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Where to Get Amazing Food in Boston for under $20

Where to Get Amazing Food in Boston for under $20
Gene's Flatbread Cafe / Credit: Brian Samuels Photography
By Emily Millian · 10/06/2022

Going out for a delicious meal without breaking the bank shouldn’t be out of the question. In Boston, finding cheap eats can be a challenge, but it’s not impossible. From diner-style breakfast to late-night dumplings, there are plenty of affordable options for high-quality dining experiences. Check out 15 top picks for treating yourself—and your wallet.

Where to Get Amazing Food in Boston for under $20

 

cheap eats in Boston

Credit: Brian Samuels Photography

Ba Le

Looking for the best banh mi? Ba Le is the place to be. Located in Fields Corner of Dorchester, the Vietnamese coffee shop and bakery is brimming with homemade baguettes and nearly a dozen options of the classic street food sandwich. All $6 or less, each banh mi is dressed with house-made mayo, fish sauce, scallion oil, and crunchy veggies. We love the archetypical Dac Biet version, with “combination pork” of cold cuts and pȃté. There’s more to explore at this busy shop, too, like sub-$10 rice plates loaded with flavor. The sweet treats are all under 5 bucks, so grab one for each hand.

Chilacates

Originating in Jamaica Plain, Chilacates has exploded in popularity, expanding to five additional neighborhoods throughout Boston. It’s impossible to make a wrong decision here, especially when most menu items are under $15 (even under $10 for many). With arguably some of the best Mexican food in Boston, all you have to do is pick your protein and pick your vessel. Try the treasured taco plates with fresh corn tortillas, or the monstrous burritos filled with chicken tinga, carnitas, al pastor, or whichever well-seasoned filling strikes your fancy. The enchiladas and quesadillas are also delicious—and did we mention the birria? Like we said, you really can’t go wrong.

Courthouse Seafood

Courthouse Seafood has been an integral part of the East Cambridge community since 1912. Though prices have climbed continually in the broader seafood market as demand has increased and supplies have been challenged, Courthouse continues to  sell some of the most affordable, high-quality fish around at its low-frills restaurant. A fried seafood dinner of Clam Strips with fries, coleslaw, and excellent tartar sauce will run you only $14 or opt for local haddock—fried, baked or broiled—for $16.

Exterior of Dumpling Cafe

Credit: Brian Samuels Photography

Dumpling Cafe

With an extensive menu of umami and spice-packed Taiwanese and Szechuan flavors, Dumpling Cafe continues to be a favorite for both budget-conscious diners and dumpling lovers alike. Open daily from 11 a.m. until the late-night hour of 2 a.m., it’s the perfect Chinatown haunt for slurping down some Mini Juicy Buns (aka pork-filled soup dumplings) and the chef’s signature warmly savory Taiwan-Style Pan-Fried Dumplings. Beyond the dumplings, give the Roasted Duck Buns a whirl, and the Taiwan-Style Noodles with pork and vegetables. Every dish is under $13 and comes with hugely generous portions.

Galway House

Galway House has been a Jamaica Plain institution since 1960. This old-school Irish pub is adorned with nostalgia, and you’ll always hear an endearing “honey” from the longtime servers. It’s a place where you really get the bang for your buck, too: the menu is full of reasonably priced classic bar bites, like $7 Potato Skins or a pile of Galway Famous Boston Wings.;  The plentiful seafood section, such as Native Fried Clams and a $16 plate of Fish ’n Chips, is a local favorite, with each dish coming with a choice of two sides and even a complimentary cup of chowder. The always-full bar boasts a huge selection, too, including some of the cheapest pints of local craft beer you can find.

Cheese pizza from Galleria Umberto

Credit: Brian Samuels Photography

Galleria Umberto

Around since 1974, this North End mainstay seems to have avoided both gentrification and inflation. A James Beard Foundation American Classics award-winner, Galleria Umberto is known for cheesy, caramelized-crusted squares of Sicilian pizza that will run you less than $2. The thick slice is nearly a meal in itself, but you can round it out with a hefty ricotta, ham, and salami calzone and a softball-size, deep-fried, beef-filled Arancini for about $10 total. The catch? Arrive early to beat the line (we’re talking 10:45 a.m.), and bring cash—no cards are accepted at this old-school spot.

Gene's Chinese Flatbread Cafe

Credit: Brian Samuels Photography

Gene’s Chinese Flatbread Cafe

This Chinatown-adjacent place in Downtown Boston might be named for the sweet, Chinese barbecue sandwiches on the menu, which are a tasty little deal at less than $6. But we highly recommend you make your way straight for the #4, aka the Hand-Pulled Noodles. For just a few dollars more, you’ll get a bowl filled with dense, chewy noodles made in-house and covered in red chilies, scallions, and garlic. A spiced, minced lamb-topped version (the #9 Cumin Lamb Hand-Pulled Noodles) will satisfy any meat cravings for just about $10. And one of the best parts of the experience at Gene’s Chinese Flatbread Cafe—watching kitchen staff stretch and slap noodles against a counter in the back—doesn’t cost a thing.

Jamaica Mi Hungry

Originally a private chef service, Jamaica Mi Hungry has grown over 10 years into a food truck, brick-and-mortar restaurants in JP and Allston, and full-service catering. Full of bold tastes of Caribbean cuisine, like jerk spices and curry,  these portions will definitely not leave you hungry. Entrees like Jerk Pork Shoulder, Curry Vegetable Stew, and Coconut Shrimp all come with a choice of two sides for $20 or less. We keep coming back for the Jerk Chicken, tender and taken off the bone, matched with a tropical fruit chutney and chef Ernie’s Rice & Beans.

Machu Chicken

Credit: Brian Samuels Photography

Machu Chicken

Machu Chicken is rich in flavor, but not in price. A takeout-friendly spinoff of sister restaurant Machu Picchu, this family-owned Somerville spot uses native ingredients from Peru and authentic recipes. The Pollo a la Brasa is the star dish—and an absolute steal.The spice-rubbed, charcoal-grilled chicken can be ordered by the quarter, half, or whole bird,on its own with creamy, garlicky sauces for dipping, or with a family-style side like golden French fries or Tacu-Tacu, Peruvian-style beans and rice.

The Neighborhood Restaurant & Bakery

True to its name, The Neighborhood is a reminder of a simpler time. The Portuguese family-owned spot in Somerville’s Union Square stays charming with endless breakfast and brunch dishes,  like fluffy pancakes and oodles of omelets served with home fries and a selection of house-baked breads and homemade jams. Don’t overlook the can’t-miss dish of Cream of Wheat (seriously!) or traditional Portuguese flavors like linguiça, a smoky, salty sausage that’s a great sub for bacon. The Neighborhood also serves lunch daily (think: big plates with complimentary soup or salad, plus dessert), and inexpensive bottled beers, wine, and house-made Sangria.

P&K Deli

Located on the Somerville-Cambridge line, this family-owned deli has been serving up subs for three generations, since 1952. P&K Deli keeps it simple and straightforward—and it makes one of the best Italian subs money can buy. This no-frills takeout spot is open bright and early at 5:30 a.m. on weekdays only, so be sure to snag one for your commute and look forward to lunch.

Pho Pasteur

Pho Pasteur is a longtime Chinatown favorite, loading up the flavor of traditional Vietnamese dishes without running up the tab. The extra-large, steaming bowl of zesty Beef Noodle Soup is a reliable favorite, served with a veritable salad of aromatics; and we also love the oversized Bun Thit Heo Nuong, or vermicelli noodles  topped with sweet, thin-sliced pork, lettuce and herbs, peanuts, and a tangy fish sauce. The sizable menu has dishes all under $20, many even under $15, where quality is never skimped. For those south of the city, Pho Pasteur also has a location in Quincy. 

Where to Get Amazing Food in Boston for under $20

Credit: Brian Samuels Photography

Santarpio’s

For some, a trip to East Boston means heading to Logan Airport. For us, it means a visit to Santarpio’s Pizza. This legendary spot (around since 1930) will not disappoint pizza pilgrims who journey through the Sumner Tunnel. Unless you’re ordering The Works, piled high with onions, garlic, sausage, pepperoni, and extra cheese for $20, all of the pies are less than $20, with dozens of possible topping combos. If you’re a newbie, try the Italian Cheese and Garlic. Not feeling pizza? Santarpio’s “BBQ” is nearly an equal draw: You’ll get a hefty skewer of sausage, steak or chicken tips, and more grilled options served with hot cherry peppers and fresh Italian bread for under $13.

S&I To Go

Just as it says in the name, S&I To Go specializes in the takeout-and-delivery biz and it’s one of our go-tos for Thai food. The Allston joint turns up the spice and down the price—rarely do dishes go over $10—from the requisite Pad Thai and Drunken Fried Rice, to house specialities like Spicy Eggplant with ground chicken. The extensive menu even includes a dedicated vegetarian section where all dishes are a cool $7.25. (Pro tip: With fees that come with the third-party delivery apps, it’s cheaper for you and better for the mom-and-pop shop when you order directly and pick up.)

Ramen from Yume Wo Katare - The Best Ramen in Boston

Credit: Brian Samuels Photography

Yume Wo Katare

Queue up outside this Porter Square shop for a piping hot, nearly overflowing bowl of ramen and an experience like no other. The heaping tower of thick noodles topped with succulent pork in a fatty broth make finishing this massive bowl at Yume Wo Katare a struggle for even hardcore ramen lovers like us. (We always opt for the optional dose of shaved garlic.) Considering the size of the bowl, $15 is a great deal. Better yet, one of the three items on the menu is free: “Dreams.” Should you order it, be prepared to stand up and announce your dream to the room when called upon.

Eric Twardzik and Jacqueline Cain contributed reporting.

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