The West End’s Best Meals For Under $20

When funds are tight, you can still eat right at a plant-based pizzeria or a soul food staple in the historic West End.
The West End’s Best Meals For Under $20 image

We have no clue how often Clark-Atlanta, Morehouse, or Spelman students are down to their last $20. But whether for a starving college student or financially stretched working adult, it’s a great feeling whenever you can make a Jackson (the bill) work as hard as a Jackson (Michael, Janet, Samuel L., etc.). Luckily for them and any other famished folks in the West End/AUC area, there are more than enough options for a solid, reasonably priced meal. From a few soul food staples to a new coffee shop, here are the best places to eat in the historic Southwest Atlanta neighborhood when your cash flow isn’t quite cooperating.


photo credit: Jacinta Howard


West End

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Wadada Healthy Market & Juice Bar is a great place to get smoothies and have a light vegan lunch. There are just a few decorative wooden bar stools facing a tiny outdoor patio. Next to them are shelves with natural hair and body products and other knickknacks you’d likely find snooping in your sage-burning friend’s medicine cabinet. But we’re here for the Maca Veli smoothie—creamy, sweet, and made with banana, cantaloupe, and sea moss. Pair it with the spicy mixed vegetable patty or slightly sweet vegan coconut ackee patty—both will run you less than $5 each.

$$$$Perfect For:Casual Weeknight DinnerLate Night EatsPeople Watching

There’s a lot going on with Lil Baby’s new seafood spot on MLK. He’s got a reservation-suggested dining room wallpapered in imagery of the ATL skyline, a downstairs lounge with hookah, and a takeout shop up front. The latter is where you should focus if you’re in a fiscally responsible mood. The fried fish combo might be $13.99, but the whiting has a good, cornmeal-y batter and the fry portion is generous. The 10-piece fried shrimp ($12.99) is also priced fairly, considering the sizable pieces you get. If you’re not feeling like fries, sub them for buttery corn on the cob. It’ll take 20 minutes for your order, so bide your time with a strawberry frozen lemonade ($4).

Whatever you do, don’t let the post-apocalyptic food court feel of this joint deter you. The dreary Mall West End spot owned by the ’70s-’80s wrestling legend is in fact open. See, there’s a guy over at a table now, enjoying his turkey wings and candied yams. And hey, look behind the counter, a worker just loaded more baked chicken onto the line. For $8.99, you can get a vegetable plate with three solid sides piled so high you feel like you’re getting the family hook-up. For $14.99, make it a meat and two. And listen, we don’t care how drab the interior, we’ll forever love a weighty container of tender pulled chicken over rice with black-eyed peas.

This new coffeehouse is a perfect fit for the Lottie Watkins Building on Ralph David Abernathy. Watkins, a civil rights leader and politician, was the first Black woman to earn her real estate license in Atlanta. Portrait pays homage to the area’s proud past with a space that’s cool, cute, and accented with vintage cameras and Black-authored books on shelves next to branded tumblers. While remote workers peck away at their laptops, decide if you’re going with a solid espresso ($3, all java roasted on site) or something more fun, like the cinnamon-sprinkled Aunt Viv iced latte ($5.50). Either way, your hunger will be history once you add a massive cinnamon roll ($6) to the mix.

With a name like Q-Time—BB-Q? Q-Time? Get it?!—you figure the ribs and chicken are going to be right. But the secret folks around these parts have known for years is that the restaurant also has some fair prices on the menu. You can start with the three-veggie plate, costing only $6. And then there’s the Q-Time Classic (tender dark chicken, rice, two other veggies, and a muffin) that sets you back less than $8, making it one of the tastiest deals on this list.

Don’t let the karaoke nights and speakeasy vibes fool you—Bakaris is definitely a pizza shop. This spot across the street from The Mall West End puts a delicious spin on things by sticking to strictly vegan ingredients. The Ultra Vegan Deluxe half pizza ($12) is literally half of a medium pie, made with a buttery-ish, cracker-like crust that holds onions, mushrooms, spinach, and other goodies up well. We just wish they were a tad more gracious with the red sauce.

Massive coolers filled with Joya sodas stand on both sides of the small restaurant. Nary a seat in sight. Okay, we get the hint—Taste of Tropical isn’t the place you come for a sit-down meal. Regulars know that, if they want to enjoy the generous order of jerk chicken over rice and peas ($15.95) or the brown stewed snapper with cabbage ($13.95), they’re going to have to do it from the Ikea table in their own place.

With a focus on healthy, fast-casual dishes, Local Green has become one of our go-tos off MLK. Though it’s largely used as a take-out spot, LGA does have a few tables and stools for those moments you just can’t wait to dig into the Rapper’s Delight ($15.99), a salmon philly packed with seasoned fish and topped with vegan mozzarella, peppers, onions, mushrooms, and a tangy secret sauce. Lately, though, we’ve been ordering the salmon philly quesadilla ($15.99), a hand-held treat filled with the same great toppings but almost none of the mess.

Another tiny takeout spot, Mr. Everything has been an essential part of the AUC dining experience for years. While affordable hot dogs and subs are both great off the grill, it’s the famous Healthy Choice Rice dishes that make the most sense if you’re on a budget. Depending on the meat (options like chicken, lamb, or salmon) sizzling atop your diced vegetables and bed of yellow rice, you’ll spend between $14 and $19. But because your plate is packed with so much stuff, you’ll likely have enough leftovers for your next meal.

There’s a widely circulating rumor that good, healthy food can’t be found at a decent price. Soul Vegetarian, a West End mainstay for decades, disproves that notion with tasty smoothies ($8.95), hearty salads ($12), and lunch specials ($13.50) comprised of alternative proteins and fresh vegan sides as good as any fast-food option you’ll find down the street.

The only way to work around the crowds that line up at this house-turned-health-food-eatery is to preorder your refreshing Liberation Lemonade ($3.99) or kale wrap ($15.99) online. Outside of that strategy, we suggest passing the wait time by practicing your breathing exercises or patronizing the vendors selling their goods on the front porch. For rawist, vegans, and anyone looking for a non-processed, plant-based meal that doesn’t taste like lazy crudité, this is a great spot to bet on for a tasty marriage of ingredients like hemp hearts, black-eye hummus, and couscous seasoned with nutritional yeast and other spices.

The barbecue spot, named after the restaurant owner, is well-known for pit-cooked pork ($14.99) and turkey breast plates ($17.49). These meaty portions come out of the kitchen on big aluminum trays, so you can go full-on Jackson Pollock with the tableside sauces.  When we dig into a forkful of smokey meat drenched in the vinegary Rodney sauce, we always say our grace again. We gotta be grateful for economical eats this good.

We're always down for a really smart deal—from the Sock Man van across from the mall to the bean pie vendors outside the Marta station—so $12 Tuesdays at Slim & Husky's is right up our alley. The hip-hop-themed pizzeria is the perfect post-work retreat, where you can unwind with craft beers and boozy slushies. The shape and crunch of their crust gives off more flatbread than pizza, but you need their sturdy dough so you can pile up your personal pizza with next-level toppings like smoked chicken, salmon, and peach mustard drizzle. Plus, Slim & Husky’s menu shows love to vegans (with faux meats and dairy-free cheeses) and dessert lovers (with signature cinnamon rolls), too.

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