Slideshow: The Cheapskate's Guide to Chinatown, NYC: 13 Snacks for $2 and Under

Rice Rolls
Rice Rolls
Hong Kong-style rice rolls—thin sheets of rice flour batter that are steamed in a giant sheet and mixed with some simple fillings like ground pork and scallion—are some of the best simple snack foods the city has to offer. Done right, they're delicate and slightly chewy, with a mild rice sweeteness contrasted by savory nuggets of pork and herb. Soy and chili sauces brighten things up but shouldn't overwhelm the rice roll itself.

My current favorite come from Sun Hing Lung Co, where they'll mix some egg and pork into the batter before steaming. Tthey're primarily a tofu factory, and their tofu and soy milk rock. But the carts on Elizabeth and Hester have their own interesting story.

Sun Hing Lung Co: 58 Henry Street, New York, NY 10002 (map); 212-962-7032

[Photograph: Robyn Lee]

Sesame Pancakes
Sesame Pancakes
Fat doughnutty sesame pancakes stuffed with meat and veggies are one of our favorite neighborhood snacks, and they're enormous for the price. With real vegetables, too! Several dumpling shops make them, but our money is on Vanessa's Dumpling House for their extra fluffy pancake, crisp pickled vegetables, and moist meaty additions.

Vanessa's Dumpling House: 118 Eldridge Street, New York NY 10002 (map); 212-625-8008

[Photographs: Jessica Leibowitz]

More Pancakes
More Pancakes
There's more than one way to make a pancake, and at Tasty Dumpling they fill a lean, griddled wrapper with their juicy pork filling. It's a different, breadier experience from the dumplings that still has the porksplosive qualities we know and love. If you're willing to pony up $2.50 or 3, you can get yourself a pork or lamb "burger" from Xi'an Famous Foods; the former full of stewy pork, the latter stuffed with crisp-tender cumin lamb.

Tasty Dumpling: 54 Mulberry Street, New York, NY 10013 (map); 212-349-0070

Xi'an Famous Foods: Multiple locations

[Photograph: Robyn Lee]

Steamed Buns
Steamed Buns
You could do a cheapskate's guide to steamed bao alone (and some day we will), but for now, let's just agree that they're awesome and we all have our favorites. Our take: Golden Steamer can do no wrong. Their pumpkin buns are squashy and sweet; the salted egg yolk buns are custardy with the perfect hint of salt; and the char siu and pork and vegetable buns are in the running for best in class.

Golden Steamer: 143 Mott Street, New York, NY 10013 (map); 212-226-1886

[Photograph: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt]

Egg Custard Tarts
Egg Custard Tarts
You either love these yolky custards with flaky shells or you don't. If you do, they're a perfect three-bite sweet that won't ruin your appetite. And with Chinese bakeries all over the place, there's bound to be one near you. But what's the best? Out of the 43 we tasted, Bread Talk's came out on top.

Bread Talk: 47 Catherine Street, New York, NY 10002 (map)

[Photograph: Robyn Lee]

Crullers
Crullers
You'll find you tiao, unsweetened yeast doughnut sticks, all around Chinatown. They're at their best when dunked into some steaming congee or fresh soy milk, but that usually requires the commitment of a place to sit and more than two bucks. If you get crullers reasonably fresh they're plenty satisfying snacks to eat solo.

Though I'm still on the hunt to find the most consistently delicious crullers in the neighborhood, the offerings at 212 Grand Food Corp (Kong Kee) have a certain pull to me. Two huge ones come to a $2 bag, sold both on a table outside and within the shop. Your freshness luck can vary (inside the store is a better bet for that), but even when cool, they're more crisp and yeasty than most. I'll give it to you straight: these suckers are oily, possibly stomach ache oily if you down the whole thing, but it's an oiliness that spares the crust and makes the cruller moist enough to eat solo.

212 Grand Food Corp: 212 Grand Street, New York, NY 11013 (map); 212-966-1350; kongkeefood.com

[Photograph: Max Falkowitz]

Noodles at Dumpling Shops
Noodles at Dumpling Shops
Street carts offer lo mein-like noodles on the cheap, but they tend towards bland takeout stuff. A better bet is the noodles you'll find at cheap five-for-a-dollar dumpling joints, usually flavored with peanut sauce enriched with chili and soy. Prosperity Dumpling makes our current favorite for $1.75, and C & L Dumpling (which makes some pretty bad dumplings) does a nice version served in a real bowl with greens and broth for $2. Read more »

Prosperity Dumpling: 46 Eldridge Street, New York NY 10002 (map); 212-343-0683

C & L Dumpling: 77 Chrystie Street, New York, NY 10002 (map); 212-219-8850

[Photograph: Robyn Lee]

Fresh Tofu
Fresh Tofu
Jiggly fresh tofu—often straight from the local factory—is one of the best parts of eating in Chinatown. All of it is worlds better than the packaged stuff, but my absolute favorite can be found at Sun Hing Lung Co, where it's especially creamy and nutty. Get a pint, find a park bench, and get to snacking. For a different take on fresh tofu, the Chang-an spicy tofu at Xi'an Famous Foods (pictured) is light on the fresh soy flavor but awash in a chili oil that'll drive out the cold of any winter day.

Sun Hing Lung Co: 58 Henry Street, New York, NY 10002 (map); 212-962-7032

Xi'an Famous Foods: Multiple locations

[Photograph: Robyn Lee]

Bakery Sandwiches
Bakery Sandwiches
Who needs fast food chains when you have Chinese Bakeries? Sweet House Inc. stuffs a slightly sweet bun with a slender strip of fried chicken breast, mayo, tomato, and iceberg. It's nothing amazing, but it's fried chicken and mayo on a bun for $1.75. I'll take that.

Sweet House Inc.: 239 Grand Street, New York, NY 10002 (map); 212-219-3373

[Photograph: Robyn Lee]

Fresh Fruit
Fresh Fruit
It's a bit cheaty, but if you're not partaking in any of the fresh fruit Chinatown has to offer—four persimmons for a dollar, longan and rambutan, young coconut, and yes, durian—you're missing out on one of the best aspects of the neighborhood. Groceries offer great deals; stands on the street are even cheaper. Go wild.

[Photograph: Max Falkowitz]

Honorable Mention: Onigiri
Honorable Mention: Onigiri
You'll have to jump over $2 for these snacks, but not by much. A small rice ball from YaYa Tea Garden will run you $2.25, and it comes with well-cooked rice, crisp seaweed, and comforting fillings like fried chicken and seaweed-radish. A friendly snack that's less greasy than most.

YaYa Tea Garden: 51 Chrystie Street, New York, NY 10002 (map); 212-226-8803; yayatea.com

[Photograph: Robyn Lee]