From high-end restaurants to greasy spoons, here are the South's 50 best budget bites.

East Side King, Austin, Texas
Tori Meshi, a Thai chicken-and-rice dish at Austin's East Side King.
| Credit: Jody Horton


1 | Acre
Rabbit Brunswick Stew with PBR Cornbread, $9. David Bancroft uses the hyper-local growing seasons as inspiration for his bright and airy new restaurant. This meaty stew gives a hearty window into his cooking, without the commitment of a multicourse meal.

2 | Big Bad Breakfast
Big Bad Breakfast Plate, $8.50. Chef John Currence is expanding his breakfast empire across state lines this month with a new location of his popular Oxford, Mississippi, diner. The eponymous breakfast plate continues to be a steal: Eggs, bacon or sausage, grits or home fries, gravy (we're partial to the tomato version), and toast or a biscuit.

3 | Little Donkey
Plato de Tacos, $9. Here, they make as much as possible from scratch, and the results are palpable. Tacos are wrapped in warm, freshly pressed corn tortillas. Mix and match from a variety of fillings (the queso fundido is a gooey, sausage-studded masterpiece), and add a side, such as a cast-iron crock teeming with rice, beans, and a poached egg.


4 | Cotham's Mercantile

Hubcap Burger + Onion Rings, $10.29. OK, so we went over budget by 29 cents on this one, but the gargantuan one-pounder at Cotham's is worth it and comes with decades of destination-worthy ambience. The patty, which gets a healthy dusting of Cotham's own burger seasoning, comes classically adorned with lettuce, tomato, mayo, and American cheese.

5 | Yulianitas (Chef's Pick)
Tacos, $1.50. "Yulianitas is kind of a dive, but it has authentic Mexican food. I order a few different tacos, including beef tongue, chorizo, and braised pork." —Matt McClure, The Hive, Bentonville, AR


Amelia Island
6 | T-Ray's Burger Station

Little T Burger, $3.25. Gas pumps still stand sentry outside this old filling station, but the burgers with hand-shaped patties are the real fuel for this quiet beach community.

7 | La Camaronera

Original Minuta Sandwich, $5. Don't wait for a table at this seafood market in Little Havana. Locals know to pack in at the standing bar for this fish sandwich on steroids. Whole fish, only hours out of the water, are butterfly-cut, deep-fried (tail still intact), and served on a bun with chopped onions, ketchup, tartar sauce, and lemon wedges.


8 | Empire State South

Breakfast Sandwich + a Counter Culture Cappuccino, $9.50. Within the choose-your-own-adventure breakfast sandwich format, you can walk away with a buttermilk biscuit loaded with pimiento cheese and crispy fried chicken and still have change for a cappuccino made with Counter Culture coffee.

9 | Waffle House (Chef's Pick)
Cheese 'N Eggs, $4.40. "This Southern chain is diner food at its best: simple, a little greasy, but always spot-on. Eggs are one of my favorite foods, so I order the cheesy scrambled eggs with raisin toast no matter the time of day or night." —Mike Lata, Fig and the Ordinary, Charleston, SC

10 | The General Muir
The General, $10. Here, pastrami, seasoned and smoked in-house, is the real attraction. Try it at breakfast, alongside latkes, eggs, applesauce, and sour cream.

11 | Holy Taco
Two Lamb Tacos, $8. When on the menu, don't miss the lamb tacos. Made with house-made lamb sausage, garbanzo bean puree, and Cotija cheese, it's like a taco truck crashed into a gyro stand.

12 | Victory Sandwich Bar

"Super Mario" + a small Jack & Cola Slushie, $8. This hip sandwich shop shares a wall with the new trendsetting cocktail bar, Paper Plane. You can sip on a frosty adult beverage alongside the Super Mario, loaded with house-made meatballs, provolone, and black olive tapenade.

13 |
Masada Café at the United House of Prayer
Lunch plate, $8 to $11. This community cafeteria, open Friday through Monday, is a time capsule, featuring unadulterated Southern classics at historic prices. The lunch plate includes meat (turkey legs, smothered pork chops, fried chicken) plus two sides, cornbread, and rice. 912/236-9499


14 | Indi's Fast Food Restaurant

6 Spicy Wings, 1 Keel, 2 sides, sweet tea, $9.41. When chef Edward Lee wants fried chicken, he hits this local chain, named after the owner's daughter. He favors the spicy wings, but also recommends the "keel," Indi-speak for a chicken breast that's been pulled from the bone. Order extra hot sauce, which is made on-site and is absolutely addictive.

15 | Moonlite Bar-B-Q Inn

Burgoo, $3.89. Stews are historically value-conscious, meant to stretch ingredients to feed as many mouths as possible, and Kentucky burgoo is no exception. Moonlite Bar-B-Q is a torchbearer of this stew, using both smoked mutton, beef, and chicken to fortify a vegetable-rich base.

16 | Wallace Station

Inside Out Hot Brown, $9.95. Located on a quiet country road, this beloved Bluegrass State eatery, part of the Ouita Michel empire, is equal parts restaurant and retreat. Order their take on Kentucky's classic sandwich, the Hot Brown: Wheat bread is lathered with cheesy Mornay sauce, then weighted down with layers of ham, turkey, bacon, and tomatoes, and griddled.


17 | Johnson's Boucanière

Parrain Special, $3.95. The boudin at this downtown Lafayette haunt is worthwhile in its own right. But in this playful sandwich—smashed boudin balls, melted cheese, and barbecue sauce—it's irresistible.

New Orleans
18 | Cochon Butcher

Cubano, $10. Sandwiches are the preferred conveyance for the masterful cured meats and charcuterie of this butcher shop. Try the roasted pork-and-ham Cubano, slicked with melted Swiss cheese.

19 | The Company Burger
The Company Burger, $8.50. Adam Biderman has worked under some of the South's top culinary minds. But he eschewed white tablecloths for the simplicity of a burger joint. His flagship burger is a work of minimalist perfection: no lettuce or tomato, just two flavorful patties glued together with melted cheese, topped with pickles and red onion.

20 | Domenica
Lamb meatball pizza + Peroni, $10. Every day from 3 to 6 p.m., you can be transported to Italy for under $10, thanks to the Domenica happy hour, where pizza, wine by the glass, beer, and well cocktails are half-price.


21 | Chaps Charcoal Restaurant

Beef Sandwich, $6.75. Pit beef, an obscure form of Maryland barbecue, is generally overlooked in favor of the state's rightful obsession with its seafood (specifically blue crabs). But here, top round is grilled over charcoal and served rare, thinly shaved, on a Kaiser roll with onions and a seriously punchy horseradish sauce.


22 | Hicks' Famous Hot Tamales and More

Tamale plate, $8. Eugene Hicks, who learned how to make tamales at age 13, has perfected the dish. His recipe calls for cornmeal instead of the traditional masa harina and a proprietary secret spice blend. 662/624-9887


St. Louis
23 | Billie's Fine Foods

2 eggs, potatoes, sausage, biscuits, and gravy, $5.75. This greasy spoon has consistently turned out one of the city's most popular breakfasts at the lowest price, serving throughout the morning until 2:30 p.m. On weekends, the spot reopens at midnight for the city's night owls. 314/621-0848


Chapel Hill
24 | Merritts Store and Grill

Triple Decker BLT, $9.95. Here, this Triangle institution, around since 1929, makes an architectural project out of the classic bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwich. Three layers is the way to go, although it'd take the jaws of a python to bite through it all.

25 | Saltbox Seafood Joint

Daily catch sandwich, $9. The menu is determined by whichever fish is available at the docks that morning. Catfish, clam strips, shrimp, trout, and mullet are all usual suspects, each deep-fried to crispy supremacy.

26 | Chuck's

Little Dirty South (Carolina) Burger + Cheerwine, $9.25. This burger, which puts a Palmetto State spin on the Carolina burger, features a chuck patty capped with smoked pork shoulder, local Cheddar, Sea Island red pea chili, roasted tomato slaw, tobacco onions and French's yellow mustard.

27 | Garland
Chicken Roti, $7.50. Try the roti, a giant Indian-style wrap, which bursts at its seams with tandoori-roasted chicken, yogurt sauce, chutney, braised greens, and pickled red onion.


  • Oklahoma City
  • 28 | Tucker's Onion Burgers
  • Single Onion Burger with Cheese, $5.99. Danny Bowien, chef of Mission Chinese Food in New York and San Francisco, always heads to this burger joint when visiting his hometown. The specialty is something of a regional trademark: Oklahoma diners began to smash burger patties and cook them with lots of onions to stretch meat further.

29 | Lucky's

Chicken-Fried Steak (lunch), $10. Across Oklahoma, chicken-fried steak has a cult following. At Lucky's, a steak worthy of The Flintstones comes with mashed Yukon potatoes and sage-spiked gravy. It's the Okie version of steak house chic.


  • Charleston
  • 30 | Xiao Bao Biscuit
  • Okonomiyaki with a fried egg, $10. Okonomiyaki, a crispy plate-size Japanese vegetable pancake, keeps the crowds coming. Add a fried egg on top for a heartier meal.


31 | Subs & Such (Chef's Pick)

The Chopper, $5.50. "Before heading to the lake for a day of fishing, I stop at Subs & Such in Alcoa. They steam their sandwiches to melt the cheese and warm the meats just enough. I order the Chopper: chopped turkey, roast beef, and ham, on dark bread." —Joseph Lenn, The Barn at Blackberry Farm, Walland, TN

32 | Payne's

Chopped Pork Sandwich, $3.95. This tangy, hot sauce-soaked sandwich, slicked with a mustard-based slaw, with crunchy bits of "bark" laid like jewels amongst the pork, is a textural wonder. 901/272-1523

33 | Arnold's Country Kitchen

Meat and two sides, and banana pudding, $10.01. Brave the lines and load up on roast beef or fried chicken and two sides, making sure to grab a teeth-shatteringly sweet banana pudding before you take your seat. 615/256-4455

34 | Hattie B's Hot Chicken
Small Dark-Meat Plate and Sweet Tea, $10. This relative newcomer is dedicated to one thing: Nashville's famous hot chicken. Each of the chicken plates comes with two sides, a slice of white bread, and pickles. Don't forget to order a drink, though, as the heat factor on these birds is no joke.

35 | Robert's Western World
The Recession Special, $5. The fried bologna sandwich at this celebrated honky-tonk is a highly effective booze sponge and a favorite late-night eat. Try it as part of the Recession Special, which comes with a bag of chips and a PBR, for just $5. Use the other $5 to tip the musicians.

36 | Mas Tacos Por Favor
Pozole and a cast-iron chicken taco, $9. A laid-back, no-frills vibe permeates this taco shack in East Nashville, but the food is plenty serious. The pozole, a brothy soup bobbing with hominy and cilantro, is comfort food of the highest order, and the tacos are simple and authentic. 615/543-6271


37 | East Side King
Tori Meshi, $8. Follow the fleet of Top Chef winner Paul Qui's food trucks. The Tori Meshi, a superlative take on Thai street food, piles deep-fried chicken thighs, licked with a sticky fish sauce-and-vinegar marinade, atop rice with fresh herbs and jalapeños.

38 | Frank
Sonoran Dog, $7. Like an ice-cream bar for wieners, Frank offers hot dogs covered with every imaginable topping. The Sonoran Dog, loaded with onions, pinto beans, and jalapeños, is wrapped in bacon and deep-fried before it meets the bun.

39 | Noble Pig Sandwich Co.
PBLT, $8. The team behind this project has pushed the boundaries of what a sandwich shop can be. Their take on the BLT starts with slowly smoked pork belly layered with concentrated tomatoes, romaine, and punchy garlic mayonnaise.

40 | Ramen Tatsu-ya
Tonkotsu Original, $8.75. The menu at this ramen palace comes with a list of rules. It's the first sign that this operation takes its noodles and broth seriously. The pork tonkotsu broth is rich and fatty, cooked over the course of 60 hours, and teems with a web of noodles and pork belly.

41 | Off-Site Kitchen

48-Hr. Cracked Pepper Brisket, $6.95. The burgers are legendary ($10 will get you a four-patty monster), but the brisket sandwich, fiery with cracked pepper and smoked for 48 hours, is a masterpiece. For $3 more, pair it with an ice-cold TaB (remember those?) and a Twinkie.

42 | Pho Binh (Chef's Pick)
Beef Pho, $6.50. "I could honestly eat here for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. They have the most flavorful broth in the city, and the Thai basil and cilantro that come on the side are always super fresh and give the soup a necessary contrast. This place is a city treasure." —Chris Shepherd, Underbelly, Houston, TX.

43 | Pondicheri
Breakfast Frankie, $5. Dedicated to reinterpretations of Indian street food, this airy cafe features a morning menu of savory $5 snacks. Try the Breakfast Frankie, in which vegetable-studded scrambled eggs are cocooned burrito-style within house-made roti.

44 | Melange Creperie
Ham, Egg, and Cheese Crepe, $7. This roadside stand is a French-inspired one-man show. Sean Carroll stuffs paper-thin crepes with a rotating array of seasonal produce.

  • San Antonio
  • 45 | Guajillo's, The Shortcut to Mexico
  • Taco plate, $6.25. Each plate arrives lined with six overlapping corn tortillas, which support a high pile of meat. The al pastor features pork that's been rubbed with spices and cooked on a spit. It comes with slices of pineapple, lime, and onion, which, put together, create a force field of flavor.


46 | Pasture

Pimiento Cheese, house pickles, and a well drink, $10. Snack like a king between 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. at Jason Alley's Pasture. Selected bar items like the rich and creamy pimiento cheese with Ritz crackers hover around $2, with $3 cocktail specials to boot.

47 | Peter Chang Cafe
Dan Dan Noodles with Beef, $7. Swimming in Szechuan pepper and topped with ground beef, the dan dan noodles are an ideal gateway to Chang's fiery menu. It's like a jazz band in your mouth. 804/364-1688

48 | Sally Bell's Kitchen
Boxed Lunch, $8.25. Absolutely everything is made from scratch at this lunch take-out spot. The boxed lunch comes with a sandwich, macaroni or potato salad, a deviled egg, a cheese wafer, and a cup-cake.

49 | Texas Tavern

Hot Dog + Glass of Buttermilk, $2.45. Not much has changed about this shotgun diner since it opened in 1930, including the prices. Ask for a "hot, with" and you'll get a hot dog smothered in chili, a special relish, and onions.


50 | Tomaro's Bakery
Two Pepperoni Rolls, $2.80. The pepperoni roll is a West Virginia institution, with roots as the preferred portable meal of coal miners. Tomaro's carries on the tradition with its fluffy yeasted rolls, which envelop salty sticks of pepperoni. 304/622-0691