Cheap Eats

The best Mexican, burgers, sushi and comfort food in Madison for under $25

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Cocktails and Appetizers

Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse
This chain steakhouse has a national reputation for big portions served with big-city panache. Of course, none of this comes cheap—the steak will melt in your mouth but can burn a hole in your wallet. However, between 4 and 7 p.m. at the big horseshoe bar appetizers are available for half price accompanied by signature martinis for only $7. Other select cocktails and glasses of wiRuth's Chris Steakhousene are featured for $5 and bottles of domestic beer are $3. –DC

The Continental Fitchburg
The difference between drinking and having a cocktail is atmosphere … and maybe something smart to nosh on. The Continental has both. Unwind at its shiny zinc bar and have your favorite mixed drink, big goblet of wine or frosty glass of beer—all are half price between 3 and 6 p.m. Monday through Friday. Also half price are nine specialty pizzas and appetizers such as crab cakes, sweet potato chips with béarnaise sauce and fried ravioli. –DC

The Bayou
With its faux Bourbon Street décor, the Bayou’s always up for a party. But there’s no thriftier time to go Monday through Thursday from 4 to 7 p.m. (3 to 7 p.m. on Fridays) when it features half-price rails, domestic beer (cans and bottles) and selected taps. On Monday, a special treat: free red beans and rice to go along with your drink! Stay for dinner and many New Orleans–style appetizers, sandwiches and specialties are less than a tenner. Laissez les bon temps roulez! –DC

There’s no shortage of dark and dismal dives where you can go for cheap slam. But at Paisan’s enjoy your favorite beverage at a discounted price served in a refined atmosphere with a million-dollar view thrown in to boot! Every day (except Saturdays) between 11 a.m. and 7 p.m. rail drinks are only a buck and Miller Lite taps, Bud Light and Budweiser bottles, Long Island iced teas, house wines, cosmos and kamikaze martinis are ridiculously cheap as well. –DC



Taqueria Guadalajara
If you want cheaper or more authentic Mexican food, you’ll have to cross the border. Don’t expect to find any big U-shaped tortilla chips stuffed with burger and shredded American cheese at this poco lunch counter. Instead, corn tortillas hot off the grill are generously topped with one of six meat fillings. Each comes with a garnish of chopped onion and cilantro and hot sauce on the side for a dollar and change. ¡Muy delicioso! –DC

El Pastor
Just down the street is another inconspicuous eatery that turns out seriously addictive Mexican specialties. What sets this taqueria apart from others in town is its signature “taco El Pastor” made with marinated and chili-spiced pork that’s slowly cooked. The barbacoa-style taco—shredded lamb—is unusual and equally appealing. Either is just $1.95 each. For those who just can’t decide, try the “taco loco,” a combination of pork, steak, grilled onions and melted cheese ($2.95). Entrées are quite large and reasonably priced too, which begs the question: who doesn’t love more bang for the buck? –DC


Global Eats

It may be the only Indonesian restaurant hereabouts, but it stacks up against the best anywhere. Everything exhibits a careful attention to freshness and flavor—their homemade tofu won’t be the brunt of any jokes! The rijsttafel is a feast—a buffet of ten exotic dishes served right at your table—and less than $20 each for two people. More people? No problem: Add extra dishes from the menu’s extensive choice of appetizers, rice, noodle dishes and entrees. –DC

Ha Long Bay
Their menu is a taster’s tour of Southeast Asia, but I’m drawn to the soulful Vietnamese options. Pho is the national dish and a meal in a bowl—broth, noodles, usually beef or chicken and always needle-sharp flavors. Go native with the house specialty, pho Ha Long dac biet—several incarnations of beef including tripe and meatballs. Or play it safe with pho gà—chicken noodle soup. Any of the twenty varieties costs less than $7. –DC

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