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Boston's best for cheap

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

                        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..