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Do you love eating out but hate the price tag? Maybe you also don’t have time to cook or just want to skip cooking once in a while.
This is your ultimate guide to dining on a dime, compiled from top food blogs and real-life restaurant reviews from around the web.
With countless restaurants out there, you could be wasting time figuring out on your own which ones offer the most affordable food.
So, whether you’re looking for international flavors or in the mood for down-home fare, there’s something for every palate here.
We’re also sharing delightfully easy ways to cut down your costs while treating yourself to some great grub.
We hope you’re hungry – let’s dig in!
Table of Contents
- Advantages of Dining Out
- What counts as a cheap place to eat?
- Must-Try Cheap Places to Eat Around the US
- Al’s Breakfast, Minneapolis, Minnesota
- Gold Star Chili, Cincinnati, Ohio
- La Casa de Alberto, Chicago, Illinois
- Speed Queen Bar & Grill, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
- Randy’s Donuts, Los Angeles, California
- Katz’s Deli, New York City, New York
- Polly’s Pies, Multiple Locations in Southern California
- In-N-Out Burger, Multiple Locations in the Western U.S.
- The Wiener’s Circle, Chicago, Illinois
- Gus’s World Famous Hot Chicken, Memphis, Tennessee
- The Boiling Crab, New Orleans, Louisiana
- Florence’s Low Country Kitchen, Charleston, South Carolina
- The Capriotti’s Sandwich Shop, Wilmington, Delaware
- Roper’s Ribs and Bbq, Lexington, Kentucky
- Pizzeria Bianco, Phoenix, Arizona
- BONUS: Best Cheap Places to Eat in SF, NYC, LA, & Boston
- The Easiest Ways to Save Money When Dining Out
- Happy Dining!
Advantages of Dining Out
It’s hard to beat a home-cooked meal, but sometimes, you just want to go out and indulge.
Dining out is a wonderful way to explore new flavors, spend time with your favorite people, and skip the dirty dishes while you’re at it.
Still, it can get expensive. But with a little research and planning, you can enjoy amazing food at plenty of places around the US without breaking your budget.
What counts as a cheap place to eat?
Your location matters as well. Dining out in expensive cities like New York will cost you more than cheap places to eat dinner in Arizona, which has a lower cost of living.
But in general, a place is cheap if most things on the menu cost $15 or below.
Must-Try Cheap Places to Eat Around the US
The US is full of iconic cheap places to eat. From roadside diners to mom-and-pop pizza shops, there are endless options for hungry diners looking for a good meal at a great price.
Whether you’re a local or just visiting, be sure to check out some of these classic cheap eats spots.
I use this handy button to check if any of the cheap places to eat near me is in the list below.
Al’s Breakfast, Minneapolis, Minnesota
This beloved breakfast spot has been a local favorite for decades. Enjoy classic breakfast fares like pancakes, omelets, and bacon.
Al’s also has a variety of signature dishes, like the New Orleans omelet, which comes with shrimp, capers, and almonds topped with fresh hollandaise.
Everything on Al’s Breakfast menu costs less than $10, with options for smaller portions like a one-egg scramble with cream and butter for $2.75.
Gold Star Chili, Cincinnati, Ohio
Gold Star Chili is a Cincinnati institution, serving up the city’s famous chili coneys. A chili coney is a hot dog topped with Cincinnati-style chili, onions, and shredded cheese.
Another famous menu item is the 5-Way Chili Spaghetti, a chili and spaghetti dish served with cheese and onions.
Most Gold Star Chili menu items cost less than $10, with the exception of some of the larger combos and burgers.
La Casa de Alberto, Chicago, Illinois
La Casa de Alberto offers a variety of taco fillings, like chorizo, pastor, and carnitas. The tacos are all served on fresh corn tortillas and topped with onion, cilantro, and salsa.
Taco prices start at just $2 each, making this a great option for budget-minded diners.
Speed Queen Bar & Grill, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
The Speed Queen offers up all your classic bar fare, like burgers, wings, and fries.
The real star of the show here is the fried chicken, which is some of the best in Milwaukee. Meat lovers will also feel right at home with a menu full of ribs, slabs, and chops.
Prices at the Speed Queen are quite reasonable, with most entrees falling in the $10-$20 range. You can also get hearty pork, chicken, beef, and sandwiches for around $7.50 each. Each sandwich comes with a choice of side, like a potato salad.
Randy’s Donuts, Los Angeles, California
This iconic doughnut shop has been a staple in the LA area for many years. Randy’s is best known for its massive, oversized doughnuts, which come in a variety of flavors like blueberry, chocolate glazed, and apple fritter.
Classic flavors like glazed and chocolate cost just $1.25 each, while premium selections, such as the Nutella and Red Velvet varieties, are a bit more expensive.
Katz’s Deli, New York City, New York
This world-famous deli has been serving up classic Jewish fare since 1888.
Katz’s is best known for its pastrami sandwiches, which come stacked high with meat. At $25, it may seem more expensive than other sandwiches on this list.
But the sandwich is massive and can easily be shared between two people, making it a great value. Other popular menu items include the corned beef sandwich, matzo ball soup, and knishes.
Polly’s Pies, Multiple Locations in Southern California
Polly’s Pies is a chain of pie shops located throughout Southern California.
Aside from its namesake pies, Polly’s also serves up a variety of other dishes like hot sandwiches, burgers, breakfast items, and salads.
The weekday deals at Polly’s Pies are a steal if you wake up hungry. You can try the $9 French Toast Combo with two pieces of french toast, two eggs, and two strips of bacon or two sausages.
The rest of the menu costs $15 or less.
In-N-Out Burger, Multiple Locations in the Western U.S.
This popular burger chain is a favorite among travelers and locals alike. In-N-Out Burger is best known for its “animal style” burgers, which come with cheese, grilled onions, and sauce.
While In-N-Out Burger doesn’t have a ton of menu items, what it has is delicious and affordable.
Burgers start at just $2.50, and you can get a meal combo with fries and a drink for around $6. They’re generous with all items, so an order of fries is enough to share.
The Wiener’s Circle, Chicago, Illinois
This hot dog stand is notorious for its outrageous Chicago-style dogs. Favorites include the “Polish sausage with everything” and the “Flaming Wiener.” The latter comes with chili, onions, mustard, and ketchup all set on fire.
If you’re feeling brave, you can try the “Heart Attack Dog,” which is a bacon-wrapped hot dog topped with chili, cheese, and onions.
Prices at the Wiener’s Circle are easy on the wallet, with most fully-loaded hot dogs costing less than $10.
Gus’s World Famous Hot Chicken, Memphis, Tennessee
A trip to Memphis isn’t complete without a stop at Gus’s World Famous Hot Chicken. This legendary eatery has been serving up its signature spicy chicken for over 60 years.
Gus’s chicken is available in mild, medium, and hot levels of spice. Prices start at $8.50 for a 2-piece chicken plate.
Sides include beans, coleslaw, fried rice, mac and cheese, and more. Most locations also have Seasonal Specials, so call ahead to see what’s cooking.
Be sure to try the pecan pies for dessert – they’re some of the best in the state.
The Boiling Crab, New Orleans, Louisiana
NOLA is synonymous with the seafood boil, and The Boiling Crab is the place to go for an authentic Cajun seafood experience.
The Boiling Crab offers a variety of boils with different types of seafood, seasonings, and heat levels.
There’s also a wide selection of extras, from gumbo to fried catfish, hot wings, sweet potato fries, and hush puppies.
Prices are determined by the size and type of boil you choose, but most boils fall in the $20-$30 range and are big enough for a group to share.
Florence’s Low Country Kitchen, Charleston, South Carolina
This quaint eatery is located in the heart of Charleston and serves up homestyle Southern cuisine. Florence’s is known for its shrimp and grits, which are cooked in a savory gravy with bacon and onions.
The menu is filled with Southern mainstays like fried chicken, crab cakes, jambalaya, blackened shrimp, collard greens, and fried okra.
You can order a full entree with two sides for $16, with sandwiches and starters ranging from $5-$12.
The Capriotti’s Sandwich Shop, Wilmington, Delaware
The Capriotti’s Sandwich Shop is a regional chain with locations across the country, but it all started in Wilmington, Delaware, back in 1976.
The shop is best known for its “Bobbie” sandwich, which is a Thanksgiving-style sub made with roasted turkey, stuffing, and cranberry sauce.
Other popular sandwiches include the Philly cheesesteak, meatball, and chicken Parmesan. All of Capriotti’s sandwiches are made to order with fresh ingredients.
Most items cost below $10 and come with a side of chips and a drink.
If you’re feeling really hungry, try the “King Bobbie” – it’s a 3-foot-long sandwich that feeds 4-6 people.
Roper’s Ribs and Bbq, Lexington, Kentucky
Roper’s is a family-owned and operated BBQ joint in Lexington, Kentucky that has been serving up ribs and bbq since 1992. The restaurant is known for its hickory-smoked ribs and pulled pork, which is both served with a variety of sauces.
Side dishes include baked beans, cornbread, coleslaw, and potato salad. Roper’s also offers a variety of desserts, including peach cobbler and banana pudding.
Meals at Roper’s start at $7.99, sandwiches go as low as $3.99, and you can also get sharing platters with three sides for under $20.
If you’re in the mood for something sweet, try the banana pudding – it’s made from scratch and served with a dollop of whipped cream.
Pizzeria Bianco, Phoenix, Arizona
This wood-fired pizzeria has been serving up some of the best pies in the country since 1987. Pizzeria Bianco uses only the freshest ingredients, with many coming from local farms and purveyors.
The menu features a variety of unique pizzas, like the Rosa with red onions, rosemary, and pistachios, or the Wiseguy with mozzarella, fennel sausage, and red onion. Most pizzas range from $12-$16.
There’s also a selection of salads, starters, and desserts available. The restaurant does not take reservations, so be sure to come early or be prepared to wait.
BONUS: Best Cheap Places to Eat in SF, NYC, LA, & Boston
San Francisco, New York City, Los Angeles, and Boston are four of the most expensive cities for dining out in the US. But beyond the $100 steaks and Michelin-starred tasting menus, all four cities offer unforgettable food experiences well below that price point, especially if you’re in the right neighborhoods.
Cheap Eats in San Francisco
You’ll find plenty of affordable places to eat in San Francisco, especially if you’re willing to stray a bit from the touristy areas.
The Tenderloin may not be San Francisco’s prettiest neighborhood, but it’s home to some of the yummiest restaurants in town.
This is where you’ll find Lers Ros Thai, an incredible Thai restaurant whose lunch specials will fill you up for under $10; Namu Gaji, a favorite for Korean food; Dumpling Time for delicious steamed dumplings; and Burma Superstar for authentic Burmese fare.
In the Outer Mission neighborhood of San Francisco, you can find a number of budget-friendly restaurants with items for under $10.
For example, at Taqueria Los Coyotes, you can get a burrito with three toppings — steak, chicken, or carnitas — for just $6.50.
Just down the street, at Katia’s Russian Tea Room, you’ll find a menu full of delicious Russian-inspired dishes like borscht, blinis, and pelmeni (dumplings), but nothing will cost more than $9.
Or if Russian isn’t your thing, try La Corneta Taqueria on Mission Street for the California burrito with french fries and guacamole for just $7.50 or a super taco for only $1 each.
Budget Bites in New York City
New York City is home to insanely upscale places, but it’s also dotted with everything from cheap American restaurants to Asian, Latin, Mexican, and other tasty cuisines for under $15. Here are some of the cheapest places to eat in NYC:
You can start your NYC food tour in the East Village with an order of momos (dumplings) at Himalayan Yak, where a steamed basket of 10 will only set you back $7.50. Then stroll down the street to Vietnamese spot Chavela’s, where you can get a hearty bowl of pho for under $10.
Hankering for some Indian food? You should stop by Dhaba on First Avenue for chicken tikka masala and naan bread for $12.50, or head to Sam’s Falafel & Shawarma on Second Avenue for a falafel sandwich for $5.50.
The West Village is also packed with cheap snacks and hearty meals that won’t break the bank. It’s good to start with a visit to By Chloe, a vegan restaurant where you can get a “burger” made with quinoa, sweet potato and black bean for $7.95, or a bowl of mac and cheese for $6.95.
For a Latin-inspired meal, head to Empanada Mama on Cornelia Street, where an order of three empanadas will only set you back $7.50. And for dessert, check out Rice to Riches on Spring Street for bowls of ice cream starting at just $5.
The historic Greenwich Village neighborhood is known for its astronomical rents, but it’s also home to delicious food under $10. You can get a gooey slice of pizza at Joe’s or John’s Pizzeria for less than $3, or try one of the many different flavors of ice cream at Emack and Bolio’s for under $5.
Remember to stop by Mamoun’s Falafel for some of the best falafel sandwiches in town for less than $10, or grab a bowl of pho at Pho Grand for only $9.
The East Village is full of affordable hidden gems. You’ll find everything from Indian food at Curry Row to sushi at Katsu-ya for under $15.
And if you’re looking for something a little more eclectic, head to the Lower East Side, where you can get a three-course meal at The Stanton Social for only $12, or try one of the many different ramen dishes at Ippudo for $13.
Affordable Places to Eat in Los Angeles
Los Angeles is a notoriously expensive city, but under all that glitter is a bustling haven of budget-friendly LA food spots:
Downtown LA is undergoing both an art and food scene renaissance, so make sure to experience it for yourself. You can finish a meaty burrito at La Casita Mexicana for only $7, or try one of the many different tacos at Tacos Tu Madre for only $2 each.
If you’re still hungry, head to Yang Chow for some of the best street food in Chinatown for less than $10, or check out East LA’s favorite pupuseria, Pupusería San Marcos, for cheap and delicious Salvadoran food.
Korean food is one of the cheapest and most delicious cuisines in LA, and Koreatown is home to some of the best restaurants in the city.
You can get a huge bowl of bibimbap for only $8.95, or try the galbi jjim, a beef and vegetable stew, for $13.95.
Other great Korean options in this neighborhood include Shin-Chan Restaurant for kalbi (marinated barbecued short ribs), Sundaes and Cones for Korean-style ice cream, and Jang Keun Suk for soondae (blood sausage).
After you’ve had your fill of Korean food, head to East Hollywood for a meal at Siam Sunset, where you can get a pad thai for only $8 or a green curry chicken for $9.
And if you’re craving something a little more upscale, check out Craft Los Angeles, where you can get a three-course meal for only $15.
Dine Out on a Budget in Boston
Boston is known for its seafood and high cost of living, but you’ll also find plenty of excellent cheap eats throughout the city:
Faneuil Hall/Quincy Market
This area is teeming with tourists, but there are still some great deals to be found if you look hard enough. For example, you can get a lobster roll at Quincy Market for under $15, or try the clam chowder at Legal Sea Foods for only $5.99.
For a taste of history, head to the Boston Tea Party Ships and Museum, where you can get a traditional English tea for only $10.
The North End
The North End is the oldest neighborhood in Boston, and it’s also home to some of the best Italian food in the city. You’ll find everything from pizza and pasta to sub sandwiches and sausage for under $10.
And if you’re looking for something sweet, head to Mike’s Pastry, where you can get a cannoli for under $5.
Boston’s Chinatown is another great neighborhood for cheap eats, with plenty of options for under $10.
You can slurp a bowl of wonton soup at Shui Wah Restaurant for only $7.95, or try one of the many different dim sum dishes at Hei La Moon for under $5.
The Easiest Ways to Save Money When Dining Out
Whether you’re looking for a quick bite or a fine dining experience, you can save money by following these simple rules:
Set a Meal Budget and Stick to It
Before going out for dinner, decide how much you’re willing to spend during the meal. This will help you search for the cheapest meal to eat, whether you’re looking for the most food for $5 or budget places to eat with family.
You will want to factor in the tip (15-20% of your final bill), tax, and any other extra costs that may come up when eating out.
It’s good to tack on an extra $5-$10 just in case something comes up that you didn’t anticipate, such as the need for valet parking or a small purchase from the gift shop at the restaurant.
Sticking to a budget allows you to enjoy yourself without overspending on unnecessary items or feeling stressed about your finances after dinner has ended.
Split a Large Appetizer or Entree
Many restaurants offer large servings that are easily split into two or more portions, especially with side items like fries, rice, or salad.
If you’re not in the mood to share your food, be sure to check if half portions are offered before ordering a full-size meal.
Ask for a To-Go Box at the Beginning of the Meal
Asking for a to-go box at the beginning of your meal is a great way to stretch your dining-out dollars.
In addition to helping you avoid overeating, bringing home leftovers means that you get two meals from one dinner, so you can enjoy the rest for lunch or dinner the next day.
As a bonus, it also prevents you from wasting both food and money.
Use Coupons and Loyalty Programs
If you’re a regular at certain restaurants, consider signing up for their loyalty program. These programs can give you free meals, discount cards, reward cards, and birthday treats.
Check online deal sites like Groupon for vouchers before you go out. It’s normal to find vouchers for 50% to even 80% off, especially for group deals.
Finally, see if your credit card offers any perks for dining out and whether any cashback apps will give you extra rewards for using them when paying for your meal.
Drink Water – Skip the Soda and Alcohol
One of the easiest ways to save money when dining out is to stick with plain old water.
Not only is the water usually free, but it’s great for you and will help you feel full. You can also request for some free lemon slices to jazz it up a little.
Plus, restaurants often markup beverages by a significant margin, often at least 300%. In fact, most cocktails cost as much as a meal.
Go During the Weekdays and Off-Peak Hours
Do you want to save even more money? It’s all about timing:
- Hit up Happy Hour
Many restaurants offer happy hour deals, often during the late afternoon and early evening hours. Specials may include discounted drinks or appetizers, or discounted prices for both.
- Kids Eat Free Nights
Many family-style restaurants offer free kids’ meals on certain nights of the week.
- Early Bird Specials
Some restaurants offer discounts to diners who arrive before a certain time, like between 4-5 p.m., when business is typically slow.
- 2-for-1 Specials
A 2-for-1 special means that when you buy one entree, drink, or dessert, you get another entree, drink, or dessert of equal value free.
- Order Off the Specials Menu
Many restaurants change their menu seasonally to take advantage of fresh produce and new dishes being prepared by the chef.
To encourage diners to try out what’s new at their establishments, many restaurants create separate menus with items at discounted prices—sometimes drastically so!
Eat a Small Snack Before You Go
If you head to the restaurant famished, you’re much more likely to splurge on appetizers and order extra items.
You can prevent this by eating a healthy snack before you go. An apple or piece of string cheese is all it takes to take the edge off your appetite.
And that’s it! Eating out on a budget doesn’t mean depriving yourself. As long as you plan, do a bit of research, and are willing to explore beyond the tourist spots and fast-food chains, there’s no limit to all the amazing food you can try wherever you are in the US.