Hacking the menu: How to eat for $20 at fancy NY restaurants

Assorted bruschette. Via FB.

Assorted bruschette at dell’anima, which you too can afford. Via FB.

For a person who loves to eat and is perennially broke, New York City is the best and worst place to live. It’s got possibly the highest concentration of excellent (and pricey) restaurants in the world. At times, it can feel as though you are doomed to a life of mediocre happy hours and obscure Chinese takeout joints, but not to worry. With a combination of careful ordering, sharing items and opting for smaller plates instead of large entrées, you can enjoy a meal at some of the city’s best restaurants for $20 per person (including drinks! Tax and tip are still on you though).

You still won’t be able to enjoy a meal at Per Se without being set back a few hundred dollars, but you can sample some great places without breaking the bank by bringing a friend along. Here, four ways to split the menu.

Gnocchi, know peace. Via FB.

Gnocchi, know peace. Via Twitter.

Frankie’s 457, 457 Court St., Carroll Gardens

Even though you can get the same menu at the other Frankie’s locations in the West Village, the Brooklyn original is the most charming, with (in this writer’s opinion) the best garden in the city, and wonderful Italian food to boot. Word to the broke: don’t order the crostini. While it sounds tempting, at $4 a piece, it adds up quickly. Stick with the delicious sandwiches and house-made pasta for a better deal.

Carafe of house wine: $13
Faicco’s Sausage & Broccoli Rabe Sandwich (to split): $12
Gnocchi Marinara & Fresh Ricotta: $15
Total: $40 (before tax and tip) = $20 per person

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Meatloaf sandwich. Paradise by the shared plates' lights.

Meatloaf sandwich. Paradise by the shared plates’ lights. Via FB.

Rye, 247 S. 1st St, Williamsburg

This American cocktail and comfort food haven tends to fly a little under the radar in Williamsburg’s restaurant-packed streets. Skip the pricey entrées and instead try the filling bar snacks and massive meatloaf sandwich. My particular favorite is the Duck Rilette, which comes with house-made pickles and plenty of buttery toast. Insider’s tip: Rye also has a pretty amazing happy hour until 7 pm every night, with $5 burgers and $5 (excellent) old fashioneds.

Two old fashioneds during happy hour (until 7pm): $10
Mixed-greens salad: $8
Hand-cut fries: $6
Meatloaf sandwich (to split): $16
Total: $40 (before tax and tip) = $20 per person

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Beer coming out of the bia wun machine out of Whiskey Soda Lounge. Via FB.

Beer coming out of the bia wun machine out of Whiskey Soda Lounge. Via FB.

Whiskey Soda Lounge, 115 Columbia Street, Dumbo

Pretty much any New Yorker who had spend any time in Portland was salivating last year when chef Andy Ricker’s Pok Pok NY opened in the Columbia Street Waterfront District. But with long waits and loud tables, some quickly became disenchanted, even though the food is excellent. So when news broke recently that Ricker was opening a bar just down the street from Pok Pok, Thai food lovers rejoiced. While Whiskey Soda Lounge’s menu isn’t quite as extensive as the original, it’s less expensive, and thus, better for those of us with less to spend on food.

Two Singha beers: $12
Miang Kham (dried shrimp betel-leaf wraps): $9
Yam Het Huu Nuu Khao (mushroom and pork salad): $10
Huu Muu Thawt (crispy pork ears): $8
Total: $39 (before tax and tip) = $19.50 per person

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Tagliatelle a la bolognese at dell'anima. Via FB.

Tagliatelle a la bolognese at dell’anima. Via FB.

Dell’Anima, 38 Eighth Ave., Manhattan

Affordable food exists in Manhattan too, and one of the most enjoyable ways to spend a Friday afternoon is sitting at the bar at Dell’Anima for its aperitivo. An excellent Italian tradition (which I think should be adapted in many more American restaurants), aperitivo involves having a before-dinner drink, which also gives you an array of free snacks. (Dell’Anima hosts it from 4-6pm, Friday-Sunday). However, it also has a great selection of deceivingly simple Italian food, and my favorite bruschetta in the city – instead of one stingy piece of bread with some ricotta on it, they instead give you a small dish of the topping of your choice and a basket of bread.

Two Full Sail Session Black beers: $12
Three bruschette: $10
Tagliatelle alla Bolognese (to split): $18
Total: $40 (before tax and tip) = $20 per person

And there you have it. Four great restaurants, four meals that won’t set you back more than a few non-fat lattes you buy every morning.

(Note: We checked and none of these restaurants mind you sharing plates.)

Split a plate of internet with Maren: @marenkiersti.