New York City is a food-lover’s paradise. The bustling metropolis offers cutting edge cuisine and the best of the best fine dining. But sometimes you want a meal that’s simply tasty and won’t burn a hole in your pocket – and who better to ask for recommendations than a chef? Australian Alistair McMurray started his cooking career in cafés on the Mornington Peninsula in Victoria and now works as a chef at Eleven Madison Park, named No. 1 in 2017’s World’s 50 Best Restaurants list. These are his favourite cheap eats in New York.
Pasta and pickles at Otto Enoteca Pizzeria
“The food here is the way I think Italian food should be – no frills, fresh and seasonal,” says McMurray. The Italian eatery, opened in 2003 and, designed to resemble a busy Italian train station, serves small ceramic bowls of tasty vegetable tidbits, such as roasted beets with pistachio or farro topped with sweet butternut squash and honey crisp apples, for $US6, as well as $US9 seafood bites of mussels, octopus and baby cuttlefish. But the main event for McMurray is the steaming bowls of pasta for between $US14 and $US17 – think Rigatoni Alla Norma with generous dollops of bufala ricotta or goat cheese agnolotti with lemon butter and summery fennel pollen.
1 Fifth Avenue at 8th Street, New York; +1 212 995 9559
Anticucho at Llama Inn
Tucked under the Brooklyn Queens Expressway, McMurray’s top pick at this Peruvian restaurant is the anticucho – chunks of marinated meat and seafood threaded onto skewers. “I used to live around the corner and stumbled across Llama Inn. They serve super tasty bites with big, big flavours,” says McMurray. His favourites have included the sweetbreads with raisin chimichurri ($US6), pork belly with pickled chilli ($US7) and scallops with crispy capers ($US8). Founded by Erik Ramirez, an Eleven Madison Park alumnus, there’s also a huge selection of pisco-based cocktails, including the punny Llama Del Rey.
50 Withers Street, Brooklyn; +1 718 387 3434
Pizzas at Roberta’s
No doubt manoeuvring a New York slice into your mouth is on your Big Apple to-do list but the jumbo creations don’t do much for McMurray. “The slices can get a little bit boring after a while. It’s either tomato and cheese or tomato, cheese and pepperoni,” he laments. His advice? Take a trip to Roberta’s in Brooklyn. The hipster hangout inside a warehouse space – it even has a radio station broadcasting from inside – tops its pizzas far more elaborately and prices them between $US15 and $US19. Beastmaster, for example, has two different cheeses (mozzarella and gorgonzola) as well as pork sausage, capers, onion and punchy jalapeños.
261 Moore Street, Brooklyn; +1 718 417 1118
Cuban Sandwich at Café Habana
New York is known for its jumbo subs. And Café Habana claims to have the Cuban sandwich voted the city’s best. For $US15, your lunch is a toasted roll stuffed with citrus-marinated roast pork, ham, Swiss cheese, pickle and mayonnaise. McMurray describes the venue, which now has several outposts across the US, Japan and Dubai, as a “super relaxed Cuban-Mexican place” and it covers off everything from quesadillas to fish tacos and Caribbean-style roast pork with rice and beans.
17 Prince Street, New York; +1 212 625 2001
Late-night nibbles at Mother’s Ruin
When your shift finishes in the wee hours of the morning, it can be challenging to find an early-morning dinner at a non-dodgy diner. After much searching, McMurray’s go-to is Mother’s Ruin, open until 4am. “They’ve got these waffle fries ($US6), served with caramelised onion and chive crème fraîche) seasoned with Old Bay, which is very American,” he says. “I didn’t know what they were before I ate there and I was hooked!” Ostensibly a gin bar, from 5pm it also serves up pickled pepper poppers (a dish aptly named Say It Three Times Faster, $US7), duck wings ($US12) and a pimento-cheese dip with crackers and vegies ($US10) for late-night feasting.
18 Spring Street, New York
Fried chicken and waffles at Sweetchick
Indulged a little too heavily on holiday? Then McMurray recommends you get yourself to Sweetchick to absorb those drinks with a plate of fried chicken and waffles ($US15). “You can choose your waffle from flavours like classic, bacon and cheddar or apple and cinnamon and then the chicken is on top of that and you drizzle maple syrup and hot sauce over the whole thing,” he explains. “You think it’s not going to work but it totally works.” No doubt you have to try it to believe.
164 Bedford Avenue, Brooklyn; +1 347 725 4793
Burgers at Shake Shack
Sometimes, only a big burger and fries will do and Shake Shack is known for doing some of the best. McMurray admits that the buttermilk fried chicken burger was his guilty pleasure on the evening commute. “Because of the convenient location out the front of Eleven Madison Park, I would always walk past it on the way home,” he says. The Madison Square Park outlet is the original location of the burger empire (which started as an offshoot of Eleven Madison Park) that now stretches all the way to the UK and United Arab Emirates. McMurray’s favourite burger – the Chick’n Shack – is a stack of crisp chicken breast, shredded lettuce, pickles and mayonnaise spiked with a trio of chives, parsley and thyme on a potato roll for around $US7.
Southeast corner of Madison Square Park, New York; +1 212 889 6600
Top image: Sweetchick