There is lots of free or inexpensive stuff in NYC, much more than any where else in the country. I've been to the free Shakespeare in the Park for almost every year for the past 10 years. I've seen Julia Stiles, Jimmy Smits, Christopher Lloyd, Sam Watterson, Liev Schrieber, Al Pacino and Anne Hathaway, just to name a few, at that event. There are lots of hole-in-the wall restaurants in NYC that are fantastic.
The distinction is that NYC is a world class city if you have the $$$. The more I travel the world, the more I realize that everyone from around the world goes to NYC to sell you stuff if you have the $$$. That includes performing arts, food and etc. No other city in the USA has that draw.