Now, Covent Garden might be home to some of London’s best restaurants, most consistently excellent coffee shops and finest bars. But that doesn’t make it a cheap area, partly because it’s positively thronging with tourists 24/7. Luckily for you we’ve traversed the neighbourhood – from Shaftesbury Avenue to the Strand, Charing Cross Road to Drury Lane, by way of the nooks of Seven Dials – to bringing you best cheap eats available, on- and off- piazza (note: they’re basically all off). You’re very welcome.
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What’s the vibe? A compact Japanese joint, located at spitting distance from Leicester Square, it’s a perfect place to refill on the run. Specifically, on okonomi-yaki, a kind of Japanese pancake.
When to go For lunch or dinner (they’re open noon ’til late every day), or for a mid-afternoon snaffle when the chaos of Charing Cross Road becomes too much.
What to eat Those pancakes: a deliciously thick batter of cabbage, egg and dough, cooked on counter or table-top grills, and smothered with mayo, seaweed, bonito flakes and – the only one within budget – pork.
How much? £9.95 for a ‘deluxe’ size (there are none smaller).
What’s the vibe? Loud, low-lit, basement-based fried chicken restaurant and a spin-off the from the feted Haggerston original.
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 £10 for the towering ‘The General’ chicken burger.
What’s the vibe? A hip, cod-industrial (Bare bricks! Stripped-wood floors! Designer lighting!) steak joint on the chic fashion/foodie superhighway of Henrietta Street.
When to go If you don’t want to queue, not at dinnertimes from Wednesday-Saturday, when you’ll be guaranteed a hunger-honing wait (though there is a decent bar to kill time at). Late lunch is a better bet.
What to eat There’s only one choice: the flat iron steak (a flavoursome shoulder cut that should always be eaten on the rare side, FYI). It’s a tenner sans sides, but the best flesh in town for the cash.
How much? Pay attention! £10! Plus, you get a cute mini-cleaver to hack away with to your heart’s content. Fries and the like are a few quid extra.
What’s the vibe? New York-style pizza by-the-slice or in massive sharing portions, in an airy, buzzy, subtly-industrial spot on the lovely technicolour bolthole that is Neal’s Yard.
When to go There’s a no-bookings policy (isn’t there always?) and evenings tend to get busy. But, being pizza, you shouldn’t have to wait too long. Otherwise, lunchtime or mid-afternoons.
What to eat Visit as a pair and get a pizza to share. They’re all £20 and Homeslice has a knack for inventive toppings, so go for something outré. Roasted goat shoulder and sumac yoghurt anyone?
How much? Twenty quid for a massive pizza for two, or £4 a slice for the margherita, pepperoni or mushroom ’n’ ricotta pies (the others are available in ‘full pizza’ size only).
What’s the vibe? An extremely diddy, serene daytime café-eatery on Neal’s Yard, opened by the folks behind Palomar and The Barbary (which is right next door).
When to go For a leisurely breakfast if you’re an early-bird; lunch if you operate more regular hours; throughout the day as a Seven Dials shopping pit-stop.
What to eat The menu changes regularly, but snatch up a smoked trout and cream cheese Jerusalem bagel or berkswell and chorizo sourdough sarnie when they’re on. Don’t miss the utterly ambrosial coconut cream pies either.
How much? Around £5 for the sandwiches, £3.95 for the coconut cream pie. Otherwise, breakfast eggs start at £5.95 and lunchtime salads top out at £6.50.
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 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? A vibey burger bar sat above Covent Garden’s charmingly dingy Jubilee Market, and a branch of bona-fide burger pioneers Meat Liquor by another name.
When to go No bookings, obviously, but it’s a fairly efficient operation despite the small size. They’re open 11.30am until late every day.
What to eat You know the drill by now: the classic Dead Hippie burger (two mustard-fried patties, minced onions and so on) or the scalp-sweating buffalo fried chicken burger.
How much? £9 for the Hippie, £9.25 for the bird burger. If you’re craving sides, order a portion of cheese fries and a small dish of monkey fingers (buffalo chicken tenders with blue cheese sauce) instead.
What’s the vibe A design-heavy, Helvetica-signed Scandinavian café on Neal Street. Think blocky geometries, minimalist décor, Iittala cups and a whole lot of pale wooden cladding.
When to go Get your caffeine/cinnamon fix from 7.30am-8pm Monday-Friday, 8.30am-7pm Saturday and 9am-7pm Sunday.
What to eat The cinnamon buns and none-more-Nordic open sandwiches are go-to (topped with gravadlax, liver pate, herring and the like), but don’t miss the dinky karelian pies, with potato filling and an egg butter spread.
How much? All extremely reasonable: £3 your buns, sandwiches around the £5 mark and a wallet soothing £2.10 for the karelian pies.
More great eats for minimal cash?
Voodoo Ray's Dalston
This is a small but very popular pizzeria in Kingsland High Street, owned by the people behind Dalston Superstore. Voodoo Ray's sells pizza by the slice and in whole pies, and make creates a number of unorthodox toppings, such as chicken skin, confit garlic, squash and spring onions on a cream base.
Venue says: “We bake massive 22” New York-style pizzas and serve them by the slice.”