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Dining out doesn’t have to be a pricey proposition. At these restaurants, you can get a great meal for a real steal.
By Meredith Phillips


PHOTO BY ANDRE BARANOWSKI

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Frida’s Bakery & Cafe | Milton
26 Main St; 845.795.5550; www.fridasbakeryny.com

Every day, there is a $6.50 Funky Grilled Cheese of the Day to look forward to: how about American, Swiss, pepperjack, and cheddar in one sandwich, on their fresh-baked sourdough; or broccoli and caramelized onions with cheddar; or Buffalo chicken and blue cheese? Breakfast pastries, waffles, quiche, and a pulled-pork pot pie keep this place interesting, even if the funk doesn’t appeal to you on a particular day! 

 

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 Phoenicians of Albany at the Mediterranean Palace | Albany
71 Fuller Rd; 518.464.4444; www.phoeniciansofalbany.com

Call him ambitious, friendly, or a bit nutty, but no one disputes that Robert Rehal is making some fantastic Lebanese food — in a new 11,000 sq ft space, built to accommodate his formerly smaller restaurant, but also a hookah lounge, a jewelry counter, and other sundries. His vast new space still carries what he is famous for: hand-stuffed pies with minted yogurt, shawarma platters, and a cloud-like condiment common to the Levantine called “toum.” (First, find all of the garlic you can; crush and blend it with lemon, oil, and salt; and then turn it into an aggressive yet benevolent addition to pita, grilled meats, one’s spoon or finger.) Maghmour is the Levantine precursor to Greece’s moussaka. A family-run gem with great conversation, very reasonably priced food, and delicious desserts and coffee. 

 

 

Formosa Cuisine | Poughkeepsie
825 Main St; 845.471.1218; Find them on Facebook

Who invented iron eggs, bubble tea, and minced pork rice? The Taiwanese, of course — the people of what used to be called Formosa — and it’s all right here. Choose some recognizable stuff, like General Tso’s chicken (or get the vegetarian sort!) or small dumplings with gingered black vinegar in a wooden steamer ($6.95), which pay homage to Chinese soup dumplings. Scallion pancakes hide an egg pancake inside; thin rice noodles are available with pumpkin, while wide, flat ones come with a variety of fresh vegetables. Try squid with basil ($13.95), winter melon and vegetable ball soup ($9.95), or cumin lamb ($13.95). The world is rich and inexpensive and delicious at once, as evidenced by this nicely appointed, cheerful restaurant with lovely and polite servers.

 

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Empanadas Monumental | Haverstraw
43 Main St; 845.429.9300

This (very) small counter-service eatery is famous for empanadas under $2, in flavors you might not think up — like pepperoni — along with the typical spinach and cheese, chicken, shrimp, or beef. Green sauce is great, and look for other Dominican favorites, too:  Morir Soñando means die dreaming, and this drink is the creamsicle of the Dominican Republic. Quipes — Dominican kibbeh — are also highly rated. But the empanadas? Monumental. 

 

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La Cascada 2 | Kingston
608 Broadway; 845.481.4345 

Cheap and cheerful Salvadorean in a restored storefront with a charming tin ceiling. The food is plentiful and, as you will have come to expect if you’ve tried Salvadorean, well-balanced, delicious, and comforting. Pupusas are corn cakes with pork, beans, cheese, or other fillings griddled and accompanied by pink, sour pickled cabbage, a chili sauce for some heat, and crema: a thinned sour cream with a bit of bitterness to counter the crunchy sweet corn. Wood-grilled chicken comes with rice and beans or fries and salad for under $10. 

 

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The Tomato Cafe | Fishkill & Poughkeepsie
1123 Main St, Fishkill; 845.896.7779 
15 Collegeview Ave, Poughkeepsie; 845.473.7779 (closed Sundays); www.tomatocafeny.com

A lot of things make these restaurants great: outdoor seating, a large and varied menu with sandwiches, wraps, pizza (often cited as best in the area), calzones, and the famous tomato soup the cafe is named for. But half-portions are where you will find the real deal. Among your choices: salmon of the day or steak frites (steak, fries, and a side of spinach) for less than $15. And half a restaurant portion is the right amount of food for a whole meal! Just ask your doctor. 

 

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Gigi’s Trattoria | Rhinebeck 
6422 Montgomery St; 845.876.1007; www.gigihudsonvalley.com

Another pizza deal, but it’s not even called pizza. It’s Skizza, a mashup between a pizza and a skinny, non-leavened crust based on Etruscan flatbread. On Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays from 4:30-6:30 p.m., you can get one for $10, whereas typically it’d cost between $14 and $16. There’s a classic; a white pie with sausage, broccoli rabe, and chili flakes; and a combo including rosemary-preserved figs, pears, truffle oil, goat cheese, basically everything that’s delicious. These three share space with a special of the day. Along with $3 drafts and $5 for a healthy pour of a wine — typically $10–$14/glass elsewhere — it’s worth learning new vocabulary and possibly even taking a spelling quiz. 

 

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 Cilantro Tapas & Bar | New Windsor 
287 Windsor Hwy #100; 845.522.8020; www.cilantrotapasandbar.com

A moody, glammy bar with enviable-looking cocktails — mango-y drinks and mojitos — and a Latin fusion menu of small plates. Even finicky kids will devour the stunning little empanadas, a crock of melting pernil, sweet plantains, and nicely seasoned green beans (believe me, I know). If yours are even pickier, get them a little structure of rice with pigeon peas, and just try not to fork it all away for yourself. Ceviches, a modified Cuban sandwich, and flan are highly recommended. Only two entrees are on the far side of $20, and there are plenty of other ways to gratify you. Open Friday and Saturday til 2 a.m. 

 

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Ziatun | Beacon
244 Main St; 845.765.8268; www.ziatun.com

A sidewalk cafe with a stunner of a mountain view in warm weather is a cozy cloistered setting when it’s chilly out. Seekers of Middle Eastern cuisine can revel in hot, lemony grape leaves; the classic lentils, basmati rice, and onion dish called mujudarra with ground sumac and a side of cucumber tomato salad; a remarkably nice lamb wrap with pickled radishes; or fries dusted with za’atar — the traditional Middle Eastern spice mix. Ziatun’s version includes thyme, oregano, sesame, and sumac. A rich and delightful experience, and everything on the menu is sub-$20. 

 

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Red Pepper Diner | Wappingers Falls 
1458 Rte. 9D; 845.440.0020; Find them on Facebook


PHOTO BY KEN GABRIELSEN

The intention of the owners was to serve “American” food, but demand for the owner’s native cuisine means that hamburgers and pasta are relegated to the back of the menu. Preparing, serving, and educating about Sri Lankan cuisine — which is light, clean, delicious, and expertly spiced, or “deviled” as it is called — is now the mission of this modest-looking, family-run restaurant. Foodstuffs share names with Indian cuisine — curry, rice, sambal — but differences emerge. Come learn more about “string hoppers,” which are “little steamed mats of rice vermicelli eaten with curry,” whereas unmodified hoppers are large, dramatic, rice-flour bowls, sometimes cooked with an egg inside. Try the coconut and onion sambals. On Sundays, get in on the Hudson Valley’s very first Sri Lankan brunch buffet from 10 a.m.–2 p.m. Entrees range from about $10 to about $15. 

 

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Main Street Bistro | New Paltz
59 Main St; 845.255.7766; www.mainstreetbistro.com


PHOTO BY JENNIFER MAY

Everything on the menu is under $20, but it’s the breakfast menu that has us asking, “What year is it?” This journalist remembers a hearty breakfast special in the 1980s for $2 — but New Paltz’s Main Street Bistro has it beat. Two eggs any style, home fries, and toast for $1.95, right here in 2017. It’s great for SUNY students — who can eat on a budget or, for an upsell, sub tofu for the eggs and gluten-free bread. Or, they can live life simply, like in 1993 when this special came to life, and revel in real eggs and gluten.             

 

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Taco Dive Bar | Peekskill
55 Hudson Ave; 914.788.TACO; www.tacodivebar.com

This riverside hangout has a low price and casual presentation with tacos and hot sauce so good that ex-Texans no longer have to long for Texas. Standout dishes include the fried shrimp taco ($5.50) and smoked pork belly taco ($5.25). If you’re feeling virtuous, forgo the delicious margaritas and order mahi-mahi over local greens with a hibiscus-infused organic cider vinaigrette. And if you’re feeling more like a kid, eat bean dip on chip after chip and glug it all down with apple juice. A view of Peekskill’s extraordinary waterfront, the burnished sunset, and the atmospheric (if deafening) blast of the trains going by make the evening a special treat. 

 

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Yum Yum Noodle Bar | Kingston, Woodstock, and Red Hook
275 Fair St, Kingston; 845.338.1400;
4 Rock City Rd, Woodstock; 845.679.7992;
7496 S Broadway, Red Hook; 
www.yumyumnoodlebar.com


PHOTO BY JENNIFER MAY

They have a variety of small plates, entrees, and specials ranging from $8–$16. Yum Yum’s signature noodle bowls include a protein (braised pork, pork belly, chicken, salmon, or tofu), choice of ramen or udon noodles, assorted vegetables, choice of homemade broth, and a soft-cooked egg, all for $13.50. The most popular noodle bowl here is ramen in a meaty pork and chicken broth with pork as the protein, dressed with scallion, seaweed, mushrooms, and egg (as they all are). Picked by readers as the best Asian restaurant for the past three consecutive years.

 

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Matchbox Café | Rhinebeck
6242 Route 9; 845.876.3911; www.thematchboxcafe.com

This counter-service farm-to-table place — in a stone WPA building on the outskirts of the village — exudes charm, boasts a killer burger, and urges customers to “stay nice.” It’s easy to stay nice, one supposes, when you’ve just been served the best chicken salad you’ve ever had. The food may be on paper plates, but touches like great service and homemade ice cream sandwiches mitigate that. A “farmburger,” made from local spinach, zucchini, potato, and onion, helps vegetarians feel included. Everything is under $20. 

 

— 15 —

Mama’s Boy Pizza | Tannersville 
 6062 Main St; 518.589.5199; www.mamasboycatskills.com

Okay, yes, almost every pizza joint is cheap eats, but this is more “gourmet pizza” than “pizza joint.” Still, they have a great deal: For $8.50, you can eat as many slices as you like. But then you are faced with a philosophical question, one involving free will: How many slices would you like to eat? Heavy stuff to ponder over lunch, which includes a side salad. The deal at the place with the self-proclaimed “best pizza on the mountaintop” is available 11:30 a.m.–2 p.m. on weekdays, so long as they are not holidays. And toppings at Mama’s Boy are no joke — truffle oil or a drizzle of honey, anyone? 

 

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 Famous Lunch | Troy 
111 Congress St; 518.272.9481

Formerly known as Quick Lunch, Famous Lunch became world-famous in 1958 when a 20-year-old Marine stationed in Moscow had the hot dogs flown in from Troy for his birthday. The family-run business is still famous for three- or four-inch hot dogs, $.60 apiece, dressed with onions, mustard, and a signature meat-based condiment, akin to chili, called “Zippy Sauce.” Have it on fries! Have it on your burger! Have it on an egg sandwich! In fact, if you have all of that, plus five hot dogs, it only adds up to $8.65. Even if you wrap it up with rice pudding (Zippy Sauce not recommended), you can keep your meal under $10.

 

— 17 —

 Salt & Pepper the Kitchen | Monticello
455 Broadway; 845.791.7242; www.saltandpepperthekitchen.com

Just because you might not associate New York-style deli sandwiches with Korean home-cooking doesn’t mean that it’s not a thing — or at least it is in Monticello. At Salt & Pepper the Kitchen, the motto is serve and love your neighbor the best way that you can, and sometimes this includes having a “Sandwich Italiano”($6.50-$8.99) alongside spicy Korean seafood noodle soup ($11.99). Korean pork ribs, steamed cod, kimchi and tofu stew, and yes, eggplant rollatini round out the menu of this small, casual, family-owned favorite with a brisk takeout business. But don’t go on a weekend: They are closed! Saturday is for shopping, Sunday is for rest. 

 

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TFS (The Filling Station) | West Haverstraw & Palisades
45 South Route 9W, West Haverstraw; 845.786.9000; www.tfsburgerworks.com 

“The meat and potatoes of burgers and fries . . .” This elemental claim of TFS rings true for their organic, grass-fed, hormone-free burgers from a brisket, short rib, and hangar steak blend. Pair one with thin, double-cooked fries and wash it down with a delicious Coke in a glass bottle, boasting real sugar, none of that high fructose corn syrup stuff. Take a buck off at lunch when you buy a burger, fries, and a drink. TFS’s 40-Day Dry Aged Steak Burger Slider recently landed top honors at our own Burger & Beer Bash. Hot dogs are made from grass-fed beef, and according to the vegans in the crowd, the veggie burger, with nuts and veg, is also a strong contender. Casual, clean-as-a-whistle, simple but not-that-fast-because-they-make-it-from-scratch food.

 


Click here for 7 special occasion restaurants that are worth the splurge.