Living in a destination city costs more than you think. Today, eating out in Portland sets you back more than ever. Food prices are up, markups are high, and once you factor in the housing crisis, skyrocketing rents, and everyone with a commercial kitchen wanting a piece of that tourist gold, the pleasures of dining out can quickly become an affront to your budget.

Of course, the best way to eat cheap is to grow your own food, cook at home, buy in bulk, and so on. But time is valuable, and sometimes you gotta splurge. And besides, eating out is a luxury everyone should have.

But can it still be done? Sure, but you’ve got to dig deeper, pick your spots. We gathered 10 options for breakfast, lunch, and dinner where you can still get a delicious, super-filling meal on the cheap. (And tossed in five happy hours for good snacking measure.) Yeah, it’s always possible to grab a slice or cave for some goopy fast-food bomb, but there are better, more authentically Portland options out there. Dive in.

 

By Matt Dodge, Megan Grumbling, Erik Neilson, and Nick Schroeder

 

 

BREAKFAST

 

Photo by Meredith Perdue

Photo by Meredith Perdue

Fruit and Nut Bar at Tandem Coffee Roasters

Briana Holt and her team make baked goods that are seriously on their own level. Their fruit and nut bars are a healthier, less-expensive breakfast option for those who are looking to fill up without falling asleep at work. Don’t skip the coffee, which is the best in town. 742 Congress St. — EN

 

 

Oatmeal with Coffee

Get breakfast over with in one quick step with this “life hack” for those who believe that food is a means of maintaining homeostasis and little else. Instead of hot water, combine instant oatmeal with coffee, chai, or hot chocolate, add a fried egg on top for protein (if desired), and then sit back and marvel at all that newfound free time in your morning routine. — MD

 

Breakfast Sandwich at Mister Bagel

The downtown location keeps it all-business with simple breakfast sandwiches for $3.45 ($4.60 with a medium coffee), while the Forest Ave. location has a little more fun with a music-themed menu that includes the Janis Joplin (egg, feta cheese, spinach for $4.50) and the Elvis Tribute (egg, bacon, American cheese, peanut butter for $4.80). 599 Forest Ave. and 539 Congress St. — MD

 

 

Photo by Meredith Perdue

Photo by Meredith Perdue

Chipped Beef on Toast or a Bloody Mary at Ruski’s Tavern

One of the last old-school joints in Portland, serving the Platonic ideals of ungentrified diner grub. The chipped beef on toast — once a menu staple and now an occasional special — is the stuff of legend and the best kind of hangover-brunch remorse. Or you can go the other route with a bloody mary. 212 Danforth St. — MG

 

Any Donut at Holy Donut

Made with Aroostook County potatoes, Holy donuts are the neutron stars of the local donut galaxy in that each bite has roughly 900 times the mass of the Great Pyramid of Giza. At $2.50 apiece, these local favorites might not seem like a deal, but the ultra-dense potato-based treat sticks to your ribs in a way that allows you to forget about the very concept of food, at least until lunch. 7 Exchange St. and 194 Park Ave. — MD

 

Photo by Meredith Perdue

Photo by Meredith Perdue

Breakfast Sandwich at Katie Made Bakery

Jenny Capron at Katie Made Bakery makes my favorite egg sandwich in Portland. Made to order, impossibly fluffy eggs topped with caramelized onions on an English muffin for $4.50. It’s been my neighborhood go-to for the past two and a half years. 181 Congress St. — EN

 

Breakfast Sandwich at Fresh Approach

This place knows its meat, and there’s honest, greasy love in these solid, workingman’s $3.49 breakfast sandwiches: sausage, bacon, ham, or (for an extra 50 cents) steak, on bagel, English, or Standard Baking bread. 155 Brackett St. — MG

 

Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Bar at Bam Bam Bakery

Sure, they’re glutenless, but these dessert bars have close to 1,000 calories apiece and are delicious. They’re sugar bombs and not everyone can start their day this way, but this $2.75 travels far. 267 Commercial St. — NS

 

Photo by Meredith Perdue

Photo by Meredith Perdue

Bagel with Cream Cheese and Veggies at Union Bagel

Sneakily the best bagels in town, and the cream cheese and veggies option is a great way to start a morning, particularly in the summer, when you can burn it off easily. 147 Cumberland Ave. — NS

 

 

Anything at Bayou Kitchen

If you can get out there okay, the food at this spot is dense, rich, swampy, and pretty friggin’ cheap. The Rancho Verde in particular is unreal, and the $5.50 black bean chili comes with cheese and sour cream and a big hunk of corn bread. 543 Deering Ave. — NS

 

 

LUNCH

 

Photo by Meredith Perdue

Photo by Meredith Perdue

Anything at El Corazon Food Truck

Regularly found in the heart of Portland’s business district, this food truck offers some of the best take-away Mexican fare of any local establishment, wheeled or not. Burritos are an unheard-of $6; carne asada, carnitas, and chicken tacos come in at just $2.75 each; and the standout Baja fish taco, topped with chipotle aioli, is just $3. If you don’t work within walking distance of El Corazon, consider getting a new job. Intersection of Spring & Temple Sts. — MD

 

 

Bento Box Special at King of the Roll

King of the Roll loudly proudly proclaims itself the “best sushi in town.” No sense in arguing, just fill up on their totally solid bento box. You’ve got options; we filled ours with a tuna maki roll and a hot cluster of chicken teriyaki, and the miso soup, cabbage-y salad, and warm rice lump make a solid, filling meal for $6.95. 675 Congress St. — NS

 

Strategic Salad Bar at Whole Foods

Not usually a hot spot for cheap eats, the Whole Foods salad bar and hot food buffet can be effectively gamed if you simply have no shame. Grab a medium box, fill it with spring mix, and add five pieces of General Tso’s tofu, taking care to shake off all excess sauce. Manually re-sauce using a salad dressing on the side and you should be able to escape the culinary money pit for $3 to $4 at most. 2 Somerset St. — MD

 

Bánh Mì at Kim’s Sandwich & Cafe

Don’t get distracted by its double life as a souvenir shop and de facto Vietnamese cultural heritage center. Kim’s is well-known for its filling bánh mì. Perhaps the best thing ever to emerge from colonialism, these sandwiches fuse marinated carrots and daikon, fresh cucumber, onion, cilantro, and hot peppers with flakey French-style bread. The sandwich comes in a variety of fillings, so order with care and asks lots of questions or you might leave with liver pâté or headcheese. 261 St. John St. — MD

 

Photo by Meredith Perdue

Photo by Meredith Perdue

Virtually Anything at Punky’s

Nothing on Punky’s vast menu is bad value, and most of those wraps and sandwiches could be two meals, easy. Flip back to our table of contents and gaze at the delicious, calorie-rich monster that is the Super Boy — $6.25 for a whole. You could live on that for a week. 186 Brighton Ave. — NS

 

Anything at the Clocktower Cafe

In the basement of City Hall, one of the best-kept secrets in Portland. A five-dollar bill will get you just about any sandwich or salad on the menu at the Clocktower Cafe, with a side of laughter and good vibes courtesy of proprietor Milton Hammith. 389 Congress St. — EN

 

Half-Sandwiches at K. Horton Specialty Foods

Only got about $3.25 to spare for lunch? You could do far worse than a marked-down half-wrap at K. Horton’s in the Public Market House. Get there early in the day, and look towards the small cooler near the register in the back. 28 Monument Way — EN

 

Shawarma at Ameera Bread

In a city without a wealth of lunch options for Middle Eastern fare, Ameera is a true gem. Worth the drive out Forest Ave. for the pillowy samoon bread alone, the Iraqi bakery offers a deeply satisfying lunch of chicken shawarma for under $7. 845 Forest Ave. — EN

 

Photo by Meredith Perdue

Photo by Meredith Perdue

Muffuletta at Micucci’s

As far as calories for the dollar goes, Micucci’s can’t be beat. It’s not health food, but a sausage and pepper sub, meatball sandwich, hot muffuletta, etc., for $4.75 is going to be impossible to find elsewhere, and they’re always delicious. 45 India St. — NS

 

 

Lunch at Maine Medical Center

Not tryin’ to clown on anyone here; it’s just actually pretty cost-efficient to take a meal in the Maine Med cafeteria. They got legit mac n’ cheese and a perfectly cromulent burger. I mean, good on them for not going full airport and price-gouging their customers, right? 22 Bramhall St. — NS

 

DINNER

 

Fish Burgers at Susan’s Fish-n-Chips

At two for $2.50 (Mondays and Tuesdays), you can’t afford not to make a date night of Susan’s fish burger: fried cod, tartar, iceberg, and bun merge in comfortingly monochromatic Filet-O-Fish nostalgia. 1135 Forest Ave. — MG

 

Photo by Meredith Perdue

Photo by Meredith Perdue

Anything at Tu Casa

I’ve been eating at Tu Casa regularly for over five years, and it’s still my main hang when I’m craving plantains and a no-frills BYOB atmosphere. Though I opt for the Plato Montañero when I’m feeling rich, the chicken “taquitos” (essentially what most people will recognize as tacos) are a great deal at $9.99 and delicious. 70 Washington Ave. — EN

 

 

Chicken Sandwich at Crown Fried Chicken

There are places that do one thing and do it very well, and then there is Crown Fried Chicken. The identity crisis of a menu includes everything from fried chicken and burgers to gyros, wings, seafood, and pizza. The chicken sandwich is a steal at $2.99, the fried chicken is the best you’re likely to find for the price, and all CFC’s meat is halal. 408 Forest Ave. — MD

 

Taco Tuesdays at Tomaso’s Canteen

Once a week, this humble (read: limited seating) canteen goes full cantina for Taco Tuesdays, featuring two for $3 tacos and $2 Tecates. Choose between chicken, beef, pork, and fish tacos served in a choice of soft tortilla or rarely seen hard shell and prepared in a slightly different way from week to week, like Thai sesame pork and Bayou-style chicken tacos with dirty rice and pepper rémoulade. 18 Hampshire St. — MD

 

Photo by Meredith Perdue

Photo by Meredith Perdue

Tapas Monday at Lolita

Guy and Stella Hernandez’s Munjoy Hill outpost Lolita showcases its Mediterranean roots with Tapas Monday, every Monday from 3:30–10:30 p.m. For $5, diners can enjoy one of the four highlighted beverages of the evening, paired with a bite from the kitchen. If you’re looking to experience upper-tier Portland cuisine on a budget, it doesn’t get any more accessible than this. 90 Congress St. — EN

 

 

$2 and $4 Side Orders at Denny’s

Not telling you anything new here, dawg, but we’re happy to spare some validation ink on Denny’s, the reigning late-nite portal to real talk. You can actually cobble together a pretty filling meal from their side orders — most true costs are defrayed to the next day, anyway. 1091 Congress St. — NS

 

Go on a Fake Tinder Date

Womankind’s ongoing prank on patriarchy, inequality, gender norms, and boring dudes, the fake Tinder date has been well documented nationwide as a decent meal ticket. There are probably social ramifications to pulling this trick on actual good people (especially in Portland), but if you’re the type of person who’d suffer the company of a well-to-do douchebro in exchange for a great meal and then ghost on him, there are certainly worse crimes. — NS

 

Photo by Meredith Perdue

Photo by Meredith Perdue

Tuesday Burgers at b.good

Once a week, b.good offers a beer, burger, and fries for $10, which is really hard to argue with. The El Guapo, with its arsenal of bacon/jalapeño/ranch, is our pick. Pair that with a $5 movie night at the Nick and it’s a pretty legit night. 15 Exchange St. — NS

 

 

Pad Thai at Vientiane Market

This unassuming shop off Brighton Ave. might look like just another Asian market, but at $7.59, Vientiane offers the best value in town for that Pad Thai fix. The dish comes with shrimp, chicken, tofu, or veggies, and avoids the pitfall of excessive sweetness that often comes with budget Pad Thai. 157 Noyes St. — MD

 

Anthony’s Italian Kitchen

Portland’s best subterranean pizza joint offers some ridiculous specials in a bid to draw new customers and increase intergenerational appreciation for Frank Sinatra. Load up on a slice or half-sandwich, bag of chips, and 20-ounce beverage for $5 or skip the chips and drink and pair the gloriously greasy slice with a PBR tallboy. 151 Middle St. — MD

 

HAPPY HOUR

 

OTTO (M–F, 4–6 p.m.)

All the OTTOs do it, but the happy hour’s a steal at $4 for a beer and a slice, or $5 with a glass of wine. — NS

Free Bacon at Bonfire (Every day, 4–7 p.m.)

It is with some caution that we recommend this meat market dripping with honky-tonk affectation, but if you can get down here, you can get down anywhere in the state. And free bacon is free bacon. 37 Wharf St. — NS

Hot Suppa (Tu–Sat, 4–6 p.m.)

Oysters for $1 apiece? Yes, please. And you don’t even need to flash your pretties for the Mardi Gras beads. In between slurps, swill $1-off cocktails, beer, and wine. 703 Congress St. — MG

The Corner Room (M–F, 4–6 p.m.)

There’s bounteous, free, carb-rich fare to soak up cheap beer and wine: pasta, pizza, fried potatoes, crusty quiche. Keep watch for the green salad, which comes and goes fast. 110 Exchange St. — MG

The King’s Head (M–Th, 4–6 p.m.)

Solid beer at $4, and super-cheap tacos (2 for $3) make this Commercial Street hideout a great spot for after-work debriefing or just a discreet cheap dinner. 254 Commercial St. — NS