-- You won't have much trouble finding a chic restaurant, hotel or boutique in New York City. What's much more difficult is finding one that won't drain your wallet. However, there's no need to put off a trip to the fashionable haunts of the Big Apple; we'll show you how to scout out the hidden values in this pricey town.
That said, New York will never be "cheap" – what locals consider inexpensive in New York may be extravagant in other parts of the country. For the purposes of this article, "cheap" is defined as $60 and under for a meal for two people and $300 and under (before taxes) per night for a hotel room. The amount you spend shopping is up to you, but we've found some places where you'll get good value and style for your money.
Restaurants: Fashionable yet frugal
None of the places below take reservations, nor do most have "proper" seating – you'll likely find yourself sitting on stools at a bar or narrow table, or sharing a space with others. But the cool, casual vibe is all part of the fun, and if you do have to wait for a seat, the food more than makes up for it.
El Quinto Pino With only 26 stools and no real tables, Chelsea's tiny tapas bar El Quinto Pino (401 W. 24th St.; 212-206-6900) is not the best place to visit with a large group. But if you're with a small party and are in the mood for sharing inventive Spanish-influenced small plates, you can't do much better. The short, smart menu averages about $7 per dish, including garbanzo stew with spinach ($6), eggplant with honey ($7.50) and garlicky shrimp ($9). The most expensive dish, at $15, is the one that's been winning the most raves, including "sandwich of the year" by The New York Times and "best uni" by New York Magazine– the amazingly addictive uni panini, sea-urchin roe spread on a buttered baguette and served in a wax-paper bag. A frozen brandy-spiked horchata or a glass of Spanish wine or sherry rounds out the meal in true Spanish style.
GottinoA food-focused wine bar (or "gastroteca," as former Morandi chef Jody Williams calls it), Gottino (52 Greenwich Ave.; 212-633-2590) features a sleek marble bar up front and a few tiny tables in the back. Enjoy seasonally focused small plates including cheeses, crostini, vegetables, fish and meats for easy-on-the-wallet prices ranging from $5 to $14. Especially addictive is the olive oil-whipped salt cod, served with freshly toasted bread, and the seasonal crostini, which may include toppings such as walnut pesto or fava beans and ricotta cheese. Add a selection from Gottino's all-Italian wine list, which ranges from about $9 to $18 a glass, and you have yourself a reasonably priced meal.
Kampuchea Noodle Bar New York City's only Cambodian street food restaurant, Kampuchea (78 Rivington St.; 212-529-3901), offers classic dishes such as the house-made pork pate and headcheese terrine num pang, or Cambodian sandwich. But due to its location on the hipster-heavy Lower East Side, Kampuchea has expanded its num pang choices to include coconut tiger shrimp, Berkshire pork meatballs and even grilled tofu in a sweet ginger-scallion soy sauce, each ranging in price from $10 to $15, with a tasting of three for $17. The rest of Kampuchea's menu of small plates, crepes, salads and soups, ranging from $8 to $17, is meant to be shared, easy to do at the elegant communal tables. The adventurous might opt for the seared sweetbread in a shiitake mushroom broth ($12), while those with a taste for seafood may lean toward the prawn katiev, flat rice sticks in a chicken broth with sweetwater prawns, PEI mussels and bell peppers ($17).
La Esquina Whether you stop in for a quick bite at the cramped taqueria, open till 5 a.m. every night, or opt for a seat at the more spacious café next door, La Esquina (114 Kenmare St.; 646-613-7100) has some of the tastiest – and cheapest – Mexican food in downtown Manhattan, along with first-class people-watching, due to its prime location on the edges of trendy Soho and Nolita. Tacos with a twist cost a budget-friendly $3 each for the papa, nopales y chorizo (chorizo sausage, potatoes, cactus and salsa verde) or the acelgas (spinach, giant beans, pico de gallo and salsa verde). Or opt for tortas, traditional Mexican street sandwiches served on baguettes ($7 to $8.50), or quesadillas ($5 for the basic to $7 for Mexican truffles, roasted corn and mushrooms). Wash it all down with a Mexican soda ($2.50) or an aqua de horchata, made with organic rice and cinnamon ($3).
TerroirWine bars have been popping up across the city in the past couple of years. However, some are more focused on the wine at the expense of the food. Not so at Terroir (413 E. 12th St.; 646-602-1300), a cozy 24-seat East Village venue opened in March 2008 by the partners at modern Italian joints Hearth (just down the street) and Insieme, rated one of the 10 best new restaurants of 2007 by The New York Times. People-watch at the communal table or from seats at the bar as you sip wines from around the world (that "express clearly and profoundly a sense of place," according to Terroir's manifesto), and enjoy high-concept but low-priced dishes, starting at $5 for bar snacks such as roasted beets with orange or white anchovies and pickled onions (with a "recession special" of six bar snacks for $24). The prices top out at $19 for larger plates like veal-ricotta mushrooms. A few items from the menu plus a glass or two of wine make for a satisfying, stylish and relatively inexpensive night on the town.
Hotels: High style for low(er) prices
As of May 2008, the average hotel room in New York City cost $350, an increase of $50 from 2007, according to NYC & Company, the official marketing and tourism organization for New York City. Yet it is possible to find a classy room for under $300 without opting for a cookie-cutter chain.
Cosmopolitan Hotel Though the rooms at the Cosmopolitan (95 West Broadway; 212-566-1900 or 888-895-9400) are on the small side, the location in quiet, cobblestone-lined Tribeca is a charmer. All 150 rooms in this historic hotel, in business since 1851, come with private bath, work desks, color TV and free wireless Internet access. Rates range from $185 to $300 for rooms with double or queen beds.
Gershwin Hotel If you're looking for a funky place where the price is right, check out the Gershwin (7 E. 27th St.; 212-545-8000). Though the hotel can be a little rough around the edges, it has charm and old New York style; several artists in residence live full-time on the premises. Rooms range from $109 to $135 for the Essential, with a double bed; $119 to $245 for Le Standard, which is slightly larger; and $129 to $285 for the Superior, which includes a reading area. Plus it's only a few blocks from Madison Square Park, home to the popular Shake Shack, open March through October.
Jane Hotel Rooms for $99 a night in downtown's chic West Village neighborhood may sound too good to be true. But that's what hoteliers Sean MacPherson and Eric Goode of Manhattan's trendy Bowery and Maritime Hotels are offering this fall at their recently opened Jane Hotel (113 Jane St.; 212-924-6700). Though you won't be sacrificing style by staying here, you will sacrifice space – the rooms, which resemble "luxury train cabins," are only 50 square feet and share bathrooms down the hall. They do, however, include free high-speed Internet access and flat-screen TVs, plus a prime location next to Hudson River Park.
The Marcel at Gramercy The Marcel (201 E. 21st St.; 212-696-3800) reopened earlier this year after renovations. This centrally located hotel includes 135 guestrooms, all offering Frette linens and flat-screen TVs, plus nice touches like champagne on arrival and wine and cheese in the evenings. Standard room rates start at $297 if you book through Amsterdam Hospitality's website at nychotels.com. The hotel also houses Bar Milano, a Northern Italian restaurant from the team behind popular Manhattan eateries 'ino and 'inoteca.
The Pod Hotel Formerly the Pickwick Arms hotel, The Pod (230 E. 51st St.; 800-742-5945) has been thoroughly reinvented as a hip place to stay in east Midtown, within easy walking distance of Rockefeller Center, Radio City Music Hall and Times Square. The stylish rooms, called "pods," include iPod docking stations (of course), free WiFi access and LCD TVs, and the hotel features a lounge and roof deck with panoramic city views. Single pods with shared bath start at $159 a night, bunk pods with bunked twin beds (each with its own TV) and shared bath at $169, and double or queen pods with private bath at $289. One handy feature – if you're sharing a bathroom, an in-room display indicates whether or not the bathroom down the hall is occupied.
Shopping: Trends for less
Tiffany, Bergdorf, Barneys – New York is home to some of the most fashionable and expensive brands in the world. But it's not impossible to shop without breaking the bank. Besides the frequent sample sales, where major designers offer huge discounts on last season's merchandise, and the twice-annual Barneys Warehouse Sale, there are stores where you can find good deals on stylish pieces the whole year round.
CB2The national Crate and Barrel chain has borne CB2 (451 Broadway; 212-219-1454), a more urban version of the ubiquitous housewares store. Find cool and affordable sofas, chairs, desks and beds, as well as lighting, rugs, pillows and more to accessorize the place where you live.
Century 21 The granddaddy of all New York high-fashion discount stores, Century 21 (22 Cortlandt St.; 212-227-9092) – whose slogan is "fashion worth fighting for" – truly does require battling the crowds through four floors of clothes, shoes and accessories to find the best deals. If at all possible, avoid coming on a weekend, when you'll need to stand in line to try on anything in the communal fitting rooms.
Housing Works Thrift Shops Not only can you find some fashionable pieces of clothing at the Housing Works Thrift Shops (142 W. 17th St; 212-366-0820), but you're also doing good as you shop: The money generated through the sale of all items goes toward helping homeless and low-income New Yorkers living with HIV and AIDS. Stock changes frequently, so check back often for the best deals. (Other locations: 122 Montague St.; 718-237-0521; 245 W. 10th St.; 212-352-1618; 157 E. 23rd St.; 212-529-5955; 202 E. 77th St.; 212-772-8461; 306 Columbus Ave.; 212-579-7566; 1730 2nd Ave.; 212-722-8306.)
MUJI The Japanese brand MUJI (455 Broadway; 212-334-2002) opened its first U.S. store last year in Soho and its flagship U.S. location in Times Square in Spring 2008. The MUJI philosophy is to create "brand-less" products of simple design and high quality at reasonable prices. Check out their basic yet timeless notebooks, storage containers, umbrellas, clothing, soap dispensers and other practical items you'll use every day. (Other location: 620 8th Ave.; 212-382-2300.)
Tools for Living The high-end modern furniture store Design Within Reach is premiering a less expensive offshoot this fall, Tools for Living (142 Wooster St.; 212-471-0280), a 3,500-square-foot store in Soho. It will feature housewares such as flatware, dishes, bedding and linens, all designed by top-notch craftspeople from around the world.
TopshopThe highly anticipated opening of the first U.S. branch of on-trend U.K. chain Topshop (478 Broadway) has been pushed back till November 2008. But cool, cost-conscious New Yorkers are already planning their buying strategy for the 40,000-square-foot Soho flagship, which will include the clothing line designed by long-time Topshop wearer Kate Moss. The store will also include "personal stylists" for women as well as "style advisers" to help men browse through the trendy Topman brand.
Liz Humphreys is the author of USATODAY.com's New York City Guide.