It's true that, these days, Austin has more places where you can spend a lot on dinner than the city used to have. But the overall personality of our restaurant scene is still fun and affordable. (Maybe that's the result of having tens of thousands of cash-strapped college students hanging around town most of the time.) For what you might pay for the standard fare at a fast-casual chain restaurant, you can have a memorable meal in Austin. This list could be many times longer, and just about any Austinite you ask could probably rattle off an entirely different set of favorites that won't break the bank. With one exception—which is too cheap and tasty not to mention—I've kept this list to the restaurants that you're likely to come across in Central Austin. Venture farther out, though, and you can find even more deals for your dining dollar.
This little Tex-Mex restaurant is little ways southwest of Central Austin, so set your GPS. Order a couple of the a la carte tacos for under $2 each: I typically go with the huevos machacado (egg and dried beef) breakfast taco, which is available anytime, and a taco al pastor (marinated pork with onions and cilantro).
East Side King
It's pretty great that you can eat in a restaurant created by a Top Chef winner for under $10 per entree. Paul Qui co-founded East Side King, which has trailers and a couple of storefronts around Austin. I'm hooked on the Tori Meshi (fried chicken thigh over jasmine rice). Others swear by the beet home fries.
Because you can't live on tacos alone (listen, I've tried), Kebabalicious has been serving up tasty food including meat and falafel kebabs since they opened their first trailer in 2006. Today, they have two trailer locations and a storefront. Besides the kebabs, I also like the hummus pita and the zucchini fries.
If you're in town for a convention, or just staying downtown, it's easy to stumble into overpriced, so-so food. Koriente, though, will feed you well and healthfully with bountiful (and very customizable) Asian bowls and throw in a free miso soup. Especially if you're a vegetarian, you can easily find a filling lunch or dinner here for $10 or so.
Whatever you're doing in Austin, chances are that there's a Torchy's location nearby. Be nonpartisan in your menu choices: Both the Democrat (beef barbacoa) and Republican (jalapeno sausage) tacos are among their best. Or try the Taco of the Month; often, it's an irreverent creation like the Texas Chili Dog Taco. Don’t miss its fabulous queso, either.