Where to Find Milwaukee's Best Cheap Eats
Last night, Milwaukee was featured on a Cooking Channel show called Cheap Eats, where the host ate his way through the city for just $35. The spots he visited included Blue's Egg, Hello Falafel, Lakefront Brewery and Drink Wisconsinbly Pub. While those are all definitely delicious eats, they're not exactly what I think of when I think “cheap.” (Not to mention his $35 budget doesn't even include tipping.) So, where are the best spots for actually cheap eats in Milwaukee? Here are some of my favorites.
1215 W. Layton Ave.
Of course hot dogs are known for being pretty inexpensive already, but somehow you just seem to get the best bang for your buck at Martino's. The Chicago-style joint serves up hot dogs in many varieties, with a few size options to boot. A regular Chicago-style dog will set you back just $4. Make it a foot long, and it's $7.59. Did I mention all their dogs come with fries, making it a full meal? They've got Italian beef sandwiches too, for just over $6. Head to the “Dinners” portion of the menu for spaghetti or mostaccioli with sauce, meatballs or sausage, and two bread sticks for a measly $6.49. You can stretch your dollar here pretty far.
624 W. National Ave.
Opened by former employees of Conejitos, another super cheap Milwaukee favorite, La Casa de Alberto is a reprieve from the other Mexican restaurants around it near 5th and National. Whereas those other spots are always crowded and charge $15+ for entrees, barely anything on the menu at Alberto's is above $10. Four tacos can be had for $6, or upgrade to fried fish tacos for a couple bucks more. A burrito dinner will only set you back $8.50. And unlike the other spots near them, they serve you three salsas along with your chips. More salsa options are always better.
3146 S. 27th St.
Mazo's Hamburgers has been around since 1934, and nothing has changed very much, including the prices. They still grind their beef fresh in house every day, which makes them stand out among almost all of the other burger joints in the city. You won't be paying a premium for that freshness though, as a cheeseburger basket will still only cost you around $7. That includes your choice of two sides, with options like homemade soup, baked beans and American fries (which you should definitely get). They're also just across the street from Leon's, so a dessert of a cheap double cone is clearly the way to go.
3401 S. 13th St.
Indian restaurants are particularly known for being inexpensive, but at this counter service strip mall spot you can get flavorful vegetarian dishes for just a few bucks. The most expensive thing on the menu is the thali platter, which is a complete feast with two veggie curries, daal makhani (lentils), basmati rice, roti bread, raita, papadam, dessert and tea for just $7.95. Even avowed carnivores won't be hungry after all of that. But, if they somehow are, grab at couple potato and pea-filled samosas for 75 cents a piece, or a huge, crispy masala dosa filled with spiced potatoes and served with sambhar for $5.99. Of course, you're going to need to pick up a few sweets from the dessert case on your way out, too.
8001 W. Greenfield Ave.
TomKen's, across from State Fair Park, is well known as a chicken wing haven, winning numerous awards. But they started out as a fried chicken joint many years ago, and they're still serving up a great fried chicken dinner. The price went up a bit recently from $8.50 to $9.25, but it's still a bargain. You get four pieces of fried chicken that's got a thin, crispy coating, plus fries, slaw and bread. It's really a full meal and one of the best bargains around West Allis.
7751 N. Tuetonia Ave.
Rollie's is a great little dive bar on the north side of Milwaukee in Brown Deer. It's the kind of place where there's plenty of regulars who all know each other and play volleyball and cornhole tournaments against each other. They have a small menu of bar food, including some really good burgers that start at $4.25. Make it a mushroom Swiss burger, and it's still only $5.25. They don't come with a side, but when you can choose from a basket of onion rings for $2.50, chicken wings or various fried cheese products for $4.50, you really can't complain.
Milwaukee has hit peak food truck capacity lately—or at least it feels like it has. Most trucks sell food for about what you'd pay at a sit down restaurant, if not more. RollMKE bucks that trend by offering all of their sandwiches with a side of homemade fries and a soda for $9. And considering how delicious the sandwiches are, it's a steal for throngs of hungry Downtown workers at lunch. The brisket grilled cheese is a favorite, made with Lakefront beer braised beef, onions, peppadew peppers and three cheeses on toasty multigrain bread.
1712 W. Pierce St.
Not to be confused with the custard stands, Oscar's is a full service bar known for its burgers, beer selection, and cheap prices. You can get a burger here, with homemade fries, for about $6. A specialty burger—topped with all kinds of things like bacon, cheeses, chorizo, pineapple and guacamole—runs you under $9. And these burgers are huge half pounders, too. Prices on appetizers and sandwiches are equally inexpensive, so a meal for a full group will set you back a surprisingly small amount.
830 E. Layton Ave.
There are a lot of burgers on this list, and here's one more: Nite Owl. It's a tiny, vintage spot that is only open during warm months, so get there soon before they close for the season. They're also only open each day until they run out of burgers, which usually happens around 6 p.m., but can be much earlier if it's busy. But once you get there, it's worth it. The burgers are thick and juicy, and one will set you back $4, or $4.50 with cheese. Add fries on the side for $2 and your stomach will be happy for hours on less than $7.
6204 W. North Ave.
This little diner in Wauwatosa often gets overlooked, but they consistently put out great breakfasts and sandwiches. Tuna melts, homemade soups, breakfast platters, omelets and as the name implies, ice cream creations, can all be had for well under $10. Daily specials include Friday cod fry for $8, burger specials with fries for $5, and melt sandwiches for less than $7. Whether you sit at the communal counter or snag the coveted, quirky corner window table, it's hard to beat Ted's classic diner ambiance and prices.