There are things that can be done cheaply in Helsinki (good schooling, public transport) and there are things that cannot be done cheaply (umm, eating… and everything else). But since we must eat pretty much daily, and that it’s nice to dine out at least occasionally, here is a roundup of Helsinki’s 5 best budget restaurants, in alphabetical order. Let’s call the definition of a budget restaurant one that serves food to your table, provides chairs and metal cutlery, and offers mains of around 10-15 euros.
Cafe bar No. 9, Uudenmankatu 9
A pleasant, busy, central, café / bar with a minimalistic and traditional Nordic interior. Located in Helsinki’s hip design district, a young and trendy crowd is drawn and local artwork is pleasantly exhibited and sold. A range of sandwiches, salads, soups, pasta dishes and tasty woks, including vegetarian options, are on offer for under 10 euros, plus other classic and more expensive fare. The prawn “Kill Bill” wok (9.70 euros), a yellow curry with noodles, was a good choice and the service effective. Otherwise, the salmon medallion (15.90 euros) looked like a good bet. Come here for a cosmopolitan experience, perhaps after a morning browsing the local design boutiques.
Beefy Queen Jambo, Pieni Robertinkatu 13
Great name, great food. A central, leaf steak restaurant selling a vast range of steaks (pihvi) and schnitzels (leike). It’s not glamorous (it doesn’t pretend to be), but the place has a gritty, yet lovable charm, while the service was friendly and fast. The menu includes chicken, pork and beef steaks pounded into various guises, plus some dearer and more tender steaks. All can be combined with rice or potato options and different sauces (9.50-20 euros). The pork schnitzel with wild mushroom sauce (12 euros) was tasty and, well, really big. Come here for a hearty and tasty meat eat, but perhaps not for romantic or vegetarian endeavours.
Pelmenit, Kustaankatu 7
The food at Pelmenit is both delicious and Soviet. The signature dish and namesake, pelmeni (12 euros) are tasty meaty dumplings served with, and cleverly balanced by, sour smetana, hot chilli sauce and sweet lingonberries. You might have eaten something similar in China, Japan or Nepal. An 8-euro lunch dish is on offer, as are other Ukrainian and Russian classics, including borscht, seljanka and stroganoff (8-13 euros). The decor is kitsch, the service with a smile and the atmosphere relaxed. Plates, colourful cloths and a cuckoo clock adorn the walls. Come here for an authentic and modest Soviet food experience in bohemian Kallio.
Pueblo, Eerikinkatu 27
A taquería (taco shop) for the people (pueblo means “people” in Spanish), serving tasty street hawker style food with a relaxed, colourful and textured latin surf-shack vibe. The vision here is to fuse Mexican streetfood with cocktails, and blend dining and bar experiences, which are too often separated or compromised in Helsinki. The menu covers typical snacks of nachos, guacamole, ceviche and a great tomatillo salsa, and mains of various filled tacos (7.20- 16.50 euros) and burritos (14.90 euros). The pork neck tacos (11.40 euros for 3 with rice and refried beans) were appetising, as were the vegetarian quesadillas (11.80 euros with rice and beans). Come here to share food, a drink and live music with friends.
Tuk Tuk, Vaasankatu 19
Tasty, authentic Thai food purveyor also located in characterful Kallio. Given its size it is suitably named after the compact taxi vehicle. Mains start at 11 euros, and a busy lunch buffet is on offer for those arriving at an opportune time. If you have bendy legs, one table offers a platform-floor-sitting-cushion-experience. Otherwise, the interior and atmosphere is not exactly Thai, but the food certainly is, with all the classics on the menu, including green, yellow and red curries, tom yam soup, som dam etc. The beef Thai green curry was everything one could hope for: coconuty, spicy and just excellent, and the Pad-Thai flavourful and moreish. The mains are priced according to your protein, e.g. tofu mains are 11 euros, beef 14 etc. Come here for tasty Thai food that will bring back memories of that adorable country.