Welcome to Portland, Maine. Food is good here. (We get it.)
Real talk, though. The praise heaped on the high end of city cuisine is totally well deserved. But sometimes, y’know, that’s not what we’re about. Here, we carved out space for some amazing meals Portlanders can get on a tight budget. If you’re someone with a busy lifestyle who juggles a love of food with an appreciation for “old Portland” aesthetics (and maybe class politics), we feel you. Here are some of our favorite meals you can get fast and on the cheap.
Two fish sandwiches at Susan's Fish & Chips (Mondays and Tuesdays) | $2.50
We recognize Morrill's Corner is the seventh circle of hell, navigation-wise, but Susan's is the reigning queen of Portland cheap eats. They only run this special Mondays and Tuesdays, but the fish burger deal here is, by some measures, the best in town. We suspected they'd use tilapia for these (a/k/a the only crappy fish), but no, not even. Instead, they slap a couple of basic buns around some hefty slabs of lightly breaded cod (and occasionally pollock, they tell us), paint a thin coat of tartar sauce and a delicate sprig of iceberg lettuce, and dinner is served, my dudes. Eat these while hanging out in their spacious, high-personality keep and you might be tempted to order a couple more.
Susan's Fish & Chips, 1135 Forest Ave., Portland | 11 am-8 pm | 207-899-3529
Mexican Grilled Cheese at Wild Burritos | $3.50
Don’t be deterred by the slightly uninspired name, the Mexican grilled cheese is basically one-half of a loaded quesadilla and a full on guilty pleasure. After choosing your cheese, hot sauce, and protein (beef, chicken, steak, or pepperoni) you won’t have to wait long for this greasy monstrosity to arrive in front of you. It’s messy, but delicious, filling, and quite possibly the best dollar-per-calorie deal in town.
Wild Burritos, 581 Congress St., Portland | 11 am–6 pm | 207-761-1600
Sticky Rice Pocket at Empire Kitchen | $6
For a light lunch that’s a bit more sophisticated than the other options in this guide, head to Empire, hang out at the bar, and order their heftiest appetizer: the sticky rice pocket. It arrives in an adorable little basket, wrapped in a lotus leaf (the leaf is perfect for maintaining moisture and maximum stickiness). Unwrap the leaf (but don’t eat it!) and marvel at the spherical gift inside. Cooking sticky rice the right way that preserves its unique texture is actually not that easy to do, but the cooks at Empire seem to have perfected the ancient technique. The rice manages to hit that delicate balance of being perfectly soft, but sticky enough to cling to your chopsticks. Inside the rice ball awaits morsels of sweet and spicy Chinese sausage, adding fat and a whole lot of flavor.
Empire Kitchen, 575 Congress St., Portland | 11:30 am to 9:00 pm | http://portlandempire.com/kitchen/
Spicy Chorizo Egg Burrito at El Rayo (after 11 am) | $2
The breakfast burritos at El Rayo are the bomb. They are packed with eggs, pico de gallo, spicy sausage, avocado, and shoestring potatoes, but at $7 bucks each, they tend to be a once-in-a-while kind of morning indulgence. But here’s a suggestion. Eat a very light breakfast at home, and head to El Rayo right after 11 am for when these wholesome protein packs get discounted to just $2 bucks each! Drizzle some of El Rayo’s special hot sauce on these bad babies and you might just make them your go-to brunch. But be warned, others are thinking the same thing, because the burritos fly off the warmer once they’re marked down, so if you want one, your timing is crucial.
El Rayo, 26 Free St., Portland | 7 am–9 pm | http://elrayotaqueria.com/
Half-Priced Dumplings at Bao Bao Dumpling House
This one takes some light planning (or happenstance), but it’s worth it. Bao Bao’s “dumpling happy hour” means $5 and under orders of some of the best dough parcels the city has to offer—the thread-cut hake is a must-try.
Bao Bao Dumpling House, 133 Spring St., Portland | Happy Hour Wed-Fri 2-4 pm | http://www.baobaodumplinghouse.com/
Pupusas de Queso y Loroco at Tu Casa | $2
Tu Casa keeps it real with one of the longest-standing cheap eats options in Portland — the pupusa. At around $2 and served with a vinegary slaw of cabbage and carrots, these thick corn tortillas stuffed with meat, red beans or cheese and herbs are a full meal in themselves.
Tu Casa, 70 Washington Ave., Portland | 11 am–9 pm | http://www.tucasaportland.com/
Taquitos at El Corazon Food Truck | $4
The taquitos at El Corazon come in at just under $4 and are a perfect midday snack. They won our hearts, and have fueled many editing sessions here at the Phoenix (we're lucky to be so close to their food truck). Three rolled corn tortillas filled with either potato and cheese, chicken or shredded beef are showered in an onslaught of sour cream, guacamole, and cheese. Do it.
El Corazon Food Truck | Spring Street, Portland | 11:30 am to 2 pm | 207.200.4801
Tuesday Night Dollar Tacos at Amigo's | $1
If you’re literally down to your last dollar after a long weekend, you can still get a taco at Amigo’s. They keep it simple too, just lettuce, tomato, cheese, and your choice of protein. Dollar tacos reign supreme every Tuesday night, which may or may not be a good idea depending on what leads you there.
Amigo's, 9 Dana St., Portland | 3 pm–1 am | 207-772-0772
7 Hours of Happiness Sausage at Tomaso's Canteen | $5
Sangillo’s 2.0 Tomaso’s is not, but they do honor the time-old tradition of cheap eats and discount booze every Monday through Friday from 11 to 6. The standout deal is a $5 sausage sandwich (hot or sweet), which is worth stopping in for even if you’re on the wagon. The bread can barely contain all the delicious fillings.
Tomaso's Canteen, 18 Hampshire St., Portland | 11 am to 1 am | https://tomasoscanteen.com/
Hand Slab at Slab | $6 ($3 during happy hour)
This inspired collaboration between restaurateur Jason Loring and Sicilian pizzamaker Stephen Lanzalotta is hardly overlooked. There’s a lot of highfalutin' foods on this menu that don't exactly belong on this list. But their staple menu item — the hand slab — definitely deserves to be. Its one pound of house tomato sauce, oozing cheese, and fluffy dough is unlike any other pizza experience in town. Enjoy one of these for dinner and you won't mind skipping breakfast. Hit them up during happy hour — Monday through Friday from 3-5 pm — and they're an unbelievable $3.
Slab, 25 Preble St., Portland | Mon-Thu 11 am-11 pm; Fri-Sat 11 am-midnight; Sun 11 am-7pm | 207-245-3088
Sandwiches at the Clock Tower Cafe | Under $5
The Clock Tower Cafe in the basement of City Hall is perhaps the best-kept secret in Portland. Milton Hammith runs a tight ship, serving up sandwiches, salads, and hot dishes under $5 for breakfast and lunch.
The Clock Tower Cafe, 389 Congress St., Portland
Sauteed Mixed Vegetable Bowl at Local Sprouts Cooperative | $3.50
There's no law that says all Cheap Eats must be bad for you. Local Sprouts offers a ton of food across the spectrum of diets and palates, but sometimes their sneaky side dish of warm cooked vegetables is exactly what you need. If you've been ravaged by the elements, have no access to a stove and are desperate for some vitamins, pop in here.
Local Sprouts Cooperative, 653 Congress St., Portland | Mon 8 am-3 pm; Tues-Thu 8 am to 9 pm; Fri-Sat 8 am-10 pm; Sun 9 am-3 pm | 207-899-3529
Maple-Glazed Prosciutto Sandwich at OhNo Cafe | $5
For around five bucks, you can pick up one of the best breakfast sandwiches Maine has to offer. The “Number One” at OhNo Cafe in the West End glistens with maple-glazed prosciutto, Vermont cheddar and a generous hit of Tabasco for satisfaction to the max.
OhNo Cafe, 87 Brackett St., Portland | Tue-Fri 6:30 am-8:30 pm; Sat 8 am-8 pm; Sun 8 am-3 pm | http://ohnocafe.com/
Breakfast Roll-Up - Punky’s - $4
Punky’s is all about the roll-up, and the breakfast variety is filled with enough eggs, cheese, peppers, and bacon to feed a small family. It’ll set you back less than a five spot, though you may be tempted to take an impromptu nap afterward.
Punky's, 186 Brighton Ave., Portland | 6 am to 5 pm | 207-773-8885
9-piece Bucket of Chicken | Crown Fried Chicken | $11
This Forest Avenue staple just sprouted up on St. John Street, making their delish chicken action accessible to peninsula-dwellers as well as cheap. Their vast menu has a bunch of good deals (that $5.50 beef gyro is a good one), but we suggest going to the source. Skip the mashed potatoes and cole slaw and get straight to the heart of the matter.
Crown Fried Chicken, 292 St. John St. and 408 Forest Ave, Portland | 207-747-4519
Small Meatball Sub - Pizza Villa - $5.75
Arguably the best meatball sub in Portland can be found at Pizza Villa, and at $5.75 for a surprisingly filling “small,” the price point can’t be beat. Take it to go, or hang around and take in the atmosphere at one of the city’s last holdouts of yesteryear.
Pizza Villa, 940 Congress St., Portland | 11 am–1 am | 207-774-1777
Slice of Breakfast Pizza at Sisters’ Gourmet Deli - $5
It’s rather difficult to find breakfast pizza in Portland that hasn’t been drying out underneath a heat lamp for a couple hours. At least the women at the Sister’s Gourmet Deli understand the importance of freshness. A fiver doesn’t get you the biggest slice in town, but you do get some primo ingredients that change every day like spinach, sausage, avocado, feta, peppers, bacon, ham, and green onions. But the core component of the meal, the egg, and cheese baked onto their signature sea-salt dough hits the spot every time. Those looking to start the day with more intense flavors might want to try their regular breakfast sandwich, which is served with roasted tomatoes and banana peppers for an inventive egg dish that works!
Sister’s Gourmet Deli, 15 Monument Sq., Portland | 7 am-8 pm | http://www.sistersgourmetdeli.com/
Pork Belly Breakfast Sandwiches at Monument Grill | $5.50
Breakfast sandwiches come in some pretty standard varieties: bacon, ham, or sausage on either a croissant, bagel, or English muffin. But let’s be honest, they can get boring sometimes. For the price of an average one, you can buy one with bolder flavors at a place we consider a hidden-in-plain-sight gem: the Monument Grill. Their breakfast options cycle between three different special options everyday, and all are far from ordinary, with foods like crab cake, gruyere, spring greens, and goat cheese accompanying the egg. We recently got hooked on an English muffin sandwich featuring egg, crispy pork belly, and a spicy Cajun mayo. Opportunities to switch out breakfast meats for pork belly are rare, so take them while you can! The spot's casual (you can just eat on the square) and the service is speedy. If you want cheap eats without sacrificing your cultivated taste, check 'em out.
Monument Grill, 24 Monument Way, Portland | 7 am to 3 pm | 207-699-5577
Specialty Dogs | Blue Rooster Food Co. | $6
Blue Rooster serves up delicious locally made natural casing beef and pork hot dogs from Maine Family Farms, and each one is an adventure for under $6. Try the Pineapple Express, which brings bacon, mango, cilantro, and pineapple into the fold. None of them are ordinary dogs.
Blue Rooster Food Co., 5 Dana St., Portland | 11 am to 8 pm | 207-747-4157
Ham Italian | Joe's Super Variety | $5
Though it's now housed in the slicked-up condo called "the Hiawatha," Joe's Super Variety hasn't lost their mission, which is to supply West End denizens with food and sundries on the cheap. A good chunk of their menu could make this list, but the $5 ham italian, often pre-made and just chillin' there waiting for you, is clean and grease-free, but still a formidably gut-filling meal-bomb.
Joe's Super Variety, 665 Congress St., Portland | Mon-Sun 6 am to 11 pm | 207-773-3656