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Let’s get right to it: money’s tight, we’re on a budget. If you don’t have to spend $12+ to get delicious Berkeley foods, here are some of the places I’ve been hitting for the past 4 years to keep my meals under $6.

Photo Credit: Hot Cups

1. I.B.’s Hoagies, Berkeley

I.B.’s hoagies and cheesesteaks will satisfy all your meaty/juicy/fried food needs for those days when you feel defeated by life’s injustices.For under $6, you can get one of their 6” hoagies or a burger from their long list of burgers.

Personally, I usually opt for their sweet potato tater tots or regular sweet potato fries. Where else can you indulge in sweet potato paraphernalia?Like Tea Press, I will warn you now that I.B.’s can leave you extremely full, so feast at your discretion.

Their assortment of sauces (and bubblegums?) alone are a sight for sore eyes.Conveniently located across the street from the relatively new Smoke’s Poutinerie, whose giving them a run for their money with its cheesy, saucy Quebecian fried foods.

Location: 2513 Durant Ave, Berkeley, CA 94704

Photo Credit: Pancho's Mexican Grill

2. Pancho’s Mexican Grill, Berkeley

This place has seen me through all states of mind —from late night hunger to panicked anxiety-induced eating between deadlines. Why? Because it’s good, cheap, and filling! Best of all... open until 2:30 AM! 

Conveniently located in the Durant Food Court, this is a great place to go if you’re craving some hearty Mexican food and need food FAST.

They’ll have your $5.50 RBC (Rice Bean and Cheese) burrito wrapped up and ready to go in under 10 minutes with some complimentary chips and your choice of mild or spicy salsa. Or you can get their top notch cheese quesadillas for $5.75.

Just to give you a sense of the kind of relationship you could cultivate with Pancho’s, they will even warn you if they’ve made a particularly spicy batch. And like me, they will accept you in all states of being. They’ll even take a picture of you and your friends to add to their rather extensive visitor wall.

Location: 2521 Durant Ave. Ste B, Berkeley, CA 94704

3. Julie’s Cafe, Berkeley

I hadn’t discovered this Berkeley spot until last year, but once I did, it quickly became one of my favorites.  I’m more of a let-your-stomach-guide-your-food-choices sort of person. And chances are, if you’re craving it, Julie’s Cafe has got it on their menu!

For under $6, you can grab one of their meaty burgers: Portobello mushroom, Cheeseburger, Chicken, or Chapli (their signature spicy homemade seasoned patty). 

They are generous with their portions, and the wait time is usually around 15 minutes. So not immediate, but still pretty darn fast. But the reason this is one of my favorite places is:

  1. Their food is so fresh–especially their juices and other drinks and 
  2. Murtaza, the sweetest cashier.  9 times out of 10, he will be the one serving you at the counter, with a HUGE warm smile and a joke or two to lighten your day. And he’ll remember you too! You’ll always feel expected and welcomed there.

Wifi? Check– get that work you’ve been avoiding done with a cup of coffee on a corner table. 

Sunday brunch with a friend? You’re already sitting under natural lighting in their outdoor patio, eating some delicious french toast, and starting to feel life slow down just enough for you to take a breath. 

Have family visiting from out of town on Gameday? Grab one of their larger tables with an umbrella and prepare to have each of your family members’ taste buds satisfied; from the ones craving pulled pork to the ones who eat only halal.  

Location: 2562 Bancroft Way, Berkeley, CA 94704

Tea Press Berkeley Photo Credit: Judge F. (Yelp)

4. Tea Press, Berkeley

Also one of my frequent haunts over the past few years—from when it was called Double Rainbow Cafe and Mochaccino. The place first got my attention with its $3.50 for TWO boba drinks deal; one of the cheapest and freshest among the Berkeley boba hotspots. It kept my attention with its awesome service.

Elaine, the regular cashier at the counter whose family owns Tea Press, is extremely friendly and quick with your order. How she manages to remember regular customers’ orders, I have no clue. But I’ve seen her do it time and time again.

Aside from the popcorn chicken in common with other local boba places like Sweethearts, they’ve got this awesome $5.50 Bento Box Deal. The box consists of your choice of chicken or pork with rice, tofu, eggs, and cabbage.

Warning: This meal will make you EXTREMELY full. They get it– you’re on a budget– and they WILL feed you affordably. The leftovers could even carry you through another meal.

Location: 2552 Bancroft Way, Berkeley, CA 94704

5. Hot Cups, Berkeley

This place is rather new to me, but there’s something about the atmosphere I really if the owner took great care to instill the place with culture, comfort, and a sense of integrity. 

How does one instill a sense of integrity into a place? Good lighting and fresh ingredients.  Free Wifi and Moroccan art doesn’t hurt either.

Hot Cups serves fresh pastries every day and their sandwiches are all $5.57! We’re talking your choice of meats or vegetarian-friendly options like artichoke and feta, mozzarella and sundried tomatoes, falafel, and more.

Did I mention their coffee is on point? With their location on Addison St., you can easily grab coffee on your way to BART or back.

Location: 2107 Addison St, Berkeley, CA 94704

6. Original Pollo, Berkeley

The first time I went into Original Pollo, I didn’t know what to expect. It seemed like a quirky enough place to be an old-school diner...and sure enough, it was!It’s got the comforting feel of Bleecker Bistro back when it was Ann’s Kitchen-- with its wooden seats and checkered tablecloths.

So what deliciousness can you grab from Original Pollo for under $6? Their $4.50 hamburgers, $5.25 cheeseburgers, and some of their burritos among other items. Whether you’re craving Mexican food or some old-fashioned burger, this place delivers equally well.

The best part about it? It’s located just across the street from Yoga to the People, so you can squeeze in a session before grabbing Sunday brunch. 

Location: 100 Berkeley Way, Berkeley, CA 94704

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