A big dog for small change

dscn3383If I’m in Chinatown, chances are I’m there for the cheap Chinese food. Makes sense, right? But on my last trip, I found that at least in one instance, Chinatown can do an American classic bigger, better, and cheaper than most spots in the city.

The 1/4 Pound Jumbo Hot Dogs window (149 Canal St., Manhattan–map) might not look like much. It’s just one small room with a rack of hot dogs, a few condiment jars, a cash register, and a single smiling woman. But when she puts that dog in your hand, you’ll realize that this under-sized establishment boasts an over-sized product. It’s well over an inch in diameter and at least six inches long. And it’s tucked dscn3385inside a fresh potato bun far better than what you’d get at a cart.

All that with ketchup and mustard sets you back $1 (92 cents plus tax). In my opinion it’s worth shelling out the big bucks (an extra quarter) for delicious sauteed onions on top.

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Published in: on January 20, 2009 at 6:18 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Another slice, another dollar

After my first taste of $1 pizza, I needed more. But I figured if I can’t mix up the toppings, I might as well change my source. So I headed to Tompkins Square Park in the East Village, home of Mamani (151 Ave. A, Manhattan–map).

On the surface, Mamani is quite different from 2 Bros. There’s less seating–only three tables–and a much more varied menu, boasting halal food, fish sticks, and unidentifiable fried balls. But when it comes to what’s important–pizza and price, the two are strikingly similar.

Mamani’s pizza has the same thin, airy crust. It’s less filling, but still has a nice crispness and flavor. The cheese and sauce are similarly fine, but nothing to go crazy over. Mamani has a much smaller crowd, which is great if you’re in a hurry, but also means the pizzas aren’t as fresh and hot as they are down the road. The verdict: if you don’t mind a bit of a line, 2 Bros has the edge. But if you like eating in the park, Mamani’s location can’t be beat.

Snacklicious Tuck for a Buck

snacklicious1Just when I thought a falafel sandwich couldn’t get any cheaper, I scoured 8coupons.com for New Year deals and found one for only 88 cents. From now until January 25, you can stop by Snacklicious Cinderella Falafel in the East Village (129 2nd Avenue, Manhattan–map) any time between 2 and 8 pm and get your falafel fix for under a dollar.

All you have to do is text this coupon from the 8coupons site to your phone. Flash the message to the friendly man at the counter when you get there and he’ll hook you up.

To be honest, this is no Mamoun’s. The 88 cent sandwich is smaller and less tasty than what you’d get for $2.50 around the corner. But two crisp falafel patties, lettuce, tomato and tahini in half a pita for 88 cents is certainly nothing to turn your nose up at.

Healthy Tuck for a Buck?

I’ve gotten a couple of comments from would-be Pennywatchers warning me of the havoc my cheap diet will wreak on my insides. Apparently bacon, nachos, and hot dogs topped with beef aren’t the surefire way to six-pack abs.

apple-braeburnSo I’ve been begrudgingly surfing for health-conscious options as well. This week these efforts led me (via the New York Times Well blog) to Divine Caroline, who lists the top 20 healthy foods you can pick up for under a dollar. Her suggestions range from the most obvious (apples and broccoli), to some you might not have thought of (sardines and pumpkin seeds). And to my joy, she includes eggs, which the experts have now deemed healthy, at least for this week.

So if you’re trying to decide whether your New Year’s resolution should be to eat healthier or to save money, check out the site and do both.

How I learned to love the lizard

Thanks to the Discovery Channel, the words crocodile and alligator used to bring to mind two things that wanted to disembowel and devour me. When I hear them now, all I can think of is pizza. Two sister bars, Williamsburg’s Alligator Lounge (600 Metropolitan Ave., Brooklyn–map) and the East Village’s Crocodile Lounge (325 E. 14th St., Manhattan–map), have made their mark with an unprecendented deal: free pizza with every beer.

croclounge1It sounds too good to be true, but it’s real. With every pint you order ($4-6 for a wide selection of beers on tap, or $3 for Yeungling at Happy Hour) you get a ticket for a free 12 inch personal pizza, popped directly from the oven onto a tin plate. And it’s not a frozen cardboard disc. This is homemade dough topped with fresh sauce and mozzarella and fired thin and crispy.

Not surprisingly, both joints draw a crowd. At Crocodile you’ll meet folks letting loose after a day of work by unloading a shotgun on Bambi in the arcade staple Buck Hunter. Alligator offers a more laid-back vibe, with tiki-style decor and a dose of hipsters letting loose after a day of being ironically unemployed.

Poor Frank!

Gluttony"

Bruegel's "The Seven Deadly Sins: Gluttony"

In today’s New York Times, Frank Bruni does the unthinkable: he roots out meals so cheap that two people can enjoy them for under $99 (not including beverages)! Such restraint! Such humility!

In the land of two-digit prices Bruni acts like an overfed goldfish, ingesting everything he sees. At one restaurant, which prices its entrees in hobo range ($16-22), Bruni finds the extra cash to devour four courses. Pre-appetizer snacks? Really?

Bruni calls this “an experiment for lean times.” But sticking to his “budget” would cost $3,000 a month–$500 more than the average New Yorker’s monthly rent. Apparently it’s not just the bankers who are delusional.

Frugal Frank won’t qualify for the Pennywatcher of the week award, but his colleague Oliver Schwaner-Albright just might. Check out his excellent “$25 and under” article, in the very same NYT edition, for restaurant tips that real people may actually be able to afford. I’d say he needs a raise, but I wouldn’t want it to go to his head–or his gut.

2 bros, 2 branches, $1

2brosThe sign outside 2 Bros Pizza in the East Village (32 St. Mark’s Place, Manhattan–map) still says “Grand Opening Special: Pizza Slice $1.00.” The place has been open for at least a year, and now has a second location in Chelsea (601 6th Ave, Manhattan–map), but the special is grand enough that they’re still dishing it out today.

The pizza’s not Di Fara, but it’s on par with most of the $3 slices you can get in this city. The crust is thin and light and it’s topped with ample, fresh-tasting tomato sauce and cheese. Cheap eaters come in droves, so there’s always a fresh pizza coming out of the oven and your slice is always piping hot.

Don’t be turned away by the line out the door. When everyone’s ordering the same thing, that line rolls through in no time. That’s clearly the case here; the only question is how many you can eat.

2 Bros is a great deal, but it’s not the only $1 slice in town. Check back later for write-ups of Mamani’s and 99 Cents Fresh Pizza, and let us know if we’ve missed one!

Burrito bribery: Free Chipotle next Wednesday

chipotle_burritoHere at the Penny Palate I like to feature the authentic over the Americanized, the little guy over the big chain. But sadly enough, two little words are enough to send my scruples packing: free burrito.

According to New York Magazine, Chipotle will celebrate the opening of its final location of the year by handing out free burritos at the new branch in Murray Hill (274 Madison Avenue at 39th St–map). The giveaway happens next Wednesday, December 10, between 11 a.m. and 8 p.m.

If you’re a die-hard corporation hater, look at it this way: Chipotle is bleeding money for nine hours in hopes of luring you and your wallet back for more. What better way to stick it to the man than to take his freebie and walk?

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TfaB: Dumpling Wars: Conclusion

img_0647Yes, I lined them up like the winners of the Westminster Dog Show.

  1. Prosperity Dumpling (map)
  2. Vanessa’s Dumpling House (map)
  3. Tasty Dumpling (map)
  4. Fried Dumpling (map)

My extremely scientific study shows that unless you have a thing for artificial soccer fields you can skip Columbus Park altogether. Both Eldridge Street shops beat out their Columbus counterparts in texture and freshness, and while the top three are all good enough to put smiles on our faces, Fried Dumpling is all frowns.

Lastly, Eldridge St. is closer to the F train, which brought me home just before I died of a sodium overdose.

Did I miss your favorite spot? Let me know in Comments and I’ll include it in my further research.

Tuck for a Buck: Dumpling Wars, Part I: Columbus Park

The search for elusive $1 food brought me to Chinatown last week to decide, once and for all (or for that day at least), who has the best deal on fried dumplings. My first stop: Columbus Park.

img_0640The woman at Fried Dumpling (106 Mosco St., Manhattan—map) didn’t exactly make me feel at home. When I asked for an order of dumplings, she grabbed a handful, stuffed them in a container and said, “Two dollars.” I pointed out that the sign on the window said $1, and she said, “No, two dollars.” We went back and forth like that for a while, until she opened the carton and pulled out two of the dumplings, then handed the rest to me,img_0637 snatched my one dollar and waved me out of the store. When I sat down to enjoy my quarry, I found that it wasn’t worth the hassle. I did end up with five dumplings as advertised, but they were thin as string beans with very little meat inside. The wrappers were chewy rather than crispy, and the interior was dry.

img_0639I left my park bench and headed to Tasty Dumpling (54 Mulberry St., Manhattan—map). Tasty had a few tables and many more customers, but there was an immediate downside. An order of dumplings cost (gasp) $1.25, $1.35 with tax. I sucked it up for the sake of research. They served me my dumplings quickly and with a smile, and theyimg_0636 were decidedly tastier. They were stuffed with more, and juicier, pork and chive. The wrappers were crispy, if a little over-fried. There was a bit of residue from the deep-fryer lingering on the exterior, which hurt the appearance of the dumplings more than the taste.

Conclusion: Pay the extra 35 cents. I know, it hurts, and it’s not technically Tuck for a Buck, but it’s worth it for the attitude if not for the significant advantage in taste.