Back to school: Where to eat on a budget in Toronto

The phrase “cheap eats” gets thrown around a lot, but what’s feasible for some ($5 tacos, $10 pad thai) feels like a splurge when you’re living on a meal plan. Students – and their wallets –are guaranteed to love these spots.


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  • 1

    Banh Mi Boys on Queen

    392 Queen W, Toronto, Ontario M5V 2A9

    The brothers behind Banh Mi Boys have pretty much perfected this quintessential cheap eat. At their Queen West and Yonge takeout locations, just $5.50 gets you a baguette stacked with pickled veggies and cilantro plus pulled pork, meatballs, grilled tofu or lemongrass-glazed pork. Try the duck confit for $7.50 if you’re feeling fancy, or spring for a Chinese bao ($3.50 to $4) with fried chicken or pork belly if you’re just peckish.

    392 Queen West, 416-363-0588 399 Yonge,416-977-0303, banhmiboys.com.

  • 2

    Rasta Pasta

    61 Kensington, Toronto, Ontario

    Though Kensington Market’s overall level of polish inches higher year by year, it’s still the No. 1 destination for chowhounds on a budget. Take this pair of side-by-side takeout spots in Kensington – one side does straight-up Jamaican eats, the other Carib-influenced Italian dishes like coconut-curry linguini with shrimp. If you really want bang for your buck, stop by between 11 am and 2 pm and get a meal combo with tender jerk chicken or pork (already great value at $6) for $4.99. 

    61 Kensington, at St. Andrew,647-501-4505, eatrastapasta.ca

  • 3

    Emporium Latino

    243 Augusta, Toronto, Ontario

    The empanadas at Jumbo Empanada tend to hog all the attention on this block, but be sure to try out the back lunch counter at this cramped Latino grocer next door. If you’re willing to wait for them to be made up fresh, tamales, pupusas, empanadas and a host of other Latin American eats are available for well under $5 each. Your best bet: hot, doughy corn-flour pupusas stuffed with sausage and cheese, then topped with hot sauce and slaw. They’re $3 a pop, and two are more than enough for a rib-sticking meal.

    243 Augusta, at Baldwin, 416-351-9646

  • 4

    Mystic Muffin

    113 Jarvis, Toronto, Ontario

    Ryerson and George Brown kids, your new best friend is Elias Makhoul, the owner of this quirky, lived-in Mediterranean takeout joint (est. 1993). Walk past the boastful signs plastered on the outside to find breakfast bagels, falafel wraps and deli-style sammies for about $5, takeout containers stuffed with salads, pita and hummus for about $8, and a slice of what might -actually be “the world’s best apple cake” for $2.50.

    113 Jarvis, at Richmond,416-941-1474, mysticmuffin.ca

  • 5

    Manpuku

    105 McCaul, Toronto, Ontario M5T 2X4

    There’s top ramen to be had all over town, but where affordability’s concerned, nothing beats this little noodle shop in the OCAD-adjacent Village by the Grange food court, home of decent dining on an art-school budget. Everything on the menu costs less than $7, including rice bowls topped with thin slices of saucy beef ($6.49), curry-saturated udon noodles ($5.99) and filling Japanese snacks like onigiri ($2.99). Get a noodle top-up in your dish for just $1.10.

    105 McCaul, at Dundas West,416-979-6763, manpuku.ca

  • 6

    Ginger

    695 Yonge, Toronto, Ontario M4Y 2B2

    This bare-bones mini-chain of Vietnamese takeaways has been feeding students and cheapskates since time immemorial (or, more accurately, 1998). Shops have different prices and menus, thanks to different owners: At Church and Wellesley, for example, you can get most menu items for $6.95 or less, including filling bowls of pho or your choice of beef, pork, veggies and chicken over rice, noodles or bok choy. Dishes are pricier at the Yonge and Elm outpost, but (perhaps to undercut Banh Mi Boys up the road) their sandwiches are a bargain-basement $3.99. Plus, they’ll knock 10 per cent off with a student card.

    546 Church, 416-413-1053, vietfooddelivery.com 695 Yonge,416-966-2424, and 212 Queen West, 416-977-8778, gingerone.ca 355 Yonge, 416-694-3278.

  • 7

    Sky Blue Sky

    605 Bloor W, Toronto, Ontario

    New transplants to residence looking for a cure for homesickness should head to one of this cafe’s two locations (one in Koreatown, the other on King East), pull up a seat at a red-checked-topped table and dive into a hefty homestyle sandwich. The options start at $4.29 (for a BLT) and top out at $7.59 and they’re big enough that you could likely save half for later. Also worth grabbing: daily soups ($3.99 small/$4.99 large, with bread) and moist pumpkin cookies topped with an icing glaze.

    605 Bloor West, 647-351-7945 333 King East, 647-350-3100, sbssandwiches.com

  • 8

    Patties Express

    4 Elm, Toronto, Ontario

    The Jamaican patty has saved many a Torontonian from a grumbling stomach, and after serving North York for 25 years, the folks behind Tastee Bread & Patties have brought theirs downtown to Ryerson. At their takeout spot on Elm, you can get ’em stuffed with beef, chicken or veggies for $1.89, get one between two slices of coco bread for $3.39 or grab two plus a pop for an even $5.

    4 Elm, at Yonge, 647-350-0111, pattiesexpress.com

  • 9

    Upper Deck by Fran’s

    20 College, Toronto, Ontario M5G 1K2

    Fran’s on College has been a student staple for years (oh, the 1 am breakfasts I lived on at Ryerson). But on the roof lounge above Fran’s, which was recently brought under the restaurant’s ownership and rechristened the Upper Deck, they’re hoping to pack in budget diners with a new lounge concept. The $5 snack menu features split-able eats like fried green beans, chicken or steak tacos and deep-fried ravioli, plus drink specials like $4 bar rail Tuesdays and $5 Caesar Sundays.

    20 College, at Yonge, 647-345-7226, upperdeckbyfrans.com

  • 10

    Dumpling House

    328 Spadina, Toronto, Ontario M5T 2E7

    This bare-bones Chinatown spot recently hiked the price of a platter of fried or steamed dumplings by a whole dollar (to $7.99), but the little suckers are still one of the most flavourful and filling deals in town. Bring pals and split a few plates of pork and chive or shrimp and veg, perhaps with a shareable bowl of super-comforting egg drop soup ($4.99) and you dine like kings for less than a tenner each. Grab a dozen more for your freezer on the way out.

    328 Spadina, at St.Andrew, 416-596-8898

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