Best Cheap Eats in Madison, Wisconsin

I’ve had the opportunity to explore the culinary delights of Madison, the capital of the state of Wisconsin, during my short stint in the city. Madison is a college town, with the University of Wisconsin – Madison students making up a large chunk of the city’s population. And just as you’d expect in a city with tons of students, there’ll also be a number of great budget places to eat. Should you find yourself visiting the university and staying in Madison, seek out at least one of these eateries that many (including myself) agree are the best cheap eats in Madison, Wisconsin.

Best Cheap Eats in Madison, Wisconsin

Mickie’s Dairy Bar

One might say that weekends in Madison are not complete without having breakfast at Mickie’s Dairy Bar, the family-owned diner/bar located just south of the university campus that has been feeding Madisonians since the 1950s. Their omelets are a crowd favorite but the scrambler, an order of scrambled eggs, skillet potatoes, a choice of meat or vegetable, and cheese with gravy and toast, is legendary. Their fluffy pancakes, square in shape, covers a whole plate, while many alumni and current students agree that Mickie’s shakes are the best one in the city.

Best Cheap Eats in Madison Wisconsin USA: The Scrambler
The Scrambler

The eatery only seats on a first come, first serve basis and only takes cash as a method of payment. If you have a $10, you’re probably set…for both lunch and dinner.

Address: 1151 Monroe Street, Madison

Best Cheap Eats in Madison Wisconsin USA: Mac and Cheese Pizza
Mac and Cheese Pizza

Ian’s Pizza by the Slice

In addition to being one of the best cheap eats in Madison, Ian’s also hosts open mic nights, allows burgeoning musicians to plan on the adjacent stage, and stays open late, even on weekdays.

Address: 100 State Street, Madison, WI

Best Cheap Eats in Madison Wisconsin USA: Fried Cheese Curds at OSS Madison
Fried Cheese Curds at OSS Madison

OSS Madison

When you walk into this casual eatery, a small board on the bottom left of the entry way will give you over a dozen suggestions on what “OSS” might mean but one thing’s for certain: this sausage-centric joint has one of, if not THE best, fried cheese curds in the city. Be adventurous and try one of their signature sausages, plus a beer flight (or two) in addition to the fried cheese curds served with sweet and hot mustard dipping sauce.

Wisconsin continues to have a large population that descended from Germany, which is why beer and sausages are two of its most common culinary specialties. OSS Madison is definitely the best place to sample both at the same time.

Address: 910 Regent Street, Madison, WI

Best Cheap Eats in Madison Wisconsin USA: Tacos at Habanero Mexican Grill
Tacos at Habanero Mexican Grill

Habanero’s Mexican Grill

A best cheap eats in Madison list couldn’t possibly be complete without a decent taco and burrito place and here in Badger town, Habanero’s Mexican Grill is where the locals go. Forget Chipotle or Qdoba (you can get than anywhere) and seek out one of the two locations in town where you can try their barbacoa or pastor tacos. Add-in all the toppings you like: cilantro, tomatoes, onions, and cheese at no additional cost or order a side of chips and salsa to compliment your already overflowing plate.

They also make their own refreshing drinks including horchata, a traditional Mexican rice-based beverage, mixed with sugar and cinnamon.

Address: 2229 S. Stoughton Road and 3001 N. Sherman Avenue, Madison

Best Cheap Eats in Madison Wisconsin USA: A half order of Russian Pelmeni Dumplings
A half order of Russian Pelmeni Dumplings

Paul’s Pel’meni

There are only two options on the menu at Paul’s Pel’meni, but whichever one you choose, it’s a guaranteed hit. The small eatery just off Madison’s famed State Street serves traditional Russian dumplings filled with either potatoes and cheese or beef and potatoes. These bite size delights are tossed in a concoction made with a bit of melted butter, a mixture of white wine vinegar and sriracha, curry powder, cilantro and topped off with a dollop of sour cream. A half order makes for a good snack while a full order can substitute for a light dinner. Paul’s Pel’meni rank as one of my best cheap eats in Madison not only because it’s good, but also because it’s something different.

Address: 203 W. Gorham St., Madison

About Iris A


Born in the Philippines, but grew up in Texas, Iris has been traveling and writing about her experiences for well over a decade. Her work has been published on well-known travel sites like Hipmunk (#hipmunkcitylove) and D Magazine Online Travel Club. She has been all over Europe, the US, and has recently started exploring Latin America. She loves trying local cuisine and visiting UNESCO deemed World Heritage sites. Her favourite city is New York, with London, following a close 2nd. You can follow her on Twitter @sundeeiris or through her travel blog, Traveling With Iris.

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