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? A snazzily decked-out pide house (aka a sort of Turkish pizza parlour) from unstoppable Hakkasan/Princi/Yauatcha/Busaba founder Alan Yau.
When to go From early lunch ’til late night daily. They do an egg-heavy brunch menu on weekends, too (who doesn’t?).
What to do For the elliptical pides, of course! Late-night kebab breads in all but name, though you’ll need to eschew meat to stay on budget. We’ll take one with potato, izmir tulum, kaşar cheese and chilli, ta.
How much? Veggie pides are nearly all under a tenner, mezes and salads less still.
What’s the vibe? Bright colours, Ikea-style furniture and walls plastered with Polaroid snaps of happy diners.
When to go Only the seriously hungry need apply.
What to eat Rib-sticking renditions of the Korean staple, bibimbap: a layered dish of rice, spiced vegetables and meat topped with a fried egg served in a molten-hot stone bowl.
How much? From £7 per serving – very filling.
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.
Venue says Every Saturday night, join us in Crazy Coqs following the 9.15pm ticketed event to enjoy our free, late-night music show – Round Midnight.
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? Posh pizza delivery service finally does the decent thing and opens a bricks ’n’ mortar restaurant on Dean Street.
When to go They’re open daily from 10am ’til late, so you can stuff your face with dough all-day long.
What to eat Pizza, dum dum! Oh, you want specifics? The margherita is a fine example of its kind; the ’nduja and chilli-covered piccante a stone-cold (and stone-cooked) classic.
How much? £8.25 for the margherita. If you’ve an extra 25p going spare, the piccante just pips the cheap eats remit at £10.25 (so share it if you must).
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? A longboard outside the door points up the breezy surfing vibe at this addition to the surging poké roadshow.
When to go A grab-and-go lunch or an early-evening refresher.
What to eat Choose one of the ready-made raw fish salad bowls or build-your-own healthy combo from the colourful pick ’n’ mix assembly line.
How much? A signature Honi Poké bowl with salmon is £7.90, a tofu variant is just £6.30. Extras 50p.
What’s the vibe? Seriously good houmous – and a lot more besides – at London’s prime practitioner of chickpea worship.
When to go Weekday lunch is chickpea(k) time, when Soho locals pitch up for their protein fix.
What to eat The silky-smooth houmous topped with chunky beef stroganoff and aubergine stew.
How much? £5.95 buys the beef-topped houmous; for an extra £2.95 those benevolent bros will throw in a salad and a non-alcoholic drink.
What’s the vibe? The poké trend (raw fish rice bowls for the uninitiated) rolls ever onwards at this serene little South Pacific spot on Kingly Street.
When to go Lunchtime – it’s only open during the day. In any case, the combination of ‘clean eating’ and knockout fusion flavours makes it a perfect foil to Pret.
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 £7.80 for the ahi bowl (nori and other sprinkled toppings are a cursory extra, the mayo is free), this is one of spenny Soho’s best bargains.
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? 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. No bookings, but it’s open all day, seven days a week – so take pot luck. A quickie for lunch too.
What to eat Chicken yakitori, tofu custard, breaded pork 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 under a £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? Tightly packed. With diners perched uncomfortably close to the queue, this toasted-cheese-sandwich café is undoubtedly best for take-outs.
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? 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? 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 BBQ duck, mozzarella and sesame seeds, or wild mushrooms, spinach, blue cheese and truffle oil.
How much? The entry-level ‘naked’ spud with butter is £4.20, rising to £7.95 for the top gourmet options.
What’s the vibe? Italian café-bakery in sleek surroundings, compete with acres of wood-fired pizza, focaccia, 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? Tourist-heavy: it’s a Cambridge Circus outpost of a ubiquitous burger chain, after all. But worth braving the throngs, as the buns are bonzer (to say nothing of the frozen custards and dreamy cheese fries).
When to go Dinner for normal people, lunchtime for the more adventurous junk food eater (or both for calorie-ambivalent burger obsessives).
What to eat Go green and hit up the ’Shroomburger: a cheese-filled, crispy coated, Shacksauce-slathered veggie number that’s a genuine meat-free game-changer.
How much? A mere £5.50 for the ’Shroomburger. Want to add cheese fries? That’s rhetorical: they’re another four quid. Bangarang.
What’s the vibe? A utilitarian offshoot of the Farringdon original (itself a spin-off of Hatch End’s well-regarded B&K Salt Beef Bar), plying kosher-style deli sandwiches.
When to go This branch is open till 7pm from Tuesday to Friday. Don’t be a schmuck – snaffle a late lunch to miss the midday rush.
What to eat The salt beef sandwich, and only that (the rest of the short menu is pretty meh). Embellish with sauerkraut, chopped liver and house pickles.
How much? £5.60 for the sandwich (£7.50 if you’d prefer a box with salad rather than bread); add 30p-£1.50 for extras toppings and the gargantuan pickle.
Venue says Traditional, homemade and high-quality food is the pillar stone of our business. We pride ourselves on making homemade, traditional dishes.
More brilliant eats for minimal cash?
From Shaftesbury Avenue to the Strand, Charing Cross Road to Drury Lane, by way of the nooks of Seven Dials – here are the best cheap eats available on- and off-piazza (note: they’re basically all off)