The Doughminican food trailer and outdoor seating (photo by David Brendan Hall)
Welcome to Austin! Sorry for all the heat. And the traffic. Luckily for you, we make up for those pain points with delicious food, all over town (this is also true in San Marcos). Whether you live in a dorm or an apartment, you probably miss your parents’ home cooking, or they miss paying for your restaurant meals. Either way, you’re not going to have every meal this year in your dorm or apartment, nor will you want to have Lunchables or ramen for every meal. To that end, here are some under-the-radar places to eat relatively cheaply near the University of Texas, Huston-Tillotson, St. Edward’s, and Texas State campuses. For the most part, all of the places mentioned have a vegetarian or vegan option, and many can accommodate gluten-free eaters, with a budget of around $10-15 per meal including tax and tip. (Please tip your front desk staff, folks!) Bon appetit and make wise choices.
University of Texas
There are a million places to eat lunch on and around UT campus, which can be overwhelming when it’s time to figure out what to eat. Many of them are national chains that involve designating a series of ingredients to add to a bowl or burrito on an assembly line. How about some local joints that won’t keep you in line while serving tasty and filling food?
907 W. 24, 678/687-1167
This tiny trailer, a hidden gem in a jungle of West Campus condos, specializes in authentic Xi’an Chinese cuisine, with a small menu centered mostly on freshly pulled noodle dishes. If you’re really skinny, go for the Chinese burger, which will only cost you four dollars. If you’re really hungry, opt for the 12-piece pork and cabbage meatballs. Either way, you’ll be satisfied and happy. Call ahead to pre-order and time your arrival to receive fresh, hot food.
Dumplings + tax + tip = $12
photo of Melanie Haupt
2604 Guadalupe, roppolos.com
Long associated with late-night slices on Sixth Street, Roppolo’s opened a brick-and-mortar location on Guadalupe in 2019, giving students a patio for game-day gatherings and inexpensive lunch specials. It’s not just pizza on the menu; there are also calzones, pastas and desserts. But when you’re between classes and don’t have a lot of time or money, a huge (and I mean massive) a slice of pizza and an iced fountain soda is just the thing.
Slice & Drink lunch special + taxes + tip = $7.18
3209 Red River, maryscafeatx.com
It’s always a good idea to have a healthy option in your back pocket when you’re on the hunt for breakfast or lunch. This charming little Red River cafe offers an assortment of breakfast and lunch sandwiches and wraps that will keep you nourished without draining your wallet. Try the Mediterranean breakfast wrap in the morning, or the spicy tofu vegan wrap for lunch to keep it super healthy, or go with a banana-peanut-butter-bacon Belgian waffle. I am not your mother. You do you.
Mediterranean wrap + taxes + tip = $10.72
Houston Tillotson University
Huston-Tillotson’s location on East Seventh Street means it’s surrounded by many exciting (and pricey) new bars and restaurants that have sprung onto the culinary scene in recent years. What does this mean for hungry students on a budget? While there are certainly the usual fast food suspects like Short Stop and Flyrite Chicken nearby, and a solid Tex-Mex breakfast plate is just down the street at Joe’s Bakery, here are some lesser-known options. .
1401 E. Seventh, grannystacosatx.square.site
About a 10-minute walk from campus, this nondescript little food truck is tucked away in an alley; if you blink, you’ll miss it. But be careful, because these tacos are both legit and cheap. The tacos here are generous (and messy); depending on your appetite, one may be enough.
Taco Abuela + tax + tip = $6.14
The Doughminican (photo by David Brendan Hall)
2505 Webberville, thedoughminican.com
The only bad thing I have to say about Austin’s first (only?) Dominican food truck is that it’s only open about 22 hours a week. But what delightful hours! Settle into this cheery little trailer on Webberville Road and chef/owner Melvin Mendez will blast dance music, giving off vibes in the shaded dining room, while whipping up crispy, plump and impossibly delicious empanadas. The menu is limited: just beef, chicken or vegetables, and depending on the day, maybe delicious garlic tostones. Spoil yourself on the weekend and leave happy.
Chicken empanada + tostones + taxes + tip = $12.98
New Orleans Gumbeaux2Geaux
1815 Rosewood, fb.com/gumbeaux2g
For a hearty lunch or early dinner, head around the corner in the Rosewood neighborhood for a plate of double-sided fried fish. The large portion of fried catfish comes with dirty rice and cornbread on top of your two sides (you can’t go wrong with the green beans and macaroni and cheese). Twenty dollars might seem high for a plate of food, but it’s enough for at least two meals if you have access to refrigeration, or to share with a hungry friend.
Plate of fried fish + taxes + tip = $25.98
St. Edward’s University
Hilltoppers know that frequenting St. Ed’s means you can’t dump a dead cat without running into a fast food joint. On one side you have Wendy’s, Cabo Bob’s, Chick-fil-A and McDonald’s; on the other hand, there is Taco Bell, Whataburger, Jack in the Box and McDonald’s. But maybe you don’t want McDonald’s. Maybe you want a non-bovine, non-nugget-shaped vegetable or protein that won’t break the bank (those private liberal arts colleges aren’t cheap, after all). We have what you need.
2901 S. Premier, tosspizzeria.com
There are about a billion places to eat pizza in this city. I’m not going to weigh in on who has the best pizza in this room, but I will wade into who has the the biggest. Head to Toss on S. First. Order the calzone, which you can customize with three ingredients (additional toppings are $3 each), and await your fate. I burst out laughing when I saw this $24 monster, which is the size of a large pizza folded in half. This calzone can serve as multiple meals for one person, or one meal for three or four people. So grab your hungriest pals or make room in your fridge.
Calzone + tax + tip = $31.18
3100 S. Congress, poke-poke.com
If you like fish, especially the uncooked variety, cross Congress Avenue for lunch at this little restaurant. It’s not one of those places where you can choose your own adventure where “poke artists” smack everything you point at in a paper boat. Here, you’ll get selected poke bowls with simply seasoned fish, like they’re served in Hawaii. Ahi tuna is the default protein here; salmon will cost a little more and tofu a little less. Add some rice or kale and you have a complete meal full of flavor and macros.
OG lil ahi poke + tax + tip = $12
Loro (photo by Jana Birchum)
2115 S. Lamar, loroeats.com
You’re a student, which means you don’t have time to wait in line for five hours for Franklin Barbecue, or pay $17 for a brisket sandwich. The same goes for Uchi; it’s for when your parents are in town and they’re buying dinner. Luckily for you, there’s Loro, the Asian fusion/BBQ love child of Aaron Franklin and Tyson Cole. Specifically, there’s Loro’s happy hour, voted the best happy hour in town by Austin Chronicle readers – available on weekdays from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. Come for a late lunch or early dinner and load up on chicken karaage, brisket tostadas or a cheeseburger, each costing less than $10. If you are of legal drinking age, do not skip the $5 frozen gin and tonic.
Chicken karaage + iced gin and tonic + taxes + tip = $16
Texas State University
It’s hard to believe, but San Marcos has a ton of great restaurants. (I know! I grabbed my Austin-centric pearls too!) From longtime standards to up-and-coming concepts (you won’t see Gil’s Broiler and its famous Manske rolls or Mochinut with its rice dogs and adorable mochi donuts on this list, but you should definitely check them out), there is a veritable assortment of tasty restaurants around the picturesque Texas State campus. Have fun exploring!
Dos Gatos Kolaches
700 N. LBJ Ste. 102-A, 243 Wonder World Dr. #106, dosgatoskolaches.com
Located at the back of the San Marcos Center, Dos Gatos Kolaches is a small, no-frills storefront with a bakery display case stocked with traditional Czech-style kolaches and klobasnek, as well as Texan versions stuffed with Hatch chili sausage, Philly cheesesteak, and even vegetarian sausages. The fruit kolaches are a little on the small side and you need to fuel your brain, so go ahead and add a bacon and cheese to your order for some protein. Grab a cold drink from the cooler or a cup of coffee (while the Wonder World location a little further from campus has a full coffee bar, the LBJ site only offers drops) and head to class knowing that you are a financial genius.
Two kolaches + a diet coke + taxes + tip = $6.70
700 N. LBJ #107, piesmtx.com
A few doors down from Dos Gatos is Pie Society, a sleek, modern pizzeria specializing in New York-style pies with high-quality ingredients served in interesting combinations. There’s the Balance of Power, which pairs spicy sausage with fresh spinach, crushed red pepper and sweet honey. And the San Martian, with mozzarella, beer-braised chicken, jalapeños, street corn, goat cheese, cilantro lime curd and fresh cilantro. Vegetarians love the Tempeh of Doom, with tempeh and vegetables (under Daiya cheese for free!). Grab a slice at lunch for just four dollars; if you’re over 21, the slice & pint special will cost you $7.
Slice + taxes + tip = $5.43
Herbert’s taco shack
419 Riverside, herbertstacohutsanmarcos.com
If you’re in a hurry and also have time to go to this old fashioned Tex-Mex restaurant, you can enjoy a huge double lunch for less than $10. Herbert’s $6.99 weekday lunch (and dinner) special is the best deal this side of the Mississippi, with rotating offerings of beef tacos, chalupas, enchiladas and burritos. (Tuesdays and Wednesdays are meatless.) The plate comes with a tall glass of iced tea and a generous helping of refried rice and beans, plus three flour tortillas. (Pro tip: Roll them up and take them home to make breakfast tacos later.) Get there before noon and you’ll be full in 20 minutes.
Lunch special + taxes + tip = $10.33