich is a bargain. What’s more? It comes with a refillable soda or sweet tea, and your choice of side—including Q’s sweetly porky baked beans.
Single Burger ($3.77) with American Cheese ($.75) and Bacon ($1.42); Small Fries ($2.36); and Shake of The Day ($3.00)
Burgers, Shakes & Fries
302 Delavan Ave, Greenwich, CT (203) 531-7433
Just a toe outside of Westchester in Byram, Connecticut, Kory Wollins’s ode to Shake Shack goes that particular icon one better. Instead of blah old buns, these juicy burgers come nestled between seared slices of white bread that have been pre-shmeared with a “secret sauce.” Butter? Margarine? We won’t tell, but this finger-lickin’ trick leaves these 100-percent chuck burgers about as luscious as a hamburger can get. Grab a single-decker cheeseburger (the double and triple are simply obscene), and pair it with small fries and a creamy shake. New York Magazine isn’t wrong—Burgers, Shakes & Fries is fast-food heaven, and it’s right out here in the ’burbs. And while you could save four bits with a regular chocolate, vanilla, or strawberry shake, the smart money goes toward the $3 Flavor of the Day. The roster changes, but we’re wild for Wollins’s hand-crafted fleur de sel caramel shake, whose syrup this burger-flipping wünderkind meticulously boils up himself.
Bi Bim Bap ($12.99) Comes with a Changing Selection of 5 Side Dishes
Kang Suh Restaurant
2375 Central Ave, Yonkers (914) 771-4066
Bi Bim Bap is the perfect February food, since it’s both a complete meal and a cozy heat source. Curl up around this sizzling stone crock bearing garlicky chili paste, crisp assorted veggies, and a sexy, quivering raw egg and inhale the heavenly scent of toasting rice—but wait before you stir. This dish is all about the crunchy, caramelized crust that forms on the bottom. When the sizzling is over, dig in and stir—the egg will cook, the chili spread, and you can punctuate each bite with alternating dips from five classic Korean sides and condiments that accompany each entrée. The assortment varies, but we’re fans of Kang Suh’s hot/tart cabbage kimchi, pickled spinach, and greasy—in a good way—fish cakes.
Monday-Friday Lunch Buffet ($13.95)
144 E Post Rd, White Plains (914) 948-5191
While the phrase “lunch buffet” may sound unappetizing, here’s the thing about South Asian food: it’s one of the few world cuisines to hold up in chafing dishes. Even the snootiest gourmets hit Indian lunch buffets, because it’s the biggest bang their dining dollar can buy.
Bengal Tiger is the ideal example. This Westchester landmark offers a gigantic spread for less than the cost of a single dinner entrée. Its newly brightened dining rooms feature an endless stretch of comforting dishes, which alternate daily to accommodate regular visitors. While specific dishes change, diners can always expect at least four appetizers (including its lovely, crisp, buttery masala dosas); 10 cold salads; two hot tandoor breads (like Bengal Tiger’s cilantro-flecked, tender onion kulcha); four vegetarian dishes (including its super-rich saag paneer); one lamb or goat curry; one chicken dish and, of course, tandoori chicken. There are six to eight classic condiments on offer (like mango chutney and keera raita), and you’ll even find a couple of desserts. At twice the price, this endless buffet would be a bargain.
Guanciale, Black Truffles, And Sunny Side-Up Egg Pizza
18 Mill St, Port Chester (914) 939-3111
Chef Andy Nusser’s guanciale, black truffles, and sunny side-up egg pizza is our idea of an eye opener. This crisp-crusted round comes hot, gooey, and fragrant from an almond-wood burning oven, graced with white fresh mozzarella, hammy chunks of cured pig jowl, and a smiling, sunny side-up egg. Slice across the golden yolk, then breathe in those heavenly truffles—bacon and eggs never tasted this good. Best of all—you’ll never sneak out of a Batali/Bastianich/Nusser restaurant for less.
Bologna Sandwich ($7.00), Fennel Soup ($5.00), Hot Chocolate ($3.00), And a Slice of Guglhups ($2.50)
Blue Hill Café
630 Bedford Rd, Pocantico Hills (914) 366-9600
Everyone knows by now that Blue Hill at Stone Barns ain’t cheap. Dinner with Chef Dan routinely can top $200 per person, and that’s not including back-page wine choices. Of course, what can you expect with a Rockefeller Estate setting, and a many-coursed meal of the hautest of haute barnyard ingredients—all prepared by a culinary-world heavyweight?
But if you’re looking for a sample on the cheap, head to Blue Hill Café—which shares the same Blue Hill at Stone Barns mission, ingredients, and kitchen. Read about Chef Adam Kaye’s fabulous, house-cured charcuterie at Blue Hill? Then sample some of Kaye’s bologna—less like luncheon meat and more like its heaven-sent Bolognese ancestor, mortadella. It comes on house-made foccacia under crisp, Stone Barns-grown-and-brined pickles. Pair it with a cup of warming fennel soup and then treat yourself to dessert: a slice of guglhups, an Austrian coffee cake courtesy of BHSM new pastry chef, Alex Grunart. To wash it all down, we’ll always opt for luxury. We love the Café’s Parisian-style hot chocolate, made with tony Valrhona chocolate and locally sourced Ronnybrook milk.
Maine Diver Scallops with Cauliflower, Sultanas, and Marcona Almonds ($19)
Lunch at the Barn, Bedford Post
954 Old Post Rd, Bedford (914) 234-7800
Chef Brian Lewis’s luscious loss leader lunch offers up three gigantic, perfectly golden, caramelized Maine diver scallops, served pearly, translucent, and jiggly rare inside. It comes with house-made bread, a stripe of super-rich Marcona almond butter, cauliflower, and the sweet punctuation of juicy, bursting sultanas. This carefully balanced dish is an ideal, low-impact peek into the world of Bedford Post. A mere 19 bucks buys you access to the horse-and-hound crowd of Bedford and a chance at a glimpse of that perennial American Gigolo himself—Bedford Post’s owner, Richard Gere (turn to page 53 for a Q&A with Gere and his wife).
Sushi Deluxe (19.95)
575 Main St, Armonk (914) 765-0800
It’s wise to fear cheap sushi, which is why this year’s sushi pick is bringing up the rear. But while $19.95 seems like a mint in this roundup, we need to stress value here, and Kira’s sushi deluxe delivers. Its fish is impeccable, and the rolls well composed. Plus, for $19.95, it’s a gigantic serving: you get 10 pieces of nigiri (those hand-formed rice quenelles topped with fish slices) that feature lush, big chunks of yellowtail, bluefin, salmon, and fluke. To make up the balance, you’ll also get ten nori-wrapped bluefin maki rolls. In fact, if you can ignore your fear of mercury poisoning, it’s a steal— an orgy of raw fish, and all for 20 bucks.
The names are evocative, if not particularly flattering: Street Meat. Dirty-water hot dogs. Roach coach. But say what you will, these stainless-steel meal mobiles have a warm (and slightly shameful) place in our hearts. After all, they’re serving unpretentious food—cheap, and delightfully al fresco too.
Anderson Hill Rd at Purchase/Greenwich border
It’s the Starship Enterprise meets weenies at Frank’s Franks. This gleamingly clean, high-tech mobile restaurant serves full lunches and griddled breakfasts. Plus, it boasts a closed-circuit surveillance system that owner Frank Di Nicola (a hobbyist race-car diver) switches to live-feed racing. Thronged with loyal customers (and a frequent stop for former Mets David Cone and Lee Mazzilli), its most popular items are beanless, Tabasco-spiked chili-dogs and gooey top-round Philly cheesesteaks. Think you’re seeing triple? You’re not. Frank’s Franks is now franchised, with spin-offs parked in South Norwalk and at Greenwich Town Hall.
In front of Home Depot (55 Weyman Ave, New Rochelle)
In this game, it’s location, location, location—and Fast Frank’s locale can’t get any better. Cranking out the mouthwatering scent of frying onions—generated from its yummy cheesesteaks—this cart seduces the entire, packed Home Depot parking lot. Dusty contractors and clueless do-it-yourselfers alike, they’re all helpless against Fast Frank’s aromatic charms.
Mamaroneck Ave, between Hutchinson Pkwy and I-95
This popular, 30-year-old business has an optimal spot near the corporate parks of Mamaroneck Avenue. Expect a suited-up clientele wrestling wind-blown ties as they tuck into “Diggity Dogs”—pushcart-style Sabrett dogs loaded with chipotle-rich chili, relish, kraut, red onions, and cheese.
LOU’S HOT DOGS
Garden St near Sandford Blvd, Mount Vernon
This 43-year-old business is a Westchester legend, and so popular that it recently had to move. Lou’s tiny, thronged truck—which slings cheap ($1.75) Sabrett dogs festooned with Cheez Whiz—was clogging traffic on busy Sandford Boulevard.
CHARCHAEL’S HOT DOGS
Rte. 100, Saw Mill River Rd Ossining/Millwood
Look for snappy, natural-casing Sabrett dogs and a self-mocking sense of humor at this 17-year-old, dogs-and-kraut Ossining truck. Charchael’s flank-side mural declares that its graveled Saw Mill River Road pull-off is “Where the Elite Meet to Eat.” Dubious, but charming nonetheless.
Julia Sexton is a Westchester-based food writer. Her blood, examined after this story was completed, yielded visible gobs of cholesterol and crunchy brown things, later determined to be bits of deep-fried batter.
Photography by Tom Moore