Dining on a Shoe String in New York City and Beyond: Finding reasonable meals and snacks for around $10.00 and under

For a quick and reasonable meals for under $10.00 in that won’t ‘break the bank’ please follow ‘DiningonaShoeStringinNYC@Wordpress.com.

Hello everyone!

My name is Justin Watrel and I created ‘Dining on a Shoe String in New York City’ (DiningonShoeStringinNYC.wordpress.com) as an extension to the blogs: ‘MywalkinManhattan’ (MywalkinManhattan.com) along with ‘VisitingaMuseum’ (VisitingaMuseum.com) and “LittleShoponMainStreet” (“LittleShoponMainStreet@Wordpress.com), in search of a delicious meal for $10.00 and under. It is difficult in an area as expensive as Metropolitan New York but many restaurant owners are paving the way with small, innovative menus at a fair price.


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Lung Moon Bakery in Chinatown, NY

I created this blog when I discovered all these wonderful small restaurants, bodegas and bakeries that were fantastic both in that the quality of their food and the prices that they cost. I also looked at atmosphere and cleanliness of the establishment. Most cost under $10.00 (USA) for their main food items and provide small places to sit down and eat.

Here and there  I found these eating establishments tucked in corners of the City, hiding on side streets or across from the schools where they were populated by students looking for a quick bite. I also found them near public housing or near the hotels where people were looking for a quick meal or a reasonable snack.

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Mr. Moe’s Deli in Harlem

The signs I looked for where they accepted EBT (Electric Benefits Transfer) cards or where I saw the doormen, construction workers and cabbies eating. They always find the most reasonable places to eat and this is a group that will not tolerate food that doesn’t taste good. They would be too vocal about it (As I found on several trips to the same establishment where people would be talking about why they keep coming back and how bad the local competition was around the corner).

With everyone on a budget, I thought this would cater nicely to the traveler or NYC resident, who is looking to save some money while enjoying a quick meal or a snack when in New York City. I have extended the blog to outside New York City to all the surrounding places I have traveled on my blog, “MywalkinManhattan.com”. So you will see places in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania and Delaware now.


Blue Sky Deli

Blue Sky Grocery in East Harlem, NY “Home of the Chopped Cheese”

Please share with me on the blog posts your insights on these establishments and let me know your recommendations. Please join me on the travels as I walk all the streets and avenues of Manhattan in my quest to walk every street of the Island of Manhattan in ‘MywalkinManhattan.com’. In many cases, I have cross-referenced these reviews to my TripAdvisor reviews so you can get other people’s opinions as well.


Cheesy Pizza

Cheesy Pizza on Upper Broadway in the Upper Upper West Side


I hope you get a chance to travel to some of these locations and try these delicious and reasonable restaurants.

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Dining at Barcelona’s Restaurant & Bar in Garfield, NJ

Barcelona’s Restaurant & Bar 38 Harrison Avenue Garfield, NJ 07026

Barcelona’s is perfect for a traditional Italian-American cooking.

Barcelona’s Restaurant & Bar

38 Harrison Avenue

Garfield, NJ 07026

(973) 778-4930



Open: Sunday-Saturday 11:00am-11:00pm

My review on TripAdvisor:


*Note: There is no delivery and no Credit Cards-CashOnly


There is not a bad thing to say about Barcelona’s Restaurant and Bar. It is classic North Jersey restaurant that has not changed over time. I once took my mother there for dinner and she said that it not changed since she was a teenager. This type of time warp has not affected the food or the prices or the service. All are still terrific.

The waiters here are such characters. It is so casual that you feel like you have known them for years. Most of the staff has been there for many years and they always treat you nicely.

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The decor of Barcelona’s  is very casual

What we all come for is the food which is “red-sauce Italian American” with a emphasis on pizza and pastas. The food here is not fancy or gourmet but traditional ‘stick to your ribs’ cuisine. There is a nice selection of appetizers, pasta dishes, a selection of meat dishes and salads. What Barcelona’s is best know for is their pizza.

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The sauce on their pizza is amazing

Their pizzas are thin crusted and well cooked both on the top and on the bottom. Their large cheese pizza is loaded with their delicious red sauce which is well-spiced and has a hint of garlic and topped with lots of mozzarella ($9.50). The sausage pizza is topped with lots of chopped sweet Italian sausage giving it a spicy consistency ($11.00).

The pasta dishes are rather large in portion and loaded with their red sauce which is a nice combination of tomato sauce, garlic and onions and fresh herbs.

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You get a nice sized portion of spaghetti

The pastas are always perfectly cooked and topped with their delicious red sauce and served with hot fresh Italian bread. Their spaghetti ($7.00) is a nice sized portion and is even better with a side of their homemade meatballs or sausage ($8.50). Their meatballs are a nice combination of ground meats with a nice hint of garlic.

Most of the pasta dishes are priced between $7.00-$10.00 and are filled with fresh ricotta, mozzarella and Parmesan cheese. The lasagnas. stuffed shells and ravioli are all well-cooked and flavorful. All the dishes are accompanied by their fresh Italian bread.

Their seafood I have found to always be fresh. The appetizer of sweet mussels in their red sauce is really good and are nicely cooked ($8.50).


The mussels are a meal to themselves with all the delicious red sauce and some hot Italian bread.

A family can eat here are reasonably priced for under $20.00 and have a nice meal with wonderful ‘Jersey service’ by a family who has been running the restaurant since 1933. Sometimes things don’t change for a reason.

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Barcelona’s prices are extremely fair.

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Service with a smile at Barcelona’s.

Esmeraldo Bakery 538 West 181st Street New York, NY 10033

Esmeraldo Bakery has a wonderful selection of baked products both desserts and hot items as well.

Esmeraldo Bakery

538 West 181st Street

New York, NY  10033

(212) 543-2250

Open: Sunday-Saturday 6:00am-8:00pm


My review on TripAdvisor:



Esmeraldo Bakery is one of my ‘go-to’ spots when I am up in Washington Heights in Upper Manhattan. This Dominican bakery is very popular in the neighborhood and is in the middle of the busy shopping district between Broadway and Audubon Avenue along the 181st Street corridor. It has the nicest selection of baked goods and hot and cold snacks to choose from. The one nice thing I love about the bakery is that almost everything is a dollar or around that.

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The cases are full of delicious doughnuts, turnovers and pastries

I have been the bakery on many occasions and have had a chance to ‘munch’ through a lot of the pastries. The Chocolate and Vanilla topped doughnuts ($1.00) are light, fluffy and have a nice chewy consistency.  Their Sugar Twist doughnuts ($1.00) are fluffy and rolled in lots of cinnamon sugar.

On a recent visit, I tried on of the their apple turnovers ($1.00) which was dredged in a honey topping and loaded with a sweet apple filling. When eating them you will need to wipe your hands a lot but it is worth it. On the same trip I tried one of their powder sugar topped cream horn ($1.00), which was loaded inside with a sweet cream and with every bite the horn came apart in my mouth.

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The hot snacks and cakes are plentiful in the cases

There is also a selection of hot snacks as well. Their Cubanitos, which are a meat filled type of pie are excellent ($1.25). They are filled with a spicy ground meat filling that will warm you up on a cold day. Another delicious snack is their Relentos, ($1.25), which are a type of potato croquette that are filled with ground meat and are another snack that warms the body on a cool day.

There are also a variety of fruit filled turnovers, small pies and cakes, slices of pound cake and an assortment of cookies to choose from.

Be prepared though to speak some broken Spanish if you do not know the language fluently. Most of the ladies working behind the counter’s native tongue is Spanish but they are extremely nice and will guide you along with your selection.

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After a trip into Esmeraldo Bakery, take some time to walk around the 181st Street shopping corridor. There are a lot of great shops and some excellent Dominican restaurants in the neighborhood. It was especially beautiful during the Christmas holiday season.


The Hot Grill 669 Lexington Avenue Clifton, NJ 07011

For reasonable local dining where you meet the everyday people of Clifton, NJ The Hot Grill is your best bet.

The Hot Grill

669 Lexington Avenue

Clifton, NJ  07011

(973) 772-6000


Open: Sunday-Thursday 9:00am-1:00am/9:00am-2:00am

My review on TripAdvisor:



I have visited The Hot Grill a few times recently having been introduced to the restaurant by my aunt. It is a real homey and friendly restaurant that serves the community well. It is a real gathering place for locals. I see a lot of police and firefighters eating here as well as locals catching up on local gossip.

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Their deep fried hot dogs have a nice snap to them

The food is really good and extremely reasonable. You can have a nice meal here for under $10.00 and every thing is cooked to order for you. The restaurant has an extensive menu both at breakfast and at lunch with breakfast sandwiches and eggs, French Toast and pancakes on the menu at breakfast and deep fried hot dogs, grilled hamburgers  and other sandwiches at lunch. Very few prices are over $5.00.

The first time I ate here with my aunt, we had the deep fried hot dogs and well done French Fries and everything was delicious. The hot dogs are deep fried for a few minutes in oil which give them a crinkled appearance and a nice snap to them. A plain hot dog is $2.75 and you can get it ‘all the way’ which are extra items on the hot dogs that include mustard, chopped onion, and chili sauce at no additional charge. The second time I ate here I had a hot dog, cheeseburger and French Fries with a small Pepsi ($11.00).

Their French Fries are frozen but still have a nice crisp consistency to them and are perfectly cooked. French fries plain are $2.75 but with either gravy or chili sauce are $3.10 and all the way are $3.35. It is a nice size portion and getting them with a topping many customers rave about. The guy next to me ordered them with chili.


The hot dogs and burger here are quite good

The Cheeseburger ($2.90) was a frozen patty but still good and well cooked. I kept it plain but it was a nice accompaniment with the hot dog and fries that I ordered.

Their soft serve ice cream on a cone ($3.00) is a nice way to end the meal. It is rich and creamy and swirled to the top of the waffle cone. They also have milkshakes ($3.70) and Root Beer Floats ($3.70).

The service is friendly and very welcoming and they get the orders out quickly to you. So if you are looking for a place that the locals eat that is reasonable and freshly cooked, The Hot Grill will be for you.

The restaurant has been in existence since 1961 and the original owners are still involved in running the restaurant. This is why there is care in the quality.

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The iconic Hot Grill sign off Route 46 East in Clifton, NJ.

Curioni’s Pizza 80 Liberty Street Lodi, NJ 07644

Curioni’s Pizza is the perfect local place to learn town gossip and eat with the locals.

Curioni’s Pizza

80 Liberty Street

Lodi, NJ  07644


(973) 473-7934

Open: Sunday Closed/Monday-Thursday 6:00am-4:00pm/Friday 6:00am-7:00pm/Saturday 7:00am-6:00pm

My review on TripAdvisor:



Eating at Curioni’s Pizza is a real local experience. The fun part about eating at this family run business is that if you want to meet the residents of Lodi, NJ, just sit at one of the ten stools inside the pizzeria and you will know all the town gossip. The customers come up and talk to owner, Walter Curioni Jr., while he is making his pies and his son, Ryan, who is usually running around behind him popping in pizzas into the pizza oven and preparing sandwiches. It is a real family atmosphere here as people come in to talk to one another and air their problems and concerns in the town and in their lives.

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The business was opened by Mr. Curioni’s grandparents in 1923 as a grocery store that catered to the local growing Italian-American population. Mr. Curioni said in an article that when his father took over the business, he felt there would not be enough money in groceries so he put in a pizza oven and the rest is history. The pizzeria almost closed a few years ago as Mr. Curioni wanted to cut back in his hours but lucky for the community, he adjusted the restaurant hours and now closes early during the week. Now into the fourth generation, his son Ryan, cooks alongside with him.

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Walter Curioni Jr. minding the business

On the many occasions that I have eaten there, the food is wonderful, very flavorful and well-spiced and the portion sizes are very generous for a fair price. Everything I have ever been served here has come out sizzling hot.

The pizza is delicious and a slice here ($1.75) is larger than your average slice. It can be cut into two for light eaters. Their pizza sauce is spiced very nicely with hints of oregano, basil and garlic. There is a nice zip to it. It is loaded with cheese and has a nice gooey consistency to it.

Curioni's Pizza

The pizza slices at Curioni’s are very generous

The regular pizzas are very fairly priced with a twelve slice Sicilian at $13.00 and a 24 slice Sicilian at $22.00 with an extra $1.50 each for toppings. A regular round pie is $10.00.

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The large cheese pizza at Curioni’s Pizza

The ravioli can be ordered with either meat or cheese and served with their delicious sauce. A small portion is $4.50 and a large is $8.00. These pillowy little delights are perfectly cooked and come steaming to the counter with a side of fresh crusty bread, perfect for dipping.

I recently had the meatball hero and for a small hero at $5.50 (the large is $8.00) it was larger than the average sandwich. Served on a fresh hoagie roll that had just arrived from a bakery in Garfield, NJ, six homemade pork and beef meatballs were served with a generous portion of mozzarella cheese on the bottom and a large ladle of sauce on the top that oozed out for dipping the sandwich. It was like heaven in every bite. You could taste the rosemary and basil in the meatballs on top of the flavor of the sauce.

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The meatball sandwich is delicious

The service here is very personal and friendly as Walter and his wife and their son talk to the guests in between customer orders, cooking the food and serving guests at the counter about everything from local politics and how the sports teams are doing to family matters and asking about parents and grandparents. If you want a “Cheers” type of experience in a local restaurant, then stop into Curioni’s for a slice of Lodi, NJ.

Its a real Jersey experience!

The Woo Hoo 211 South Bay Avenue Beach Haven, NJ 08008

The Woo Hoo is once of those classic Jersey Shore restaurants for burgers, fries and malteds.

The Woo Hoo

211 South Bay Avenue

Beach Haven, NJ  08008

(609) 492-5433



Open: Sunday-Saturday 11:00am-12:00am (Please check their website for changes in winter hours)

My review on TripAdvisor:



If there is any excuse to visit the Jersey shore at any time of the year, the Woo Hoo is it. I came across this little beach drive in restaurant when visiting Beach Haven, New Jersey and it is the classic Jersey beach restaurant with good food, great prices and friendly service. It is the perfect place for a meal after a long day at the beach or on rainy night when you want to get out of the house.

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The Woo Hoo in Beach Haven, NJ

There is no inside dining and there are lots of picnic tables around the restaurant to dine. There is a covering in case of bad weather. You order from the extensive menu of burgers, chicken sandwiches and nuggets and freshly made French Fries and onion rings. When I was talking with the guy who took my order, he said that the owner only likes to use the best quality in everything he serves. Things he would eat himself when he goes out to dine. I thought that was a good philosophy and it shows in the quality of the food.

Another item the restaurant is known for is its homemade ice cream that is made right on premises. There are about twenty-five flavors to choose from and I can see by the wondering eyes on the menu it can be a tough decision for most customers. ($3.95 for one scoop/$4.95 for two scoops/$5.95 for three scoops). There is a selection of sundaes, floats and milk shakes to choose from on the menu.


The Woo Hoo’s Ice Cream menu

I settled on a Traditional Burger ($7.95), which is two nice sized hamburger patties with mayo, lettuce and tomatoes and small French fries and a Coke ($3.00 more from the burger cost for a combination meal). There are different burgers with a selection of toppings for an additional price including crab cakes and seafood and there is a veggie burger as well.

The burgers are rich and juicy and you can really taste the quality of the beef in every bite. The vegetable toppings are Jersey fresh and very good quality. You could tell they were good Jersey tomatoes on top by their sweetness. The French Fries are freshly cut every day and deep fried to perfection. With a little sea salt, you can really taste the fresh potatoes ($4.45). The burgers run in various sizes and toppings from $7.95-$18.95 for the Surf & Turf burger.

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The burgers here are amazing!

I was so impressed by the food that after a long walk around the downtown that afternoon, I came back again for the homemade ice cream. I had a scoop of Cinnamon Toast Crunch and a scoop of Strawberry Cheesecake ($3.95 for two scoops). It was so creamy and decadent. The Cinnamon Toast Crunch was loaded with the sweet cereal and cinnamon in the ice cream. The Strawberry Cheesecake was studded with fresh strawberries in the creamy mixture. Both had a nice denseness to them and you could taste the fresh cream in the mixture.

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The Woo Hoo Sundae

There are other really  nice things on the menu like crab cake sandwiches ($8.95),  a mahi-mahi sandwich ($15.95) and something called Woo Hoo bowls ($9.95-$10.95) which are a combination of ingredients to create different complexities of flavors.

The service could not be friendlier. The staff is very accommodating and will help you make a selection from the various choices. Not only that but the staff knows the island really well and can point things out for you to see.

It was a nice meal to enjoy after walking on the beach or exploring the island.

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Beach Haven, NJ is just beautiful

Hop Won Chinese Noodle Shop 139 East 45th Street New York, NY 10017

Don’t miss Hop Won for their roasted meats and noodle soups. It saves a trip to Chinatown.

Hop Won Chinese Noodle Shop

139 East 45th Street

New York, NY   10017


Telephone: (212) 661-4280/867-4996

Fax: (212) 867-0208

Open: Sunday Closed/Monday-Friday 10:00am-8:45pm/Saturday 11:00am-7:30pm

My review on TripAdvisor:



On my travels to the Turtle Bay neighborhood, I came across a little gem of a restaurant tucked into the office buildings that line the border of Turtle Bay and Midtown East. Hop Won Chinese Noodle Shop is located in a series of small mom and pop restaurants in what is left of the brownstone section of the neighborhood. The rest of the street had been leveled for new office towers and this small strip of restaurants is what remains.

Hop Won appears small from the outside but the restaurant is rather large in the back with lots of nice seating to enjoy your meal. The front section of the restaurant is where you do your ordering and during the lunch rush most entrees are prepared ahead of time and ready to the on slot of office workers dash in and out. If you have the time, try to eat in the back of the restaurant and sit in one of the cushioned chairs. On a hot day, the air conditioning works so nicely and the restaurant is such a pleasure to dine in.

The food is terrific. I had lunch here a couple of times and the restaurant is less Cantonese ‘take-out’ food and concentrates more on barbecued meats, noodle soups and dishes accompanied with rice. It is more of a Chinatown restaurant in the middle of Midtown. The smells of the roasted meats makes them mouthwatering and you really want to concentrate on them when you first visit the restaurant.

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The roasted meats at Hop Won are delicious

My first trip to the restaurant, I had the Boneless Roast Pork Combination platter with Vegetarian Fried Rice and an egg roll ($10.75) with a Coke. The roast pork was delicious with a smoky flavor due to the red soy marinade and a finishing of honey. Each piece was perfectly roasted and had a nice lacquered color to it.

I had to admit that they were very generous with the portion size as well and it must have been about a half pound of meat on the plate. The Vegetarian Fried Rice was perfectly cooked with slivers or small pieces of vegetables studded in the dish. The egg roll was pretty standard but still good.

On my second trip to the restaurant, I concentrated on the roasted meats again and had the Roast Pork and Roast Duck combination platter with White Rice ($9.00) with a Coke and a side of Wonton Soup ($1.38). Again the roasted meats were perfect marinated and lacquered. The roast pork had a succulent red color to it and you could taste the salty soy sauce in it. The roasted duck had that lacquered crisp skin on the outside and moist sweet duck meat on the inside. It was a nice contrast in flavors with the white rice. Again the portion sizes were very fair and filling.

The Wonton Soup is rich but a bit salty. It has a deep meat flavor as you can taste the boiled and long simmering chicken in the broth. You got two Wontons in the small portion and they were very generous in size and had a nice filling of ground pork.

On my most recent trip while walking the Avenues of Midtown East, I had the Sweet & Sour Shrimp Combination lunch with a Coke ($11.00). The Shrimp was very fresh and they gave me about eight pieces of these lightly tempura battered shrimp in a pungent sauce that was not sweet. Their fried rice is very good and the egg rolls here are pretty standard. The one thing I like about their combination lunches is the generous portions at a fair price.


Sweet & Sour Shrimp

I wanted to try something different on my recent trip to the restaurant and was disappointed by the Chicken and String Beans combination platter ($11.00). It just looked off. The chicken was cooked in a black bean sauce which explained the weird color of the dish and the strange dark things in the food. The string beans were so over-cooked that they were dead. They were so mushy. The fried rice was listless. It tasted okay but this is not the quality I had had on previous trips. I know a restaurant can have an off day but this was strange.

Chicken and Stringbeans

the Chicken and String beans was good but not great that day

They made up for it on a recent trip I made to the restaurant when walking Central Park South my main blog, MywalkinManhattan.com. I had the Beef and Broccoli with Fried Rice and an egg roll combination platter ($9.00). It was wonderful. On a cold day, the dish came out steaming hot and loaded with pieces of tender beef and chunks of well cooked broccoli in a combination of Soy and Hunan sauce. It had a nice pinch to it. The egg roll this time was a little better than the last few trips in. It had some pork in it.

The service here is very quick especially at lunch where they seem to have it down as a science to get customers in and out. The family still eyes you as a new customer and I can tell they are trying to figure out if you are going to be a repeat customer. Still they have been very pleasant on my trips to eat here.

The Pho 6 222 East 51st Street New York, NY 10022

The Pho 6 is a very nice hole in the wall Vietnamese restaurant in the Turtle Bay neighborhood in Manhattan.

The Pho 6

222 East 51st Street

New York, NY 10022



Open: Monday-Friday 11:30am-9:30pm/Saturday & Sunday 12:00pm-9:30pm

My review on TripAdvisor:



I came across this wonderful little Vietnamese restaurant when I was walking the Turtle Bay neighborhood for my blog, “MywalkinManhattan.com” and was looking for a reasonable meal that evening. I was pleasantly surprised. The food and service were very good and the I had a nice time talking to other guests.

The space for the restaurant is quite tight and it is a long narrow space done in all woods along the walls and in the seating. The kitchen is in the front as you walk in but you can’t see where the cooking is being done. As I walked in at 5:00pm, I must have thrown the staff off as they were eating their lunch when I walked through the door. It was funny because not even five minutes later two other parties followed me into the restaurant.

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The inside of Pho 6 at 222 East 51st Street

The service was very pleasant and the food came out in a timely basis. I started the meal with the pork filled Spring Rolls ($6.00) which were filled with well spiced ground pork and fresh vegetables and cooked to a golden brown. They had a nice crunch with every bite and with the accompanying sauce plus some hot sauce really brought out the flavor of the pork. A little different from their Chinese counterparts.

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The Pho 6 Spring Rolls a very crisp and golden brown

For the main meal, I had the Vermicelli Noodles with Grilled Shrimp ($10.00). Most of the time I avoid grilled anything in restaurants because it always tastes dry. Not here as the shrimp was grilled to perfection. The outside was nicely marked but the inside was moist and sweet. The noodles were smooth and cooked to tenderness that were topped with fresh greens and carrots which made the dish sweet and crunchy with the ginger sauce that was served on the side.

Pho 6 Pork with Vermicelli

Their Vermicelli Noodle dishes are delicious

The menu also contains lots of different items from Banh Mi sandwiches ($7.50) to Rice Dishes ($10.00), Vietnamese Tacos ($8.00) and Pho Noodle Soups ($11.00) so there is a lot to choose from.

The whole meal was enjoyable from the food to the service to the ladies and their little baby sitting next to me that I talked to through my meal. It is a very engaging restaurant with good quality food, nice size portions, friendly service and very fair prices.

It is nice to discover these little neighborhood gems.