Best Cheap Eats

How to dine well on a budget in Greater Williamsburg.

Aromas sign
Aromas
Blue Talon Bistro awning
Blue Talon Bistro

Smack dab in the center of Williamsburg is the College of William & Mary. While there are plenty of benefits to being a college town, chief among them may be the opportunities for cheap eats at all times of the day or night.

Here are a few choices for palates of all persuasions. (Prices were valid at time of publication.)

Williamsburg

Rick’s Cheese Steak Shop. Huge portions, great prices, and the best cheese steak this side of Philly. Can't handle the cheese steak? You've got options, plenty of options, from hoagies to Reubens to burgers and wings. Top it off with a local brew. Small cheese steaks start at $7.95 while the stuffed Reubens of all stripes — turkey, pastrami, or corned beef — run $8.95.

Aromas Coffee House, Bakery, and Fresh Café. Expect a line at this popular spot on the edge of campus serving breakfast, lunch, dinner, beer, wine, and all kinds of coffee and tea drinks. Leave room to sample the muffins, sticky buns, and pies. A cup of French press will run you $4.99 while the breakfast offerings start at $3.99 for cheddar grits up to $7.99 for the Lorraine omelet. 

Oishi Sushi King. All you can eat sushi made to order ranging from $12.99 for lunch to $18.99 for dinner for adults. Kids are cheaper, depending upon age. There are nearly 101 options on the order-by-number menu. If you can't find your sushi here, you can't find it anywhere.

Shorty’s Diner. Step back in time when you step into Shorty's for breakfast or lunch centered around family recipes going back years. The buttermilk pancakes are as big as the dinner plate. The Hangover is eggs on a bed of corned beef hash, just right for the morning after. If breakfast isn't your thing, check out the triple-decker club sandwich. The breakfast portions are huge; the prices, tiny. Expect to get out of here for less than $8-$10 a person. Weekly lunch specials like fried catfish and meatloaf will set you back $7.99

Food for Thought. There is a reason this is one of the most popular restaurants in town. The food is both solid and imaginative. The portions are huge. And you get a nice bite of the owner's philosophy, thanks to the wisdom on the walls from Einstein to Gandhi. The classic American fare is supplemented by other flavors including Thai, Jamaican, and vegetarian offerings. The huge salads start at $10, the sandwiches with sides run $10-$14, and dinner entrees from $12 to about $22 for the beef filet. 

El Sabroson. Authentic food from South and Central America earns raves at this place in a small shopping center. It's worth the effort to find it for the pupasas, the Bistec a lo Pobre (Peruvian steak with fried eggs) or the Mojarra Frita, a whole fried tilapia. For the less daring, there are tacos, burritos, and enchiladas. An order of three pupusas runs $5.99, three tacos are $8.99, and the Bistec is $12.99

Chopsticks Pho Grill. With nothing more than about $11 — even the large bowls big enough to swim in — this is a Vietnamese treat on the cheap. The pho is aromatic, fresh, and bursting with flavor. Don't pass up the other offerings including the spring rolls, egg rolls, and fried chicken wings. 

Blue Talon Bistro. OK, so the Blue Talon, a Williamsburg institution, won't show up on many cheap eats lists unless...it's half-price bottle of wine night on Tuesdays. Consider the French onion soup, the duck, the seared scallops from a menu that's inspired by the classic French bistro and your southern mother's cooking. Soups start at $7 with entrees from $14 to $28.

Pierce’s Pitt Bar-B-Que. Garden and Gun, the magazine Bible of all things Southern, named Pierce's to its bucket list of barbecue places you must visit, one of only two in Virginia. The Q is bathed in the secret family sauce, which dates back more than eight decades. That's a long time, but then it takes a long time to smoke the pulled pork and brisket on the menu. Sandwiches start at $4.59. Dinners with the fix-ins start at $8.79.

Numerous pancake houses. With nearly two dozen pancake houses — with such colorful names as the Astronomical Pancake House, The Smoky Griddle, Mama Steve’s House of Pancakes and Five Brothers Pancake & Steakhouse — Williamsburg is on its way to being a bona fide pancake capital. Most of them are a bargain-lover’s dream for an affordable meal, from morning till night.

Yorktown & Jamestown

The Yorktown Pub. Another locals' favorite with mammoth sandwiches and build-your-own burgers as well. Better yet, go local with York River oysters, middle neck clams, or Cape May sea scallops. Then there are the rotating taps, local favorites, microbrews and the big boys like Guinness, Sam Adams or Yuengling. Check the board for what's on special. Half a dozen steamers run $7.95, the burgers are $9.50, and the prime rib pub special $12.95.

The Carrot Tree. With outlets in Yorktown and Historic Jamestowne, this cozy lunch café serves tasty sandwiches, salads, quiches, and its signature carrot cake and other delectable homemade desserts. Sandwich wraps start at $8.49 and slices of pie, $3.99 and cake, $4.99.