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Best of MCR: Cheap Eats

The best feeds in the city for around £5

Written by . Published on August 13th 2014.

Best of MCR: Cheap Eats

MANCHESTER’S food stock is on the up and up.

Let's just stop there before somebody mentions Michelin. Manchester doesn’t ‘need’ a star. Nobody needs a star. Up-its-own-jacksie twaddle. Customers on the other hand, those you need.

Day in day out, we need 'Cheap Eats'. Quick, tasty, cheerful grub for around a fiver, swiftly reviewed and launched at your eyes in less than 500 words. No tarting around.

Celebrated London-only operators have taken note of Manchester's food and drink spring, with a good number now eyeing us up for their first ventures outside of the capital.

Of course, this is great news for Manchester, the 'second city'. National prestige'n'all that. It also encourages more operators to dip a toe in the provinces and our Gordo to salivate like a wolf staring through the window of a Bernard Matthews' slaughterhouse.

Still, for most of us these fine-diners aren't everyday occurrences. We'd soon find ourselves bankrupt and in the gutter, too fat and much too drunk to roll ourselves back out.

So day in day out we need 'Cheap Eats'. Quick, tasty, cheerful grub for around a fiver, swiftly reviewed and launched at your eyes in less than 500 words. No tarting around.

So Confidential's 'Cheap Eats' series was born. The best the city has to offer for a great feed on a tight budget.

Bang-on grub for around a fiverBang-on grub for around a fiver

Here's an alphabetical list of what we've scoffed our way through so far - we'll update the list as our arses get bigger, so feel free to give us your favourite 'Cheap Eat' suggestions in the rants section below:

Arndale Food Market

If 'Cheap Eats' is what you're after, the Arndale Food Market is your Shangri-La. Panchos Mexican, Zorbas Greek and the Viet-Shack (below) are stand outs here, alongside affordable Indian, Chinese, Afro-Caribbean, Brazilian, Pan-European and Pan-Asian options, most between £3 to £6. Zorba's halloumi pitta with salad and a dollop of hummus (£3.50) is a banker. The fried halloumi, all warm, salty and squeaky served in a fresh pitta with cold crispy salad, hummus made in-house and enough onion to floor Shrek. Their stifado stew at only £4 is a great feed too. Remarkably unhandsome the Arndale Markets, but for cheap eats this is a beauty.

Arndale Food Markets, Arndale Centre, Market Street. M3 3AH. 0161 234 5000.

Zorba's halloumi pitta with hummusZorba's halloumi pitta with hummus

Café Marhaba

"Everyone argues about their favourite Northern Quarter curry house and they’re all wrong. Most do decent curries (and each has its best dish) but for me it’s all about the breads. If the bread ain’t good and fresh I’m not interested. Most curry cafes have breads that are grilled, or stacked up ready for service and kept warm(ish) under tea towels. The Marhaba is the only N4 café with its own tandoor and the breads are sensational. Dough rolled out in front of you, in and out of the oven in a heart-beat, and served blistered and slathered with ghee. The contrast between the grainy dry underside where the bread has been against the oven wall and the bubbled outer side slick with butter is key. You don’t get better quality for this price anywhere. Not far past a fiver for a couple of curries and a naan." - Thom Hetherington

Café Marhaba, 36 Back Piccadilly, M1 1HP. 0161 228 7377

Blistering naanBlistering naan

Changos Burrito Bar

On the last visit to Changos we suffered the loss of a burst burrito, it slid between the fingers, down the chin, into the hair and up the nose. It was too big for it's own boots, usually a burrito bonus. We've since been back though, and Changos held it together. This is a meal torpedo for £5.50 (large), with either chicken, slow cooked beef, pork, chilli beef or veggie, with all the extra bits like cheese and guacamole - the bits you're often made to pay for - gratis. Choose oak-smoked chipotle and nachos crumbled into the fray for a stroke of Tex-Mex flair. Forget your evening meal.

Changos Burrito Bar, 91-93 Oxford Street, M1 6ET. 0161 228 2182

Changos' meal torpedoChangos' meal torpedo

Fruit Exchange

Often the issue with 'Cheap Eats' is that they veer off towards pleasure at the expense of your arteries. So Deansgate's Fruit Exchange is our healthy option (because we had to include one), a retreat for those that hop between magazine juice diets and think avocados will save the planet. Salads and freshly made sarnies are the fare here, the Greek salad being the pick for health-buffs, a large box with a hefty helping of feta and olives (usually scrimped on by supermarkets) alongside leaves and tomatoes for a cheerful £3.25. Good on the body and the pocket.

Fruit Exchange, 103 Deansgate, M3 2BQ. 0161 832 3572

Fruit Exchange saladFruit Exchange salad

Linda's Pantry

Trip Advisor's #26 of 1,652 restaurants in all of Manchester, which is odd because only four people know where this place is, Linda, Thom Hetherington (who told us about this place, cheers Thom) and two builders who come for the £4 Full English every morning. Available only on Fridays, Linda's cheese and onion pie with chips and gravy for around £3.50 is an extra special Friday special. Proper hand-cut chips (actually hand-cut with a knife, meaning you get the occasional flat ends of the spud) are double-cooked, while a homemade pie is oven-baked on enamel plates and quartered in front of you before lashings of gravy gets poured over the lot. Get there at midday when they're hot out the oven.

Linda's Pantry, 23 Ducie Street, NQ/Ancoats, M1 2JL. 0161 236 4252

Linda's PantryLinda's Pantry

Pita Pit

A Canadian international restaurant franchise with nearly 500 outlets worldwide and probably owned by 'The Man' or Simon Cowell or something. Still, when you'd chew your nan's toenails for just one more bite, who really cares. Tucked away in a sad and shady Piccadilly alcove, Pita Pit is a little belter. The formula here is simple: quick, tasty, ample and healthy tucker for under a fiver served up by staff who'd probably rub your shoulders if you asked nicely. Pick a lovely, warm, soft and lightly-toasted pocket pita bread and have it caressed with hummus, choose your meat (sweet tikka chicken chunks are a winner) then scoot along the counter ramming it to bursting point with as much of the add-ons as you please. Bolt it together, slip-on protective gloves and goggles and go at it. Pitas start at £3.

Pita Pit, 3 Piccadilly Place, Manchester, M1 3BG.

Pita PitPita Pit

Siam Smiles Noodle Bar

This half-Thai-supermarket half-Thai-noodle-diner is the most fascinating entry on this list by a country noodle. Probably one of the most fascinating meals you'll have in MCR. Why? Well, along with the city's food and drink spring comes a conveyor belt of yawn: Exposed brick'n'pipe, tiki, Americana, £10 cocktails down in a sip and 'locally sourced' (Cumbria isn't local, it's 120km away) ingredients. Siam Smiles is none of that. It's dried fish throat crisps and congealed chicken blood floating in bright magnenta soup, unidentifiable jarred gloop and uranium-powered energy drinks. Ok so you may not necessarily get exactly what you ordered (wouldn't bother if you're a veggie), but if you do, go for the Kuay Tiew Duck (pronounced Kuay Tiew Duck) - a wonderful duck, noodle and beansprout broth with small fishy frisbees for £5.50. Make sure to stir in a squirt of Nam Pla (fish sauce) - Thai's plop it on everything.

Siam Smiles, 48 George Street, Chinatown, M1 4HF

Siam SmilesSiam Smiles


Italian food is more often than not uninspired, lazy and dull. But pizza, real Roman pizza (pizza from Naples differs slightly) done propa' is a fine thing indeed. The guys here are so into propa' pizza that they've spent lengthy spells under a Pizza Master in Rome, and have had a specialist Italian pizza oven shipped over to get it just right. Right it is. Graphene-thin and crispy, with the ingredients up top left to take the lead without the mush of heavy-set dough below. Try the spicy arrabbiata with buffalo mozzarella, rocket and tomoto sauce for under £3 a helping. Actually, try all of them alongside mattress thick focaccia bread. Then jump on your vespa, pick up Sofia and go kiss by the fontana. Meraviglioso.

Slice, Stevenson Square, Northern Quarter, M1 1DN. 0161 236 9032

Slice's spicy arrabbiataSlice's spicy arrabbiata

Soup Kitchen

SK is one of those multi-armed NQ operations: Monday you're nursing an ale and dunking a chunky sandwich in soup, Wednesday you're watching a Finnish saxophonist, Saturday sweating it out downstairs to some obscure French DJ, then Sunday, we don't talk about Sunday. For the most part this place plays at school canteen with long wooden benches, steaming food trays, pastries under glass lids, chalk on blackboards and 70s wooden panels pulled from the staircase of The Brady Bunch. The soups - all £3.75 - come served in that white and blue indestructible prison enamel that seems to be having a moment. The pick is the ale, onion and cheddar soup, a stout brown gloop sweetened by caramelized onions and sharpened with a hefty handful of cheese. Take as much dunking bread from the counter as you please. Oliver Twist would go ape-shit.

Soup Kitchen, 31-33 Spear Street, M1 1DF. 0161 236 5100

Soup Kitchen's ale, onion and cheese soup (£3.75)Soup Kitchen's ale, onion and cheese soup (£3.75)


A Manchester budget favourite and pioneer of the 'rice'n'three' concept (rice with any three combinations of meat and veg), This'n'That is a Northern Quarter curry cafe that's been serving up spicy homemade food for a few bob since David Bowie still wore face paint and cars were beige. Ignoring the interior, which probably cost less than your meal, two sturdy, filling meats on mounds of rice with veg for under a fiver is a steal. Ram it all in a chatpati sandwich for 50p and you're going to need rolling home.

This'n'That, Soap Street, off Thomas Street, M4 1EW. 0161 832 0708

This'n'That rice and threeThis'n'That rice and three

Viet Shack

One of many inexpensive and quality food offerings in the hugely undervalued Arndale Food Markets, Viet-Shack has only recently pitched up, and has been stealing queues from other vendors ever since. Owner Nelson Lam (aka Mr Shack) has merged traditional Vietnamese cooking with his 'mama's home cooking'. Lam has exiled anything artificial or processed and is dishing up fine food for a knock-off price. At £5.50, the beautifully crisp and spicy BBQ pork chops with rice (they can go too heavy on the rice, mind) is the most expensive choice on the menu and a great feed.

Viet Shack, Arndale Food Markets, M4 3AH. 0161 234 5000

Viet Shack's BBQ pork chopsViet Shack's BBQ pork chops

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55 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

AnonymousAugust 13th 2014.

Good article - lots of new places to check out and not spend a fortune

AnonymousAugust 13th 2014.

Ive heard of 1 of those places so thnx, lunches sorted for the rest of the month

mancadamAugust 13th 2014.

cant really argue with any of those picks, although personally i would have included Shlurp ahead of a couple of those mentioned.

2 Responses: Reply To This...
David BlakeAugust 13th 2014.

Shlurp is a good suggestion. We'll look into that one. Thanks.

mancadamAugust 13th 2014.

the soups are always brilliant and usually interesting, but try the ceasar wrap with proper anchovy fillets in it as well. a thing of terrible beauty.

AnonymousAugust 13th 2014.

Viet shacks photo looks like a ginge NQ beardy type lay down!

AL.August 13th 2014.

Slice isnt cheap???

Alex24August 13th 2014.


2 Responses: Reply To This...
David BlakeAugust 13th 2014.

It's on the radar Alex. Probably next to go in.

Larry SagarAugust 21st 2014.

lunch at katsouris most wednesdays half hot beef sizzler,little kitten breakfast and two lattes £10.40, great value

Yvonne BarryAugust 13th 2014.

Slice is absolutely super; lovely friendly staff too

1 Response: Reply To This...
AL.August 13th 2014.

Worked out how much it would cost to buy the equivelant of a 10" pizza in there?

Nickster123August 13th 2014.

I think Earth Cafe should be visited and added to the list but on a whole i agree with most of the above....hungry now!

1 Response: Reply To This...
David BlakeAugust 13th 2014.

Earth Cafe has been mentioned in the office Nickster. Thanks for the tip.

AnonymousAugust 13th 2014.

May I also suggest Falafil down by All Saints on Oxford Road? - OK, so it's not central, but the falafel wraps from £2.50 are absolutely delicious!

1 Response: Reply To This...
Swiss JamesAugust 13th 2014.

Go Falafel on Newton Street too.

AnonymousAugust 13th 2014.

slice is expensive, good luck being filled up by one slice of those tiny pizzas

AnonymousAugust 13th 2014.

Schlurp and Kukoos (Zouk run takeaway on Oxford Road), need to be in here!

1 Response: Reply To This...
David BlakeAugust 13th 2014.

Kukoos is a gud'un.

MarkkennedyAugust 13th 2014.

If you dont mention kebana how can anyone take you seriously...

MarkkennedyAugust 13th 2014.

I cant spell ..mark kennedy ba(hons)

Dave TaylorAugust 13th 2014.

Been meaning to go in "This n That" for years, you have now made up my mind ! Here I come, Sunday lunch for me in there

2 Responses: Reply To This...
JoanAugust 13th 2014.

Think it's weekdays only.

Swiss JamesAugust 13th 2014.

Open 7 days a week- fill your boots.

AnonymousAugust 13th 2014.

I spent four years working round the corner from Linda's Pantry and it's certainly nothing like as quiet as this review suggests. Cracking bacon barms.

AnonymousAugust 13th 2014.

EATS at University Place, Oxford Road. Nine breakfast items, plus toast and a regular hot drink. All for £5 [£3.95 for a six item]. 30p per slice of toast. Their quote; "Our breakfasts are delicious and fresh and most importantly excellent value for money! Start your day with one of our full, hot and hearty English breakfasts made daily in our kitchens using the freshest ingredients and only free range eggs. If a lighter continental option is more your style then grab a pastry, slice of buttery toast, porridge pot or a fruit salad. Wash it all down with a cup of our special Fairtrade coffee, selection of tea or a refreshingly cold, fresh fruit juice!" Beat that!

3 Responses: Reply To This...
David BlakeAugust 13th 2014.

Is that the one in the Tin Can?

AnonymousAugust 13th 2014.

Yes. The 'bean tin'.

Peter CoppingAugust 14th 2014.

Tined Beans NOT It's a lager barrel and a good joke on what ManUni is really about. It has imposingly most empty ground floor.

Larry SagarAugust 13th 2014.

just had lunch at The Botanist,never again.I know it has been done out in the distressed look but they shouldn't have carried it on to the food.Fish and chips is one of my favourite meals and priced at £12.95 I expected a large fillet of white cod or haddock encased in a crisp batter,but what I got was a medium sized grey fillet of some unknown species encased in a soggy batter which oozed grease as soon as I put my knife into it.The chips were slightly thicker than the McDonalds type but without the flavourand they looked like they had been thrown onto the box(yes the food came in sort of wooden box)the mushy peas would have fit onto a dessert spoon and the tartare sauce was thin and tasteless.The latte was as lukewarm ase the chips. I used to get a similar meal at label for half the price and it was much hotter although th service at The Botanist was very quick and the staff were very friendly and polite.Needlessto say I won't be going backand unless they improve the quality of the food and reduce the prices I would be surprised if they are still there in twelve months time

2 Responses: Reply To This...
Dave RobinsonAugust 14th 2014.

I know a lot will think this sounds crazy, but trust me, the best place for fish + chips in any town in Britain is.....Wetherspoons! Always really fresh hot, big, fish, always haddock. Between 2-5 daily it's £5.09 including soft/hot drink or £6.09 with any alcoholic drink. This price all day on Fridays. Believe me, it's by far the best out there, similar quality to the best independents in best seaside towns, at a fraction of the price too. PS-I don't work for them!

Peter CoppingAugust 14th 2014.

But W'spoons need some better area a management to maintain a consistant quality and maybe Gordo as a 'mystery shopper'

GordoAugust 13th 2014.

Larry, did you tell them?

2 Responses: Reply To This...
AnonymousAugust 14th 2014.

that's not the british way is it :P

Larry SagarAugust 21st 2014.

yes spoke to waitress and the manager (Lauren) contacted me by phone so we are going back next wednesday. Would have had a face to face with Lauren the first time but had to catch my bus.Always make my feelings known otherwise nothing improves.

AnonymousAugust 13th 2014.

The food court area at Bolton market has really good value cheap eat stalls.A Cameroon stall with chicken yasser,plantain and rice for £4.50,a coffee outlet with double espresso for £1.20,and a excellent craft beer place with low prices.

AnonymousAugust 13th 2014.

Latté and fish & chips? Therein lies your problem!

Steve5839August 13th 2014.

Been a This and That fan for as long as DB has been wearing make up and my dads car was beige. Feel a Friday lunch there coming on.

ProyaffAugust 13th 2014.

No mention for Wong Wong or Ho's Bakeries? Wong Wong's honey roast pork buns have been one of my favourite indulgent (devastatingly sweet ...) lunches for many a year. You can feed 2 hungry for your measly fiver (just remember to try the chinese pizza). Ho's deserve a mention for their delicious Portugese custard tarts (pasteis de nata as they're known in their homeland) - the only place in Manchester you can get the delicious wee beggars, far as I know.

AnonymousAugust 13th 2014.

It would be accurate to label it a cheap eats for the Northern Quarter as more than half the list are from that area.Clearly there is fat,lazy person trying to get out Mr Blake,as he obviously cannot get very far from there.

AnonymousAugust 13th 2014.

I was attracted to Wong Wong's honey roast pork buns when I was in Nam. She cost $5 back then.

AVOAugust 13th 2014.

When I was younger, you used to be able to get a starter, main course, rice and a little bowl of ice cream at lunchtime in a lot of places in Chinatown. Having had a look around online, it seems that prices have risen to just under a tenner. I suppose inflation has kicked coupled with the fact that I'm getting older. How much is a plate of three roast meats and rice at Happy Seasons???

2 Responses: Reply To This...
AnonymousAugust 21st 2014.

I remember Chinatown business lunches on the dole. Still it's only £8.95 in Try Thai, starter, main with rice and coffee or ice cream. Excellent food at that price.

AnonymousAugust 22nd 2014.

Inflation is less than 2 %, supermarket prices have tumbled this year,wages are riising barely at all,yet the price of food in Manchester restaurants has sky rocketed in recent times.

AnonymousAugust 13th 2014.

Ha ha ha at last! Didn't you start writing this 18 months ago???? GideonAmos

AnonymousAugust 15th 2014.

Just to 'chip' in. Wetherspoons 'Club Nights' are great value; if there's anything left. They often run out of whatever is on offer by teatime. Come on Mr Martin, get your supply chain in gear!

AnonymousAugust 15th 2014.

I used to eat out every lunch time but since the recession I now take sandwiches made from my home. Hard times.

2 Responses: Reply To This...
AnonymousAugust 16th 2014.

Recession? I've always brought my lunch in to work. My company provides tea and milk too, so I never buy hot drinks either. Buying lunch every day is a mugs game. It's the sign of the times.

AnonymousAugust 22nd 2014.

The recession should mean lower prices.Supermarkets are cutting prices drastically now,and wages are barely rising.Yet Manchester restaurants and food establishments have hiked prices to levels way beyond anywhere else in the region.

Larry SagarAugust 27th 2014.

second visit to the botanist excelent food and service had the gammon cutlet,wife had the hanging kebab,all food hot and tasty.Lauren is a star,we will be back. ps to Dave Robinson,fish&chips at Weatherspoons now £8.99 no special offers.If you want good fish&chips try the Ribble Valley or Yorkshire Dales.

MollySeptember 9th 2014.

some great suggestions where to eat going to start and visit these in the near future SORTED. cheers Red molly

Sarah CookMarch 7th 2015.

Fruit Exchange seems to be closed now :(

1 Response: Reply To This...
AnonymousMarch 8th 2015.

It's going to be wrap it up, far better.

Gradyn ThompsonMarch 11th 2015.

Pita Pit never again expect a PITAfully tiny amount of meat and loads of salad,overpriced and and disgustingly poor.

1 Response: Reply To This...
AnonymousMarch 13th 2015.

Pita Pit are a weird one. Tasty but a bit pricey and I wish they'd just get on and provide you with the set recipe pita you ordered rather than making it up as they go along and making you choose from umpteen different salad / sauce / spread choices. Staff training is poor too, no one seems to know what a chicken ceasar is meant to contain. Infuriating.

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