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Big Daddy's Burger Bar

Big Daddy's Burger Bar

This easygoing Plaza Midwood restaurant is all about the food. It's as unpretentious as they come with hearty, home-style Southern fare like luscious shrimp and grits ($10.50) and chicken and dumplings ($7.95). Much of the menu comes served with a flaky biscuit and creamy deviled egg, ensuring that this is one place you won't leave hungry. And if that wasn't enough to draw you in, the sunny patio is one of the best in the neighborhood. 1220 Thomas Ave., 704-344-0343

Pewter Rose Bistro
For twenty-one years, this inviting South End restaurant has been a staple for business lunches, dinner dates, and Sunday brunch. And, while it's not known for its economical options, there are ways to navigate the menu and not empty your pockets. With small plates including lobster ravioli ($9) and a crab cake ($8), you can taste the chef's offerings and still enjoy a glass of wine. Some of the best menu options, though, can be found under the sandwich options, such as the slightly spicy but very tasty Thai wrap for just $9. 1820 South Blvd., No. 109, 704-332-8149

The Common Market
Nothing beats the sandwich selection at The Common Market. Bread from Amber Grains Bakery in Matthews, Boars Head meat and cheese, fresh veggies, and brews from just about every beer region on Earth—ta-da, it's lunch for under $10 per person. No sandwich on the menu is more than $7, counting the vegetarian and vegan options such as the Straight-jacket Soy with sliced tofu and veggies for $5.50. Selected sandwiches are available pre-made at dinner. 2007 Commonwealth Ave., 704-334-5991; 1515 S. Tryon St., 704-332-7782

Mert's Heart and Soul
Mert's has long been a favorite of savvy theatergoers looking for a cheap-but-good pre-show meal. The signature salmon cakes are only $8.95 and come with a mini loaf of sweet cornbread and your choice of two sides (may we recommend the luscious collard greens and tangy mac 'n' cheese?). And the friendly service? That's complimentary. 214 N. College St., 704-342-4222

Cabo Fish Taco

Anticipate waiting for a table at this NoDa favorite, but rest assured it's worth it. The bustling restaurant features a laid-back atmosphere and dishes with a coastal-Mexico-meets-southern-California style. Everything's under $15, but the best choice is the restaurant's namesake, the Cabo Fish Taco. The two flour tortillas are filled with beer-battered cod, cabbage, tomato, avocado, and cheese and topped with white cilantro sauce, then paired with a choice of side (we recommend the creamy Mexi-slaw) and all only $6.95. That leaves plenty of cash for a refreshing $4 El Cheapo margarita. 3201 N. Davidson St., 704-332-8868

Super Cheap Eats

Green's Lunch
The hot dog is the ultimate cheap eat. And eighty-years-young Green's Lunch is the ultimate hot dog joint. A chili cheese dog'll run you a buck eighty-five. Get two. 309 W. Fourth St.; 704-332-1786

Whether it's for the $.50 hot dogs or the $6 meatballs (or, as the Swedes say, köttbuller) with gravy, potatoes and ligonberry
sauce, plenty of people go to IKEA for, believe it or not, the food. 8300 IKEA Blvd., 704-549-4532

SmokEy Brats
Weekend working men know to head to the parking lot outside Blackhawk Hardware for juicy grilled brats. Just enough fuel to repair a fence. Or not. Parking lot at Park Road Shopping Center

Price's Chicken
Step up to the counter, order a box of the country's best fried chicken, tater tots, hush puppies, cole slaw, and a roll, fork over six bucks, and get change back. Done, done, and done. 1614 Camden Rd.,

Harris Teeter Subs
On any given day of the week you can get a Philly cheesesteak, pork barbecue sandwich, tuna salad sub, and more for just $2.99 on the Teeter's daily sub menu. Or for $3.99, grab a six-inch sub and chips to go for a quick dinner sans the cleanup.

Lupie's Café
Lupie's charm stems from its simplicity—and the fact that imported beer is only $3 and domestics are $2.25. Daily specials are only $6.45 and range from a giant plate of spaghetti on Wednesdays to surprisingly delicious quiche on Saturdays. But Lupie's is probably most famous for its chili, which comes in four varieties—hot Texas, mild Cincinnati, mild southern, or vegetarian. It's only $5.75 for a bowl or $6.50 if served over spaghetti noodles. Finish it up with a dollar brownie or apple Kuchen (like a mix between a cobbler and pudding) for $3.50. 2718 Monroe Rd., 704-374-1232

Jim 'n Nick's
Surely by now you've at least heard of Jim 'n Nick's complimentary cheddar biscuits. No? How about the Pig in the Potato Patch—a creamy baked potato stuffed with bacon, butter, sour cream, and beef brisket then smothered in barbecue sauce ($9)? Still no? The smoked ham and pimento cheese sandwich ($8.50)? Hmmm. Perhaps it's better that way, not knowing what you're missing. It leaves more slow-smoked pork and super-sweet tea for the rest of us. 13840 Steele Creek Rd., 704-930-2290

Eddie's Place
Drop in for dinner at Eddie's and you can get one of the best hot dogs in town ($5.25). Or one of the best she-crab soups ($4.95 per cup) in the area. Or indulgent ciabatta French toast with turkey sausage and hash browns (starting at $6.50). Or meaty frog legs. Eddie's menu of comfort food with a Cajun twist (if it can be fried, it's on the menu) and breakfast anytime makes it extremely popular with families and neighborhood folk surrounding its two locations. 617 S. Sharon Amity Rd., 704-442-0147; 12239 Toringdon Way, 704-542-0000

Mac's Speed Shop
Whether you're there for the live music on Wednesdays and Sundays or to sit in the sun at lunchtime, Mac's caters to all types, including businessmen and bikers. Known for its barbecue, Mac's serves it up on sandwiches such as the Lil Pig for $7 and The Mac Daddy for $12 and on small ($10) and large ($12) platters. The pork 'cue is slow-cooked, hand-pulled, and perfect for pairing with the fresh slaw, hot hush puppies, and one of the restaurant's more than 150 beers. 2511 South Blvd., 704-522-6227; 19601 Liverpool Pkwy., Cornelius, 704-892-3554; 2414 Sandy Porter Rd., 704-504-8500

Greek Isles
There's a reason that media types congregate at Greek Isles: it's good and it's cheap. And this is no ethnic dive; it's a beautiful place with a long bar and a view of the skyline. If you stick to the Greek specialties, such as the bursting-with-flavor dolmades ($12.95), you'll have enough for a tzatziki starter ($3.95) or a teeth-numbingly sweet baklava ender ($4.50). We know what we'd choose. 200 E. Bland St., 704-444-9000

Dean & DeLuca
Yes, it is a grocery store. But it's a grocery store with tables and it serves wholesome sandwiches practically bursting with the flavorful fillings, salads made with the freshest ingredients, and sushi prepared daily, all with prices that start under $10. Plus there's a cozy sitting area inside as well as a patio outside, perfect for relaxing in the sun while you people-watch the crowds at Phillips Place or Stonecrest. 6903 Phillips Place Ct., 704-643-6868; Stonecrest, 7804 Rea Rd., 704-541-7123

The Penguin Drive-In
Locals love to recommend the Penguin in Plaza Midwood. Known for its fried food, big burgers, and cheap beer, the diner is open late and features loaded dogs for $3.25 (or add chili and pimento cheese for another $.95), drafts for $1.50, and, of course, its famous fried dill pickle chips piled in a basket and served hot with a side of creamy ranch dressing for $5.25. 1921 Commonwealth Ave., 704-375-6959

Alexander Michael's
Tucked in historic Fourth Ward, this cozy neighborhood restaurant and bar serves heaping plates of hearty food. Most of its entrées are under $15, including the rich Honey Chicken served with bacon and tomato cream sauce over pasta for $13.50, but the real deals come with its tasty sandwiches. The London broil features thick slices of flank steak topped with Swiss cheese for $9.50, and the traditional Reuben ($7.75) is one of the best—and biggest—in town. 401 W. Ninth St., 704-332-6789

Good Food on Montford
When brothers Bruce and Kerry Moffet named their restaurant, they were being modest. The all-small-plates menu means you get to try some of Charlotte's best food and not go broke in the process. But if you go hungry, you're going to spend money. Our advice for a couple on a budget: go early or late, grab a seat at the bar, and sample the steamed buns with five-spice pork belly ($10), the handmade garganelli with tomato and sausage ($9), the butternut squash risotto fritters ($6), and the lemon bars with frozen raspberry yogurt ($6). You won't be disappointed. 1701 Montford Dr., 704-525-0881

Dilworth Neighborhood Grille
Charlotte needs more places like this. The DNG is the classic neighborhood restaurant and bar, with fine sandwiches, pizzas, and make-your-own salads. You can get chicken spiedie (chicken marinated in a flavorful vinegar-based sauce) in a wrap ($7.95) or pizza ($7.95); either is highly recommended. For a different twist on a burger, go for the Bendert Burger Wrap ($6.95), which comes doused in a tangy ancho sauce. 911 E. Morehead St., 704-377-3808

Flying Biscuit
This funky Atlanta-based chain is known for its brunch—and, of course, its biscuits. Conveniently, said brunch is served all day. Which means that you can get the smoked salmon scramble ($9.50)—a rich mixture of salmon, dill cream cheese, and scrambled eggs—or its famous organic oatmeal pancakes served with warm peach compote ($7.49) whether the sun is coming up or going down. Stonecrest, 7930 Rea Rd., Ste. B, 704-295-4440

There are salads, and then there are heaping bowls of delicious fresh ingredients such as vine-ripened tomatoes, kalamata olives, prosciutto, and portobello mushrooms. All of Crisp's salads, which are $8.75 or less, are prepared when you order them, and all of them are huge. If salads aren't your thing, though, no problem. Crisp, which is now open for dinner, offers several sandwiches including a classic BLT ($6.50) served with a creamy herb aioli for an extra boost of flavor. 1971 E. Seventh St., 704-333-9515

Killington's Restaurant & Pub
This Huntersville hangout seems like a sports bar, but the food claims otherwise. On a menu so large it can probably be seen from space, entrées can be pricey, so stick with one of seventeen sandwiches, such as the Bacon-Encrusted Meatloaf Sandwich ($6.75) or the Smoked Duck Wrap with jicama slaw and a rich molasses Dijon barbecue sauce ($8.25). 10010 Rose Commons Dr., Huntersville, 704-948-3770

Mexi Cafe
Mexican food tends to be on the cheap side, but this isn't your average Tex-Mex fare. While there is the traditional queso dip ($5.75), guacamole ($5.50), and chimichangas ($7.95), this eclectic and colorfully decorated café on Elizabeth Avenue also serves unexpected options such as a fresh and light pepper seared tuna salad with sushi grade tuna ($12.50) and a lentil burger topped with cucumber sauce on pita bread ($6.50). 16091/2 Elizabeth Ave., 704-377-5908

Zada Jane's Corner Café
This funky, bright restaurant with shuffleboards in front is the perfect spot for vegetarians and breakfast lovers. But with tasty options like the Drucker's Clucker ($8.75), a large sandwich stuffed with free-range chicken, caramelized onions, and mozzarella, there are options for everyone. The dinner menu can be expensive, but you can find options like the rich wild mushroom ravioli for $15. Whatever your tastes, make sure to get one of the fluffy biscuits. They're 95 cents and worth every penny. 1601 Central Ave., 704-332-3663

Bangkok Ocha
This unassuming south Charlotte restaurant would be worth the trip for its pad thai ($7.50) alone. However, the restaurant, which is packed at lunchtime but a great spot for a quiet dinner, serves up some of the most flavorful Thai dishes in town. Order the spring rolls ($2.95) appetizer for a burst of warm, fresh vegetables wrapped in a light, crispy shell. Or, for a more filling option, it offers a full selection of Thai curries ($6.50-$8.95) prepared to your level of preferred spiciness. 7629 Pineville Matthews Rd., Ste. B, 704-544-7770

Ilios Noche
Most of this south Charlotte spot's menu is affordable, as in less than $14 for an entrée. The Prosciutto Caprese is served on freshly baked toasted panzino bread with just the right ratio of prosciutto, mozzarella, arugula, roma tomatoes, and balsamic vinegar for $8.50. But make a point to try the hand-rolled pastas (the Garganelli Chicken is a favorite) with a side of the house-made panzino bread (hint: ask the server for a side of the bread). You'll leave here for less than $30 for two entrées and a dessert. 11508 Providence Rd., 704-814-9882

Firebirds Wood Fired Grill
With locations at SouthPark, North Lake, and Stonecrest, you can find one of these Southwestern United States-inspired restaurants just about wherever you are in Charlotte. While most of the restaurant's entrées are closer to the $20 range, it offers enormous salads like the BBQ chicken salad with a creamy garlic blue cheese dressing for $10.95, and tasty burgers, sandwiches, and starters, all of which are under $15. 3920 Sharon Rd., 704-366-3655; Stonecrest, 7716 Rea Rd., 704-752-7979; 6801 Northlake Mall Dr., 704-295-1919

The Counter
The patio at this upscale SouthPark burger joint is perfect for lunch in the sun or an alfresco dinner. Most of the burgers and salads are built á la carte (starting at $6.95) and sides like sweet potato fries ($4) and fried pickle chips ($4) are served for sharing and come with an array of dipping sauces. It's convenient you won't be spending much on your meal because you'll want that leftover cash for one of the restaurant's signature creamy milkshakes ($4.95). 4310 Sharon Rd., Ste. X05, 704-365-1922

There are plenty of lower-cost dinner options at this local favorite, such as Texas Beef Brisket for $13 or Parmesan-crusted chicken for $12. Plus, pizzas like the lump crab and artichoke ($10) and wild mushroom ($10) are made with organic flour and are a great way to get some of the restaurant's best ingredients for lower prices. And the entire menu is offered to go. 6518 Fairview Rd., 704-355-6688; 11059 Carolina Place Pkwy., Pineville, 704-541-5255

Thai Orchid
This small Thai restaurant, tucked in the Strawberry Hill shopping center, is serving some of the city's most authentic—and reasonably priced—Thai cuisine. All of the restaurant's specialties are around $15, but that is as expensive as it gets with stir fry dishes like chicken pad prik king for $10.95 and shrimp panang curry for $11.50. Plus, lunchtime specials, such as pad thai served with soup and spring roll for $6.95, allow the chance to try much more for less. 4223-7 Providence Rd., 704-364-1134

Big Daddy's Burger Bar
If you haven't made the trip to this Dilworth hotspot, you're probably feeling left out. This sports-bar-meets-bustling-family-restaurant serves some of the best fried pickles in town ($7) and sweet potato fries that will make you think of giving up the plain, old potato ones for good. And while á la carte burgers and salads can get expensive with premium toppings such as avocado costing $1, it's hard to find much on the menu for more than $10. 1626 East Blvd., 704-714-4888

Ru Sans
If you're looking for fancy cuts or imported wasabi, this isn't the place for you. But this Dilworth restaurant offers the cheapest sushi in town. From the all-you-can-eat lunch buffet ($9.75) to more than fifty varieties of sushi (with some priced as low as $1), this boisterous restaurant offers plenty of options to satiate your sushi craving while leaving your bank account fully intact. 2440 Park Rd., 704-374-0008

Cantina 1511
This East Boulevard staple has arguably one of the best patios in Dilworth, making it the perfect place to enjoy a cool margarita ($7.59) or sangria ($6.50) this summer. Splurging on your drinks won't be a problem here, where a giant order of the nachos with ground beef or marinated chicken are $7.99 and a large steak quesadilla is just $11.99. Or go for big $11 enchiladas or three authentic soft tacos crammed with gourmet fillings (carne asada, mahi, al pastor, shrimp, and more) and rice, beans, and slaw for $12. 1511 East Blvd., 704-331-9222; Stonecrest, 7708 Rea Rd., 704-752-7979

Sir Edmond Halley's
Known affectionately to regulars as “Sir Ed's,” this pub often pushes the envelope, using wild ingredients in otherwise familiar dishes. But the exotic tendencies of Chef Tobin McAfee don't have to put a hurtin' on your wallet. Most menu items are less than $10 and pay homage to far more than just Great Britain's cuisine, such as the Grilled Thai Beef Won Ton Nachos ($6.95) or the Buffalo Chicken Tender Wrap with cucumber jicama ($7.95). A great way to try the otherwise pricy fish and chips or Irish stew is to come for the $10 “parliament lunch.” Park Road Shopping Center, 4151 Park Rd., 704-525-2555

Plaza Midwood denizens know Foskoskies as a cozy diner off the beaten path. The Crazy Goat Salad ($7.95) is topped generously with crumbled goat cheese and candied pecans and pairs wonderfully with the homemade soups ($3.95 for a cup). All sandwiches (we love the Artichoke Sub for $6.95) and most lunch entrées are less than $10, with the exception of the Country Crab Cake, which is far from a splurge at $12.90. Dinner entrées, such as the Spicy Thai Noodles, hover around $13, and most of the time you'll have enough left over for lunch the next day. 2121 Shamrock Dr., 704-535-2220

Though the food comes out pretty fast and some locations have drive-through windows, Showmars falls outside the fast-food category. The menu incorporates Greek influences, such as the gyro or souvlaki sandwiches or dinners ($4-$8). The restaurant has more than a dozen locations around Charlotte (only a few open for dinner) and can easily feed a family of four for under $30. Mom and Dad nibble from each other's flounder dinner and fries ($9) and Greek salad ($7), while the two kids munch happily on pita burgers ($5).

Bronte Bistro
SouthPark has plenty of fast food and high-dollar options, but not much in between. Bronte Bistro, a tiny restaurant poured into a corner of Joseph-Beth Booksellers, fits the bill. Various menu items are pulled straight from cookbooks; we're partial to Rachael Ray's turkey burger ($8.79), made with horseradish and cheddar. Filling, savory quiches ($8.59), with options rotating daily, are good too. SouthPark, 4345 Barclay Downs Dr., 704-602-9810

River's Edge Bar and Grill
(U.S. National Whitewater Center)
Dinner and a show! Early summer nights are the ideal time to lounge on the terrace and watch paddlers on the water while enjoying a cold beer and a TBLT (that's a trout filet sandwich with applewood bacon, spinach, and tomatoes on ciabatta with remoulade sauce—$10.99). It's almost like camping, but with more beer—fifteen kinds on tap—and fewer snakes. 820 Hawfield Rd., 704-391-3900

Kabob Grill
Serving Middle Eastern meets Mediterranean cuisine, the Kabob Grill offers freshly made hummus and pitas along with, naturally, kabobs. Lamb, pork, gyros, and ground beef are all prepared fresh with several specials each day. Try the kabob wraps for $7 or share kabob platters with a plate of hummus and grilled pita. You will be pleasantly surprised when the bill comes as well, with two sandwiches, a plate of hummus and two drinks coming to just $25. 1235 East Blvd., 704-371-8984

United House of Prayer for All People
At lunchtime, two locations of the colorful United House of Prayer churches open their cafeterias to the public. And the public flocks for lip-smacking soul food. Selections vary a bit day to day, but count on succulent fried or baked chicken, tangy collards, sweet yams, and gooey mac 'n' cheese. And at five bucks (and no tax), the price is right. 1019 S. Mint St., 704-377-1835; 2321 Beatties Ford Rd., 704-394-3884

Revolution Pizza & Ale House
Yes, pizza is budget friendly. No big surprise there. But this NoDa joint is more than a pizza place. Six tasty sandwiches, such as grilled chicken with smoked provolone and garlic aioli, run $7 to $9. And the pizzas, with a crispy thin crust, are excellent. Start with a personal-size pie for $7 and add cheap basic toppings, or splurge for gourmet toppings (local crispy and salty guanciale) for a buck apiece. 3228 N. Davidson St., 704-333-4440

Las Ramblas
If you're not careful, it's easy to end up outside the “cheap eats” range when ordering tapas. But here's our favorite light-but-delish meal at Las Ramblas: the impossibly tasty La Mancha flatbread pizza ($9), with its heady toppings of arugula, goat cheese, quail eggs, and truffle oil, and a glass of Spanish red selected by local wine importer extraordinaire Eric Solomon. You'll want to make it a regular thing. 2400 Park Rd., 704-335-8444

Amalfi Italian Cuisine
From Pasta Fagioli to baked ziti to old-school lasagna, this is the kind of homey Italian restaurant Tony Soprano would love. There's lots of gooey cheese, zesty red sauce, and thick noodles as well as a smattering of chicken and veal dishes. But as far as traditional southern Italian cooking goes, Amalfi's fare is truly inspired. Families love the pizzas. And nothing is more than $15. 8542 University City Blvd., 704-547-8651

Wolfgang Puck Carolina Bistro
The restaurant recently added table service to step up its image, but it remains a great value. There are variations of Puck's signature pizzas—try the margherita—perfect for one or for sharing, as is the famed Chinois chicken salad: Napa cabbage, roasted chicken, and lettuce chopped with a zippy wasabi dressing. A pizza, salad, and glass of wine will run you around $28. Plus, check out the $20 family specials. 5349 Ballantyne Commons Pkwy., #100, 704-708-5802

Down to the Bone
While everyone else has been mourning the loss of the Coffee Cup, we've been happily munching on succulent fried chicken ($8 with two sides), the city's best mac and cheese, and sweet and vinegary collards at this University area soul-food outpost. It's counter service and not all the menu items are available every day, but from catfish to turkey legs, there's plenty to keep you from going hungry. 7495 N. Tryon St., 704-548-1616

Los Paísas
You gotta love a place that sells tasty little beef empanadas for only a buck. And a trio of housemade salsas offer plenty of flavor options. The two Los Paísas locations are a cut above the typical ethnic dive, with warm woods and subdued lighting. The cuisine is Colombian, which melds Mexican and European flavors, brings out equal parts spiciness and creaminess, and places an emphasis on meat. And value. 5033 South Blvd., 704-527-5553; 8313 Pineville-Matthews Rd., 704-542-5477

El Pulgarcito
It serves Mexican food as a front, but at heart this is a Salvadorean restaurant. That means hearty pupusas (housemade corn tortillas stuffed with meat and cheese), excellent tamales (try the surprisingly flavorful plain corn), spicy coleslaw, and dangerously addictive chicharrones (pork rinds, but better). The interior is careworn diner at best and English is rare, but it's hard to spend more than ten bucks here. 4816 Central Ave., 704-563-6500

Mr. K's
Of the few old-timey burger joints left, Mr. K's is king. Everything is cooked on the flattop right in front of you, including juicy cheeseburgers, loaded hot dogs, and guilty-pleasure corndogs (all of which are under $5). The milkshakes are made with real fruit, and the chocolate-dipped soft serve deserves a spot in the cheap eats dessert pantheon. And even as its South End environs becomes increasingly hip, Mr. K's just keeps on keeping on. 2107 South Blvd., 704-375-4318

Pollo Royal
Peruvians like their chicken, and they like it fried. At Pollo Royal, it comes out crispy and light, and you'll be looking in the kitchen for a Peruvian grandmother. Traditional sides ensure international flair at this little spot, which is light on ambience. 5322 South Blvd., 704-523-2926

Categories: Feature, Food + Drink, Restaurants & Food