Good Deal Dining
If there are times when your budget is as famished as your appetite, these 18 reasonably priced restaurants will sate even the hungriest cravings without performing liposuction on your wallet.
By John Bruno Turiano
Photography by Phil Mansfield
It may not seem so, not with entrÃ©e prices rising about as fast as county real estate, but the truth is you don’t have to go broke to dine well. You need only love good food and a good bargain—and know where the two converge. That’s where we come in.
We’ve done our fair share of dining (haute and not-so-haute) and have found 18 restaurants that are guaranteed to impress your palate and dining date’s taste buds, even if your budget is more John the Pauper than John D. Rockefeller.
How do we define “bargain” dining? To us, it’s a meal that includes a drink, tip, and tax—served (not picked up at the counter or in a drive-thru; hey, we’re trying to impress here)—for less than $25. Now that’s reason enough to dine out tonight and tomorrow night.
Maud’s Tavern (149 Southside Ave., Hastings-on-Hudson, 914-478-2326; www.mauds tavern.com), the closest thing we have to Boston’s Cheers, is a homey, small-town tavern where gracious, outgoing owners John and Maud Franse make anyone who walks through its doors feel welcome. And the fare is darn good, too, thanks to chef Maud (she trained at the
The Anti-Golden Arches
The Blazer Pub (Rte. 22, Purdys, 914-277-4424), a no-pretense roadside restaurant and bar, has, if not the best burgers in the county, then close enough. The pub cooks a half-pound of premium ground beef exactly the way you order it. Don’t pass up the fries, either—fresh-cut, thickset wedges that are perfect for dipping into ketchup. The Blazer onion is another side to order—a massive fan of a specimen, breaded, deep-fried, and reaching its taste pinnacle after a plunge into a mustard-horseradish dressing—as is the meaty, hearty chili. You may be tempted to buy a Blazer T-shirt, but you might want to save your extra dough for another round of beer. And remember: bring greenbacks; in true classic roadhouse form, the Blazer Pub doesn’t take plastic.
The other contender for top county burger, of course, is Piper’s Kilt’s (433 White Plains Rd., Eastchester, 914-779-0611) mouthwatering patty, christened “The Eastchester Burger”—a half-pound of premium beef topped with crisp bacon strips, crunchy lettuce leaves, a thick slice of tomato, and melted cheese, alongside spicy chili, addictive onion rings, and snappy fries. All forâ€¦$8.75. To enjoy your burger in the dining room with its low-slung, drab green ceiling, you’ll have to pass a dark bar. Not exactly the Rainbow Room, but who cares? Once you bite into the goods, all thoughts of ambience or lack thereof will melt away into burger bliss.
Traditional American Barbecue, when done right (namely, cooked absurdly slowly and at absurdly low temperatures) is always yummy. Luckily, Jennifer and Jeffrey Kohn of the Kneaded Bread do it just right at their funky, bright-orange barbecue joint, Q Restaurant & Bar (112 N. Main St., Port Chester, 914-933-7427). A sandwich piled high with fork-tender, smoky pulled pork can be yours for less than $10—with, say, a side of delicious, piquant collard greens or flavorful baked beans. Or splurge; throw in a few more bucks and get a “full-plate” meal: perhaps a half-slab of sweet, saucy ribs with a side of creamy macaroni and cheese, crunchy coleslaw, and a slice of fresh-baked cornbread. Grab a bunch of paper napkins (you’ll need quite a few), and dig in. Oh yes, order iced tea. It is served with a slice of lemon and fresh mint in a mason jar; the jar is yours to take home. Now that’s a deal!
Tomatillo (13 Cedar St., Dobbs Ferry, 914-478-2300) serves Cal-Mex, or “Mexchester,” dishes using brown rice (instead of white), lots of tofu, heart-healthy ingredients like dairy-free sour cream, plus fresh local produce, much of it grown at Stone Barns Center in Pocantico Hills. The idea is to get you sated and keep your arteries, more or less, unclogged. Oh, oh. Worried that that means Tomatillo’s mostly good-for-you food has as much flavor as Styrofoam? No need to worry: there are plenty of “ooh-aah” flavor-packed dishes here.
Start with a bowl of lip-smacking chunky turkey chili with dollops of sour cream or a cup of pleasing vegetarian black-bean soup. Tomatillo’s two-handed burritos, stuffed with savory skirt-steak fillings between two tortillas, are simply celestial. Instead of steaming the tortillas, owner David Starkey grills them, then fills them (thus no soggy interiors).
Other selections include hard- and soft-shell tacos; giant flour quesadillas; fajitas filled with portobello mushrooms, chicken, or shrimp; and brown-skinned rotisserie chicken. Adding to the culinary adventure are five mix-and-match house-made sauces: chipolte, roasted-pepper barbecue, cilantro pesto, fresh tomatillo (a.k.a. the Mexican green tomato), and classic mole. Not much heat—but plenty of honest, pleasant flavors. And for your sweet tooth: try a rich Oaxaca hot chocolate, made with ground almonds and assorted spices, and topped with either marshmallows or fresh whipped cream.
Umami CafÃ© (325 S. Riverside Ave., Croton-on-Hudson, 914-271-5555; www.umamicafe.com) is rather deceptive. It looks quite ordinary, but there’s absolutely nothing ordinary about its food. The menu at this dinner-only cafÃ©, co-owned by Peter Pratt’s son, Jonathan (Dad is the man behind the more refined Peter Pratt’s Inn in Yorktown), is very, well, “un”-ordinary. It’s also very good—and very affordable: entrÃ©e prices range between $10 and $16; many appetizers are $5.
For starters, try Ã¼mami’s signature green salad with crispy onions, nutty jicama, and slivers of bright green papaya bathed in an Indonesian peanut dressing, or the heady truffled mac and cheese, featuring GruyÃ¨re and fontina cheese with both black and white truffle oils.
The curry-scented, coconut-milk stew, with the exotic moniker Evil Jungle Prince, is a must-try main selection, as is the grilled uzu salmon steaks served with blanched watercress and a citrusy soy-yuzu sauce. For fire-breathers, there’s the meaty marinated grilled shrimp polished with scorching Thai chili sauce ($16).
For dessert, there’s a velvety flan con queso and ice cream from the Blue Pig shop down the street, which should put out the Thai chili fire.
The dining room may be cramped and the service rushed, but Lefteris Gyro (1 N. Broadway, Tarrytown, 914-524-9687; www.lefterisgyro.com) may be the most affordable—and best—quick-bite restaurant in the county. Many items are under $10.
You could live off the warm pita dipped in salt-and-peppered olive oil, but save room, lots of it, for the wonderful Grecian dishes served here. The appetizers alone may fill you; love the oversized Greek salad with redolent feta cheese, the avgolemono soup flecked with lemon bits and chicken, and every appetizer spread, especially the garlicky hummus, the fluffy, mousse-like caviar dip, and the wonderfully creamy tzatziki, a homemade Greek yogurt dish with garlic and cucumber. And even if it means taking it home in a doggy bag, order a gyro. The best? The lamb—enough to feed you and a squad of ancient Greek spearmen.
Don’t be discouraged if you see a line spilling out onto the sidewalk—there’s takeout and even delivery. And if you live somewhat north of 287, you may want to check Lefteris’s new and bigger location in Mount Kisco (190 E. Main St., 914-242-8965).
For similarly gratifying Greek fare served at a less hectic pace and enjoyed in a space with more elbow room, try Niko’s Greek Taverna (287 Central Ave., White Plains, 914-686-6456; www.nikos taverna.com), owned by Nick and George Kringas. Kringas is a name you’ll have to get used to here, as there’s a Kringas seemingly working every position. There’s a Kringas cook, Kringas servers, and a Kringas bartender. And the family feeling spills over, and philoxenia (that’s Greek hospitality) is in full effect from the instant you check your coat until the last bit of karidopita (an ethereal, syrupy-sweet walnut cake) and nectareous, honey-drenched baklava, have been devoured.
Order saganaki, a spectacular plate consisting of Greek sheep’s-milk cheese, just to hear enthusiastic shouts of “Opa!” when it is alighted with brandy and doused with lemon tableside. Where else can you get such culinary theatrics for a mere $7.95?
There are moderately priced entrÃ©es such as chicken or pork souvlaki with yellow rice and vegetables, and pastitsio, the “Greek lasagna,” with tubed macaroni and bÃ©chamel cream sauce. But we suggest filling up on a selection of appetizers, e.g., the gigantes, plump, oversized lima beans in a light tomato sauce; fresh dandelions in olive oil and lemon; stuffed grape leaves; and grilled octopus in a red-wine vinegar. Along with warm pita, little bowls of fruity, almond-shaped kalamata olives, and perhaps a glass of Greek iced tea or, better still, ouzo, it’s a meal fit for King Agamemnon.
Manhattan Transplant Appeal
You have to love a place that lists hot dogs on its menu under “delicious side dishes” and considers black-and-white cookies a “gourmet” dessert. Kisco Kosher (
, 914-948-6600) makes no bones about it: “Our portions are large,” its menu proudly declares—and, boy, are they ever. Owner Zeev Bain has been in the Westchester kosher deli business for 18 years (he spent eight additonal years in Queens at the Pastrami King, so he knows how to please the metropolitan deli fanatic).
Munch on a sour dill pickle, which will be brought to your table shortly after you’re seated, while you study the extensive menu. Begin with a schmear of chopped liver on some Jewish rye (it’s a must). A bowl of homemade soup (love the mushroom and barley) should fill you up for seven days and seven nights. Triple-decker sandwiches of corned beef, pastrami, and turkey stick to the ribs—and the waistline. Wash down that triple-decker with Dr. Brown’s cream soda and leave just enough room to enjoy a few homemade rugalach.
Clean, quick, cheap, and good (splendid even): that’s really all you have to know about Splendid Coffee Shop (106 Mamaroneck Ave., White Plains, 914-288-0000), the kind of Big Apple-spirited place Jerry Seinfeld and his crew would have loved. From juicy burgers to overstuffed pitas to hearty breakfasts, this is the place to have yourself a filling, unpretentious meal. If you’re from out of town and really want to feel like a White Plains native, or for that matter, a proud resident, order the “City Hall” sandwich stuffed with turkey, pastrami, coleslaw, and topped with Russian dressing, or the “Mamaroneck Avenue,” made with turkey, mozzarella, roasted peppers, and mayo.
More Than Diners
Set in a modest house with rows of window flower boxes, Beehive Restaurant (
22, Armonk, 914-765-0688) is a quaint eatery with a gargantuan menu offering contemporary American fare plus a sampling of Greek and Italian specialties. It’s a comfort-food spot in the spirit of a diner but better—a sort of less bustling version of the more hectic and almost always crowded City Limits. Try Uncle Louie’s soul-warming baked moussaka with a creamy bÃ©chamel, the oven-roasted turkey with roasted-garlic whipped potatoes and cranberry sauce, or the crisp-coated buttermilk battered fish ’n’ chips. For dessert? Make that a towering slice of white-chocolate banana cream pie, made on the premises with enough bananas to make your inner ape grin.
City Limits Diner (200 Central Ave., White Plains, 914-686-9000; plus in The Westchester and Stamford, CT) is a diner that aspires to be much more—and fortunately succeeds. Unlike most diners, City Limits’ bread is homemade and blissful (purchase a Mediterranean flatbread or a whole-grain apple cider walnut bread to take home), the fish doesn’t come out of a can, and the orange juice is fresh-squeezed. Treat yourself to the moist lemon-grilled free-range chicken in an ancho chile glaze or, if you’re a red-meat kind of guy or gal, try the veal meatloaf, a classy version of the American family staple, served with fluffy mashed potatoes and a heavenly mushroom gravy. Don’t leave without taking home one of Executive Pastry Chef Tracy Kamperdyk Assue’s sugary creations, perhaps a miniature banana cream pie with chocolate ganache or a mini chocolate tart. If you can’t eat it all, dessert can serve as breakfast tomorrow.
You may think you’ve landed in Havana when you step into the jovial, breezy Latin American CafÃ© (134 E. Post Rd., White Plains, 914-948-6606; www.latinameri canmenu.com). “This restaurant reminds Cubans living here of home,” says co-owner Jose Rodriguez. “Home” is where rumba and mambo plays and Spanish is spoken and where an overflowing dish of just-salty-enough bacalao (broiled codfish) comes to you with mashed sweet or fried green plantains, beans, and a choice of one of three varieties of rice. It all goes down well with extra-cold cervezas.
If Latin American CafÃ©’s portions are filling, then Karamba CafÃ©’s (185 Main St., White Plains, 914-946-5550) servings are downright whopping. Karamba CafÃ© is a working person’s daily refuge from fast food at the mall or the brown-bag tuna sandwich. Seventy-five percent Latin eatery and 25 percent American diner, it offers a hot meal morning, noon, and night. We usually skip the American
choices—when in a Latin cafÃ©, do as the Latins do. We love the Karamba chicken—a juicy slab of boneless, skinless chicken au jus grilled alongside a tumble of vegetables with rice, of course. And if you’ve got to get back to work, skip the alcoholic drinks and get a frothy batido, a Latin version of a milkshake. Muy delicioso!
Not familiar with Peruvian or Urugauyan fare? Not to worry. At Inca & Gaucho Restaurant (173 Westchester Ave., Port Chester, 914-939-2100), the menu is illustrated (yes, perhaps a bit cheesy, but, hey, it works), so you won’t be terribly lost. (Warning: the black sausage may look appetizing, but it’s an acquired taste.)
The empanadas, authentic pastry turnovers with meat-and-veggie fillings, are crunchy on the outside, squishy on the inside, and the matambre, rolled beef stuffed with cooked eggs, spinach, carrots, and roasted red peppers, is good enough to share…with the Peruvian army. Atkins would be a happy diner here; this is protein heaven. If you are gearing up to run a marathon or plan not to eat for a few days afterwards, order the grilled dish of skirt steak, sweetbreads, and spicy chorizo (and don’t wear anything with a cinched waist). There’s a lot of atmosphere here (dig the steer head and the Incan artifacts), so order something unusual, like the house specialty, tripe stew, and you’ll be an honorary Peruvian for the evening.
A fresh tortilla station. A jukebox with Mexican ballads. Rainbow-bright tablecloths. A big-screen TV showing yet another soccer match. Plaza Garibaldi (134 Nepperhan Ave., Yonkers, 914-375-7184) proudly wears its South-of-the-Border heart on its red, white, and green sleeve. (The festive, convivial atmosphere becomes even more so on two-for-one margarita nights.)
A $1.95 gets you a horchata, a chilled drink made with rice, almonds, cinnamon, lime, and sugar, to wash down crispy tortilla chips and fresh salsa with avocado chunks while you check out the oversized five-page-long menu.
Over-the-top costumed servers deliver ample portions of fare such as addictive goat meat tacos, overstuffed shrimp fajitas, aged-beef burritos, and “drunk” chicken bathed in white wine and tarragon. Most every entrÃ©e comes with that Mexican staple, rice and beans, and the extensive use of melted cheese here is, well, let’s just say you have to do some serious excavating with your fork to reach beneath the blanket of oozy white to get to that fajita.
Options from the Orient
Somehow, Bangkok Thai Restaurant (1208 W. Boston Post Rd., Mamaroneck, 914-833-1200)—with its cramped kitchen, bathrooms the size of car trunks, and walls that scream, “Paint me!”—works. It works because of the cheerful women servers, all clad in traditional Thai garb, and because of the delicious food. The steamed Thai dumplings bathed in a ginger sauce are finger-popping good; the beef kang panang with ground peanuts and coconut milk is a simmered joy of curry stew, and a bowl of tom yum koong (shrimp or chicken soup in a lime- and lemongrass-flavored broth), plus a side of rice, can be an economical but delicious meal. Love the complimentary basketful of shrimp chips—timidly shaded puffs—and the accompanying peanut butter-coconut sauce.
Okay, so maybe India is a bit far west to qualify as the Orient, but Nyauta (27 Meyer Ave., Yonkers, 914-476-5900) certainly qualifies as good-deal dining, especially when you consider the $9.95 lunch buffet. There are regular menu items that qualify as well, such as the vegetable biryani (a fragrant jumble of basmati rice, fresh vegetables, and pistachio nuts); murgh dhansak (roasted, boneless chicken cubes in a lentil sauce with whole lentils and vegetables); and the kebab platter (chicken, lamb, and fish). For the savory sauces, you must get lots of specialty tandoori bread, perhaps a light paneer nan, unleavened bread made with cottage cheese, or a rich lachha paratha, layered whole-wheat bread topped with melted butter.
Nyauta’s location is less than stellar—it’s wedged behind the Cross County Mall next to a car dealership—but once inside, the vibrant tapestries and seductive aromas will get you in a cheerful—and good-deal-dining—mood.