A Guide for Gourmands on a Budget

Bess's Cafe

Giving your wallet a breather and enjoying delicious food shouldn’t be exclusive activities. Below are some of our top picks for eating well while remaining financially savvy.

Around since 1974, this North End pizza institution seems to have avoided both gentrification and inflation. A recent James Beard Foundation American Classics award winner, Umberto is known for cheesy, caramelized-crust squares of Sicilian pizza ($1.85). Though a thick slice is nearly a meal in itself, you can also snag a hefty ricotta, ham, and salami calzone ($4.75) or deep-fried, beef-filled arancini ($3.50). That’s $10.10 for all three; an easy lunch for two. The catch? Arrive early to beat the line, and bring cash—no cards are accepted at this old-school spot.

Cutty’s in Brookline Village is our ideal sandwich shop, with carefully crafted combos that that don’t require a splurge. The all-natural, house-roasted, thin-sliced meat in the Roast Beef 1000 ($9.95) is piled high enough to give it serious heft—and it’s complemented by crispy shallots, sharp cheddar, and house-made Thousand Island dressing. But the bang-for-your-buck championship goes to Cutty’s Egg Sandwich ($5.95), which upgrades the requisite egg-and-cheddar combo with Iggy’s delectable brioche and an optional slathering of truffle ketchup.

Queue up outside this Porter Square shop for a piping hot bowl of ramen ($13) and an experience like no other. The heaping tower of thick noodles topped with succulent pork in a fatty broth make this massive bowl a struggle for even hardcore ramen lovers like us. (We opt for the optional dose of shaved garlic.) Considering the massive size of the bowl, it’s a great deal. Better yet, one of the three items on the menu—“dreams”—is free. But should you order it, be prepared to stand up and announce your dream to the room when called upon.

Unsurprisingly, Australia’s favorite budget-friendly meal does just as well in New England. Our preferred source is KO Pies, and we can’t pass up the Eastie piemaker’s take on Irish Beef Stew ($7), which conceals more than enough chuck beef—stewed for more than five hours with red wine, stock, and spices into a shreddable mass—below its perfectly-browned crust. For an even thriftier—though no less flavorful—option, bite into a melt-in-your-mouth sausage roll; the simplicity of its flaky crust surrounding aromatic sausage is sure to win you over ($3.75).

Skip the pork flatbread at this Financial District noodle house and make straight for the #4, a.k.a. the Hand-Pulled Noodles. ($6). You’ll get a bowl filled with dense, chewy noodles covered in red chilies, scallions, and garlic. For an ever-so-slight splurge ($8.40), an order of #9 Cumin Lamb Hand-Pulled Noodles will satisfy any meat cravings with its spiced minced lamb. One of the best parts of the experience—watching kitchen staff stretch and slap noodles against a counter in the back—doesn’t cost a thing.

The mythical hole-in-the-wall taqueria with cheap, delicious, and authentic tacos does exist—but you’ll need to trek out to Waltham to find it. Once you arrive at Taqueria El Amigo, though, you’ll be richly rewarded with a plate of Tacos Especiales ($7.95 for four). We opt for al pastor on double-stacked corn tortillas topped with onions, large avocado slices, and cilantro. For an even heartier meal, order the seasoned and shredded chicken-stuffed enchiladas ($9.95 for three). They come with a hearty side of rice, beans, lettuce, tomatoes, and a choice of sauce—try the green variety, then finish it all off with few dollops of sour cream.

Roxy’s has managed to perfect its offerings without losing sight of its student-food roots. The food trucks and multiple brick-and-mortars that constitute its mini empire serve up meal-worthy sandwiches like the bacon-and-guacamole-filled Green Muenster ($7) and the hefty Mighty Rib Melt ($8) with fontina, caramelized onions, and fall-apart tender BBQ short rib.

This lovable Chinese-influenced fusion spot traded in its wheels for full-time restaurantdom, but one thing the ex-food truck hasn’t changed is The Double Awesome ($8.50). We wouldn’t have it any other way, as the scallion pancake sandwich stuffed with two runny eggs, sharp Vermont cheddar, and fresh local pesto remains one of our favorite (if among the messiest) under-$10 lunches in the city.

Delicious, inexpensive, and healthy: We don’t know what kind of magic Whole Heart Provisions has tapped into, but we do know that it results in packed bowls full of grains, veggies, and international flavors. Ranking high on our list is the Mediterranean-influenced Cassie ($8.85), a combination of savory Japanese eggplant, pickled cauliflower, green beans, basil, currants, creamy harissa sauce, and addictive crispy chickpeas. We also love the colorful Tazon Style ($8.85), which mixes black beans, cucumbers, pickled jalapeno, corn nuts, cured tomato, and red cabbage slaw with a pineapple-corn salsa and spicy lime vinaigrette.

Speaking of scallion pancake sandwiches—the saucy fried chicken-stuffed, wrap-style rendition ($8) at Bess’s Café in Brookline is on the crispy-and-flaky end of the spectrum, solid enough to be a meal but light enough to entertain the possibility of dumplings on the side. The casual, friendly eatery boasts a menu packed with tasty Chinese dishes—from noodles to buns to soups—that rarely exceed $10. For a simpler snack, pop in for a crispy scallion pancake; without the meat filling, it’ll only set you back $4.

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