When it comes to cheap eats, there's no comparison: Oakland's budget food scene beats San Francisco's offerings across the board. We got on the BART and ate for days, focusing on savory bites for $5 or less that were especially satisfying—more than just a handful of popcorn or a well-made cookie. What we found was awesome: soulful Mexican comfort food, complex Sichuan creations, killer bánh mì, and of course, more than a few excellent tacos.
'Cheap' on Serious Eats
San Diego can be an expensive city to live in (or visit), but with a little ingenuity, eating well on a tight budget is easy, whether you crave comfort food like killer mac and cheese, or international fare, like Thai curry or Vietnamese noodles. For the most part, the best bargains are found outside of the touristy areas, but even within these enclaves, you can eat well on a modest investment. Here are 10 of our top picks for a great meal, all under $10.
For those looking to dine on the cheap, Portland's countless food carts provide an obvious solution. But there's also no shortage of sit-down places with stellar dishes for under $10. Good value can be found all over the city, including table-side at some of Portland's most celebrated restaurants. In fact, the difficulty isn't in seeking out bargains, but rather narrowing down the bounty of options. Here are ten of our favorites.
With a sprawling Chinatown, a significant Salvadorian population, and a school bus serving serious barbecue, DC has plenty to satisfy the hungry bargain hunter.
Cheap eats in Seattle run from one end of the food spectrum to the other, from the elegance and indulgence of lunch at Le Pichet to the sheer amount of amazing food at El Paisano, each checking in at under $10 a meal. So where do you go in Seattle when your budget is tight? Here are our top ten picks.
Luckily, Boston and its neighboring towns have a prodigious variety of inexpensive offerings for the intrepid food explorer, or those who simply appreciate a delicious meal that doesn't leave you destitute. Here are 10 great cheap eats in and around Boston, ranging from to-go joints to sit-down restaurants, where I've found you can eat well—and substantially—for $10 or less.
Kofte Piyaz is principally a Turkish meat house in Sunset Park that looks like a small diner. Gyros, sujuk (Turkish sausage), and meatballs (the namesake kofte) dominate the menu, but it's the Lentil Soup that has me thinking about the restaurant days after my meal.
While the Serious Eats editors have stopped by Big Wong King for duck and chicken, I couldn't believe they'd never tried the spare ribs ($5.50).
Lunch at Big Wong King can be a lightning-fast endeavor, but not if you spend half an hour reading through the hundreds of things on the menu. So we'll save you time and point you toward the Roast Duck or the Soy Sauce Chicken ($3.75 each).
At many of our favorite restaurants coast-to-coast, two dollars won't even buy you a Coke. Bit after scouring menus all over Los Angeles, we've come up with 14 mouth-watering bites that don't exceed two dollars. These range from two taco mini-meals in Mid-City to daikon pastries in Arcadia.
When you start spending time in Manhattan's Chinatown, the idea of shelling out more than $6 for a meal seems preposterous. Because it's possible to fill up for about $2. There's so much to eat in the neighborhood that we could probably write this article ten times over. ("100 Great Meals Under $6?") But as a first step, here are 10 insanely good deals in Chinatown—tasty eats for under $6. Sometimes way under.
This method for shrimp is inspired by Mark Bittman: cooking the shrimp fast in a hot oven. The flavor is inspired by Amanda Hesser, who zests citrus to flavor the quick-cooking shrimp. The onions are all mine: they're the cheapest accompaniment I could think of, and by flavoring them with pantry basics (mustard, dried herbs, and red pepper), you roast them into the perfect foil for the juicy, lemony shrimp.
It's little surprise that some of this city's best restaurants make mighty fine sandwiches. But for an everyday lunch, you don't want a $15 lamb sandwich, no matter how good it is—you want to hand over a few bucks and get something awesome in return. Here are our favorite cheap sandwiches in NYC.
One dollar doesn't buy you much anymore. (I don't even put dollar bills in my wallet these days; I just stuff them in my pocket with the quarters and dimes.) Inflation has worked its magic, to the point where a dollar doesn't buy you the burgers it used to. Still, there are still some good deals to be found on various dollar menus. What's your favorite dollar-or-under fast food buy?
Cheese is the obvious answer to what goes inside a quesadilla. Freshly roasted tomatoes are a little more counterintuitive, when we're talking cheap and when the season is winter. But pints of cherry tomatoes are relatively flavorful, even in January, and roasting them brings out all their sweet fruity tones—so much so that a bite into one of these quesadillas could almost transport you to summertime. A dollop of herbed sour cream on top brings all the flavors together and makes the presentation plenty attractive to serve to a guest.
Sardines seem to be having a moment in the sun. They're not just an easy-to-prepare bachelor food, they're also apparently a health food—just see Alton Brown. But I'm in it for the flavor. Gather a mess of Mediterranean ingredients and go to town. Chop up some pitted black olives, sweet and tangy sundried tomatoes, and fennel to complement the pungent fish.
I love soft tacos, at home and at restaurants. Since a taco's filling is infinitely variable, the choice lies in your hands to make them cheap or expensive. You could buy fresh fish, for example, but that would up the price a bit. You could also consider a wide range of potential garnishes, everything from salsa to shredded cheese to cilantro to black beans. On the other hand, if you're looking to save money, the trick is to minimize. Use a filling that's hearty but cheap, and practice rigid discipline with respect to your garnishes.
When I'm trying to pinch pennies, I often turn to random grains from the bulk bin of my grocery store. One cup goes a long way, and you're hard pressed to find any accoutrements that push a grain dish into the land of the lavish. But humble as grains may be, there's still something a little surprising about serving barley in place of rice, or bulgur instead of standard pasta.
I'm enamored with at least a few aspects of Southern cuisine. One, pork in everything. Two, slow-cooked greens. And three, pecan pie. I've included two of the three here in this somewhat rowdy risotto dish that's left its Italian heritage far, far behind.
This soup requires very few novel ingredients. But by roasting your vegetables, the flavors concentrate and caramelize, and you wind up with a pretty standout soup, equally worthy of the dinner table as the brown bag, especially if you supplement it with some good bread and softened, salted butter.