The best thing about NYC? So many great restaurants. The worst thing about NYC? So many of those great restaurants are unaffordable, especially as a young professional in your 20s.
My name is Lisa and I’m the voice (and mouth) behind the food blog and Instagram account, @aseefooddiet. With the way I like to eat — think good food and lots of it, all the time — it’s not sustainable to hit up $$$ & $$$$ restaurants on a regular basis. But I don’t let cost stop me from enjoying the Big Apple’s food scene and you shouldn’t either.
Taking your Hinge date out? Treating your significant other to a date night? There are plenty of awesome spots that’ll satisfy both your belly and your wallet.
Here are five of the best date night spots that won’t break the bank:
Spaghetti Incident (Lower East Side)
I’m not sure there’s a better inexpensive date night spot than Spaghetti Incident. The restaurant is cozy enough for a night out with your significant other, but also relaxed enough for an early in the game date. The menu offers 10 different types of long pasta dishes — spaghetti and meatballs or bucatini carbonara, for example — plus salads and arancini to share. And it serves inexpensive wines by the glass, 1⁄4 L, 1⁄2 L, or 1 L. Doesn’t get much better that that.
What to Order: The Spaghetti Chitarra (mozzarella, basil, tomato) is perfectly al dente and delicious. I’m a firm believer that trying a classic recipe is the true test of a restaurant’s pasta quality.
Tip: Make sure your date isn’t gluten-free before you go.
Mr. Donahues (Nolita)
I’m pretty sure that Mr. Donahues is the best kept secret in Manhattan. It’s in the same neighborhood as so many spots that command lengthy wait times but I’ve never had a problem just walking right into Mr. Donahues. Think that’s a bad sign? Think wrong. Mr. Donahues is the retro, intimate date night spot the city’s been missing. The menu is simple but the choices are expansive: pick a main and two sides for just $19.99. If you don’t trust my judgment, maybe knowing that it’s from the same chef-owner team behind Michelin-starred Uncle Boons will convince you to go ASAP.
What to Order: Everything I’ve ever had — roast beef, meatballs, honeynut squash, mac and cheese, and so on — was delicious, but the rotisserie chicken and beets take the cake for me.
Tip: Order a couple extra sauces. The spicy avocado, romesco, and barbeque all must be tried.
Cafe Mogador (East Village)
Great for a brunch, lunch, or dinner date, Cafe Mogador is a long-time, beloved neighborhood spot — and for good reason. The boldly-flavored, Moroccan food is a great match for both adventurous and picky eaters. There’s truly something for everyone at Cafe Mogador. Also, I once sat next to Jennifer Connelly there. If it’s good enough for an Academy Award winning actress’ date nights, it’s good enough for yours.
What to Order: The lamb tagine is one of those dishes that changes your life forever. The meat falls right off the bone. Don’t miss that and the spreads sampler.
Tip: Make a reservation for dinner and be prepared to wait for brunch.
Wine bars are to date nights as peanut butter is to jelly, if you catch my drift. Simply put, YN is a perfect match for your next affordable night out on the town.
YN offers Italian-inspired small plates, cheeses, and 25 by-the-glass wine selections. If you’re looking for a full meal, they also serve great entrees that are all under $20 — the quality at YN is higher than the prices.
What to Order: Obviously the crostini and cheeses are menu highlights but don’t overlook more exciting options like the brussel sprouts with spicy sauce or the dry-aged burger (be sure to add blue cheese).
Tip: Both times I’ve been there, there’s only been two people working there. They’re attentive but speed is not their specialty, so don’t go if you’re in a rush.
Nom Wah Tea Parlor (Chinatown)
Nom Wah has been serving dim sum in Chinatown since 1920. Only good things stick around that long. It’s even recently expanded to a second location in Nolita. But if you’re trying to impress your date, go to the original. You get full-service at the Chinatown location — you have to order yourself on iPads at the new Nolita one — plus the original offers wine as well as beer.
What to Order: The shrimp and snow pea leaf dumplings are an absolute must.
Tip: Since you’ll spend maybe $20 a person, if not less, on dinner, splurge on delicious drinks at nearby cocktail joint Apotheke before or grab some dessert at Chinatown Ice Cream Factory after.