The best cheap eats in 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 Isaan-style 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 – veer towards noodles and rice plates 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 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 – portions are vast, so order a small amount to start with to avoid overdoing it.
How much? £9.99 is a bargain for the Sunday brunch, or you can pay the same price for maklouba (or any main course) plus a fizzy drink – 11am to 6pm every day.
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 ideal pre-gig fodder. Check out 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 around £8 for the original salad boxes and daily stews.
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? Camera-wielding gastro geeks line Lexington Street for their chance to hashtag London’s best buns.
When to go There’s always 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; also check out the epic versions with fried chicken and Horlicks ice cream.
How much? These babies all cost £5 or less (the classic’s just £4.50). 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 need 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: snacks from £1.30, rice and noodle bowls from £4.50.
What’s the vibe? A family-run and fashionably decked-out Vietnamese restaurant in the newfangled foodie hotspot of Peckham Rye.
When to go Dishes are ideal for both sharing or scoffing solo, so it’s perfect for a swift lunch or a settled-in dinner with friends.
What to eat Vietnamese classics abound (think spring and summer rolls, pho, bun noodle salad), but it’s worth breaking the budget for the skillet-served bánh khot pancakes, topped with shrimp dust.
How much? Pay £5 for rice-paper rolls, up to £10 for a dish of pulled pork with crispy eggs, fried shallots, chilli and tamarind dressing.
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 to dispel the memory of that kebab-shop meat.
What to eat On this budget, it’s the filled pitas for you: lamb kofte, lamb shawarma, chicken thighs or cauliflower, piled with pickles, herbs and tahini.
How much? All £9 or less. Chuck in some harissa, garlic yoghurt or Yemenite Dynamite hot sauce and you’re still on a financial winner.
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 hordes of Soho 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 serving – very filling.
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 will be plenty for most people. If you’re in the mood for yabba-dabba-doo, go for the double.
How much? Burgers from £6.50; throw in some fries and get change from £10 (unless you go double).
What’s the vibe? A chic, pretty little vegetarian café in a charming old Victorian dairy in Dulwich.
When to go Breakfast is the highlight of the day here, thanks to the homemade baked 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. Cash only.
What’s the vibe? Messrs 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 followed by steak haché with frites.
How much? £9.95 for two courses: arguably London’s biggest bargain. You could slip in a quick visit to the fromage trolley afterwards and still have change from £15.
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 involving the bakery’s produce, from cornbread muffins to boiled eggs with soldiers or fried eggs, ham and greens on toast. There are weekday salads and larger plates as well.
How much? Avocado toast is a bargain at £4 (as it should be); fried eggs with the trimmings are £8; sandwiches, salads and tartines sit 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 and lunch 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 (green peas, beetroot hummus, black quinoa, cherry tomato salsa and goat’s curd on toast) or the Step Sister (sweet potato, courgette and feta fritters).
How much? Most plates are around £9. Wholesome ‘super salads’ are £8, with extra halloumi or cured salmon on top if you want to max out the budget.
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 (expect a plethora of well-dressed babies), but on weekdays there’s also a lunchtime counter selection.
What to eat Eggs every which way, gussied-up French toast, quinoa cakes with coconut-spiced butternut squash purée. Look out for weekend specials too.
How much? Things on toast from £7.50; hot specials £8.50, add £1 for a paratha.
What’s the vibe? A Soho homage to handmade Cantonese steamed buns with a takeaway counter, a few tables and a speakeasy-style tearoom downstairs.
When to go Are you desperately seeking umami savoury or saccharine sweet? Any time will do nicely.
What to eat The pig’s blood and chocolate combo is the stuff of X-rated pudding pilgrimages. Add some ‘fries’ (deep-fried duck tongues) too.
How much? Buns are all £2.50; add-ons and small dishes max out at £4.80.
What’s the vibe? An Asian version of the working men’s caff, completely devoid of decoration and tucked away in the corner of a car park.
When to go When that pho craving hits you in JD Sports (the car park is 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? Soho House Group’s très jolie take on a grand railway café in the Parisian mould. The least formal of the Ned’s foodie offerings.
When to go If you’re in a hurry and don’t mind sitting on bum-numbing high stools.
What to eat Quick and simple does it. That means sourdough baguettes, quiches, salads, omelettes and the like – plus coffee and cake if you have time.
How much? City bargains: quiche £4 a slice, half baguette £9, salads from £5.
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 – so stick to Cantonese dishes for the best results, and note that seafood is a particular strength.
How much? Most ‘good old classic’ mains cost less than £9, but one-plate ‘hawker’ rice dishes (nasi lemak etc) and soup noodles are even cheaper.
What’s the vibe? Fast-casual fried chicken shop out of the same ethically minded coop as Chick ’n’ Sours – self-styled poultry anarchists.
When to go The night time is the right time, but that means queues.
What to eat Wings, bites and tenders for the not-so-famished; a ‘straight-up’ Chik’n sandwich with sriracha sour cream and fries for a blowout.
How much? Most bites are sub-£5; a basic sandwich with small fries and dip will set you back around £7.
What’s the vibe? Loud, low-lit fried chicken restaurant from former serial pop-up enthusiast Carl Clarke.
When to go The vibe is set to ‘party’ all week long, so it’s a great one for a school-night birthday meal. It 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 £9 for the ‘house fry’ of a drumstick, thigh, pickled watermelon and ‘seaweed crack’; a bargain £6 for sours.
What’s the vibe? A bricks-and-mortar spin-off from the legendary Cheese Truck, peddling its lacto wares in a bar-like space beneath a burlesque club in Camden.
When to go A hangover cure and a handy Camden Market pitstop. Otherwise, book in for a regular Thursday-evening fondue bonanza.
What to eat Oozing cheese sandwiches and messy riffs on raclette, but don’t miss the real food porn – a flavour-bomb sundae involving blue cheese lusciously laced with quince, honey and shards of honeycomb.
How much? Grilled sandwiches from £6.50, bigger plates such as cauliflower cheese from £7. The sundae weighs in at £5.50.
What’s the vibe? Cramped and plagued by lunchtime queues, this efficient little Vietnamese number nevertheless keeps the City crowd coming back.
When to go Open between 11.30am and 4.30pm, Monday-Friday; not surprisingly, the queues are worst noon-2pm.
What to eat Spring rolls and bánh mì (baguettes) if you’re taking out, delicious pho if you’re slurping in.
How much? £8 will feed you well.
What’s the vibe? When we say Ciullosteria is ‘cheap and cheerful’, we really mean it. This neighbourhood trattoria not only keeps its prices in check, but staff know how to get the party started – and keep it going at full throttle. Thin-crust pizzas with regional toppings share the limelight with pasta and grills.
When to go Great for birthday bashes – and any other excuse for a good time.
What to eat Decent-value pastas are a proper meal, or you can plump for a pizza.
How much? Pasta bowls start at £7.50 for penne all’arrabbiata, although seafood options break the £10 barrier. Pizzas from £7.
What’s the vibe? A zippy French café near City Thameslink, and the first London outpost of a long-standing Parisian chain.
What’s the vibe? Rainbow vegan food served in bowls made from recycled cardboard. Genuine, unpretentiously eco and easily affordable.
When to go Take the Shoreditch Boxpark trip and fuel up with some satisfyingly different vegan fare.
What to eat South-east Asian bowls of trendy vegan goodness, from mum’s green curry to a ‘yoga fire’ riff (chillies married to coconut) – all courtesy of Laotian chef King Cook.
How much? All bowls come in way under £10.
What’s the vibe? The spirit of old Napoli in Notting Hill – a local legend that was recently given a reprieve from the developers. Cramped and glorious.
When to go Whenever you can. Mamma Maria’s food is an affordable treat from morn till night.
What to eat The cheapest deals are the classic pizzas and pastas, with the odd antipasti thrown in.
How much? Pizzas and pasta dishes start at £7, with most old-school mains hovering around £10 mark.
What’s the vibe? Burrito fans hoof it through the lunchtime market to this corner site for dinner-plate tortillas stuffed like a luchador into his Lycra.
When to go Best to aim for noon or 3pm – the queue builds pretty rapido at lunchtime, especially on Thursdays and Fridays.
What to eat Treacly carnitas or kick-ass bavette steak burritos with killer smoky chipotle salsa.
How much? Burritos start at £6.50, plus £1 for guac or jalapeños.
What’s the vibe? A garish, grungy Mexican pop-up bar/taqueria gone permanent, Del 74 promises banging beats, good vibes and easy-drinking margaritas, plus a bar menu of well-crafted classics.
When to go Any time is good, but for real value it has to be ‘Taco Tuesday’ when the happy hour lasts all night long.
What to eat Tacos, tostadas and quesadillas; also get ready for some tortas, coming soon.
How much? Tacos £2, beers £3, margaritas £5 during happy hour (5-7pm).
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 – either for a wrap from the stall outside or a quick sit-down indoors. 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? Dhaba snacks from £3, most curries around £9.
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 a burrito with a side of fries, rice or slaw.
What’s the vibe? Superlative dosas are the highlight at this rudimentary Sri Lankan/South Indian caff in Tooting – along with minuscule prices.
When to go Before payday – Dosa’s dishes 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? If you stay meat-free, you’ll come out with change from a fiver – unless you veer off into curry territory.
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, roasts and Italian specials.
How much? Most mains £7, nowt more than £8.40.
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? Part of a democratic mini-chain that introduced London to the glories of ‘flat iron’ steak. Communal tables, no posing, no bookings.
When to go Hungry for a slab of red meat, but low on funds? This is great for lunch or pre-theatre.
What to eat Steak or steak, served ready-sliced on a board with a gimmicky mini-cleaver – that’s it. Ring the changes with sides and sauces.
How much? The basic deal is £10 for steak and a side salad; add £2.50 for dripping-cooked chips, plus another quid for Fred’s sauce or béarnaise.
What’s the vibe? Squiggly cartoon colours and rough-hewn ‘Flintstones’-style furniture set the scene at Yugoslav chef Peter Ilic’s health-promoting venture a short stroll from King’s Cross station. Everything feels carefully made, and quirky in a good way.
When to go When you need a healthy breakfast or a lunchtime booster – perhaps from the all-you-can-eat buffet or a take-out box.
What to eat Greens and more greens – in Ottolenghi-style salads and other combos. Otherwise, go hearty and homely with comforting stews and pies.
How much? Breakfast £4.85. All-you-can-eat lunchtime buffet £6.95. Take-out boxes £4.
What’s the vibe? Belting breakfasts, brunches and lunches beneath high ceilings in Highbury Park.
When to go Brunch, lunch and monthly supperclubs. Check @frankscanteen on Twitter before heading over as the owner sometimes closes for catering gigs.
What to eat Behold! Tarka dhal with poached eggs, naan bread, chilli chutney, cheddar cheese and crispy onions.
How much? There’s plenty on offer for less than a tenner. The dhal combo is £9.90, decent poached eggs on sourdough toast is £6, with delectable sundries a couple of quid extra.
What’s the vibe? Set up before Peckham got posh, this colourful neighbourhood curry house is all about spice-laden, home-style South Indian cooking. There’s a handy takeaway too.
When to go Lunch is a wallet-friendly no-brainer, but also bag the bijou conservatory for a summer-night curry with mates.
What to eat A veggie thali or fish curry at lunchtime; street snacks, bhajis and dosas in the evening.
How much? Lunch deals start at £7. A veggie-biased sharing blowout should cost less than £10 a head without booze – although meat/fish mains will take you over budget.
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? Meze hits from £4.50 (order plenty), pide from £9.50, grills from £12 – although they’re often big enough to feed two, particularly if you’ve polished off some starters.
What’s the vibe? Cut-price conference-room decor and cramped as hell, but the crowds continue to invade Queensway for Gold Mine’s Cantonese roast duck.
When to go Early doors: midday for lunch, or 6pm for dinner.
What to eat Anything roasted, but mainly duck – portions are generous, so even a quarter of the crispy bird will easily feed two with pancakes.
How much? A portion of duck with a noodle or veg dish will set you back a smidgen over £10. Nearly everything else is cheaper.
What’s the vibe? Kingsland Road branch of a long-established, family-run Vietnamese in Hackney.
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 £8.50 for noodles, from £8.95 for pho, £7.95 grills – knock off a couple of pounds for tofu and vegetable dishes.
What’s the vibe? Part log cabin, part wet room, this is the most atmospheric of Herman's hangouts… and his sausages are sehr gut.
When to go Quick bite before a film or show? You could do wurst than a wiener.
What to eat Juicy sausages in crusty bread.
How much? Wurst in a roll is £5.95 (£7.95 with fries, £8.50 with salad). It’s also worth investing an extra 50p for toppings such as sauerkraut, chilli mayo and jalapeños. Note that currywurst combos are tad more expensive.
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. Otherwise drop by for an ‘express lunch’ (Mon-Fri).
What to eat Authentic stir-fries, sour curries and regional salads – the larb (minced meat with lime and chilli dressing) 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. Even better, the express lunch is £7.50.
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? The poké trend (raw fish rice bowls for the uninitiated) trundles ever onwards at this serene little South Pacific spot on Kingly Street.
When to go Any time, although lunch is the hot ticket. The combination of clean-eating and knockout fusion flavours makes it way better than any supermarket meal deal.
What to eat The house ahi bowl: soy-marinated tuna, sushi rice, pineapple salsa and spring onions. Top with nori and sriracha mayo for an umami-packed mouthful.
How much? At £8.85 for an ahi bowl, this is one of spenny Soho’s best bargains. Most house toppings are free, although you’ll pay extra for premium stuff such as spiced macadamia nuts.
What’s the vibe? Authentic curries at school-dinner prices in a student hostel dining hall that’s open to all.
When to go Open for three meals a day, seven days a week, but given that breakfast is often more continental than Indian, we suggest dropping by for lunch or supper. Takeaways too.
What to eat Mild curries and dhal with spicy pickles on the side.
How much? A lunch for two, with a couple of curries, pickles, bread and rice to share, costs around a tenner. Set dinners are pegged at £8.50 a head.
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 why it’s a stalwart for cheap dates, early evening carb-loading and bargain lunches.
What to eat Everything – the buffet’s the only option. Think vegetable curries, colourful salads, onion bhajis and feather-light paratha.
How much? All you can eat for £7.95. It’s BYO, too. Cash only.
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 NYC fashion, a full pie is a gargantuan 20 inches, so stick to the slices. Flavours are mostly conventional – though chicken, chorizo, halloumi and oregano is a neat combo.
How much? £3.50-£5 per slice. Two should do you.
What’s the vibe? Hindi film posters, Bollywood soundtracks and relaxed service strike an authentic tone at this Indian street-food stop just off Oxford Street.
When to go When you’re with company – there’s a healthy discount for bulk buys.
What to eat Kati (pronounced ‘karti’) rolls: marinated meats, veggies and cheeses, bundled up in paratha flatbread.
How much? Plain unda rolls layered with beaten egg are £5.40 for two; beef tikka rolls come in at £8.40 for two. Add £1 for a side of Corkers crisps.
What’s the vibe? Down in a basement off Oxford Street, this sibling of Kintan in Holborn is all about yakinuku (Japanese BBQ), with thick ridged grills built into every table for DIY. Exceptional food at really exceptional prices – thanks to (almost) never-ending happy hour deals emblazoned on each wipe-clean table.
When to go Happy hour prices all day, every day, at the bar – and no service charge either.
What to eat Anything with a red-sticker happy hour price tag – although DIY BBQ is the big thing here.
How much? Ridiculously cheap, from £1 for crispy seaweed to £7 for sukiyaki bibimbap. Weekday set lunches from £7.50.
What’s the vibe? Mega-filling, mega-tasty and mega-cheap, this is an homage to Egypt’s hole-in-the-wall koshari vendors.
When to go This is really a takeaway joint, but solo diners will find a handful of seats along one wall. Open all day.
What to eat Koshari is falafel’s more substantial older brother – a solid, simple dish of lentils, pasta, vermicelli and rice topped with chickpeas, tomato sauce and caramelised onions. Your only choice is whether to go mild, hot or mad on the sauce.
How much? £5.95/£6.95/£7.95 for Klassic, Kombo or King portions.
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 When you want 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 offie next door for BYO.
What’s the vibe? Watch noodles being hand-pulled and cooked to order, then tuck into bowls of nourishing Chinese-style soul food.
When to go For sustenance in the small hours: it’s open till 2am on weeknights, 5am on Fridays and Saturdays.
What to eat Skip the neon Chinese buffet in the window and stick to the noodles – we love the lamian version with stewed beef (ask for extra broth and fewer noodles).
How much? £6.50 well spent.
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 Grab a true Brit fry-up if that’s what you fancy, although the Moroccan food sets this place apart.
How much? Not much on the extensive menu pips £5.
What’s the vibe? Opulence, Kilburn-style – ie crimson tones, cosy booths and candles in wine bottles. Welcome to canoodling and smooching on a budget.
When to go An early date if you’ve got romance on your mind.
What to eat Luck dip time. Duck with Grand Marnier sauce, halal beef goulash, crab-stuffed plaice fillet, smoked chicken tagliatelle.
How much? Starters £3.05, mains £6.85 before 7pm – that’s your tenner accounted for. Add a couple of quid here and there later in the evening.
What’s the vibe? With dip-dyed stools, metro tiles and some seriously colourful food, this cool little caff is more photogenic than most.
When to go For a pick-me-up (there’s great coffee and juice) in the Aldwych area.
What to eat Technicolour salads bursting with superfoods, or, for the more indulgent, some rather special toasties. Think roast broccoli with chilli, almonds and cheddar.
How much? A seasonal salad box is £5.95 (plus a couple of quid extra for smoked salmon, avocado, halloumi and the like), while toasties are around a fiver.
What’s the vibe? Reggae tunes, rum cocktails, jerk wings and Red Stripe on tap.
When to go Happy hours run daily, 5pm–7pm and 10pm-11pm.
What to eat Salt fish fritters, barbecue spare ribs, jerk chicken and, of course, rice and peas.
How much? A quarter chicken from the jerk pit with rice and peas is £8.50, small plates of fritters, wings and ribs are cheaper still.
What’s the vibe? Japanese home-cooking from the people behind Kanada-Ya. Sit back and imagine yourself noshing away in a traditional wooden ‘machiya’ townhouse.
When to go Pre or post-show, or for a quickie lunch. This place doesn’t take bookings, but it’s open all day seven days a week – so take pot luck.
What to eat Chicken yakitori, tofu custard, tonkatsu, slippery soba noodles with dashi dipping sauce – plus some authentic Japanese patisserie. Otherwise it’s cocktails and izakaya snacks in the downstairs bar.
How much? Swerve the panko-crumbed Wagyu beef and you can eat well for less than £10: yakitori skewers £4.50, katsu curries and soba noodles from £6.50, raindrop cake £2.50.
Venue says Machiya is an all-day restaurant and bar serving simple home-style cooking alongside unique patisserie inspired by the food halls of Japan.
What’s the vibe? Ready the stripes: Breton chic is the order of the day at this cute Covent Garden restaurant specialising in crêpes, galettes and cidre.
When to go Brunch, lunch, dinner – these pancakes are an all-day affair, mon frère.
What to eat Buckwheat galettes for the savoury-craving (the Complète, with ham, egg and emmental, is a classic); crêpes for the sweet-toothed.
How much? Savoury galettes top out at £9.90; a butter and sugar crêpe is a mere £3.50.
Venue says July 14 is just around the corner and what better way to celebrate than with real galettes and crepes!?
What’s the vibe? A cute, clean spot on the fringes of Long Acre that bills itself as ‘London’s first fresh yoghurt bar’.
When to go Daytime hours mean it’s best for breakfast, lunch or a teatime reviver.
What to eat These flavoured Greek yog bowls are like dinner-party dips – not filling, but fun (and nutritious too). Go sweet or savoury as the mood takes you, and fill any gaps with a traditional simit bagel or soup.
How much? Mix -and-match combos are the best deals: a small yoghurt bowl plus half a bagel or soup is £6 at any time (breakfast specials are even cheaper).
What’s the vibe? It’s 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.
What’s the vibe? A hearty, healthy double-floor café on Pancras Square in King’s Cross, plugging a ‘mindful eating’ philosophy.
When to go Daytimes – they’re open from 8am-5pm on weekdays (a decent drop-in for the calorie-conscious commuter, then) and 10am-4pm.
What to eat The nourishing, generously portioned salad ‘lunch boxes’. Do include the warm sweet potato, quinoa, kale and mushroom mix, topped with peanut-sauce-slathered tofu. Righteous stuff.
How much? £5.55 for a mixed salad bowl with no toppings; £6.95 for a bowl with chicken, egg or halloumi; £8.95 for one with salmon or tofu.
What’s the vibe? Kentish Town’s favourite caff for English or Italian. It’s also a great champion of local artists, with regular exhibitions.
When to go For breakfast, lunch, a quick cappuccino, a plate of mama’s spicy sausage penne or a chat with Mario.
What to eat An exceptionally full English, with bubble and squeak, hash browns and black pud bulking out the usual suspects.
How much? Most mains and cooked breakfasts cost £6.50 or less.
What’s the vibe? Harrow is happy to have this convivial BYOB venue serving Afghan grills and comfort food to local families.
When to go With a big group – neither the setting nor the portions are built for a romantic dinner à 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 (paired with spinach) and a side of dhal.
How much? You’ll get a long way on £10 a head, especially in a group.
What’s the vibe? Tightly packed. With diners perched uncomfortably close to the queue, this toasted cheese sandwich café is undoubtedly best for takeouts.
When to go When you’re picking up food to eat straight away. No one likes a tepid toastie.
What to eat Purists rave about the classic, but you could also toss in some tuna, various meats or even mac ’n’ cheese.
How much? All but the limited-edition melts cost £5 or less.
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 like a doddle.
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. Sautéed prawns and houmous awarna 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-£8.50 for pide; otherwise, pick carefully to stay within budget.
What's the vibe? No-frills family-run Vietnamese, where the flavours are as punchy as the service. A local favourite.
When to go With a small group of your most punctual friends – they won’t seat you until everyone is present.
What to eat The fragrant beef pho, bursting with noodles and green herbs.
How much? £8 will feed you full of pho.
What’s the vibe? The spud is placed centre-stage at this charming contemporary take on a pie and mash café off Kingly Street.
When to go It’s a popular late-week lunchtime spot – no hangover too large.
What to eat Make ours the chicken, leek and bacon pie with cheesy mash and traditional gravy.
How much? £9.95 for mash with pie; £9.25 for mash with bangers.
What’s the vibe? Zeitgeist or no, this Taiwanese steamed bun shop – just off Peckham Rye – is a tip-top purveyor of the inescapable foodie trend.
When to go They take very limited bookings, but will write down your number so you can nip to the pub. Our advice: avoid large groups, or go for brunch.
What to eat The classic Mr Bao bun (pork, pickle and peanut powder) is both larger and cheaper than those in town (and just as good). And for god’s sake, don’t skip the Bao S’more, with marshmallow and chocolate.
How much? The bottom line is £3.90 for a Mr Bao bun; otherwise, expect to pay £4.50 for fried chicken, teriyaki mushroom or beer-marinated prawn versions. The S’more? Also £4.50.
What’s the vibe? Pint-sized Brixton Village pitstop dealing in Osaka street food, particularly yaki soba, yaki udon and traditional okonomiyaki pancakes.
When to go Lunchtime or mid-afternoon to swerve the queues, or togged up for an outside table in the evening.
What to eat Order the Okan ‘special’ okonomiyaki, featuring prawns, squid kimchi and sweetcorn.
How much? The ‘special’ is £10, other versions are cheaper by a pound or two. Ditto noodles.
What’s the vibe? A bustling shrine to pasta on the outskirts of Borough Market, from the team behind Canonbury’s rustic Italian trailblazer, Trullo.
When to go The food here is so good – and reasonably priced – that queuing is inescapable. Bang on midday or late for dinner are your best bets for a shorter wait.
What to eat The pappardelle with eight-hour beef shin ragù, and pici cacio e pepe (wormy strands of pasta with cheese and pepper) are both bona fide classics, so either of those.
How much? The beef shin is £9, the cacio e pepe £6.50. Both are astounding value for money. If you’re famished, get the latter with a starter and you can still sneak in under £10.
What’s the vibe? Colourful, crowded and charmingly bonkers, Sally Chambers’s Middle Eastern café is shoehorned among the paraphernalia of Peckham’s Persian delicatessen. Expect a liberal veggie interpretation of Levantine and Iranian cuisine.
When to go When the shop is open – that means any time from brunch to supper (perhaps with a spot of retail therapy thrown in).
What to eat Traditional meze and wraps with seasonally inspired fillings such as quince, halloumi and caramelised celeriac. Also, don’t miss the lush Turkish delight sundae.
How much? Meze platters £4 (small), £7.50 (large enough for two). Wraps £3.75, desserts £3.50.
What’s the vibe? A meal for two for £15? With drinks? In the City? Sounds too good to be true, right? Not at Pizza Union.
When to go The cramped seating and self-service policy make this place best for casual meals. Lunchtimes are busiest.
What to eat Try the spicy calabria with ’nduja sausage, rocket and mascarpone.
How much? Pizzas are a bargain, at £3.95-£6.50.
What’s the vibe? This stylish Soho spud palace gives the bean-drenched jacket potato a long-awaited gourmet upgrade.
When to go Before a marathon, before the pub, before payday.
What to eat Potato purists should stick to the classics, but the spudventurous can top theirs with pulled barbecue duck, mozzarella and sesame, or bloody mary rose crayfish and iceberg lettuce.
How much? The entry-level spud with salted Cornish butter is £3.75, rising to a fiver for gourmet options.
What’s the vibe? Italian café-bakery in sleek surroundings, compete with acres of wood-fired pizza, focaccia and salads, cakes and pastries. Dough heaven.
When to go Aperitivo hour – join Soho’s spritzers with a Campari soda.
What to eat Escape the sharp elbows at the self-service counter – pitch up early and bag a table in the pizza section for a wood-fired margherita (bear left at the door).
How much? The margherita is yours for £7.50, plus £4 for your Campari aperitivo.
What’s the vibe? Chicken wings worth getting in a flap about, from former street-food upstarts now with a permanent roost in Hackney Wick.
When to go Any time you damn well like, as you can actually book a table. The semi-industrial canalside locale is at its charming best when the sun’s out.
What to eat Fiery buffalo wings with truffle blue cheese are the old-time classic, fried Korean-style Gangnam wings are the discerning critic’s choice.
How much? From £7.50 a plate (complete the budget with some smoked chicken scratchings). If you’re feeling hungry and flush, eat all the wings you like from 6pm on a Monday for £14 (booking advisable).
What’s the vibe? Just a few hundred yards from Hampstead Heath, this immensely cosy family-run Italian is all about value and honest down-home trattoria cooking. Generous pastas and Neapolitan-style pizzas are the top calls for those on a tight budget.
When to go Solo lunches, family get-togethers, post-walk refuelling – nothing will break the bank.
What to eat It has to be the spaghetti napoli for a cheap-as-chips bargain, although all pastas and pizzas are worth the money – and there are even a few mains under £10.
How much? Spaghetti napoli £5.50, pizzas from £6. Add a small plate or side with any free cash.
What’s the vibe? Old-school London caff (est. 1946), where customers sit on brown plastic chairs at Formica-topped tables, watched over by photos of Spurs stars of yore.
When to go Breakfast, lunch or early dinner, Monday to Friday; open until midday Saturday.
What to eat Feast on classic café fodder: shepherd’s pie, burgers, spag bol, corned beef salad, pasties, fish and chips.
How much? A full English is £5.50, most lunch specials are a touch over £6 – and there’s plenty in between.
What’s the vibe? A teeny Euston backstreet basement serving up astounding Malaysian rotis, stuffed or with equally first-rate curries for dipping.
When to go Early evening to beat the queues. It really is small, so dining solo or in pairs is probably sensible. Takeaway is an option if you can’t be bothered to wait.
What to eat Hail to the rotis – they’re crisp, chewy, feather-light and dense at the same time. Wash them down with an ambrosial glass of teh tarik (chilled sweet tea).
How much? Stupidly cheap for food this good. The roti canai (two rotis with dhal) is £5, while the canai special (with a meat or fish curry) is £1.50 more.
What’s the vibe? Ealing’s super-lauded Neapolitan pizzeria is still among London’s best. (There’s a branch in Fulham, too.)
When to go For a swift dough fix. No bookings and slightly abrupt service, so don’t expect to settle in for too long.
What to eat Blessed with corniciones this good, you can afford to keep toppings simple. Don’t fancy tomato? The San Giuseppe, with smoked cheese, sausage and wild broccoli, is divine.
How much? From £5.75 for the mozzarella-free Santa Maria (a marinara by another name) and up to a tenner for pizzas with cheesy and meaty toppings.
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 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 over £8 for a pile of paneer. Dosas from £5.99; kachori, samosas and the like around £3.50. Come with a friend and share a few.
What’s the vibe? A bustling, Nordic café-cum-grocery store in Fitzrovia. Go for the smörgåsbord and prinsesstårta cake – and stock up on herring and salt liquorice while you’re at it.
When to go It’s a busy lunch and breakfast spot (perfect for escaping the populous hell of Oxford Street), but they do takeaways too.
What to eat The open rye sandwiches. All the usual Scandi staples are here – meatballs, herring, beetroot and so on. There are hotdogs too, of course.
How much? Smörgåsbord £6.95 for three to eat in, £9.95 for five (slightly less to take away).