20 Meals for 20 Dollars - Or Less
Tuck into a sumptuous meal without dipping into your savings account.
Greatest Meals Under
(plus five fast roadside feasts)
A tempting salad from Temptation Tea House (Above) Parsimonious? Frugal? Just plain cheap?
A tempting salad from Temptation Tea House (Above)
Parsimonious? Frugal? Just plain cheap?
with foodie-approved deals.You just have to know where to look. Take our tour—we’ll show you where to get the best value for your (very few) bucks.
Sure, we’d all like to eat at Blue Hill at Stone Barns every night, and maybe make the occasional foray over to L’Escale or La Panetière. But let’s face it: the stuff that usually fuels our days comes in at a much lower price point. Even so, cheap food doesn’t have to be bad food. A great burger is, after all, still great, and there are many expensive meals that can never claim greatness.
What follows are tabs from some of the greatest—and, incidentally, the cheapest—meals in Westchester, with tax and tip not included. (And you’re on your own for beverages, too, unless otherwise noted.) So dig around the upholstery cushions, empty out that penny jar, and come on out with us!
167 Westchester Ave, Port Chester (914) 934-0372
Meal: Two carnitas tacos, $2.96 each
You can’t make a menu misstep at this super-authentic Port Chester tortilla factory, but the carnitas tacos are truly spectacular. Carnitas (translation: small meats) is the Central Mexican state of Michoacán’s regional specialty. The dish traditionally is made by braising pork in water (often seasoned with orange peel), then frying the meat in its own rendered fat. Unfortunately, many U.S. versions of the dish are quite dry, owing to the extensive cooking process and the leanness of American pork. But Los Gemellos has taken this into account, rethinking the dish entirely. Instead of braising and pan-frying the meat, they place the entire pork shoulder in the deep fat fryer. The result: carnitas as surprisingly greaseless and juicy as a deep-fried turkey. Expect succulent white chunks of pork, punctuated with lightly crisp and caramelized edges, all wrapped up in a freshly made corn tortilla alongside bright cilantro and crisp chopped onions—$2.96 never tasted so good.
13 Cedar St, Dobbs Ferry (914) 478-2300
Meal: Breakfast Burrito
Tomatillo disproves the notion that all cheap food is bad for you. Drop by Tomatillo’s cute Dobbs Ferry dining room and you’ll see how it’s done: Chef Scott Starkey’s “Mexchester” take on Mexican cuisine is light on gloppy cheese, light on lard, and long on textures and flavors. Plus, most of Tomatillo’s produce is locally raised, with all of its salads and much of its produce coming from Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture. And if that’s not ethical enough for you, Tomatillo is an excellent choice for vegetarians—there are loads of non-meat entrées on its colorful chalkboard menu.
You can’t beat the value of Tomatillo’s lunch specials. All lunch entrées come with chips, salsa, and a fountain soda for a budget-friendly $5.95. Our lunchtime pick is the hearty breakfast burrito. Here, a soft flour-tortilla gently envelops Stone Barns’s scrambled eggs; smoky, fiery chorizo; gooey melted Jack; and creamy guacamole for a sensuous take on the mundane scrambled eggs and sausage. It’s wise to aim for a late lunch. If you linger until 5 pm, you can glide right into Tomatillo’s equally decadent Happy Hour—$3 margaritas and $3 draft micro brews.
194 Beekman Ave, Sleepy Hollow (914) 631-6393
Meal: Cubano Sandwich ($5) and Cuban coffee ($1)
Salty, sweet, creamy, crunchy, and yes, a little bit greasy, too, Cubanos swept Manhattan with a vengeance, hooking even the most biased Manhattan food snobs on Miami street food. And a Corona’s Cubano is the real deal, Little Havana style with salty ham, soulful roasted pork loin, gooey Swiss cheese and tart pickles, all layered into crusty bread and then toasted in a sandwich press. Visit the tiny, quaint building across from the now-defunct Auto Workers Local and sit at the 13-stool counter, or just get your sandwich to go. If you do, be warned: the hot sandwiches will perfume your car so seductively that you’ll be tearing into your bag before you make it home. If you sit at the counter, be sure to slurp down the traditional thimbleful of Cuban coffee, super strong and sweet. Black ($1.00); with milk ($1.50).
1 N Broadway, Tarrytown (914) 524-9687; 190 E Main St, Mount Kisco (914) 242-8965
Meal: A Gyro
What cheap eats roundup would be complete without Westchester’s all-time favorite guilty pleasure, the massive, unwieldy, totally addictive Lefteris gyro? At its base is Lefteris’s subtly seasoned mixture of ground beef and lamb, which has been pressed into a cylinder and spit-roasted on a rotisserie. When the tender, juicy meat is cooked through, it’s sliced off the spit and briefly caramelized on a sizzling hot griddle. This ensures that each slice has seared-in juiciness, kind of like the char on a great burger. Then the slices are loaded onto a pita along with lettuce, tomatoes, and raw onions, generously dressed in creamy, tangy tsatsiki sauce. The result is an epic meal, justifiably famous and worth every last napkin that you use. Plus, the gyro has the meat-carb-veg perfection of a well-balanced meal—a steal at only $6.25. Consider that the next time you’re waiting on a McDonald’s line.
Q Restaurant and Bar
112 N Main St, Port Chester (914) 933-7427; www.qrestaurantandbar.com
Meal: Pulled Pork Sandwich with choice of side ($8.50)
Unless you’ve had your head in the sand for the last few years, you’ve probably heard how great Q’s barbecue is. But have you realized how cheap it is? Almost all of Q’s dishes fit our criteria, including ribs, brisket, chili, burgers, salads, and sides. This is a great place to do some serious eating for not a lot of money.
And you won’t have to suffer for the pleasure, either—Q’s hip, buzzy, music-filled dining room is about as fun as it gets.
Our favorite dish at Q is its signature pulled-pork sandwich. Here sinewy pork shoulder has been injected with seasoning, then rolled through a special spice rub and left in Q’s car-compactor-sized smoker for 14 hours. When the pork is falling-apart tender and suffused with mouthwatering flavors, it’s shredded and piled onto a potato roll under crisp, house-made cole slaw. This is an excellent dish—meaty, spicy, gooey, and crunchy, all at the same time. Pair it with a palate-cleansing side of sweet and vinegary collard greens, and you have one of Westchester’s favorite cheap meals. Plus, with all the money you save, you can easily afford one of Q’s great specialty drinks ($8) or a bottle—or two—of domestic beer ($5).
125 Tuckahoe Rd, Yonkers (914) 476-4446; www.totonnos.com
Meal: Half of a large split pizza margherita/pizza bianca pie
There are only four factors in making great pizza: fresh dough, quality tomatoes, good mozzarella, and a super-hot oven. Sounds easy, right? Yet the average local pizzeria is using frozen dough, poor-quality canned sauce, pre-shredded, low-grade cheese, and a too-cool gas oven. No amount of creative toppings can improve this shaky foundation.
Thankfully, the Yonkers branch of Totonno’s is keeping the spirit of real pizza alive with its massive coal-fired brick oven. The pizzeria’s founder, Anthony “Totonno” Pero, was present at the inception of American pizza, slinging pies at America’s first pizzeria, Lombardi’s, in Manhattan’s Little Italy (founded in 1905). Taking what he’d learned from Gennaro Lombardi, Totonno opened his own Coney Island pizzeria in 1924, and his pizzas attained cult status. The shop pulled devoted fans from Manhattan, resigned to the long subway ride out to Neptune Avenue. The great news for us is that we can enjoy Totonno’s quality without spending an hour on the F train.
One glance at a Totonno’s pie and you’ll see why they’re revered. The daily made Aiello’s mozzarella (from Brooklyn, where else?) is opaque white and not translucent yellow. And the imported Italian tomatoes are fresh, bright, and orangey-red, not cooked-to-death burgundy. The taste of a Totonno’s pie reflects its ingredients. It’s bright and sweetly tomato-ey with a lusciously milky cheesiness—and, best of all, the chewy, charred crust has a faintly smoky flavor from the coal oven. Split your margherita pie with pizza bianca to get the fullest appreciation of that pure, white cheese. It’s dotted on the pie with lots of garlic and salty grated cheese.
Even given Totonno’s nondescript Yonkers location (which has all the charm of a bar at the Ramada Inn—where, incidentally, the Yonkers Totonno’s is located), we’re still lucky: the pies cranking out of this oven are stellar.
29 N Main St, Port Chester, (914) 939-6894
Meal: Brazilian lunch buffet, featuring feijoada
Pantanal, named for Brazil’s lush Amazonian wetlands, is a favorite stop on the foodie’s mile of Main Street in Port Chester. With its tropical décor, eight-foot grill pit, rodizio style meats and fruity cachaça cocktails, it’s popular with Brazilians, Portuguese, and just about anyone looking for an exotic treat. Plus, its lunch buffet can’t be beat.
A mere $9 buys you access to an overloaded buffet featuring Pantanal’s smoky, fresh-from-the-grill meats. These buffet items may include—but are not limited to—beef short ribs, homemade sweet sausage, sirloin, skirt steak, barbecue chicken, and a changing roster of sides and salads. While you’re there, don’t miss the bacalao and Pantanal’s signature dish, feijoada (pronounced fey-shwáda). It’s Brazil’s famous inky black dish of earthy, slow-cooked black beans, homemade sausage, pork, and vegetables—it’s a steamier, more tropical take on cassoulet.
253 Mamaroneck Ave, Mamaroneck (914) 777-8696
Meal: Lunch maki special: salad, soup, and choice of three special maki rolls
Discount sushi is a scary proposition, since it usually involves less than pristine fish—but not at Toyo Sushi. Here, the lunch-special rolls are filled with the same luscious fish that you see on Toyo’s dinner menu, it’s just cut into smaller pieces.
As Mario Batali is fond of saying, “A restaurant’s job is to buy food and fix it up, then sell it at a profit.” Any discarded food is stock that you’ve paid for and failed to profit from—or failure basically. Toyo shows us how it should be done. They take the small, irregular pieces of fish left over from prepping sashimi and maki and use it as a base for immaculately fresh maki on their lower-priced lunch specials. The lunch deals are spectacular. Not only can you get a three-roll lunch special but two rolls for $7.50 and a bento box for $7.95, which includes a California roll, rice, and your choice from among 11 lunch-sized entrées. All lunch specials come with miso soup and salad. It’s no wonder the joint is packed.
Toyo’s miso soup is not that watery stuff with the raw mushroom floating in it, either. This is a rich brew, silky with salty, complex white miso, shredded seaweed, and creamy white tofu cubes. It is followed by a citrus-dressed mesclun salad, and then the rolls. My favorites are tuna/avocado, yellowtail/scallion, and salmon spicy roll, in which the mild, fatty fish is chopped with chilis. All maki come with Toyo’s pale yellow pickled ginger, a delicate floral variety imported from Japan. Three rolls yield 18 pieces, which makes a satisfying, light, and tasty lunch.
Blue Hill Café
Meal: Hot duck confit panini ($7.00) with a cup of Valrhona hot chocolate for dessert ($3.50)
Cheap eats at Stone Barns? Absolutely. The Blue Hill Café at Stone Barns shares the same kitchen, the same philosophy, and, most important, the same ingredients as its higher-priced partner venue, Blue Hill at Stone Barns. Yet a meal at the Café costs about as much as a trip to the diner.
Just try getting quality like this at a diner. The Café’s hot duck panini is made with locally raised
While you’re there, don’t miss a velvety cup of Stone Barns’s Parisian-style hot chocolate. It’s made with melted Valrhona bar chocolate and locally-produced Ronnybrook Farm milk.
Red Lotus Thai Restaurant
227 Main St, New Rochelle (914) 576-0444; www.redlotusthairestaurant.com
Meal: Lunch special pad khi mao with beef ($7.95), with choice of Thai spring roll, soup, or salad. Plus, Thai iced tea ($2.50)
The chill and mud of March seems to summon cruel television travel ads featuring white sand beaches, warm sun, and exotic tropical locales. Painful, yes, but you do have an option: get a dose of equatorial heat at Red Lotus. Its lush dining room offers a break from the drab days of winter with fresh orchids, red lotus blossoms, and jade and ruby wall colors pulled from the restaurant’s eponymous flower. The only thing missing is sand.
Red Lotus offers a great bargain lunch deal. For $7.95, you get your choice of 10 generously portioned entrées (all available with chicken, pork, or beef), which come with a salad, spring roll, or soup. Our favorite cold-day lunch is a bowl of Red Lotus’s warming, chili-rich chicken soup followed by pad khi mao with beef. Here, tender, paper-thin slices of beef and onions are sautéed in coconut milk, bamboo shoots, and chili for a hearty, hot, sweet, and savory dish made completely irresistible by bouncy, springy sauce-absorbing clear noodles. Pair it with a cooling glass of Thai iced tea. This thick, sweet and circus-peanut-orange beverage is made with super-tannic red Thai tea leaves and sweetened condensed milk.
12 Russell Ave, New Rochelle (914) 633-9479
Meal: Half of a bacon-and-fresh ricotta pie
With its authentic, 1920s brick oven and gnarled, bubbled pies, Modern Pizzeria gets our praise as a bona-fide local tradition. This weird, hard-to-find brick building started life as a commercial bread bakery complete with a giant industrial coal oven, and only later morphed into a pizzeria. Modern’s long, winding history is proudly on show, from its funky, Bavarian-looking front barroom to the original white-tile oven. Even the peculiarly shaped rear dining room has a history: it was reclaimed from the alley next door where it once served as the bakery’s loading dock. Now Modern is a full-service restaurant and bar, serving red-sauce favorites in the cheerful glow of its behemoth oven. On cold nights, be sure to sit along the wall against the oven’s flank—it’s as cozy and warm as a fireside.
At some point