HOME > Chowhound > Austin >


Cheap, hidden ethnic (or not) eats?

I'm on a quest to sample food from all the local cheap ethnic restaurants. They can be holes-in-the-wall or sleek and new, but they have to be inexpensive (I'm talking approximately $5 or less per entree/menu item) and preferably off the beaten path. If there are any American places like this, I would be interested in hearing about them too. Here's my list so far:

Lily's Sandwich: $2.75 Vietnamese Banh Mi Sandwiches
(also see Thanh Nhi and Pho Van for cheap Banh Mi)
Sarah's Mediterranean Market: $4.95 Rotisserie Chicken Plates
Arandas #3: $2.85 Fajita Burritos

Any more to add?

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. marisco grill on burnet: the fish taco is huge, with lots of fish in a creamy sauce. I think it's $3.75. I love them.

    1. Wow, this is a tough task.
      A $5 limit excludes most of the places I call my cheap favs, and really limits your selections at the others. I had to cheat and slip in a couple barely over.
      I'm gonna skip all the trailers, too - that has been done better by others.
      And so, here it is,
      my favorite sit down places on extreme end of the Cheapskate <> Wads 'o Cash scale, Ethnic Edition:

      El Zunzal - For a taste of El Salvador, go for a couple of chicharrĂ³n pupusas ($2 each) and a banana Empanada ($1.50). The empanada is really tasty - the banana is on the outside. It's filled with a sweet filling and fried. Yum! This makes for a little bit of a lite meal, but a good one.

      Las Cazuelas - There are probably plenty of Mexican joints that have dishes to meet your goal, but this one holds a special place in my heart. You can choose from a list of lunch specials that include Chicken Mole, Chile Relleno and even a Mexican version of Liver and Onions served on a sizzling platter for less than $5. Or walk to the parking lot behind the building (but actually attached to it) and you will find a small food counter run by some very nice folks - they have color photos on the walls in case language is a barrier, and many dishes are around $5.

      Shalimar - Not a lot in this Paki / Indian joint for less than $5. You could get a few more choices at $5.50 or $6, but there is one spicy dish that makes the cut in price and flavor -Aloo Sabzi, it’s potatoes with a thick curry sauce, fresh tomatoes and spices. A nice veg dish for only $4.99. The down side is that you get only that dish, Nan is $2 extra.

      Want to check out some Pinoy food? Gammad offers a steam table. Choose 2 items and rice for $4.99. Or go to Mang Dedoy for the same thing plus soup at only $5.50.

      One of my personal favorite cheap eats is Wok 'N Roll. Stay away from anything on the Chinese menu - it's just generic sweet and sour this or General Tso's that. Instead, pick something from the rows color photos covering one wall. I usually get the steamed chicken- juicy bone in chunks covered with ground fresh ginger and spices and served over rice with a sweet soy. It's $5.95, and so a little outside your goal. If the $1 extra is worth more than the upgrade to this deliciousness, you will still have many excellent choices such as several styles of flat noodles, some great fried rices, or a big pho-sized bowl of WonTon soup with snow peas, carrots, sliced Bar-B-Q pork, and more. It's only $3.25, so add an order of fried chicken wings for a buck more. MMmmmm.

      Luis's Bar-B-Q on the corner of MLK and Harvey streets (just West of MLK and Airport). Look for the bright pink house with people standing in line in front of a window. Get the Combo Sandwich - you have to ask in advance if you want onions or pickles on it, I always get the onions. It is a simple sandwich, just white sandwich bread topped with a huge portion of sliced brisket, a sausage link and sauce. It's a massive meal priced around $4.50 or $4.75 (I forget).

      Nubian Queen Lola's - She has a tasty homemade Fried Fish sandwich for $4.99. These aren't processed patties; it's a fish fillet she breads and frys herself.

      Texas Chili parlor - The chili comes in a choice of hot, hotter, or damn that burns for $4.95, per small bowl or chili dog.

      4 Replies
      1. re: Alan Sudo

        Thanks for the reply, Alan. Perhaps $5 is a bit too restrictive. Maybe $8? But whatever the case, inexpensive.

        Also, I didn't realize Wok N Roll had good selections. It's right around the corner from my house, and I feel like trying it soon...

        1. re: brattpowered

          I almost always eat well and sometimes sumptuously for under 5.

          Half a chicken at Sams barbecue is 4.60,comes with bread and if you're a familiar face they'll throw in pickles and onions.

          Gene's New Orleans.Big changes are afoot at Gene's.The inside has been radically altered and it's now counter service.Get a half dozen Chicken Wings,Fries and Garlic Bread for 4 even.

          Like Mssr Sudo I champion El Zunzal.I get the Guacamole estillo Mexicano[2 bucks] and a Carnitas Taco[2 bucks]obviously you get stellar chips[not industrial]and good,not great salsa.

          All lunch specials at Los Altos are 4.75.Go on Thursday for good Carne Guisada,rice beans,tortillas and yes,chips and salsa...if they don't bring it ask for the Green.

          Guilty pleasure:Two two piece chicken boxes from Popeyes,comes with edible biscuits.I split em and pan fry em in butter with a little salt.4.32

          Crown and Anchor.A quarter pounder with a mountain of thin/crispy fries for 4 even.

          How about 4 .99c Carnita tacos at La Michoacana?On corn tortillas with Onion,Cilantro and good,seedy Red salsa.I eat there so often the Prima makes my tortillas from scratch when I get seated.

          Invest with a friend and spend 8 bucks on a platter from Galloways Sandwich Shop.It will feed two decent eaters or one hoss cat.

          I could go on and on.Some of the best food in Austin meets your requirements.There's no need to drop a bill at Uchi[although that's fun too]when you can have a feast for under 5 bucks.I'm usually sporty when it comes to tipping so my food is more but it's such a reflex I don't even count gratuity.The good will a couple dollars in a jar brings is an amazing investment.

          Almost forgot.Nikki's Pizza in Dobie Mall is very good at 2 bucks a slice.I took a buddy from Brooklyn and he was impressed.Ask em to burn it and you'll get a nice char on the crust.

          1. re: scrumptiouschef

            Thanks for the update on Gene's, scrumptious. I haven't been there in a while, but it sounds like it may be time for another visit.

            Your quest sounds like a lot of fun, brattpowered. I've found tons of delicious, cheap options during my own chowhounding adventures on the east side. If you want to see any details, just search this board for MPH and "Tex-Mex."

            Scrumptiouschef has started several good threads that might be of use to you. I've pasted links to them (and a couple of others) here:

            ChowHound Assignment:Go [To] A Place Never Reviewed On This Board

            Chowhound Assignment:Your Top 5 Food Carts/Trailers

            UT Eats

            Austin - April 23-29 - Cheap Eats?

            I hope you'll keep us posted about anything delicious that you find.

            1. re: scrumptiouschef

              I heard Gene sold his place--is the food still as tasty? Like MPH I haven't been in some time (more than a year for sure). Maybe that's why he sold? Though I know he's had various health issues recently.

              A half chicken at El Pollo Regio is the tastiest bargain in town at $7 or $8 with rice and beans and tortillas it easily feeds two.

              At Tam's you can get the char grilled pork bahn mi for $3.50 (less for togo), 1 spring roll for $1.25 (you have to smile politely because a normal order is 2), and a $0.50 cream puff.

        2. 'Korean Restaurant' inside Han Yang Market on Lamar north of Airport serves a few $5 bowls of stew that come with all the kim chee you can eat and a bowl of sushi rice. They're also cash-only, which is probably an indication of the sort of place you're seeking. If you ever want to do a shady business deal off the beaten path, you can safely do it here outside of the busy lunch hours while eating excessive amounts of the food that helped Korea avoid the SARS epidemic. I dig this place.

          Phoenicia Bakery (if you live near Sarah's, you live near Phoenicia's north central location at 46th and Burnett) serves a $3.99 roasted chicken wrap that is awesome. I wish they had vegetables besides shredded lettuce and thin tomato slices, but the juicy chicken and oddly light garlic sauce are great. It's a good modular meal.

          New World Deli at 43rd-44th and Guadalupe does not serve a 'half sandwich' - they serve a 'more than half a sandwich'. When it's a regular square sandwich, they just cut a corner off (What do they do with the corners? Email me if you know. I'd love to just hang out there and eat sandwich corners.) And when it's on a foot-long french roll, they just make it on a 6-8 inch french roll. Which is still a hearty sandwich. For $4.99 you can have 'more than half' a meatball sub, eggplant parmesan sandwich, or a meatloaf sub. The bread is very soft, toasted for flavor and texture contrast, and the fillings are piping hot. In fact, you should open up the sandwich a little bit to let it cool before you give it a shot. And the owner really likes what he does. It's not uncommon to find him chowing down on his own soups or asking customers if the roast beef he cooked the previous day was satisfactory.

          And I have to plug my favorite cheap, local taqueria, the newly renamed Jesus y Maria Taqueria on 2222 just west of Lamar. The menu has ten or so $4.99 meals that consist of rice, beans, and a combination of enchiladas, tacos, chalupas, and a good carne guisada. Bigger than most dinners I eat.

          Wow, I'll have to do some more research.

          1. If you can resist the BBQ, two black bean and cilantro tacos cost 4.95 at Ruby's BBQ. Get 'em with the BBQ sauce AND the pico de gaillo.

            * Actually, now looking at their menu, I see that they offer a number of BBQ sandwiches for 4.95 as well. I cannot attest as to their deliciousness because I am a vegetarian.

            1. How about a dosa (lentil flour crepe/flatbread around a variety of fillings) at Swad? I don't remember; they might get up to $6.

              Swad Indian Vegetarian Rstrnt
              9515 N Lamar Blvd, Austin, TX 78753

              1. Wok N Roll at Burnett Rd. and North Street has daily $3.99 lunch specials from 11-2. Each meal includes an entree, a scoop of fried rice, an egg roll / crab puff, and a cup of hot&sour / wonton / egg drop soup.

                1. Also the Hotdog with fries at Billy's on Burnet--it's on the kids menu, but it's huge and just a great lunch. $3.70. The Billy Beans with cornbread are great too--$3.50.

                  1. most of these aren't restaurants, per se, but trucks/trailers, but they're among my favorite things to nourish myself with when the wallet is light:

                    a taco or 2 from torchy's on s. 1st and gibson
                    same from the taco truck on oltorf off lamar (just east of lamar, open late, called tacos buche but there isn't a sign that says that -- only a neon sign that says 'open'
                    same from tacodeli, south (spyglass) or north (duval off mopac)
                    a crepe from flip happy (fliphappycrepes.com) -- all the sweet ones are under $5, as are the breakfast ones... i happily make a meal out of one of the sweet ones :)
                    also, in chinatown on n lamar there is a small takeout place that sells summer rolls, and other takeout foods, for pretty dirt cheap. i forget the name, but it's toward the back of the shopping center, a few doors down from the big asian grocery

                    1. I'm a big fan of a dot com dog and tots at Dog Almighty. It's about $4.50 for the two. I personally love the dogs here, even though I've heard mixed reviews. The dogs seem to be grilled, which is a huge bonus in my book. Plus, any place that serves tots gets an automatic addition to my list.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: foodiegal71

                        Just ate there tonight. The owner said she'd never charge more than $3.50 for a dog no matter how many toppings you add. The hot dogs are pretty good but no hot dogs actually have real or hot chili but the corn dogs are pretty awesome. i always get one of each.

                      2. I don't think anyone has mentioned Tam Deli, but their Banh Mi are wonderful as well.

                        1. I finally got to try Rosita's Al Pastor today for lunch (god their food is good).

                          Monday - Thursday (until 4pm, I believe) they sell 5 tacos for $5.00

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: jwynne2000

                            Dude, I know. Really amazing food that is basically a face jam. Their gorditas are great, their tortas are pretty good.

                            However! I have to ding them on one point -- they have lots of "off" days. S'okay because their "off" days are better than most places "on" days. But you'll be able to tell the difference from when they're on their game.

                            1. re: jwynne2000

                              I third that, is there a Rosita's TA (Tacos Anonymous) Chapter in the area? Also Lula B's!

                            2. el chilito has brought back the $2 taco and $4 burritos. pibil or daily specials recommended.

                              1. I can't believe no one has mentioned Juan in a Million. They have very cheap breakfast tacos. The Don Juan, although obviously produced en masse, is a steal at under 4 dollars. Its very challenging to finish the whole thing. You may want to get two extra tortillas to help you manage the undertaking.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: baxattack

                                  I second JIAM. A Don Juan with two extra tortillas and a cup of coffee is right around $5. Seriously, I divide my one Don Juan taco into thirds and it's still too much food for me.

                                  I also love Flip Happy but a $6-7 savory crepe just isn't enough to fill me up.

                                2. Milto's gyro. Used to be $3.50, but they've raised the price up to $4ish. Still one heck of a deal and yummy to boot.

                                  5 Replies
                                  1. re: amysuehere

                                    Thanh Nhi at 9200 N. Lamar has wonderful grilled pork summer rolls and bahn mi. I paid $4.60 for a small grilled pork bahn mi and an order of two summer rolls today and they were wonderful.

                                    1. re: foodiegal71

                                      I want to second Thanh Nhi. Their banh mi (Vietnamese sandwiches) are great and a bargain at $2.70 for a large - the bread is especially tasty.

                                      1. re: amandapey

                                        Thanks for the recommendations folks. Ate at Thanh Nhi last night, and had a great meal. The banh mi was good - as well as the pho (broth was yummy) and the lemongrass chicken. A few regulars came in and ordered plates of just spring rolls (i think?) - I'll have to try them next time.

                                        Also, the ladies that served the food were extremely nice. Happy service goes a long way. We left smiling.

                                        1. re: Daisy L

                                          Awesome! I took a friend here on Thursday for the first time and she loved it. The spring rolls really are fantastic. Yay for great cheap food!

                                    2. re: amysuehere

                                      the price is now up to $5.25, pretty small. Similar to Phoenicia which is cheaper.

                                    3. chhole/batura at swad; banh mi sandwiches, falafels at sarah's

                                      8 Replies
                                      1. re: hungryfoodie

                                        May I request help in updating this topic. I am on the hunt for interesting and well prepared dishes for less than $5. I am curious how little I need to spend to eat well and eat out. What specific menu items do you recommend?

                                        On my list of places to try are:
                                        Bill miller BBQ
                                        phoenician deli
                                        Longhorn po boy
                                        lulu B's
                                        Whole Foods 1/2 Sammies
                                        Nubian Queen lola

                                        1. re: Paul Silver

                                          the whole foods half sammies really do not fill me up.
                                          or, maybe it's just the ones i get or the people making them...

                                          1. re: Paul Silver

                                            There's a new Mexican Restaurant near Koenig and Woodrow with $4.25 Cubana Sandwiches. They are substantial and pretty tasty. Along with a basket or 2 of their chips and salsa, it's a good cheap meal.

                                            1. re: brattpowered

                                              What is the name of this establishment. I'm always looking for cheap eats in my neighborhood.

                                              1. re: agoodbite

                                                I think this is Cheko's. It's next to the laundromat, across from First Texas Honda.

                                                1. re: mkwng

                                                  Oops, brain fart. Yes it is Cheko's, at 1304 Koenig Ln.

                                            2. re: Paul Silver

                                              Which Markets have interesting sandwich bars?
                                              Asia Market?
                                              Whole Foods?
                                              Any other Ethnic cuisines out there?

                                              I had the Boomerang Curry Vegetable sandwich today. Satisfying and relatively healthy for $5.

                                              1. re: Paul Silver

                                                figured it was about time to bump this!
                                                Here are a few more meals under $5:

                                                Get a loroco pupusa and a chicken tamale from Costa Del Sol for $4.

                                                Milto's pesto cheese bread, incl. sliced roma tomatoes, is still $3.65
                                                That's a light lunch or a filling late-night snack!

                                                You can get a torta, full of meat, avocado, and other goodies, for about $4 to $5
                                                at any of several places, including El Pollo Rico and Panaderia Chuy.

                                                Most items at Curry in Hurry, incl. a curry and rice plate, are under $5.
                                                The meal deal (veg. dish, daal, rice, & bread) is about $6.

                                                If you raise the limit to $7 or $8, many more options are open:
                                                marinated chicken/bbq pork rice plates at Ho Ho, First Chinese BBQ, Din Ho,
                                                or a two- or three-item lunch plate at Fresh Tofu.