As mentioned earlier, it’s back-to-school day here at Endless Simmer (how’s the studying going, 80p?) I have sure come a long way since my college eating days (microwaved bacon…raw ramen noodles…congealed leftover pizza…shudder), and so I feel it is my duty to let the next generation of college students know that it doesn’t have to be that way. Especially for those of you in New York, there are plenty of ways to upgrade your college eating experience, without having to call mom and dad for a credit upgrade (I swear). Here’s the ES guide to Microwave-free College Eating in New York, replacing each college standard with a much less embarrassing option. Those of you elsewhere, feel free to chime in on what I missed in the outer boroughs, D.C., etc…
Dorm Fare: Easy Mac
You know you’re a college student if you’ve ever referred to the “fancy kind of mac-n-cheese” and meant the box of Kraft stuff that is cooked on the stovetop instead of in the microwave. Easy Mac is, well, unbelievably easy. Just add water to this little packet, microwave it for two minutes, and suddenly you’ve got gooey, cheese-y deliciousness. But the ingredient list in the “cheese sauce mix” is enough to make any sane person think twice: It’s made up entirely of hydrogenated this, modified that… trust me, none of these things is actually cheese.
Put down the packet and head to S’MAC, where you can get a huge cast iron skillet full of piping hot mac ‘n’ cheese, made with real certifiable cheese, and no powder. Starting at a meager $4.25, the offerings range from the kid-friendly classic (loaded with gobs of American and cheddar) to fancier versions for us “grown-up” folks, made with yummy stuff like Kalamata olives and goat cheese.
345 East 12th Street, 212.358.7912
More upgrade recs after the jump…
Dorm Fare: Top Ramen
An untold number of college students have thanked the supermarket gods for this strikingly cheap Japanese noodle-soup. What other dish can be made in five minutes and offers the possibility of 10 meals for $10? But Japanese ramen-istas would either laugh or cry if they knew that most of us only devoured the stale, pre-packaged version of their beloved fare.
Upgrade: Ramen Setagaya
The first U.S. outpost of one of Japan’s most popular ramen chains, this always-crowded East Village noodle bar is well worth the lines. The gigantic soup bowls are filled with hearty, salty broth that is perfectly flavored, not with mystery dried powder but with fresh ingredients like scallops, anchovies, garlic, and ginger. The thick noodles put the packaged stuff to shame, especially when topped with tasty barbequed pork. A fat $10 only buys one serving in this case, but it’s more than enough to make one swear off the supermarket ramen for good.
141 First Avenue, 212.529.2740
Dorm Fare: Pop-Tarts
Baked sugar topped with frosted sugar topped with powdered sugar—now that’s a decent snack, whether toasted or raw. No one would suggest that an upward student should give up this vital snack completely, but it should be remembered that Pop-Tarts are intended to be just that—a snack—and not some all-purpose substitutes for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
If you’re going to have a pastry for lunch, at least lose the artificial sugar and track down this roving baked-goods-on-wheels provider. Their sugar dot cookies are like Pop-Tarts without the chemicals—freshly baked sweet things topped with generous amounts of icing and sprinkles—and they go for just a dollar. The raspberry brownies, fresh rice krispie treats, and pecan butterscotch bars are equally hard to pass up. TreatsTruck publishes their weekly schedule online—it’s usually rolling through Midtown Mondays to Thursdays and hits the Union Square area on Fridays.
Dorm Fare: 40 Oz. Beers
How many college students have rejoiced upon discovering these oversized brews that make it possible to get drunk enough for the entire night on just a few dollars? If only the parents of America knew that their children make their drinking decisions based on Snoop Dogg videos.
Upgrade: Cherry Tavern
A limited budget doesn’t mean you can’t hit the bars. Skip the corner store and head to this old-school East Village dive, where the same $4 you might drop on a 40-oz. buys you Manhattan’s best drinking deal: a can of PBR and a shot of whiskey. (Out-of-towners: Seriously, this is as cheap as it gets in NYC). Feeling like a splurge? For $5, you can upgrade to a Tecate and a shot of tequila. Hey, it may not be fine wine, but it sure beats the meal plan.
441 East 6th Street, 212.777.1448
A version of this article originally appeared in the Onion AV Club