In most college towns, you're lucky if you get one or two mediocre pizza places, a Chinese takeout joint, and one slightly fancy restaurant for family dining. But this is New York City, and NYU is at the heart of some of the town's best eating. So get hungry.
Cheap Bites (Under $5)
You've blown your cash in seven days and now you have to eat for the rest of the month. So here's how to eat cheap. Really cheap. Obvious choices like Mamoun's (falafel for $2.50), Gray's Papaya (2 franks and drink for $5), and Pommes Frites are so well known that you've probably seen them on Food Network a dozen times by now. Not that you shouldn't visit these places—especially Gray's, which offers a quintessentially New York experience for a couple bucks.
Percy's, arguably the best dollar slice joint in the city, is right in the heart of Greenwich Village amongst Bleecker Street's somewhat sloppy bar scene. What's X/4? A: The number of oysters you can eat at Bondi Road with only the quarters in your pocket. $1 oysters and $2 Bloody Mary shooters give you all the brine for mere pocket change. Bacon, egg and cheeses are staples of a young New Yorker's diet—bacon, egg and cheese hot dogs from Crif Dogs should join the party. Meant for boozy consumption with class, none of the dogs run more than $5, and Crif Paks ($10-40) give you everything Harold and Kumar ever wanted, without the adventure. And whatever you do, don't skip the halal street meat carts you see everywhere. No, it's not healthy, but that has everything to do with delicious calories and nothing to do with food safety.
Cheap Meals (Under $10)
Eddie Huang's BaoHaus is far from a secret, but the shop's meat-stuffed bao are complex and relatively cheap. Lunch under 10 dollars is a definite possibility, and you will likely leave full and smiling.
Ramen fans have a bunch of great options in the NYU area (Ippudo and Momofuku Noodle Bar are the most popular), but for cheap, solid noodles, head to Rai Rai Ken, where several bowls of ramen run under ten bucks.
If Latin American food is your thing check out the Peruvian cart Morocho. Led by a talented Peruvian chef, this cart puts out one of my favorite street burgers (Poor Man's Burger) and a bunch of lunch-sized meals for only a few bucks.
Sandwiches should also form the backbone of every college student's diet. They're portable, delicious and, most important of all, high in carbohydrates to combat lack of sleep. If you like falafel, Taïm makes our favorite in the city, with impossibly creamy hummus, improbably light fritters, and the best pita in town. If you're closer to Union Square, Taboonette serves fantastic pita sandwiches, too. At Sara Jenkins's Porchetta, the stuffed pork loin takes the spotlight. The signature sandwich is delicious, but we tend to go for the spicy pickles, which are tangy, spicy and fresher tasting than the standard deli number. Caracas Arepa Bar is another cheap favorite, a tiny cafe in the East Village that makes some awesome Venezuelan arepas.
Bowery Diner isn't the cheapest place on the Lower East Side, but their sandwiches are worth the coin, and won't run you more than $15 on the late night menu. The reuben, grilled cheese, and burger are all solid choices. On the subject of Reubens, you haven't had one till you've had the sandwich at Katz's Delicatessen, which makes make one of the best pastrami sandwiches in the universe. There are plenty of other things on the menu, but we recommend sticking with the smoked meat (or a knoblewurst sausage), a fried side if you're up to it, and an egg cream. The bagels at Russ & Daughters aren't superb, but you won't mind because the fish is. Herring, gravlax, lox, a transcendent whitefish salad, and of all sorts of other fish are the main draw. You might drop a pretty penny for your nova, but it makes for great eating on the Lower East Side.
If you find yourself shopping or wandering in Little Italy, you would be doing yourself a big favor by stopping by Parm. As Torrisi's more accessible next door neighbor, Parm does all the Italian deli classics (chicken, eggplant and meatball parm) as well as an absolutely superlative turkey hero. The sides are also delicious (especially the sweet and sour eggplant), and red sauce classics like lasagna, meatballs and veal parm, while a bit pricey, are worthy dinner plates.
And Asian food in (and near) the neighborhood: Pok Pok Phat Thai serves up the most legit version of pad thai you've ever had. For Chinese, you can't get much better than Danny Bowien's Mission Chinese Food. The menu, on which no hefty dish costs more than $20, features gonzo Chinese-American fare like Kung Pao Pastrami and serious classics like Mapo Tofu. Another great Chinese spot is noodle shop Xi'an Famous Foods. Bowls of incredible noodles get sauced in cumin and oxtail stock to make one of my favorite cheap lunches.
There are a bevy of slice joints around the area, but only a handful that are really worth it. For classic New York-style slices, you have two Bens to choose from. Your best bet at Famous Ben's is an out-of-this-world good Sicilian slice called the Palermo, which features a nigh-fried crust, concentrated tomato sauce, and a grana-speckled bread crumbs with caramelized onions. John's of Bleecker offers a solid sit-down pizza option, with coal-fired New York-style pies and very reasonable prices. Motorino, a staff favorite, features some of the city's finest Neapolitan pies; Kesté's aren't too shabby either. For slices, nearby Joe's is quintessential. In the East Village, you have Artichoke Basille's. Skip the namesake and regular slices and get the Grandma, where the crisp crust and bright sauce work best together.
Diners and Burgers
Kenny Shopsin is a pretty entertaining character. During a meal at his restaurant, one will likely hear a couple profanity-laced stories, watch a photo-hungry tourist get torn out (Woman: "Why can't I take a picture?" Kenny: "Because it's fucking annoying!") and then eat an absolutely delicious meal—bacon cheddar grits, hatch chili sliders and mac & cheese pancakes are just three of the over 900 menu items made from scratch. The price of admission is a bit high, but once you've accepted that fact you can enjoy the epitome of diner food in New York. The East Village boasts another great diner in Veselka, an Eastern European influenced spot with a variety of pierogies and an exceptional hamburger. While we're on the topic of burgers, Bill's in the Meatpacking district smashes a formidable patty, too.
Soft serve gets special treatment around NYU, with topping titans Big Gay Ice Cream Shop and Dessert Club ChikaLicious. Salty pimps and red velvet sundaes are the name of the game—you really haven't seen soft serve's full potential until you've tried some of these creations. Il Laboratorio di Gelato does some sophisticated takes on Italian ice cream and sorbet; Otto's is some of the best in the city.
Dominique Ansel makes fantastic French pastries, a little pricier than your bodega croissant but totally worth it. Also worth knowing: Bosie Tea Parlor, for its excellent sweet treats—darjeeling tarts, scones, and macarons, anyone?—and great selection of tea. And when you want some sweet creamy comfort, Puddin' has you covered.
Short Subway Rides Away
If you can afford the subway trip to Canal Street, you can afford to eat well in Chinatown. Some recommendations: banh mi), soup dumplings and more at Shanhai Cafe Deluxe, steamed buns at Golden Steamer, and fried dumplings, four or five to a dollar.
As a hipster mecca that's a short L train ride from Union Square, Williamsburg attracts its fair share of NYU-ers, both as visitors and as residents. And while the scene might not be for everyone, the food is worth many many trips for any serious eater. Not all are in the college budget, and not all are good, but a few to visit right away: elevated slice joint Best Pizza, sit-down pleaser Roberta's, a destination burger from Diner, and sandwiches from Saltie.
Dinner with Parents
And once you've really run out of money, your parents come to visit. During these special times, you can dine like royalty on their dollar, and there are plenty of places to go. If your family is full of picky eaters, Beauty & Essex is a very safe bet. The plates are small, plentiful and varied enough so that everybody will at least enjoy something (my family of five went 10 for 10 last time). Kin Shop has a big name chef to impress and a menu to adore; it's where we take tourists all the time. A pricier haute Asian option, Red Farm, is a surefire place to go for approachable Chinese that won't get complaints. Alex Stupak's impressive Empellon Cocina and Taqueria are high end Mexican worth shelling out for.