Hungry and on campus, but don’t have a lot of time and money to spare? We’ve got a few suggestions. 

We don’t claim to be experts — these are just the places to which the two of us and our friends regularly default. We highly encourage you to test the replicability of the conclusions we’ve come to. 

  1. Banh Mi Nguyen Huong

A random man once approached me on Spadina Avenue and offered an unsolicited piece of Chinatown lore: Banh Mi Nguyen Huong used to operate next door to another bánh mì shop, and for years, the two of them competed for customers until eventually the other one folded. Survival of the fittest, or whatever. We haven’t checked whether that’s true, but we do know for sure that this place by Spadina and Dundas makes a pretty good cheap and portable lunch.

Bánh Mì Nguyen Huong’s prices have gone up in recent years, but almost all of the sandwiches are a respectable $4.00 for a small and $5.00 for a large. The cold cut bánh mì is probably the classic choice, but lemongrass tofu is a good vegetarian option! Bring cash, because they don’t take anything else, and plan to eat your meal elsewhere — Banh Mi Nguyen Huong is essentially a sandwich counter.

If you can make it home without devouring your bánh mì, put it in the oven for a few minutes, then add Kewpie mayo and sriracha sauce. It will be worth the wait.  🙂

Distance to Robarts: 18-minute walk

  1. 大龍鳯餅家 (Chinese Bakery)

Okay, confession: I love food, and I love trying out new lunch spots, but 90 per cent of the time when I’m looking for a cheap place to eat — especially early in the day — I try to squeeze in a trip down to Dundas to get something from here. It’s got the advantage of nostalgia for me, from childhood trips to the Art Gallery of Ontario, but it’s also just straight-up one of my favourite bakeries in town. 

Food ranges from $0.70 to about $3.00 for most standard small items, meaning you can usually get a very enjoyable lunch for well under $10, although the price will vary by your appetite and tastes. I always have an eye on the desserts, but on the savoury side, I’d highly recommend the taro cakes and flaky curry beef pastries. 

This is another cash-only place, and, depending on what you’re getting, it’s usually better to go in the late morning or early afternoon, when everything’s still fresh and plentiful. Hot tip: the sesame balls come out fresh from the oven at 10:00 am! Or, at least, they did the one time I actually got there at 10:00 am exactly, and so that’s what I’ve been telling everyone I know, because I’ve been daydreaming about that day ever since. 

Distance to Robarts: 18-minute walk

  1. Sizzler Kabab

When we’re producing The Varsity late on Sunday nights, we often send someone on a walk down to Sizzler Kabab to pick up dinner for everyone. This Pakistani joint in Chinatown serves up generous portions for student-friendly prices, and you can either eat in or join the many other people ordering take-out. The veggie biryani ($9.99) is more of a pulao but still very good, and feels like heaps and heaps of rice — enough food that you could easily stretch it into multiple meals or share it with a friend. There are also a few menu options, like saag paneer ($7.99) and daal makhani ($7.99) that will still come in just under $10 with roti ($1.99). 

Distance from Robarts: 14-minute walk

  1. Corner Crepe Co.

I spent months eyeing this jian bing shop before I finally stepped inside. It’s a small shop, and it’s located around the corner from campus on College Street, which means I always ended up passing it right after I’d made lunch plans. It’s also closed on Tuesdays. Suffice it to say, I had pretty high expectations and hopes by the time I finally got around to trying it.

It was definitely worth the wait, though. The jian bing, with its layers of crepe and egg and cracker and veggies, is tasty and hot and crunchy in just the right ways. It also comes in a pretty big portion, which makes a standard order’s price tag of $6.99 all the more impressive.

Distance from Robarts: 12-minute walk 

  1. Manpuku

I’m willing to bet that this Japanese restaurant in Village by the Grange offers the best-value udon in the downtown area.

When I last swung by in the fall, the kake udon was $4.29. You could get a salad on the side of that for $2.29 — or several noodle refills for $1.50 each — and still stay under a $10 total. My personal favourite Manpuku order is the $6.99 vegetable curry udon, but if rice is more your thing, you can go for a curry don ($7.99) or a shigure don ($7.49). 

Unlike several spots on this list, Manpuku is a sit-down restaurant, meaning that you can catch up with a friend over a meal at a collective bill of under $15. It’s also right next to Ontario College of Art & Design University, so if you like to people-watch for outfits, see if you can get a table by the window. I’ve seen some of the city’s best knitwear in the Village by the Grange food court just outside. 

Distance from Robarts: 20-minute walk 

  1. Zaad 

With its perfect Bloor Street university adjacent-location and pretty, minimalistic mosaic signage, when I first saw Zaad, I was worried the food would be Instagram-spot pricey. 

I’m so glad I was wrong. I’ve consistently found Zaad to be a good stop for on-campus lunch or dinner, with a friendly environment and a very reasonable price point. A falafel pita pocket will set you back $8, and a shawarma pita pocket is only a dollar more. Bring your student ID card and you’ll get a discount. 

Distance from Robarts: 9-minute walk

  1. T&T Supermarket

This isn’t exactly a well kept secret, but might still be news to some people: T&T has an excellent hot food section, which offers a wide range of meals for under $10. Packed containers of soy sauce fried noodles ($5.99) or yang chou fried rice ($6.99) are almost always available next to the baked goods section, and various kinds of sushi ($5.49 and up) are located next to checkout. For more of a balanced meal, you can opt for teriyaki chicken don ($8.49) or unagi don ($9.99). Just don’t forget to pick up utensils after you check out — there are small containers of chopsticks and cutlery sets between checkout and the escalators. 

If you go close to closing — I’m not sure exactly which time — most of these ready-to-go meals will be discounted, meaning you can eat well for even less money!  

Distance from Robarts: 14-minute walk 

  1. Papa Ceo/Cora’s

If you’re looking for the best quick $5.50 slice of pizza right next to campus, go to Papa Ceo’s — but if you’re looking to order a full pizza, go next door to Cora’s. In this case, and this case alone, we’re not just speaking for ourselves; unless and until a future volume explicitly states otherwise, this is the official opinion of The Varsity. Take it as you will.

Distance from Robarts: 5-minute walk