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Ask Casey: Classy and Cheap in Manhattan

I like to go out for the occasional mid-week dinner with friends, but don’t like to drop a ton of cash to do it. What are your favorite places for a good but inexpensive meal in Manhattan?

OK, I’m going to give you cheap and fun here. There’s no shortage of restaurants on this island that are good but can quickly edge from inexpensive to “oh well, I’m just going to put it on my card,” so we’re just going to ignore them. Here are three places where you can catch up with friends, eat very well, and spend no more than $25 per person.

Tuck Shop

Tuck Shop (68 E. 1st St. between 1st and 2nd Aves or 115 St. Mark’s Place between 1st and Avenue A; cash only) is my ritual haunt when I can’t deal with the East Village/LES crowds and am dying for a quiet late-night moment with some warm, filling food. The restaurant serves Australian single-serving meat pies that are only $5 each, and everything is completely homemade down to the pie crusts. Get the Thai Chook Curry pie (that’s thai chicken curry to us Americans) and the scalloped potatoes if they’re the spud of the day.

Westville

Westville (173 Avenue A at 11th St. or 210 W. 10th St. at Bleecker) will serve you a platter of two Niman Ranch hot dogs, fries, and a market salad or vegetable side for $11. That’s a good portion of food! I highly recommend splitting a plate of four market sidesthe best freshly cooked vegetables like roasted brussels sprouts, green beans vinaigrette, bok choy, or greensfor $13. If you’re really feeling flush, get a mint lemonade to wash it all down. The East Village location is double the size of the West Village one, so if you’re not in the mood to deal with a wait, it might be the safer choice.

Wondee Siam

And then there’s Wondee Siam (792 9th Ave between 52nd and 53rd Sts; cash only and BYOB). There are a few siblings around town on the west side, but I can’t go anywhere except the original. Without exaggerating, this is one of my top five restaurants in the entire city, price being no object. And yes, I do think it’s a better Thai restaurant than the foodie fave Sripraphai.

There are so many flavor-busting options on the menu; all the curries are excellent, as are the noodle dishes and soups, and the larb is extra-spicy. However, if I had to pick only two things, I’d go with the mieng ka na (dried pork, peanuts, shallots, ginger, and lime salad to wrap in Chinese broccoli leaves) and the kang penang (penang curry with basil and pineapple) with crispy tofu.

Finally, I wish I could add Lovely Day to this list; the restaurant at 196 Elizabeth St. was gutted by a fire in October 2008 and still has yet to re-open. Let’s all hope for another chance to eat their hobo noodles and Chinese broccoli again soon. [Update: Lovely Day is open again!]

Ask Casey any food-related queries (or hire me to cook at your next party!) at caseyATgoodfoodstoriesDOTcom.

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