London may have a serious claim to the accolade of ‘world’s best food city’, but with ever-ludicrous living costs putting the kibosh on the concept of spare cash, we’ll be damned if we can afford it. Our list of London’s 100 best cheap eats will help remedy that.
Everything here has been budgeted at £10 a head or less, and we’ve sought out variety – so expect everything from ramshackle Kurdish restaurants and Antipodean brunch spots, to old-school brasseries and basement roti kitchens, all serving killer food at economical prices.
Gather your pennies and hit the streets – filling up in London's best restaurants needn’t empty the wallet.
The best cheap eats in central London
What’s the vibe? A clattery, double-level restaurant off Chinatown’s main drag, with a Fuchsia Dunlop-devised menu and a natty line in Revolution paintings.
When to go When noodles, soup and dim sum are leaving you cold – this is positively outré stuff in comparison to the area’s usual fare.
What to eat Banging tofu, like you’ve never seen: shredded, twisted, frozen, pressed and so on. Otherwise, try the jellied pig’s trotters, or chilli-swamped catfish.
How much? Tofu dishes are mostly under a tenner, meat just over. The variety on offer means this is food for sharing, so get a couple of plates and do that.
What’s the vibe? Camera-wielding gastro geeks line Lexington Street for their chance to hashtag London’s best buns.
When to go There’s never not a queue outside this place (though you can book at the Fitzrovia branch) but your best bet is a late dinner – last orders 10pm.
What to eat Bao’s signature buns, stuffed with tender pork belly, peanut powder and pickled lettuce, and the epic fried chicken and Horlicks ice-cream versions.
How much? These babies all cost £5 or less (the classic’s just £4). Order lots. And some sides.
What’s the vibe? Sichuan noodles, buns and dumplings kick like a kung-fu fighter at this Communist Revolution kitsch-clad spot on Chinatown’s fringes.
When to go When your taste buds are in need of defibrillating.
What to eat The house baozi buns, Chengdu dan dan noodles, and a spicy cucumber salad.
How much? The flavours might sock you in the face but the bill won’t: £10 for one.
What’s the vibe? Pocket-sized offshoot of Haggerston’s feted Middle Eastern grill Berber & Q, on the epicurean drag that is Exmouth Market.
When to go The morning after the night before, when you need the grim memory of kebab-shop mystery meat dispelling.
What to eat On this budget, it’s the filled pitas for you: lamb kofte, lamb shawarma, smoked brisket or cauliflower, piled with pickles, herbs and tahini.
How much? All £8.50 or less. Chuck in some harissa, garlic yogurt or Yemenite Dynamite hot sauce and you still won’t pip a tenner.
What’s the vibe? Bright colours, IKEA-style furniture and walls plastered with Polaroid snaps of happy diners.
When to go Only the seriously hungry need apply.
What to eat Rib-sticking renditions of the Korean staple, bibimbap: a layered dish of rice, spiced vegetables and meat topped with a fried egg.
How much? From £7 per (very filling) serving.
"Dine with us and enjoy live music! Our swinging house bands play six nights a week from 9.30pm (9pm on Sundays)."
What’s the vibe? Corbin and King (of The Wolseley and The Delaunay) deliver big-ticket West-End dining for bus ticket prices at this buzzing Parisian brasserie.
When to go All day, mes amis – there’s no time limit on the set menu.
What to eat Bistro classics: carrots rapées and steak haché.
How much? £9.75 for two courses: London’s biggest bargain. You could slip in a visit to the fromage trolley afterwards and still come in under £15 a head.
What’s the vibe? A welcoming, all-day South American joint in deepest Soho, riffing on the eponymous Peruvian ham sandwich.
When to go The focus on sandwiches and sweet arepas makes Butifarra lunch-centric, but cheap BYO makes it an affordable dinner option too.
What to eat The sandwiches are muy bien – choose from a variety of roast meats, topped with sweet potato mayo and salsa criolla – but the house ceviche is killer, too.
How much? Around £7 for the sandwiches, an extremely reasonable £6 for sea bream ceviche (a couple of quid more for a ‘mixto’).
What’s the vibe? A simple, café-style Chinatown favourite, where flavour-packed food is served on unclothed tables.
When to go All day, any day – they serve right through until 1am.
What to eat The huge menu can be intimidating. Stick to Cantonese dishes for the best results and note that seafood is a particular strength.
How much? Plenty of mains cost less than £9. Order a spread to share.
What’s the vibe? Cramped and plagued by lunchtime queues, this efficient little number nevertheless keeps the City crowd coming back.
When to go Open between 11.30am and 4.30pm, Monday–Friday; the queues are worst noon–2pm.
What to eat Spring rolls and banh mi if you’re taking out, delicious pho if you’re slurping in.
How much? £7 will feed you well.
What’s the vibe? A zippy French café near City Thameslink, and the first London outpost from a long-standing Parisian chain.
When to go Say non, merci to Pret’s stranglehold – this is a great spot for a nourishing lunch in the City.
What to eat Interesting baguettes, soups and curries, plus salads featuring whole grains, Asian overtones and other resolutely non-French elements.
How much? Not much: most items are about £5. The Asian stews (laden with gyoza dumplings) are a couple of pounds more, as are hot pots, lasagne and risotto.
The best cheap eats in north London
"G'day! The Arancini Brothers have been shortlisted in the 2016 Love London Awards."
What’s the vibe? Amiable retro caff decked with boxes of the day’s fresh produce and dedicated to the famous Italian snack.
When to go Quick to eat and packing plenty of stodge, these balls could well be the ideal pre-gig fodder. Check what’s on at the Forum.
What to eat The namesake deep-fried risotto balls, served plain, with salad, in tortilla wraps, or accompanied by a hot stew.
How much? From £4.50 for five risotto balls (eating in), to £8.20 for the chorizo, aubergine and chutney salad box.
What’s the vibe? Heavy-metal kebab house, which dispatches mean chargrilled offal and pillowy breads from its graffiti-daubed oven, to a thundering soundtrack.
When to go When you’re simultaneously craving meat and meaty riffs.
What to eat Flavours are as subtle as a Slayer single – well, what did you expect? – but the lamb offal flatbread rocks.
How much? Avoid the mains and go for the sundries and sides: flatbread wraps hover around the £5 mark (the lamb offal is £5.50), veggie dishes start at £3.50.
What’s the vibe? Crowd-funded community chicken shop, hatched in a former fire station in Tottenham. Profits subsidise meals for local school kids.
When to go Lunch or dinnertime – 3.30pm–5.30pm is the post-school chicken run.
What to eat We love the smoky, spicy SAS Sandwich with jalapeño-spiked Hot Chips but the two pieces + two sides meal deal is the best value.
How much? An SAS Sandwich and Hot Chips will cost you a tenner; the meal deal is £9.50.
What’s the vibe? Corrugated iron and walls plastered with Bollywood posters and Indian newspapers lend a ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ aesthetic to this upbeat Punjabi pit-stop on Chapel Market.
When to go On the hoof, for a wrap from the stall outside, or a quick sit-down inside. With insistent bhangra beats and unyielding seats, this is not a place to linger.
What to eat The kitchen majors in street-food snacks and slow-cooked curries.
How much? Most mains hover around £10.
What’s the vibe? A hip, Kiwi-run neighbourhood café in Hoxton, with cod-industrial interiors, super sandwiches and great coffee.
When to go Weekends, to remedy pain both physical and existential. If caffeine, sourdough and burnished metal won’t do for you, nothing will.
What to eat The toasties on E5 Bakehouse sourdough. The Haggis (with cheddar, neeps and pickles) and Classic (with cheddar, piccalilli and béchamel) varieties are spoken of in reverent tones.
How much? Toasties are all £6.50 or less. Only one thing on the menu – the beef cheek and kimchi fried egg sarnie – pips £10.
What’s the vibe? Belting breakfasts, brunches and lunches beneath high ceilings in Highbury Park.
When to go Brunch, lunch and monthly supper clubs. Check @frankscanteen on Twitter before heading over as the owner sometimes closes for catering gigs.
What to eat Behold! Tarka dal with poached eggs, naan bread, chilli chutney, cheddar cheese and crispy onions.
How much? There’s plenty on offer for under a tenner. The dal is £9.90, decent eggs on toast is £6 (delectable sundries a couple of quid extra).
What’s the vibe? Large, utilitarian – and a gobsmacking go-to for prodigious portions of excellent cooking in London’s main Turkish ‘hood.
When to go When you’re really, really hungry.
What to eat Meze, grills and stews to share, with salad and bread on the house. Approach the mixed kebab with caution: it’s a beast.
How much? Mains cost around £11 and are often large enough to feed two, particularly if you’re ordering starters.
What’s the vibe? Stokey locals are still scrambling for tables in this breezy café-restaurant, where the colourful Middle Eastern-leaning food shines.
When to go Weekend brunch is the top ticket. No bookings, obviously.
What to eat Shakshuka. Not an ’80s synth-pop band, but a sumac-laced baked egg dish with tomatoes and peppers.
How much? If you can resist the seductive extras, £10 for one.
What’s the vibe? A classic vegetarian spot on Islington’s Chapel Market, serving a broad buffet in karmic (some might say preachy) surrounds.
When to go At these prices, whenever you want. There’s a reason it’s a stalwart for cheap dates, early evening carb loading and bargain lunches alike.
What to eat With the buffet the only option, everything. Think vegetable curries, colourful salads, onion bhajis and feather-light paratha.
How much? All you can eat for £7.95. It’s BYO, too.
What’s the vibe? A riff on the traditional caff: you’ll find couscous and tagines next to sandwiches and jacket potatoes.
When to go When you’re all after different things. Veggies leave as happy as carnivores.
What to eat By all means, grab a fry-up if that’s what you fancy but it’s the Moroccan food that sets this place apart.
How much? Not much on the extensive menu pips £5.
The best cheap eats in east London
What’s the vibe? A vegetarian, Antipodean-style café in Walthamstow, serving a creative global menu and Climpson’s coffee in serene surroundings.
When to go It’s primarily a brunch spot (so given the location, expect a plethora of well-dressed babies), but weekdays also see a lunchtime counter selection.
What to eat The daily toastie is a cheese-heavy favourite (look out for the kimchi and blue cheese iteration, in particular).
How much? £5.50 for said toastie. More substantial main dishes – moussaka, pies and whatnot – served with salad are £8.
What’s the vibe? Restaurant-quality NY-style burgers from a hole-in-the wall shop in Spitalfields.
When to go When nothing but dry-aged beef, cooked pink, will do.
What to eat The standard bacon cheeseburger (£7) will be plenty for most people. If you’re in the mood for yabba-dabba-doo, go for the double (£9).
How much? Throw in some fries and there’s your £10.
What’s the vibe? Loud, low-lit fried chicken restaurant from former serial pop-up enthusiast Carl Clarke.
When to go The atmosphere here is set to ‘party’ all week long so it’s a great one for a school-night birthday meal. Livens up dates a treat, too.
What to eat Next level Southern-style chicken, marinated in buttermilk, fried to crisp perfection and served alongside banging cocktails.
How much? A mere £8 for the ‘house fry’ of a drumstick, thigh, pickled watermelon and ‘seaweed crack’; a bargain £6 for sours.
What’s the vibe? A hipped-up east London take on the Mexican diner by Wahaca’s Tommi Miers. Not a sombrero in sight.
When to go For that pre-emptive pit-stop ahead of a Brick Lane bar crawl.
What to eat The pork pibil torta, the boss of bocadillos, and a side of chilli fries.
How much? A muy barato £8–£9 for tacos, a torta or burrito with a side of fries, rice or slaw.
What’s the vibe? Third generation family-run, this iconic greasy spoon is the East End’s pride and joy: a king among caffs.
When to go Whenever you’re in the mood for home-cooked food with a generous side order of convivial banter and mickey-taking.
What to eat First-rate fry-ups, plus daily grills and Italian specials.
How much? Nowt over £8.40.
What’s the vibe? Kingsland Road branch of a long-established, family-run Vietnamese.
When to go Any day but Monday, for lunch and dinner.
What to eat Bowls of Xi’anese-style hand-rolled noodles, filled buns and grills based on marinated meats.
How much? Around £9 for each of the above, a couple of pounds less for tofu and vegetable dishes.
What’s the vibe? Wholesome veggie café, complete with a corporate social responsibility policy and a weekly crafts group.
When to go When you want to feel smug and comforted at the same time.
What to eat This place is all about the daily specials. Much of the veg is locally grown by Organiclea but the flavours are international. Expect anything from curry to quiche.
How much? Around a fiver for main meals.
What’s the vibe? Exemplary variations on Japanese yakitori – aka, grilled chicken bits, on sticks – from the man behind Elliot’s in Borough.
When to go Yakitori is traditional Japanese booze food. But to stretch your yen the furthest, hit the lunchtime deals, which are all under a tenner.
What to eat Get authentic and order offal – grilled chicken hearts and liver in this case. The katsu curry scotch egg is a neat Eastern twist on the pub staple, too.
How much? The yakitori don lunch option gets you two choices of skewers, an onsen egg, rice, nori and spinach for a snappy £9 (a good £5 less than the same for dinner).
What’s the vibe? A suitably spartan place of pilgrimage for curry devotees who come for the Punjabi-style grills and vivid curries rather than the pampering.
When to go For East End curry without the street touts.
What to eat Nihari and dry lamb curry, all served in utilitarian karahi bowls with minimal fuss.
How much? You’ll eat well for a tenner, especially in a group – there’s an offy next door for BYO.
What’s the vibe? All about the mangal. The charred meat from the enormous grill by the entrance is some of the best you’ll find this side of Istanbul.
When to go Anytime from noon to midnight daily (till 1am Friday and Saturday nights).
What to eat Don’t bother with starters: this place is all about perfectly cooked lamb and chicken.
How much? Share a generously proportioned grill (plus a couple of sides) for around £8 a head.
The best cheap eats in south London
What’s the vibe? Peckham’s favourite backstreet juice shack gets a bricks-and-mortar spot on Blenheim Grove (with an excellent Middle Eastern menu).
When to go Juices and sweet breads for breakfast, Levantine small plates and cracking cocktails for dinner.
What to eat Variously slicked with tahini, herby oil and whipped feta, the menu is all ace, though a lamb flatbread with pickled garlic, hot sauce and labneh was, on our visit, truly knock-out.
How much? Around £5 a plate (the lamb flatbread was £6.50). A few to share, with a selection of house pickles, is enough for two.
What’s the vibe? A family-run and fashionably decked-out Vietnamese restaurant, in the new-fangled foodie hot spot of Peckham Rye.
When to go Dishes are ideal for both sharing or scoffing solo, so it’s an ideal spot for both a settled-in dinner with friends or a swift lunch.
What to eat Vietnamese classics abound (think spring and summer rolls, pho, banh mi), but the skillet-served banh khot pancakes, topped with shrimp dust, are a particularly authentic treat.
How much? Around £5 for baguettes and rice paper rolls, up to £10 for a bowl of beef shin and lemongrass stew.
What’s the vibe? A chic, pretty little vegetarian café that’s situated in a charming old Victorian dairy in Dulwich.
When to go Breakfast is the highlight of the day here, thanks to the home-made beans, veggie sausages and top-notch coffee.
What to eat It’s all so colourful and hearty, even carnivores can get stuck into the spicy stews, soups, curries and pasta dishes.
How much? Mains hover around £7.50, starters and desserts at £4.50, and there’s a £2.50 corkage charge for BYO.
What’s the vibe? City-best sourdough and brunchy fare in a lofty, tranquil former warehouse in East Dulwich.
When to go Depends how much you like buggies – this is increasingly an area for the young Claphamite diaspora. Aim early on weekends to beat the rush.
What to eat Anything on the bakery’s breads, from avocado on toast, to migas (pimped-up fried bread) and killer sandwiches. There are weekday salads and larger plates as well.
How much? Avocado toast is a bargain at £4 (as it should be). The migas with chorizo, egg and peppers is a flat £10, sandwiches somewhere in-between.
What’s the vibe? A street-side, Brooklyn-style café – with cocktails – in Balham, founded by a trio of friends (one of whom is ex-Caravan).
When to go It’s primarily a brunch spot, though they’re also open in the evenings for more extensive boozing (plus a short menu of focaccia rolls).
What to eat Keep it in the family with the Yummy Mummy (avocado and spinach on toast, with beetroot hummus, crispy kale and feta) or the Step Sister (courgette, feta and sweet potato fritters).
How much? Most plates are around £9. Wholesome salads are £7, with extra halloumi, salmon or chicken another £3 on top if you want to max out the budget.
What’s the vibe? An Asian version of the working men’s caff, completely void of decoration and tucked away in the corner of a car park.
When to go When the pho craving hits you in JD Sports (the car park’s attached to the Surrey Quays Shopping Centre). Note that it’s closed on Tuesdays.
What to eat Substantial bowls of steaming noodle soup, perhaps with some summer rolls on the side.
How much? Most dishes will leave change from a tenner.
What’s the vibe? The superlative dosas are the highlight at this rudimentary Sri Lankan/South Indian caff in Tooting – along with the minuscule prices.
When to go Before payday – D‘n’C’s wares are cheaper and tastier than a supermarket curry.
What to eat Stick to veggie – the Mysore masala dosa, served with spiced onion, potatoes and three house chutneys is a winner.
How much? You’ll come out with change from a fiver.
What’s the vibe? By-the-slice, New York-style pizza place on the fringes of Clapham Common (housed in a former public loo, no less).
When to go Lunch, afternoon snack, dinner, post-pub pile-out… they’re open noon–midnight so take your pick.
What to eat In true NY fashion, a full pie is a gargantuan 20 inches, so stick to the slices. Flavours are mostly conventional – though the goat’s cheese, jalapeno, chorizo and sriracha is a neat combo.
How much? £3.50–£4.50 per slice. Two should do you.
What’s the vibe? Minuscule yet outrageously popular, the original Meza is Tooting’s top spot for Lebanese meze and grilled meats.
When to go Off-peak (it’s open all afternoon) – with all of SW17 vying for 16 seats, this place makes Glastonbury look easy to get into.
What to eat As much as you can in a two-hour slot, but especially the crisp falafels, smoky baba ganoush, pomegranate-licked chicken livers and spicy batata harra potatoes.
How much? Most mains come in at under a tenner. Prawns aside, the starter meze are all a fiver or less.
What’s the vibe? Lewisham’s answer to the top Turks of Green Lanes.
When to go For a cheap celebration meal with friends. There’s plenty of room and it’s smarter than north and east London’s ocakbasi.
What to eat Freshly baked pide (Turkish pizza) or grilled meats to share over salads and sides.
How much? £7–£8 for pide; double that for grills.
The best cheap eats in west London
What’s the vibe? Acutely authentic north-eastern Thai cookery finds a no-frills home at this King Street canteen.
When to go When you’re bored of Anglicised Thai food but can’t be arsed to queue up for Som Saa or Smoking Goat.
What to eat Homemade sausages, green papaya salad and – if you’ve brushed up on the lingo – a treat from the Thai script specials board.
How much? As long as you avoid seafood curries you won’t break the bank – go towards tom sum or noodles for an even cheaper feed.
What’s the vibe? Big helpings, low prices and a rollickingly relaxed setting are the draws at this capacious Syrian venue near Shepherd’s Bush Market.
When to go To load up on freshly baked breads, houmous, baba ganoush and Damascene specialities at the all-you-can-eat Sunday breakfast buffet, from 11am to 1pm.
What to eat It’s all great: cold meze, lamb kebabs, tabbouleh – order a small amount to start with to avoid overdoing it, as portions are vast.
How much? £8.99 is a bargain for the Sunday brunch, but mains from the regular menu come in under £10.
What’s the vibe? Lucky Kilburn, having this modest Afghan spot for kebabs, curries and tasty regional specials.
When to go When a friend’s birthday falls the week before payday. Ariana’s BYO policy will help keep your bill down.
What to eat Kabuli palow (a melting, slow-cooked lamb shank, buried in a mound of yellow rice, dotted with pistachios and peppers).
How much? Only two main courses (including the enormous, shareable mixed kebab) cost more than £10.
What’s the vibe? A longstanding, mural-laden SheBu spot dishing up north-eastern (that’s the ‘Esarn’ bit) Thai food.
When to go Lunch for the budget-minded – there’s a decent £6.95 ‘express’ option.
What to eat Minced catfish with lemon juice, lime leaves, onion, coriander, chilli and fish sauce is a punchy, challenging treat for die-hard Thai fans.
How much? Eschew seafood grills, and barely a jot hits £10. The catfish is £9.95.
What’s the vibe? Cut-price conference-room decor and cramped as hell, but the crowds continue to spill out onto Queensway for Gold Mine’s roast duck.
When to go Midday for lunch, or 6pm for dinner.
What to eat Anything roasted, but mainly duck – portions are generous, so even a quarter of crispy duck will easily feed two with pancakes.
How much? Half a duck with a noodle or veg dish will set you back around £10. Nearly everything else is cheaper.
What’s the vibe? Thai food for Thais (yep, that means SPICY!) in a diminutive basement dining room at the back of a Bayswater boozer.
When to go Prepare for a lively evening: blaring Thai pop on the stereo gives way to karaoke after 9pm.
What to eat Authentic north-eastern salads, stir-fries and sour curries. The larb (ground meat salad) is excellent.
How much? Most main dishes are under £10 but even with the pricier bits, it’s certainly possible to eat well on a budget. Remember: this is food designed for sharing.
What’s the vibe? Harrow is happy to have this convivial BYOB venue serving Afghan comfort food to local families in its plain dining space.
When to go With a big group – this is not the place, or the portions, for a romantic dinner a deux. You could smother an armadillo with one of the pillowy naans.
What to eat Ask what’s been freshly cooked that day. You can’t go wrong with the sabzi lamb and a side of dal.
How much? You’ll get a long way on £10 a head, especially in a group.
What’s the vibe? Home-cooked Eritrean food with a side order of cultural education.
When to go In the mood to try and learn new things? This friendly Westbourne Park joint will leave you enriched – and stuffed.
What to eat On the spice route and later occupied by Italy, Eritrea serves up flavours from Africa, Arabia, Asia and Europe. Expect delicious stews, great vegetarian choice and tiramisu for pud.
How much? Mains, which can be shared, cost around £11.
"Come and try the best artisan, New York-style pizza in Chiswick! Offering super thick shakes with our new recipes and flavours."
What’s the vibe? The by-the-slice, thin ’n’ crispy New York pizza trend extends to the unlikely environs of Turnham Green, with authentic results.
When to go Solo, date, family meal – there’s extremely affordable size options for all (though the vibe – with hard seats and plastic cutlery – is no frills).
What to eat The margherita and pepperoni are always available by the slice, but the wider menu of simple classics is worth delving into. Take a friend and go half and half on a full pizza.
How much? £3.75 a slice; £12 for a large pizza (for two); £17 for an XL (family size). Half-and-half is an extra £3.
What’s the vibe? Wembley’s stalwart veg emporium turned juice bar, snack counter and restaurant, with a broad menu of South Indian, Gujarati, Chinese and, er, Italian fare.
When to go Lunchtime best suits the utilitarian, Formica heavy surroundings, but it’s open in the evening too.
What to eat The dosas are decent – and reasonable – but Sakonis is best known for one dish: the super-celebrated, best-in-town chilli paneer.
How much? A snip off £8 for a pile of paneer. Dosas are around £6; kachori, samosas and the like around £3.50. Come with a friend and share a few.
Find some more bargain grub in London
Mildmay Park, a road now home to little more than a former railway station and a big tiled library, was the namesake of the HIV hospital that Princess Diana made famous in the ’80s. It’s also home to a different Lady: the Lady Mildmay. Welcoming staff, good booze and an irresistible menu are making this spacious pub a favourite with locals, but it’s worth a journey from other parts of town too. On a warm day the Lady’s many side doors are left wide open, and when it’s woolly jumper weather there’s a real fire to curl up next to. This commitment to comfort is typical of the pub’s approach. Staff are subtly eager to please, talking you through any toss-ups between the house gin of the day or that craft lager you’ve not tried before. The Med-leaning gastropubby menu is exotic enough to make you feel they know what they’re doing but not so exotic that your gran would be forced to ask for ‘just chips’. Dogs are allowed – always a good sign – as are board games, though it’s best to bring your own (at least that way you’ll know the Scrabble will still have all the Bs). And one final jewel in the already sparkly crown is the Sunday roast which could please even the Duke of Edinburgh. With its fluffy Yorkshires, tender meat, rich gravy and cauliflower cheese, it’s so desirable that you’d be wise to call ahead and pre-order. So go out in Newington Green this weekend. This Lady may be next in line as queen of our hearts.