My father-in-law has a lunchtime tradition of leaving his office in Portland’s Deering Center neighborhood and walking to a different affordable lunch spot each day. He can go weeks without visiting the same restaurant twice and regularly discovers new places—and that’s just within walking distance. Whether you’re on lunch break, looking for a mellow date night, or grabbing a late-night bite, Portland has no shortage of cheap eats that even the fussiest gourmand can get behind. A clutch of affordable ethnic restaurants line Forest Avenue, and there are plenty of respectable pizza joints, chowder houses, and creative sandwich shops tucked in among the “name” restaurants in the Old Port and along Congress Street. Portland’s food truck scene is off to a good start too. Around lunchtime, look for some of the standouts parked near Portland City Hall and nearby on east Congress Street. For a quick tour of cheap Portland dining, penny-pinching foodies shouldn’t skip these top five.
Guess what the crisp and perfectly seasoned Belgian fries are cooked in? Duckfat’s fries are a Portland classic, and you can grab a cone full of them at this pubby sandwich shop, along with a knockout sammy and a crème anglaise milkshake, for less than an entrée at some of the reservations-only places down the street.
El Rayo Taqueria
You can tell the place is good by driving past the crowded patio during the summer months. A young crowd mobs El Rayo on warm evenings for tacos al carbon and al pastor—along with a cocktail list that includes caipirinhas and a refreshing tequila and hibiscus concoction called a Beso, or “kiss.”
Small Axe Food Truck
The folks in the bright orange truck are perfecting the art of the artisan sandwich, beer battering locally caught haddock, making corn dogs out of Wagyu beef and eel sauce, pouring cheddar sauce onto house made sausages between slabs of fresh-baked bread. Look for Small Axe in Congress Square Park.
This zanily cluttered East End institution has been pleasing omnivores, vegetarians, and vegans since 1988. Never mind that the inside looks like a TGI Friday’s on steroids—nearly everything’s made in-house, and fans of the fried buffalo tofu, pork-and-lamb-sausage gyro, and beloved garlic burger (with mozzarella and pepperoni) don’t come for the wacky décor.
Thanh Thanh 2
Find some of New England’s best pho—fragrant, complex, and generous with beef steak or brisket—in this totally unassuming Vietnamese restaurant. There’s not much glamorous about the straightforward service, chain restaurant booths, or blaring TVs, but in-the-know Portlanders line up for ten types of pho and treats like crunchy fried calamari.