You’re new. You’re broke. Here’s how to live it up anyway. This begins with the notion that you’ll be living or working in Manhattan. It also begins with the notion that satisfaction derived from these meals won’t be in the belly, sometimes not on the tongue and rarely in ambiance—unless squalor is your bag. There are places in the city that prove Manhattan is still all right, as long you’re willing to maintain a routine; all you have to do is wake up.
8 a.m. Coffee. With the low intake of calories you’re going to be afforded, caffeine plays a huge role in this diet. You must maintain focus, and the best way to do this on the cheap is by canvasing your neighborhood’s bodegas. Try a few to find the cheapest; when I lived in Soho, the record was 50 cents (Ray’s Pizza on Prince Street). Remember, iced coffee will always be more expensive, and don’t fall for the flavored junk.
9 a.m. Breakfast. Given the fact you will probably be late because you just always seem to be late, breakfast is the most important meal of the day in terms of brevity. Do not ignore fruit carts. The produce is cheap, the vendors are fast and on cold days you know whatever you are buying will at least be crispy. Bananas pack the most punch for the coin, usually selling three for $1. And don’t underestimate the benefits of becoming a regular. At some point, dialogue can be totally eliminated as transactions become quicker and more rehearsed. This is also true of coffee-cart vendors. This option offers the optimum speed-to-cost ratio, especially if choosing the same cart every day—becoming a regular can easily get you hopping the queue to nab a schmeared bagel and coffee with sugar and cream, all for a measly $3. Fun fact: All the bagels and donuts in these carts are from the same bakery.
Noon. Lunch. There are usually two options here, and depending on where you are in the city, they are pretty much the same: Mamoun’s Falafel and 2 Bros. Pizza. Both have locations on the east and west sides of the island and both offer substantial stomach-stuffers for small sums: $1 slices of cheese from the Brothers, $2.50 for a hearty and fully stuffed falafel at Mamoun’s. While neither may be the healthiest given the oil I envision encrusting my arteries, that’s not really a concern for this guide, which has not been approved or even considered by a medical professional of any sort.
6 p.m. Dinner. This is the hardest of actually eating three distinct meals with $8 a Day, especially given you’ve already spent between $5 and $6, depending on unknown variables. I usually hop an orange train and head to Chinatown, where grabbing five pork-and-chive dumplings for $1 is a reality. The LES crowd crams into Vanessa’s, but the real secret is a few blocks further down Eldridge at Prosperity Dumpling. Sure, what it lacks in charm it makes up for in dirt, but the prices cannot be beat: 75-cent sesame pancakes, $2 for 10 vegetable dumplings, and some of the most off-putting, no-nonsense service in the city.
9 p.m. Beer. Isn’t this the reason you’ve been eating as if life is a board game all day long? Well, if that’s the case, you’ve won! Trade in your remaining green tickets for oat sodas and welcome to Pleasure Island! Since you’re already in the area, you could hit Welcome to the Johnson’s on Rivington for $2 PBRs or 169 Bar on East Broadway for $5 Beers-and-Shots. Just make sure to wake up again. You’ll get used to that ringing in your head.