London Cheap Eats: How to Dine in a Foodie City for Less

For a budget meal, take to the streets in epicurean London

UK, London, woman eating an ice cream near the Tower Bridge
••• Westend61 / Getty Images

You can definitely drop some bucks dining out in London, which has gained a reputation since the aughts as one of the top foodie cities in the world, with more than 70 Michelin-starred restaurants to back that claim. But a thriving street food and market scene plus international cuisine from across the globe gives you plenty of choices for eating well without busting your budget.

  • 01 of 08

    Pub Grub

    Traditional public house in historic Seven Dials area of Covent Garden shopping area
    ••• A traditional pub in historic Seven Dials area of Covent Garden shopping area. John Freeman / Getty Images

    Most London pubs serve food and many advertise deals for meal-and-drink combos. Pub menus often include fish and chips plus other traditional British snacks such as Welsh rarebit, the English version of a grilled cheese. Look for an inexpensive but filling "high tea," a working-class supper usually served between 5 and 7 p.m. and composed of some sort of meat and potatoes followed by bread with butter and jam and cake for dessert.

  • 02 of 08

    Look between the Michelin-starred restaurants to find plenty of budget options right in the central part of the city and on the outskirts of downtown. Gauge a restaurant by its menu, but also notice telltale signs of excellence: a dining room packed with locals usually means a skilled chef in the kitchen. London's international population represents nearly every country in the world, most with a restaurant to match. Ethnic cuisines such as Chinese, Vietnamese, Mexican, Indian, and African often focus on home-style cooking with commonplace ingredients, so you can usually find an inexpensive but satisfying meal in one.

  • 03 of 08

    Sandwich Shops

    Sandwich shops throughout London encase a nearly endless variety of fillings in all forms of bread, surely making John Montagu proud. Many accounts credit the fourth Earl of Sandwich for inventing the handheld meal during a marathon card game in the 18th century. As the story goes, he devoured a slice of beef between two pieces of toast, without ever getting up from the table. But London's modern offerings take the concept of a sandwich to another realm, with an infinite number of variations available 

  • 04 of 08

    Street Food and Markets

    The Borough Market during the Christmas period
    ••• London's Borough Market. Atlantide Phototravel / Getty Images

    London's top chefs often get their starts in the city's energetic food markets, such as KERB Camden in the historic central district. Working out of bare-bones stalls with few embellishments (such as real plates and silverware) to distract them, these chefs focus fully on the food. The result? You can get a truly memorable meal for little more than pocket change, in one of the city's hot spots for counterculture and creativity.

    Continue to 5 of 8 below.
  • 05 of 08

    Chemist Shops

    London chemist chains such as Boots serve healthy lunchtime sandwiches at a bargain price. These pre-made and packaged sandwiches make a good option for a grab-and-go lunch, and they often come with crisps (the British name for a potato chip) and a drink for the same low price.

  • 06 of 08
    Man and woman sharing fish and chips wrapped in newspaper
    ••• PJB / Getty Images

    From the traditional beer-battered cod or haddock to modern fusion versions incorporating exotic spices, unconventional sauces, and creative preparations, fish and chips still dominates the London food scene. For the least expensive meal, order from a walk-up window and carry your bounty wrapped in newspaper to a park bench.

  • 07 of 08

    Chinese Food

    Head to London's Chinatown for authentic but inexpensive Chinese and Asian food. With almost 80 restaurants, you can sample cuisines including Cantonese, Szechuan, Mongolian, and Malaysian. There are also Chinese supermarkets if you want to cook a Chinese dish for yourself.

  • 08 of 08
    Close-Up Of Tattooed Man Enjoying Traditional English Breakfast
    ••• A full English breakfast. Chris Bolze / EyeEm / Getty Images

    The Full English, called a fry-up in some places, comes with bacon, eggs, sausages, a grilled tomato, baked beans, mushrooms, coffee or tea, and toast/fried bread. It's a hot meal that can fuel you for hours of sightseeing. Look for it on the menu at nondescript pubs and cafes; some let you choose items individually, lowering the price even more.