Table Of Contents (all h2's added automatically)
"Not too far from home, we like to spend an afternoon here and there just outside of Central Square at Alive & Kicking Lobsters where a 1.5-pound boiled lobster costs just under $15 and is served in a plastic, wholesale-style fish tub," says Josh Lewin of Bread & Salt Hospitality.
"You seat yourself somewhere along a string of picnic-style tables adorned with rolls of paper towels, salt, pepper, and little else. Set to work cracking your lunch (a bag of chips on the side to dip into the roe (if you're lucky) mixed with melted butter is a pro tip.) Make it a meal for two by adding a huge tray of steamers for another $10. But go early, those tend to sell out."
"This is my favorite Italian red sauce joint in the Boston area," says Matt Jennings, chef/owner of Townsman. "Perfect for a cold winter night, I love bringing a few people along and just posting up with some over-the-top portions of no-frills but delicious spaghetti and meatballs, linguine with clams, lasagna, and veal or chicken parm."
Chris Coombs, chef/owner of Deuxave, Boston Chops, and dbar, is also a fan. His top pick is the chicken parm for $15, which includes linguine and a house salad. He usually stops by for a late-night dinner with his wife and washes the meal down with a $3 Miller High Life.
The South End favorite, featured during Eater's Cocktail Week 2014, serves food until 1:30 a.m. seven nights a week. Pizzas start at $10 and entrees start at $14. The beer list tops out around $6 except for a couple fancy $9 options.
The cozy spot snagged the 2010 award from Boston Magazine for best restaurant in the South End thanks to its "giant plates of pasta and hearty pizzas, along with their infamous 'Italian nachos.'"
Turning 20 next month, local chain Anna's Taqueria is a favorite of college students and others all around the city. With most locations open until 11:30 p.m. at least part of the week, it's a particularly useful spot for late-night taco and burrito cravings ($2.50 - $3.25 each for tacos, $5.45 - $6.25 for burritos).
Ribelle sous chef Eric Frier points out that it's around $10 bucks for a super-sized quesadilla (a 12-inch flour tortilla with a variety of available fillings) and an agua fresca, which makes for a filling and fairly cheap meal.
Himmel Hospitality Group executive vice president Chris Himmel is also an Anna's devotee. "It is really a Michelin-starred burrito," he says.
A new location is in the works at 27 Lincoln St. in Newton.
Bob's Italian Foods
The self-described "Little Italy" of Medford has been in business for three quarters of a century, serving up a huge takeout menu of sandwiches, pastas, and other Italian deli classics. Harvest executive pastry chef Brian Mercury calls it the "quintessential Italian deli."
"They have everything and anything you could want at a Italian specialty store," says Mercury. "Cookies, subs, deli, meat, pasta salad, olive oil, stuffed peppers, arancini...I could keep going! Bob himself is always there and he's always interacting with customers."
"My go-to cheap eat is Border Cafe in Cambridge," says Post 390 pastry chef Craig Williams. "The food is solid. It's great for kids and it’s extremely cheap. I get the bowl of chili, which is supposed to be an appetizer but comes with a mountain of chips. When I go with my family, we get food and drinks, which only usually comes in under fifty bucks. I have no idea how they make money other than sheer volume. The place is always packed and always worth the wait."
The lively Harvard Square spot, which specializes in huge portions of Tex-Mex at low prices, also has sister restaurants in Saugus and Burlington, as well as a couple in New Jersey and one in Delaware.
Boyles Family Market & Deli
"This place has the best deli sandwiches — and the best Italian I've ever had, with chopped peppers, tons of meat, shredded lettuce, and provolone, the works," says Matt Jennings, chef/owner of Townsman.
In business for nearly three decades, Boyles carries a variety of grocery items (and the lottery) in addition to its takeout and catering options. Subs and wraps are mostly in the $6-$7 range, and there are also burgers, chicken fingers, sandwiches, and more.
The Arlington location offers a small breakfast menu, including pancakes, French toast, and breakfast sandwiches, between 7 a.m. and 10:30 a.m.
Both locations open at 6 a.m. daily.
"This place serves diner food done really right," says Matt Jennings, chef/owner of Townsman. They have awesome sweet potato flapjacks (which you'll always get the real-deal maple syrup with) and a really great make-your-own grilled cheese situation."
That grilled cheese "situation" ranges from $4.95 to $7.95, depending on how many toppings you want to include on your sandwich (ham, bacon, avocado, etc.) The rest of the menu, which is huge, includes plenty of diner classics and creative twists for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Open since 1947, the diner still features original tile and steel, as well as the neon signage out front. Current owners Daryl and Don Levy have run the show for the last 15 years; they also operate Deluxe Station Diner in Newton Centre and Deluxe Depot Diner in Framingham. In 2013, Daryl spoke with Eater for Greasy Spoons Week, discussing the changes they've made over the years and musing about how the diner is part of the community.
And the Blue Man Group once filmed a music video in the diner:
"When you work in the square, your night will consist of Charlie's, Noir, then a chicken shawarma at Falafel Corner, and a cab ride home," says Carey Dobies, sous chef at BOKX 109 in Newton. (He used to work at UpStairs on the Square in Harvard Square.) "For something that's only $10-12, it's a good finish to a cook's night."
In addition to filling shawarma and kabob plates, Falafel Corner also offers individual skewers of lamb, chicken, kafta, and fish for $5-7, as well as roll-ups, cheap desserts, and more.
Tres Gatos executive chef Stephen Marcaurelle praises the late-night pizza at this longtime JP bar and restaurant (it opened in 1962.) The pizza "hits the spot after a long day," he says. Food is served until 1:30 a.m. six days a week (9 p.m. on Sundays).
Aside from pizza, The Galway serves up a variety of pasta dishes, steaks, seafood, sandwiches, and more.
In 2013, current owner Ed Lanzillo, a regular for many years before becoming owner, discussed with the Globe the bar's mixed clientele: "There’s almost two different kinds of businesses. We have the blue hairs in the afternoons — the older people, working class — and then at night we have the neon blue kids with the [tattoos], hipsters if they want to call them that. The jukebox goes on and it’s like two different worlds."
J & J Restaurant
When J & J opened in 1990, it was just a convenience store with some subs and barbecue chicken available for takeout, but eventually it expanded into a full Portuguese restaurant. (The store portion still exists; just walk through to get to the dining room.)
It's a favorite of Bread & Salt Hospitality's Katrina Jazayeri, co-owner of Juliet (coming soon to Union Square). She and Bread & Salt/Juliet co-owner Josh Lewin live in the neighborhood and don't stray too far to find the best cheap eats. At J & J, they get dishes like carne alentejana, stewed pork with littleneck clams and diced potato. For $14.95, it "easily feeds two," says Lewin.
This Maverick Square Colombian restaurant has quickly become a "standout favorite" for Tony Dicillo, a newbie to Boston who is now working as the banquet chef at The Westin Boston Waterfront. He praises its "inexpensive but always well-executed dishes," and his go-to order is the carne a la plancha ($11), "always perfectly seasoned and cooked to perfection.
In addition to a range of Colombian entrees, El Jardin also offers juices and baked goods.
Another favorite of Bread & Salt Hospitality's Josh Lewin is Machu Chicken, the Peruvian chicken spot located in the same building as Lewin's forthcoming restaurant, Juliet. "If you haven't had the traditional Peruvian-style, charcoal-grilled chicken, you should. Here, a half chicken will run you less than $10 and is served with two creamy pepper sauces, fries, and a salad."
The restaurant has a larger sibling around the corner, Machu Picchu, which features a much bigger Peruvian menu, but Machu Chicken is perfect for a cheap, quick, chicken-focused meal.
Stay tuned for a more in-depth look at Machu Chicken later this week.
Man-O-Salwa Kabob & Grill
"Inside this little convenience store, S & S Market, is a wonderful Pakistani 'restaurant' called Man-O-Salwa," says Bread & Salt Hospitality's Josh Lewin. (There's something about Somerville and convenience stores with double-letter names hiding restaurants inside.)
"If you aren't familiar with Pakistani cooking, it's not dissimilar to northern Indian cuisine with lots of marinated meats and tandoor oven use, pretty heavily spiced," says Lewin. "I've been saying for years how our appetite for 'cheap eats' leads to rows and rows of 'authentic' ethnic restaurants full of poor ingredients and pre-packaged sugary sauces. Not here. The place is really a catering company, but whenever they are in there cooking for a job, they'll open up for a la carte service as well. There are two tables in there but no air conditioning or ambience. Take it to go. The menu will be handwritten, but some of our favorites include a very spicy chicken tikka and kabobs & potato patties that are full of fresh herbs and vegetables. Very good quality hiding in the back of a convenience store."
This sandwich-and-more shop with psychedelic signage is a favorite cheap pick of Justin Burke-Samson, owner of Trademark Tarts and Modern Gramma. "Hands down the place I turn to first is Moogy's in Brighton," says Burke-Samson. "This was my college go-to place the morning after a night out — great dirty food and excellent weeknight specials. Plus $1 drafts."
The restaurant offers specials like $1 pancake Mondays, $2 burger Tuesdays, and $0.50 wing Wednesdays. Plus, breakfast is served all day, providing an essential hangover cure any day of the week.
With two locations, El Pelon has legions of devoted fans. One is Justin Burke-Samson (Trademark Tarts/Modern Gramma). "For the days I'm craving a good burrito and tacos for less than $10," says Burke-Samson.
The burritos range from $5.75 to $7.95, and you can add guacamole for an extra $0.99. The signature burrito, El Guapo, is $7.95 and includes grilled steak, Mexican rice, black beans, fried plantains, jack cheese, salsa, romaine, and crema.
Aside from burritos, the restaurant also offers tacos, tortas, enchiladas, and more.
Harvest executive pastry chef Brian Mercury calls this ultra-classic spot his "favorite pizza restaurant." There's a lot of history behind the Eastie restaurant: It opened as a bakery way back in 1903, and owner Frank Santarpio began selling pizza 30 years later.
"I could eat it every day," says Mercury, "and Santarpio's is perfect for that! They're a pillar. Everything about it — the ambiance, service, and food — is worth every penny."
To learn more about the landmark, check out this March 2014 Eater interview (part of Pizza Week 2014), with Lennie Timpone, a member of the Santarpio family who has worked at the restaurant virtually his entire life. "We still make our own dough and sausages and cut our own lamb," Timpone said at the time. "Nothing has changed."
Perhaps the ultimate cheap eats destination in Boston, or at least in the neighborhood of Allston, the Super 88 food court is packed full of stalls offering quick-service Korean, Vietnamese, Chinese, Indian, and more.
It's a favorite spot of East Coast Grill chef/owner Jason Heard, and Harvest executive chef Tyler Kinnett is a fan as well, particularly mentioning the banh mi at Pho Viet's, the Vietnamese stall. "The banh mi is crunchy, crisp, meaty, and spicy," Kinnett says. "For just a few dollars it's an awesome sandwich, and I go whenever I get a free chance!"
Stay tuned later this week for an in-depth guide to the wonderfully inexpensive offerings at Super 88.
Taqueria El Carrizal
Naco Taco sous chef Robert Preciado praises the cheap eats at this Allston restaurant, calling it his "favorite Mexican spot." Salvadoran and Guatemalan cuisines also make their way onto the menu.
The most budget-friendly part of the menu focuses on tacos — $2 each (or $2.50 for tacos de lengua), or $10 for three with rice and beans. Burritos will set you back $7-$8. Beyond that, there are larger entrees: enchiladas, flautas, chile rellenos, etc.
Last year, Boston Magazine praised the restaurant's chilaquiles (with "luscious" refried beans), an option on the breakfast menu that'll cost you $9.99.