Dining deals for under five dollars

As students, the world is our playground. We are young, many in exceptional health, and curious – eager to explore the world. The one restraint? Cash. Let’s face it – college kids aren’t making the big bucks. However, by venturing into certain areas of Manhattan, searching for meals, decadent dinners and savory snacks, students can find several deals for under five dollars. From pan-seared pork dumplings to Vietnamese BBQ sandwiches, I did some hefty research and set out to find the best of the best.

My journey began on the F train, only a few blocks from campus. My destination? Chinatown, a hidden culinary gem. After exploring various restaurants and bakeries, I had narrowed the list down to five establishments beginning with Banh Mi Saigon, a Vietnamese sandwich shop. Only a few blocks from the subway station, the neighborhood is a mixture of authenticity and urban hustle. Families work on the streets selling fresh produce, seafood, and warm, doughy pork buns. Filled with curiosity and intrigue, I watched through the windows as a focused young woman made dumplings, carefully constructing each one with just the right amount of pork, chive and oil.

A few blocks down on Grand Street, I reached Banh Mi Saigon, a modern, chic atmosphere filled with aromas of sweet, cake-like breads and mouthwatering meats such as pork and sautéed beef. I was told by the locals to order a #1- BBQ Pork Sandwich. I received a large hero, filled with succulent pork covered in a sweet BBQ sauce surrounded with cucumber, carrot strands and cilantro. Setting me back only four bucks, I bit into the Vietnamese monstrosity. Packed with flavor, just the right blend of meat, vegetables, and syrupy sauce, I was in love. It was unlike anything I had ever tasted, with flavors that hinted at previous culinary ventures, such as the warm crunchy bread and the fresh cilantro. The crowd was charismatic, mainly students, many of them vegetarian as this establishment offers a surplus of tofu and meat-less alternatives.

Moving onto something more familiar, I walked into the heart of Little Italy. Rustic, authentic and sentimental Mulberry Street will always hold a special place in my big Italian heart. My next culinary conquest was of great importance, to try the “best Cannoli on planet earth,” at Caffe’ Palermo. EATS Magazine described this picturesque eatery as “Quite simply, Little Italy’s undisputed King of Cannoli. This place is old school, in the best way possible.” As I walked in, I was overwhelmed with fragrances of warm pastries and decadent chocolates. I ordered the chocolate covered Cannoli, the most expensive item of the day, five dollars. A colossal cocoa shell, overflowing with fresh Cannoli cream. As I bit into the famous dessert, I understood why Caffe’ Palermo’s owner John was crowned the “Cannoli King.” The shell was crunchy and sweet, and the filling was smooth with just the right amount of mini chocolate chips. This caffe offers more than pastries, and is known for their pizza, Paninis and extensive espresso bar.

The next joint was nothing special to look at. In fact, I was shocked it was on the list of must-try establishments. Small, crowded, and downright ugly, I walked by Prosperity Dumpling on Eldridge Street a few times in utter shock. When I finally went inside I ordered the beef dumplings and sesame pancake, the items the locals raved about. Packed and ready to go within three minutes, I was forced to eat at the local park because of the small, busy nature of the restaurant.

I sat on a park bench and opened the styrofoam box filled with the pan seared dumplings. On first bite, I was overwhelmed with the sweet mixture of beef and salty spices. Fresh, savory and moist, these dumplings were truly one of a kind, and only four for a dollar. Next was the sesame pancake, which was astounding. An Asian twist on foccacia, fried with sesame seeds and chives for 50 cents. A meal for under two bucks, filled with flavor – a must try for all STJ students.

Finally I reached the restaurant crowned TOP 100 in the nation, Vanessa’s Dumpling House, situated only a few steps from Prosperity Dumpling. A line stretched down the street as locals waited anxiously for the coconut bubble tea and greasy, flavorful pork buns. For less than five dollars, I received four pork and chive dumplings, a sesame pancake sandwich stuffed with beef,and three pork buns. The sesame pancake sandwich combined BBQ beef, cucumber, carrot and parsley all stuffed inside two slices of moist, tasty pastry dough. The dumplings were savory, salty, and were a tastier version of Prosperity’s doughy Asian snack. Worth the hour journey from Queens, I will certainly be back for everything this culinary gem has to offer.

For an instant adventure packed with yummy treats, head to the Lower East Side of Manhattan and devour some dumplings or sip on some bubble tea. Walk the streets curiously, trying the delicacies of this historic community. Talking to the locals asking around for their favorite hang-out spots. Venture into the unknown, trying things you’ve always wanted to, explore the obscure, scrumptious cuisine this city has to offer.