The secret to eating well in Boston on a budget? Go ethnic. Consider this your cheat sheet: 35 ethnic restaurants – and dishes – you can’t afford to miss.
WHAT TO ORDER Golabki (stuffed cabbage), $12 WHAT MAKES IT SO GOOD The miracle of this Polish treat is in its architecture: a fluffy filling of rice, pork, and spices in little packets that still manage to hold their shape when cut. Topped with tomato or mushroom sauce, these comforting bites will feed your soul, while still leaving room for Polonia’s exemplary potato pancakes — just $3 a pop. 611 Dorchester Ave., South Boston, 617-269-0110, cafepolonia.com.
Farm Grill and Rotisserie
WHAT TO ORDER Chicken gyro plate, $12.45 WHAT MAKES IT SO GOOD The moussaka is eggy. The potatoes are oily. The overcooked beans and corn "niblets" taste like they’re straight out of a can. But all is forgiven when you taste the heavenly chicken gyro: Salty, juicy, and aggressively seasoned, the tender slices of meat dance a delicate karsilamas with piping-hot pita bread and cucumber-and-yogurt tzatziki. 40 Needham St., Newton, 617-964-7766, farm-grill.com.
Addis Red Sea
WHAT TO ORDER Kitfo (Ethiopian steak tartare), $12.95 WHAT MAKES IT SO GOOD The French may get props for elevating butter to major-food-group status, but Gallic-style steak tartare looks like spa grub compared with its Ethiopian counterpart. Coarsely chopped lean beef is tossed with gobs of cardamom-and-chili-spiked melted beurre, which is hot enough to take the meat from raw to almost-rare. 544 Tremont St., Boston, 617-426-8727; 1755 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, 617-441-8727; addisredsea.com.
WHAT TO ORDER Tea-smoked duck, $12.95 (half) WHAT MAKES IT SO GOOD Peking duck has that crackling skin. French confit is all about the fall-apart flesh. But tea-smoked duck has it all: flawlessly rendered, paper-thin skin and succulent meat permeated by a camphor-leaf perfume. Marinated overnight in rice wine, soy, and fennel seed, FuLoon’s take on the Szechwan specialty is sublime. 375 Main St., Malden, 781-388-3338, fuloon-restaurant.com.
JP Seafood Café
WHAT TO ORDER Ok-dol bibimbop (with tofu) $12.95 WHAT MAKES IT SO GOOD Korea, meet Spain: This steaming pot takes the best part of paella — the crusty rice layer that forms at the bottom — and covers it with Seoul food. Velvety tofu perfectly contrasts with the spicy-vinegary kick of kimchi, pickled mushrooms, and chili sauce; as you mix it all together, the yolk from a sunny-side-up egg coats everything in runny goodness. 730 Centre St., Jamaica Plain, 617-983-5177, jpseafoodcafe.com.
WHAT TO ORDER Chung Qing spicy chicken, $12.95 WHAT MAKES IT SO GOOD A more savory cousin of kung pao chicken (with twice the kick and complexity), this addictive stir-fry douses chunks of breast meat in a fiery, neon-orange Szechwan peppercorn sauce. Wok-charred wedges of bell pepper provide a respite from all that heat, though a swig of chilly Tsingtao beer does the job just as well. 21 Hudson St., Boston, 617-338-6688, newshanghairestaurant.com.
WHAT TO ORDER Prime rib-eye shabu-shabu, $13 (lunch) WHAT MAKES IT SO GOOD It’s not until about halfway through the ritual that it dawns on you how much beefy flavor is getting rendered every time you swish another well-marbled slice of USDA Prime back and forth in the pot of hot, gurgling broth. When your