One of the biggest ways we save money as a traveling family is to stay in a vacation rental and prepare our own meals. A cheap dinner out for a family of 5 can easily be 50 euros, or more if you happen to be in an expensive city like Paris. In Italy, we ate out only twice during our two-week vacation because the prices were high as were the stakes in betting on the quality of the food.
But in Edinburgh, we ate out every day.. for lunch AND dinner. We couldn’t believe the affordability of budget restaurants, the generous portions, nor the variety of mouthwatering dishes.
Now, when I think Scottish food, the first thing that comes to mind is haggis (you, too?). I’m not an adventurous eater, and I often walk on the vegetarian side, so clearly the sheep stomach specialty wasn’t going to be an option. But, I was thrilled to find that not only does Edinburgh have plenty of ethnic food options, but they have some seriously spicy burritos!
Below are a few of our family’s favorite cheap eats in Edinburgh plus a list of restaurants we didn’t have time to visit. You can find more suggestions for kid-friendly restaurants and things to do on my Scotland with Kids Pinterest board.
Our Favorite (Family) Budget Restaurants in Edinburgh
Illegal Jack’s. Oh. my. Illegal Jack’s has a reputation for seriously good burritos and even better service. It did not disappoint. It’s not the best Mexican I’ve ever had, but you’d be hard pressed to find anything better for the price in Europe. We ordered two burritos and the beef chili nachos for the five of us to share. The burritos were mysteriously missing lettuce (?). The chicken can’t compare to the tender, marinated strips from Chipotle, but the beans, salsa, and guacamole had a little Mexican party goin’ on inside my mouth. Our favorite, however, was the flaming pile of beef chili nachos smothered in white cheddar cheese. Whoa, Nelly. Add to that free wifi, free refills, and high chairs – I’m already wishing we could’ve gone back for seconds.. and thirds.
Wannaburger. Burgers, fries, onion rings, Dr. Pepper, pancakes, MILKSHAKES! I only had to browse the menu (and the prices!) for a few seconds before I knew Wannaburger would be one of our favorite meals in Edinburgh. I wouldn’t list hamburgers on a list of favorite foods, but when we eat them, it reminds us of home and of great American institutions like In-N-Out and Five Guys. The portions are small, in line with the prices (kids meals are TINY). The black bean burger was not what I expected, but in a good way. The kids loved the chicken goujons, but the burgers were the best (pass on the hot dogs). After the blandness of German food, Doc Sci and I fully appreciated the heat that the cajun fries delivered. But, really, the absolute best thing on the menu at Wannaburger is the chocolate milk shake with peanut butter. Dear me, I might have to go recreate that in my kitchen post haste!
The Tailend Restaurant And Fish Bar. While I wouldn’t consider us serious fish & chips fans, we always make a point of indulging in a local chippy whenever we’re in the UK. The Tailend is rumored to be the best fish fry in Edinburgh, and their “to go” prices are a steal. For example, the haddock fish supper comes in at £6 for takeaway; the same fish special sells for nearly double in the restaurant.
Yocoko Noodle Bar. I remember reading somewhere that the service at Yocoko leaned toward the snotty side, so I planned accordingly. In reality, the restaurant was just busy, and the waiters were simply doing their job. Don’t expect warm service, but don’t be put off by their demeanor. This is a student hang-out, after all. One thing that was rather annoying, though, was that one could choose either chopsticks OR a fork, but not both. My husband and I prefer to eat with chopsticks, but the kids haven’t learned yet. It was a bit stressful to arrange for the kids to get forks. But, when our gigantic bowl of udon noodles arrived, I embraced the awkwardness and took the opportunity to slurp my soup. The fried noodles are nothing to write home about; go for the udon instead. The kids went nuts for edamame and fully enjoyed drinking weak-but-free green tea from tiny cups.
Los Cardos. A total Chipotle knock-off (seriously, look at their website), Los Cardos only has one advantage over Illegal Jack’s.. they deliver! I didn’t think it would work since I don’t have a UK phone number, but I somehow was able to set up a dinner delivery for our last evening in Edinburgh. The food arrived on time, hot & fresh. Unfortunately, without salsa, these burritos have no claim to fame. Again, the lettuce was absent (?!), and the rice and beans bordered on bland. But once we heaped the delicious black bean & corn salsa on top, and scooped up the salsa verde with or tortilla chips, we didn’t care. Even Los Cardos on a bad day is better than most German attempts at Mexican food.
More Cheap Eats
- The Baked Potato Shop. Jacket potatoes with your choice of hot or cold filling. Vegetarian and vegan options.
- Red Box Noodle Bar. Fast and filling, veggie or carnivore, eat in or takeaway, choose your own Asian noodle box adventure.
- Viva Mexico. Touted as Edinburgh’s “original and most authentic Mexican restaurant,” I’ve heard rumors of lunch specials for £6, Fajitas for £9, and dinner entrees for £12-15.
- Black Medicine Coffee Co. Not a restaurant, but a friend who lived there for a year promises this is the best coffee she has ever tasted.
- Mums Great Comfort Food. If mushy peas or bangers & mash are your thing, I’m told this is the place to indulge.
- The Holyrood 9A. The burgers are a big pricier here (£9), but they have SWEET potato fries! Red Squirrel is another handmade burger joint with sweet potato fries. Seriously, we need a burger & sweet potato food truck in my city..
- Union of Genius. Soup Bar – 6 soups daily with a sampler option. Served with artisan bread. Great for warming up on a grey, Scottish day.
- Mother India. Daily specials and take-away menu items under £6 as well as many (Indian!) tapas dishes under £4. I’m rather disappointed we didn’t have time for this one.