Great food doesn’t have to come with a great big price tag. Think of the humble burrito. Properly constructed, it’s every bit as complex and thrilling as elegant presentations at white-tablecloth establishments, offering a perfect balance of flavors and textures: rich, fatty meat, a chewy tortilla, earthy beans, pungent onions, floral cilantro, bright lime, gooey cheese, starchy rice and blistering chilies. Or consider the lowly ramen noodle, the staple of cash-strapped college kids. When made by hand, simmered with pork in broth and seasoned with roasted seaweed, chili oil and other Asian ingredients, it becomes a bright star in a brilliant galaxy of flavors.
We set out to find restaurants that specialize in such standout dishes, from sandwiches and pizza to burgers and Korean bibimbap, all for $15 or less. We scoured mom-and-pop eateries, diners, bodegas, strip malls, ethnic outposts, street corners, flea markets and more. Yes, we ate our way through some heartbreaking (and heartburn-inducing) disappointments, but we found plenty of places where satisfying and even supreme dishes draw in diners of every age and income level. Here are the 25 restaurants from Venice to Bradenton that made the final cut.