"My fiancée, Chloe Nathan, works at Per Se, so she tells me about all their truffles and caviar," says chef Wesley Genovart, who doesn't use either at his inspired two-year-old Spanish tapas bar. In the tiny open kitchen, surrounded by a 16-seat counter, Genovart prepares outstanding dishes with less-expensive ingredients, like grilled lamb belly and mushroom-potato hash browns and the perennial favorite, tender squid stuffed with braised short ribs and chorizo. Genovart claims it's not hard to keep every dish under $16: "Squid, short ribs—all this stuff is cheap!" 239 E. 5th St.; 212-979-1012.
"We don't compete with the four-ounce places," says Stand manager Ray Pirkle, referring to New York's seemingly infinite number of hamburger joints. "Our burgers are seven ounces. They're a commitment." Served at communal tables in a space with 18-foot ceilings, the burgers are an extra-juicy mix of ground chuck, short ribs and brisket. Shakes are made with deluxe gelato and the beer list focuses on regional brews. 24 E. 12th St.; 212-488-5900.
Most successful inexpensive restaurants have a maximum number of tables in the dining room and a minimal amount of homemade food in the kitchen. But at Via Emilia, the tables are well-spaced and almost everything on the menu, which centers on the cuisine of Italy's Emilia-Romagna region, is freshly made. That includes nearly all of the pastas, like nicely thin strands of tagliatelle in a rustic meat sauce and oversize spinach-and-ricotta-stuffed tortelloni; neither costs more than $13. 47 E. 21st St.; 212-505-3072.