CENTER CITY EAST
Chifa express lunch It’s hard to get out of a Garces restaurant without dropping significant dinero, but at Chifa you can order a first- and second-course option from the lunch menu for $12.50. Best part: It’s offered Monday through Saturday. 707 Chestnut Street, 215-925-5555, chifarestaurant.com.
Maru Global Japanese comfort food takoyaki (crepe batter balls) takes on a Philly flavor at this Gayborhood spot. A small serving of eight bite-size cheesesteak takoyaki ($5.32) is a good snack, or mix and match multiple flavors for a full meal. But the real treat here is the hot chocolate chip Maru balls: They’re fluffy, buttery orbs of chocolate chip-laced delight. 255 South 10th Street, 267-273-0567, maruphilly.com.
McGillin’s Olde Ale House It’s old — 150 years old, to be exact — but there’s a reason it’s been around this long: free soup! You’ll have to order something — a drink, a sandwich (we like the straightforward and substantial turkey club) — to access the free soup (at lunch only), but any way you ladle it, it’s easy for two people to get out of this classic Irish pub for less than $20. 1310 Drury Street, 215-735-5562, mcgillins.com.
Morimoto happy hour The Iron Chef’s sushi is the city’s best — and priciest. Hit up the futuristic upstairs lounge Sunday through Friday from 5 to 7 p.m. for “signature hour” to try it for less. Six-dollar spicy salmon maki, a $6 Morimoto martini and $7 apps like “angry wings” are a great deal anywhere, but especially here. 723 Chestnut Street, 215-413-9070, morimotorestaurant.com.
Reading Terminal Market Got $10 in your pocket? You can stuff yourself silly at one of the country’s best city markets and still have $2 left for the bus home. Dozens of vendors offer $7 meal deals at lunch, including chicken, collard greens, rice and cornbread from the Oprah-sanctioned Delilah’s Southern Cuisine. The ridiculously affordable (think: French toast for less than $4) Dutch Eating Place is also a player, and carb junkies shouldn’t skip Miller’s Twist, where you get a free buttery pretzel with the purchase of a medium milkshake ($3.95). Visit the under-sung cafeteria-style counter at Little Thai Market for crab dumplings whose simplicity belies their addictive power ($5.50), and the sweet BBQ chicken on a stick ($2.50) — probably the best-value snack in the Terminal. 12th and Arch streets, 215-922-2317, readingterminalmarket.org.
Xochitl The Head House Square Mexican spot has revamped its food and decor, but thankfully kept its Thursday-night tradition of offering the entire menu at half-price from 10 p.m. to midnight. You may have to stay up late on a weeknight, but a stiff $5 margarita from the accompanying late-night happy hour will help ease the pain. 408 South 2nd Street, 215-238-7280, xochitlphilly.com.