Splurge vs. Steal: The Ultimate NYC Guide

Blow your tax refund or pinch pennies on tasting menus, omakase sushi and more
February 18, 2014
by Kelly Dobkin

Dining out in NYC is a pricey endeavor no matter how you slice it, but these days, there are gourmet options for both high rollers and the budget-minded alike. Below, we've selected eight dining experiences/dishes and offered up a splurge and a steal in each category. Which ones have you tried? Tell us in the comments.

Tasting Menu

Splurge: Little Elm. The meticulous Paul Liebrandt and executive chef Mazen Mustafa offer up an extravagant seasonal eight courser (changing nightly) with full view of the kitchen at this chef's counter for $135 a pop.

Steal: Contra. This daily-changing five-course tasting menu at the innovative LES New American is a relative bargain at $55. Still have commitment issues? You can go à la carte if you sit at the bar.

Pictured: Little Elm


Splurge: Villard Michel Bistro. The $26 Villard Burger at the Palace Hotel bistro is essentially the same one chef Michel Richard offers at his other restaurants in DC and elsewhere, featuring a high-quality meat blend, an olive-oil brioche bun, tomato confit, and homemade garlic mayo, with a crunchy potato tuile on top. Problem is, if you want a taste of it in NYC, you'll have to pay the extra $8.

Steal: Umami Burger. Truffle burger opulence for under $15? That's a steal. Trust us, we tried all three truffle burger options at the NYC outpost of the Cali-based burger giant. For, $12.95 the truffle burger is one of the tastiest on their entire menu, topped with roasted garlic aïoli, house truffle cheese and a truffle glaze.

Pictured: Umami Burger


Splurge: Ichimura at Brushstroke. At this joint venture between David Bouley and Osaka’s Tsuji Culinary Institute, the omakase experience starts at $160, and is worth every penny as it's "tailored to each individual customer."

Steal: Sushi Seki Chelsea. The new downtown outpost of the cult UES sushi spot offers an $80 omakase that you can order at the sushi bar, offering a sample of what Chef Zhong Zhen Shi can do with his fish.

Pictured: Sushi Seki


Splurge: Piora. At this Korean-influenced Italian restaurant in the West Village, you can order up a 40-oz. Cote de Beouf for $150, by special request only. The bone-in rib-eye is dry-aged for 28 days and rubbed in a bourbon-barrel-aged maple syrup, garlic, chili flakes and herbs before being held in a butter bath of the same marinade. The same butter then becomes a rosemary-maple hollandaise to go alongside the steak. Um, yes please!

Steal:Glasserie. The walk from the G train to this Brooklyn hot spot may be a beast in subzero temps, but once there you'll find a $18 Flatiron steak served with red kale, almond & trout roe that's worth the schlep to the nosebleed section of Greenpoint.

Pictured: Piora

Roast Chicken for Two

Splurge: Dover. The second Carroll Gardens restaurant from the farm-to-table-minded folks behind Battersby offers a $65 chicken for two served with winter vegetable gratin, black truffle and radicchio.

Steal: Pok Pok NY. Portland transplant Andy Ricker is known for doing magical things to the humble bird and his Kai Yaang chicken is no exception. For $21, this whole Label Rouge hen is stuffed with garlic, lemongrass, cilantro and pepper, and served with sweet and sour tamarind sauces.

Pictured: Pok Pok NY

Hot Spot

Splurge: M. Wells Steakhouse. Despite being located in Long Island City, Queens, this meatery from the folks behind the now-closed M. Wells Diner (and subsequent hot spot M. Wells Dinette) doesn't exactly offer Queens-friendly pricing. Expect audacious takes on traditional steakhouse fare like bone-in Chateaubriand ($100 for two) and a $50 "caviar sandwich" to start.

Steal: Mission Cantina. Chinese food wizard Danny Bowien of the famed Mission Chinese offers his take on Mexican fare at his LES hot spot for a relative bargain. Choose from $4-$5 tacos, $35 large plates like an entire roast chicken and appetizers ranging from $8.50-$12. Oh and this just in: "super burritos" are now available to go for $10 each.

Pictured: Mission Cantina

Small Plates

Splurge: ZZ's Clam Bar. This notoriously pricey small-plates seafood spot from the Torrisi boys will bleed your wallet but not your taste buds. The 12-seater offers a slew of dishes with both "low and high" options of its own. How about a $95 shimaaji and caviar tartare to go with your $20 cocktail?

Steal: Traif. This long-standing Williamsburg small-plates is one of the best deals in town, with plates starting at $7 (and peaking at $23); you can have the small-plates experience for under $50 a person. Plus, two words: bacon donuts.

Pictured: Traif


Splurge: Ristorante Morini. Michael White's restaurants are known for their mind-blowing pastas. At Altamarea Group's latest UES outpost, chef Gordon Finn does a $27 tortelli with Maine lobster, seppia and crustacean brodetto that will leave you breathless (and penniless). 

Steal: Lachlan. The former Gwynnett Street space in Williamsburg has been transformed into an affordable gastropub with the same great food. Here you'll find a $14 casarecce pasta with guanciale, leeks and ricotta.

Pictured: Ristorante Morini