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Mar 10, 2010 06:53 AM

Good Cheap Ethnic Eats in Downtown Baltimore

As a graduate student in search of cheap food, especially fresh ethnic food, downtown Baltimore has a surprisingly decent amount of options.

1. Rosa's Grill (Lexington Market) - I know many are people are scared to go out here but suck it up and enjoy the liveliness of the area. I've only tried a couple of items here so I'll speak on those. The pupusas (only $2 per) are made to order and take roughly ten minutes. The freshness is unparalleled as they make them in front of you. I've tried a number of items on their buffet as well which were quite good and range from $3 to $4 for a good portion size. The tamales were bad, so watch out for those. Haven't tried the other made to order items though they look great.

2. Halal food cart (corner of West Baltimore and North Liberty street) - For $6 bucks, you can get a huge portion of either chicken or lamb gyro meat on rice with the famous "white" or "red" sauces (drink included). This is all I've tried here and it's similar to what you'll find in New York City carts that made this famous. Though it isn't as tasty as those, mainly because of the cumin amount in the rice, it's something I look forward to and eat about once a week. They also have gyros and sandwiches which are cheaper (around $4).

3. Mekong Delta Cafe (105 West Saratoga Street) - So this is slightly more expensive than the previous two but much cheaper than the other options downtown. The pho here, which is the standard by which to judge any Vietnamese eatery is superb and some of the best I've ever had. They keep it real by giving you the options of organ meats but have the standard beef and chicken options if you don't want to go on the wild side. This runs for roughly $9. The portion size is huge for this. I've tried their shrimp rolls ($4), tofu noodles ($9), as well as country chicken ($9) and all were excellent. All food is made fresh and it really makes a difference.

Please suggest more if you know of any.

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  1. You may also want to try Max's Empanadas in Little Italy. Definitely in your price range, in casual space with wi-fi. Unfortunately, I was pretty underwhelmed with their signature dish (mostly the crust, the filling was fine), but have hopes that it will improve. The salads were pretty good, especially the potato.

    I don't know if you consider it "downtown," but Upper Broadway has tons of inexpensive Latin American places. You may want to search this board for opinions. Favorites here include Tortilleria Sinaloa, & the taco trucks on B'dwy. I've currently become a fan of the al pastor taco and tamarind drink at Taqueria el Sabor del Parque, across from Patterson Park, but you're getting pretty far from "downtown" now.

    7 Replies
    1. re: baltoellen

      Wondered how Max's was, too much crust or not tasty crust?

      1. re: hon

        Right amount of crust, but on the soggy side.

          1. re: hon

            While I wasn't happy with my meal, I'd like to think that given a bit of time, they'll get better. I think having an empanada place in town is a very good thing.

            1. re: baltoellen

              I agree! I'll give them some time before I try them.

          2. re: baltoellen

            Maybe theyve improved since this post, but i just had them for lunch. Crust was def not soggy. :)

          3. re: hon

            Max's was selling empanadas at the Farmers' Market in the park in front of UMMS last summer and they were crispy and tasty every time I had them.

        1. There's also a Halal cart on the NW corner of the courthouse on St. Paul at Lex. $4 for a huge gyro-lamb or dark meat chicken gyro, and a really kicky red sauce in addition to the sour cream and cucumber white sauce.

          Also there is El Torito (or is it El Guapito at this point? Name changed and I don't remember which one is current). 110 W. Mulberry. http://www.elguapitomexicanrestaurant...

          4 Replies
          1. re: crackers

            The Helmand on North Charles Street?

            1. re: HungryinBmore

              not cheap enough. the key is cheap ethnic food. it's a whole different genre.

            2. re: crackers

              hmmm, I think I'll give this Halal cart a try. Though I am a fan of the cart in the original post (really good guys running it). But there's something to be said for variety!

              1. re: bigterp1

                The halal cart by the courthouse is by the same guys running the halal cart near the arena. Same menu, same food, etc. Still good though.

            3. This one is going to sound off-topic but I believe its an overlooked gem: Cinghiale for italian. Now hear me out.

              They have a list of panini that hover around the $9 price point you mention as in your budget. I knew when I went through grad school, I needed the occasional reminder of the light at the end of the tunnel. For $9, you get a great sandwich plus all the atmosphere and service of a Foreman/Wolfe enterprise for free.

              1. Question about Mekong Delta Cafe: is this place relatively new? I don't remember hearing about it when I still lived in Baltimore, and now it seems to be on a lot of threads. Might be worth trying out when I go back to visit.

                More importantly though: $9 for pho? That's pretty darn expensive if you ask me. I'd be expecting one of the best pho I've ever eaten because it might be the most expensive. Even the more expensive pho options in Eden Center in Arlington are $8 if I recall. Can anyone chime in on the taste/quality compared to standard area favorites (Pho Nam, Pho #1, Eden Center, etc)?

                Much appreciated

                5 Replies
                  1. re: Wangus

                    the pho at mekong delta is much better. the broth is richer, and more flavorful, and the ingredients are fresher. i've had pho at all of the places mentioned. you can tell when sprouts, basil/cilantro and lime have been around for a few days. the quality of the meat they use is better as well.
                    the rolls at the delta are better as well...i know for certain that rolls at the aforementioned are pre-rolled and refrigerated. even the fried vietnamese pork rolls are par-fried and left under a heat lamp. this is not the case at the delta.
                    you may have to pay a dollar or two more for quality...and it is indeed worth it.
                    i've been to pho 75 in DC, which is a place i love. and i still think the delta reigns supreme.

                    1. re: LuLuBlaubugunder

                      Thanks for the info daveinmd & lulu.

                      Which pho 75 though, Lulu?

                      1. re: LuLuBlaubugunder

                        At Pho Nam, the summer rolls are often pre-rolled and sometimes the lettuce inside them is starting to brown. Even fresh, the rolls are not better than Mekong Delta, but you can ask them to make a fresh roll for you and especially if you live in the area, the price (less than $3) makes it worthwhile IMO.

                      2. re: Wangus

                        The broth at Pho Nam is more lovingly slow-rendered, but Mekong Delta's seemed to win in terms of the fresh ingredients - the fixings were not only more generous, but wholly of better quality.

                        $9 for a large pho isn't too much more than what I'd spend at Pho Nam. The lemongrass beef, for instance -- came in a downright Cheesecake Factory-sized portion, so expect a doggie bag.

                        Pho Nam
                        15942 Shady Grove Rd, Gaithersburg, MD 20877

                        Mekong Delta Cafe
                        105 W Saratoga St, Baltimore, MD 21201