OCTOBER 2019: We’ve scoured the city for a new crop of cheap eats and have struck gold. Among the highlights are Alpes (from cheese supremos the Raclette Brothers) and Morty & Bob’s in King’s Cross (grilled cheese toasties and more), but if you want to swap cheese for Chinese, we suggest Sichuan Grand (a whopping great restaurant in Stratford) and Xi’an Biang Biang (a Spitalfields sibling to Highbury’s Xi’an Impression, famous for its ‘belt’ noodles).
We’ve also revisited some old faves and can confirm that they’re as cheap and great as ever – top marks to C&R Café (a Malaysian diner renowned for its laksa), Beirut street-food kings Yalla Yalla in Fitzrovia and Notting Hill’s Fez Mangal (a Med-inspired Turkish grill).
London might well be the world’s greatest food city (that’s right, we’ve gone there) but with spiralling living costs putting the brakes on the concept of ‘spare’ cash, it’s not like any of us can eat out as much as we’d like to. Don’t worry: our list of London’s 100 best cheap eats will help remedy that.
Everything here has been priced at £10 a head or less, and variety is the name of the game – so expect anything from budget basement kitchens like Roti King to grand Parisian-style restaurants like Café Sou and Brasserie Zedel, steamy Cantonese bun houses like Bun House and hip taco joints like Del 74 (plus a few burger and pizza spots thrown in for good measure), all serving brilliant food at super-low prices.
Gather your pennies and hit the streets – filling up in London’s best restaurants needn’t empty the wallet.
Video: why not try one of these five fab London cheap eats?
The best cheap eats in London
This Ethiopian cafe bashes out hearty vegan food in a friendly, no-frills setting. Inside, it’s simple: take a seat among the fairy lights and artificial plants and you’ll be asked whether you want traditional injera (a spongy, savoury pancake) or rice, which will then be served up with six sample dishes. It’s all about the greens and aromatic stews made with beans or lentils here, which are pimped out with plenty of garlic, ginger and turmeric. It's BYO, too.
Price: £7 per person or £12 for two.
Going strong for more than three decades, this plain-looking Earl’s Court restaurant and bar is still packed to the rafters – and as good as it ever was. As soon as the proper caramel-coloured prawn crackers arrive, you know that this place is the real deal. So dig into their great-value menu for all the usual Thai suspects – from the fresh and frighteningly spicy som tum (green papaya) salad served in a deep bowl to curries, stir-fries and luscious pad thai topped with a traditional lattice pancake.
Price: Pad thai £8; red Thai curry with steamed rice £10.
Like some Alpine après-ski mock-up at the summit of a staircase in funky Pop Brixton, Alpes is the first bricks-and-mortar site for cheese supremos the Raclette Brothers. Unctuous, molten fondues are the headline acts, although they’re way beyond the £10 budget. However, there’s plenty of good stuff for a more modest outlay, including various tartiflettes and raclettes, plus properly humble sides including unlimited warm bread, pickles, charcuterie and garlicky fried baby potatoes. Also, don’t miss the crisp rösti topped with wild mushrooms.
Price: Raclette savoyarde £9; wild mushroom tartiflette £9.50.
The first permanent location from marketeers Arancini Bros is an affable retro caff cluttered with boxes of fresh produce – although all eyes are on the food coming from the open kitchen at the back. The food’s now 100 percent vegan, from the namesake deep-fried arancini (risotto balls served plain or stuffed into tortilla wraps) to burgers, salad boxes and stews (butternut squash and lentil, say). You can also BYOB. Branches in Old Street, Dalston and Maltby Street.
Price: Arancini balls from £5.50 for five; salad boxes, burgers and stews around £9.
Kilburn’s pride and joy, this modest Afghan spot also attracts people from across London with its excellent cooking, budget prices and BYOB policy. Dumplings, tikkas, curries and kebabs show the cuisine’s cultural diversity, but also look for more distinctive ideas – from mantu (minced meat in steamed pastry topped with yoghurt, chickpeas and mint) to the must-have kabuli palow (slow-cooked lamb shank buried in a mound of yellow rice, dotted with pistachios and peppers). To drink, order minty yoghurt ‘dough’ or cardamom tea.
Price: Lamb mantu £8; kabuli palow £9.
Wallet-friendly hand-crafted pasta is king at this sleek Covent Garden joint, and passers-by can watch as the virtuoso chefs fashion all manner of sheets, ribbons and parcels in the front window of the restaurant. Inside, the best perches are at the gleaming marble bar, while the pick of the pastas has to be the poetically named ‘silk handkerchiefs’ (soft, glistening rectangles of fazzoletti dressed with walnut butter), although we also dote on the beef-shin ravioli with saffron and sweet parsley oil.
Price: ‘Silk handkerchiefs’ with walnut butter £9; goat’s cheese, spinach and nutmeg mafalde £9.50.
Camera-wielding gastro geeks still line Lexington Street hoping to hashtag London’s finest bao, and there’s always a queue outside this iconic no-bookings eatery – your best bet is a late dinner. Spend your tenner wisely by picking from the line-up of steamed buns (the ‘classic’ with braised pork belly, peanut powder and fermented greens is a must), but don’t ignore the ‘xiao chi’ snacks such as trotter nuggets or mapo aubergine with chi shiang rice. If you prefer to book, head to Bao Fitzrovia.
Price: Bao from £5.25; Taiwanese fried chicken with hot sauce £6.75.
A hip Taiwanese street food eatery-cocktail bar hybrid, Bao & Bing starts off by serving those fluffy little buns that everyone’s heard of (try the five-spice beef version for size). The ‘bing’ part of the name refers to ‘dan bing’ – a kind of Taiwanese breakfast burrito filled with crunchy cabbage, spring onion and your chosen protein. The menu also features some zesty ‘xiao’ small plates, as well as fun desserts including on-trend ‘wheelcakes’ – like big English muffins oozing custardy filling.
Price: Five-spiced beef bao £5.20; chicken dan bing £7.40.
Now happily embedded in Peckham Rye, this former street food outfit serves up fail-safe Vietnamese dishes in a modest, neutrally decorated, plywood-clad setting. Affordable classics such as summer rolls, pho and ‘bun’ noodle salads abound, but it’s worth tossing in an extra quid for more unusual ideas such as the bò kho beef stew with lemongrass or bánh khot turmeric and coconut pancakes filled with prawns and sprinkled with shrimp dust. There’s a second branch in Brixton.
Price: Pho £9; ‘bun’ noodle salad £10.
A pocket-sized offshoot of Haggerston’s feted Middle Eastern grill, Berber & Q’s Exmouth Market outpost is great for a boozy catch-up over some dirty cocktails and spit-roasted meat. If you want to eat dinner for under a tenner, stay with the meze or filled pittas – perhaps lamb kofte, lamb shawarma, chicken thighs or cauliflower, piled with pickles, herbs and tahini (plus some Yemenite Dynamite hot sauce for extra oomph). Spend any spare change on one of the lush ice cream desserts.
Price: Meze with chollah bread from £5.50; cauliflower shawarma in pitta £8.
Bright colours, Ikea-style furniture and walls plastered with snaps of happy diners set the scene at this popular Korean hangout. Budget-conscious punters should go for rib-sticking renditions of the eponymous bibimbap: a warming layered dish of rice, spiced vegetables and meat, topped with a fried egg and served in a hot stone bowl. Other bargains range from bulgogi BBQ with rice to ‘rameyon’ noodle soups, and you can also get a ten-piece bucket of KFC (Korean fried chicken) for under a tenner. There’s a larger branch in Soho.
Price: Bibimbap from £8.50; beef bulgogi with rice £8.90.
When only a filthy-good US-style burger made with rare-breed dry-aged beef will do, Bleecker comes up trumps for London’s meat-mad hordes. The oozing bacon cheeseburger is a carnivore’s dream – especially when it’s loaded up with ketchup – although adding a side of ‘angry fries’ drizzled in blue cheese and hot sauce will take you over the £10 limit. Bleecker also has a market kiosk in Spitalfields and a bricks-and-mortar outlet in Bloomberg Arcade.
Price: Cheeseburger £6.75, double cheeseburger £10.
Fun buns in Chinatown might make you think of Taiwanese bao, but these beauties are of the Cantonese variety – closed-up, then stamped with their identity. There are pig buns, fish buns, custard buns and more, but do order some small dishes too (curry fish balls, chilli tripe or glass noodle salad, say) and bulk things out with a rice pot of beef brisket. They also do a ‘tea service’ if you’re eating in (£2), but note that BH is strictly first-come, first-served.
Price: Buns from £2.50; chu hou beef brisket rice pot £6.80.
Butchies’ original street food stall made its name with fast-fried chicken, but their first proper restaurant ups the ante by matching superlative nosh with friendly counter service and sharp decor. As the unofficial chicken burger champions of London, they serve up dreamy buttermilk-fried ‘sandwiches’ and voluptuous bacon-stacked numbers with playful names like ‘Jenny from the Block’. Also don’t write off their moreish chicken strips served with house ‘OG’ sauce and extra dips if you want them (trust us, you will).
Price: Buttermilk chicken sandwiches from £6; ‘OG’ meal (‘original’ sandwich, fries and soft drink) £9.50.
Located next door to Café Murano Covent Garden, Angela Hartnett’s tiny Pastificio is part café-deli, part wine store and part ‘pasta factory’. You can buy the fresh handcrafted stuff to take home or sit down for a plateful of linguine, pappardelle, ravioli or silky spinach and ricotta tortelli (all cooked in Café Murano’s kitchen). If you’re after a quickie, order paninis, salads, charcuterie, cheese and pastries at the counter, plus a glass of Italian wine.
Price: Pasta £9; chicken milanese and salad £9.50.
Big menus are commonplace in Chinatown, but such a vast repertoire seems impossible from a galley the size of an origami boat. Still, Café TPT manages to deliver its flavour-packed pan-Chinese bonanza with commendable aplomb – despite functional decor, bare tables and matter-of-fact service. Best bets are Cantonese staples such as succulent roast duck on rice, although we crave the Hong Kong-style ‘Tai pai tong hawker dishes’ too. Anything with seafood is worth ordering.
Price: Mixed roast meat on rice £6.50; nasi lemak £8.
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.
A bricks-and-mortar spin-off from the legendary Cheese Truck, this handy Camden pitstop peddles its wares in a bar-like space beneath a burlesque club. Oozing cheese sandwiches and messy riffs on raclette are the main contenders in the food stakes, but don’t miss bigger plates such as five-cheese macaroni or the flavour-bomb sundae (X-rated food porn involving blue cheese lusciously laced with quince, honey and shards of honeycomb).
Price: Grilled cheese sandwiches from £7; chicken poutine and chips £9.50.
Not your average chicken shop, this colourful wood-panelled 25-seater spot on Baker Street is the first fast-casual offshoot of Chick ’n’ Sours. Come here when you’re dying for some KFC (that’s Korean Fried Chicken, for the uninitiated) and you don’t mind ordering at the counter to get it. The ‘Straight Up Chik’n’ (a crisp-battered chook fillet topped with herb mayo and pickle) is a useful standby, but there are more fancy riffs too. Most dishes can be made with vegan chik’n if that’s what you’re after.
Price: Straight Up Chik’n £5.95; K-Town Double Trouble £8.95.
A loud, low-lit homage to fried chicken (with a Korean twist), CNS comes courtesy of former serial pop-up enthusiast Carl Clarke. The vibe is somewhere between a basement house party and a Prohibition speakeasy – there’s a liquor bar in the middle and a playlist of absolute bangers. To eat? The game-changing KFC (Korean Fried Chicken) and the K-Pop sandwich are standouts but any of their free-range buttermilk-marinated goodies will set you right for under a tenner. Branches in Covent Garden and Islington.
Price: Large disco wings £7; ‘house fry’ (drumstick and thigh, seaweed ‘crack’, pickled watermelon) £9.
Neighbourhood trattorias often sell themselves as cheap and cheerful, but few do it as well as family-owned Ciullõsteria in Balham. Classic terracotta floor tiles and kitsch artefacts set the tone, while the kitchen scores with its wallet-friendly handmade pastas (penne all’arrabbiata, pappardelle al ragù), grills and thin-crust 12-inch pizzas with familiar toppings (margherita, quattro formaggi, genovese etc). It’s noisy, bubbly, gregarious and built for parties – so don’t come here hoping for some hush.
Price: Pastas from £7.50; pizzas from £7.
Having built a cult following at Boxpark in Shoreditch, charismatic plant-based food champion King Senathit (aka King Cook) has migrated to a cool location under an arch close to Netil Market. Expect affordably priced bowls of vegan rainbow goodness, crammed full of vegetables, tofu or fake chicken – try the jerk combo on brown rice, the udon noodle bowl with char siu ‘crumbles’ or the ‘full English’ with scrambled tofu ‘egg’ etc. Simply order and pay at the counter, then collect when your number is called.
Price: Bowls from £8.50 (plus toppings).
Laksa may be oh-so-trendy these days, but this Malaysian café-diner has been peddling its giant bowls of noodle deliciousness for two decades – and punters can still look forward to humongous helpings of spicy coconutty broth packed with juicy prawns, thin rice vermicelli and much more. C&R also serves up umami-rich plates of char kway teow noodles, piled-high rice-based nasi goreng, buttery roti canai bread and the celebrated beef rendang. Expect a functional but contemporary vibe.
Price: Penang assam laksa £9.50; beef rendang £8.50.
The spirit of old Napoli lives on in Notting Hill, thanks to this cramped and glorious local legend, which famously survived a threat from the developers at the end of 2017. Mamma Maria’s food is always an affordable treat, although the soundest bets for those on a budget are the pastas and pizzas: the former might include spag bol, penne carbonara, lasagne and cannelloni, while the latter could feature names like marinara, margherita and spicy diavola.
Price: Pastas from £8.50; pizzas from £7.
Just over the road from fellow Korean restaurant Jihwaja, Daebak is worth a punt if you don’t want a side order of karaoke with your kimchi. Occupying what was a greasy spoon, the cramped premises still feel like caff, but prices are low, portions large and flavours are bang-on. The Korean classics (kimchi, glass noodles, bibimbap) are all here, along with Japanese imports in the shape of katsu curry, tempura and teriyaki – affordable is the name of the game. ‘Daebak’ is Korean for ‘awesome’, and we reckon it’s heading in the right direction.
Price: Ramen soups £8.50; bibimbap bowls £9.50.
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 – pork pilbil tacos, brisket tostadas, tinga quesadillas, that sort of thing. Veggies are guaranteed to do well here. Drop by at any time for a cheap eat, although the best value is on ‘Taco Tuesday’ when the happy hour lasts all night long and you can pick up tacos for £2. Their brunch offer is also worth knowing about.
Price: Pork pilbil tacos £5.50; brisket quesadilla £6.50.
Corrugated iron and walls plastered with Bollywood posters lend a ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ aesthetic to this upbeat Punjabi pit-stop on Chapel Market. If you’re planning a sit-down dinner indoors, be aware that the insistent bhangra beats and unyielding seats may put paid to any thoughts of whiling away the time. The kitchen majors in street-food snacks and slow-cooked curries, from sev puris and fish pakoras to railway lamb, rogan josh and chicken tikka makhani.
Price: Tandoori lamb chops £5.50; butter chicken £9.50
‘DF’ stands for Mexico City’s Distrito Federal, but this affordable, mass-market offshoot of the Wahaca chain couldn’t be more London – and fashion-conscious with it. All the trademarks are here: strikingly modern design, cheery staff and no bookings, plus Mexican fast food with a hipster spin. Open tacos hit the spot if you’re eating on the cheap, as do the pork bibil torta buns with smashed avo, slaw and pickle. Note that tacos are half price on Mondays. There’s an offshoot on Tottenham Court Road.
Price: Tacos and torta buns from £7.15; burritos from £7.70.
The Covent Garden outpost of a world famous no-bookings Taiwanese chain famed for its dumplings and regional street food, Din Tai Fung is a cult phenomenon – so expect to queue (although there’s now a ‘walk-in’ app if you want to go virtual). It’s more expensive and more fashionable than Chinatown, but the food is worth it: don’t miss the signature xiao long bao (delicate soup dumplings), the bouncy, golden prawn pancakes or the wontons with black vinegar and chilli oil – all served by hyper-efficient staff.
Price: Large steamed chicken bun £3 each; crispy golden prawn pancake £9.50.
Whirling ceiling fans, sepia prints and other retro wheezes set the scene for some post-colonial romping at Dishoom’s slick Indian eatery in Shoreditch, which comes complete with a Bombay-esque railway café space and a Raj-era verandah. Eat for under £10 by ordering the buttery pau buns with various fillings, the stuffed roomali (roti) rolls and other small plates, or dip carefully into the line-up of grills and salads. Dishoom’s other outlets all offer something similar.
Price: Keema pau bun £5.90; chicken tikka roll £7.90.
Done out like a Tamil truck stop with lurid lighting, furniture the colour of Sunny Delight and movies on the flatscreen TV, this rudimentary Sri Lankan/South Indian caff is famed for its minuscule prices and superlative dosas – although you can still eat cheaply if you veer off into ‘gravy’ territory. Veggie options are the standouts – the Mysore masala dosa, served with spiced onion, potatoes and three house chutneys is a winner, as are the onion utthapam and veg biryani.
Price: Dosas from £4.25; Chettinad fish curry £6.95.
A mural-laden SheBu favourite, Esarn Kheaw has been serving north-eastern Thai food to an appreciative crowd of locals for more than 25 years. The dark dining room may be starting to show its age, but the cooking is as good as ever and most dishes are budget-friendly – witness marinated chargrilled beef, spiced catfish or blisteringly hot vegetarian jungle curry. Also don’t miss the boiled and deep-fried ‘son-in-law eggs’ – a delicious mouth-cooling foil to the spicy food.
Price: Ox tripe soup £7.95; spiced glass noodle salad with minced pork £7.95.
Unrefined, GM-free, sustainable and seasonal are the watchwords at this clean-lined minimalist diner, and the food’s also healthy without ramming the ethos down everyone’s throat. DIY breakfast pots and colourful lunchtime salad boxes do the trick during the day, while evening brings a mix ’n’ match selection of small and larger plates – from miso-tahini roots to harissa chicken with herb oil and fresh herbs. Support comes from liquid assets, including cold-pressed juices and gluten-free lager. There’s also a branch in Canary Wharf.
Price: Roasted sumac cauliflower £2.75; slow-cooked sesame beef £5.15.
Venue says Fast, fresh and delicious evening dining. A menu of small plates & sharing dishes, botanical cocktails & a short list of organic wines.
There’s usually a queue at this Med-inspired Turkish grill, but no-nonsense service means you’ll bag a table pretty quickly. While you wait, get the juices flowing by watching Fez’s meat maestros as they rotate the hefty barbecue skewers and shave slices off the own-made doners. They also score highly with cut-above accompaniments including crunchy red cabbage, spice-rubbed flatbreads and tangy Turkish yoghurt. It’s BYO and they don’t charge corkage – hooray!
Price: Lamb doner £9.20; falafel, rice and salad £7.20.
Located on a scruffy drag near the back entrance of Clapham Junction station, this lovably old-fashioned bistro has been dishing out affordable, homely fare for generations. Inside, the wooden tables are laid with disposable tablecloths, big mirrors fill the walls and the soundtrack to your experience consists of loud-ish Italian ballads. All mains on the fixed-priced menu are £9, so take your pick from satisfying time warp classics such as chicken milanese, cod and salmon fishcakes or grilled pork loin with mushroom sauce. Swanky? No. Immensely charming? Yes.
Price: Balsamic chicken salad £9; grilled salmon with tomato and citrus hollandaise £9.
Locally renowned as one of the dreamiest sites on Brixton’s rumbustious market, FW and T has a communal vibe with its battered, bright-orange tables, effervescent service, reggae tunes and easygoing menu. To start there are ‘codfish’ fritters, jerked-up pepper prawns and kingfish curry with rice ‘n’ peas; then come the ‘reggae’ wings, and finally there are loads of ‘tings’ – from goat roti with green mango chutney to oxtail stew. Thirsty? Slam down a Trinidadian beer or a fruity rum punch.
Price: Reggae wings with pineapple and mango chutney £6.50; goat curry £10.
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), from the Ottolenghi-style salads such as roasted sweet potatoes with kale and tofu dressing to the hearty, comforting hot dishes (Thai chicken curry, vegan moussaka etc). All-you-can-eat buffets are the main attractions at lunch and dinner, while BYOB adds to the overall value. There’s an offshoot in Putney.
Price: All-you-can-eat buffet £7.50.
Decidedly utilitarian but a famous purveyor of Cantonese roasted meats, long-serving Four Seasons still deals in the ‘golden trio’ of Cantonese cuisine: crispy duck (a contender for London’s best), char siu (barbecued pork) and siew yoke (crispy pork belly). Everyone is here for plates of these chunky specialties on rice, and they are the go-to dishes for cheap eating, although the mammoth 20-page menu is full of possibilities if you have a bit more to spend.
Price: Three combination BBQ meats on rice £9.30; stewed beef brisket soup with noodles £8.20.
It may look like a provincial function room, but this Chinese roast meat specialist attracts as many visitors from the Far East as it does local students. The must-orders are the Cantonese duck and char sui pork, which can be seen hanging in the open kitchen by the front window. Order them on rice if you want to stay within budget, although it’s also worth investing in the equally generous noodle dishes (either stir-fried or in soup).
Price: Roast crispy pork on rice £6.80; fried noodles with mixed seafood £8.50.
Long-established, family-run, simple and well loved, Green Papaya is a real Vietnamese charmer with laid-back yet welcoming staff and superb food – including a spot-on version of crispy, crunchy soft-shell crab with salt and chilli. The cooking also absorbs some Xi’an Chinese influences, and their hand-rolled noodles are some of the best-value items on the menu. Pho soups, grills and filled buns are also considering for a cheap dinner. There’s also a branch in Hoxton.
Price: Hand-rolled Xi’anese noodles from £6.20; pho from £8.95.
Part log cabin, part wet room, this Soho spot is the most atmospheric of Herman's hangouts… and his wursts (imported from the Black Forest) are sehr gut. OK, we’re basically talking sausages in a crusty roll, but these beauties are some of the juiciest around. Ketchup, mustard and mayo are free, although it’s worth investing an extra 50p for sauerkraut, BBQ sauce, jalapeños and other toppings. For something a bit different, try Herman’s schnitzels. Branches in Fitzrovia, Charing Cross and White City.
Price: Wurst in a roll £6.16 (£8.90 with fries, £8.50 with salad); currywurst with fries £8.50 (regular).
Housed in the basement of a shabby boozer around the back of the Edgware Road, the Heron is a rough diamond, but beyond its slightly dingy interior, you’ll discover some of the most authentic Thai food in London (yep, that means spicy!). The kitchen specialises in north-eastern cooking, with an impressive range of salads, sour curries and stir-fries – all budget-friendly stuff. Expect things to get lively after 9pm, when the dining room doubles as a karaoke lounge.
Price: Spicy pork liver salad £8; fried rice with crab, egg and onions £9.
Hidden behind the colossal grey frontage of the Hotel Strand Continental and reached via two rickety flights of stairs, this intensely charming Indian restaurant is a genial throwback to colonial times with its lino floors, wipe-clean tables, ornate metal lanterns and portraits of Indian independence. Everything on the menu is stonkingly good value, whether you opt for a thin crisped-up ghee dosa, chunky lamb bhuna or the legendary tomato-based curry with hard-boiled eggs.
Price: Keema peas £7.50; egg curry £5.
A popular Indian canteen on Islington’s Chapel Market, serving an all-you-can-eat buffet in karmic (some might say preachy) surrounds. As the name suggests, it’s totally veggie and a lot of the stuff also ticks those vegan boxes – think vegetable curries, dhals, colourful salads and feather-light parathas. No wonder this place is a stalwart for cheap dates and early-evening carb loading, especially if you BYOB. Also don’t forget to bring some cash – they don’t accept cards.
Price: All-you-can-eat buffet £7.95.
‘When you’re short on your dough’ (Village People, geddit?), you can fill up on authentic curries at school dinner prices in this utilitarian dining hall attached to the long-running Indian YMCA. The canteen is open to all (not just resident students), so join the merry crowd of office workers, tourists and bargain hunters as they queue up at the counter. Fixed-price suppers weigh in under a tenner for mild curries and dhals with rice and spicy pickles on the side.
Price: Set dinner £9.
With a steamy charcoal grill holding centre stage and a menu offering a mishmash of Asian creations, Inko Nito is the laid-back Japanese fusion restaurant you probably need after negotiating Oxford Circus. The standout breadcrumbed fried chicken comes with yoghurt and peanut dip, and the signature nigaki is sushi’s unholy answer to the open sandwich. Don’t leave without trying the coconut soft serve, sprinkled with Japanese granola.
Price: Tofu karaage with miso mayo and nori £7; charcoal-seared salmon with wasabi ponzu dressing £9.80.
An artisan fast food joint in a stools-only space that was formerly a public loo (hipster ticks all round), Joe is all about by-the-slice US-style pizzas cut from 20-inch whoppers. Toppings are strictly stateside and mostly conventional – though chicken with chorizo, halloumi and oregano is a neat combo. Prices are an absolute steal, and two slices should do fine for a high-speed sit-down dinner with a can of JP’s own-brand IPA.
Price: Pizza from £4 a slice.
Hindi film posters, Bollywood soundtracks and relaxed staff strike an authentic tone at this Indian street food stop just off Oxford Street. The main attraction here is a line-up of eminently affordable kati (pronounced ‘karti’) rolls: marinated meats, vegetables and cheeses, all bundled up in flaky paratha flatbread that’s been griddled and spread with beaten egg. Veggies should also look out for the Kati’s latest creation – a kale and kachumber medley with lime dressing.
Price: Unda aloo roll £4/£7.50; beef tikka roll £4.25/£8.
It’s all about roll-your-sleeves-up DIY at this branch of Kintan – a bargain-priced Japanese yakiniku restaurant in a basement off Oxford Circus. Smoky thick-ridged grills are built into each table (much like Korean BBQ) and the fully illustrated medley ranges from USDA kalbi short-rib to excellent pre-marinated spicy pork. Wipe-clean menus are splashed with red-sticker deals, while daily happy hours just keep rolling on. There’s also an outlet in High Holborn.
Price: BBQ pork belly with shiso and miso £7.50; pepper beef bibimbap £9.
A suitably spartan place of pilgrimage for East End curry devotees who want to avoid the touts, this consistently reliable Whitechapel canteen deals in full-flavoured Punjabi street food, from snacks and karahi bowls to the eponymous grilled meat-on-a-stick. Despite the moniker, there are only two kebabs on offer – one seekh (a sausage of seasoned, finely minced lamb on a skewer), and a classic chicken kebab: both are excellent. You can BYOB, and there’s a handy off-licence next door.
Price: Chicken kebab roll £4.50; meat biryani £9.75.
Watch noodles being hand-pulled and cooked to order, then tuck into bowls of nourishing soup at this late-night joint near Leicester Square (open till 5am at the weekends). Skip the neon Chinese buffet in the window and stick to the composite rice plates or noodles – we love the twisted and stretched lamian version with stewed beef (ask for extra broth and fewer noodles). Also look out for affordable set deals.
Price: Noodles from £6.15; char siu pork chop with rice £8.
It’s tough finding tagine for under a tenner in London these days, but this Finsbury Park caff will satisfy your longings and leave you some spare change for sticky pastries and mint tea too. Various riffs on the couscous and tagine theme are the Moroccan mainstays in the evening, although things are a bit different during the day, when the place is a jolly mash-up of British greasy spoon and North African backstreet bolthole.
Price: Lamb tagine £6.50; royal couscous £7.50.
A Soho deli legend for more than 75 years, Line Stores took the bold (but natural) step of opening a little restaurant in 2018. You can’t book and it’s a squeeze, but the whole place buzzes and prices are friendly. Handmade pasta is the strongest suit, although some dishes are noticeably better than others: we love the worm-like pici with porcini and umbrian sausage sauce. Antipasti and puds are cheap but forgettable, so stick to the pasta and sit at the street-level counter.
Price: Pici with porcini and umbrian sausage £7; ricotta and herb gnudi with sage and brown butter £9.50.
Camden’s original jerk pit and reggae bar has been peddling its totally tropical vibe since 1985 and continues to dish out big helpings of Jamaican soul food in the shape of jerk wings, saltfish fritters, curried goat, oxtail stew, fried plantain, rice ’n’ peas and the like. If you want some booze with your cheap eats, note that happy hours run daily from 5pm-7pm. Bright, cheery and great fun.
Price: Quarter jerk chicken with rice ’n’ peas £8.50; curried goat roti £9.50.
Imagine yourself noshing away in a traditional wooden ‘machiya’ townhouse when you visit this Japanese eatery from the people behind Kanada-Ya. Good calls for cheap eating include donburi rice bowls, tonkatsu, curries and slippery soba noodles with dashi dipping sauce, but it’s worth holding back some cash for the authentic Japanese patisserie. No bookings, so take pot luck.
Price: Gyudon beef donburi £9.50; cold soba noodles in shiitake broth £8.50.
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.
From the crew behind Salvation in Noodles, this chummy Vietnamese hangout is a sleek Hanoi-meets-London mash-up specialising in huge portions of Vietnamese BBQ with all the trimmings (including steamed rice noodle pancakes for wrapping). Items such as velvety beef short-rib over squidgy rice are the (pricey) big hitters, but veggies also do well here – think tofu-filled bánh xeo crêpes and meat-free, rice-based ‘com’ bowls.
Price: Chicken or tofu pho £10; beef in betel leaf thit nuong skewers £4.60 (for two).
‘Clean eating’ feels like fun at this second branch of Maple & Co. Order downstairs, then take your food upstairs to a blond-wood dining area dotted with fairy lights. While much of M&K’s trade is in nourishing salad-based lunch boxes, evenings are now even more attractive thanks to extended hours and a booze licence. Eat cheaply from a menu of burgers, flatbreads and small plates such as grilled courgette and salmon rolls with cream cheese and spinach.
Price: Vegan chickpea burger £7; ‘Cali’ chicken flatbread £6.50.