Smack in the middle of downtown Manhattan, Union Square has more than its share of office workers — and more than its share of pricey lunches. Nonetheless, there are much more affordable options in the area, too. Here are five lunches for $5 in Union Square.
The falafel at this international chain is excellent, and you can pick up a small sandwich, made with warm, fluffy house pita, for less than $5. The real plus? The extensive salad bar included in the price of every item, so you can stuff your sandwich full of all the pickled carrots and green olives and tahini sauce you want. 38 Union Square East, 212-260-1988, maozusa.com
One of the city’s classic slice shops, Joe’s Pizza has stood proudly at the corner of Carmine and Bleecker since 1975 — but only recently opened a second branch on 14th Street, within a quick stroll of Union Square. The slices are every bit as good, the interior just as cheery (and a lot more spacious). 150 E. 14th St., 212-388-9474, joespizzanyc.com
Vanessa’s Dumpling House
Continue past Joe’s Pizza, cross just over Third Avenue, and you’ll find Vanessa’s — a 14th Street branch of the Eldridge Street institution, a Chinatown favorite for decades. Get a plate of pork and chive dumplings for just $1.59; try the flaky sesame pancake sandwiches, such as the roast pork, for $2.99; or shrimp wonton soup for just $2.49. Mix and match whatever meal you like — it can be hard to crack $5 here. 220 E. 14th St., 212-529-1328, vanessas.com
Sure, the falafel is tasty (though we slightly prefer Maoz, just across Union Square), but Rainbow’s other vegetarian sandwiches, all under $5, are even more compelling — the fried cauliflower will teach you how improbably filling (and delicious) that vegetable can be, and a pita stuffed full of fried eggplant, salad, tahini and hot sauce is meat-free but deliciously indulgent. Try the savory pies, too, from spinach-feta to ground beef kebbeh. 26 E. 17th St., 212-691-8641
Eisenberg’s Sandwich Shop
Head up Fifth Avenue for this lunch counter institution, where plenty of sandwiches, both old-school and a little more novel — cream cheese and chopped olive? peanut butter and bacon? — still clock in under $5. It’s worth the price of a grilled cheese just to hang out here and soak up the ambiance, imagining the lunch workers of 1929 eating their lunch at the same spot. (We bet all their lunches were under $5, too.) 174 Fifth Ave., 212-675-5096, eisenbergsnyc.com