NYC: a round up of my favourite eats in the Big Apple for under $20

I was recently in New York for what can only be described as an epic couple of weeks eating-wise. Every time I’m back there, I never fail to feel like a little boy in the big big city. The raw energy and continuous buzz that resonates through this concrete jungle’s skyscrapers, streets, subways and service industries is something else.

What impressed me most of all this trip was just how well one can eat in New York with a single $20 bill in hand. The average standard of restaurants, especially in the budget and mid ranges is incredibly high and you’re bound to find at least one great eatery on every city block that doesn’t do your wallet in.

Here’s 5 of my favourite eats in the Big Apple for under $20.

1. Katz Delicatessen  |  205 E Houston St (btw 1st Av & Av A), New York, NY 

Home of the epic-EST sandwich of them all, Katz Deli is a New York institution. Established in 1888, it’s wooden walls are lined with the photos of hundreds of celebrities past and present, all of whom have made the pilgrimage to Katz for their legendary hot sandwiches, piled sky-high with their signature corned beef and pastrami.

With a gorgeous pepper crust, a beautifully even rare pink throughout and a texture that melts away like butter, the pastrami here is seriously to die for. Order your sarnie as a ‘Reubens’ and salivate while they stack your already multi-inch stacked pastrami sandwich with sauerkraut, melted swiss cheese and Russian dressing. That first bite will live with me forever.

It’s no bloody wonder this place managed to induce an orgasm in that famous scene of ‘When Harry met Sally’.

‘I’ll have what she’s having’. Any day. Every day.

Katz’s Reubens Pastrami Sandwich. PHwoooOAAAAArrRRRRRRRRRRRRR.

…a New York institution

2. Hill Country BBQ  |  30 W 26th St (btw 6th Av & Broadway), New York, NY

Order your dry-rub BBQ brisket or ribs by the pound, directly from the pit masters behind the counter at this self-serve, market-style joint. The ribs were solid – juicy with plenty of meat that fell off the bone. But I was told the moist beef brisket is THE thing to have here. And boy is it moist. Served in a double-wrapping of grease-proof paper with old-school sliced white bread, the brisket meat is so tender from hours and hours of smoking it literally comes apart with a fork. Add a dash or douse of their home-made BBQ or hot sauce to your heart’s content. It was so good, I couldn’t help but have it a second time when I spotted their outpost in Washington DC when I was out there.

Don’t forget to order a pot of their braised collard greens on the side. Comforting, properly tasty and spiked with applewood bacon and lots of background heat, I could polish off an entire pot on its own.

Hill Country’s moist beef brisket and ribs

Collard greens & Mac ‘n Cheese

3. Mad for Chicken @ Turntable  |  314 5th Avenue (btw 31st & 32nd St), New York, NY

The best KFC (Korean fried chicken that is), period. Which explains why there’s essentially only one thing on the menu. Fried chicken. Mega crispy skin with a soya sauce glaze that’s a symphony of sweet, savoury and umami, Mad for Chicken’s KFC is deliriously good.

Stick to the wings… they pack 2x the skin-to-meat ratio and 3x the flavour and were far tastier than the drumsticks. Then, wash it all down with one of the Turntable bar’s well-executed, but deceivingly potent Soju cocktails.

If Colonel Sanders were alive, he’d be doing it Gangnam-style in K-town right now.

Mad for Chicken yet?

Soju lychee cocktail

4. Luke’s Lobster  |  various locations

Freshly cracked and picked Maine lobster. A velvety butter sauce. All stuffed into a helplessly fluffy brioche-style roll. It’s a simple recipe for the Rolls-Royce of fast food and Luke’s delivers a benchmark quality lobster roll with tender loving care.

A swig of root beer with your roll and it makes for a seriously happy day.

Lobster roll love.

5. Shake Shack  |  Madison Square Park, E 23rd St & Madison Avenue, New York, NY 

If you’re going to have a ShackBurger, best to have it where it all started at their flagship Madison Square Park shack. And that’s where I found myself minutes before their 11pm closing time, in desperate need of a late night snack after 4 hours on the road from DC.

…fast food under the stars at Madison Square Park

What makes the ShackBurger? For me, it’s all the elements, down to the most minute of condiments. First there’s the bun – petite, slightly sweet and pillowy soft. Then, the patty – a perfectly medium-cooked 1/4 lb, 100% Angus beef blend which even the most hardcore of Shake Shack fans are still trying to decode. And there’s the cheese – American… bright yellow, melted straight into the patty. And the toppings – 2 slices of vine ripe tomatoes, 1 large crisp green lettuce leaf. And of course, the Shack sauce – mayo-based, sweet, slightly pickled with a hint of background heat.

Put that all together, and it makes for one heck of a burger.

p.s. Londoners rejoice. The Meyer empire have just announced that Shake Shack will be debuting in Covent garden in mid 2013 next year. Woop!

The ShackBurger

An incredible couple of weeks and the highlight of my sabbatical so far. Special thanks go out to and SY for showing me around, putting me up and without whom I’d be walking East instead of West. You guys are the best!