Patio dining at Piattini, where small plates serve up delicious cheap eats
Q. What are Boston Cheap Eats?
A. They're inexpensive bistros, cafes, bars, and restaurants in Boston where the chef-owners are dedicated to serving you great food at great prices.
Sure, you can easily find lots of expensive Boston restaurants where you can enjoy wonderful meals and spend lots of money - but when you don't want to drain your wallet for just one meal, check out our suggestions for affordable Boston dining.
How cheap are "cheap eats"?
We target $20 per person, not including drinks, tax, and tip. Unlike Dine Out Boston, which only happens twice each year, you can find dining bargains at these bistros and restaurants every day.
Gourmet food on wheels - that's what you'll find in Boston's popular food trucks. Portions start at just a few dollars, and spending more than $20 is hard. The few exceptions (lobster rolls filled with fresh Maine lobster) still serve up a bargain.
Many food trucks feature local ingredients and freshly-prepared specialties, packed with flavor. Look for vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free options.
China Pearl (9 Tyler Street; 617-426-4338) is a local favorite for Dim Sum, the Chinese version of small plates.
Servers bring around carts filled with Cantonese specialties such as black bean clams, steamed pork buns, dumplings, sesame balls, shrimp dumplings, shumai, and much, much more.
Choose what you want - pay by the dish.
Everyone's appetite varies...but normally your check will average out to under $20/person, making Dim Sum a top pick for Boston Cheap Eats. On weekends, arrive before 10am to avoid waiting in line to get in.
Enjoy authentic Taiwanese food at Taiwan Cafe. Lunch specials are well under $10, and include dishes like steamed taro with pork, sauteed shrimp with edamame, and braised ribs in BBQ sauce with spinach, all served with soup and white rice.
From the regular menu, you'll find lots of soups, vegetables, tofu, noodles, and fried rice dishes for under $10. Or, go with a friend and share one of the "chef's specials" for under $20.
If you love tofu, try the many different preparations on the menu, all of them delicious. The Taiwanese dumplings are also terrific and well worth the 20 minute wait, especially since if you've ordered something else, you can be eating that while the dumplings are being prepared. Steaming cups of tea are complimentary.
It is difficult to spend more than an average of $15-$20 here.
Getting there: 34 Oxford Street; 617-426-8181; no credit cards
Boba (bubble tea) and tasty Vietnamese food makes 163 Vietnamese Sandwich a top Boston Cheap Eats pick.
Milk tea and fruit shake bobas - mango, papaya, avocado, taro, and perhaps 20 other delicious choices are so filling that they're almost a meal in themselves.Don't miss the bánh mì (Vietnamese sandwiches), rice-flour rolls filled with onions, daikon, pickled carrots, cilantro, cucumber, and your choice of a grilled meat or tofu fake duck.
Almost everything on the menu is under $5, so you can eat very well here for little money.
163 is tiny - only 3 tiny tables and 6 chairs. Most customers carry out their treats, eating them as they walk along the streets.
Want to sit down? The Rose Kennedy Greenway, with plenty of benches and low walls for sitting, is nearby.
Directions: 66 Harrison Avenue; 617-542-7903; no credit cards
Easy to miss - or overlook.
Also on Harrison Ave and just across Beach Street from 163 Vietnamese Sandwich, Juice Bar is where you can find a wide array of fruit juice, milk (choose from whole milk, soy milk, or coconut milk), and tea drinks, with or without "bubbles" (tapioca balls").
Juice Bar's menu has 100+ drinks to choose from . . . Thai iced tea, mango juice with pearl or tapioca bubbles, lychee juice with lychee jello, honey green tea, jackfruit shake, strawberry banana milkshakes, coconut milk with ice cream . . . the combinations and possibilities are endless.
Best of all, most drinks and snacks are $4-$5 or less.
Accepts credit cards? No
Directions to The Juice Bar: 40-44 Harrison Avenue; 617-542-7903
Faneuil Hall Marketplace is one of the city's most popular shopping, entertainment, and dining destinations for both tourists and locals - and the star dining attraction is the Food Hall in Quincy Market, a Boston Cheap Eats paradise due to the huge number of choices.
True to the original market, food vendors occupy stalls lining a long corridor. Each stall almost overflows with local specialties: Boston chowder, Italian pizza, Greek favorites, pastries from the North End.
You can easily put together a tasty meal for under $10. But you may have trouble deciding what to get among the many delicious choices.
A large rotunda filled with tables provides seating at the end of the Hall but often gets packed around noon. You can avoid the crowds by taking your food outside, where benches provide plenty of seating.
Another popular choice at the other end of Quincy Market is Wagamama, a noodle bar that fuses Japanese, Chinese, and Southeast Asian noodle dishes and serves them fried or in soup or curry. Black-clad servers bring out the freshly made dishes as soon as they're done. Most of the noodle dishes are under $15, plus tax and tip.
To keep your costs low, ask for the free green tea (they don't bring it unless you ask). Wagamama (617-742-9242) is part of a large chain with a big fan base in London and other places, so you'll often find an international crowd here ordering their favorite dishes.
Saus (33 Union Street) makes everything in house, and specializes in hand-cut fries topped with your choice from their sauce menu, poutine service with toppings, and Liège waffles made with pearl sugar.
A few sandwiches, salads, sides, and house-made beef and pork sausages tucked into brioche rolls complete the menu, with all items priced under $10.
Sit at one of the 6 small tables for 2 or the communal table for 6 - or opt for carryout, and create pangs of hunger and jealousy in everyone who sees you munching on those frites.
Entrance to Saus on Union Street in historic downtown Boston
This city seafood shack fits squarely in the "Insider Secrets" category. James Hook is a busy wholesale seafood operation that ships 50,000+ pounds of lobsters daily to Boston's seafood restaurants, distributors, and individuals around the country.
Unless you live here, you probably don't know that James Hook also offers carryout from a trailer on Fort Point Channel across from the Boston Children's Museum where you can get some of the freshest and best - and maybe the cheapest - lobster rolls in Boston.
Lobster rolls go for slightly under $20, with a large size available for around $25 - a bargain in Boston. They come wrapped in aluminum foil, and overflow with chunks of sweet, very fresh lobster plus just a tiny bit of mayonnaise and chopped celery.
Carry your "lobster catch" out to one of the picnic tables near the trailer, or find a park bench at the nearby Rose Kennedy Greenway and enjoy your feast!
Directions: 15 Northern Avenue, Financial District; Red Line/South Station; 617-423-5500
Sushi does not normally top anyone's list of "cheap eats" candidates - after all, if you're eating raw fish, you want the highest quality, not the lowest price.
However, Japanese brasserie Basho (1338 Boylston Street, 617-262-1338), located close to Fenway Park, defies expectations by offering high-quality sushi for under $20 on their lunch menu, including an Omakase Special (ie, chef's choice) for $16 that never disappoints.
Non-sushi choices are even more affordable: bibimbap, katsu curry bowl, and donburi can be yours for under $15.
You'll probably spend more at dinner, but exercise moderate restraint in how much you order and you can still enjoying a satisfying meal without flattening your wallet.
Affordable brunch and lunch prices are just part of the appeal of Petit Robert Bistro (480 Columbus Ave, 617-867-0600).
This favorite French bistro in the South End neighborhood serves up traditional French bistro food that is always good and often special in an elegant setting.
Order the French Onion Soup, possibly the best in the city. Sit at the bar, and on most days, you can enjoy cheese or chocolate fondue for only $10.
Most lunch choices will run you well under $20, and a number are closer to $10. On the dinner menu, most main courses run under $30, including steak-frites and swordfish with olives.
Sushi restaurants have popped up like flowers along Back Bay's Newbury Street. Most feature relatively affordable lunch choices, with pricier fare during the evening.
Itadaki (269 Newbury Street) is one of the most affordable, and offers tasty sushi Bento Box choices plus miso soup for around $20 at lunch (non-sushi options are less). Dine on the pleasant patio along Newbury Street during warm weather, relax, and enjoy your sushi in one of Back Bay's prime people-watching locales.
You don't usually equate one of the city's best restaurants with Boston Cheap Eats.
But tucked away in a pedestrian walk-through area in an office building at the edge of the Theatre District and Back Bay is a true "Boston insider" spot known mostly to locals who work in the neighborhood: Davio's to Go. The food at this popular To Go counter comes from famed Davio's Northern Italian Steakhouse next door. Davio's To Go's location in the southeastern corner of Back Bay makes it convenient to the Theatre District, Bay Village, and Park Square, as well as the nearby Revere Hotel.
What will you find? Starting at 7am, yummy breakfast items such as muffins and bagels. Around lunch time, salads, soups, panini, pastas, and fabulous deep dish pizza by the slice appear at the counter. The pizza is so filling that one slice (around $5) makes a great lunch . . . add one of the homemade soups or crispy salads, and you have a feast.
Some seating is available at small tables and benches scattered around the lobby. Otherwise, take your treats to the Public Garden, just a block away, and have a picnic.
Directions to Davio's To Go: 10 St. James, between Arlington and Berkeley; Green Line/Arlington.
Hours: Open Monday - Friday, 7am - 4:30pm (4pm on Fridays).
If you want a pleasant lunch in a nice Back Bay restaurant for under $15, head straight for Piattini Wine Cafe. With most choices under $10, you can add a glass of wine and still be more or less still in Cheap Eats territory.
Piattini features small plates, and unless you're totally starving, one is plenty for a satisfying meal. You'll find all kinds of delicious and creative salads, panini, and pasta. The menu expands for dinner. You'll still find small plates for around $10, and entrees in the $15-$20 range.
On weekends, head straight to Aquitaine, one of the South End's best French bistros. Aquitaine is another top French restaurant that you might not expect to find on a list of Boston Cheap Eats.
However, you can enjoy the Aquitaine fixe-prix brunch all day on Saturday and from 10-11am on Sundays for only $9.95/person. Choices include omelets or eggs served with yellow creamer potatoes, 7-grain toast, OJ, and coffee.
Aquitaine's lunch menu also has a few choices under $15. One of the best is Soup a L’Mignon with gruyere croutons & aged sherry. The fried mussels with sincere, creamed Rachel, thyme and remolded sauce are also terrific. The biggest bargain is the lunch special - usually a soup, sandwich, salad, and coffee for about $13.
You'll also enjoy the experience of eating in this warm, stylish restaurant. Filled with mellow wood, pale marble, and crisp white table linens, it brings Parisian bistro ambiance to Boston's South End.
Directions to Aquitaine: 569 Tremont St; Orange Line/Back Bay; 617-424-8577
This terrific neighborhood bistro / Italian bakery theme is right on Charles Street not far from Cambridge Street.
If I had to choose a favorite here, the deep-dish Sicilian pizza would win hands-down. Scented with olive oil, herbs, and tomatoes, one slice makes a delicious lunch. Order something to drink to go with it, and you're going to be around the $5 mark.
You'll find lots of other good lunch items as well . . . salads, sandwiches, pastas. Panificio also has delicious breakfast options . . muffins, granola, French toast, eggs, fruit. Most of these run under $10.
Dinner entrees are closer to $20, but you can get salads, panini, and thin-crust pizza for $9-12, keeping Panificio's in the Boston Cheap Eats category even for dinner.
Place your order at the counter. If you want to eat in, find a place to site and a server will bring your food. Panificio's dining area contains about 12 tables and another 10-12 tall stools perched next to long counters providing a perfect people-watching view of Charles Street. You can also take your items as carry out.