Friday’s Under $40: Little Italy

Posted on: July 10th, 2020 at 5:20 am by

Photo: Sara Graham

In our new Friday column, contributor Sara Graham hits the streets to find cheap eats and affordable things to do during these weird times.

Like many New Yorkers, I’m working from home and I’m definitely developing aches and pains from sitting on an uncomfortable dining chair as I type away from my “kitchen office.” It’s time to commit to buying one of those comfy, ugly office chairs on wheels, but I’m on a budget, so I’m waiting until payday. My work day is done at 5 pm so I log off, stretch my legs and take a stroll to start the weekend.

I pop by Mulberry Iconic Magazines, a favorite spot for inspiration—they carry rare magazines and ‘zines and have a delicious breakfast bagel. After obsessively sanitizing my hands before entering the store, I get the lay of the land: safely unbusy. It’s no wonder that I’m drawn to a new travel magazine called Fifty Grande, because I have the itch to travel and no plans. It’s expensive ($14) but beautiful and there’s an article that mentions riding the Roosevelt Island Tram, which gets me wondering if it’s open (it is, with social distancing measures). That would feel like a little mini vacation, to literally see the city from a new perspective, I think to myself. I splurge (print’s not dead!) and buy it.

Total cost: $15.60
Mulberry Iconic Magazines, 188 Mulberry Street
Open 24 Hours

Photo: Sara Graham

Next, I meander down to Dollar More, my local odds-and-ends discount spot, because I’m looking for a white plastic container for an actual desk that’s slated to arrive this week. I don’t find one that’s the right size, but do see some awesome sandals that look like fabric, but are actually plastic, which means they’re lightweight and waterproof. Score. They’re $3.50. I leave with a pair in aqua.

Total cost: $3.89
Dollar More, 85 Mulberry Street
Open 9 am-8 pm

Photo: Sara Graham

I’m getting hungry. Since Monday marked the beginning of Phase 3 reopening, the streets are poppin’ in Chinatown. Souvenir shops and salons have their doors open for the first time in over 110 days. Since indoor dining is off the table, several restaurants were approved for roadway and sidewalk dining permits. Some places sport bright Chinatown BID tents atop dining room chairs and tables. I notice Happy Veggie is open and I’m so enthralled by the hustle and bustle on Mott Street, I grab a table to scope the scene. I order the spring rolls (4 for $3.50) and homemade veggie BBQ buns (3 for $3.75), because it’s summertime after all. Everything here is vegetarian, incredibly affordable, and always good, and there’s free Buddhist literature for anyone interested. They’re closing soon, so I scoot. The server mentioned they’re doing breakfast now. Noted.

Total cost: $7.89
Happy Veggie, 76 Mott Street
Open 8 am-6 pm

Photo: Sara Graham

I’m sweating in my sneakers—those sandals will be in heavy rotation this summer. I’d give anything to sit in a cool movie theater, but instead stroll down Mulberry in search of an icy adult beverage. No problem there: restaurants are loud and proud about their happy hours (several of which are all day) and lunch specials. Having a cocktail on a Friday night outdoors is now a personal ritual to mark the weekend since I mostly can’t keep track of the days.

Little Italy may be the cheapest (and most unlikely) place to get a frozen drink downtown right now (leave a tip in the comments if you’ve seen otherwise). I stop by Zia Maria and tuck into a table under their sturdy awning in case of rain—a real problem restaurants down here are adjusting to. I’ve seen plenty of people get caught in torrential storms while enjoying their bread baskets. I order a frozen Italian Margarita (like the standard, but with a hit of Amaretto to remind me of my college days) and it’s like drinking dessert. They’ll blend whatever you like—Pina Coladas, Screwdrivers, Negronis, you name it.
I read my magazine and it *almost* feels like a vacation.

Total cost: $11.12
Zia Maria, 138 Mulberry Street
Open 12 pm-11 pm

Total Cost of walkabout: $38.50
Costs recorded do not include tip. Tip generously. Wear a mask.

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