Now whoever thinks the word "cheap" has to automatically describe something of shitty quality clearly doesn't know how to ball on a budget. Toronto is a city filled to the brim with world-class restos, but for those of us who have student loans, bills, and rent to pay, eating out can't always be a high class affair. But not to worry - we've put together a list of 15 of the cheapest (yet pretty damn delicious) places to grab a bite around the city. They may not look like much from the outside, but didn't your momma ever tell you it's what's on the inside that counts?
1. Dumpling House Restaurant
I don't know if I can express to you guys how much I love this place. This will forever be my go to spot for dumplings in Chinatown. It was love at first bite. Here, you'll get 15 steamed dumplings or 12 pan fried dumplings for $6.99. I know the beef and chive dumplings are great, but I'll never order anything but the shrimp and pork. With a plate of their house special noodles (loaded with chicken, beef and shrimp) for $6.99, and their fresh, tasty General Tao chicken ($8.99), you’ll leave happy, very full, and feeling extremely #blessed.
Oh, Ginger. You've always been there for me. When I was a broke student, looking for something to eat other than the Mcdouble value meal. When I was sloppy and drunk, never making it to the club. When I wandered out of the Vapour Lounge, with a bad case of the munchies. You were always there. Ginger has a handful of locations scattered across the downtown core, and a menu that has most meals priced at under $10. I appreciate their cafeteria-style, made fresh to order type of service. Try the lemongrass shrimp pad thai ($7.95), grilled beef and curry chicken on rice ($8.25), or any of their Vietnamese subs for just $4.25. Great portions and tons of vegetarian and vegan options. Go. Now.
3. Rasta Pasta
Located in the heart of Kensington Market, Rasta Pasta is spreading the love with their Jamaican-Italian fusion cuisine. This small takeout shop turns out the most delicious pasta dishes (most for under $10), salads, sides, and even mouth watering desserts. The best deal by far is awarded to their jerk chicken lunch special - $5 with rice ‘n’ beans, gravy and steamed vegetables on the side.
4. Fresco's Fish and Chips
Also located in the Market, Fresco's turns out delicious, quality food for an awesomely fair price. Fish and chips is one of my favourite dishes, but my biggest pet peeve has got to be when the fish to batter ratio is completely off - no one wants a mouth of crusty batter and little/no fish. But that's definitely not the case at Fresco's. They use a light, old fashioned batter of wheat and yellow corn flour which compliments the fish without overpowering it. They've got a ton of different sides too if you're not feeling chips that day - a small meat chilli poutine will set you back $5.97, a small order of fried pickles for $4.87, or snack on a shrimp po' boy sandwich for $7.95. Like most places in the Market, they've got a few veggie/vegan options for those who want them.
5. Noka Sushi
Am I the only person who holds out on eating for most of the day because I know I'm having sushi later? Next time you're in the Annex on an empty stomach, I urge you to go to Noka and make the most of their AYCE menu. The lunch AYCE menu is what kills me about this place - $12.99 and I can order all the rolls I want for the next hour and a half (or until I almost puke). They’ve got tons of Japanese style appetizers, noodles, rice and teriyaki. Try out my new fav, the bacon wrapped asparagus. Finish off with some your choice of mango, green tea, red bean or vanilla ice cream + some tempura banana. Overall, a pretty big bang for your buck.
6. Fresca Pizza
So I came across this place on JustEat recently. We wanted to try something other than the generic Domino’s or Pizza Pizza for a change, but we also weren't willing to dish out any type of money on a "high end, authentic" pizza place. So my expectations weren't through the roof when we placed our order. But let me just say, this place blew my mind. Located at the old Massimo’s on College and Robert St., the delivery to our apartment at Spadina and Bloor took no time at all. We ordered margherita pizza and a few pasta dishes. The margherita pizza was mint. The crust was perfectly thin, and they didn’t hold back on the garlic. It’s magnificent. But my pasta topped everything. I ordered the Fuisilli alla Vodka - the portion was huge, it was delicious, and they didn't chince out on the sauce. I even got a brick-sized piece of garlic bread on the side, all for $7.95. Nonna would be proud.
7. Tacos El Asador
No one expects much from this little whole in the wall at Bloor and Clinton, but Tacos El Asador is a triple threat - delivering quality, authenticity and reasonably low pricing. The only downfall I can think of is that they get pretty packed on the weekends, so if you want a table (there are only around 12), make sure you arrive early or you'll probably have to wait. The guac here is super fresh and chunky, and both the fish and crispy beef taco made me so happy - not only 'cause they were delicious, but 'cause I only paid $2.50 for each. I've yet to try their papusas, but I've heard good things.
8. Churrasqueira Do Sardinha
If you dig that simple, delicious, meat and potatoes type of meal, you need to familiarize yourself with the Portuguese chicken joints in the city. We have a ton of good ones, but one of my favourites is Churrasqueira Do Sardinha at College and Montrose. I have mad love for their slow-roasted chicken and home made hot sauce. Their quarter chicken dinner - loaded with rice and parisienne potatoes, is priced at an economical $8.50. Dump that piri piri over errthang and then try to tell me you're not satisfied.
Photo cred- Bilol Ali
9. Chito's Pizza
Most people probably wouldn’t give Chito’s a second glance if they passed by this questionable looking pizza joint at the sketchy intersection that is Bloor and Landsdowne. And to be honest, I wouldn't either if it wasn't for my brother swearing by its cheap, greasy deliciousness. For $2.25 you get a slice of pizza— deluxe, hawaiian, vegetarian, or pepperoni —covered in juicy chunks of shawarma chicken, with garlic tahini sauce drizzled over top. I'm pretty sure that's everything I've been waiting for. Apparently they also serve wings, fries, calzones and burritos, but if it's your first time at Chito's, I urge you to get the shawarma-pizza lovechild.
10. Island Foods
Islands Foods has been a presence in Toronto since the '70s. They've had over 30 years of success because they keep it simple - fresh, made to order West Indian dishes, a clean and relaxed dining environment, and friendly staff. They've got nearly a dozen types of roti, the classic dinners, and a ton of sides and snacks. I love their doubles and at $1.30 each, I can usually afford to stock up and save some for later. This is the perfect place to pick up lunch, but be sure to get there before noon, or you're sure to be waiting in line.
11. The Green Room
The Green Room's entrance is tucked away in an alley smack dab in the middle of the Annex. The atmosphere in this place is great - it's chill enough to grab a pitcher with friends (hit their patio on Sangria Sundays) and their comfy couches and dim lighting make it a cute date spot. The Green Room's trendy mismatched boho vibe attracts all kinds of folk - from students to hipsters to artists to 30-somethings. They all love it for the same reason: the food is cheap, and surprisingly really tasty. Try their standout avocado brie sandwich, or split a plate of deep fried calamari or nachos. Bonus: the drinks here are pretty darn cheap, too. I recommend trying their Caesars - extra spicy, if you're about that life.
12. Swatow Restaurant
If you find a place that serves up consistently delicious Chinese food, never stop going there. This is how I feel about Swatow. They've been around for two decades for a reason. Dishes here range from $5 - $12 on average, and the service is usually quick and the food delicious. The beef in black bean sauce is so good here, I literally want to lick the plate once I'm done eating. Plus, I'm almost certain I've never seen this place closed. To sum it up, this place is reliable, efficient and the magic word: cheap.
13. Avenue Open Kitchen
I have a soft spot in my cold heart for unpretentious, greasy spoon, diner food. Avenue solidified a place in the upper ranks of my top breakfast spots as soon as I laid my eyes on their peameal bacon. It was just the way I like it: Thick. Yes Lord. Their menu can be described as comforting and filling, just like mamma used to make. So far I've only ever tried their breakfast menu, but I've heard they make some tough mac and cheese and I'm stoked to try the shepherd's pie. I don't think I saw anything on the menu over the $10 mark. Pay them a visit if you're ever near Queen and Spadina.
Photo cred - Banh Mi Boys
14. Banh Mi Boys
This is the only place on the list I actually haven't tried first hand, but I was told it would be a tragedy if I didn't include the beloved Banh Mi Boys on this list. After investigating their menu I can see they definitely deserve to be here - their prices range from $3-$10. And apparently their Kimchi fries are everything: heaps of pulled pork, mayo, onions, and of course, kimchi atop a mound of golden fries.
15. Sadie's Diner And Juice Bar
Never in my life have I come even a little bit close to going vegetarian, let alone vegan. There's just something in my Portuguese/Italian blood that requires animal flesh to survive. But I have a fair share of veggie/vegan amigos, and they brought me to Sadie's a couple years back. Now I've gotta say, I was skeptical going in, but the food was really good! Their menu selection is ballin'- sweet potato fries, veggie chilli, potato and onion perogies with vegan sour cream, cajun veggie quesadillas - and that's just from their lunch and dinner menus. They've even got all-day breakfast, a selection of freshly made juices and smoothies and probably the best vegan red velvet cake I've ever put in my mouth. It has a super cute atmosphere with really nice staff. Oh, and nothing was over $13. Highly recommend!