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

You're sure to get more bang for your buck with our comprehensive list of London's best cheap cafés, restaurants and food markets



This venue has now closed

A no-frills Hong Kong-style diner that fills your belly without emptying your wallet

Longji’s brightly lit dining area spreads over several floors, all with HK-pop playing unobtrusively. The menu is long, and includes western-style dishes (such as borscht). One-dish meals are the highlight for cheap eats: two barbecued meats on steamed rice (£6.50), for instance, or fried rice or noodles with a great range of toppings. Many lunchers will be happy with ‘hawker soup noodles’ at prices ranging from £6.20 to £7.20: choose your noodles and toppings (from a list of 20) and slurp down the sizeable portion (in excellent broth) with chilli sauce on the side. The clientele is almost entirely Chinese, and the dumplings (a nice small starter) are well made.

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £25

Best dish under £5: prawn dumplings (£3.60)

Best dish under £7: hawker soup noodles (£6.20)

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This venue has now closed

Amid the bustle of Berwick Street Market, an all-veggie haven of healthy eating

This long-time vegetarian favourite remains a top choice for Sohoites who long to lunch healthily and cheaply. The food comes in small, medium or large cartons – most diners will be more than happy with medium (£6.20). Choose a mix of tasty salads and hot dishes (there’s ten of each), on display behind the counter. Hot stalwarts include a curry of the day, lentil and mushroom shepherd’s pie, and mini ‘sausage’ rolls. Salads feature careful dressing; dilled coleslaw is zingy and creamy, quinoa tabouleh pleasingly nutty. And if your sweet tooth starts aching, a ‘cluster’ (chocolate, coconut and Rice Krispies, £1.80) will cure it faster than you can say ‘brown rice’.

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

Best dish under £5: small bean hotpot of the day with Greek salad (£4.70)

Best dish under £7: medium moussaka with dilled coleslaw (£6.20)

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Tonkotsu East

An industrial-chic setting under railway arches, together with noodles that are made in-house, boost this ramen joint’s allure

An offshoot of the Soho noodle bar, this larger Haggerston operation opened in 2013 occupying a cavern-like space under railway arches. Like the bare-brick decor, the menu is minimal, matching four types of impeccable ramen with a handful of side dishes to produce big bowls of comfort food. A dish of dipping ramen (tsukemen) comes with thick-cut noodles topped with rolled pork slices, half a soft-boiled egg and a bowl of thick, deep pork-bone broth. The balance of sweet and savoury in a vegetarian mushroom and miso ramen was less successful, but it’s the noodles – made in full view at the back of the premises – that deserve acclaim.

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £36

Best dish under £7: pork gyoza (£5.75); ramen dishes start at £10

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De Beauvoir Town

101 Thai Kitchen

Acutely authentic northeastern Thai cookery finds a no-frills home at this King Street canteen

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

Best dish under £5: a bowl of classic tom yum soup (£4.95)

Best dish under £7: beef pad grapow, stir-fried with chilli, garlic, green beans and holy basil (£6.95)

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Ravenscourt Park

Counter Café

Come to this Hackney Wick canalside venue for brunches, salads and pies – plus views of the Olympic stadium

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 hot drinks and service: around £25

Best dish under £5: bacon focaccia with egg and Counter relish (£4.50)

Best dish under £7: homemade pie with side salad (£6)

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Hackney Wick

Mario's Café

Kentish Town’s favourite choice for breakfast and lunch, English or Italian, for over half a century

Set in one of Kentish Town’s prettiest streets, Mario’s has been an incredibly popular and community-minded daytime spot for decades. The emphasis on community means that prices are lower than much of the competition; a full breakfast for under a fiver is not so easy to find as Kentish Town moves upmarket. And the quality of the cooking is a cut above. Yes, you’ll find standard caff stuff – eggs, grills, sandwiches, jacket potatoes – but what sets this place apart is the Italian cooking, by Mario’s mum. It’s genuine casalinga (home-style) cuisine in a modest setting at modest prices. Small wonder that the caff is almost always packed.

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

Best dish under £5: sausage, egg, bacon and tomato (£4)

Best dish under £7: orecchiette with fresh ricotta, tomato and basil (£5.20)

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Kentish Town

Regency Café

Feast on stodgetastic dishes such as steak pie with chips and gravy, jacket potatoes and classic fry-ups at this old-school London caff

This workman’s café on the Westminster/Pimlico border is a striking example of its genre. The Art Deco frontage is jollied up with red-and-white gingham curtains, and the interior sports a classic combination of brown plastic chairs, Formica-topped tables and photos of yesterday’s stars on the tiled walls. The menu is a carb-fest of lasagne, omelettes, jacket potatoes and cooked breakfasts of all descriptions, plus own-made specials such as steak pie with gravy – all with the option of chips on the side, and accompanied by builders’ tea (naturally). Desserts include cinnamon-flecked bread-and-butter pudding, though it’s doubtful you’ll have room.

Meal for two with soft drinks and service: around £16

Best dish under £5: liver, bacon, chips and peas (£4.85)

Best dish under £7: lasagne al forno (£5.10)

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This Soho institution is so of its era that it’s almost a museum piece – go for the stodgy puddings, bargain set menu and time-warp feel

Want to know what eating out in London was like for your parents’ generation? Then step into this charmingly unreconstructed caff, whose wood-panelled booths, highly varnished tables, stainless steel bar and old-school till evoke old Soho to a T. Even some of the original (now considerably older) clientele still frequent the place, mixing with students and luvvies ‘keeping it real’. The large menu is a portal to a culinary land that time forgot, ranging from liver and bacon, to scampi with tartare sauce, plus anglicised pasta dishes and stodgy puddings straight from the 1960s. But the real throwback is the bill – especially set menus offering three courses for a tenner.

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £20

Best dish under £5: spaghetti napoli (£4.95)

Best dish under £7: smoked salmon and avocado salad (£6.95)

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Haggerston hipsters head to this on-trend fried chicken joint for their fill of free-range fowl

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

Best dish under £7: main courses start at £10

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Great-value Afghan/Persian cooking served in a charmingly kitsch dining room

Freshly baked flatbread – crisp outside, pillow-soft inside – forms the basis of a meal at this Cricklewood stalwart. Eat it with Persian kebabs of lamb or chicken, or with Afghan specialities such as kalleh pacheh (lamb’s head and feet in broth), mantu (meat- and onion-stuffed dumplings with spicy sauce) and quroot (a sour cottage cheese made from sheep or goat’s milk). The menu divides pretty equally between kebabs and stews, and many dishes are available in vegetarian form. Murals depicting Persian myths are a prominent feature of the charming, kitsch, and very welcoming interior.

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

Best dish under £7: chelow kebab with grilled tomatoes and rice (£6.95)

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See numbers 90-81

Four Seasons

Roast meats in large portions make this Chinatown veteran a destination

There’s another branch of Four Seasons just around the corner, but we prefer this one for the slightly better service. Both have a long-established reputation for roast meats, on display in the window to whet your appetite. Poultry and pork are the stars: Cantonese roast duck is nicely crisp but still juicy, and not too fatty; char siu (Cantonese barbecued pork) had good sweet flavour. The house special Fujian fried rice makes a rich and tasty accompaniment. All these dishes cost under a tenner, and if you order your meat on plain rice the price comes down further still. The setting is slightly cramped and the service standard-issue Chinatown efficient.

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £35

Best dish under £7: barbecued meat on rice (£6.80)

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A faithfully un-modernised old friend serving satisfying one-dish meals based on rice or noodles

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

Best dish under £7: shredded pork and preserved pickled vegetable handmade soup noodles (£7)

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Abu Zaad

Big helpings, low prices and a rollickingly relaxed setting are the draws at this capacious Syrian venue near Shepherd’s Bush Market

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 soft drinks and service: around £32

Best dish under £7: kibbeh labanyeh (minced lamb with yoghurt and tarragon, £6.75)

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Shepherd's Bush

Koshari Street

We’ll walk down Koshari Street any time: mega-filling, mega-tasty, mega-cheap. It’s the closest thing in the West End to a free lunch

Koshari Street serves little else but koshari, a filling Egyptian street snack of lentils, pasta and rice topped with tomato sauce, fried onions and doqqa (dukkah: an Egyptian spice blend). Furnishings are basic – the bar stools are at a shallow counter facing the wall – but you’ll come away full and well nourished. The dish is very filling, and also extremely tasty thanks to the sauce (available in mild, hot or very hot versions), the spices, and the skilfully fried onions. A small pot costs just £3. There’s also a soup and some salads, for those wanting to avoid the starch. We’re ready to walk down this street any time.

Meal for two with soft drinks and service: around £17

Best dish under £5: small pot of koshari (£3)

Best dish under £7: large pot of koshari (£6.50)

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Covent Garden

La Polenteria

In the spirit of London’s trendy single-item menus, this Italian café serves only cornmeal – either as polenta with savoury toppings, or in cakes and biscuits

This warmly decorated café-restaurant specialises in savoury and sweet dishes based on polenta – the cornmeal grain that is a staple of Italian cuisine. Hearty toppings such as Tuscan sausages with borlotti beans, veal goulash, or wild boar and red wine stew all cost around a tenner, while vegan and vegetarian dishes – burrata with cherry tomato sauce and basil, say – are cheaper still. Cornmeal-based desserts (all vegan), such as chocolate and coconut squares or cornmeal and almond cookies inevitably take their toll on the bill, but are tasty enough to merit the extra expense. A simple and well-executed proposition.

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £38

Best dish under £7: Sicilian caponata (£7)

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Tucked in the corner of a Shoreditch bar, this dinky pop-up serves KFC – that’s Korean Fried Chicken – with steamed buns and piquant pickles

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

Best dish under £5: three Korean Fried Chicken strips (£5)

Best dish under £7: two steamed pork buns (£6.50)

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Food for Thought

This venue has now closed

This no-frills veggie stalwart serves a short daily menu of huge, hearty dishes – mainly soups, stews, stroganoffs and salads – at rock-bottom prices

After 40 years on the scene, Food for Thought is part of the Covent Garden furniture, its welcoming atmosphere, cramped surroundings and daily roster of robust veggie dishes unchanged since day one. The ground-floor takeaway sees bushy-tailed staff dispense generous portions at location-defying prices (two courses cost £8.50). In the downstairs dining room, students, bargain-hunters and committed vegetarians cram on to communal tables, surrounded by 1970s pine. Dishes are very bish-bash-bosh – getting your chops around hunks of veg in the hearty stews takes some doing – but they ’re filling, flavoursome and healthy. Food for Thought isn’t above a ‘sinful’ dessert, though – try the ‘scrunch’, a creamy fruit and biscuit concoction.

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

Best dish under £5: quiche (£4.30)

Best dish under £7: spiced Jamaican stew with coconut and tomato sauce (£5.30)

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Covent Garden

Gold Mine

Crowds come for a roasting at this Cantonese duck and pork specialist on Bayswater’s high street

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

Best dish under £7: roasted duck rice (£6.80)

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Delhi Grill

An upbeat Punjabi pit-stop on Chapel Market, majoring in street food snacks and slow-cooked curries

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

Best dish under £5: a snack of samosa chat (£3.95)

Best dish under £7: the lunchtime deal of chicken karahi with tarka dal and rice (£6 regular, £7 large)

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Baozi Inn

Noodles, buns and dumplings come with a western-Chinese kick at this fringe-of-Chinatown venue

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

Best cheap dish: Chengdu dan dan noodles (£7.80)

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See numbers 80-71

Berwick Street Market

These stalls never stall – a rich variety of outdoor eating options on an historic Soho street.

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

Best dish under £5: takeaway box from Savage Salads (£5)

Best dish under £7: an Original (spicy cheeseburger) from Tongue ’n’ Cheek (£6.50)

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Mother Mash

Mash is a sideshow no more at this charming one-off café where the spud is placed centre-stage

It’s a simple set-up at this charming café where the potato is king: choose your preferred style (and texture) of mash, add a couple of meaty sausages or a pie, then select a gravy flavour. The mash, which ranges from a pokey mustard-and-cheese-laden version to traditional colcannon dotted with bright spring cabbage, is heavy and over-whipped, but satisfyingly rib-sticking, while pies are well proportioned, with golden hot-water-crust pastry that holds together well. What stops Mother Mash entering ‘ye olde mash shop’ territory is friendly service and an attractive modern dining room, with plenty of daylight, white subway tiles and marble tabletops. However, pinched seating is a squeeze for couch potatoes.

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £27

Best dish under £7: sticky sausage and sweet potato salad (£6.95)

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Café Below

A City café that’s a cut above for quality, ambition, and the setting – a Grade I-listed Christopher Wren church

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)

Best cheap dish: lunchtime main courses start at £7.75 for a grilled cheese sandwich with two salads

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Mansion House

Vantra Vitao

Load up on fresh and flavour-packed vegan dishes, all priced by weight – and save room for the impressive dairy-free desserts

Health and well-being through all-vegan dishes is the name of the game at this bustling buffet restaurant. The selection changes daily, but a typical line-up includes soups, stews, stroganoffs, grilled vegetables and fresh, zesty salads – plus dairy-free desserts such as mango, coconut and cashew ‘cheesecake’. Not every dish is as innovative (many reference the 1970s), but all deliver fresh and punchy flavours (that sometimes jar with other dishes on your plate). Prices are determined by the weight of your selection (£1.80 per 100g), so go steady if you’re on a budget. However, if you’re after a fun, healthy alternative to the Oxford Street chains, head this way.

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £30

Best dish under £5: up to 277g of any food

Best dish under £7: up to 388g of any food

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Oxford Street


It’s worth queuing for Kêu’s banh mi: the bread for these tip-top Vietnamese sandwiches stands comparison with the best in London

At Kêu, sibling to Cây Tre and Viet Grill, the principal offering is banh mi: filled Vietnamese rolls. The crucial element of a great banh mi is the roll itself, and the bread here is made by the Sally Clarke Bakery – one of London’s best. The ‘Classic’ combo (roast pork with cucumber, coriander, red chilli and pickled carrot and daikon) is simple but good. The vegetarian choice combines deep-fried tofu chunks with roasted aubergine and the same salad. Both cost £7.10 eat in. The plump summer rolls (a side dish, £5 for four pieces) are refreshing and thoroughly enjoyable. Best of the soft drinks is the off-menu Vietnamese dripped coffee (£3.50).

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

Best cheap dish: prices start at £7.10 for the ‘Classic’ banh mi

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Tuck into rib-sticking renditions of the Korean staple, bibimbap: a layered dish of rice, spiced vegetables and meat topped with a fried egg

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

Best dish under £5: spicy rice cake (£4.95)

Best dish under £7: beef bool-go-gi (£6.95)

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Hornbeam Café

A friendly daytime café with a concise menu of wholesome vegetarian and vegan food – much of it grown locally

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 hot drinks and service: around £20

Best dish under £5: mushroom, chestnut and lentil soup with fresh bread (£3.50)

Best dish under £7: onion focaccia with chard and potato pie and salad (£5)

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Silk Road

North-west China meets south-east London at this friendly repository of noodles, stews and dumplings

Dishes from the north-west Chinese province of Xinjiang are reason enough to embark down Camberwell’s congenial little Silk Road: a cheerful if functional spot. You’ll find Central Asian-style dumplings and kebabs on the short menu, and a few Sichuan dishes, but best is the noodle and stew section. ‘Medium chicken’ is a wonderfully rich star anise-and-chilli-flavoured broth bobbing with chicken on the bone, plus potatoes. When you near the end, your waiter will bring superb handmade noodles to add to the broth. Salads of kelp or cucumber are a refreshing nod to any health initiatives you may have embarked upon.

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £30

Best dish under £5: Xinjiang-style noodles in soup (£4.50)

Best dish under £7: special cooked lamb with noodles (£6.50)

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Te Amo

We love you, Te Amo: this Kentish Town kebab restaurant gets its grills, meze and salads just right

There are many decent kebab-shop-restaurants hereabouts, but Lebanese-run Te Amo is at the top of the league because of the exceptional care taken with the basics: ingredients, seasoning, cooking. Some of the long menu veers sharply away from the grilled meat and fish that’s the strong suit. Stay with the grill and you’ll get a good meal – though the mixed meze (£14 for two people) is just as good as the excellent kebabs. Wraps are the cheapest option (£5-£6 for a filling plateful); the freshly prepared and carefully seasoned salads are even better. Te Amo stays open very late on Saturdays, but with no alcohol licence it’s strictly for refuelling.

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

Best dish under £5: mixed shawarma lamb and chicken wrap (£4.80)

Best dish under £7: mixed meze (£14 for two people)

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Kentish Town

Lucky 7

Classy American diner in Westbourne Grove with great food, killer milkshakes and a happy neighbourhood vibe – and it looks great, too

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

Best dish under £7: classic hamburger (£6.95)

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Westbourne Grove
See numbers 70-61

Maoz Vegetarian

Help yourself to accessories – all you can eat, or carry – at this fast, filling, friendly falafel specialist

The formula here is simple and satisfying. You take a tray and the brisk, friendly staff put on it a pitta bread crammed with crunchy falafels – fried, expertly, a few feet from where they’re served. Then you shuffle along to the irresistible salad bar buffet, and fill the pitta further with excellent garnishes: salads, pickles, olives and the like. Many people get takeaways, but there are a few tables where you can perch and watch Soho street life. And if you’re feeling virtuous by virtue of eating this healthy vegetarian meal, the excellent chips may be the indulgent reward you’re looking for.

Meal for two with soft drinks and service: around £19

Best dish under £7: falafel in pitta or a box (£6.60)

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The Covent Garden branch of this mini-chain celebrates South Indian vegetarian specialities, with dosais, idlis and Mumbai beach snacks particular treats

Sagar’s three branches all specialise in South Indian cuisine from the temple town of Udupi in Karnataka, renowned in India for producing high-quality vegetarian chefs. Considering the cost of eating well in Covent Garden, it’s no wonder this outpost does a brisk trade. Top specialities include crisp, wafer-thin dosais, though the filling and flavoursome thali platters also hit the spot. Idlis – the faintly addictive steamed rice dumplings traditionally eaten at breakfast in southern India – are devoured all day long. The dining room’s varnished plywood panelling, tatty seats and wipe-clean tables could use some TLC, but diners are here to refuel on the cheap, not to linger.

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £30

Best dish under £5: idli (£4.65)

Best dish under £7: masala dosai (£6.95)

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Covent Garden

Brockley Market

Street food headlines at this friendly south London market that’s proud of being ‘cooler than Borough’.

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

Best dish under £7: a wrap of mackerel fillet with pickled forced rhubarb, from Mike & Ollie (£7)

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St John's

Exmouth Market

Bubbling jollof rice, fragrant Thai noodles, superior kebabs… this choice weekday food market offers a global assortment of flavours

No doubt keen to measure up to the remarkable standard of the restaurants flanking it, Exmouth Market’s food market has gone from strength to strength since it was reintroduced to the charming pedestrianised stretch in 2006. Judging by queues, the most popular stall is Ghanaian specialist Spinach & Agushi, which serves jollof rice with two meaty stews and freshly fried plantains for £5. But there are plenty of other gems among the regularly changing traders. Vendors might include Mac & Cheese, Meat Head BBQ, La Cochinita (Spanish dishes), and Freebird burritos, among others. Some local restaurants also get in on the act: Paesan doing pastas on our most recent visit.

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

Best dish under £5: lamb kebab with Turkish salad, couscous, bread and own-made yoghurt from Moro (£5)

Best dish under £7: vegetarian thali (two curries with rice and sauces) from Gujarati Rasoi (£5.50)

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Beirut comes to Balham at this friendly Lebanese joint, where you’ll find a repertoire of Middle Eastern mezes, grills and stews

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

Best dish under £7: main courses start at £10.50

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Lanzhou Noodle Bar

Watch noodles being hand-pulled and cooked to order, then tuck into bowls of nourishing soul food, Chinese-style

This steam-filled noodle hut is a workaday pit-stop for everyone from Chinese office workers to late-night revellers craving starch (it opens until the wee hours). Despite the extensive menu, Lanzhou’s USP is its two types of expertly and traditionally pulled noodles: la mian (which resemble fat spaghetti) and dao xiao mian (strips of dough sliced into boiling water). These are served in three variations (in a soup, dry, or fried), with countless flavour combinations – from seafood with vegetables to pig’s ear with cucumber. The venue is a humble spot best for a quick refuel; nevertheless, the theatre of ultra-thin noodles being hand-pulled and cooked before your eyes is unmissable.

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £20

Best dish for under £5: la mian noodle soup with vegetables (£5)

Best dish for under £7: dao xiao mian noodle soup with sliced beef (£6.90)

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Covent Garden

Miss Chu

This venue has now closed

Cram on to a tiny table at this modest Whitechapel café and treat yourself to classic Vietnamese street food

This little hole in the wall stretches back to a long corridor and kitchen. Here, classic Vietnamese street and café food is produced both for a busy takeaway and delivery business and for eat-in customers who are packed on to tiny tables below an array of artful hanging lamps. Specials are chalked on a blackboard; orders are taken at the kitchen counter. Among the many options on the menu, we rate the filling pho (beef noodle soup) and the banh mi (filled baguettes). The fair pricing gets a big thumbs-up too.

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £25

Best dish under £7: roast pork belly and pâté bahn mi (£6)

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Jerk City

In a rapidly changing world, Jerk City’s short but punchy menu of Caribbean classics is reassuringly consistent

Jerk City’s short but brilliantly authentic menu of Caribbean hits proves an irresistible draw for both cash-poor students and office workers after a taste of home-style cooking – especially at lunch, the busiest and best time to come. Choose from hefty plates of chicken (jerk, barbecue, brown stew or curry), curried mutton, oxtail, peppered steak, ackee and saltfish and stewed fish – all rich and unsparingly flavoured – plus delicious rotis and good-quality sides such as rice and peas. The neat pale-green and white dining room is a little too Ikea-by-numbers for some, but is bright and welcoming enough for a quick and tasty refill.

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

Best dish under £7: main courses start at £7.50 for vegetable roti

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19 Numara Bos Cirrik I

Dalston’s prime spot for a Turkish grilling, big flavours drawing in big crowds

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

Best dish under £5: lahmacun ‘Turkish pizza’ (£2)

Best dish under £7: mixed meze (£12.50 for two people)

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Fast food of rare quality: you’ll be pulled in helplessly by the taste, and filled up happily by the portions.

Pull’d means pulled, as in meat: pork, beef and chicken in this case. The kitchen team place it in wraps and sandwiches (or on rice or a salad) together with outstanding garnishes: flavourful leaves, high-grade tomato salad, tasty coleslaw made with red cabbage, grated cheese, plus your choice of sauces including a better-than-average barbecue sauce. Portions are generous (finishing a large wrap would be a challenge), the meat is tip-top, and friendly staff go out of their way to be helpful. Seating in the diminutive interior is on a stool at the counters, where power points and USB ports encourage dawdling.

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £20

Best dish under £5: small wrap or sandwich (£4.95)

Best dish under £7: regular wrap or sandwich (£6.45)

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Mansion House
See numbers 60-51

Mama Lan

Mama knows best, with generous portions of decent dumplings for around a fiver

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

Best dish under £5: wood-ear mushroom, spinach and vermicelli dumplings (£5)

Best dish under £7: king prawn and water-chestnut dumplings (£6.50)

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DF Mexico

A cool London take on the Mexican diner by Wahaca’s Tommi Miers, which could well be rolled out to a city near you

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

Best dish under £7: crumbed cod torta with red slaw and chipotle mayo (£6.95)

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Ealing Road (Wembley)

Walk down this bustling street to find a wealth of low-priced Indian restaurants and cafés, with vegetarian food to the fore

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 soft drinks and service: around £12-£25

Best dish under £5: mini thali at Asher’s Africana (£3.50)

Best dish under £7: pau bhaji at Sakonis (steamed veg in spicy tomato sauce, with hot buttered pau bread, £5.75)

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Meze Mangal

Lewisham’s answer to the top Turks of Green Lanes: a prime source of pides and grills

Refurbished in 2013, and moving a notch upmarket in the process, Meze Mangal remains south-east London’s top Turkish restaurant, and the match of many on north London’s Green Lanes. The decor now features parquet flooring, spotlights and long tables, but it’s the charcoal grill that still takes centre stage. From here come the likes of bıldırcın (grilled quail) and patlıcan kebab (aubergine with minced lamb). Nevertheless, it’s on the list of freshly baked pide breads where you’ll find the best value; toppings range from spinach, onions and cheese to Turkish sausages with cheese, egg and tomatoes. A decent choice of meze dishes and Turkish wines boosts the appeal.

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £40

Best dish under £7: kiymali pide (minced lamb, tomatoes and green peppers on pide bread, £6.50)

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St John's

Square Pie

An updated version of traditional London cuisine, set within an updated version of a traditional London market

The daytime-only hours and the meat of the menu (pie, mash) might mirror those of the time-honoured East End pie shop, but the similarities end there at Square Pie. Pies range from steak and Guinness to jerk chicken, served from a sleek red counter in cardboard boxes. Ingredients are first rate, including ‘proper’ onion gravy. Add mushy peas (which ‘haven’t been near a tin’) or instead go for macaroni cheese, and finish with carrot cake and Monmouth coffee. Diners sit at bar stools inside, or populate the tables ‘outside’ within Spitalfields market.

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £20

Best dish under £5: macaroni cheese (£4.69)

Best dish under £7: classic pie with double mash (£6.99)

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Books for Cooks

The best recipes from the books at this vivacious shop are brought to life in its kitchen

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

Best dish under £5: roasted cauliflower soup, then mushroom and chestnut bourguignon (£5)

Best dish under £7: beetroot and date dip, then Persian lamb, followed by cake (£7)

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Le Rif

Head straight for couscous and tagines at this Finsbury Park Moroccan caff, and polish off your meal with tea and pastries

You don’t come to this caff for a souk-like atmosphere; nor do the sandwiches and jacket spuds on the lunchtime menu hold much appeal – it’s the outrageously cheap Moroccan dishes that attract clued-up Finsbury Parkers. Throughout the day the friendly owner can quickly conjure up starters such as lentil, chickpea and rice soup, or houmous with olives and flatbread, but we prefer heading straight for the excellent main courses: perfectly balanced fish tagine with spinach, olives, potato, aubergine and lemon; or couscous royale featuring tender, succulent chunks of chicken and lamb in a subtly spicy broth. Finish with pastries, and mint tea from a beautiful brass pot.

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

Best dish under £5: fish tagine with vegetables (£5)

Best dish under £7: royal couscous (£6)

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Finsbury Park

Arancini Factory

Deep-fried risotto balls are the stars here, but breakfast, sandwiches and great coffee all play their part at this Kentish Town favourite

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

Best dish under £5: poached egg on toast (£4.50)

Best dish under £7: arancini with hot veg stew (£7)

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Kentish Town


A bulbous Bavarian sausage with a stein of lager is just one option at this idyllic riverside venue. Don your lederhösen and prepare for the wurst

The riverside location makes the perfect setting for Stein’s entirely outdoor Bavarian beer garden. Order food at the window, then staff quickly bring it to your shared picnic table. Partake of the fine breakfast menu, indulge in traditional sausages on sauerkraut, or share a cured meat or cheese platter, with freshly baked pretzels or rolls. The Munich-style bratwurst, with fried potatoes and onions and a salad, is recommended. For bigger appetites, main courses of schnitzel or kaesespaetzle (noodles with cheese) lie in wait. Sweets include a perfect apple strudel. However, beer takes centre stage: a range of German imports available on tap, including refreshing Paulaner Helles and fruity Erdinger Weissbier.

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £32

Best dish under £5: Würstchen mit Semmel (sausage in a roll, £4.10)

Best dish under £7: Goulascheintopf mit Semmel (a bowl of Bavarian goulash stew with a roll, £6.10)

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Venue says: Enjoy a variety of home-cooking stews, grills, dips and traditional hearty dishes such as lamb shanks with dill rice.

Glorious stews, spot-on kebabs and delightful dips distinguish this peach of a Persian venue. The bread’s not bad either

A fantastic option for low-priced Persian food, Sufi has maintained top form since opening in 2007. Rugs and instruments hanging from its walls try to inject excitement into the decor, but the cooking needs no such help. Walnuts and garlic give spice and texture to the aubergine dip of kashk-e bademjam, though it’s kashk (whey) that makes it so moreish. Taftoon flatbread, from the clay oven by the window, is the ideal accompaniment. To follow, chelo koobideh (minced lamb kebab) is spot-on. Even better is khoresht-e fesenjan, glorious chicken stew in a sauce of ground walnuts and pomegranate molasses. Doogh (yoghurt drink) makes a perfect foil to this rich food.

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

Best dish under £7: main courses start at £7.90

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Shepherd's Bush
See numbers 50-41

Café TPT

Huge flavours from a huge Chinese menu, with small prices and an even smaller kitchen – it’s all a-okay at 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

Best dish under £7: prawn dumpling noodle soup (£6.50)

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Harrow is happy to have this convivial BYOB venue serving sizeable portions of Afghan comfort food

Local Afghan families fill Masa’s long tables with chatter as enormous amounts of food are placed before them. A takeaway counter to one side and a burbling TV provide distractions, but fans come here for low prices and satisfying cooking: huge discs of soft, fragrant bread warm from the oven; delicate parcels of aushak dumplings with a spicy leek filling, topped with yoghurt and minced meat; mountains of fluffy pilau full of nuts and lamb; and warming, hearty stews of okra and lamb – perfect comfort food. Spices are delicate, culinary influences come from across the Middle East and Indian subcontinent, and diners on a budget will love the BYOB policy.

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

Best dish under £7: aushak (dumplings with a spicy leek filling, topped with yoghurt and minced meat, £5.95)

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Tip-top Turkish in Green Lanes, a prime spot for grills and meze

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

Best dish under £7: a small kofte kebab (£7)

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Thornton Heath

City Càphê

Spiced soups, banh mi, summer rolls and noodle salads fly out of the door of this City venue – and prices won’t break the bank

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

Best dish under £5: classic pork banh mi (£4.25)

Best dish under £7: beef pho (£6.75)

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Mansion House

New Asian Tandoori Centre

Thick savoury Punjabi curries, outstanding breads and succulent tandoori dishes are the mainstay of this Southall old-stager

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 soft drinks and service: around £28

Best dish under £5: masala baingan (aubergine, £4.50)

Best dish under £7: chicken methi (£7)

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In the west London vanguard of low-cost Vietnamese cafés, this Chiswick operator knows its noodles

Meaning ‘delicious’ in Vietnamese, Ngon lives up to its name. This friendly daytime venue has two dining sections: a front area with functional low tables and rattan stools, and a hidden, regular tabled seating space at the back. Vietnamese staples such as banh mi, noodle soups and rice dishes account for most of the low-cost menu. Lotus root salad introduces the country’s cuisine well – mixed herbs and lotus root strips topped with tender slices of pork and prawns. Next, try the house special rice set with fragrant grilled pork and delicately flavoured crab and pork egg terrine. Drink bubble tea, interesting brews such as artichoke tea, or Vietnamese drip coffee. (NB: unlicensed; no alcohol allowed.)

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

Best dish under £5: shredded duck banh mi (£4.95)

Best dish under £7: bun bo hue (spicy beef noodle soup with pork sausage, £6.95).

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Turnham Green

Chicken Shop

Fowl play is the focus of this stylish Tooting bar and grill – though prices aren’t poultry

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

Best dish under £7: a quarter of grilled chicken is £5, though sides are £4 extra

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Big Apple Hot Dogs

Top-quality New York-style hot dogs. And more dogs. And free toppings, including Polish sauerkraut. And did we mention the 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

Best dish under £5: The Frank Jr (£4)

Best dish under £7: The Big Pole (£7)

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Mien Tay

Sample top-notch Vietnamese cooking, with a forte in seafood, at this no-frills Kingsland Road stalwart

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

Best dish under £7: rice vermicelli with stir-fried beef, chilli and lemongrass (£6.80)

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Eat spicy stews – both vegetarian and not – with spongy injera bread at this friendly Eritrean joint

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

Best dish under £7: main courses start at £8.95

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Maida Hill
See numbers 40-31

Café East

Ignore the basic decor, just taste the pho noodle soup at this Vietnamese hot-spot in the unlikely setting of a car park

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 soft drinks and service: around £25

Best dish under £7: main courses start at £8

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Kerbisher & Malt

Love and care are lavished on every ingredient served in this upmarket but unsnooty chippy

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

Best dish under £5: fish finger butty (£4)

Best dish under £7: fillet of matzo-breaded pollock, no chips (£6.70)

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Brook Green


A superior Italian – with wood-fired pizzas, focaccia and salads, plus miles of tempting cakes and pastries – in beautiful surroundings

With its sandstone interiors, black marble counters, high communal tables and calming water feature along one wall, this Alan Yau-backed all-day Italian (an offshoot of a Milanese chain) looks a million dollars. The good news is that the food costs much less. The menu segues from delectable breakfasts (Italian-baked eggs or panettone French toast, say), to self-service lunches of filled focaccia, attractive salads and hot dishes such as pasta alla Norma and clam linguine. The adjoining sit-down pizzeria is the best bet for evenings – or for those who prefer table service – offering a short but classy range of wood-fired pizzas (also sold by the slice next door).

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £35

Best dish under £5: croissant with pancetta and scrambled eggs (£4.60)

Best dish under £7: pizza marinara (£6.50)

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Indian YMCA

Authentic curries at school-dinner prices are the order of the day in this cut-price Indian dining hall

This Indian institution was set up as a home-from-home for sub-continental students newly arrived in the UK; 60 years on, you’re just as likely to find in-the-know Brits scarfing a cheap and tasty lunch here. The vibe is reminiscent of a school canteen: you queue at the counter, choose your dish from the pegboard menu, then sit down at communal wipe-clean tables to eat. The menu offers a mixture of freshly prepared North Indian-style curries, authentically spiced and served with comforting dal and mounds of colourful pilau rice, plus some South Indian delicacies – and bargain retro snacks such as tinned fruit for 75p.

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

Best dish under £5: lamb curry (£3.50) or tandoori chicken (£3.70)

Best dish under £7: everything is under £5

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Tip-top tapas rule the room in this long-serving, gloriously old-fashioned Spanish stalwart, a little corner of Spain in north Notting Hill

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

Best dish under £5: tapas of bacalao (fried salt cod, £4)

Best dish under £7: tapas of pincho moruno (grilled meat in garlic and pimento, £5.50)

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North Kensington


Mouthwatering meat curries, deftly spiced fish dishes and plenty for veggies: Shilpa brings a blast of the tropical subcontinent to Hammersmith

Ignore the unprepossessing decor of this South Indian neighbourhood restaurant – Shilpa is all about the food. The Keralan cooking mixes the likes of explosive chilli heat, nutty mustard seeds, fragrant curry leaves and toasty peppercorns in dishes ranging from aromatic steamed sea bass (theatrically unwrapped from its banana leaf at the table) to first-class curries such as chemmeen mulakittathu, a prawn and tomato masala sharpened with a kick of tamarind. Meat dishes also find favour – try the Keralan speciality of erachi mappas, tender bites of lamb in a coconut-rich sauce. Lunch is the time to visit, when wallet-friendly set menus come in at under a tenner.

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £40

Best dish under £5: cheera parippu thalichathu (lentil and spinach curry cooked with mustard seeds and curry leaves, £4)

Best dish under £7: Kerala fish curry (£6.50)

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Ravenscourt Park

Battersea Pie

Venue says: Why not come in and try some delicious seasonal red cabbage with your pie and mash, don't forget to include lashings of gravy!

Covent Garden Piazza may be a tourist trap, but hidden within is this great-value pie and mash shop, serving top-quality pies and desserts in a cosy setting

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

Best dish under £7: pies start at £7.50

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Covent Garden

Song Que

Friends of pho make a beeline for the excellent Vietnamese noodle soups here – always on song at Song Que

The undoubted star of the Kingsland Road Vietnamese scene, Song Que is constantly packed with happy customers, including Vietnamese locals. It’s big, light, airy and vibrant, recently redecorated, and serves good food that’s highly authentic – and great value. The pho noodle soups are excellent and come in 24 versions (from ‘rare sliced steak, well-done flank and tripe’ to hot and spicy tofu), all priced at £8.40. Starters are also worth trying: chargrilled quail, perhaps, or a traditional crispy pancake filled with prawns and chicken. Entering its thirteenth year of trading, this family-run business still has a buzz about it.

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £30

Best cheap dish: main courses start at £7.40

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Mongolian Grill

Construct your own Korean barbecue meal or bubbling hotpot at this Clapham oriental restaurant

Two meals – hotpot and Korean barbecue – are the speciality at this backstreet restaurant in Clapham’s Old Town. There’s an enormous help-yourself buffet of fish, meat and vegetables: all raw. Food hygiene is scrupulously maintained, with the steel containers frequently replenished by fresh items, and individual tongs used. Diners take their chosen ingredients to their table for grilling (the Korean route) or boiling in stock. We recommend a half-and-half hotpot: one side with a subtle broth (for fish and veg) the other with spicy stock (for the likes of pork belly). Cheery service adds to the fun.

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £30

Best dish under £7: hotpots and grills start at £15

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Franks Canteen

Belting breakfasts, brunches and lunches in Highbury Park. The kedgeree is a killer

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 soft drinks and service: around £28

Best dish under £5: bacon or sausage sandwich (£5)

Best dish under £7: egg on toast with chives (£5.50)

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See numbers 30-21


A super-slick international ramen chain that’s taking London by storm with its stonking tonkotsu and great side dishes.

Ippudo’s first foray into Europe is in a polished modern space with international staff who keep things running smoothly – despite the often lengthy queues. But it’s worth a wait for the outstanding ramen: noodles in soup with various toppings. Try the pork loin, mushroom and thin noodles (made in-house) in the ‘Classic’ version, or for added oomph with spicy miso paste and black garlic oil (the ‘Akamaru Modern’). There are also two tasty vegetarian versions and loads of non-ramen choices. This is a no-bookings restaurant, and immensely popular, so put your name on the list and wait for a call, or arrive early – who knows, you might get lucky.

Meal for two with soft drinks and service: around £33

Best cheap dish: ramen prices start at £10

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Covent Garden


A changing roster of accomplished street food vendors in Granary Square, King’s Cross

Kerb is a cool collective of street food vendors that trades in Granary Square every week from Tuesday to Friday. The roster changes daily, but star turns might include Kimchinary, with its Korean burritos and tacos (try slow-braised bulgogi ox cheek); the Donostia Social Club and its Basque tapas such as seared scallops with pisto, green chilli sauce and almonds; or the sometimes weird and always wonderful ice creams from Ruby Violet (are you ready for orange marmalade ripple?). You can also catch Kerb (less frequently) at other locations: University College London, the Gherkin, Paddington and Spitalfields market. Check the Kerb website (www.kerbfood.com) for more information.

Takeaway lunch: around £5-£8 per head

Best dish under £5: tapas of braised ibérico pork cheek with butter-bean purée and herb oil from the Donostia Social Club (£5)

Best dish under £7: Korean burritos from Kimchinary (£6)

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King's Cross

Yalla Yalla

This lively Lebanese hub deals in delicious, high-quality all-day meze, plus grilled skewers and takeaway wraps

Ever-popular Yalla Yalla takes the formality out of Lebanese dining without compromising on quality. The large communal tables in the yellow, black and white dining rooms are filled with a constant stream of diners all day. Meze platters of dense, garlicky houmous, well-rendered falafel and deliciously warm pitta breads dusted with lemony za’atar are made for sharing; alternatively, try stand-out meze dishes such as melt-in-the-mouth chicken livers coated in tangy, sticky pomegranate molasses. Next come meaty, charcoal-grilled mains. Service can be erratic, and noise levels cacophonous, but no one seems to mind – those who do just grab a takeaway wrap.

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £35

Best dish under £5: sautéed chicken livers with pomegranate molasses (£4.25)

Best dish under £7: makalé samak (deep-fried squid, whitebait and tiger prawns with chilli minted yoghurt dip, £6.75)

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Clapham Common’s finest café: park yourself inside (or out) for inventive cooking, choice snacks and top-notch drinks.

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 soft drinks and service: around £30

Best dish under £7: Poached eggs on wood-fired sourdough (£5.50)

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Daddy Donkey

Burrito worshippers should leg it through the lunchtime market to this corner site – but first learn the word ‘cola’ (Spanish for ‘queue’)

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

Best dish under £7: Daddy D burrito with shredded beef (£6.50)

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Shoryu Ramen

It’s quick, it’s central, it’s comfortable and welcoming – and its ramen are silky, soothing and slurpable

Ramen has been a buzzword on the London restaurant scene for a while, with noodle aficionados queuing hopefully outside all sorts of inexpensive joints for a fix. Though perhaps not the most glamorous option, Shoryu stands out for the superlatively silky texture of its tonkotsu and the richness of its stock – there’s no better antidote to a cold, dreary day than a huge bowl of the signature Dracula tonkotsu, a soothing, invigorating broth packed with sticky garlic chips and garlic oil, alongside barbecue pork, colourful vegetables and Japanese seasoning. For a more serene but equally speedy experience, head to the Denman Street branch.

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £40

Best dish under £7: shoryu genki don (a rice and barbecue pork dish, £6.90)

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St James'

Snackistan at Persepolis

Colourful, crowded and charmingly bonkers café-cum-deli proudly located in Peckham

This corner shop with attitude is a treasure trove of Middle Eastern delights, selling everything from nuts and spices to freshly made houmous and huge, burnished flatbreads. The owners have squeezed a café into one corner, offering dishes that showcase the passion that fuelled their various cookbooks (among them Snackistan). There are cheap, bountiful meze platters, delectable specials announced at whim, plus Turkish pastries and sweets served with not-your-average hot drinks, such as the creamy, chocolate-topped date-and-cardamom latte. For a proper Peckham pick-me-up, the house banana split (just £3.50) is a thing of beauty, crammed with saffron ice cream and topped with yoghurt, rose petals, pistachio slivers and dates.

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £18

Best dish under £5: a filled wrap (£3.50)

Best dish under £7: large meze platter (£5)

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Lahore Kebab House

A place of pilgrimage for curry devotees keen to sample the Punjabi-style grills and rich curries. Low prices and a BYO policy keep the crowds coming

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 soft drinks and service: around £25

Best dish under £7: methi chicken (£7)

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Smack Deli

Lobster rock ’n’ roll: low-priced shellfish on a bun at prices that won’t make you crabby, plus a beauteous lobster bisque, to boot

Another simple, winning, formula from the Russian-owned Burger & Lobster chain: this time, lobster rolls are sold from a takeaway counter. There’s a choice of four fillings, all served in a toasted brioche bun for £7.50 takeaway/£9 eat-in. We liked the Seven Samurai: juicy lobster with a Japanese-style salad of cucumber and light mayonnaise. Equally good was the Happy Ending, with shredded Chinese cabbage and fresh coriander. But most rewarding of all was the lobster chowder, halfway to being a bisque: rich, warming and only £4.80 (eat-in) for a substantial pot. Dine in the spacious and attractive basement, which has good tunes and doubles as a bar.

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £30

Best dish under £5: lobster chowder (£4.80)

Best dish under £7: rolls cost £9

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Hummus Bros

Seriously good houmous – and a lot more besides – at London’s prime practitioner of chickpea worship

The humble chickpea purée gets a serious uplift from the three branches of Hummus Bros. This original outlet on Wardour Street retains its simple decoration even after a refurb, with big tables designed for communal eating. The menu is simple: houmous in bowls or wraps, with assorted toppings and a few side dishes. We like the bowls (choice of small or medium serving), and our favourite topping is chunky slow-cooked beef. Side dishes are major strengths, especially smoky-fragrant barbecued aubergine and tabouleh salad served in a massive portion. Speedy service is perfect for lunch, but the outlets are also open at dinner, with prices a couple of quid higher.

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £20

Best dish under £7: houmous with chunky beef (£6.70)

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See numbers 20-11


Minuscule yet outrageously popular, Meza is Tooting’s top spot for Lebanese meze and grilled meats

A tiny Lebanese licensed restaurant in Tooting, Meza has a kitchen smaller than a Beirut takeaway stall, yet manages to turn out a sizeable menu of meze and grilled dishes freshly made to order. Standards are impressively high: from the perfectly crisp-shelled falafels to the aubergine dips seared with the whiff of the charcoal grill. Kaftah khash-khash (a skewer of minced lamb in a hot tomato sauce) is a popular main course. Service is congenial too – in fact, the only catch is Meza’s popularity. You’ll usually have to book far in advance.

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £35

Best dish under £7: main courses start at £7.50

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Tooting Bec


Nostalgia rules the roost at this quality chippy, which comes complete with jukebox, jellied eels and newspaper-wrapped chips

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

Best dish under £7: quarter chicken and chips with gravy (£6.90); cod and chips costs £10.90

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E Pellicci

The East End’s pride and joy: a king among caffs

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 hot drinks and service: around £20

Best dish under £5: liver and bacon ciabatta (£4.80)

Best dish under £7: Pellicci’s full English breakfast (£5.50)

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Bethnal Green

Brixton Market

A bona fide foodie destination that’s gentrifying Brixton almost single-handedly

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

Best for under £7: veggie fritter from Honest Burgers (£7)

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Venue says: Come and see our exciting new menu and try our deep fried soft shell crab and curry powder on top. It's so yummy!

Brave the karaoke singers and the cramped basement of this Bayswater boozer for a taste of genuine Thai cookery

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

Best dish under £7: minced pork omelette with steamed rice (£6.50)

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Hook Camden Town

Venue says: So proud to be part of Pop Brixton! Hook Crew x

Fabulous fish and chips in Camden, flawlessly fried and with superior condiments. Only fish that is sustainably caught gets hooked by Hook.

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 soft drinks and service: around £35

Best cheap dish: prices start at £10 for Jamaican jerk panko haddock with seaweed salted chips and chipotle sauce

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Camden Town

Snaps & Rye

Tuck in to exquisite smørrebrød in style, at the best Danish café in the capital. Scandimania has never tasted so good

This ravishingly beautiful Danish restaurant concentrates on smørrebrød – open-face sandwiches. Though they’re simple in concept, British chef Tania Steytler raises them to great heights through superb ingredients, masterly cooking skills and painstaking attention to detail. Frikadeller (meatballs) come with blue cheese croquette, red cabbage, roast apple purée and a crisped slice of heavenly own-made rye bread: exquisite. Flash-fried smoked eel with potato salad, watercress salad, a creamy mustard dressing and a slice of ‘crisped ham’ is even better. Liquorice ice cream makes a lovely finale. Portions are not meagre, but neither are they huge; three sandwiches between two would be plenty, while still not breaking the bank.

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

Best cheap dish: smoked eel smørrebrød (£9).

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North Kensington


Clap loudly for this Clapton star-turn: fantastic lunch and brunch in a lovely corner venue

Locals voted Verden the best restaurant in Clapton in Time Out’s 2014 Love London Awards; it’s easy to see why. The place is lovely to look at, and the food at lunch and brunch (within cheap eats territory) is fab: cheese and charcuterie, enticing desserts, great breads. Two must-eat dishes are the smoked salmon royale (£8) and the Verden club sandwich (£9): roast chicken, melted lardo, crisp pancetta, lettuce, Datterini tomatoes, Comté cheese, and celeriac rémoulade on toasted sourdough. Finish with hedonistic puddings or lovely cheeses, and note: all wines are sold by the glass. The service is wonderful too. Verden is pricier at dinner – but not by much.

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £35

Best dish under £5: pork loin cured in-house (£5)

Best dish under £7: meat board for two (£13)

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Lower Clapton


This venue has now closed

A pizza takeaway that takes top prize for value, quality – and mobile phone intolerance

Most people use Malletti as a takeaway, and so do we: it is deservedly popular with local office workers and casual strollers-around-Soho. But if you can bag a high stool, it becomes a pleasant place to sit and enjoy the bustle. The large selection of pizzas – served, Italian-style, in rectangular slices – caters well to both omnivores and vegetarians. There’s also focaccia with assorted toppings, and a pasta and risotto of the day. Some people will warm to the sign on the wall saying that customers talking on their mobile phone will be ignored.

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £12

Best dish under £5: frutti di mare pizza (£3.95)

Best dish under £7: risotto of the day (from £4.95)

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Jen Café

If dumplings drive you to deliriums of delight, make friends with Jen – a Chinatown café where the pillowy parcels reign supreme

Dumpling devotees will love Jen. This simple, no-frills café occupies a prominent Chinatown corner site where the cooks sit in front of the windows hand-wrapping their wares. The cheapest dish is jiao zi, ‘Beijing dumplings’, costing a mere fiver: eight white sachets like overfilled ravioli, in either a pork or vegetarian version. Fry the same dumplings and they become guo tie, at £6. The won ton soup is yet another variation, and is worth the £6 for the intensely savoury stock. Jen serves plenty of other dishes, from buttered toast through to barbecued meats and noodle or rice dishes. But it’s the freshly made dumplings that keep us returning.

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

Best dish under £5: Beijing dumplings (£5)

Best dish under £7: won ton soup (£6)

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See The Top Ten


Venue says: Now open until 10.30pm on weekdays, 11pm on Saturdays and noon-8.30pm on Sundays.

Tiny in size, mega in reputation, massive in quality: here you’ll find soup noodles to knock your socks off – after you’ve paid your dues in the queues

This tonkotsu specialist (Japanese ramen noodles in soup) arrived in London in September 2014 and took the metropolis by storm. Small and brightly lit, it’s not for a leisurely meal. And the process has a serious downside: lengthy queuing. But there’s a reason for the queues, which always include plenty of Japanese and Chinese customers: this is exceptional ramen. The broth is one of the best in London. Thin wheat noodles are made on-site and cooked to your specification. Toppings are pork-heavy, and soft-boiled marinated eggs are a must-have accessory. If you want nothing more than excellent noodles in broth, Kanada-Ya is the place to come.

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £30

Best cheap dish: prices start at £10 for a bowl of Original ramen (with pork)

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Covent Garden

Ariana II

Lucky Kilburn, having this modest Afghan spot for kebabs, curries and tasty regional specials – and a BYOB policy keeps down bills

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 soft drinks and service: around £33

Best dish under £7: kabuli palow with kofta kebab (£7)

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This self-service vegetarian buffet covers the globe yet gets everything spot-on, right down to the last lentil

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

Best dish under £5: 200g of couscous pesto with cherry tomatoes

Best dish under £7: seitan barbecue ‘ribs’ with clementine and cabbage salad: though keep the weight below 280g

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Mangal Ocakbasi

Let the enormous mangal grill by the entrance guide your menu choice at Dalston’s Turkish classic: home of sublime, succulent kebabs

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 soft drinks and service: around £35

Best cheap dish: main course kebabs (£10)

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Apollo Banana Leaf

A humble BYOB venue providing Tooting with an invigorating blast of Sri Lankan chilli heat

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 soft drinks and service: around £20

Best dish under £5: masala dosai (£3.95)

Best dish under £7: seafood string-hopper fry (£6.50)

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Herman ze German

Venue says: Sausage and cheese did you say? This month's guest wurst is 'ze cheesy hermanos' - smokey pork and beef wurst filled with Gruyere. Mmmm...

Bow wow and woof woof for these delectable dogs – the best German tube-steaks in London

This is London’s number-one purveyor of German sausages, manufactured for the firm in the Black Forest. The group opened a third outlet in Charlotte Street in 2014, but the Soho branch remains our favourite for dining in. The location is unbeatable, and despite being a fast-food joint, this is a place where you’re happy to hang out. The dogs are a delight, whether bratwurst, bockwurst, or chilli beef. Some side dishes vary in quality but the sauerkraut is simple and consistent: combined with a sausage, it makes a complete meal (after adding mustard, natch). Your wurst comes in a high-quality bread roll, but can be served with just a salad.

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £25

Best dish under £5: bratwurst in a roll (£4.45)

Best dish under £7: sausage and a salad (£5.75)

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Koya Bar

Koya Bar offers a taste of Tokyo in London

This was the younger sibling right next door to the much-loved Koya, which closed in May 2015. But Koya Bar has its own personality and dishes. Evoking the more traditional feel of a Japanese udon-ya, the restaurant wouldn’t be out of place in Tokyo. Koya classics are available here, and breakfast is also served. Though you can get a standard Japanese morning meal – grilled fish, miso soup, rice and pickles, innovative bowls of udon and rice porridge are the major draw. Try a bowl of ‘English breakfast’ udon topped with fried egg, bacon and shiitake mushrooms – not the easiest thing to eat with a pair of chopsticks.

Meal for two with drinks and service: around £35

Best dish under £7: plain atsu-atsu (£6.90)

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Large, utilitarian – and the gobsmacking go-to venue for prodigious portions of excellent cooking in London’s main Turkish neighbourhood

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

Best dish under £5: the small mixed meze starter for two (£8.50)

Best cheap dish: for the daily stew (£7.50)

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Dosa n Chutny

Dosais are the highlight at this rudimentary Sri Lankan and South Indian caff in Tooting – along with the minuscule prices

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 soft drinks and service: around £18

Best dish under £5: special masala dosai (£3.50)

Best dish under £7: the South Indian set meal (£5.50)

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Borough Market

London’s best, and best-known, food market is chock-a-block with takeaway choices, should all that prime produce make you hungry on the hoof

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

Best dish under £5: chorizo sandwich from Brindisa (£3.75)

Best dish under £7: toasted cheese sandwich from Kappacasein (£6)

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Sean J
Sean J

To even fathom that you didn't include Tayyabs or Lahori Grill in the top 5 is almost on the brink of food blasphemy... The are by far the best places I have eaten in London... Restaurants like Smack and Dishoom are by no means cheap eats so get your facts right. Whoever is making this list seems to be getting quite a treat from the restaurants PR teams.

Laura-Louise F
Laura-Louise F

@Sean J barf, Tayyabs is the most overrated restaurant I've ever come across. Unless you fancy coming out stinking of burnt oil (because that's what they cook with) then steer well clear.

Guy Dimond
Guy Dimond moderator

@Sean J Hi Sean, we rate Tayyabs highly, which is why is appears in our list. 

Our reviewers visit hundreds of diverse venues every year to all over London to make this selection; of course some people will prefer one style of venue over another, but we have tried to create a good mix for different tastes in our selection. 

By cheap eats we mean up to £45 max for two, though of course some places are much cheaper; at some you could spend more, if you make a big night out of it. 

Our reviewers never accept PR meals - we review anonymously and accept no freebies.

Geoff C
Geoff C

Slow Richie's at The Jeremy Bentham  in Bloomsbury offers really tasty food and decent size portions for under £10.

paul c
paul c

most of these meals are about £30 for two, hell of a lot of money to most londoners so i suggest we retitle 'cheap eats for wealthy londoners' for me a cheap eat includes egg roll and a coffee for 1.99 at the cafe near brunswick centre; indian veg all you can eat bring your own drinks at chapel market (£6);  chip shop (1.50 for bag of chips) thats cheap... raah 

paul c
paul c

toasted cheese sandwich from Kappacasein (£6) yea thats a cheap eat for sure...


This list used to be so useful as I could search by postcode depending on which area I was going to be in and everything was on one page - why have you changed it?!

Adam M
Adam M

nice to see at No11 Jan Cafe in Soho :) best simple but original Chinese where you see your dumplings being prepared 

Superstar Donkey Jockey
Superstar Donkey Jockey Staff Writer

I reckon everyone has their own personal list but this as a good reference.


I want to add one more restaurant in list i.e. Cinnamon Soho. Specially for those who like Indian food and wants to taste something different from daily routine. Definitely this is the place your looking for. The food is delicious!

Sarah Jones
Sarah Jones

Shame Wahaca is not on there! I work round the corner and recently tried the new taco lunch which is really good value.


Incredible that GOKYUZU in Harringay Green Lanes is missing!!! It is by far the very best value for money I've comed accross anywhere in London, I basically get fully stuffed wit leftover to take home for less than 10 GBP for myself only. and any turkish dish you can try is super-delicious, with fresh bread in stone-oven, tzaktziki and complimentary tea after your meal. It was (or still is) 2nd in Trip Advisor!

Nigel C
Nigel C

@Isis its 3rd on the list! It is great value, personally I prefer Selale's on Green Lanes, much of a much though. great eats


Saravanaa Bhavan for Indian is amazing - theres branches in Tooting, Southall, Wembley and Ilford (plus a few others I think). The most genuine Indian food, vegetarian and super cheap!