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Banh Mi Ba Le
Photograph: Courtesy @twotoastedtummies

The 20 best cheap eats in Boston

These spots will let you eat like a king—on a budget

Olivia Vanni
Written by
Olivia Vanni
Contributor
Eric Grossman
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Yes, our city is a notoriously expensive place to live, drink and dine. But there are a number of spots where you can get an affordable, tasty meal. The best cheap eats in Boston are satisfying dishes made with care and that are actually delicious. Here are some of our favorites, all of which ring in at $10 or less (OK, with one exception). In addition to the top spots listed here, you can usually find reasonably priced food at the best Mediterranean restaurants, best Thai restaurants and best Indian restaurants in town. And when money is no object, you can try one of the best fine dining restaurants and really splurge.

RECOMMENDED: Full guide to the best restaurants in Boston

Best cheap eats in Boston

  • Restaurants
  • Chinese
  • Downtown
  • price 1 of 4

Gene’s is cash-only, but you won’t need much for a good meal. Join students and nearby office workers for hand-pulled noodles, spicy soups and the namesake beef flatbread sandwiches. The choices of regional Xi’an noodle dishes will leave you fully satisfied for not much more than a tenner, and you can't beat Gene’s Hot Sour Noodle Soup: a bowl of chewy noods in a hot, spicy and sour broth with bean sprouts, carrots, cilantro and pork.

  • Restaurants
  • Mexican
  • Somerville

This East Somerville gem specializes in flavor-rich and wallet-friendly Central American fare. While this place offers plenty of tempting traditional dishes—including sopa de res, pork adobada tortas and tamales de elote—we encourage you to go with the kitchen’s delectable pupusas. For $2.75 a piece, these super filling corn cakes are stuffed with tasty goodness like beans or loroco, and come with the customary topping duo of salsa roja and curtido (a spicy, slightly fermented slaw). When it comes to this El Salvadorian speciality, we usually grab a couple filled with slow-cooked shredded pork and melty cheese—and then promptly fall into a food coma of contentment.

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  • Restaurants
  • Vietnamese
  • Dorchester
  • price 1 of 4

Banh Mi Ba Le serves up authentic Vietnamese classics each day, starting bright and early at 7am. Their daily specials vary depending on the freshest produce and meats available. The result is delicious banh mi sandwiches at a great price. Go for the dac biet, a pork and pate sandwich served with homemade mayo, fish sauce, scallion oil, cucumber, pickled daikon and carrots, cilantro and soy sauce.

  • Restaurants
  • Latin American
  • Somerville

With a name like Buenas, this local shop’s empanadas have to be good. From founders Melissa Stefanini and Sebastian Galvez, Buenas’ doughy pockets of deliciousness draw inspiration from their South American heritage. From its spot in Somerville’s Bow Market, it offers tasty treats and the most amazing empanadas, which, in true street food fashion, will fill you up and for not much money at all. Stick to some tried and true combos, including the Buenas Beef, the store’s best selling empanada packed with ground beef, onion and chimichurri sauce, as well as its classic Ham and Cheese. For several cents more, you can snag one of its more creative empanada flavors, like its Chicken Parm ($4.50) and Crab Rangoon, which comes with house-made duck sauce for your dipping pleasure ($5).

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  • Restaurants
  • Roxbury

If you’re looking for incredible and authentic Ethiopian food, look no further than Fasika Cafe in Roxbury—and if you’re on a budget, go straight for the beef tibs sub. This eatery offers a mouth-watering array of traditional dishes just bursting with North African spices and waiting to be devoured with injera. For just $10, folks looking for an economic option can order one of the most flavor-packed sandwiches they’ll probably ever taste: the beef tibs sub, which is brimming with juicy sauteed beef, onions and green peppers that have all been punched up a peg or five, thanks to beautifully aromatic spices.

  • Restaurants
  • Pizza
  • North End
  • price 1 of 4

Regulars line up at this old-school North End takeout spot as early as 10:30am. And that's because they know not to risk missing out on delectable, super cheap Sicilian slices. Even folks trying to get a table at nearby restaurants have been known to grab a slice while they wait, so Galleria Umberto usually sells out. It’s cash only, but at these prices, you can also throw in a giant arancino without worrying about your wallet. 

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  • Restaurants
  • Mexican
  • Beacon Hill
  • price 1 of 4

Anna’s has been a go-to for anyone seeking homestyle Mexican food at an decent price since 1995. For a filling meal on a budget, nothing beats the al pastor burrito. It'll curb your hunger with marinated pork cooked on a rotisserie alongside pineapple and onion. Factor in those rice, beans and additional toppings of your desire, and you're all set for the day.

  • Restaurants
  • American creative
  • Leather District
  • price 4 of 4

Sure, it may slightly surpass the $10 threshold, but this loaded hot dog is a local icon worth splurging that extra little bit.  Troquet on South is known for taking great pride with its swanky (and otherwise pretty pricey) French fare, so you know this bistrot means business when it comes to this hot dog. The Speed Dog is a Boston tradition dating back to 1975, when Ezra “Speed” Anderson started selling them out of his famous cart in Roxbury’s Newmarket Square. After Ezra’s passing, Troquet owner Chris Campbell inherited the weiner’s secret recipe and brought back this bunned beauty. Order one of these beasts of a dog, and you’ll see that they’ve remained unchanged and still make a whole meal unto themselves; they’re still the half-pound, all-beef Pearl frank topped with special chili sauce, sweet relish, mustard and chopped onions that our city knows and loves. 

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  • Restaurants
  • Italian
  • North End

Hailing from the streets of Emilia Romagna in Italy, the popular piadina has found its place here in Boston’s very own North End. Caffe Ducali sells these traditional and tasty, wood-fired flatbread sandwiches for takeaway during its lunch service on the weekends. The kitchen at Ducali crams its piadine with a whole selection of different fillings, but the most affordable options are the caprese (tomato, mozzarella and basil) or melanzane (grilled eggplant, roasted red peppers, marinated artichoke aioli and fresh ricotta), which both ring at $9.

  • Restaurants
  • Peruvian
  • Somerville
  • price 2 of 4

As Machu Picchu's casual sibling, this Somerville joint specializes in the same juicy, mouth-watering Peruvian roast chicken—just in a faster format. For a quick, cheap and satisfying meal, you can't beat the quarter-chicken with salad and either fries or rice. For $6, you can get delicious dark meat, while white meat fans can get their fix for $7. If you want to splurge, a few bucks will get you a chicha morada (purple corn juice).

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  • Restaurants
  • Japanese
  • Porter Sq
  • price 2 of 4

You’ll probably find a line down the block at this small, Porter Square ramen shop. Bowls are big, flavorful and inexpensive. The House Ramen here (delicious broth and noodles topped with pork, egg, beansprouts, nori, corn and scallions) is so big and filling that we’ve let it slip in at $1 over our $10 limit—the leftovers will be well worth it.

  • Restaurants
  • Indian
  • Inman Sq
  • price 2 of 4

This small Punjabi joint in Inman Square specializes in heaping portions of flavorful and filling dishes. Whatever you choose, you can expect to enjoy spiced delights for a reasonable price. Almost all of its vegetarian entrees fall under the $10 mark, but we personally suggest you go for the extra hearty chole masalewala, which features chickpeas stewed in tomatoes and amped up with an array of traditional spices, and served over basmati rice.

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  • Restaurants
  • Hamburgers
  • Fenway/Kenmore
  • price 1 of 4

This homegrown burger joint offers a retro vibe, reasonable prices and late hours, making it a local favorite. You’ll find the standard selection of burgers and fries, plus turkey burgers, veggie burgers, chicken sandwiches and hot dogs. The standard burger, which comes with lettuce, tomato and pickles, is the straightforward winner here. But you can go bigger and get it with cheese and/or bacon for not much extra money.

  • Restaurants
  • Fast food spots
  • South Boston
  • price 1 of 4

For more than 60 years, Sullivan’s has been dishing out cheap weiners in Southie to loyal, local hot dog fanatics who love a bargain. It’s a simple, steamed dog served in a toasted bun that's then loaded up with hearty chili and cheddar cheese. It's filling and satisfying—and the water view from Castle Island doesn't cost a cent extra.

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  • Restaurants
  • Mexican
  • Fenway/Kenmore
  • price 1 of 4

This Fenway mainstay gets packed before Red Sox games with fans who crave a quick and cheap pre-game bite—or who want to take its giant burrito into Fenway Park. The interior is small and cheerful, while the food is filling and flavorful. Head to the Tacos de la Casa menu and get the Caramelos. You’ll get two tortillas stuffed with grilled steak and topped with melted Jack cheese, hot sauce, salsa fresca and guacamole.

  • Restaurants
  • Mediterranean
  • Roslindale
  • price 1 of 4

Effie’s, a family-run favorite in Roslindale, serves up exceptional Greek takeout at affordable prices. Flavorful meats are cradled in thick, warm pita, salads are overflowing with feta and chicken, tzatziki is prepared fresh in-house and spinach pies are full and flaky. For your best bet, the traditional pork gyro in pita is everything you want and need, served with red onion, tomato, tzatziki and fries.

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  • Restaurants
  • Somerville
  • price 1 of 4

You’ll probably have to wait in line, but that’s all part of the experience at this Somerville gem. Once inside, you’ll get huge portions of breakfast favorites on the cheap (and then understand that wait you had). This place runs on family recipes that reflect the owners' Portuguese and New Jersey roots—which is exactly why you should opt for the Newark Portagee. This hefty breakfast sandwich consists of two eggs and a chorizo patty topped with peppers, onions and cheese, and is served on a freshly baked, homemade roll.  

  • Restaurants
  • Mediterranean
  • Downtown
  • price 1 of 4

The ubiquitous Chicken and Rice Guys dot the local food landscape with trucks, pop-ups and brick-and-mortar spots. Inexpensive, filling and flavorful, their fresh and fast halal street fare is great for a quick and satisfying lunch. The Guys’ plate includes perfectly seasoned, grilled chicken, rice, pita, salad and your choice of sauce. For a matter of cents extra, you can treat yourself to the combo plate, which gives you the aforementioned chicken alongside its lamb and beef gyro.

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  • Restaurants
  • Greek
  • Fenway/Kenmore
  • price 2 of 4

Saloniki offers fresh, farm-to-table Greek fare for a very reasonable price. Souvlaki sandwiches feature tender grilled meats and local produce. Rice plates and pitas—identified by classic Greek names like Nico and Herc—include scrumptious stars like lemon-oregano grilled chicken, roasted pomegranate-glazed eggplant and spicy lamb kefte. For an even more frugal selection, we suggest the vegetarian Despina Pita, featuring zucchini-feta fritters, greens, tomato, onion, herbs, fries, garlic yogurt and secret sauce.

  • Restaurants
  • Seafood
  • price 2 of 4

The original Kelly’s Roast Beef location has been serving hungry Revere Beach-goers since it first opened in 1951. Kelly’s is a one-stop shop for all things quintessentially New England, including lobster rolls, clam chowder and fried scallops. But its thinly sliced roast beef, piled high on a buttered and griddled bun, is the winner here. Top it with the customary combo of mayo, barbecue sauce and cheese to make it a true North Shore threeway, and you’re good to go.

Bites under $10 at Time Out Market Boston

  • Restaurants
  • Fenway/Kenmore

Eat well without damaging your wallet at the city's coolest spot for cuisine, cocktails and culture. Start off with Taqueria El Barrio's tacos ($4.35). Enjoy one or two of these delicious flavor bombs; may we suggest the Asada (cabbage, salsa taquera and guacamole) or birria (onion and cilantro). If you're there on a weekend, enjoy Mamaleh's Pastrami, Egg & Cheese ($8.75), served with Russian dressing on a challah roll. Cusser's crispy fish tacos ($10) include cabbage slaw, pickled onions, cilantro, jalapeños and Thoreau sauce. For a healthful option, try Revolution Health Kitchen's Loaded Avocado Toast ($8), which gets bursts of flavor from tomato, red onion, lemon, sesame seeds and red pepper. Finish up with a sweet treat from Gelato & Chill—for $5, you can try one of the handmade, small batch flavors—or Union Square Donuts, whose signature flavors ($3.25) include Vietnamese coffee and Belgian dark chocolate.

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