Affordable Eats: 25 Greater Cincinnati Spots to Grab a Meal for Under $13

CityBeat staffers have put together a list of 25 of their favorite spots for an affordable meal.

click to enlarge A sandwich from Daylily Deli - Photo: Catie Viox
Photo: Catie Viox
A sandwich from Daylily Deli

With inflation sending grocery costs soaring, high gas prices and a looming recession, the saying “a dollar doesn’t go as far as it used to” feels more apt than ever these days, especially when it comes to dining out. It may seem like you can’t even grab lunch anymore without shelling out at least $15, but CityBeat staffers have put together a list of 25 of their favorite spots for an affordable meal. While chili parlors and diners are always a great option — as are the Reader Pick winners of CityBeat’s 2022 Best Of Cincinnati “Cheap Eats” category: Skyline, Zip’s Cafe and Goodfellas — the following spots offer something beyond a 3-Way. Ringing up for $13 or less per diner, these are not multi-course, sit-down dinners, obviously, but they’re all super-satisfying options to fill you up without breaking the bank.

Al-Madina Market & Grill
6 W. Corry St., Corryville |
The Lebanese-style Al-Madina Market & Grill has a great variety of halal lunch and dinner options, most notably their sandwich wraps made with housemade flatbread straight from the tandoor oven. While CityBeat has raved time and time again about their chicken shawarma, the shish tawook ($8.99) is an even better wrap at the same price point. The main difference is that the chicken in the shish tawook is charbroiled, making for a smokier and more aromatic protein (ask for extra toum if you like garlic aioli). While you wait for your order (it doesn’t take long), pick up some specialty grocery items for your home kitchen from the market shelves. (Sean M. Peters)

Allez Bakery
1208 Main St., Over-the-Rhine |
If the saying “You’re only as good as the company you keep” was applied to the sandwich world, it would mean your filling is only as good as its enveloping bread. Not surprisingly, Allez Bakery, which has garnered national praise for its artisanal bread and pastries, makes spectacular sandwiches. Whether you’re looking for something meaty or veggie-heavy, you’ll find good options when you step up to the counter (as long as they haven’t sold out). A particular favorite is the decadent Meatball Madness ($10), which is only available on Fridays and features fluffy ciabatta bread loaded with red sauce, pesto, provolone and some gratuitous meatballs. Stock up on napkins for this saucy stack. (SMP)

Anchor Grill
438 W Pike St., Covington | searchable on Facebook
Anchor Grill has one of the cheapest and best breakfasts in the city — and you can get it 24/7/365. Grab a breakfast sandwich or omelet with a side of biscuits and gravy (or pretty much anything else on the menu) for $10 or less. The Glier’s Goetta factory is located across the street, so you can’t go wrong with a goetta dish. In 2020, New Yorker food correspondent Helen Rosner even named the Anchor’s double-decker goetta, lettuce and tomato sandwich ($6.50) one of the best things she’d eaten that decade. The diner celebrated 75 years of offering home-cooked, Southern-style eats in 2021 and maintains its retro vibe. Wood-paneled walls and cozy booths are complemented by a 1940s coin-operated “Band Box,” which contains a miniature toy big band that mimes performances to jukebox tunes. (Brent Stroud)

1535 Madison Road, East Walnut Hills |
East Walnut Hills’ upscale eatery Branch is located in a beautiful former Art Deco bank building at the corner of Madison Road and Woodburn Avenue. With chef Alessandro Urbisci at the kitchen’s helm, the menu features an elegant focus on Italian eats, with a petite selection of pastas, shareables like the Polpette Di Olive or burrata and some sophisticated entrees. On Tuesdays, the restaurant offers an additional menu item: oysters. And they aren’t just any oysters — they’re $1 oysters. As you might suspect, these little guys go fast, so plan on arriving early if you want to score some of these minimally priced mollusks. (Hailey Bollinger)

Brew House
1047 E. McMillan St., Walnut Hills |
Open since the 1970s, Brew House in Walnut Hills is an eclectic neighborhood bar offering a slice of history, cheap drinks, and super good and fairly priced food. The flavorful burgers ($8; $7 without cheese) are the perfect size: a 5.5-ounce 80/20-blend patty. They come with chips, but you can make yours a platter with fries and coleslaw for a slight upcharge, or snag a side of onion rings for $4. Brew House also gets a little crazy with its weekly burger special, like the recent pizza or taco burger with fries ($9.95). It all pairs perfectly with a draft beer ($5) and some James Brown playing over the speakers. (BS)

click to enlarge An assortment of dishes from Bridges Nepali Cuisine - Photo: Kellie Coleman
Photo: Kellie Coleman
An assortment of dishes from Bridges Nepali Cuisine

Bridges Nepali Cuisine
4165 Hamilton Ave., Northside; 133 E. Court St., Downtown |
Food from Nepal is smoky, spicy and packed with vegetables. It calls upon the flavors found in Indian and Chinese cuisines, which makes sense because Nepal is nestled between the two countries. Bridges Nepali Cuisine, featuring the owner’s mother’s recipes, specializes in build-your-own meat or vegan rice bowls ($10.60), with toppings including grilled chicken tikka masala, aloo wala chilled potatoes and lentil-based curry gravy. Or try the chow mein noodles ($12.60), pan-fried with ginger, cabbage and scallion. Another specialty? Plump, multicolored dumplings called momos ($10.75), which are served steamed, sauteed or deep fried. (SMP)

Carl’s Deli
2836 Observatory Ave., Hyde Park |
Carl’s Deli has been a Hyde Park staple for over 80 years, with ownership that’s only changed hands a few times since 1938. Most recently, in April 2022, sisters Sydney Turnbull and Cameron Kurz purchased it from Anne McManus, whose family had run the business since 1968. Aiming to keep traditions alive, the sisters have kept the numbered sandwich menu unchanged. Walk up to the deli counter to order sandwiches, salads — like the signature Joanie’s Crabmeat and Artichoke Salad — quiches, pastas, soups and even dessert. Bonus: Everything is $11 and under. Ask for a No. 30 ($9), with creamy homemade red pepper hummus and fresh veggies. The No. 23 ($10.99) is also a hit: Carl’s Country Club features rotisserie turkey, swiss, bacon, lettuce, tomato, onion and mayo. For the same price, you can also get half a sandwich and a soup. (Mackenzie Manley)

Cincy Steak & Lemonade
2607 Vine St., Corryville |
Fans of FX’s Chicago-based kitchen drama series The Bear can say “yes, chef” to Cincy Steak & Lemonade’s Italian beef sandwich ($11.99), a local replica of the Windy City staple. Topped with mozzarella and giardiniera peppers, it comes with a side of gravy (for dipping) and fries. The neon-lit joint also offers other favorites in to-go Styrofoam containers, from Philly cheesesteaks and gyros to burgers, wings, tacos, nachos and even breakfast. Don’t miss the frozen lemonades ($2.99), with flavors ranging from rainbow and watermelon to pina colada. (Maija Zummo)

3751 Eastern Ave., Columbia Tusculum |
Chef Jose Salazar’s restaurant group and Deeper Roots Coffee recently opened Daylily, a New York City-inspired bodega and deli in Columbia Tusculum. It offers a taste of home for the Queens-born Salazar, as well as a full coffee program, groceries and beer and wine. The food menu features slightly elevated versions of iconic bodega eats, like egg and cheese on a roll ($5; $8.50 with breakfast meat) and a Chopped Cheese ($9.50), with ground beef, American cheese, sauteed onions, banana peppers and special sauce on a hoagie. Grab either to go or enjoy them on the big back patio. (MZ)

El Barril Mexican Sports Bar & Grill
940 Pavilion St., Mt. Adams |
Mount Adams welcomed this dining establishment to its quaint hilltop neighborhood last fall, taking over the space formerly occupied by Next Chapter. As its name suggests, the eatery is part restaurant — boasting both Mexican street food and bar bites — and part sports bar. Across the board, menu prices are pretty reasonable, but if you’re looking for a real bang for your buck, opt for the burger and taco combo ($12.99). The meal comes with your choice of burger (options include the breakfast burger with goetta, bacon, cheese, fried egg and Sriracha mayo or the El Barril Burger with guacamole, sauteed mushrooms, onions and American cheese), two tacos and a side of fries. (HB)

Galactic Fried Chicken
624 Sixth Ave., Dayton, Kentucky |
Dayton, Kentucky’s retro sci-fi-themed Galactic Fried Chicken serves up crispy delights for carnivores and herbivores alike, all made using gluten-free batter. Owned by husband-and-wife team Shane Coffey and Kathy McDonald, the menu features the titular fried chicken, plus salads, chicken tenders, sandwiches and classic sides like mac and cheese, deviled eggs, Texas toast and fried pickles. The vegetarian jackfruit nugget meal ($10) comes with eight nugs, a side of Galactic Sauce, coleslaw and housemade pickles. Add fries and a drink for $4. Galactic doesn’t skimp on servings — there’s enough to keep for leftovers or a midday snack. (MM)

Gulow Street
1614 Hoffner St., Northside |
Gulow Street is a cozy neighborhood bar that offers craft cocktails, a homey interior and a streamlined menu of sophisticated eats. Covering all the bases in just a handful of dishes, the menu ranges from rigatoni Bolognese to a pimento cheese breakfast sandwich (a replica of the favorite from the co-owner’s now-defunct Cheapside Cafe) to a cheeseburger, all for less than $11. But go for the refreshingly delicious, umami-infused cold sesame noodles ($6 half-portion; $10.50 full), topped with shiitake, carrot, red pepper and ginger-soy dressing. Pair that with a drink from the happy hour menu — $4 Tito’s vodka, $2 Miller High Life or $3 well drinks — or a $10 burger-and-draft deal on Tuesdays. (MZ)

Island Frydays
2826 Vine St., Corryville |
Island Frydays features authentic Caribbean cuisine made by former University of Cincinnati football captain Leo Morgan, a native of Jamaica. The dishes — a mix of curries, jerks and stews — pack a whole lot of flavor and are officially Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives host Guy Fieri-approved. Try an Island Combo ($11), like a brown stew wrap or jerk chicken sandwich with choice of side (fries, yellow rice, cabbage, rice and peas, greens or jerk chicken pasta) and a juice, made in-house. (MZ)

Kiki College Hill
5932 Hamilton Ave., College Hill |
Chefs and husband-and-wife duo Hideki and Yuko Harada met at the Tsuji Culinary Institute in Osaka, Japan. They opened Kiki College Hill in 2019 with the goal of sharing Japanese dishes that can be hard to find in America. With several gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan options, it’s the perfect place to accommodate multiple dietary needs without breaking the bank. Kiki’s kimchi ramen ($10) is a soul-nourishing delight, made with slurp-worthy noodles, housemade kimchi, tender tofu, green onion and a tea-marinated egg. The shio ramen ($10) is the meaty counterpart, with chicken broth and pork belly. Keep an eye out for their seasonal specials and desserts. (MM)

Lil’s Bagels
308 Greenup St., Covington |
If you’ve ever found yourself daydreaming about sinking your teeth into a chewy, crusty bagel sandwich packed with local ingredients, head to Covington and order the Good Judy ($8) at Lil’s Bagels. Every bagel at Lil’s is homemade, “hand-rolled, boiled and baked with tradition,” according to the website, including the za’atar wheat upon which the Good Judy is served. The sandwich is loaded with arugula, pickled jicama and radish and smeared with spreads made from beets, veggies, garlic and herbs. It’s teeming with spicy, tangy flavor (a vegan option is also available). Open until 2 p.m. all week, Lil’s is an ideal breakfast, brunch or lunch spot. All of Lil’s signature sandwich options are $13 and under and the egg sandwiches cost $5 to $9. (MM)

Pig Candy BBQ
5901 Kellogg Ave., California |
Paul Montgomery and Christina Goehrig opened Pig Candy BBQ inside a historic former jail in California, Ohio, in 2021. The restaurant takes its name from its specialty dish: a gluten-free waffle pressed with pulled pork and topped with a maple peach glaze ($9). You obviously can’t go wrong with that — or their pulled pork, brisket or Alabama pulled chicken — but one of the best ways to sample their barbecue is in the Pig Mac Bowl ($10). It’s a comforting combo of mac and cheese topped with pulled pork, red sauce and coleslaw. (MZ)

Saigon Subs & Rolls
151 W. Fourth St., Downtown |
Walk into Saigon Subs & Rolls and you’ll likely be hit with the smell of fresh cilantro. Located downtown, the Vietnamese restaurant is open 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. on weekdays, making it ideal for lunch break. Consider ordering their banh mi ($6.50), a classic version of the spicy-but-sweet sandwich with cucumber, cilantro, jalapeno and pickled carrots and daikon tucked inside a crunchy, buttery, toasted baguette. Add your choice of chicken, pork, beef or tofu. It’s a steal that will keep you coming back for more. (MM)

3501 Erie Ave., Hyde Park |
Hyde Park’s SushiNati boasts half-price sushi all day, every day, which basically means their entire sushi menu is super affordable all the time. There are insane rolls, like the Bengals ($10), with spicy fried tuna, spicy crab, cucumber and avocado topped with torched salmon, green onion, tobiko and ponzu sauce. But it’s their unique veggie rolls that really shine, such as the fried tofu ($4.50), steamed spinach ($4.50) and pickled radish ($3.50). The menu also features Asian soups and various stir-fried or grilled combinations served in stone bowls. (MZ)

click to enlarge Tacos from Tortilleria Garcia - Photo: Paige Deglow
Photo: Paige Deglow
Tacos from Tortilleria Garcia
Tortilleria Garcia
5917 Hamilton Ave., College Hill; 11774 Springfield Pike, Springdale; 4200 Aero Drive, Mason |
At Tortilleria Garcia, tacos are not just relegated to Tuesdays — although they do offer stellar $1 tacos that day. With fillings ranging from carnitas to carne asada and shrimp to potato poblano ($2.89-$4.10), the tacos are served on corn tortillas, made from scratch daily. You can also try some of the meaty options in the tamales ($2.89). If you’ve never tried horchata ($2.99), this is the spot to give the sweetened rice beverage a first sip. The tortillas are also sold in bulk, perfect for making breakfast tacos, chilaquiles, tostadas, nachos or anything else you can dream up in the kitchen. (SMP)

Trotta’s Pizza & Drive-Thru
3501 Werk Road, Western Hills |
Frequently named one of the top 10 best pizza joints by CityBeat readers in the Best Of Cincinnati issue, Trotta’s Pizza & Drive-Thru is a pony keg that slings superior slices. Known for its unique toppings — ranging from chili and goetta to meatballs and hot wing sauce — Trotta’s offers several styles of crust: super thin, traditional, Sicilian (its specialty) and even cauliflower. The Lotta Trotta is a fan favorite for its size alone: 24 slices of Sicilian ‘za, which can feed 10-12 people for under $27. That’s a steal, but if you’re looking for something under $13, you can get a whole 12-inch cheese pizza ($12.20) or stock up on the daily specialty slice ($3 per slice). You never know what you’re going to get, unless it’s a Thursday: on Thursdays, they always serve sausage. (MZ)

Unataza Coffee
603 Sixth Ave., Dayton, Kentucky |
Northern Kentucky Honduran cafe Unataza Coffee brings more to the table than just a piping-hot cup of (locally roasted) joe. The shop also serves a range of Honduran-inspired bites for appetites both big and small. Menu staples range from breakfast tacos to the popular vegetarian Jaded Cauli wrap ($9), but a favorite is the Tacoma Taquito ($9). Named after Dayton, Kentucky’s gone-but-not-forgotten Tacoma Pool, the wrap is made with scrambled eggs, refried beans, turkey bacon, grilled peppers and onions, cheddar cheese, diced onion and cilantro. The savory dish is served with a side of plantain chips and salsa or creamy jalapeno dressing. (HB)

The Whole Bowl
364 Ludlow Ave., Clifton |
“It’s like eating a hug.” Whole Bowl’s tagline is a bold claim, but they consistently deliver. This eco-conscious micro chain has three locations: two in Oregon and one right here in the Clifton neighborhood. Vegetarian, nut- and gluten-free, the bowls come in three sizes — Bambino ($6.50), Big Bowl ($6.95) and Insatiabowl ($8.75) — and start with a base of freshly cooked brown rice. Mix and match toppings, including olives, black and red beans, salsa, avocado, shredded cheddar and cilantro. Everything comes together with the golden Tali sauce, a delectably creamy, lemony sauce that’s the true star of the show. (Leyla Shokoohe)

​​Wodka Bar
1200 Main St., Over-the-Rhine |
Named one of the best bars in America by Esquire magazine, Wodka Bar slings a surprising selection of rare international and house-infused vodkas. But owner Sarah Dworak — the granddaughter of Ukrainian immigrants and the mastermind behind Babushka Pierogies — also supplies a menu of Eastern European eats. There’s caviar, pickled vegetables, smoked meats, borscht, stroganoff and, of course, pierogi. The specialty Four-Way Pierogi ($10) is a vegetarian offering featuring meat-free-chili-stuffed pierogi topped with cheddar, sour cream, onions and Frank’s RedHot. Eat them at the bar or grab some from the walk-up takeout window. (MZ)

1132 Lee St., Covington |
This decade-old bar and eatery offers a taste of Deutschland without leaving the city. The menu, which is written in chalk and located behind the bar, ranges from doner kebabs and burgers to giant pretzels with beer cheese and pierogi. All of the options are reasonably priced, but the real deals are the rotating sausage-and-side combos ($10). The eatery boasts roughly 10 different sausages at any given time — most made in-house, with a few from local Glier’s Meats — including options like cheddarwurst, currywurst and even a veggie sausage. Sides run the gamut from roasted cauliflower to beet salad to sauerkraut. In addition to great food and a killer beer selection, you can enjoy live entertainment most nights. (HB)

Wyoming Meat Market
513 Wyoming Ave., Wyoming |
Culinary entrepreneur and butcher Shelbi Nation recently purchased the historic Wyoming Meat Market from longtime owner Jim Gelhausen, who had operated it for 41 years. Nation has given the market a bit of a facelift, bringing in new display cases, a dry-aging locker and some natural wines (a house bar is in the works), but the shop still specializes in whole-animal butchery, specifically of Ohio-raised Wagyu beef. The menu also offers a rotating selection of sandwiches. The Italian ($12) comes with three types of cured meat, cheese and your choice of fresh-cut toppings on rosemary focaccia baked at the next-door Wyoming Pastry Shop. Round out your meal with a curated selection of chips, soda or alcohol from smaller, unique purveyors. (BS)

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