Best cheap eats in central London

The best good-value restaurants and cafés for great food in central London

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It may be home to some of London's finest (and most expensive) venues, but central London is also packed with budget restaurants and cafés which serve food you'll love. Here are the best of central London's cheap eats for when you'd like to dine out for less. You could also check out cheap eats in north, south, east and west London, or see all of the best cheap eats in central London on a map. Do you know somewhere great that we've missed? Use the comments box below or tweet your suggestions.

Banh Mi Bay

  • Rated as: 3/5

Vietnamese café

Join the hungry Holborn workers who throng this light, bright Vietnamese diner to feast on pho (rice noodle soup), banh xeo pancakes and summer rolls, or takeaway banh mi baguettes. For a zingy starter, go for the goi: crisp, shredded vegetables in a chilli-citrus dressing.

Meal for two with soft drinks and service: around £25.

  1. 4-6 Theobald's Road, WC1X 8PN
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Baozi Inn

  • Rated as: 3/5

Chinese café

Mug up on Mao as you tuck into fiery Sichuanese street food, at this Chinatown café resplendent in its communist-kitsch attire. A big helping of spicy beef noodles should bolster you for the Long March back to the office.

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £25.

  1. 25 Newport Court, WC2H 7JS
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Beatroot

  • Rated as: 3/5

Vegetarian café

A long-time vegetarian favourite, tucked next to the stalls of Berwick Street Market. Choose from three sizes of cartons, to be filled with a mix of tasty, freshly made salads and hot dishes (ten of each), on display behind a glass counter. Stalwarts include creamy coconutty dal, lentil and mushroom shepherd’s pie, organic rice salad with tamari soy sauce and seaweed, mini ‘sausage’ rolls or simple blanched broccoli – it’s surprising how much you can cram in.

Meal for two with soft drinks and service: around £15.

  1. 92 Berwick Street, W1F 0QD
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Berwick Street Market

Weekday street market

Hungry Sohoites head here for hot food on the hoof every weekday lunchtime. Stalls vary daily, but regulars include Vietnamese specialists Bahnmi11, Pizza Pilgrims, the Tongue ’Cheek burger pitch, Jerusalem Falafel, Moroccan Box (tagines), Freebird Burritos, Tandoor (curries and wraps), and the Bread Man (sandwiches, pastries and cakes).

Takeaway lunch dishes: around £5-8 per head.

  1. Berwick Street, W1F 0PT
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Bi Bim Bap

  • Rated as: 3/5

Korean

Dolsot bibimbap isn’t the latest North Korean plutocrat to be purged – it’s the name of a sizzling stone bowl of rice with spicy veg, fried egg, plus meat or seafood if you like. And it’s one of the staples of this South Korean café, only the second in a tiny chain.

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £25.

  1. 10 Charlotte Street, W1T 2LT
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Big Apple Hot Dogs

  • Rated as: 4/5

Mobile hot dog stand

London has been seeing a surge of hot dog purveyors, but Big Apple’s still the daddy. Specially commissioned sausages made from free-range pork, and buns baked by Anderson’s bakery of Hoxton, make up Big Apple’s dogs – served from a mobile cart on Old Street in various sizes and meat combinations.

Hot dogs from around £5 per head.

  1. Outside 239 Old Street, EC1V 9EY
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Café Below

  • Rated as: 3/5

City café

Open for breakfast and lunch only, this unpretentious café is sited in the crypt of a City church. Ponder Wren’s high arches as you devour a bacon sarnie or a lunchtime fish pie.

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £25.

  1. St Mary-le-Bow Church, (Cheapside), EC2V 6AU
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Café TPT

  • Rated as: 4/5

Chinese café

From its tiny Chinatown kitchen, Café TPT produces a vast menu from Hong Kong, mainland China and the diaspora. Cantonese dishes tend to be better than the Malaysian ones: succulent roast duck on rice; stuffed tofu, served sizzling in a hot stone bowl. Seafood is also a strength, with around 50 dishes to choose from. Finish by gulping Taiwanese-style bubble teas through a straw. Such fun.

Meal for two with soft drinks and service: around £25.

  1. 21 Wardour Street, W1D 6PN
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Canton

  • Rated as: 3/5

Chinese café

A 2012 change in ownership might have led to variable standards at this plainly furnished Chinatown old-stager, but the one-bowl, rice-with-meat dishes are a safe bet. These are served the traditional way (with the rice warm and the roast meat cold), and at £5.50 remain an eminently wallet-friendly meal. We also rate the wonton soup: a large bowl containing five juicy pork dumplings.

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £20.

  1. 11 Newport Place, WC2H 7JR
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City Caphe

  • Rated as: 4/5

Vietnamese City lunch spot

A City charmer, open only for lunch when the likes of Vietnamese noodle soups, baguettes and vermicelli salads keep the café packed with local workers.

Meal for two with soft drinks: around £20.

  1. 17 Ironmonger Lane, EC2V 8EY
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Daddy Donkey

  • Rated as: 4/5

Burrito stand

London has scores of burrito joints and there’s not much to choose between most of them. But if we have to pick one that hordes of people are prepared to queue for every weekday lunchtime, it’s got to be the daytime-only Daddy Donkey.

Takeaway burrito for one: around £5-£7.

  1. Leather Lane Market, EC1N 7TE
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Exmouth Market

Street market food stalls

Clerkenwell’s rejuvenated lunchtime weekday market attracts an enticing mix of international food vans and stalls. Highlights include Ghanaian specials at Spinach & Agusi, salads from Seed, Simply Thai, and Iberian enticements at Spanish Flavours.

Takeaway lunch: around £5-8 per head.

  1. EC1R 4QE
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Fleet River Bakery

  • Rated as: 4/5

Holborn café

Moist cakes, quality coffee and plentiful sandwiches, frittata and quiches join the daily special main course on the menu at this daytime and early-evening Holborn favourite.

Meal for two with soft drinks and service: around £20.

  1. 71 Lincoln's Inn Fields, WC2A 3JF
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Food for Thought

  • Rated as: 3/5

Long-established vegetarian café

Since the 1970s, bargain-hunters have been heading down to this Covent Garden basement café in search of cheap, hearty vegetarian food – a curry or a quiche, perhaps, followed by a gut-busting apple and plum crumble.

Meal for two with soft drinks and service: around £18.

  1. 31 Neal Street, WC2H 9PR
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Four Seasons

  • Rated as: 3/5

Chinatown restaurant

Four Seasons has long built its reputation on roast meats – which can be seen displayed in the window facing Wardour Street at this modest branch. Drooling is entirely acceptable. We can especially recommend the crispy pork belly – a tri-layer of perfectly crisp skin, melt-in-your-mouth fatty middle and juicy lean meat. The choice of other dishes is vast, but you’ve plenty of time to contemplate; the place is open until 4am daily.

Meal for two with soft drinks and service: around £30.

  1. 23 Wardour Street, W1D 6PW
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Herman ze German

  • Rated as: 4/5

Hot dogs ze German way

Old Compton Street’s taken a turn for the wurst with the second branch of this German sausage specialist. The chips and beer are great too.

Meal for two with beers: around £25.

  1. 33 Old Compton Street, W1D 5JU
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HK Diner

  • Rated as: 4/5

Chinatown café

A Chinatown late-nighter (open until 4am), HK has a narrow frontage that’s easy to miss. But it would be a shame to forego the choice of well-executed Chinese standards – especially the succulent roast duck and the generous portion of seafood with noodles. The gracious staff also serve a varied choice of bubble teas, for straw-sucking fun.

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £30.

  1. 22 Wardour Street, W1D 6QQ
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Hummus Bros

  • Rated as: 5/5

Houmous specialist

Spartan furnishings and a menu based on the chickpea don’t stop lunchtime queues forming outside HB’s original Soho branch. Small wonder: the silky-smooth houmous comes topped with treats like slow-cooked beef or cumin-scented fava beans.

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £18.

  1. 88 Wardour Street, W1F 0TJ
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Indian YMCA

  • Rated as: 4/5

Indian student canteen

This student canteen has graced Fitzrovia for almost as long as its post-war modernist premises, serving bowls of curries and mounds of rice to the likes of trainee doctors from the Punjab, and in-the-know office drones.

Meal for two with soft drinks and service: around £15.

  1. 41 Fitzroy Square, W1T 6AQ
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Itadaki Zen

  • Rated as: 3/5

Japanese vegan restaurant

Given that the all-vegan ingredients here are based around noodles, seaweed and tofu, the menu has an impressive range of flavours and textures. A laid-back, King’s Cross one-off.

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £35.

  1. 139 King's Cross Road, WC1X 9BJ
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Jerk City

  • Rated as: 3/5

Caribbean takeaway and café

Proper Caribbean food is served in basic surroundings at this Soho favourite. As well as jerk chicken, you’ll find the likes of curried mutton, prawn roti, and ackee and saltfish.

Meal for two with soft drinks: around £20.

  1. 189 Wardour Street, W1F 8ZD
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Koshari Street

  • Rated as: 3/5
  • Price band: 1/4

Egyptian street snack specialist

Fancy a little koshari? You will, once you’re tried this filling Egyptian street snack of lentils, pasta, vermicelli and rice topped with tomato sauce and fried onions.

Meal for two with soft drinks: around £15.

  1. 56 St Martin's Lane, WC2N 4EA
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Koya

  • Rated as: 4/5

Japanese udon bar

Top-notch handmade udon noodles are the draw here. Slurp them hot or cold, in a hot dipping broth or cold dipping sauce, or a hot dashi broth. Blond-wood sharing tables add to the modern café vibe. If the original’s too full, there’s now a second branch next door at number 50, which also does breakfast udon bowls.

Meal for two with beer and service: around £35.

  1. 49 Frith Street, W1D 4SG
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Lanzhou Noodle Bar

  • Rated as: 3/5

Late-night Chinese

This Chinese noodle bar near Leicester Square tube is cheap, fast, and open into the early hours. The main attraction is the hand-pulled noodles, which are freshly made for each order. These are served in three variations: in a soup, dry, or fried.

Meal for two: around £20.

  1. Authentic Lanzhou handmade noodles, 33 Cranbourn Street, WC2H 7AD
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Leong's Legends

  • Rated as: 3/5

Chinese restaurant

‘Taiwanese’ cooking in tea house surrounds is the concept at this Restaurant Privilege group eaterie. The look certainly delivers – all dark woods and carved latticework – though the menus are dominated by Cantonese dishes, with just a sprinkling of Taiwanese options. However, the full-flavoured one-bowl dishes (such as dark, sticky pork belly on a huge mound of steamed rice) offer terrific value.

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £30.

  1. 4 Macclesfield Street, W1D 6AX
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Longji

  • Rated as: 3/5

Chinese diner

Brightly lit and functional, Longji looks like a typical Hong Kong-style fast food joint – and so it is. The dining area is spread over several floors, each with HK-pop piped overhead. The huge menu encompasses myriad meal-in-one dishes: a generous portion of sticky steamed rice topped with roast pork and moreish roast duck, perhaps, or an equally excellent – and ample – bowl of soup noodles.

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £25.

  1. 47-49 Charing Cross Road, WC2H 0AN
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Malletti

  • Rated as: 3/5

Pizza takeaway

A takeaway joint with only a few high stools to perch on, Malletti feeds Soho grazers with pizzas served the Italian way – by the rectangular slice, wrapped in paper for munching on the go.

Takeaway pizza for one: around £6.

  1. 26 Noel Street, W1F 8GY
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Maoz Vegetarian

  • Rated as: 3/5

Vegetarian falafel joint

You’ll be handed a pitta bread crammed with crunchy falafels, then you can ram it still more full with garnishes from the impressive salad bar buffet. A few cramped tables have views of Soho’s main drag. Unlicensed; no alcohol allowed.

Meal for two with soft drinks: around £15.

  1. 43 Old Compton Street, W1D 6HG
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Old Tree Daiwan Bee

  • Rated as: 3/5

Taiwanese café

Cash-only and no alcohol permitted, this Taiwanese café near Piccadilly Circus has its focus firmly on the food – noodle dishes, salt and pepper tofu, and even Sichuan dishes that have been given a Taiwanese makeover.

Meal for two with soft drinks and service: around £40.

  1. 26 Rupert Street, W1D 6DH
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Orchard

  • Rated as: 4/5

Vegetarian café

Casual and cosy, Orchard serves up accomplished vegetarian cooking on its mismatched plates – poached egg on a spinach fritter with smoky mayo, say. Finish with scrummy cakes and first-rate coffee.

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £30.

  1. 11 Sicilian Avenue, WC1A 2QH
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La Polenteria

  • Rated as: 3/5

Italian polenta specialist

Polenta, the dense porridge of corn meal characteristic of northern Italy, has been promoted to breakfast, lunch and dinner staple at this new Italian-run café.

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £25.

  1. 64 Old Compton Street, W1D 4UQ
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Regency Café

  • Rated as: 3/5

Old school caff

With food orders bellowed from the counter, a shiny art deco exterior and tiled interior, and a daytime-only menu embracing huge fried breakfasts, equally calorific lunches (pies, pasta, roasts) and custard-drenched puds, the Regency looks every inch the classic caff that it is. Unlicensed.

Meal for two with tea and service: around £15.

  1. 17-19 Regency St, SW1P 4BY
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Sagar

  • Rated as: 3/5

Indian vegetarian restaurant

The Covent Garden branch of this mini-chain celebrates South Indian vegetarian specialities, with dosais (rice and lentil pancakes) a particular treat. Try too the idlis (rice dumplings) and Mumbai beach snacks.

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £30.

  1. 31 Catherine Street, WC2B 5JS
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Sedap

  • Rated as: 4/5

Malaysian restaurant

Family run and with a certain stylishness, Sedap offers well-priced Nonya (Chinese-Malay fusion) cooking to the denizens of the Barbican and Old Street – fish curry followed by brightly coloured cakes, perhaps.

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £25.

  1. 102 Old Street, EC1V 9AY
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Seoul Bakery

  • Rated as: 3/5

Korean café

Tucked behind Centre Point, this tiny Korean caff – covered in Post-it notes and doodles – is a student favourite. And why not, when thick seafood p’ajeon pancakes, spicy stews and rice bowls cost around a fiver? Cash only.

Meal for two with soft drinks and service: around £15.

  1. 55 St Giles High St, WC2H 8LH
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Shoryu Ramen

  • Rated as: 4/5

Japanese ramen bar

Ramen (noodles in a rich, boiled-down, pork-bone broth) are meat and drink to the original branch of this self-styled ‘rapid, self-service-style prototype ramen bar… for those in a rush’. Speed, then, is of the essence. For something slower head to the second branch on Denman Street in Soho.

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £40.

  1. 9 Regent Street, SW1Y 4LR
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Vantra Vitao

  • Rated as: 3/5

Vegan buffet

Punchy, multi-ethnic flavours jostle for attention at this bustling vegan buffet. Think soups, stews and stroganoffs, grilled vegetables and fresh, zesty salads. Costing is by weight, £1.80 per hundred grams, so avoid the temptation to load up your plate all-you-can-eat style.

Meal for two with soft drinks: around £30.

  1. 25-27 Oxford St, W1D 2DW
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Vincent Rooms

  • Rated as: 5/5

Smart training restaurant for catering students

Overseen by experienced tutors, catering college students staff the kitchen and front-of-house at this beautifully appointed restaurant – and the results are top-notch. The brasserie’s daily changing Mod Euro menu might offer grilled sea bass fillets with creamy risotto, preceded by mallard breast salad. Like the buttered curly kale, some of the waiting staff are green – but refreshingly eager to please too.

Meal for two with service: around £45.

  1. Westminster Kingsway College, (Vincent Square), SW1P 2PD
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Wild Food Café

  • Rated as: 4/5

Vegetarian raw food specialist

An airy first-floor location is just one of the draws of this little café overlooking Neal’s Yard. Food, delivered by genuinely friendly staff, is prepared behind a horseshoe bar laden with huge bowls of fruit and bright vegetables. The short menu focuses on ‘raw’ food, but for those who prefer their meals served above body temperature, there are warmer options such as ‘sunfood’ soup of the day with toasted sourdough. Vegans are well catered for too.

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £30.

  1. 1st floor, (14 Neal's Yard), WC2H 9DP
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Yalla Yalla

  • Rated as: 4/5

Lebanese café

Operating from dinky, convivial premises on a Soho backstreet, Yalla Yalla produces a hit formula of self-styled ‘Beirut street food’. Diners cram on to faux-rustic tables at lunchtime, while others nip in for takeaway wraps – filled with everything from falafel to spicy sujuk sausage. The concise list of meze dishes includes chunky, smoky baba ganoush and a flavour-packed fattoush salad. There’s also a selection of main-course grills. Quality is impressive from such a small venue.

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £25.

  1. 1 Green's Court, W1F 0HA
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Users say

4 comments
Charlie M
Charlie M

Why don't you list the major credit cards accepted by each restaurant?  This is a determining factor for me when I choose where to dine.

Viktor
Viktor

It's a shame Timeout's definition of cheap is out of touch with most real Londoners. This article has gone for some established, popular restaurants when it could have dug a bit deeper to highlight some real gems around London. A real opportunity missed as there are so many great places in London to grab a proper cheap eat, and by cheap I mean £5-10 per person.

john
john

This is a pathetically stupid list. It is not cheap! Did somebody just randomly pick restaurants???

fionakbc
fionakbc

£16 for 1 main alone is not "cheap" - bit of a pointless list

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