The worst restaurant decision you can make is... well, one of these 10 things, probably... but it’s also a really bad idea to go anywhere turning out "hip" versions of food items that were once really cheap, when you just can go get said cheap items instead. At least you can if you read our guide to Detroit’s 28 best things to eat under five bucks...
What you’re getting: Deviled Eggs 4 Ways, $3.50
Checker Bar is the Mr. Allen's of bars. Checker Dogs -- made with Kowalski natural-casing dogs, chopped onion, and dill relish -- are two for $5. Sloppy Joes are two for $5. Sloppy Toms (same thing as the Joe but with turkey instead of beef) are two for $5. But our money is with the deviled eggs "4 Ways" (traditional, jalapeño, BLT, and lobster) for $3.50, because we are all aboard the gourmet deviled egg train.
What you’re getting: Fried meatballs, $2
The somewhat revamped Corktown Tavern now has a food menu, and everything on it is $2. That includes chicken wings, fried meatballs, tots, and a simple old-school bar burger. TWO DOLLARS.
What you’re getting: Chicken shawarma, $4.99
All hail the almighty Bucharest shawarma, which is pretty much the most famous sandwich in Detroit (yeah, probably even more famous than the Yardbird at Slows!), and which is an even mightier $4.99.
What you’re getting: Egg sandwich, $4.80
Everyone knows Astro as one of the hippest/hipsteriest coffee shops in Detroit, not to mention the first place in the city to get a proper pour-over. Yes, Astro is all about the coffee, but... THAT EGG SANDWICH THO. With soft-scrambled eggs with fresh herbs and an extra-garlicky aioli on a Zingerman's rustic Italian roll, it's one of the most talked-about breakfast items in the city, and while $4.80 is a bit steep by breakfast sandwich standards, it's still a great value for what you're getting. (Besides, you don't go to Astro to penny-pinch.)
What you’re getting: Corned beef egg roll, $3.01
Asian Corned Beef is home of the corned beef egg roll, which should come as no surprise given the name. The best part is, those egg rolls are all $3.01 and under, and also include flavors like steak & Swiss, and ground beef & cabbage.
What you’re getting: American Special, $3.85
Perhaps you've heard of this place? Coneys here are $2.50 (though we slightly prefer the same exact thing at Lafayette).
What you’re getting: Samosas, $1
Aladdin Sweets in Hamtramck specializes in authentic Bangladeshi cuisine, and Bangladesh is apparently a very affordable country because the food here is practically free. Nothing on the appetizer menu is more than $3.50 and that includes a kabob, tandoori chicken wings, four-piece braised shrimp in coconut cream, and an "Aladdin Special Burger." But for $1 apiece, we're all about the samosas.
What you’re getting: Mystery Meat slider, $3
Every single menu item is either $2 or $3. The famous Mystery Meat slider -- ranging from the weird (recently, braised llama) to the not-really-weird-but-not-on-the-regular-menu (more recently, brisket) -- is only $3. Drinks are also $2-$3 so, the end.
What you’re getting: Old World Sandwich, $3.50
The Eastern Market Seafood Company sells these things called "Old World Sandwiches." What, you ask, is an Old World Sandwich? It is a combination of three smoked and fresh sausages (you pick from choices like beef kielbasa, Cajun andouille, bratwurst, and country sausage) on pita pocket bread with cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, and onions. And it's $3.50.
What you’re getting: 6+1 Italian sub, $5
Gonella's is "Detroit's original Italian deli," and with over 75 years under its belt, who are we to argue? Get an Italian sub on a soft or hard roll with six layers of meat and one layer of cheese for $5, with its famous homemade dressing, of course (included!).
What you’re getting: Breakfast sandwich, $3.95
Honest John's has the world's most magical hangover cure and it is its breakfast sandwich, made with egg, pork sausage, and American cheese on a giant English muffin for only $3.95.
What you’re getting: The Famous Pocket Sandwich, $4.25
The "Famous Pocket Sandwich" is indeed famous: a vegetarian soy patty topped with baby spinach leaves, Romaine, tomatoes, cucumbers, alfalfa sprouts, and Goodwells' super-secret sauce packed in a whole wheat pita pocket for $4.25. Add cheese or avocado and it's $4.50, or cheese AND avocado for a grand total of $4.95.
What you’re getting: Lafayette Special, $3.75
In the Great Coney Wars between American and Lafayette, American wins in per-coney pricing by 10 cents -- Lafayette's coneys are $2.60. GASP! Yet Lafayette makes it up with its "Lafayette Special," which is $3.75 -- an exact 10 cents cheaper than American's Special.
What you’re getting: One stuffed cabbage half dinner, $4.95
There are lots of Polish restaurants in Hamtramck, but none as cheap as Krakus, where you can get a half dinner of stuffed cabbage for $4.95.
What you’re getting: Pupusas, $2.25
Not only is "pupusa" a super-fun word to say, Detroit's recently kinda famous Pupuseria is also super cheap. Most pupusas are $2.25 each, with fancy fish pupusas $2.60-$2.80, but we like to stick with the classic pork, beans, and cheese.
What you’re getting: Double cheeseburger slider, $2.95
One of Detroit's most famous slider joints, Motz's serves sliders starting at $1.60, though we recommend opting for a double cheeseburger for a whole $2.95.
What you’re getting: Chicken Livers and Polenta, $3
Detroit's most famous happy hour is not quite as cheap as it once was back in those golden days of 2009 -- the Roast Burger will now cost you SIX DOLLARS instead of $5 (*sobs*). But Chicken Livers and Polenta are still only $3!
What you’re getting: Specialty slice, $3.25
Supino is one of the best pizzerias in Detroit (and one of the best in the country!), and while a whole pie is definitely the best way to go, it isn’t the cheapest. Pepperoni slices are $2.75 and Specialty slices (which you should definitely try because it's always something interesting, not unlike Green Dot's mystery meats) are $3.25.
What you’re getting: Lamb Shish Kabob Sandwich, $4.99
Oh Hamtramck, YOU. Keeping prices low and bellies full like it hadn't got the memo about the new Detroit cool! Here at Royal Kabob, shish kabob (lamb or beef), shish kafta (lamb), and Chicken Kabob Sandwiches are only $4.99.
What you’re getting: Chorizo torta, $5
We could easily populate this whole list with the taquerias of Southwest Detroit. In an effort not to be incredibly redundant or use "I do not think it means what you think it means" words like "authentic" (sigh), we'll just focus on a select standout from a select few places. At Taqueria El Ray, get the chorizo torta, a Mexican sub with lettuce, tomatoes, onions, avocado, and dressing, for only $5.
What you’re getting: Four-pack carry-out sliders, $3
Another thing you can count on for being consistently cheap besides tacos are sliders, and the sliders at Telway are probably Detroit's most famous. Even though the price of a four-pack of carry-out sliders has gone up, it's still only $3. That's 75 cents per slider. That's still stupid cheap.
What you’re getting: Shrimp Po' Boy, $4.99
WaLa's Shrimp Po' Boy is a new Detroit classic sandwich, and you can get the six-inch version for just $4.99. Yes, please. Yes. Right now, yes.
What you’re getting: Tamales, 85 cents
Evie's has lunch specials that include two tacos, burritos, enchiladas, or tostados with Spanish rice and beans for $4.25, but when you go to a place that has "tamales" in the name, you should probably go ahead and get some tamales -- 85 cents each or $4.50 for a half dozen.
What you’re getting: Coney dogs, $1.50
Bourdain wasn't the first person to discover the $1.50 coney dogs at Duly's, but he did give them national recognition and stole some thunder away from American and Lafayette. The prices at this place are as frozen in time as the place itself, AND it's open 24 hours, which is a hard thing to come by in Detroit. Because, hey, sometimes it's 4am and you need to eat $10 worth of $1.50 coneys.
What you’re getting: Roasted pork bao bun, $3.50
It's Saturday night (really Sunday morning), Bumbo's just ran out of PBR, and if you don’t eat something, tomorrow is going to suuuuuuck. What do you do? You go to Campau Tower and get one of each of the brisket, roasted pork, and fried chicken bao buns at a measly $3.50 a pop.
What you’re getting: Super Burro, $4.85
At Taqueria Mi Pueblo, the biggest bang for your buck is the 12in California-style "Super Burro" with meat, rice, beans, tomatoes, onion, cilantro, and hot sauce, only $4.85 during lunch, Monday through Friday.
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1. Checker Bar124 Cadillac Sq, Detroit
2. Corktown Tavern1716 Michigan Ave, Detroit
3. Astro Coffee2124 Michigan Ave, Detroit
4. American Coney Island114 W Lafayette Blvd, Detroit
5. Aladdin Sweets & Cafe11945 Conant St, Hamtramck
6. Green Dot Stables2200 W Lafayette, Detroit
7. Eastern Market Seafood Co2456 Market St, Detroit
8. Gonella's295 S Oakwood Blvd, Detroit
9. Honest John's Bar & Grill488 Selden St, Detroit
10. Goodwell's Natural Foods Market418 W Willis St, Detroit
11. Lafayette Coney Island118 W Lafayette Blvd, Detroit
12. Krakus Restaurant12900 Joseph Campau St, Detroit
13. Pupusería y Restaurante Salvadoreño3149 Livernois Ave, Detroit
14. Motz's Burgers7208 W Fort St, Detroit
15. Roast1128 Washington Blvd, Detroit
16. Supino Pizzeria2457 Russell St, Detroit
17. Royal Kabob3236 Caniff St, Hamtramck
18. Taqueria El Rey4730 Vernor Hwy, Detroit
19. Taqueria Lupita's3443 Bagley St, Detroit
20. Tony V's Tavern5756 Cass Ave, Detroit
21. Telway Hamburger System6820 Michigan Ave, Detroit
22. WaLa1010 Washington Blvd, Detroit
23. Evie's Tamales3454 Bagley St, Detroit
24. Duly's Place5458 W Vernor Hwy, Detroit
25. Campau Tower10337 Joseph Campau Ave, Detriot
26. Taqueria Mi Pueblo7278 Dix St, Detroit
Checker Bar is the Mr. Allen's of bars. The dogs are made with Kowalski natural casing, dill relish and chopped onions, and are two for $5, as are Sloppy Joes. But we really love the deviled eggs "four ways" (traditional, jalapeno, BLT, and lobster) for $3.50, because, well, gourmet deviled eggs. Period.
When Corktown Tavern got its revamp, it also got a good menu, and everything on it is $2. Chicken wings, fried meatballs, tots and a simple burger are each TWO DOLLARS.
Astro Coffee is a small and cozy cafe best known as the first place in Detroit to get a proper pour-over, but it is also known as the place with the kick-ass egg sandwich, which comes with soft-scrambled eggs, fresh herbs, and an extra-garlicky aioli on a Zingerman's rustic Italian roll. Flat whites are also exceptional here.
Located besides archrival Lafayette Coney Island, American Coney Island has been serving paper platefuls of the crispy fries-and-chili covered hot dog meal since 1917. The spot continues to be family-owned and -operated, and the only way you can get your hands on their secret Detroit chili sauce is by ordering your own dog, or a Coney Kit, which comes complete with 12 Dearborn Sausage brand special recipe hot dogs, buns, a sweet onion, American's famous family-owned Detroit chili sauce, instructions, and a hat.
This spot in Hamtramck specializes in Bangladeshi cuisine and is one of the most affordable meals you will ever have. Nothing on the appetizer menu is even above $3.50, and that includes a kabob, tandoori chicken wings,and 4-piece braised shrimp in coconut cream.
With the simple pairing of cheap fancy sliders, and cheap craft beer, Green Dot got national press from pretty much the start and quickly catapulted to the top of Detroit's must-eat restaurants. Having taken over the old joint of the same name, the American restaurant enhanced most of the former venue's stable- and track-related decor, but fortunately revamped a delicious poutine- and booze-containing menu that's served until 5am.
There are these sandwiches at Eastern Market -- the largest historic market in the country -- called "Old World Sandwiches," and they are a combination of three smoked and fresh sausages (you pick from their selection) on pita pocket bread with cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, and onions and it's $3.50 and you should probably go get one right now.
Gonella's is a Detroit mainstay, with over 75 years of experience slinging Italian subs, served on a soft or hard roll with six layers of meat and one layer of cheese, all for $5.
Honest John's is open 7am-2am every day (save 9am-2am on Sunday's) to serve you delicious omelets, burgers, and Hoovers -- a combination of cranberry, orange, pineapple juice, and vodka.
This healthy spot is best know for its "Famous Pocket Sandwich," and it lives up to its rep: a vegetarian soy patty topped with baby spinach leaves, Romaine, tomatoes, cucumbers, alfalfa sprouts, and Goodwells' super-secret sauce all stuffed into a whole wheat pita pocket for $4.25.
While no one knows for sure where the Detroit coney dog originated, what's clear is that Lafayette is one of two establishments serving the premier version. Grab your own plate with a side of chili cheese fries, and ignore the sassy cooks and the dinginess of the space. You're here for the coney.
There are plenty of Polish restaurants in Hamtramck, but none are as affordable as Krakus, where a half dinner of stuffed cabbage is $4.95.
Pupusería y Restaurante Salvadoreño in Southwest is a one-stop-shop for your Salvadoran cuisine cravings. Here, you’ll nibble on pupusas, thick cornmeal tortillas filled with refried beans, chicken, pork, veggies, and cheese. With the consistency of a Greek pita, pupusas at this casual restaurant are served with a portion of curtido, a cabbage salad peppered with jalapeno and delivered to your table, which is decked out in a blue and white checkered plastic tablecloth.
Motz’s is an American short-order joint that can only be described as a burger-slinging shack in the middle of nowhere. Motz’s is the home of the original Detroit slider, and almost exclusively serves sliders, specialty burgers (beef, salmon, veggie, and grilled chicken), and sides like chili cheese fries, onion rings, and jalapeño poppers. It keeps its impressively long, greasy history alive with fresh patties cooked to order on a griddle just behind the stainless steel diner counter. Sitting upon our retro, chrome diner thrones we sunk our teeth into the double cheeseburger slider cooked medium for optimal tenderness making every mouth-filling bite alive with the combinations of salty beef, gooey cheddar, and soft, sweet onions along with the crunch of fresh fixings. Pro tip: Motz's is cash only, so hit the ATM first.
Headed by Iron Chef Michael Symon, Roast is a massive, highly decorated, 200-seat steakhouse. Its bar/lounge is also known for dishing out some of Detroit's best cocktails, each made with fresh ingredients. Located within the Westin Book Cadillac Detroit, the bar’s Renaissance-style ambiance will make your night out feel classy as can be.
Supino bustling Pizzeria, located in Eastern Market, serves thin crust New York style pizza pies. This spot makes Detroit's most famous not-Buddy's pizzas, and while some people might come to blows championing the Bismarck as their Supino pie of choice, our money is on the Smoky, with smoked prosciutto, smoked Gouda, and the roasted garlic.
Although located outside of Detroit in Hamtramck, Royal Kebab's shish kabob (lamb or beef), shish kafta (lamb), and chicken kabob sandwiches are only $4.99, making them worth the trip.
Family-owned Mexican restaurant Taqueria El Rey prides itself on dishing out the best grilled chicken in Detroit. While this is a tall order, El Rey certainly holds its own in the poultry market with its menu of tacos, burritos, and quesadillas, all stuffed with chicken that’s freshly cooked on an outdoor grill. You can also select from shrimp, ribs, and ceviche menu options. Have a seat in a red pleather booth and stay awhile; you’ll be surrounded by locals who are all in on El Rey’s masterful grilled chicken secret.
Get your taco fix with this reputed "House of the Original Mexican Taco". Pony up and throw down your cash (only) for a quick in-and-out (pro tip: ask for extra spices), or sit back and get ready to gorge on their various sauces with the expectedly warm chips.
Tony V's Tavern, located in the old Alvin's space, is a college-bar-meets-grown-up-bar -- an attractive space with contemporary appeal that serves high-quality food, including thin-crust brick-oven pizzas, giant salads, burgers, and panini. There's also live music, DJs, karaoke, and trivia to keep the college bar crowd strong late into the night.
The Telway Hamburger System is open 24 hours, serving you sliders, fries, and coneys for ridiculously cheap prices. This counter serve takeout joint is the type of place that sells burgers by the bag from it's unapologetic, squat home in the middle of a parking lot. Nothing about Telway is about fine presentation, especially its uniquely thin patties that pack a fat flavor wallop, but they still make one hell of an impression. While you're there, keep your motor running with some of their famously delicious and equally cheap coffee.
At WaLa's you'll find urban street food for cheap, like an incredible pesto grilled cheese or their famous shrimp po'boy in a six-inch version for only $4.99. Yes, please. Yes. Right now, yes.
Although you can find really good chilaquiles and huevos rancheros at this unassuming Mexican eatery, their claim to fame are the 99 cent breakfast burritos. Load one or 15 up with chorizo, ham, potatoes, and anything else you like. Other cheap eats include half a dozen tamales -- for under $5!
There are many places in Detroit to get a Coney Dog, like Lafayette and American but Duly's, found off of Vernor Highway in Mexicantown, deserves a place on the list of Detroit coney greatness. It has the advantage of not only being just as good as the rest, but it's also the cheapest.
Brought to you by the people behind Rock City Eatery, Campau Tower is an old-school diner reborn into decidedly more masculine and gritty digs. Burgers rule this menu at this dive; go HAM on Juicy Lucys, the best coney chili in Detroit, onion rings, tots, and, of course, their own take on the Detroit Dog.
Mexican beer -- or tequila, as this taqueria's bar is well stocked -- will square off perfectly with botana (chips with chorizo, fried beans, melted cheese, and basically a garden of toppings) and any three tacos for a cheap and filling dinner.