Do not despair if a cheap eat does not seem a candidate for a home decor magazine. “Hole in the wall” should not separate you from a potent star anise-infused pho (a Vietnamese noodle soup). Some assembly is required for the diner to make all the ingredients meet (noodles, choice of meat, chiles, lime juice, sauces, etc.). Once they do, this is a super and substantial meal.
333 W. Brown Deer Rd., 414-446-8364; 204 W. Layton Ave., 414-763-1138
Past the rows of rice and spices is a modest dining room: utilitarian tables, plastic cutlery and a water cooler. But in that dining room – and through a tiny window – come Indian delicacies of the vegetarian persuasion. You can’t go wrong with the dosa, an Indian crepe of sorts filled with varying types of curries. All dosas come with an assortment of chutneys and the ubiquitous sambar as a dipping sauce for the flaky feast. The standout is the masala dosa – which measures about 2 feet in length.
5254 S. 27th St., 414-325-6480
Champion cheap eats sometimes lurk inside unassuming strip malls. Such is the case with Mr. Wok, whose kitchen churns out Chinese and, better still, Malaysian cuisine. Just as the sun shines brightly on the beaches of the latter Southeast Asian country, this kitchen makes the Malaysian side of the menu blaze with a fury. The Malaysian chicken-potato curry (served with roti chanai – a rich crepe-like flatbread) is a standout, as is the spicy, stewy Rendang beef.
2128 Silvernail Rd., Pewaukee, 262-521-9780
4. Cafe India
A worthy addition to anyone’s Indian food rotation, the lunch special at this restaurant in a gas station strip mall includes portions of as many dishes as your server can ladle into a carryout container (saag paneer, lamb curry and chicken tikka masala are possible). Once they add the soda or lemonade, this becomes one happy meal indeed.
605 S. First St., 414-224-5444
5. Thai Bangkok
The low-budget decor isn’t the reason you linger over your laab – a ground beef or chicken salad seasoned with fish sauce, chiles, mint and onion. Load up that carryout bag with spicy gang gai red curry, pad seuw (rice noodles stir-fried with meat and veggies), and if you’ve got an adventurous streak, beef tripe. Flavor and heat don’t cost extra.
9112 W. Brown Deer Rd., 414-362-0189
Some of the most authentic Indian/Pakistani food you’ll find this side of Karachi. We’d be remiss not to mention the fantastic chicken makhani and mutton biryani, but true bargain hunters should go for the rolls: kebabs and chicken specialties wrapped in roti, naan or paratha. But when holding these generous delicacies, use both hands.
711 W. Mitchell St., 414-672-7878
7. Shah Jee’s
The evidence of Shah Jee’s popularity is found in its impressive lunch queue day after day. And every second is worth the wait. Guests walk away with plates full of food for $8 and under. Don’t miss this office building basement location serving authentic Pakistani cuisine in east Downtown Milwaukee.
770 N Jefferson St. 414-271-5354
$6.00 – $8.00