Best Cheap Eats in Boston
You don’t have to shell out a whole lotta beans at these affordable spots in Beantown.
Photo By: www. KenGoodmanPhotography.com
Photo By: Ken Rivard
Photo By: Picasa
Photo By: Zac Wolf
Photo By: Picasa
Budget-Friendly Bites in Beantown
Just because you’re in Beantown doesn’t mean you’ve got to shell out a whole lotta beans when dining out on the town. Sure, Boston can be pretty steep when it comes to cost of living, but it turns out you don’t have to resort to a dollar menu at a fast food chain just to get a good deal on your meal. These old-school spots and new-school joints offer a bounty of bites that will make a dent in your appetite but not your wallet.
KO Pies + Catering
Slice into a savory pie at this Aussie-style restaurant, where crisp puff pastry comes stuffed with piping-hot meat fillings. The $7-and-less selection includes classic beef, beef stew and lamb shank, along with curried vegetable as the sole vegetarian option. Shell out just a couple dollars more for sides like mushy peas or lamb gravy. Salads and sandwiches are also available, but the pies are by far the most-popular pick.
Mike's City Diner
This Boston institution has been serving diner classics, including all-day breakfast dishes like omelets and pancakes, since 1995. But what really put Mike's on the map is a Thanksgiving-inspired sandwich dreamed up by owner Jay Hajj. Customers consistently rave about Mike's Famous Pilgrim, an enormous creation composed of freshly cooked turkey, stuffing, gravy and cranberry sauce for $11.25. Featured on both Top 5 Restaurants and Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, this dish draws fans eager for a taste of Thanksgiving year-round.
Lone Star Taco Bar
Lasso Tex-Mex tastes on the cheap at either locale of Lone Star Taco Bar. Both the original restaurant in Allston and its Cambridge outpost serve an array of affordable dishes, along with an impressive roster of tequilas and mezcals, in a super-casual yet sleek setting. Fresh ingredients abound: the corn chips are made to order and cocktail syrups are crafted in-house. Order a few small plates to create a customized meal: the chips and salsa ($3), beef Barbacoa tacos ($4) and refried bean tostada ($5) are one winning combo that clocks in at a total of $12. Prefer a larger plate? Opt for the huevos rancheros, with two tortillas, fried eggs, refried beans, ranchero sauce, avocado and queso fresco for a mere $8. The cocktails are a bit pricier, but splurge-worthy standouts include the El Diablo Margarita spiced up with jalapeño-and-habanero agave syrup.
Go Greek at this fast-casual eatery in Fenway. Billed as a “tribute to the humble Greek sandwich shop,” this counter-service spot has some heavyweight culinary talent behind it. Co-owners Jonathan Mendez and Eric Papachristos joined forces with James Beard Award-winning chef Jody Adams to open Saloniki Greek. She dreamed up many of the items on the menu, including The Jimmy. Shell out $9 for this option and you’ll be rewarded with a freshly made pita brimming with local loukaniko pork sausage, grilled red pepper-sesame sauce, shaved mizithra cheese, housemade sriracha, greens, local tomato, onion, Greek fries, spicy slaw and herbs. Pair it with a frappe and you’ll still ring up at less than $13.
The Smoke Shop BBQ
Slow-cooked barbecue has long been synonymous with the South, but Chef Andy Husbands is reppin’ hard for Boston. In 2009, he and his teammates became the first New Englanders to win the Jack Daniel’s World Championship Invitational Barbecue. Seven years later, the pitmaster opened his first BBQ joint in Kendall Square and it became an instant hit. This success sparked an expansion to a second locale in the Seaport District in late 2017, which means you can now feast on sizzling ‘cue on both sides of the Charles River. Pulled pork, fried chicken or catfish po-boy sandwiches can all be had for $11 each at both locales. Add on a side (think coleslaw, fried okra or beans) and you’ll still come in at $14.
Get a taste of Eastern Mediterranean street food at Anoush’ella. The restaurant’s name translates to “may it be sweet,” which is not about sugar, but rather a nod to the contentment of serving those who enjoy your food. Many of the dishes at this Armenian-Lebanese spot start with m’anoush, a flatbread which is made to order on a traditional convex griddle. The bread is then either filled with different ingredients or simply topped with them. A standout is the anoush’ella kofta, which comes stuffed with hummus, grilled spiced lamb and beef, mint, pomegranate, a sumac, onion and parsley mix, and slicked with tahini and zhuk sauces. It’s a flavorful bargain at $9.55. Even weekend brunch is a deal, with every item except the mezze for two clocking in at $9.75 or less.
Anna’s has long been a local favorite for burritos and other Mexican fare, and with good reason. The dishes here are not only priced at a bargain, but also consistently delicious. The exceedingly simple menu offers five options to choose from: a burrito, a taco, a quesadilla, a Mexican bowl and a salad bowl. Any dish can be customized with a variety of fresh fillings — grilled chicken, beans and rice, and braised pork among them — and optional add-ons start at 60 cents. The “super” 12-inch burrito is more than enough for most people, and at just $7.55, it’s a good deal. Demand for Anna’s tasty deals has grown the operation over the past 20-plus years into eight locales in and around Boston, meaning you never have to travel too far for an inexpensive burrito in Beantown.
Tasty Burger in Fenway hit it out of the park with its first location in 2010. And with the success of the five locales that have followed (four around town and one in D.C.), this chain’s winning streak continues. An unbeatable combination of excellent and affordable burgers (starting at under $5), hot dogs, onion rings and 16-ounce shakes keeps the crowds coming. Make no mistake, though, Tasty Burger is no greasy fast-food joint. To wit, grass-fed beef is used for the burgers and all the sauces are made from scratch. If you’re an over-21 college student, you’re in luck: The Starvin’ Student special, with a burger, fries and a beer, is just $10.
El Pelon Taqueria
Get all wrapped up in a hefty burrito without breaking the bank at this laidback Mexican spot. Burrito-loving Bostonians flock to El Pelon’s Brighton and Fenway locales for budget-friendly favorites like El Guapo. Clocking in at $8.95, this burrito comes stuffed with grilled steak, Mexican rice, black beans, fried plantains, jack cheese, salsa, romaine lettuce and crema. Want a break from burritos? There are plenty of other menu items priced at $9 or less: tacos, quesadillas and tortas among them.
Whole Heart Provisions
There are very few vegetarian-only restaurants in Boston, and even fewer vegan ones, which makes this Allston restaurant all the more of a find for the meat- and dairy-free crowd. Chef/Owner Becca Arnold shatters the stereotypes about vegan food with her veggie-forward bowls that are anything but bland and boring. Stop in to her fast-casual spot for standouts like the Viet. This vibrant bowl brings together roasted broccoli, smashed cucumber, blistered green beans, cured tomato, basil and peanut crumble, all slathered in a spicy peanut dressing. Both signature bowls and build-your-own options start at $8.85. Pair your pick with the kombucha of the day or the cold brew horchata and your bill will come in at just $12.35.
Chilacates Mexican Street Food
“Choose your canvas” reads the menu at Chilacates, a counter-service Mexican spot serving fully customizable tacos, quesadillas, burritos and more. Customers select from a choice of fillings, which include carnitas (pulled pork), chicken tinga (shredded chicken) and lengua (beef tongue), as well as sauces and sides. Upgrades, like seasonal grilled fish and carne asada (grilled steak), cost just a bit extra, as do add-ons like guacamole and sour cream, but it’s entirely possible to enjoy a filling meal for less than $10. For example, order a 10-inch burrito with pork en chile verde ($5.99), add cheese ($.70), pair it with a Mexican soda ($2.50) and the bill comes to just $9.19. Shell out a couple more bucks for an even more substantial meal: the enchilada plate. Priced at $10.99, it comes with fresh corn tortillas, your choice of filling, salsa verde and melted cheese, along with a side of rice and refried beans. Jamaica Plain is the home to the only two Chilacates in Boston, but crowds from other parts of the city make the pilgrimage when they’re craving Mexican classics on the cheap.
Getting fries drenched in gravy just seems like the right thing to do at a restaurant inspired by sauces. Locals pack in to do just that at Saus, which serves a version of poutine that's addictively delicious. Priced at $6.75, this dish features a heap of golden fries topped with cheese curds and smothered in that housemade gravy. For a couple bucks extra per topping, you can further adorn your fries with pork belly, kimchi, bacon bits and more. Another popular item is the Frik, a hand-rolled beef and pork sausage on a bun, which costs $8.50 and can also be customized with a variety of toppings.
Since 1951, Sullivan's has been offering hot dogs, lobster rolls, fries and other concession-style food favorites at Castle Island in South Boston. Open seasonally, all the locals know that spring has sprung when Sullivan's opens its doors after a long winter (even if there's still snow on the ground). To this day, the food stand remains in the Sullivan family. Generations of other families have made eating there a tradition, thanks in part to the spot's bargain prices. To wit, a double cheeseburger, hot dog, fries and a soda add up to a mere $11.05.
Time seems to have stood still at this retro Roslindale spot close to the edge of Boston’s city limits. Opened in 1937, Pleasant Café has everything one would hope for in an establishment from that era: a neon sign outside, wood paneling and vinyl booths inside and a menu crammed with comforting meals. Daily specials range from a roast turkey dinner on Sundays for $11.50, Yankee pot roast on Tuesdays for $11 and New England boiled dinner on Thursdays for $11. Even if you get a beer or a cocktail, it’s still a bargain to dine here. Adding to the homey vibe is the old-school staff who are known for being warm and welcoming.
A budget-friendly alternative to its chic sister Committee, this Back Bay counter-service spot recreates Greek street food with meats from nearby Savenor's Market and produce from local farms. The menu features a variety of gyros, like the classic pork with tzatziki, for around $9, but if you want the loukaniko (pork and leek sausage with mustard), get there early, because it often sells out. Upgrade to a plate for $11.50 and you’ll also get a side of fries, zucchini chips, slaw or mixed beans. This spot is the place to splurge on dessert. Opt for the loukoumades, Greek doughnuts paired with anything from Greek walnuts, honey and cinnamon to Snickers, peanut butter and caramel (prices range from $5 to $6.50).
Savvy diners, we’re about to let you in on a little secret. Turns out you don’t have to bust your budget at Bricco in the North End to get a taste of the upscale Italian restaurant’s impeccable ingredients. Head instead to Bricco Salumeria, which is just around the corner and down the alley from Bricco. This shop offers some of the restaurant’s same homemade sauces, pastas and other products so you can stock up and make your own Bricco-inspired meal later. Prefer to leave the prep work to the pros? Order a hefty sandwich for $8.95 from the takeaway counter, which can be eaten at a tiny outdoor seating area. Freshly baked bread from Bricco’s nearby panetteria comes stuffed with Italian-inspired fillings like porchetto (roast pork), chicken parm or eggplant. One popular pick is the Italian. It’s loaded with three kinds of meat (mortadella, genoa salami and sopressata), layered with provolone, lettuce, tomato, onion and hot peppers, then finished with a sprinkling of oregano and a squirt of olive oil and vinegar. One sandwich is large enough to share, though we won’t blame you for wanting to eat every last bite yourself.
Bánh Mì Ba Le
So many locals pack into this tiny Vietnamese spot at lunchtime that the line almost always stretches out the door. Brave the wait for the banh mi, a Vietnamese sandwich that’s one of Boston’s best food deals. It all starts with the bread at this family-owned Dorchester shop, which charges just $4.50 for its specialty sandwich. Racks of freshly baked French baguettes sit next to the deli counter, ready to be quickly filled with shredded pork, pickled carrots, cucumbers, daikon, cilantro, hot peppers and special sauce (the classic version) or with BBQ beef, grilled chicken or vegetables. Add a freshly made smoothie or sugar juice and you’ll still come in at less than $10.
Everyone has a favorite pizza joint in Boston. But Santarpio's in East Boston tops a lot of lists. Both the pizza and the prices are old-school at this beloved Boston institution, which first opened as a bakery in 1903. Pizza was added to the menu 30 years later, and countless number of pies have been served in the decades since. An Italian Cheese Pizza clocks in at just $9.50. Shell out a few extra bucks for a topping-strewn pie like the Italian Cheese, Sausage and Garlic Pizza priced at $13. Even a glass of house wine, at $3.50, is a bargain. If you dine at the original location, make sure to bring cash. If you head to the Peabody branch, you can pay with a card.
A mainstay in the Back Bay since 1986, the Pour House almost always feels like a party, with a packed bar, loud music and cheap, cheap bites perfect for a crowd. A popular pick is the All-Star Platter heaped with a stack of beer-battered onion rings flanked by two bacon cheeseburger dippers, sweet potato tots and buffalo wings, all for $10.95. There are plenty of other classic bar foods, too, such as nachos and chicken fingers, which are all in the $7-and-under range. And don’t sleep on the all-day breakfast menu stuffed with omelets, waffles and more. Most of these morning-centric dishes clock in at less than $10.
Woody's Grill and Tap
Tucked away on a residential-looking side street behind the Boston Conservatory at Berklee, Woody’s is one of those unassuming spots that’s easy to overlook. But it’s a great place in Beantown to score wood-fired pizza at a bargain. A 10-inch cheese pizza will cost you just $10.95 (plus $1 per additional topping). And wallet-friendly fare extends beyond this classic pie. Other bites that are easy on the budget include the homemade hummus platter for $10.25.