One of my greatest joys is entertaining family and friends, even in our small space. It gives me the control of knowing everyone will (hopefully) be provided with tasty food, drink, and good conversation— leaving me, as hostess, and our guests satisfied. However, this cannot compete with my love for dining out. The entire restaurant experience is one of my favorite ways to distress with a friend or a romantic night out. But an inviting setting, competent service, not to mention the food, all come at a price—especially in New York. All too often this came at a price of boring menus, poor quality ingredients, disappointment in the hospitality, and the urge to shout in an establishment full of strangers, “Even I could do better!”
It took me a few months of living downtown to discover a night out with fresh food, good wine, and artisanal cocktails does not necessarily have to break the bank. Below are my favorite spots in NYC that I am confident the drinks, food, and ambiance will always add up to money well spent, especially at less than $75 a couple.
113 Ludlow Street, 2nd floor, Lower East Side
Features: BYOB; tapas-style menu
The minute you walk into this cozy Filipino, Thai, and Southeast Asian restaurant, it feels as though you may have just discovered NYC’s best kept secret. The storefront entrance can be misleading, and often times you have to push aside yuppies and Europeans lining up outside for the neighboring Russian vodka bar, but make no mistake. Once ascending the stairs to Kuma Inn, you leave the smell of cigarettes and techno music beats behind, entering a softly lit Asian culinary oasis. And the best part? For a small corkage fee, it’s completely BYOB! If you’re left waiting a bit, stop by September Wine Shop one corner north on Rivington Street to pick up an affordable and delicious bottle of wine, and enjoy many of the tapas-style dishes on Kuma’s menu.
Recommended: garlic rice; rice crepes with pork bolognese; yellowfin tuna tartare; steamed mussels in lemongrass & coconut curry.
171 Spring Street, Soho
Features: Spanish, sangria
With two locations in NYC, Boqueria Soho remains one of my favorite places for a fun, social meal out. Whether it’s to break for a brunch cocktail and patatas bravas after a long morning of shopping, or a lively paella and sangria dinner—I have always left this place with a smile on my face. The sangria is delicious without being overly sweet; it tastes so fresh that $36 almost feels undervalued. The social atmosphere makes this a great spot for a
few glasses pitcher of sangria, crispy paella, or just a few small plates to share over laughs and catching up with friends.
Recommended: red sangria; patatas bravas, pan con tomate; gambas al ajillo, paella de mariscos; salteado de Setas; churros
253 Broome Street, Lower East Side
Features: fresh margaritas, boho-chic atmosphere
While you’re guaranteed to wait on a weekend night, Barrio Chino’s delicious margaritas and Mexican dishes are worth every minute. The grapefruit version is one of the best I’ve had in the city, and all are made to order. The food is fresh, and the menu includes appetizers to share or individual entrees that leave you feeling full- all at an impressive price. A plate of tacos with chips and a fresh margarita will run you about $24. For me, Mexican food should never be too expensive, but it should always be this fun and full of flavor.
Recommended: grapefruit margarita; jalapeno margarita (it’s spicy!); plato mexicano; enchiladas verdes; cazuela de marisco
171 Lafayette Avenue, Fort Greene, Brooklyn
Features: Mediterranean; house wine; brunch
If you happen to be catching a show or event at the Barclay’s Center, take the 10 minute walk and make it a point to eat at Olea. It is yet another restaurant that transports you far away from the hustle and bustle of the city. In fact, the unique décor and amazing brunch dishes are worth the trip to Brooklyn all their own (about 35 minutes from Midtown). The floor to ceiling windows make this a great people watching spot, especially over an espresso and chocolate croissants. More importantly, come for the live music on Friday nights while dipping fresh grilled pita in delicious bowls of Greek dips and polishing off a few fresh oysters. (And, if you can get here before 7PM, they’re only $1 each!).
Recommended: house red wine; fried chickpeas; lentil salad; sauteed shrimp appetizer; chocolate croissants; green eggs and lamb.