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Magazine | Savvy Spender Issue

20 top spots for cheap eats

Delicious finds from Indian street food to homemade pasta, Greek takeout to good old-fashioned hot dogs.

1. Bob’s Italian Foods

The deluxe imported Italian sub at Bob’s is a thing of cured-meat beauty: prosciutto di Parma, soppressata, capicola, mortadella, provolone, and whatever veggies you choose, all piled on a giant seeded roll. The jumbo size is $10 but easily feeds two. Grab some sparkling water and Italian cookies and you’ve got a perfect summer picnic. 324 Main Street, Medford, 781-395-0400, bobsfood.com

2. The Chicken & Rice Guys

The folks behind the popular food truck put down roots in a Medford Square storefront (and in Boston) to serve their grilled halal chicken on turmeric-seasoned rice with pita. The small menu includes lamb gyro and baked tofu, as well as baklava and homemade iced tea. At $5 or $7 for dinner, you can’t make it yourself for less. 64 Salem Street, Medford, 781-219-4260; 85 Bedford Street, Boston, 617-903-8538, cnrguys.com

3. Ed’s Weenies

These days, even hot dogs come with artisanal buns and highfalutin condiments. But for a throwback to the good old days, trek to the parking lot at Gary’s Farm Stand in Littleton, the humble home of Ed’s Weenies. Line up at the pushcart for two husky grilled or steamed dogs with Wachusett chips and soda for $6.50, or spend $7 for one dog, sides of potato salad and baked beans, and a drink. 600 Great Road, Littleton, edsweenies.com

4. Effie’s Kitchen

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This three-table takeout spot turns out the food of Efthymia “Effie” Anastasiadis’s native Thessaloniki, Greece. She ladles memorable lemony avgolemono soup and stuffs pita with pork or chicken souvlaki for $7.50. Dishes rotate, but keep a lookout for pastitsio, a kind of Greek lasagna with a rich cheese sauce. 37 Poplar Street, Roslindale, 617-942-2247

5. Kouzina Estiatorio

Dedham, MA 011411 Taramosalata spread from Kouzina Estiatorio in Dedham, Friday, January 14 2011. (Globe Staff Photo/Wendy Maeda) section: Food slug: 19cheap reporter: Sheryl Julian Library Tag 01192011
Wendy Maeda/Globe Staff/File
Taramosalata spread from Kouzina Estiatorio in Dedham.
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Everything at this Greek cafe tastes more complex than it should for the price: keftedes, chubby beef patties with onions, garlic, oregano and lemon, are charred and juicy; taramosalata, the famous carp’s roe spread, is creamy and lightly smoky. The food is traditional and home-style. That means yiayia’s cooking, even if you don’t have one. 557 High Street, Dedham, 781-467-0090

6. Machu Chicken

You can get cheap rotisserie chickens at any grocery store, but why do that when you have Machu? A whole charcoal-roasted chicken is $22, but $7 gets diners a heap of it as a sandwich on a fresh-baked roll with french fries and two habit-forming dipping sauces. The charcoal imparts a flavor supermarket owners dream of. 25 Union Square, Somerville, 617-623-7972,machuchickenboston.com

7. Mint Indian Eatery

Mint is a humble spot in Somerville’s Powder House Square that serves $5.99 kati roll-ups, a popular Indian street food. Choose from a filling like lamb curry or cheese that is robed in chili sauce, wrapped in chewy paratha flatbread, and dotted with onions and chutney. A $2.49 mango lassi makes a perfect dessert. 868 Broadway, Somerville, 617-764-2515, minteatery.com

8. Mi Pueblito

No fussy eggs Benedict or elaborate hipster hash at these Central American joints. Instead, go elbow-to-elbow with regulars enjoying monster portions of huevos rancheros with plantains and pork rinds or missile-sized breakfast burritos with eggs, beans, cheese and meat, all for under $10. At lunch, $2 marinated pork or beef tongue tacos  attract crowds. 333 Border Street, East Boston, 617-569-3787, mipueblitorestaurantboston.com; 964 Saratoga Street, East Boston, 617-567-8899, mipueblitoorientheight.com

9. Nappi’s

10/9/07 Medford, MA -- Spaghetti and meatballs at Nappi Meats and Groceries in Medford, MA October 9, 2007. Erik Jacobs for the Boston Globe Library Tag 05112008 Globe West
ERIK JACOBS for The Boston Globe/File
Spaghetti and meatballs at Nappi’s in Medford.
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Medford’s word-of-mouth treasure doesn’t have a menu — you choose from a roster of ingredients to create your ideal meal. Pair homemade pastas with a choice of toppings, from homemade meatballs to calamari to broccoli rabe, then pick your sauce (Bolognese? puttanesca?) and sit back. North End natives Joe and Anna Nappi treat everyone like regulars, without charging Boston prices (bring cash, though). 370 Salem Street, Medford, 781-391-7900, nappirestaurant.com

10. Pepe Bocca

There’s a pleasant surprise in the back of this buzzing Davis Square Italian market: a cozy cafe with pizza, short-rib-stuffed arancini, and sandwiches on house-baked ciabatta. The friendly folks behind the counter will tell you what’s good that day, and chances are they’ll offer a free forkful to sample. Planning a dinner party? Grab slabs of eggplant Parm or lasagna $9.99 per pound, plus a loaf or two by owner Giovanni Maione, a third-generation baker. 414 Highland Avenue, Somerville, 617-776-6687, pepebocca.com

11. Restaurante Cesaria

At one of the few spots catering to Boston’s significant Cape Verdean population, an unassuming exterior hides a big dining room where a live band plays weekend nights. The $9 grilled octopus salad appetizer is half the price (and twice the size) of similar dishes elsewhere. Pair it with an entree like steak tips Mocambique (a massive mixed grill with shrimp, mussels, two eggs, rice, and potatoes for $15), and two can dine with leftovers for under $25. 266 Bowdoin Street, Dorchester, 617-282-1998, restaurantcesaria.com

12. Restaurante Sabor Especial

This cash-only Salvadoran restaurant, tucked under the Tobin Bridge, works wonders with made-to-order pupusas , thick corn tortillas stuffed with your choice of cheese, meat, or beans for under $3. The $6 sopa gallina — a slightly spicy chicken soup with lemon and cilantro — is available only on already busy weekends, so get it to go. Most staff members speak only Spanish, but non-Spanish-speakers will have little trouble ordering — friendly hospitality is an international language. 83 Williams Street, Chelsea, 617-884-8900

13. Saloniki Greek

March 22, 2016 - Saloniki A village salad at Saloniki. 27QuickBitepic, arts, first (Katherine Taylor for The Boston Globe)
Katherine Taylor for The Boston Globe
A village salad at Saloniki.

Jody Adams is known for swanky spots like Trade and the recently closed Rialto. Now budgeteers can enjoy her food for a fraction of the price at Saloniki, a bustling Greek sandwich shop in the shadow of Fenway Park. Feast on fresh-pressed pitas with honey-garlic pork or pomegranate-glazed eggplant topped with spicy whipped feta or spicy pickled slaw, each for about $9. Wash it back with a frothy $3.50 frappe iced coffee — an affordable pregame attraction. 4 Kilmarnock Street, Boston, 617-266-0001, salonikigreek.com

14. Santa Banta

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Fictional characters well known in India lend their names to this addition to Waltham’s restaurant row. The kitchen turns out northern Indian food and excellent nan. Use some to dip into a plate of chicken tikka masala: tandoori-grilled poultry in a creamy charred-tomato sauce with a little kick. At $12.95, the 40-plus item lunch buffet is a real bargain. 458 Moody Street, Waltham, 781-893-9988, santabantawaltham.com

15. Seta’s Cafe

Specialties at this homey nook in Belmont include fresh Mediterranean salads, sandwiches, and meze. It’s also an affordable discovery at Saturday brunch, with $8 bowls of poached eggs, tomatoes, bright chickpeas, and fava beans. Lemon ricotta pancakes with a fruit compote are just a few dollars; addictive butter cookies and biscotti are even less. The flavors here are rich, but you don’t need to be. 271 Belmont Street, Belmont, 617-622-5913, setascafe.com

16. Shanghai Fresh

**Bonus dishes supplied by kitchen --jr ** Beef Cubes with Mushrooms and Asparagus in Chef's special Sauce at Shanghai Fresh in Central Square, Cambridge. Josh Reynolds for The Boston Globe (Lifestyles, smartc)
Josh Reynolds for The Boston Globe
Beef with mushrooms at Shanghai Fresh in Central Square.

Authentic Shanghai specialties rule the menu at this bustling, cheery Central Square space — and at these prices, you can experiment. Cold platters like pork kidney in garlic sauce or wild veggies with bean curd are under $10. Spongy steamed pork buns, a meal on their own, are $6.25. Stop in at lunch, too, when 18 combos in the $8 range come with soup, an appetizer, and hearty portions of kung pao shrimp or braised pork chops. 735 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, 617-868-8877, theshanghaifresh.com

17. SRV

Boston, MA -05/26/16---Dining Out on SRV in the South End. DISH ricotta gnudi . (globe staff photo: Joanne Rathe Boston Globe section: food topic:01diningpic)
JOANNE RATHE/Globe staff/file
Ricotta gnudi with morels, peas, and chili at SRV in the South End.

This twinkly Italian wine bar in the South End has a heavy-hitting pedigree — the chefs worked at Mario Batali’s acclaimed Del Posto — with prices to match. But there are steals to be had if you order carefully from the menu. Sit outside and enjoy small bites like quail eggs or beef tendon for roughly $4, or opt for larger plates like squid ink risotto and pork shoulder for under $20. It’s refreshing to find food of this quality at such bargain prices. 569 Columbus Avenue, Boston, 617-536-9500, srvboston.com

18. Taqueria el Amigo

Waltham, MA 082714 Carne asada taco. This is for a roundup of restaurants that are good to take your kids to. In Waltham, please shoot Taqueria El Amigo -- the tiny space, the interior, the exterior, shots of any kids eating there, and some great shots of food: the tacos especiales, with 1 each of the al pastor, cabeza, carnitas, and carne asada tacos. (Essdras M Suarez/ Globe Staff)/ G
Globe File Photo
Carne asada taco at Taqueria el Amigo in Waltham.

Don’t let the somewhat tired exterior deter you: This place serves some of the area’s best soft tacos for just $2.10, the kind where juices dribble down your arm. Cheek meat and tongue are the signatures, but pork and chili is another favorite. Smart customers go for the four-taco combo with your choice of meat for a discounted $7.49. 196 Willow Street, Waltham, 781-642-7410

19. Watertown Diner

The chalkboard menu might be staggeringly long here, but the waits aren’t. Cheery servers will usher you to a table, dole out recommendations (everyone loves the chicken kebab salads), and refill your coffee without prompting so you can focus on what’s really important: narrowing your choices. Enormous omelets with home fries, hulking subs, spaceship-sized pancakes, and several varieties of eggs Benedict lead most guests to request a take-home tray. 212 North Beacon Street, Watertown, 617-926-4975

20. Winsor Dim Sum Cafe

You’ll likely wait in a (very) long line here for a table and then pick dim sum items off a menu, rather than from a rolling cart. The bonus? Each shrimp dumpling and pork bun arrives fresh, instead of languishing on a journey around a room. Two can dine easily for under $25. Or order a rice plate to go for  a huge portion of rice plus protein (beef brisket, spare ribs) for under $10. 10 Tyler Street, Boston, 617-338-1688.

Contributors: Kara Baskin, Sheryl Julian, Catherine Smart, and Drew Starr

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