Like I did for my Montreal List, I’ll continually add to this list of my favourite places in Boston whenever I find something great. I’ll start with a bunch of restaurants where you can eat for cheap, and then move on to the pricier options that are well worth it for a special occasion.
(Every list of Boston cheap eats that I’ve come across elsewhere includes items like a hot pretzel with mustard for $7 as a cheap eat and I will not allow this absolute treason to continue any longer. I mean full meals for under $15!)
Here’s where you can and should eat in Boston, for under $15 per person.
Rosticeria Cancún, East Boston. I am obsessed with this place, which has the atmosphere of a divey, beachside bar and serves incredible Mexican food. The tortas are amazing, filled with beans, tomato, avocado, cheese, lettuce, mayo, and your choice of meat (go with the adovada, which is stewed and seasoned pork). Grab some hot sauce from the table to dip into. The micheladas are also seasoned perfectly, and the service is friendly and familial.
Broad Street Paulie’s, Downtown. Best breakfast sandwich in the city. Get the ham, egg, and cheese on a cheddar biscuit, and a self-serve iced coffee. Also, their chocolate chip cookies are just like the ones at Montreal’s Cafe Neve, meaning they are enormous and perfect, with two kinds of chocolate chunks. Shout-out to Elizabeth, one of the nicest women in the world, who runs the show with her husband, Paul.
Man-O-Salwa, Somerville. This place was mentioned by Ahmed Ali Akbar in his recent essay on Pakistani food in the US. I’m a big fan of Ahmed’s writing (and podcast!), and this essay was pretty much everything I love about food writing. Needless to say, I went to Man-O-Salwa the day after I read it about it, and it did not disappoint. The chicken tikka is bright red, super-spicy but not overpoweringly so, and ridiculously tender. The garlic naan was the perfect accompaniment. You’ll miss the place if you walk by it, and beware its changing schedule- call ahead to make sure they’re open. The sign outside says S & S Market.
Machu Chicken, Somerville. The 1/4 chicken plate is amazing- a roasted, spiced chicken thigh with rice, salad, and aji amarillo sauce. Even the plain-looking rice is somehow delicious, and I like chopping up the chicken, mixing it with the rice and sauce, and going to town.
La Abundancia Bakery and Restaurant, East Boston. At this little Colombian place, the carne asada platter, plus two empanadas, makes for a perfect lunch for two people. This is the first place I tried Colombian empanadas, which are fried and crispy, and filled with a mix of meat and potatoes.
Allston Diner, Allston. A slightly grungy, very hip diner with cartoons on screens, excellent french toast, and even better options for sides. We got side portions of sausage gravy and mac and cheese! What a time to be alive!
Charlie’s Pizza, Allston. This place is completely unassuming- you’d walk right past it and not know that you’d be missing out on a Truly Important Pizza Experience. Charlie’s is perfect. Ordered by the slice, the pizza is somehow even better than when ordering a whole pie, but even the whole pies are the Platonic Ideal of an American cheese pizza. The thin crust flops under the weight of the tomato sauce and the piled-on, stretchy cheese, and it has a crust that’s perfectly poofy and delicious with ranch dressing. Also Charlie himself is wonderful.
S & I Thai, Allston. This tiny little Thai place is right on Brighton Ave, and has one of the best value dinner deals I’ve seen in Boston- choice of soup, choice of appetizer, and a huge portion of noodles with choice of meat for a total of ~$8.95. It’s really delicious and comes out fast. You can eat at one of their five small tables or take it to go. The food is perfectly seasoned, and it’s not greasy like many other takeout places. Be warned that when they say spicy, they mean spicy. Get a mango juice to quench the burning.
Cafe Rustica, Somerville. Cafe Rustica is the perfect European-style lunch place. Their espresso is fantastic, and they serve some of the best sandwiches I’ve ever had. Try the salami-capicollo-provolone one, all dressed, or the equally wonderful fresh mozzarella-tomato-pesto one. The sandwiches come on baguette, but you can opt to have them on focaccia instead. The ingredients are so fresh and flavorful and it’s just a dream. Their cookies are great too, and the men who run the place are awesome.
Dumpling House, Cambridge. I’ve been there in a group of 3 and in a group of 10, and either way, the food is fast and just incredible. The pork mini soup dumplings are one of my favourites, as are the steamed pork and leek or cabbage dumplings, which are just as good fried. The scallion pancake makes a great side dish.
Monica’s, North End. This little store sells all the best Italian goods- cured meats, cheeses, fresh pasta- but it fills up at lunchtime because of their positively STACKED Italian subs. Just look at them!
The Hot Dog Stand Outside Macy’s, Downtown. I am an avid fan of street meat and Boston does it very well. They have sauteed onions and peppers which is a nice touch, and several types of sauces beyond yellow mustard and ketchup. As someone who loves a hot dog with dijon, mayo, hot sauce and little barbecue sauce, I appreciate that. It’s also super cheap, as you can imagine.
Cafe Dello Sport, North End. Stellar espresso, great gelato, and a perfect place to post up and get some work done while eavesdropping on old men talking in Italian. We also went there straight from our city hall wedding and they gave us a free chocolate and espresso martini, so I will love it forever.
Milennium Restaurant, Roxbury. Home of some of the best Dominican food I’ve ever had, they have a truly fantastic bowl deal where you can pick your meat, rice, and veggies- I went with yellow rice, plátanos, and roast pork- plus a drink, for $7.50. It’s unbelievable. Tastes homemade and hits the spot.
And here’s where you can eat for a little more money:
Toro, South End. This place is Fancy Fancy, but surprisingly not outrageously expensive. It’s best for a couple of drinks with a couple of snacks- maybe eat a sandwich before you go to keep the bill on the lower side. However, the tapas are very much American-sized: still small plates, but much more generously-served than in Spain. The stand-outs were the marinated Mahon cheese, boquerones, jamon serrano, cod croquettes, and the wide selection of vermouth, which is my favourite drink ever.
Coppa, South End. Coppa is Toro’s Italian cousin (owned by the same guys), and it’s a similar concept. Go for a drink or two and some fancy snacks, or, if it’s a special occasion, you can make a whole meal out of it- especially with a couple of their pastas or pizzas.
Barking Crab, Seaport. It’s kitschy, it’s loud, and it has some amazing seafood. The fried scallops in the fisherman’s platter were the standout, but the crab roll was great too.
Ebi Sushi, Somerville. A Very Special Sushi Place. The lunch deals are extremely good value- amazing, creative sushi for a very reasonable price- and their udon bowls are great too.
Zaftig’s, Brookline. I love a Jewish deli, and this one is full of paintings of women who are a little zaftig themselves and I LOVE EVERYTHING ABOUT THAT. The matzah ball soup is wonderful, as are the pickled green tomatoes, lox platter, and knishes.
B&G Oysters, South End. This is my favourite place in Boston to put my Apps and Oysters Method into effect. Load up on lots of oysters and then just get a few appetizers to share- don’t spend your hard-earned money on a $30 grilled fish dish or a seafood pasta. The appetizers are where the most flavour lives, and they complement the briny beautiful perfect oysters.
Cunard Tavern, East Boston. This super-hip brunch place very quickly won me over with A) flavour! So much flavour! and B) reasonable prices for how nice the place is and how special the food is. I got the chipotle hollandaise bacon cheese burger with an egg on it (it was truly unbelievable), and my friend got the Elvis sandwich and a bloody mary.
And for dessert…
Union Square Donuts, Everywhere. The vietnamese coffee donut that I tried while at the Boston Public Market’s location of Union Square Donuts was a religious experience and honestly I’m not even going to try to describe it, just go get one.
Gracie’s Ice Cream, Somerville. You can get your cone dipped in marshmallow fluff, which is then toasted with a brulée torch. It is a dream.