When I was a student, I was so poor I wanted to marry my girlfriend just for the rice. Dinner involved a spoon, a plastic bag, and a trip to the free sample booths at the supermarket. But I wasn’t alone; over time, I joined roving packs of starving students. Through constant exploration and Scrooge-like frugality, we found places that would feed us on a budget.
This list assumes you’re choosing the moderately priced items on the menu. Now and again, something over $10 may turn up in one of these restaurants. Likewise, I’ll assume you’re having one main and one starter (no desert or fancy drinks).
I worked next door to the original Astons, back when they were in a coffee shop at Joo Chiat. They were cheap even then. Steaks aren’t under $10, but this is one of the few places where they’re under $18. The rest of the menu ranges from $5.00 – $9.50. There’s pasta, chicken, beef, and fish. Prices have gone up since the first time we published this a few years ago but you can still get a decent meal under $10.
The fish is underrated. The black pepper fish is a good deal at $9.50, and is surprisingly filling. The chicken dishes are cheaper at $7.50, but they’re just chicken fillets in different sauces. As a general rule, chicken fillets taste about the same whoever cooks them. But they’re cheapest here.
The burgers on the menu are the cheapest mains so if you’re looking for a quick, cheap meal, this one is a no brainer. Most of the normal burgers cost between $6 – $7.
And when you order any main course, you get a choice of two side-dishes. These include:
- Pasta Salad
- Baked Beans
- Corn on the Cob
- Garden Vegetables
- Mashed Potato
- Onion Rings (Combine with Baked Beans for dramatic effect)
- Potato Salad
Pay close attention to the restaurant’s name. Astons Express is cheaper than Astons Specialities, though not by much. There’s also Astons Prime which is their idea of a high-end steak restaurant. They have over 20 outlets all over the island.
2. Wee Nam Kee
This place has been around for more than 20 years. But despite its age and unexpectedly kick-ass website, it isn’t as famous as it should be. Wee Nam Kee does Hainanese chicken rice, and $6 can feed two people here. The long queues are a testament to quality, and an explanation for disgruntled staff.
The chicken is de-boned, which matters if you’re a lazy sod like me. Don’t go there between 12 noon and 1.30pm; you’ll never make it back to the office on time. They’ve shifted over to United Square at Novena so there’s the additional office crowd to deal with.
3. IKEA Restaurant
I go to IKEA at least once a month. So why does my room have less furniture than a zoo enclosure? Hah, easy:
- I eBayed all of it, to pay for my Xbox.
- I only go to IKEA to overeat Gravad Lax and salmon.
4. Ichi Tei
I seldom eat Japanese food. It’s expensive, and half the time they can’t even be bothered to cook it. But this one time I was caught in Sunshine Plaza because of the rain (Oh, the irony). That’s when I saw this tiny Japanese restaurant called Ichi Tei.
The Bento sets here range from $6.00 – $10.00. The Saba fish ($7.00) is visibly the most popular. Come down at lunchtime and you’ll see it disappear as take-out. The chicken Bento sets are cheaper ($6.50) and all Bento sets come with rice, Miso soup, and salad.
If you’re going to drop by here, make a reservation first. The place is really small.
5. Xin Wang Hong Kong Cafe
This is one of my favourite places to set up interviews. If you ever get interviewed by me, it’ll probably be here. And we’ll both share an awkward moment as I do my unconvincing “Gah, I left my wallet at home” act. But don’t worry, it’s not expensive.
Xin Wang has value lunches that are $7.90 or under. Breakfast is even cheaper, ranging from $2.50 – $3.50. The items on promotion rotate, but most of them are good eats. Look out for their famous papaya soup noodles, served with spam and egg. To keep that bill under $10, don’t be tempted by the add-ons, like drinks or dessert.
During lunchtime, avoid Xin Wang at ION Orchard and Plaza Singapura. You won’t get a table. But there’s over 15 outlets in this franchise, so finding one is never an issue.
Been to any cheap and good restaurants lately? Comment and let us know!
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