Where To Eat For Really, Really Cheap In BostonMoney is the root of all evil, but don’t let it stand in between you and some good food.
One day you’ll get a letter from a long lost aunt who’s been in charge of a wildly successful toy sea monkey company in Sevastopol, informing you that you’re her sole heir. The inheritance of $100 million and a dacha on the Black Sea is going to be pretty sweet, but until that day comes, money is always going to be a problem. When you need to cut back on your spending but don’t don’t want to sacrifice great food, check out one of the places below, where $10 can actually get you a meal worth eating.
9Zaab in East Cambridge is one of our favorite Thai restaurants in the city, thanks to a beef boat noodle soup that we would eat pretty much every day without complaint. The menu doesn’t initially appear to be especially cheap (that boat noodle soup is $15.95). But this is the only restaurant we know of where, if you spend at least $60, you get to spin a Price Is Right style wheel hanging on the wall with a chance to win 15% off your bill, free dessert, or additional entrees that would otherwise cost up to $16. Come here with a group, have some outstanding noodles, and then get some free stuff.
Umberto is right in the middle of one of the most popular restaurant streets in Boston, so the fact that the Italian counter-service menu is almost entirely under $6 must be a public service. The Sicilian style pizza is outstanding, with slices that have thick but light crusts starting at $1.85, but don’t leave without getting the big arancini for $3.50, or a meaty panini for just $2.85. Unfortunately, Umberto is only open for lunch, starting at 10:45 and closing whenever they run out of food (usually 2 at the latest), but if you work Downtown, you should make regular trips to the North End for an Umberto lunch.
A $10 “medium” will cover you for two or three meals at this counter-service Jamaican spot in Dorchester. The stewed chicken is one of our favorite chicken dishes in the city, and it’ll fill you up at dinner and again for whatever that meal is when it’s 11:30pm, you’re watching Top Gun on CMT, and you just realized you had a little bit more to drink than you thought, and now you need to preemptively fight a hangover with water and whatever’s in your fridge.
As a general rule, we kept Happy Hour specials off this list. Nine times out of ten when you go out for Happy Hour, you show up with some co-workers for $2 tacos and end up leaving $50 poorer several hours later, because you couldn’t keep yourself from ordering too many margaritas and several non-discounted plates of nachos. Grendel’s Den, an underground pub in Harvard Square is the only exception we allowed, because they don’t discount just a few appetizers for Happy Hour, they discount the entire menu. Every day from 5-7:30 absolutely everything is half-price with the purchase of one drink.
This giant supermarket and food court has two signs out front, and neither of them use its actual name. But whether you call it Food Connection (because that’s what it says on the awning), Super 88 (because that’s what’s on the huge billboard that you can see halfway down Comm Ave in Allston), or Hong Kong Supermarket, because you’re an annoying pedant who looked up its actual name, you’ll find a lot of really good, really affordable Asian food stalls here. The best deals may be at Pho Viets, where a huge banh mi costs just $5.65.
The sandwiches at the Parish Cafe, a Back Bay gastropub with sidewalk tables on Boylston, aren’t as cheap as most of the other stuff on this list (they run from $17-$26). But still, this place is like a cheat code for eating at some of the best (and most expensive) places in Boston, because each sandwich on the menu was created by a different chef from a really popular restaurant around the city. So if you can’t do the $250 omakase menu at O Ya, come to the Parish and get the spicy tuna burger that O Ya’s owner put together for $26. Then just lie and tell everyone you went to Bondir.
The steamed dumplings at this Allston sit-down place (and there are five different kinds) are one of the best values in the neighborhood. You end up getting eight of them for a little over a buck apiece. The pan-fried dumplings and noodle dishes are a little more expensive, but the noodle dishes are also really big. If you come here with a few friends (preferably after getting a few drinks around the neighborhood), order as many dumplings as you can, and then split one or two noodle dishes. You’ll leave full, happy, and not broke - three good things to be.
When you don’t have a lot of money to spend, brunch is usually the first meal that goes on the chopping block. Eggs, pancakes, and bottomless mimosas are all things you can make at home, where you don’t have to wait on the sidewalk for 30 minutes dodging strollers and yoga mats that are being swung around like clubs. But brunch at Anoush’ella is different. For one thing, this is an order-at-the-counter place, and every entree on the brunch menu is under $11. And for another, you probably don’t make your omelettes with za’atar and pickled turnip, or cook your fava beans overnight to make a bowl of ful that you’ll want to dip just about everything in. Come to this Eastern Mediterranean spot in the South End when you want to start a weekend day off right but keep enough money in your wallet to end it the right way, too.
We’re not going to lie to you and say that Coogan’s is a good bar. It’s a standard Irish pub in a city with too many standard Irish pubs, the crowd is a mix of young people who don’t know how to hold their liquor yet and older Financial District Happy Hour types who know how to hold it all too well, and you should never, ever wear new shoes here. But man is it cheap. There are the dollar drafts, of course, but even if you don’t want Bud Light, you’ll find craft beers and local brews like Jack’s Abby and Wormtown for $4-$5. When you don’t have any money left and you need to drink to make yourself feel better about that, Coogan’s is here for you.
The burger was always supposed to be the people’s food, but that hasn’t stopped a lot of places from fancying it up and selling them for over $20. At Roxy’s, though, you can get one of our favorite burgers in the city for under $9, and that includes versions that are served with things like pimento cheese, truffle mayo, and applewood smoked bacon. If you don’t want a burger, the grilled cheese sandwiches are great, too, and they start at just $6.49.
Ernesto’s in the North End likes to say that it has the biggest slices in Boston, as each one is one-fourth the size of an extra large pizza. In reality, what you get when you order one slice is...two slices, which, sure, is technically one-fourth of a pizza, but some of the fun is taken out of eating a giant slice of pizza when it’s not actually a giant slice of pizza. Nevertheless, this is a lot of food for just $4-$5 depending on toppings, and if you top it off with a pastry from a spot around the corner on Hanover, you’ll have a great North End meal for under $10.
The #4 at Gene’s - a bowl of thick, chewy hand-pulled noodles topped with a garlicky pepper sauce - is one of our single favorite dishes in all of Boston. And it costs only nine bucks. When you get that along with a big, greasy $5 pork sandwich, you’ll realize that, while it’s mostly true that money doesn’t buy happiness, $15 at this tiny counter-service place Downtown does.
When you consider the high stakes of sushi freshness, “cheap” is a relative term. And when you’re talking about sushi that’s not only fresh, but really good and served omakase-style, it seems impossible to find for less than the price of a plane ticket (even on Spirit). That makes Ebi Sushi in Union Square, which serves an excellent 10-course omakase for just $52, incredibly rare and incredibly valuable. Come here when you need some casual sushi and proof that unicorns exist (in restaurant form, at least).
Getting half of an entire animal is either really great (if the animal is a chicken) or kind of a mess (if the animal is, say, a horse). At Machu Chicken in Union Square, you get the former, cooked over a charcoal fire along with a side salad and your choice of fries or rice, and it costs just $13. As casual as this place is, it’s still sit-down, so you can come here when you don’t want to spend money, but still want to feel like you actually went to a real restaurant.
We have no idea how the pricing works at Yeli’s (nor do we know why it’s technically called a coffee shop). There’s no menu to be found, or even any numbers for that matter. But no matter how many pounds of delicious Dominican food you point to at this counter-service place in JP, it always seems to come out to about $10. Considering how good the flavorful and perfectly tender ribs are, that’s a helluva deal.