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What to Look for in a Quality Cheap Eat

 

Eating well on the cheap. It’s not nearly as easy as just eating on the cheap. And we have 50 years of the fast-food industry to thank for that. Not that I’m opposed to the occasional bag o’ drive-thru, mind you, but the old maxim is still true: You get what you pay for. The truth is we all have our own budgets in mind, and not all $6 burgers are created equal. So let’s look for a moment, beyond the bucks, to what makes food bang at any price point — a happy medium sandwiched in between Kobe dry-aged beef and the dollar menu. Here are my four tips for finding a legit cheap eat:

Figure out if the food/restaurant is “people driven.”

This is kinda like “chef driven,” but it involves a little more on your part than pulling up a website or a Yelp review. Bottom line: Are the people who work at this restaurant proud about the food there? Do they eat there on their days off? Can they list the faves from the menu in, like, no time flat? For most of you, this means gathering intel from your waiter, but don’t ignore the person bussing your table either. And, no, this doesn’t apply to only table-service restaurants. I reviewed a national burger chain ($6 and up) and was floored by how both the ladies taking my order were so down for their employer and the burgers they smashed (that’s a hint). After all, don’t you want happy people — people who genuinely believe that they are worthy of your hard-earned buck — serving your food?

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Ali Khan’s 5 Favorite Cheap Burgers

#5: Schnipper’s Quality Kitchen

The Vitals
The burger: Schnipper Old Fashioned, a flat-top classic 5-ounce griddled patty topped with lettuce, tomato, pickle, house sauce, double cheese (American) and griddled onion
The bucks: $6.99
The coordinates: New York City

It’s not hard for many to simply call Schnipper’s a Shake Shack clone. Whatever you call it, you will be paying $7 for a near-perfect cheeseburger. There are a number of elements that make Schnipper’s such a damn successful burger, but none are more important than a uniformly well-browned exterior that comes from a masterful charring at the griddle. At Schnipper’s, the holy-burger-cold-topping-trinity of lettuce, tomato and pickle is alive and well, and the quality is up to the same standards as the beef. Many a Bang for Your Burger Buck has delivered standard-to-subpar lettuce, or a mealy tomato that was made passable thanks to a heavy dousing of burger sauce a la Thousand Island. No need to dunk the greens in pink stuff at Schnipper’s. Also, the more I revisit the pics, the more I am confounded by the magical act that was Schnipper’s melting the cheese underneath the burger. The sauce was applied with restraint, a technique to ensure that the all the flavors of the burger come out. These toppings are familiar territory, of course, but they were measured and layered with precision and were of quality. Many burgers have gotten away with less at this price point, so tip your cap. And come hungry, because that price includes a short wait. This is where Schnipper’s outdoes Shake Shack: It’s a more convenient experience. I’ll take a shorter line to a non-cloned burger any day.

Just as long as that clone isn’t trying to blow up the world or something.

Schnipper’s Quality Kitchen
570 Lexington Ave. (at 51st St.)
New York, NY 10022

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