When I eat out, my first port of call is to google ‘budget restaurants in Toulouse’. I assume most of us do this, inserting our own home cities at the end. Eating is quite possibly one of the most enjoyable activities and food, well, it’s not free. So, the best option is to find restaurants, cafes or coffee shops that can become a regular haunt and don’t charge an arm and a leg, ideally preventing me, or you for that matter dear reader, from packing a squashed cling-wrapped sandwich for the day – a lunch from my university days that still makes me shudder.
Unfortunately, not to diss Google, next to nothing truly ‘budget’ appears in my search results. And yet, I never learn because I return to Google every single time (a crippling dependency on the internet). The results have been… pricey.
According to Google, a surprising number of places in Toulouse offer affordable meals, and yet when you visit the ‘budget’ restaurant you realise the aforesaid meal has been discontinued, prices have gone up, or the alleged budget pricing of this place never even existed. Mind you, I’ll still eat there, so I have no one to blame for the financial guilt other than myself. However, in the process, I have worked out what I would consider to be a budget restaurant, as opposed to Google’s erroneous idea of one.
What is a budget restaurant?
According to my classification, a budget restaurant serves meals for under €10. I’ll bet that most of us have been backpackers in European cities, looking bedraggled yet incredibly tanned, where we became well-acquainted with the canned foods aisles in the supermarkets. Knowing where to find the best cheap lunch or dinner pitstop is the best way to avoid queuing for the hostel’s microwave again.
Or maybe you simply love eating out as much as I do. If so, you’ll agree, that’s where your future deposit for a house seems to be going.
I would happily give double points to any lunch or dinner that costs less than €5 as long as it doesn’t involve me going to the local Carrefour for a long-life sandwich, but the way of the modern world is that a €5-meal is hard to find these days. So, for the amount of cash you must hand over, the meal needs to feel worthwhile. This €10-meal needs to be filling – there should be no stealthy stomach rumbles for a few hours afterwards, I’m going to say at least three.
And you know what, I am pleased to say I have found a selection of budget restaurants and cafes that truly are excellent – there are no seedy burger joints with greasy floors and florescent lighting here. Instead, the food is flavourful, well-executed yet simple – here, you know what you’re getting and there’s no drumroll or spotlights needed – and, most importantly, you and your wallet are pleasantly sedated.
The previously-mentioned budget back-ups Campagne, Le May, Gigiland, Wok to Walk and Le Detaillant are on this list in spirit because they can always take my money, but – an expensive habit of mine – I have a terrible addiction to finding new restaurants. And I’ve already written about Le Detaillant three times, I really need to put a sock in it.
And so, no more will I crawl back to the Google search in appeal for budget restaurants. Because I’ve found them myself, and that list is right here!
So, here are my top 5 budget restaurants in Toulouse:
The Institution: O Saj
This little restaurant is the definition of ‘bustling’. People drift in and out all day long. Customers perch on stools, and waiters squeeze through if they can, if not, plates of flatbread wraps are passed over heads. The owner flutters around folding napkins, shaping dough, taking orders, sweeping the pavement – no one is above the menial tasks at O Saj. We were immediately made to feel at home, as though we were coming back from a long, hard day. Its cuisine is Lebanese, one I find myself with a burning craving for at least once a month. A thick fluffy flatbread sprinkled in za’atar? Don’t mind if I do.
Best of all, these wraps are jam-packed with fillings; marinated beef and chicken, or there’s hummus or aubergine as well as the lettuce, cucumber, tomato, and fresh herbs, so there’s a great selection for vegetarian and vegan diners. The choice is extensive – I’ve already got my sights on the spiced mince beef for next time.
Budget eats: €6.50-9 for any of the flatbread wraps
Find out more about O Saj here
The Place for Regulars: N88dles
This is Gaylord’s favourite restaurant – not just on this list but quite possibly throughout the whole of Toulouse. I suggested we go after seeing Oppenheimer last week and Gaylord’s eyes lit up. Once N88dles was on the table, there was no point suggesting an alternative. We’ve provided our custom more times than I can count. My inherent need to find new restaurants will never make me regular anywhere. So, it’s thanks to Gaylord that I visit any restaurant twice, and in the process, N88dles stole my heart.
N88dles of course serves noodles. Big cavernous bowls of them, portions that are considerably bigger than a human stomach. The simple stir-fried noodle base of egg, beansprouts and julienned carrot and courgette, without the optional flavours of beef satay or the ‘extra hyper mega’ hot, is available for under €10. The portion looks less copious, but honest to god, I waddled out of there. There are also starters and steamed bites such as gyozas, so if it’s pay day, it’s definitely worth enjoying yourself!
Budget eats: €9.50 for the Chao Mian Classic
Check out N88dles’ website here
The Hidden Gem: Mr.L
If you find yourself down Allée Gisèle Halimi around lunchtime, you may be tempted to scuttle back to the bustling parts of the city where lunch can be found easily. Not a lot is going on down here – there’s a dusty park, a laundrette, and a few pigeons. But wait, next to that laundrette is Mr.L where you will get a Toulouse sausage hot dog for under €10. This tiny restaurant is stylishly scruffy, a little hipster if you will. The walls are decorated with graffiti and a surprising number of pictures of Kim Kardashian. But just sample that hot dog – a French meets US fusion – and Kim K is forgotten.
Feast on a Toulouse sausage nestled inside a brioche bun and covered in onions, and that’s just the budget option. Think bacon pieces or chorizo to make it porkier, drizzled in smoked ketchup, served up with pickles. Buckle up – or should I say unbuckle – for a stodgy, filling lunch time.
Budget eats: €8-9.50 for any of the hot dogs
Check out Mr.L’s website here
The Light Bites: Ni’shimai
Inevitably there would be somewhere on this list where €10 can only get you so far, but Ni’shimai still made it because 1) the food is delicious and you must try it and 2) these light bites are filling. I conducted my experiment and I didn’t need to eat again bar a banana because I was aware of the one vegetable I’d eaten all day.
Ni’shimai is a tiny, cupboard-sized Japanese restaurant decorated with manga wallpaper, fairy lights and Japanese lanterns. Noodle soups and salads are on the menu, as are donburi and curries. Albeit being a reasonable price, unfortunately it is all over €10.
So, what can you eat on a budget? The delicious entrees. Choose a selection of pork, prawn or veggie gyoza and takoyaki made with cheese or octopus and ginger which you can glimpse being cooked throughout service. I chose an assortment, helped myself to the table’s collection of chilli oil and soy sauce, and got dipping.
Budget eats: €9 for 8 gyoza or takoyaki. €5 for 4 of each.
Check out Ni’Shimai’s website here
The Value for Money: Nocchio
In direct contrast is Nocchio, a budget restaurant right next door to Ni’shimai so you don’t have to walk far between lunch and dinner. Grab your Japanese light bites, then go to Nocchio for a gargantuan portion of gnocchi. Seriously, I couldn’t even finish mine. And I have the stomach of a horse.
Nocchio is a hole-in-the-wall where a very nice man makes and serves you gnocchi. Possibly everyone’s dreams have been fulfilled. There is a generous selection of flavours for under €10 including gorgonzola, carbonara, funghi, which also comes as a vegan option, and butter and sage. Now, to get to the important part – the portion size. Mumma mia, the cardboard tub is heavy, brimming with gnocchi and creamy sauce. I ate half, then went home and ate the rest an hour later. Considering the sheer quantity though, the nice gnocchi man might need to invest in tubs with lids as this sauce does not travel well!
Budget eats: €8 for gnocchi with gorgonzola cream sauce (and keep in mind that this is approximately two meals)
Check out Nocchio’s website here
Are there any nice French budget restaurants?
Notably, none of these budget restaurants serve French cuisine which I can’t say is a coincidence. If you’re here to sample the dishes of the Toulouse region, you may need to spend a few days cooking at your hostel to make up for it. However, that’s not to say you’ll miss out on all French food – don’t forget this is the country famous for its bakeries. While nowadays a baguette sandwich can reach the lofty prices of €6 or €7, it’s still perfectly within our budget. So, here are some recommendations:
- Boulangerie St Cyprien – for crunchy foot-long baguette sandwiches
- Loma – try their slabs of thick chewy pizza
- Boulangerie Pâtisserie Saint Aubin – for a vast selection of stuffed baguette sandwiches
How to eat at expensive restaurants when living on a budget?
Ah, the question I ask myself every day. This list covers all my favourite budget restaurants that have enabled me to swindle a meal for under €10, but if you’re feeling a little more extravagant, maybe it’s your last night in Toulouse and you want to paint the town red with all the money you’ve saved, I recommend you check out this list for the city’s 5 best affordable restaurants. The prices range from €15 to much (much) more but it’s a great middle zone for you to experience the delicious cheese, meat and wine that France has to offer!
How can I eat out for next to no money in France?
This is an excellent question, and if I had a definitive answer, this blog would have far less recipes and I wouldn’t have a bag of lentils in my kitchen cupboard.
A good place to start is, of course, eating at budget restaurants, but I try to also keep these tips in mind:
- Breakfast in France is informal, in fact, many French people are happy with a simple coffee and cigarette which is understandably not for everyone. Don’t go for brunch as French cafes have set menus costing you at least €20. Instead, visit a boulangerie, grab a nice baguette for a euro, buy some cheese or a pot of jam, and enjoy a rustic picnic.
- Sometimes you have to pay a premium to dine inside the café rather than eat a take away, so if you can, ask for your food to go.
- Choose your time wisely – many budget restaurants have lunch menus that are usually considerably cheaper than those available at dinner. There will often be ‘formules’, set menus, which offer discounts for two or more courses.
- This one is obvious, but it is useful to hear (I mean read). Avoid paying for drinks – in France, tap water is free.
- Depending on the restaurant’s cuisine, in France, you are awarded with another freebie and this one is much more filling than water – your table will be served a basket of free bread, so keep the costs down by ordering a starter to accompany it.