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Photograph: Time Out/Ali Garber

The 23 best cheap eats in the United States

From finger-lickin’ BBQ to overstuffed burritos, these cheap eats are gourmet food at rock bottom prices

By Lauren Rothman, Sarah Medina and Time Out editors
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Who doesn't love a cheap eat? Michelin-starred restaurants have their time and place, of course, but sometimes we want to have a delicious, filling meal and throw down $10 or less. That's where this list comes in. From Las Vegas, Nevada to Portland, Maine, these amazing cheap eats from across the United States will have you screaming about a good deal. Plus you'll get to taste the vast culinary offerings that the U.S. has to offer—like some of the best burgers and some of the best barbecue in the USA—without having to resort to fast food

RECOMMENDED: Looking for a specific city? Check out the best cheap eats in New York, L.A., Miami, Boston or Chicago

Best cheap eats in the U.S.

chiu quon pork bun
chiu quon pork bun
Photograph: Jaclyn Rivas

1. Chicago, IL: The $1.25 BBQ pork bun at Chiu Quon

If there's a more heavenly savory pastry in Chicago, we have yet to find it. Lucky for us, the case at Chiu Quon—one of Chinatown's oldest bakeries—is always stocked with the drool-inducing buns. Each golden orb is stuffed with tender, melt-in-your-mouth shredded beef that's been marinated in sugar, salt, soy sauce, oyster sauce and sesame oil. The fluffy, slightly sweet dough that surrounds the savory center tears easily with two hands (or your teeth). Save yourself the heartache and order a few extras for the road. —Morgan Olsen

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Disco volador at Caja Caliente
Disco volador at Caja Caliente
Photograph: Courtesy Caja Caliente

2. Miami, FL: The $6.50 disco de preparada at Caja Caliente

Its name translates to flying saucer, and you can bet Caja Caliente’s discos voladores are out of this world. The restaurant keeps theirs interesting, stuffing them with guava and cheese, lechón, vaca frita and other proteins. Once stuffed, these palm-sized, pressed sandwiches are grilled in a handheld contraption over a gas stove until they’re thin and the edges are crispy. Our favorite filling? The croqueta preparada with ham and cheese—like your favorite lunchtime sandwich only way better, plus it’s served with chef Mika León’s famous green sauce. —Virginia Gil 

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The Win-dow at American Beauty smash burgers
The Win-dow at American Beauty smash burgers
Photograph: Stephanie Breijo

3. Los Angeles, CA: The $3.95 smashburger at American Beauty

Try as you might, there’s no arguing with a $3.95 burger—especially when it’s this good. Neon-lit and full of chic clientele, American Beauty is a full steakhouse that offers farmers’ market sides and cool-kid vibes in Venice, but its casual walk-up window, American Beauty, is a sunny—and affordable—taste of the restaurant. It also happens to serve one of the best smashburgers in town for only $3.95: At that cost you can snag a straightforward, wholly satisfying single patty with American cheese, house sauce and grilled onions on a potato bun just a few blocks from the beach. Really hungry? The double will only set you back $6.25. —Stephanie Breijo

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Sonora dogs at BK Carne Asada
Sonora dogs at BK Carne Asada
Photograph: Courtesy BK Carne Asada/Ivan'Ochoa

4. Tucson, AZ: The $3.95 Sonoran hot dog at BK Carne Asada

Tucson’s famous Sonoran hot dogs—beloved local snacks sold across town by about 200 street vendors and several popular sit-down joints—take their name from the region just south of the border from Arizona. Stuffed into a split-top roll, the perro caliente is wrapped in bacon, griddled until crispy and piled high with creamy pinto beans, chopped tomatoes, grilled and raw onions, mayo, mustard and picante jalapeño salsa. Don’t neglect the roasted chile guero on the side: It’s a hot and smoky bite that perfectly complements the overloaded dog.

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Galleria Umberto
Galleria Umberto
Photograph: Courtesy Creative Commons/Flickr/dewmike

6. Boston, MA: The $2 slice at Galleria Umberto

Regulars line up at this old-school North End takeout joint as early as 10:30am. They know not to risk missing out on delectable, super-cheap Sicilian slices. Even diners waiting for 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 throw in a giant arancini and still have no problems. —Eric Grossman

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7. Charleston, SC: The $8.25 crab rice at Hannibal’s Kitchen

Established in 1985, this proudly Black-owned eatery prepares lovingly crafted renditions of South Carolina’s traditional Lowcountry cuisine, characterized by a rich diversity of local seafood and strong African influences. Its simple but delicious crab rice consists of fluffy steamed Carolina rice smothered in a rich stew of sweet local blue crab meat, a bowl of culture and tradition that’s a steal at just eight bucks. 

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coney island dog
coney island dog
Photograph: Shutterstock

8. Detroit, MI: The $2.80 Coney dog at Lafayette Coney Island

Restaurants American CBD

Ask any native Detroiter what the local diet-buster of choice is and you’ll get a resoundingly unanimous answer: a Coney dog. Named, of course, after the franks available on Brooklyn’s boardwalk, Coney dogs are such a thing in Detroit that elsewhere in the country they’re called Michigan-style dogs. An all-beef frank loaded with chili, raw onions and a squirt of mustard, Coney dogs are most notably slung downtown on West Lafayette Boulevard, where two neighboring—they’re literally next door to each other—rival institutions sell thousands of dogs daily. The call between Lafayette and neighbor American Coney Island is a tough one, but our loyalties lie with the former, whose chili is perfectly balanced and just a little spicy.

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unsplash, sushi, nigiri, kelvin zyteng, chopsticks
unsplash, sushi, nigiri, kelvin zyteng, chopsticks
Photograph: Kelvin Zyteng via Unsplash

10. Chicago, IL: The $1 assorted sushi at Lawrence Fish Market

This not-so-hidden gem in Albany Park deals in unimaginably cheap sushi, three words that could be a turnoff but aren't at Lawrence Fish Market. Most of the rolls ring up well under $8, but we love shopping the à la carte section, where you can snag single slices of pristine sashimi for around a buck. Choose from tender tako (octopus), buttery salmon, ruby-red tuna or marinated mackerel. Just don't forget to stop at the ATM before you place your order—Lawrence Fish Market is cash-only. —Morgan Olsen

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Parkway Bakery and Tavern
Parkway Bakery and Tavern
Photograph: Brian Jarreau

11. New Orleans, LA: The $8.99 gulf shrimp po’boy at Parkway Bakery

Restaurants Bayou St. John

Though po’ boy loyalty is fierce in NOLA, many residents and tourists agree that one of the very best is found at Parkway, a family-run spot that’s been crafting excellent, seafood-piled po’ boys since 1911. It’s hard to decide between the fried oyster and fried shrimp iterations, but we usually go for the latter, the plump crustaceans outfitted in a crisp golden crust and piled into an airy loaf “fully dressed” with lettuce, tomato, pickles and mayo.

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Mariscos Jalisco tacos de camaron
Mariscos Jalisco tacos de camaron
Photograph: Stephanie Breijo

12. Los Angeles, CA: The $2.25 tacos de camaron at Mariscos Jalisco

One of the long-standing heroes of the old-school taco trucks (a.k.a. loncheros), Mariscos Jalisco has earned a deservedly loyal and devoted following. Their signature tacos dorado de camaron, or shrimp tacos ($2.25), are far from a secret, but they live up to the hype with flavorful and fresh shrimp folded into a corn tortilla that is then fried to a golden brown and topped with thick slices of avocado and a vibrant and complex salsa roja. Other dishes, such as the towering, seafood-packed Poseidon tostada ($8.75), are also worth an order but our favorite move is to fill up on those crispy fried beauties. Note: These trucks are cash-only. —Stephanie Breijo

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The Pig & Pint
The Pig & Pint
Photograph: The Pig & Pint

13. Jackson, MS: The $7.99 pork belly corn dogs at The Pig & Pint

Just when you thought corn dogs couldn’t get any more indulgent, this homey Jackson gastropub went and subbed a length of pork belly for the hot dog in the dish. These one-of-a-kind corn dogs have to be tasted to be believed: hot, melty pork encased in a perfectly light breading, they come with an addictively smoky tomato-ginger jam for dipping. 

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14. Las Vegas, NV: The $4.99 pastrami Boyger at Fat Boy

When you head to Vegas, one possibility you’ve gotta accept is poor luck in the casinos. When the roulette table or slot machine doesn’t work out in your favor and your wallet is extra sad, head to this beloved comfort food spot for generous portions of reasonably priced sandwiches, burritos, wings and more. We adore the salty, juicy Pastrami Boyger, a griddled beef patty topped with fat slices of pastrami and slathered with grilled onions, pickles, chipotle mayo and mustard. It costs just $4.99, or $7.99 with fries.

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Early Bird Biscuit Co. ham biscuit
Early Bird Biscuit Co. ham biscuit
Photograph: Courtesy Early Bird Biscuit Co.

15. Richmond, VA: The $5.95 ham biscuit at Early Bird Biscuit Co.

Curing and smoking pork is a longstanding tradition in the U.S., but no state has mastered it better than Virginia. Since the 1700s, smokehouses here have been perfecting the art of salted, aged hams that rival the best prosciuttos of Italy and jamon Ibericos of Spain. The tender, rosy pork can be enjoyed all over the state, but we especially love the simple, perfect ham biscuit baked by Richmond’s Early Bird Biscuit, which includes a buttery, perfectly browned biscuit split and stuffed with salty ham. Want one? Make sure to line up early, because these babies tend to sell out before 11am. 

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three-way chili
three-way chili
Photograph: Shutterstock

18. Cincinnati, OH: The $5.95 three-way chili at Skyline Chili

Three-way chili, that unlikely but oh-so-delicious amalgamation of spaghetti, spiced meat sauce and grated cheddar cheese, is a way of life in Cincinnati. Brought to the city by Macedonian immigrants in the early 1900s, Skyline is one of the original restaurants to serve the dish; its original location opened in 1949 and, today, the mini-chain counts four Cincy restaurants total. 

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21. Cheyenne, WY: The $10.50 breakfast burrito at R&B Breakfast Club

This bright and cheery, Elvis-themed diner in Cheyenne specializes in breakfast in all forms, from standard omelettes to over-the-top piles of loaded hashbrowns. Because this is the west, we go for a burrito at breakfast: the restaurant’s standard is a huge, stretchy flour tortilla engorged with two eggs, hashbrowns and a choice of meat, then smothered in red or green chile (or both) and heaped with cheese.

Olneyville New York System
Olneyville New York System
Photography: Olneyville New York System

22. Providence, RI: The $7.99 weiner combo at Olneyville New York System

This late-night hot dog spot with Greek diner origins is a favorite among Providence’s many college students: its doors stay open until 2am on weeknights and 3am on weekends, the better for a post-boozing weinerfest. The weiner combo will get you two juicy hotdogs piled with beef chili, diced onions, zippy mustard and a generous shake of celery salt with fries and a small drink on the side. 

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Hattie B's fried chicken
Hattie B's fried chicken
Photograph: Joseph Woodley

23. Nashville, TN: The $8.50–$9.50 hot chicken plate at Hattie B’s Hot Chicken

Restaurants Music Row

It’s no easy feat to deliver the city’s best rendition of hot chicken, the spicy-crusted fried bird that’s perhaps Nashville’s defining dish. But the ever-present line snaking out the door of this Midtown spot is the first clue that the fryers here produce a damn qualified contender. The proof is in the pudding, so to speak: With five levels of heat ranging from Southern (mild) to Shut the Cluck Up!!! (very, very hot), Hattie B’s moist bird boasts a well-seasoned and super-crisp exterior. A plate with a piece of superior fowl plus two sides (we like the creamy red-skinned potato salad and zippy black-eyed pea salad) plus a whole heap of cooling icebox pickles will cost you less than $10. 

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