Your Guide to the Best Cheap Eats in the City
The ultimate guide to the burgers, tacos, noodles, dumplings, sandwiches, drinks, deals and dives to keep you well fed for less.
October 11, 2016
Let’s get this out of the way right now—it’s not about the price. We’ve had $28 grass-fed steaks that were unbelievably cheap and $3.50 donuts that were obnoxiously expensive.
We’re here to rehabilitate “cheap” from a casual slur to a badge of pride for those who expect eating out to be a source of joy. If you’re with us, here’s the road map to redemption.
$8.99 Lunch special
The last time we surveyed cheap eats was in 2012, when the hulking portion of Shanghainese food that is Lin’s lunch special was $7.99 and the average price of a house on Vancouver’s east side was $864,000. Today, that same house sells for $1,511,000…and Lin charges a buck more, but you now get free soup. You should really think of the offerings—lemon chicken, Mongolian beef, ma-po tofu—as a group order, as one person can’t finish the special alone, but three dishes might feed a small-sized office. The soup—either hot-and-sour or chicken corn—isn’t great, but that sort of seems beside the point.
1537 W. Broadway
$1.99 Soft-boiled egg
I know you don’t want to be that person, but while there’s little doubt that the team at Fat Mao are expecting you to add the perfectly cooked egg to their noodle dish, there’s no saying you have to play by their rules. A toonie snags you a sweet little pick-me-up in an increasingly head-scratchingly pricey part of Chinatown.
217 E Georgia St.
$8.75 Bún chả cá đặc biệt
Bún Chả Cá Hoàng Yến
Really, a dollar more to upsize slices of handmade fish cake and fish balls with vermicelli in fish broth? Restaurant Awards judge Joie Alvaro Kent swears by this dish: “There’ s always a lineup out the door, and you’ll see more than half the tables in the restaurant chowing down on this particular soup. This northern Vietnamese take on broth is light and clear, accented by dill.”
5083 Victoria Dr. (Small $7.75, large $8.75)
$1.80 Steamed pork bun
Oddly, the main dishes have gotten quite pricey at this Chinatown staple, but the steamed buns—from the $1.50 plain to the $2.50 Chicken Deluxe—are still paragons of hand-held affordability.
148 E Pender St.
$4.50 Baked potato
You can look at this slice of a restaurant on Robson Street in two ways. You can say: $4.50 for a potato? Are you crazy? Or you can say: where can I get a healthy, filling (the potatoes are gargantuan) lunch on Robson for under $5? Veggie toppings—from carrots to zucchini— are 50 cents each and loaded potatoes, like the one here, go for a whopping $6.
288 Robson St.
$6.25 Single club
Having your office in South Granville is no treat, culinarily speaking. There are too few restaurants and the ones that exist are godawfully pricey. That’s why most days you’ll see a steady flow of staffers head to the “restaurant” at the Vancouver School Board HQ. Skip the weirdly pricey daily special and head to the sandwich bar—for $6.25 you’ll get a solid club sandwich with a heaping handful of Rip-L chips and carrot and pickle. Jaw-dropping, yes, for these parts.
1580 W Broadway
$4.75 Wasabi mayo beef avocado sub
The bustling Cambie corridor seems an odd spot for anything cheap, but tucked between Winners and Save-On-Foods, this small spot offers 10 Japanese takes on a sub and none of them are more than $5. Our current fave: the $4.65 curried beef, piled high with potatoes and peas, with Glico curry on top of shredded beef.
2328 Cambie St.
$4.75 Chicken bánh mì
In many ways the bánh mì—that French-Vietnamese hybrid of a sandwich—is the Holy Grail of a cheap eats list: they’re rarely over $6, they’re filling and they deliver a wallop of multicultural umami. And while Vancouver has some classics (Au Petit Café’s may be the long-running gold standard), this year it’s the sub-$5 offering from the new Mr. Red in Kits: always perfectly fresh baguettes, topped with crispy fried shallots and served by the nicest people on Broadway. Dinner for four is $18? Sold.
2234 E Hastings St., 2680 W Broadway
$10.00 Wiener schnitzel sandwich
At first blush, the idea of a $10 sandwich from a food truck sounds like exactly what’s wrong with food in Vancouver. But then Baron Klaus Erich von Hochgotz (a real baron, by the way) hands you a made-to-order sandwich with enough schnitzel to feed Kaiser Wilhelm und Angela Merkel with enough left over for Helmut Kohl (it’s technically Austrian food, but Franz Klammer didn’t have quite the same ring). It’s a titan of a sandwich—easily enough for zwei Herren oder drei Damen. Und it’s delicious.