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Portland Phoenix | The 2018 Cheap Eats Guide

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2018 is already more than halfway in the books, and it’s been yet another year of explosive growth for the Portland dining scene. While there’s no shortage of splurge-worthy area meals to sink one’s teeth into, the hunt for cheap eats is as challenging as ever.

Nevertheless, there are a handful of ways to eat relatively well around Portland without breaking the bank or meandering aimlessly around the grocery store. As much as we’d love to portray otherwise, foie gras, caviar and wine pairings do not an everyday option make for the majority of us. Here’s what we’re seeking out when money’s tight.

 

1.

Location: Black Cow  

Menu item: The Cheeseburger

 

For a quick, reasonably priced and rib-sticking bite in the Old Port, Black Cow’s flagship cheeseburger offering measures up. Clocking in at $7, it’s the perfect tool for satisfying that fast food itch without stepping under the glow of those guilt-inducing golden arches. | $7 | Black Cow, 83 Exchange St, Portland

 

2.

Location: Big Sky Bread. Co (Markethouse) 

Menu item: Half Viva Italiano 

 

Craving an Italian? Walk past Amato’s and head over to the markethouse for one of the best deals in town. Big Sky Bakery’s “Viva Italiano” is mammoth in size and features higher quality ingredients than its commercial analog. A half-size portion for around $4 with tax is plenty big enough for lunch. | $4 | Big Sky Bread, 28 Monument Way, Portland

 

3.

Location: Duckfat Frites Shack 

Menu item: Belgian Frites

 

$8 french fries may not sound like much of a deal, but a cone of frites with a side or two of aioli at Duckfat’s new satellite location on Washington Ave. is a solid meal in itself. Plus, we haven’t found a better way to soak up a few beers at Oxbow Blending and Bottling (located right next door). | $8 | Duckfat Frites Shack, 43 Washington Ave, Portland

 

4.

Location: Sichuan Kitchen 

Menu item: $10 Lunch Specials

 

Sichuan Kitchen is as authentic a Chinese restaurant as we have in Portland, and moving through their relatively large list of $10 lunch specials is an excellent way to try a good chunk of the menu over time. Our top pick? Dry-fried chicken with tantalizing, savory zhong dumplings and a side of rice. | $10 | Sichuan Kitchen, 612 Congress St, Portland

 

5.

Location: Rose Foods 

Menu item: The “Good Deal”

 

Looking for that lox and bagel fix, but desperately trying to stick to your budget? Delicious middle ground exists at Rose Foods in the form of a sandwich called the “Good Deal.” Lox cream cheese, cucumbers, tomato and dill on your bagel of choice will make you feel like you’ve stepped into a NYC appetizing shop — we think the experience is worth the $7 price-tag. | $7 | Rose Foods, 428 Forest Ave, Portland

 

6.

Location: Hakka Me

Menu item: Nou Mi Fan

 

Mobile Cantonese is something worth celebrating regardless, so it’s just icing on the cake that the Hakka Me food truck offers one of the most reasonable and tasty snacks in Portland. Nou mi fan — sticky rice with pork, mushrooms and baby shrimp — travels well enough to be your next staple lunch at the office, and at $4, it’s a veritable steal given the portion size. | $4 | Hakka Me, various locations

 

7.

Location: Mainely Wraps 

Menu item: $0.99 Breakfast Sandwiches (for the rest of the summer)

 

Surely in an attempt to increase foot traffic at their relatively new Congress Street location, Mainely Wraps is offering breakfast sandwiches for only $0.99 until summer comes to a close. It’s your standard sausage, egg and cheese fare, but as far as cheap fuel goes, it’s the ultimate example of a bang-for-buck breakfast hack. | $1 | Mainely Wraps, 431 Congress St, Portland

 

8.

Location: Binga’s Stadium

Menu item: Brisket Poutine

 

Binga’s Stadium quietly hosts the best happy hour in town for beer lovers, with $3 drafts of every beer on tap Tuesday through Friday from 4 to 6. For only $5 during the two-hour window, a bowl of brisket poutine with Pineland Farms cheese curds is impossible to pass up. Just don’t expect to get anything done after settling up your bill — unless you consider napping to be a productive usage of time. | $5 | Binga's Stadium, 77 Free St, Portland

 

9.

Location: Le Variety 

Menu item: Banh Mi

 

Those still mourning the loss of Kim’s Gift Shop owe it to themselves to venture into South Portland for what is currently hands-down the best banh mi in the area. Le Variety in Redbank — literally a variety store — is as unassuming a storefront as is imaginable, but the pork, chicken, tofu and BBQ beef banh mi are pure fire and generous in portion. They won’t set you back more than $4 and change, either. | $4+ | Le Variety, 586 Westbrook St, South Portland

 

10.

Location: Taco Trio

Menu item: The Mexican Sandwich

 

The folks at Taco Trio make unbelievably good (and authentic) Mexican food staples like burritos and quesadillas, but their sandwich game is strong too. They’re currently the only joint around offering the Mexican Torta, a traditional sandwich of fried chicken, refried beans, onions, tomato and avocado stuffed inside a crusty roll. We love our beans on bread now. It works. And at just $5 with free chips and salsa, the deal is hard to beat. | $5 | Taco Trio, 119 Ocean Street, South Portland

 

 

11.

Location: Arcadia National Bar

Menu item: The Musubu

 

Musubi, a popular snack and lunch food in Hawaii, is very hard to find in Portland. The newly revamped Arcadia National Bar sells an affordable version of this unique food item though, and we can’t get enough of them. A simple slice of grilled Spam (trust us) stacked on top of a block of white rice and wrapped in nori, is surprisingly delicious, and literally the only way we can be brought to eat Spam again. You’ll try it first as a novelty, but you’ll order it again once the weird craving for it kicks in. And if you’re squeamish, or vegetarian, there’s a tofu version that’s yummy too. | $5 | Arcadia National Bar, 24 Preble St., Portland

 

 

12.

Location: Slab Sicilian Street Food

Menu item: The Hand Slab

 

There’s no shortage of places in Portland serving up good ol’ pizz' by the slice, but Stephen Lanzalotta's legendary hand slab is still a singular experience. Their signature Sicilian hand slab is a massive, one-pound pillow of tangy sauce, savory cheese and soft, pillowy dough. Worth it already at $6.50, the deal gets better on Monday’s, when you can buy one and get one free. It’s a carb-overload, sure, but it makes for a deliciously hearty lunch (even if you might need a nap afterward). | $6.50 | Slab, 25 Preble St, Portland

 

 

13.

Location: Punky's

Menu item: Comfort Casserole

 

Lunch at Punky’s can be an exercise in restraint. You can buy a generous portion of their rotating hot lunch specials, which include sloppy guilty pleasures like bacon mac-n-cheese, Mexican casserole, chicken and broccoli alfredo, chicken pot pie, and chop suey. It’s so good, but so hearty, it’s hard to get past the first few bites. Given the heaps of pasta, meat and cheese the Punky’s folks stuff in their plastic containers, it can be a challenge to finish it all. But we believe in you. | $5 | Punky’s, 186 Brighton Ave., Portland

 

 

14.

Location: El Rayo

Menu item: Breakfast Burrito

 

Packed with eggs, pico de gallo, spicy sausage, avocado, and shoestring potatoes, the breakfast burritos are a powerful way to start the day. Gotta get that protein, amirite! They sell for $6 bucks each, or $7 when paired with a Carrabassett coffee. But here’s how to get them even cheaper. Time your visit to right after 11 am when breakfast "ends" and burritos left over in the grab-n-go warmer get discounted to just $2.50. Drizzle some of El Rayo’s special hot sauce on these bad babies and pat yourself on the back for scoring the cheapest brunch in the city. | $2.50 | El Rayo, 26 Free St., Portland

 

 

15.

Location: Bubble Maineia

Menu item: Noodles and Buns

 

Is anyone else addicted to Bubble Maineia these days? We are. Not only is lunch there affordable, the variety of options is exciting. Every day they offer a new special for $10 — a unique combination of Chinese/Taiwanese dumpling appetizers, noodle mains, bubble tea, and fruit pudding. Our favorites include the chicken curry over rice and the minced pork noodle soup. But even if you don’t want to commit to the full lunch tray, this place is worth a visit for their steamed pork and veggie buns alone. At just $1.85 each, these little delights are mini-meals in themselves. (If you’re catching a movie next door at the Nick, they also make amazing snacks to smuggle in.) | $2-10 | Bubble Maineia, 15 Temple St., Portland

 

16. 

Location: Joe's Super Variety

Menu item: Ham italian

 

There's nothing original, artisanal, adventurous, "New American" or even especially noteworthy about the food at Joe's, and we mean this as a compliment! None of that jazz means there's no hype tax, no intangible foodie-wave culture you're buying into here — just solid, calorie-dense subs and sandwiches packed with proteins and lined with bell peppers, which as we all know are rippling with antioxidants. You can futz around with pizza if you like, but a regular, medium-sized ham italian here still costs around five bucks, and that should be a thing that never changes | $4-6 | Joe's Super Variety, 685 Congress St, Portland

 

17. 

Location: Tomaso's Canteen

Menu item: $2 Taco Tuesdays

Any city worth its salsa has a decent Taco Tuesday. Ours is at Tomaso's, the weird little bungalow nestled among a ton of upscale restaurants in one of the most monetizable parcels of land in the Old Port. We were, like the rest of the city, wary of this place when it supplanted the beloved Sangillo's, but it's earned its stripes among Portland's industry folk, many of whom come here to shoot the shit after a shift. Specials abound every night, but the $2 taco deals paired with $2 Tecate tallboys is simply unbeatable. | $2 | Tomaso's Canteen, 18 Hampshire St, Portland

 

18. 

Location: Tu Casa

Menu item: Pupusa revuelta

As Washington Ave becomes increasingly speckled with upscale eateries, this family-owned Salvadoran place is still one of the very best meals you can get on the East End. The $1.75 pupusa appetizers — filled with your choice of meat or herbs and cheese — are superb. Not as complete a meal as, say, their awesome and super filling burritos or enchiladas, but for the purposes of this list, these pupusas are every bit as satisfying as say, a slice of pizza around the corner, and half the price.

 

19. 

Location: Kushiya Benkay

Menu item: Rolls & skewers

Radiant and reliable, this sushi spot near Longfellow Square is a routine haunt for budget-conscious diners looking for protein blasts. Their $2.50 yakitori skewers (recently raised from $2) are a hell of a value (unless you prank yourself and get the corn) and the sushi is fresh, delicious and cheap. You can always run up the bill with scorpion bowls, but if you stick to the basics, this is one of the most satisfyingly inexpensive nights out available. | $2-6 | Kushiya Benkay, 653 Congress St, Portland

 

20.

Location: Susan's Fish & Chips

Menu item: 2 for $2.50 fish burgers (Mondays/Tuesdays)

You think we'd forget the reigning queen of Portland Cheap Eats? Susan's has been slingin' these fish jawns at seat-cushion prices for ages. We love that they chose the week's indisputably shittiest, most stressful days to do it. I mean, we're so stressed on Mondays that we'd eat a sack of American cheese for lunch some days. For less than the price of a cup of coffee (/Sally Struthers voice), you can get two hunks of breaded cod (which none other than The Rock eats about six pounds of daily) and a slap of cheese between eminently enriched white breadbuns, and you can call that lunch and dinner. It won't undo Trump's Tax Bill, or fix the rampant income inequality that puts good people in the position of having to scour their cities for dollar fish sandwiches in order to make their rent, but it'll fill your belly with a little warmth and take you to the next fight. | $2.50 | Susan's Fish & Chips, 1135 Forest Ave., Portland 

(Edit: The skewers at Ben Kay were recently raised from $2 to $2.50.)

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