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$20 Dinner

The Top $20 Dinners of 2023

Ten pieces of delicious evidence that New York City is not just for rich people.

11:42 AM EST on December 27, 2023

Four photos of different $20 Dinners in a collage.

Clockwise from top left: A Salty Lunch Lady sandwich, ema datsi at Zhego, slices from L’Industrie, and beef brisket noodles from Sofun Kitchen (Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)

It was an incredible year for people who like to eat good food in new restaurants, with more openings in all corners of the city than I can remember. There were lots of big names making fancy splashes, to be sure, but also a remarkable number of first-timers realizing their dreams.

And while going out anywhere for dinner or even lunch often feels staggeringly pricey these days, there are still plenty of exciting new places where you can sit and relax and catch up with friends over a table full of delicious dishes and not feel totally anxious about how much it all costs. Here are 10 of my favorite such spots from 2023.

A plate of beef tripe with dried red chilis from Zhego, on a wooden table surrounded by other dishes.
Zhego's goep paa, beef tripe with dried red chilies, $13.49. (Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)

Zhego in Woodside 

It's been almost a year since I feasted at what may be the only straight-up Bhutanese restaurant in the city, Zhego in Woodside, and I still think about the meal all the time at least once a week, and especially the ema datsi, referred to frequently and reverentially by the amiable staff as "the national dish of Bhutan." When it arrives, it's just a bowl of sliced-up hot peppers smothered in melted cheese sauce. So basic, and so good. The goep paa, too, which is big chunks of beef tripe made fiery with dried red chilies, is also simple and delicious. Definitely time for me to go back—who wants to come with?  

Zhego is located at 38-4 61st Street, between 38th and 39th Avenues. 

Yuba-Verde, $19, from Superiority Burger. (Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)

Superiority Burger in the East Village 

Brooks Headley's Superiority Burger is the best new restaurant of the year, no matter what category you're talking about, so it's also the obvious winner here. Located in the former Odessa space, Superiority is a neighborhood diner at heart, a glorious late-night and early-dinner hang, boozy and bold, welcoming and comfortable and cool as hell. And the food, always vegetarian and often "accidentally vegan," started out spectacular right out of the gate in April, and also somehow just keeps getting better. Their totally unsecret weapon: Darcy Spence's desserts. Note: Although most menu items are priced in the low teens, and nothing costs more than $19, you will probably spend more than you planned on here, just because everything is so good and you'll want it all. It always feels worth it. 

Superiority Burger is located at 119 Avenue A, between East Seventh and St. Marks Place.

A plate of Hainan chicken on butcher paper.
The main event at Hainan Chicken House: House Hainan Chicken with chicken rice, $11. (Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)

Hainan Chicken House in Sunset Park 

One of the coolest food things to happen in 2023 was the way this family-owned Malaysian restaurant on a bustling stretch of Sunset Park that I popped into in January not only served me such an awesome meal—the headlining dish is perfect, and the pork belly with rice is almost its equal—but then also got hyped to the sky some six month later by none other than Pete Wells at the New York Freaking Times. Feel-good story of the year!      

Hainan Chicken House is located at 4807 Eighth Avenue, between 48th and 49th Streets, in Brooklyn.

Hyderabadi Zaiqa's goat dum biryani, $17.99. (Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)

Hyderabadi Zaiqa in Hell's Kitchen

This stretch of Ninth Avenue is lousy with mediocre restaurants, so here's one you're guaranteed to like: Hyderabadi Zaiqa, a nondescript subterranean spot that specializes in some of the best biryani you'll ever eat. There are 16 different varieties on the menu, but the signature Hyderabadi goat dum biryani is the obvious place to start, and the goongura chicken one is equally excellent. There are tons of other non-biryani dishes here as well. Tip: The mango lassi also rules. Seating is limited to a few tables with backless stools, so don't plan on lingering—but do plan on leaving full and happy.

Hyderabadi Zaiqa is located at 366 West 52nd Street, just east of Ninth Avenue.

Poetry by L'Industrie. (Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)

L'Industrie in the West Village 

Brooklyn's absolute best slice shop expanded across the river this fall with a spacious sequel on historic Christopher Street, and the place has been hopping ever since. Massimo Laveglia and Nick Baglivo are masters of the classic NYC fold, in both basic (margherita, pepperoni) and extravagant (burrata and prosciutto) varieties. And if there's a sandwich special when you show up—Meatball parm! Chicken Caesar! Roast pork with broccoli rabe!—don't think, just get it. Desserts include an amazing soft serve twist. Life is beautiful. 

The West Village L'Industrie is located at 104 Christopher Street, between Bleecker and Bedford Streets.

The Filipino food spread at Patok by Rach in Inwood, Manhattan, New York City.
Some of the dishes at Patok. (Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)

Patok by Rach in Inwood 

It's definitely worth riding the A to the end of the line to visit Patok by Rach, where you can tuck into a paper boat of Rachel Saberon's sisig, which is the best version of that charred, chewy, minced pork Filipino classic I've ever had. And her crackling and fatty lechon is also pretty incredible. And the deep-fried lumpia rolls? Awesome as well. But in case you need another reason to go on this particular adventure, there's a whole ass (fake) tree in the dining room! Wild times up in Inwood.

Patok by Rach is located at 5057 Broadway, between 215th and 216th Streets.

Plates filled with sandwiches and cakes on a marble square table.
Salty Lunch Lady's spread. (Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)

Salty Lunch Lady Luncheonette in Ridgewood 

One of the most welcome and appealing restaurant trends over the past year or two has been the diner/luncheonette reboot, and one of the very best of those comes courtesy of Dria Atencio, or Salty Lunch Lady, on a comfortable, homey-feeling corner spot in Ridgewood. The menu is short and simple—a half-dozen or so sandwiches, and a rotating array of cakes and pastries—but it never gets boring because literally everything is delicious. She's throwing the occasional dinner party now too! There should be a place like this every few blocks everywhere in the city. 

Salty Lunch Lady's Little Luncheonette is located at 565 Woodward Avenue, at the corner of Menahan Street.

Bread and Butter Bakery's Frito pie. (Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)

Bread and Butter Bakery in Bed-Stuy 

"We're not your typical bakery," chef Autumn Moultrie, who runs Bread and Butter with her partner Brian Villanueva, told me a few months ago. And yeah, they are not. For one thing, as Moultrie put it, their menu is "kind of funky," and can include stuff like Frito pie, ube morning buns, and ice cream cakes. For another thing, even though there are always a few pastries and coffee available for walk-ins, demand is still far outpacing production, so pre-ordering remains the best way to secure a meal. Put in the effort though—this couple's creations are incredible. 

Bread and Butter is located at 53 Rockaway Avenue, between Marion and Sumpter Streets.

Sofun Kitchen's tofu and ground pork rice noodles, $18. (Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)

Sofun Kitchen in Long Island City  

These days, Long Island City is a seemingly neverending construction project of weird, gleaming luxury residential towers. The good news, though, is that since all of these neighborhood newbies need someplace to eat, there's been a bit of a restaurant boom, especially from some fun and first-rate noodle purveyors. My favorite of these new noodle shops this year was Sofun Kitchen, located on a bizarre, blessedly car-free block. It features some of the best bowls of loaded-up rice noodles in town, and don't miss out on the fried pumpkin balls either.    

Sofun Kitchen is located at 43-40 12th Street in Queens, at the corner of 43rd Road.

Mofongo Rinconcito with pernil, longaniza, fried queso, and dipping sauce, $18. (Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)

El Rinconcito in Alphabet City 

One more for the "triumphant returns" files: El Rinconcito, which the Rodriguez family has owned and operated in the neighborhood since the early 1990s, just opened in a spiffy new location on Avenue C. And if you ever need a reminder why you love this city, take a seat in here one evening and feast on Dominican delights and soak in the vibes as a steady stream of locals stop in for takeout from the steam table and chat with the staff. The mondongo, or tripe soup, is a must, but the menu is packed with bangers, from slabs of juicy pernil to garlicky mountains of mofongo to a monster Cuban sandwich.   

El Rinconcito is located at 73-75 Avenue C, between East Fifth and East Sixth Streets.

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