Eating out is expensive. Yes, happy hours give relief to sky-high food prices with half-priced apps, buck-a-shuck oyster specials, and child-sized portions, but we’re interested in round-the-clock cheap eats that don't involve a drive-thru. A warm samosa, a hearty taco, or an overfilled slider fits the bill (especially when it costs less than a grande Frappuccino). If it's a quick snack or a filling meal, we've hedged your best bets. Even if your wallet’s thin, it doesn’t mean you have to starve.
Point Breeze has a real gem in this handsome bar on the corner of 18th and Federal. ASB is known for their constantly-changing draught lines and their riffs on comfort classics. Their food is bold, dead simple, and delicious. Take their $2 sardine slider. With a small sardine filet on top of shredded lettuce, an egg, and a ring of onion between two thick slices of baguette, this humble sandwich lets you know you’re somewhere unpretentious. It also pairs nicely with a $3 pint of Kensinger, if you can spare a fiver.
This cash-only Fishtown Taqueria knocks out a range of street-style tacos for anywhere between $1.85 to $3 each. Fillings run the gamut from soy chorizo to carne asada to batter-fried fish. As a bonus, if you’re lucky enough to visit on one of their $1 taco days, you’re in for triple the treat.
You may not think the Swedish furniture store would be a good place to score some serious food deals, but you’d be wrong. Wander into the first floor cafe and behold: 75-cent hot dogs, $1 cinnamon rolls, $1 frozen yogurt cones, and $1.75 slices of cheese pizza. They also have dirt cheap combo deals, like two hot dogs and a soda for $2. If you’re in the mood for something that requires silverware, hop upstairs to their sit-down restaurant. They serve $1 egg, turkey sausage, and potatoes for breakfast, $2 pasta lunches, and $3 quinoa sweet potato chili with black bean dinners.
Reading Terminal is a treasure trove of affordable eats from cuisines that span the globe. Two dollars and 50 cents at the Little Thai Market will get you one Thai-style BBQ chicken skewer or two chicken spring rolls. Kamal's, a Middle Eastern joint, sells both meat and za’atar pies for less than $2.50 a pop. Miller’s pretzel stand slings a mean jalapeño cheddar dog for $2.95. If you’re in the mood for something more basic, a buttery regular pretzel from Miller’s is only $2.25. Three bucks will get you one bean and ground beef taco at 12th Street Cantina, and Sang Kee Peking Duck offers a $1.86 bourbon chicken skewer, too. Just wander around the market with five bucks in your hand and you’ll do fine.
This boutique patisserie is known for their immaculate pastries, tarts, and cakes. You may not think three bucks would go too far in such an intimidatingly gorgeous cafe. But, ha ha! You’d be wrong! They offer a selection of fancy bars, brownies, and cookies all for under $3. Go on, treat yourself.
This brunch staple is known for its Jewish and Southern specialties and for less than three bucks, you can get a taste of either cuisine. Channel your inner bubbe and indulge in a potato latke for $2.50 and a cup of matzah ball soup for $3. Or, if you just want a little love Southern-style, a buttermilk biscuit is only $2.50.
The 75-cent samosas at this Indian and South Asian market in West Philly are a cult favorite. We're sure many college tudents have had these samosas sustain them in leaner times. Load up on a few next time you have a snack attack.
Rittenhouse (& other locations)
Boasting five locations across Philly, Fed Nuts is a popular chicken and donut regional chain. The fried chicken items are nice for the occasional splurge, but the donuts are a much more affordable luxury. $1.50 gets you a plain donut, $2.00 gets you something fancy. Consult their Instagram before you go to see what’s fresh.
Washington Square West
Whether you’re looking for a power breakfast or a mid-morning nosh, Knead Bagels has you covered. Grab an everything bagel with plain cream cheese (or peanut butter and jelly if you can't do dairy). It’s only $3, and it’ll hold you down nicely.
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Anna Goldfarb is an author, writer, and advice columnist who catalogues dating behaviors on her blog, Shmitten Kitten. She enjoys eating like a queen for under three buckaroos. You can follow her: @MsAnnaGoldfarb.
1. Loco Pez2401 E Norris Ave, Philadelphia
2. IKEA South Philly2206 S Columbus Blvd, Philadelphia
3. Reading Terminal Market51 N 12th St, Philadelphia
4. Miel Patisserie204 S 17th St, Philadelphia
5. Honey’s Sit N' Eat2101 South St, Philadelphia
6. Federal Donuts1632 Sansom St, Philadelphia
7. Knead Bagels725 Walnut St, Philadelphia
8. American Sardine Bar1800 Federal St, Philadelphia
Loco's a blessedly Tex-Mex neighborhood dive set up in the former old-man Crazy Fish Saloon, keeping the fish tank but adding ornamental Pez dispensers and Julio Iglesias portraits to admire while you take down refried beans-/ crema-topped hot dogs, fish tacos, margaritas, and micheladas, plus six taps including Dos Equis, Victory Prima Pils, and Lionshead, also what occurs after the cameras stopped rolling on that YouTube video with him hugging the dudes who raised him.
I know what you're thinking... good food at IKEA? But everyone's favorite Swedish furniture emporium cooks up some seriously tasty grub on the cheap. Swedish meatballs, hot smoked salmon, quinoa chili are some of the healthy and delicious meals you can get for under $10. And best of all? Breakfast at IKEA is $1 every. damn. day. It's the perfect excuse to fuel up before what's sure to be a tiring afternoon browsing the showroom floor.
On the edge of Market East, Reading Terminal Market is a sprawling, slightly chaotic urban food paradise. There’s a lot to take in: the hiss of frying chicken, the rustle of purveyors packaging meals in small plastic bags, the constant throb of people eating, talking, and surveying the endless array of goods. And, home to one of our favorites (Beiler's Donuts) this historic farmer's market has got all the baked goods you could want, plus fresh produce, flowers, sweets, and full-on meals.
Named after the French word for honey, Miel is a sweet spot in Center City making European style pastries, pressed sandwiches and espresso drinks. The bistro inspired menu is full of rotating seasonal, yet affordable, fare-- nothing costs more than $10. Sweet indeed.
Honey’s Sit N' Eat, a premier breakfast/Southern comfort food spot on Philadelphia's South Street, serves all of your favorite morning specials, and then adds three different kinds of bacon just to make you sweat. Made mostly of locally farmed and fresh ingredients, this eatery encourages sweet, gluttonous indulgence with a conscience. Normally it's one or the other.
Federal Donuts, situated in Philadelphia's Center City West neighborhood, serves the absolute best of both worlds: donuts and fried chicken. If, for some reason, "fancy" and freshly hot donuts (made in house) doesn't excite you, Federal offers an unforgettable cup of coffee.
If there is such a thing as an avant-garde bagel, Knead Bagels is the place to find it. The non-traditional Philly bagelry is in the business of remastering a timeless classic: the bagel and cream cheese. This means lavender bagels with vanilla honey cream cheese, or fennel seed and sea salt bagels with roasted tomato cream cheese, or Capsicum bagels (Japanese chile) piled with 12-hour brisket, coffee barbecue sauce, and picked onions. And if attempting to decide whether scallion lime cream cheese would pair well with black sesame stumps you, the bakers are like gluten mixologists -- they'll know exactly what you knead (sorry).
Point Breeze's best bar-with-a-fish-in-its-name has awesome beers and comfy seafood jawns like Marinated Shrimp Tortas and Drunken Krab Chowder, made with a crustacean whose claws were even more hammered than usual.