The 100 best cheap eats in London: the list by area

From Middle-Eastern eats in north London to Asian-inspired cafés down south, these are the best bargain restaurants in London

Ben Rowe

Whether you're after a local meal that won't end in the spontaneous combustion of your wallet, or you're looking for a cheap London restaurant further afield, we've done the legwork for you. Check out our compass point guide to London’s great value grub.

RECOMMENDED: The 100 best cheap eats in London – the list in detail

Baozi Inn

For chilli-hot Sichuan street food dishes, this communist-kitsch Chinatown café is the place to go – and the queues outside attest to it. Red (a sign of luck in China, and, fittingly, danger in the West) is present in many dishes, as a slick of chilli oil here, or lashings of sliced or whole chillies there. Most dishes have moderate heat levels, but some are genuinely tongue-numbing (beware of the generously portioned spicy beef noodles). Acceptably fiery delights include spicy dan dan noodles, deceptively hot cucumber salad and savoury crescent dumplings – opt for the ones floating in broth if more chilli oil is threatening to send you over the edge.

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £25

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Chinatown

Battersea Pie

Venue says: This month's special pie is the 'steak & oyster' - a traditional Victorian recipe that is a mouth watering treat for any pie connoisseur!

Battersea Pie Station isn’t in Battersea, and it ain’t pie in the sky either: it’s simply a brilliant reinvention of the traditional London pie and mash shop, using top-quality ingredients. You’ll find the restaurant hidden away in one of the lower courtyards of the old Covent Garden Market buildings. Retreat from the press of the mob and the tourist tat to the white-tiled interior for firm pie crusts encasing prime ingredients: meat, seafood, and vegetarian choices. The desserts are excellent too, if you can fit them in after such large portions.

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £25

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Covent Garden

Berwick Street Market

Berwick Street sits smack-dab in the middle of Soho, one of the most restaurant-rich patches of the UK. The street has been home to a fruit and vegetable market since the eighteenth century. There’s less fresh produce nowadays, but stalls selling takeaway food – anything from a virtuous but vivid salad of couscous with charred vegetables to a juicy, dripping cheeseburger – have filled in the gaps nicely. The roster changes, but among the Monday-to-Friday regulars you can expect to find meat specialists Tongue ’n’ Cheek, Paradise Juice Bar, Jerusalem Falafel, Freebird Burritos, Tandoor (curries and wraps), and the Bread Man (sandwiches, pastries and cakes).

Takeaway meal per head: around £5-£8

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Soho

Bibimbap

This bright and youthful Korean café offers ten confident versions of its namesake, plus plenty of supporting acts, and national beers and spirits. Classic bibimbaps include beef, chilli chicken, spicy pork or seafood, but vegetarians are well catered for too with tofu, mushroom, or brown rice, ginseng and ginkgo versions. All are served traditionally in a stone bowl – just add your own koch’ujang and doenjang sauces, mix it all up and away you go. Kimchi pancakes, fried dumplings and salads are also offered, but the results aren’t as consistent – best stick with the filling and flavour-laden main event.

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £28

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Soho

Café Below

Café Below first won a loyal following for its vegetarian-centric café food, and its memorable setting – the crypt of a Grade I-listed Wren church. It still serves breakfast and lunch five days a week, but now also offers dinner from Wednesday to Friday. The food tends towards rustic simplicity during the day, getting more ambitious (and pricier) in the evening. The fish pie (£11.50), a long-standing feature, is a hefty, pleasing plateful. Mixed salads, with optional extras such as cheese soufflé or smoked salmon, use excellent ingredients and are dressed with unusual skill. Café Below is always busy at lunchtime, and for good reason.

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £30 (lunch), £45 (dinner)

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City

Café TPT

This long-time Chinatown stalwart had a refurb early in 2015, but you’d hardly know it. The place is still unassuming, still tiny (and with a tinier kitchen), and still packed at lunchtimes. Its substantial dishes can fill you up easily. An ideal smaller meal for two would be a sizzling hotpot of silken tofu stuffed with minced prawns in a gingery sauce (£10.50), plus a major-league bargain of roast duck on rice (£6.50). Add a plainly cooked vegetable (£7-£8.50) and you have a complete meal. If you’re dining alone, order the prawn dumpling noodle soup: five tasty dumplings in a concentrated broth. A steal at £6.50.

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £28

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Chinatown

Canton

This plainly furnished Chinatown veteran seems be getting even more ragged around the edges. But don’t be misled by looks: Canton has become reliable once again for one-bowl dishes of rice-with-meat or noodles-with-meat. Rice comes in generous portions and is proudly served the traditional way (warm, with cold roast meat). Prices range from £5.80 to £7.30, making for an eminently wallet-friendly meal. But don’t overlook the list of hand-pulled and hand-sliced noodles, available with a range of toppings for £6.80-£8. Service is friendly and accommodating by Chinatown standards – we watched in admiration as staff tried to find something suitable for two elderly and rather demanding vegetarians.

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £20

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Chinatown

City Càphê

This popular pit-stop adds a bit of colour to the City’s restaurant extremes of workaday chains or fancy-pants affairs – which is why you’ll generally encounter a (fast-moving) queue at lunchtime. Inside the bright, modern, but cramped interior, choose from a clear, concise menu of lightly spiced noodle soups (bun hue or pho), Vietnamese baguettes (banh mi), vermicelli salads, jasmine rice dishes and delicate summer rolls. Banh mi is the most popular choice (they’re easy to take back to the office if you can’t find a seat); try the ‘classic pork’ option, a baguette filled with succulent pork, earthy liver pâté, fiery chilli, crunchy veg and fresh coriander.

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £20

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City

Daddy Donkey

Generally, there’s not much to distinguish one London burrito dispensary from another. But we’ve learned to love those filling and flavoursome wraps of meat, beans and seasonings, and are often willing to queue at length for a taste of our favourite. And few queues are longer than those that form every lunchtime outside Daddy Donkey – formerly a stall in Leather Lane market and now a corner shop with a high counter and a few bar stools. Wait your turn and order burritos, tacos or tostadas with a choice of fillings and accessories including sauces from mild to very hot.

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £25

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Farringdon

Ethos

Venue says: Come and try our brand new spring menu including aubergine meatballs, pumpkin fritters, farfarelle à la crème, Cuban salad and more!

A short walk from Oxford Circus, all-veggie Ethos is a self-serve buffet where you pay by weight (of the food, not yourself). At lunch £2.50 buys 100g of nourishment (£2.70 per 100g at dinner). The daily offerings might include dishes inspired by Japan, South-east Asia, Italy, Korea, India, Mexico and Lebanon, plus the kitchen’s own creations. Rather than worrying about whether Thai sweetcorn fritters go with Tuscan salad, you should surrender to a world tour – a mini-adventure in flavour, colour and texture. Though this is primarily a lunch spot, the drinks list includes three beers and a dozen wines. Keenly priced, vegetarian, great West End location – Ethos has it all.

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £35

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Soho
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19 Numara Bos Cirrik I

First-rate pide bread – featherlight and straight from the oven – marks out this perennially popular Turkish ocakbasi. Smoky grilled kebabs such as the adana (minced lamb) also draw the crowds, including many a Dalston hipster. The long list of mostly vegetarian meze dishes (from stewed green beans to Russian salad) can sometimes be put in the shade by the more robustly flavoured grilled food, and the restaurant’s interior also verges on the bland – but helpful staff, keen prices and nice touches such as izgara sogan (grilled onion with pomegranate juice) served with every meal, ensure that 19 remains a local institution.

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £38

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Dalston

Arancini Factory

Kentish Town never knew how much it loved arancini – Sicilian-style deep-fried risotto balls – until this affable caff opened in 2012. Now the place is a firm favourite locally. The arancini are served in several forms: plain (‘naked’), with salad, in wraps, or accompanied by a stew (we like the all-veg version). There are other options too, such as poached eggs, egg wraps and bagels for breakfast, and toasted sandwiches. Try the ‘full breakfast bagel’: ham, onion jam, roast tomato, fried egg and cheese. Note: the small garden eating area at the back is a haven of quiet in good weather.

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £16

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Kentish Town

Ariana II

A BYOB policy is just one of the lures enticing diners from across the capital into this unassuming Afghan venue. Prices are low, and the excellent cooking – an appealing menu of kebabs, tikkas and mild curries, plus distinctive Afghan specialities – links the Middle East with the Indian subcontinent. Congenial staff seat you in the simply furnished dining room (bare brick walls decorated with pictures of the homeland) and are happy to explain the more esoteric dishes: perhaps aushak (leek-filled dumplings topped with minced lamb and yoghurt) followed by kabuli palow (a biryani-like dish of lamb shank in pistachio-dotted rice). Note: there’s a minimum charge of £6.50 in the evenings.

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £33

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Outer London

Big Apple Hot Dogs

London has been a hotbed of hot dog activity in recent years, but Big Apple can legitimately claim its place as top dog for these cylinders of joy. The dogs are made specially for the restaurant from free-range pork, beef, or a combination of pork and beef, and served on buns from Anderson’s bakery of Hoxton. There’s a range of sizes, and toppings (free of charge, as they should be) including fried onions, Polish sauerkraut, and pickled cucumber. After trading from a stall in Old Street for some time, the owners opened this permanent, daytime-only site late in 2014.

Hot dogs: from £4 per head

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Kings Cross and St Pancras

Delhi Grill

Focusing on a concise list of home-style Punjabi dishes, this lively canteen-style joint brings budget priced street food to Chapel Market. Inside, corrugated iron and walls plastered with Bollywood posters and Indian newspapers produce a ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ aesthetic: an upbeat setting for sampling the likes of tilapia with coriander and coconut milk, or hearty slow-cooked rogan josh. Kick off with samosa chat, from a list that holds plenty for vegetarians, including chana, bhindi and tarka dal. Insistent bangla beats and unyielding seats make the venue more of a healthy, spicy pit-stop than somewhere to linger.

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £28

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Islington

Ealing Road (Wembley)

Ealing Road, which runs from Wembley Central to Alperton tube, has an outstanding cross-section of little cafés from the diaspora of the Indian subcontinent. Most people would regard the vegetarian Sakonis as first among equals, with its remarkably low-priced Indian-dominated menu and a small selection of Chinese dishes. But others of note include Asher’s Africana, specialists in vegetarian thalis and rotis; the dosai specialist Chennai Dosa, with low prices even by the standards of this inexpensive area; and Saravanaa Bhavan, with an extensive menu ranging widely throughout India and (on a smaller scale) into China. If you’ve not been before, start at Sakonis.

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £12-£25

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Wembley

Franks Canteen

Franks is open during the daytime only, but what it lacks in opening hours it makes up in quality. The kitchen produces great breakfasts, brunches and lunches, with dishes starting at around £5 for sandwiches and most of the weekly changing mains costing less than £10. All egg dishes are excellent; the kedgeree in particular is a natural-born killer and quiches will make you newly aware of the virtues of this café cliché. Just to add icing to the cake, it’s a lovely place to look at: clean, crisp, and light-filled when the sun’s out.

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £28

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Highbury

Gökyüzü

Consistently the busiest restaurant in this most Turkish of locales, Gökyüzü retains its position as the go-to venue on Green Lanes for Turkish cuisine. Portions are generous, bordering on the reckless, for exceptional cooking. Start with the huge ‘small’ mixed meze served with bread from the wood-fired oven: highlights being a sprightly kısır loaded with mint and spring onion, a haydari rich with dill, and a fresh-tasting soslu patlıcan (grilled aubergine with tomato sauce). Continue with a kebab, or güveç (lamb and aubergine casserole) stewed to tender perfection in an earthenware pot. Occasionally rushed service, a large utilitarian interior and a limited wine list barely detract from the excellent food.

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £37

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Harringay

Hala

Everything looks great at this smart eat-in or takeaway joint. Waiting staff wear black waistcoats and yellow ties; grill chefs and the ladies sitting in the window hand-rolling gözleme (filled crêpes) add a dash of theatre; and plates such as the excellent mixed meze are assembled for maximum aesthetic impact. The grill is the main attraction, producing the likes of succulent lamb with puréed aubergine, or huge mixed kebab platters. Ordering from the latter, it’s possible to eat a full meal for under a tenner. There are a couple of grilled fish options too, along with manti (meat-filled dumplings), and some stewed dishes. Turkish breakfast dishes are served until 1pm.

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £35

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Harringay

Hook Camden Town

Venue says: New location opening in Brixton very soon... Hook Crew x

Hook is one of a growing catch of London chippies that are not really ‘chippies’ at all. It’s a serious fish restaurant that just happens to major in fish and chips. The fish is either lightly battered (the results nearly 100 percent grease-less) or coated in panko (Japanese breadcrumbs). And with the coatings are often seasoned, you’ll barely feel the need for condiments – but the sauces are all first-rate. As are the side dishes, which bear little relation to typical chip-shop offerings. Hook has already hooked the full spectrum of Camden’s citizenry, and with quality like this, it’s easy to see why.

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £35

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Camden
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Clutch

To paraphrase Henry Ford, you can have any dish as long as it’s chicken. Not that this hip outfit (opened 2014) serves ordinary fowl: every free-range piece comes slathered in one of six marinades. A ‘half bucket’ (thigh, drumstick and breast) arrives in a sticky slick of garlic and sweet soy. Each limb is firm and succulent (no bingo wings here). Portions are enormous; there are sides, such as double-cooked fries and salads, but you won’t need ’em. Such food goes brilliantly with alcohol – there’s drinking until 1am at weekends. Tricked out in monochrome, this is a highly stylised space, but loud retro tunes banish any hint of austerity.

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £38

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Haggerston

Counter Café

A delightfully thrown-together-looking daytime joint behind artists’ studios, the Counter deals in brunches, salads and pies. Excellent herby lamb pie comes with well-dressed colourful salad leaves, while an all-day dish of perfectly poached eggs is topped by smoked salmon on potato cakes (ours were slightly under-powered). Own-made tomato relish is left on each table, and the flat white coffee is terrific. There’s good music in the ground-floor room right on the canal, and peace and quiet, plus a view of trees and the Olympic stadium, from squidgy sofas and large tables upstairs. A useful pit-stop when exploring this fascinating, evolving area.

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £25

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Olympic Park

DF Mexico

This semi-permanent pop-up (which feels like a prototype chain) is a bad-ass version of Wahaca: and it’s fashionable in a very London way. Touchscreen pads take the order of the day, although real humans take your cash and deliver the booze – you collect everything else yourself. Annoying as this may be, as you teeter back to your table, it certainly helps keep prices low. And once you start eating, you’re unlikely to hold a grudge. DF Mexico combines carefree classics such as chunky guacamole, refried beans and colourful tacos with the current trend for gut-busting American dude food – so expect treats such as pulled pork burgers (aka ‘tortas’), or chilli steak with chipotle salsa.

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £35

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Spitalfields

E Pellicci

Opened in 1900, and still run by the same family, Pellicci’s is a Bethnal Green landmark. Chrome-rimmed Vitrolite panels line the outside, and the wood-panelled interior is filled with Formica tables and art deco touches. All-day breakfast fry-ups are first rate – note the ‘quality’ sausage, and the option for extras such as black pudding and ‘homemade bubble’. The fish and chips, daily grills, Italian pasta specials and desserts (from bread pudding to Portuguese pasteis de nata) aren’t bad either. But it’s the vibrant welcome and lively banter that make this daytime-only place so special (NB: Unlicensed; no corkage charge).

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £20

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Bethnal Green

Hornbeam Café

Adverts on the wall for yoga and tai chi classes indicate where this daytime café’s heart lies. The welcome is friendly and the daily changing menu is short, wholesome and satisfying: a soup, a tabouleh dish and a salad, say, with ample cakes and fresh bread. The Hornbeam is now running as a partnership with local food business Norman Loves. It continues to serve vegetarian and vegan food with much of the veg locally grown by Waltham Forest-based workers co-operative Organiclea. Exciting? No, but we can’t help liking the place.

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £20

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Walthamstow

Jubo

Venue says: Established in 2013. Jubo was conceptualised in 2012. The team spent six months developing recipes and perfecting Korean fried chicken. In August 2013, Jubo was launched as a full service restaurant in Shoreditch after securing residency at 68 Rivington Street. Jubo specialises in fast-casual Korean food. Drawing inspiration from the K-Towns of Manhattan and Wilshire Boulevard, Jubo provides the ultimate 'anju' experience (drinking with food) coupled with a compelling drinks menu featuring soju, signature cocktails and beer. We are a full service restaurant and take bookings for groups of six and above. Take out is also available.

It started life as a pop-up with a use-by date, but this Korean take on chicken as dude food (an alternative KFC) is still going strong, thanks to its high-quality renditions of the food we Brits seek out when we’ve had a few. Specialities come at all prices – some wallet-busting – but good-value options include strips of Korean-style fried chicken, nicely battered and coated in a finger-licking hot and sweet sauce. Also of note is the yaka mein, a bargainous beef noodle dish topped with cucumber, fried shallots and a boiled egg. Quick, friendly service, neon lighting, Korean beers and must-order sides (including piquant kimchi slaw) add to the cheap thrill.

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £25

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Old Street

Lahore Kebab House

Punjabi-style tandoori grilled meat and generous portions of ghee-laden curry at bargain prices draw crowds to this spartanly furnished spot – as does the BYO policy. Despite the capacious, two-storey interior, queues often snake out of the door at weekends. Piles of sweet onion bhajia and heavily spiced lamb chops might start a meal, before the choice velvety dals, boldly flavoured curries (many on the bone) and buttery naans. The house specials are worth ordering, especially the nihari (lamb shank) and the dry lamb curry. Everything is served in utilitarian karahi bowls with a minimal amount of fuss (NB: unlicensed; no corkage charge).

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £25

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Whitechapel

Mangal Ocakbasi

Prices have tripled in the 20 or so years since meat was first grilled at this famous Turkish café. The place is a mite tatty, cash-only, and the starters aren’t worth bothering with (the likes of bog-standard taramà, houmous and patlıcan salata). Nevertheless, grills from the enormous mangal by the entrance are still sublime. Try the cop sis (rich, succulent grilled lamb) or tavuk beyti (a delicately garlicky, melty kebab of minced chicken). The service isn’t always the friendliest, and entertainment consists of watching the grill chefs juggling skewers and flipping meat – but the kebabs here still sing, and that’s all that really matters (NB: unlicensed; no corkage charge).

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £35

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Dalston

Mien Tay

It may look slightly down at heel, and the two-room interior is a little cramped, but Mien Tay is nevertheless a great place to get authentic, top-notch Vietnamese food. The low prices attract young, mainly non-Vietnamese diners for the likes of stir-fried green mussels with ginger and spring onion (a delight), or scallops with black bean sauce. Seafood hotpot (for a minimum of two diners) seems equally appealing. The chef here obviously has a way with seafood. As well as the usual two beers (Tiger and Saigon), Mien Tay has a concise but excellent wine list, chosen by Willie Lebus of Bibendum.

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £30

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Haggerston

Poppies

They’re not the cheapest chips you’ll find in London, but it’s worth paying extra for the type of rose-tinted eating experience older generations enthuse about nostalgically – the newspaper wrapping, the crisply battered fish with plump, golden chips, the surfeit of Formica. There’s even a jukebox and a red phone box for extra kitsch, plus friendly waitresses dressed in cute 1950s-style get-ups. The super-fresh Billingsgate-sourced fish can be ordered grilled as well as fried and the menu offers treats such as mackerel, lemon sole and seafood platters as well as the usual cod and haddock. Fish and chips being the great equaliser, customers range from cutting-edge hipsters to white-haired old-timers.

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £36

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Spitalfields
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Apollo Banana Leaf

Disco lights twinkle round the door, cheap wall art depicts idyllic mountain scenes, but it’s the cooking that attracts devotees of fiery food to this modest Tooting restaurant. The prices are divertingly low (especially when you factor in the BYO policy), and spice levels are at authentic Jaffna levels: so prepare to face the heat. Street food snacks (‘short eats’) include croquette-like mutton rolls with clove-spiked meat fillings. Follow them with typically Sri Lankan string-hopper dishes (featuring rounds of steamed vermicelli noodles), or rich, warmly spiced crab masala – claws and all. Worth getting messy for (NB: unlicensed; no corkage charge).

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £20

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Tooting

Beyrouths

You may fear you’re walking through a building site when entering Beyrouths – with its bright lights, rough-hewn woods and huge metal scaffolding poles (a deliberate design element) – but this branch of the Lebanese mini-chain is a surprisingly polished operation. The food of Beirut is the kitchen’s forte. Friendly, efficient staff dish out a roll-call of crowd-pleasers: from well-made houmous (garnished with virgin olive oil and fresh pomegranate seeds) to juicy pieces of grilled lamb and deliciously smoky baba ganoush. Vegetarian stews, such as okra served with vermicelli rice and garlic yoghurt, are also worth a punt – especially given the decent portion sizes.

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £35

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Balham

Borough Market

So famous it’s now a major tourist destination, Borough Market is also one of London’s best places to find lunch for little over £5 at one of the 40-plus food stalls. Highlights include the Brindisa stall with its superb Spanish selection, Horn OK Please for Indian street food, and enticing sandwiches from Gourmet Goat, Cumbrian Speciality Meats (Herdwick lamb), and Kappacasein (toasted cheese), among a great many others; there is something for every taste here. The market’s a slimline version from Monday to Wednesday; Thursday to Saturday is the time for the full – and full-on – experience (it’s closed Sundays). If you dislike crowds, try to get here (very) early.

Takeaway meal per head: around £5-£8

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Southwark

Brixton Market

What began as an initiative to regenerate Granville Arcade has been more successful than many locals could have imagined when a clutch of hopeful entrepreneurs started trading in its dingy aisles – among them Cornercopia, Kaosarn and Federation Coffee. Since then, the phenomenon has snowballed, with dozens of food businesses springing up among the vintage bric-a-brac stores and die-hard market stalls. Some of them (Honest Burgers, Mama Lan) have since made the leap to bricks-and-mortar premises in central London and beyond; others (French & Grace) have bagged publishing deals. Roam the market’s dusty avenues and graze at will – from Japanese-style pancakes at steam-filled Okan, to spiced lamb and halloumi wraps at French & Grace.

Takeaway meal per head: around £4-£8

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Brixton

Brockley Market

This small but perfectly formed food market in Lewisham College car park is a locals’ favourite that has attracted wider attention thanks to its winning mix of fresh produce, artisan cheeses and breads, proper coffee and good-quality ice cream – plus greatest hits from a regular mob of street food bigwigs. Hedonists can queue for Spit & Roast’s deep-fried buttermilk chicken baps, Mother Flipper’s juicy burgers or Van Dough’s delectable wood-fired pizzas, while the more virtuous (or those in possession of an industrial-sized hangover) can opt for a rejuvenating smoothie or one of Mike & Ollie’s lovingly prepared veg-packed wraps.

Takeaway meal per head: around £4.50-£7.50

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South East London

Café East

Tucked in a corner of the Surrey Quays Shopping Centre car park, Café East rewards intrepid diners who manage to find it. Inside, the sparsely furnished room has big square tables packed with happily guzzling South-east Asian customers. The menu is an edited-down list, each dish portrayed in an adjoining colour picture. Try the herby summer rolls to start, perhaps followed by one of the beautifully flavoured pho noodle soups: the choice ranges from traditional beef to king prawns in a chicken broth. Prices are low, making this an ideal place for groups to enjoy a veritable Vietnamese banquet (NB: unlicensed; no alcohol allowed).

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £25

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Surrey Quays

Chicken Shop

Tooting marked another step on its way to becoming the new Shoreditch with the opening of Chicken Shop, the area’s first really stylish bar and grill. No prizes for guessing what’s on the menu – apart from sides and puddings such as deep-filled apple pie and the like, there’s nothing but free-range chicken from the spit – but the kitchen does a simple thing very well indeed. Its pedigree (this is a Soho House operation) doubtless helps. No bookings: arrive off-peak if you don’t want to wait at the tiny bar.

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £40

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Tooting

Dosa n Chutny

Classic South Indian breakfast and snack dishes are beautifully rendered at this basically furnished Tooting café. Rarely have we seen such a perfect dosai: crisp on the outside, moist and rice-fragrant on the inside, served with rich sweet sambar (spicy lentil dip). Most of these meals cost under £3, so even bargain-hunters can order with abandon. The non-veg options are okay – mutton and chicken tandooris and curries mostly, though you will find some Sri Lankan kothu (bread biryani) dishes hovering around the £5 mark – but meat-free food is the star.

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £18

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Tooting

Fields

It may resemble a concrete box, but this is Clapham Common’s best café by a jogger’s mile – created by those behind Balham’s über-trendy M1lk. Fields’ modestly furnished room belies a menu of great invention. Slow-braised oxtail arrives on sourdough toast with pickled shiitake mushrooms and basil leaves; burnt plum comes with Cornish cream, wet walnut and muscat grapes. Light bites include a yeasty, peat-smoked lardy cake, cooked in a tiny Bundt tin, or big Anzac biscuits. To drink, great coffee is made with either Workshop espresso or Koppi filter – plus there’s Kernel Table beer and even ‘natural’ wines by the glass. The large outdoor decked area adds child-friendly appeal.

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £30

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Clapham

Mama Lan

A family affair inspired by the Beijing stall run by owner Ning Ma’s grandparents, this engaging Chinese café serves hearty northern-Chinese street food in the ramshackle environs of Brixton Village Market. Dumplings are the USP here; brown-bottomed beef and pork pot-stickers fly out of the kitchen and into the crowded dining room at an impressive rate, but veggie versions filled with wood-ear mushroom, spinach and vermicelli are also worth a try (at a fiver for five, it would be rude not to). Other crowd-pleasers include spicy chicken wings in a hot and smoky sauce and the smacked cucumber, a chilli-garlic taste bomb.

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £20

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Brixton
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101 Thai Kitchen

It may resemble a scruffy canteen – with ageing padded metal chairs within its two-tone pink dining room – but 101 produces genuine Esarn cooking hailing from the northeast of Thailand. You’ll find multiple versions of green papaya salad on the extensive menu, accompanied by anything from salted duck egg to sausage. There’s also a collection of southern Thai dishes such as sour prawn curry, or turmeric-marinated sea bass. Try the Esarn classic of shredded bamboo shoots with the fermented fish sauce favoured in the region: it is characteristically pungent (in taste and aroma). The no-nonsense approach here also extends to the bustling yet congenial staff.

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £35

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West London

Abu Zaad

A sometimes boisterous collection of families, couples and teenagers heads for this vast Syrian restaurant in search of fuss-free dining. The food, brought by zippy waiters, matches the relaxed, café-style setting: it’s cheap and portions are huge. A sharing meze of cold starters – including parsley-packed tabouleh and lashings of thick houmous – is a filling meal in itself, while a main course of tomato rice maklouba (topped and filled with chunks of lamb and slivers of fried aubergine) is enough for two. Kebabs are served with rice, bread and salad. Ease down the carbs with a glass of salty yoghurt ayran or a freshly squeezed juice (NB: unlicensed; no alcohol allowed).

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £32

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Shepherd's Bush

Books for Cooks

As well as housing an encyclopaedic selection of cookbooks, plus an upstairs kitchen for cookery workshops, this Notting Hill institution serves daily lunches and tempting cakes, all inspired by the books it sells. Whether it’s co-owner Eric Treuillé at the stove, or one of the shop’s many resident cooks, the culinary standard is high – which is just as well, because there’s no choice, just one starter and one main per day (perhaps earthy beetroot-and-date dip, followed by aromatic pork-belly hotpot). It’s a popular concept that sees tables filled by midday sharp until the food runs out. You can even order a cheeky glass of red, from Treuillé’s biodynamic vineyard.

Set lunch: £5 for two courses, £7 for three courses

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Ladbroke Grove

Galicia

Galicia has changed little in its many years in north Notting Hill. Locals clearly like stopped clocks, because they pile in at weekends to order not just tapas but an astonishingly cheap set lunch: three courses for £11.50. In the dining room at the back, you can people-watch while tucking into unashamedly old-fashioned tapas. Batter-fried bacalao (salt cod) and a textbook pulpo a la gallega (boiled octopus with extra virgin olive oil, coarse salt and paprika) are particular high points. With tapas starting from £3.75, and nothing over £9, this is just great value – especially for a place that provides a living connection with London’s past.

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £34

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Westbourne Park

Gold Mine

Top marks go to the Cantonese roast meats here – Gold Mine is famed for them, attracting students, locals and even visitors from Hong Kong. Flavours are big, and dishes can be oily: don’t miss the duck or the char siu (barbecued pork). Thick-cut pieces of deep-fried squid arrive with a whopping amount of garlic and chilli, and equally hearty is the ‘house special beancurd’: pei pa tofu served with shiitake and baby pak choi in a dark soy sauce. Less attention is paid to the decor, with its red and white colour scheme and cheery gold-framed pictures of vintage Chinese scenes, but diners don’t care: they’re here for a roasting.

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £38

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Bayswater

Heron

A dark, cramped basement beneath a shabby boozer might not seem an auspicious setting, but crowds of Thai diners provide the clue to the Heron’s success – here you’ll discover some of London’s most authentic Thai food. The kitchen specialises in northeastern cooking, offering multifarious spicy salads, sour curries and stir-fries. From the ample list, the sour sausages (sai krok esarn), served in bite-sized bobbles, produce plenty of garlicky tang, while a searingly hot and sour salad of stir-fried minced pork and crisp-fried rice ball pieces has the perfect balance of sweet, salty and sour notes. Things get lively after 9pm as the dining room doubles as a karaoke lounge.

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £40

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Edgware Road

Kerbisher & Malt

Perched at the pinnacle of London-based fish and chippery, Kerbisher & Malt tweaks every stage of the cooking process to make the food as appealing as possible. This means high-quality fillets dunked in super-light batter and cooked to order, chips that are double-fried, rich tartare sauce made in-house, and onion rings that are ‘pickled’, adding an appealing vinegar tang. There’s a steady stream of eat-in and takeaway custom all day and night, with specials for early birds (noon-4pm). The minimalist mix of subway tiles, jaunty blue booths and paper menus on chunky rough-wood tables, combined with the friendly welcome from efficient staff, ensure plenty of repeat custom, especially from families.

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £30

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Hammersmith

Lucky 7

Lucky 7 gets you smiling the second you look at its OTT American roadhouse-retro décor. The menu is a smile too, long on breakfast, burgers and rich desserts. The fried breakfast is so big that two could easily make a meal out of it. Burgers feature excellent beef, good garnishes and ace fries on the side. Huevos rancheros include top-notch chorizo and a textbook guacamole. Even the salads are good. And please, please save room for the pecan pie. It’s a tiny place, and no bookings are taken, so you may need to queue – but it’s worth the wait.

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £35

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Westbourne Park

Mosob

The immensely friendly staff at this compact Harrow Road restaurant are happy to explain all aspects of Eritrean culture. But the main event is the cooking, especially the gloriously diverse vegetarian choices; these include beautifully spiced lentils (timtimo), pounded and stewed chickpeas (shiro) and spinach (hamli). Meat eaters also fare well, thanks to the Mosob special (marinated lamb chops with spinach and lentils) and the muscular combination of hamli mis siga (tender stewed beef with spinach and garlic). Everything is served on spongy, yeasty injera, which is also used to scoop up the food. To end, don’t miss the coffee ceremony, which incorporates a side helping of warm popcorn.

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £38

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Westbourne Park

New Asian Tandoori Centre

Once a basic canteen, this Southall stalwart now boasts two highly presentable dining rooms next to its takeaway counter. Know the strengths of Punjabi cuisine and you’re likely to receive food of rare excellence: served by smart, black-clad staff. Choose a tandoori dish to start. Tandoori fish is succulent and tender beneath its tangy seared surface. Likewise, order thick, savoury Punjabi curries as a main course – the moreish dal, or chicken methi full of flavoursome thigh meat and abundant fenugreek leaves – and accompany them with one of an outstanding array of breads (the tissue-thin roomali roti and the onion kulcha are recommended). Many diners are from the local Sikh community.

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £28

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Comments

10 comments
Lamps Q
Lamps Q

Cheap!? Verden in Lower Clapton is the most expensive place in the whole area - it's essentially a Clapham wine bar completely out of odds with its surroundings. CHEAP!? It's the most expensive place in a 5 mile radius and none of the locals use it. It's typical of out of place, overpriced exclusive modern London.


RichardEhrlich
RichardEhrlich moderator

@Lamps Q Thanks for your comment. Verden qualifies for Cheap Eats on the basis of its brunch and lunch offering, which allows two people to eat for £35 or less.

Kat G
Kat G

Zaibatsu in Maze Hill should be on this list. Phenomenal sushi from a Nobu-chef at amazing prices x

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.

RichardEhrlich
RichardEhrlich moderator

@Charlie M Hi Charlie. I agree that this information would be very useful. Unfortunately, getting the information would add hugely and disproportionately to our workload. I'm not moaning, but it's just not practical. Wish it were. 

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.

RichardEhrlich
RichardEhrlich moderator

@Viktor Hello Viktor and thanks for this comment. We try to stay in touch with what's new and coming up, but London is a huge place and there are just a few of us. We would love to hear about the places you like, especially if they're new. Best way is by email. 


Thanks again,



Richard

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