Al’s Burger Shack
Bite Size Bobo Chili Cheeseburger
516 West Franklin Street, Chapel Hill, alsburgershack.com
Chapel Hill institution and gourmet burger joint Al’s needs no introduction around here. But the burger that really put it on the map is the Bobo Chili Cheeseburger, named the best burger in America by TripAdvisor. The combination—a local beef patty topped with chili sauce, slaw, chopped onion, yellow mustard, and American cheese—adds up to a rich mouthful, but if you just want a taste that’s still plenty filling, opt for the bite-size version for $5.05.
Backyard BBQ Pit
BBQ Pork Sandwich
5122 N.C. Highway 55, Durham, sweetribs.com
At this venerable Durham ’cue joint, you’ll find a menu dedicated to slow-smoked meats, but I’m partial to the pit-cooked, hickory-smoked pork shoulder. Opt for the BBQ pork sandwich, which rings in at $3.50 and comes with two classic Southern sides, including crowd faves like the mac ‘n’ cheese and collard greens.
Mithai Indian Cafe
744 East Chatham Street, Suite F, Cary, mithaius.com
Mithai Indian Cafe is known for its traditional Indian sweets, but there’s also a terrific savory snack menu. Don’t miss the samosas—they’re double the weight and size of traditional ones, boasting a thin, pastry shell and a generous filling of peas, potatoes, and cauliflower (a nod to owner Davina Ray’s Bengali roots), spiced with cumin, red chile, and chopped fresh green chiles. They’re $2.09 each. One is a snack, two a light lunch.
117 West Main Street, Durham, piepushers.com
Pie Pushers started as a food truck and has since grown to two locations, a downtown Durham brick-and-mortar above the Pinhook and a Durham Bulls Athletic Park outpost. But the pepperoni slice is still just $3 and is perfect for a quick lunch, game-day nosh, or a late-night slice on the cheap. The hand-tossed crust boasts a blistered, chewy-crispness, there’s just the right amount of cheese for an Instagram-worthy pull, and there’s an ample scattering of pepperoni rounds.
The Roast Grill
7 South West Street, Raleigh, roastgrill.com
This Raleigh institution does one thing and one thing only: hot dogs. Char-grilled dogs have been served here since the forties, and the menu, equipment, and space has remained largely unchanged. So too has the house rule on ketchup: Don’t ask for it. But you can still dress up your frank with toppings like homemade chili, slaw, mustard, or chopped onions. Wash it down with a glass bottle of Coke and finish with homemade baklava or pound cake for dessert, all for under $5.