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Boston's best for cheap

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I need help making a list of the absolute best relatively inexpensive restaurants in the area. I have a friend visiting from Idaho in March and he doesn't understand what there is to get excited about when it comes to food. He has never eaten at a non-chain restaurant (generally due to lack of availability) and his favorite place to eat is Taco Bell. While he is here I want to show him that paying even a little bit more than you would at places like Applebee's can yield exponentially better results if you are eating real food. I am also trying to demonstrate Boston's diversity relative to Idaho (although this obviously won't be difficult) so I am trying to generate a list with a wide variety of types of food.

The only major requirements are that we will pay less than $30 per person (total) and it has a menu that will push his boundaries without being inaccessible while at the same time keeping me and our friend from Portland, Oregon happy. Restaurant Week is off the table though. I live on the Somerville/Cambridge line but I am looking at places in Boston too.

I have some ideas but input would be helpful-
--Roxy's Grilled Cheese (he thinks food from a truck is automatically scuzzy)
--Toscaninis for something sweet (Burnt Caramel ftw)
--Bartley's Burger Cottage (Distinctly American food without being limited to bacon and cheddar)
--Friendly Toast (mostly I just love how much avocado they put on their huevos racheros)
--Clover (because vegetarian does not equal hippie)

--Somewhere in Chinatown for dim sum
--Something Italian (although the North End can be such a tourist trap I am thinking of just going to Capone's and cooking at home)
--Seafood (I don't eat fish so I am at a loss on this one)
--Something Middle Eastern (because everybody can get excited about meat on a stick)

Bonus points for high quality holes in the wall.

Thanks in advance!

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  1. --Something Italian: Go to La Summa - you will not be disappointed

    --Seafood: Yankee Lobster

    --Something Middle Eastern - The Red Fez (later evening though, I wouldnt like it if it was daylight out)

    Pour House of course if there's a game to catch!

    Masa also has a 3 course brunch (1 is coffee) for 7 bucks on Saturdays

    2 Replies
    1. re: meeps2002

      La Summa is great.

      For Middle Eastern, skip the Red Fez and go to Brookline for some falafel at Rami's.

      1. re: meeps2002

        food at the pour house? jiminy. no way.

      2. Hei La Moon, China Pearl or Winsor for dim sum.

        Vinny's at Night in Somerville for Italian.

        Highland Kitchen for a few seafood options and will hit the sweetspot between Portlandia and Idaho - like the buffalo-fried brussels sprouts.

        Istanbul'lu in Teele Square for Turkish

        Kebab Factory for the buffet

        Kolbeh in Cambridge for Middle Eastern.

        5 Replies
        1. re: Bob Dobalina

          I always love when the check comes at Winsor Dim Sum Cafe, and you feel completely sick to your stomach because you ate so much, and you owe maybe eleven dollars. That place is great.

          1. re: Bob Dobalina

            I'll definitely check out Istanbul'lu- I love Turkish food. Plus it is on a new discount card for immigrant-run restaurants in Somerville!

            I have never been to Highland Kitchen but I feel like their menu is in the same vein as Friendly Toast. Is that at all accurate?

            1. re: monocleandahalf

              <I have never been to Highland Kitchen but I feel like their menu is in the same vein as Friendly Toast. Is that at all accurate?>

              I don't think so. Friendly Toast is large servings of greasy or sweet food (not necessarily a bad thing). I've only been to HK for brunch and I would compare it more to Tupelo. However, both will have lines for brunch.

              1. re: monocleandahalf

                I think HK is totally different than FT.
                FT is basically diner food - nothing special.
                HK has burgers, sandwiches (like the Reuben Cuban which I really like), some standard entrees, but for me, it's all about the blackboard specials, which change weekly and never disappoint. Plus great bartending, good desserts (had the buttermilk biscuit bread pudding the other day - wow).

                1. re: monocleandahalf

                  Highland Kitchen is very different.. I'd go to HK with friends, have a drink and a tasty dinner, and enjoy the people watching.

              2. Galleria Umberto! You can't get cheaper than that, and it's totally accessible while still having some items he's probably never tried (arancini).

                1. For non-lobster seafood, something from the restaurant at Courthouse Fish, perhaps chosen from the adjacent fish market. Or a trip to Fresh Pond Seafood in Arlington (67 or 77 bus if you're not driving) for fried clams. Or lunch at Toraya (on the lunch menu, all of the entrees are under $15, at dinner they're almost all under $20, including sushi) in Arlington.

                  For lobster, Alive and Kicking (sandwich), Yankee, or James Hook (rolls). You could also do Belle Isle, if you want to head over to East Boston. These all clock in between $15 and $20, I think. Or just buy steamed lobsters at Market Basket and eat them at home ($7/lb tops).

                  1. If it's about cheap delicious food, hop the Blue line to East Boston. Rincon Limeno for fried seafood and ceviche, Angela or Tacqueria Jalisco for our best Mexican, Rinos (off hours only to avoid crowds) for Italian.

                    5 Replies
                    1. re: gourmaniac

                      Second that!

                      1. re: gourmaniac

                        Except that Idaho has great Mexican food. No one believes me but the huge agricultural and immigrant population in the state have resulted in very fine options from taco trucks (in Boise) to mom n pop cantinas (everywhere else). I think he'd dig Rincon Limeno though.

                        I take visitors to East Coast Grill for oysters, black n blue tacos and wet bones (spicy single ribs) and they always love it. I think you can do that for under $30/head.

                        Courthouse is a great call for seafood, as is Toraya for a lovely bento lunch.

                        Good luck!

                        1. re: yumyum

                          Does that mean that the Boise Applebee's has a killer good birria? :) Perhaps it will convert his Idahoan friend to try some of those great mom and pop places in his home town. On topic, also in Cambridge, Muqueca for Brazilian seafood, Machu Picchu grill for chicken (one of yumyum's) and Kebab of Kolbeh for duh...kebabs.

                          1. re: gourmaniac

                            I can't believe I forgot about Machu Picchu! Super good, super cheap, and it is within walking distance from my house.

                            1. re: monocleandahalf

                              I've had Machu Picchu, but for some reason have just enjoyed the food at Rincon Limeno in Eastie more.. since I have to drive to either one, that's probably why I end up at RL more..

                      2. Garlic N' Lemons, Middleastern, Harvard St., Allston

                        1. Alive 'n Kickin for lobster sandwiches or lobster, Courthouse Seafood, All Star Sandwich Bar, you're in Cam/Somerville, so Kebab Factory for amazing Indian lunch, Strip T's in watertown for fun, innovative but totally accessible food, Trattoria Toscana for italian or Basta Pasta in Cambridge (qualifies as a hole in the wall but makes great homemade fusilli, etc); Esperia or Garlic 'n Lemons for middle eastern/greek, Lone Star Taco and Deep Ellum for drinks/etc. in Allston, Allston Diner for breakfast

                          4 Replies
                          1. re: teezeetoo

                            I just don't understand the recommendations for Alive 'n' Kickin' - (not just here tz2, I have harbored this for a while)

                            I have had the lobster sandwich twice - iirc, it was around $12 or so - it was two pieces of white bread and literally like 6 small nuggets of lobster. Is this everyone's experience? What am I missing?

                            1. re: Bob Dobalina

                              This is my complaint so far about every lobster roll / lobster salad sandwich / etc., though. I thought theirs was a little bit on the better side of most, but not by much.

                              The Lobstah Love truck's little brioche lobster slider taster bite thingies for about $3 seem better value than most lobster rolls I've tried.

                              1. re: Bob Dobalina

                                not my experience - last time I had it (about 5 months ago) it had more lobster meat in it than any other sit-down place, it had very little filler, almost no mayo, and the usual complaint is that it's on scali toast and not on a bun. can't say why experiences re: amount of meat should differ. Maybe depends on the season and price of lobster?`

                                1. re: Bob Dobalina

                                  I am also not a fan of the Alive 'n' Kickin' wich, but family members who have had it more recently like it. I think the Courthouse Seafood lobster roll for a few more bucks is a good value and is always high quality, with minimal filling. I am not a fan of the bun toasted underneath their oven broiler, but despite this its still a good version. I have been enjoying the $10 ($11 with chips) lobster sandwiches from the Seafood Depot in Medford even though I think they switched to frozen lobster, have lettuce filler, and use restaurant depot focaccia rolls -- far from the canonical version, but a nice quick saturday snack.

                                  An inexpensive Brazilian churrascaria would be more my idea of cheap than Muqueca and there are a number around. If Muqueca is in your budget, Tango in Arlington is another option. (I have had Mexican food around Moscow Idaho and Mexican food truck food in Pullman, WA so I agree with the suggestions that Rincon Limeno with seafood would be a better variety option.)

                              2. Vietnamese. Any number of places. Xinh Xinh in Chinatown to name but one. Also grab a Banh Mi sandwich or two for lunch or a hearty snack....again, lots of choices, many good recommendations of this board.
                                A pal of mine from Idaho who used to live in Cambridge made a bee line for the Greek Corner in North Cambridge when he came back for a visit. Maybe it will resonate with your Idahoan. Good,
                                cheap Greek with MIddle Eastern aspect too.
                                And second the Kebab Factory buffet for Indian.....but many other Indian buffets are yummy and fun, too, such as Masala in Teele Sq. and Kathmandu Spice in Arlington.
                                For seafood, how about sushi? You can eat very well at Genki Ya in Fresh Pond (also Brookline, I believe) with a combo plate, around $20.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: katzzz

                                  Good call on the Vietnamese (I'd also throw Thai in as well). Maybe go to the food court at Super88/Hong Kong Market at Packard's Corner and just get a mess of Vietnamese and Chinese food to split. Then walk down the street to Deep Ellum to wash it down. And then do to S&I when you're hungry again.

                                2. second Bahn Mi (pho viet at Super 88) and second Strip T's (sigh!!).

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: SeaSide Tomato

                                    I think a nice thing is to get the twin lobster special at Great Taste plus asoup and a fried noodle or stir fry. It'll be thirty for the whole thing.

                                    Also the roast meat plates and other morsels at Hong Kong Eastery are yummy (probably the same price as Applebee's actually).

                                  2. The mostly Japanese food court in Porter Exchange (Cafe Mami for boneless fried chicken w/ curry, Sapporo Ramen for their house ramen w/ extra roast pork and gyoza). Ditto Hong kong Eatery for side order of bbq pork (requesting "fatty" usually gets you the more tender cut), spicy salt fish filet, panfried noodles w/ black pepper beef short rib). Ditto Kebab Factory. Island creek oyster bar's lobster roll is pretty ample and falls under your budget limit (not including drinks, which are not to be missed-- try their house milk punch, the 1638, or the Big Stick, for starters). If he gets tired of all this foofy food and gets homesick for a slab of beef, the prime skirt steak at Bergamot would fall under your budget.

                                    1. Silvertone--really won't push boundaries, but great food at a great price.

                                      Dino's and Artu in the North End would also fit the bill for the Italian.

                                      1. For burgers around Harvard Square I would recommend Flat Patties or Tory Row over Bartley's. I think they both have better burgers and tend to be less jammed as well.

                                        For hole in the wall type places I would recommend looking up EATTV's 30 day challenge posts as they list a bunch of gems with cuisine from all over the map. You can find the list of restaurants here: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/795306

                                        3 Replies
                                        1. re: nickls

                                          How wide is the variety of options at Tory Row? I have only been there for breakfast and it was delicious, but I remember the menu being relatively small.

                                          1. re: monocleandahalf

                                            Tory Row's menu is here: http://toryrow.us/menu.html

                                            They don't have tons of options as it is more of a casual bar-type place. One thing that did throw me a bit is that they served my draft beer in a plastic cup, which I wouldn't expect at a place like that. It also had an unusual shape which made me wonder if it actually held a pint.

                                          2. re: nickls

                                            Yes, Bartley's burgers are mediocre at best, disgusting at worst, while Flat Patties is my pick for best burger in town.

                                          3. We had a friend in town last summer with a similar eating background, and he thoroughly enjoyed R.F. O'Sullivan's burger (completely blew his mind) and Greek Corner.

                                            1. I second the food court at the Super 88 in Allston, he can get a good bhan mi there, Chinese, etc. A cruise around Allston in general will be cheap and eye opening. Azama Grill for kebabs, Camino Real for South American, Jo Jo Taipei or Shanghai Gate for Chinese, a million Korean places, a beer at Sunset. You should walk through the south end, the Deluxe is fun (but not eye opening) and cheap, Morse Seafood, Charlie's Sandwich Shoppe for a breakfast institution. Chacarero downtown for a Chilean sandwich, Regina's in the north end for pizza, El Oriental de Cuba/Alex's Chimi's/Yely's in JP for sandwiches and chicken. Audobon and Miracle of Science for good burgers in a bit nicer setting (and booze).

                                              1. Well, it's not directly in your area, but the sandwiches at Domenic's on Main St. in Waltham are really delicious and reasonably priced. There made on house-baked ciabatta. The marinated eggplant and the eggplant parm are top-notch.

                                                For Dom's fans, they are now staying open until 7:30, at least during the week. The website still says 5:30. I'm not sure how long it will last, but it sure is nice to be able to pick up some sandwiches for a quick dinner.