Eat Well, Spend Less

The Hub has never had more choices in cut-rate chow—but some values taste better than others. A smorgasbord of expert picks and sneaky strategies for the thrifty food-lover.

Grub Crawls

Chef-guided tours of the Hub’s top discount-dining neighborhoods.

cheap eats in boston

Photograph by Todd Dionne

Shabu-Zen, 80 Brighton Ave., 617-782-8888
ORDER THIS: Meat combo with Chinese spicy broth, $11.95. You get thin-sliced beef and pork, bean curd sheets, veggies, and noodles. Season with condiments like hot chili and bean paste.

Carlo’s Cucina Italiana, 131 Brighton Ave., 617-254-9759
ORDER THIS: Chicken Parmesan, $15.95. Nothing fancy, just good Italian-American food, and the place for chicken Parm: a giant breast, well seasoned, crispy and moist, topped with house-made tomato-garlic-basil sauce.

El Cafetal, 479 Cambridge St., 617-789-4009
ORDER THIS: Guanábana (soursop) fruit shake, $3. This tropical milkshake is light and fluffy, with a flavor that’s a cross between pineapple and strawberry.

Ken’s Noodle House, Super 88 Market, One Brighton Ave., 617-254-5524
ORDER THIS: “Sapporo” miso ramen, $9.80. I could live off this: sliced pork, wakame seaweed, scallion, corn, half a boiled egg, and noodles. Ken is the Picasso of ramen.

Soul Fire, 182 Harvard Ave., 617-787-3003
ORDER THIS: Brisket sandwich, $7.95. They cook the brisket the night before, so it’s incredibly tender. Order with a side of mac ‘n’ cheese and collards.

cheap eats in boston

Photograph by Todd Dionne

Taqueria Jalisco, 291 Bennington St., 617-567-6367
ORDER THIS: Tacos de lengua, $2 each. These tacos—braised beef tongue served with fresh-chopped onions and cilantro—are some of the most addictive I’ve ever had. I usually order three, so I can eat each with a different salsa.

El Paisa, 1012 Bennington St., 617-569-5267
ORDER THIS: Plato montañero, $11. This is a very potent dish with grilled steak, beans, fried plantains, rice, a mini arepa, a fried egg…it reminds me of what I ate growing up in Venezuela.

Rincon Limeño, 409 Chelsea St., 617-569-4942
ORDER THIS: Ají de gallina, $11. One of the tastiest Peruvian dishes after ceviche, it’s made with pulled chicken and has a creamy sauce flavored with ají amarillo, the famous Peruvian yellow chili.

Rino’s Place, 258 Saratoga St., 617-567-7412
ORDER THIS: Linguine with calamari, $17. I love this simple dish of local calamari with red sauce. The pasta is cut fresh to order—and if you ask them to make it a little spicy, it will be awesome.

Pollos a la Brasa Beto’s, 69 Bennington St., 617-561-6005
ORDER THIS: Medio pollo a la brasa, $7.90. Two things make this roasted half-chicken great: a charcoal rotisserie, which gives it a unique smoky flavor, and one of my favorite Peruvian herbs, huacatay, kind of a cross between basil and mint.

cheap eats in boston

Photograph by Todd Dionne

Suishaya, 2 Tyler St., 617-423-3848
ORDER THIS: Tony’s Special Maki, $10.95. I don’t know who Tony is, but he loves the same flavors I do. Salmon, cucumber, burdock root, and avocado rolled around paper-thin slices of daikon radish. It’s light and rich at the same time.

Gourmet Dumpling House, 52 Beach St., 617-338-6223
ORDER THIS: Baked pork chops, $9.95 A generous portion of juicy short ribs braised in a sweet red soy sauce and served over steamed spinach, with rice on the side. At lunch, look for “short ribs in barbecue sauce over spinach”—it’s the same dish.

New Shanghai, 21 Hudson St., 617-338-6688
ORDER THIS: Chung qing spicy chicken, $10.95. After a string of owners, New Shanghai recently relaunched as a Mandarin/Szechwan restaurant—good news, since Szechwan has been underrepresented here. My favorite is this combination of seared chicken, hot red chilies, and green and red peppers. It burns…in a good way.

Wai Wai, 26 Oxford St., 617-338-9833
ORDER THIS: Boiled chicken and roast duck on rice, $6.50. Forget the menu. Just point at the meat hanging from the roaster, and ask for rice and dipping sauces (sweet soy and ginger-scallion-salt).

Taiwan Café, 34 Oxford St., 617-426-8181
ORDER THIS: Ma po tofu, $7.95. My top comfort food: silky tofu in a chili oil–garlic sauce laced with scallions. Not so spicy as to fry your taste buds, just enough to keep you reaching for more.