Hot and fresh at Federal Donuts

Seeing as it’s filled with namesake college campuses (and therefore, tight student budgets), it’s no surprise University City is loaded with ways to eat cheap. Here are four great paths to getting your fill for $15 or less — you won’t even have to resort to a late-night order of Insomnia Cookies to keep you from falling asleep on your books.

The Taylor Swift

Girl loves to splurge on Americana classics — can’t fault her for that.

Royale with cheese at Enjay’s Pizza ($7.50)

The gents behind magical roving pizza truck Pitruco are also ensconced inside Penn drinking institution Smokey Joe’s. While the deck-oven pies there are perfect for backing up a night of beer and Jameson, the burgers are seriously special, and good anytime. The Royale is quarter-pound classic with American, pickles, onions, mustard and ketchup, and comes on a house-baked bun with really great fries (210 S. 40th St., 215-222-0770).

Fresh hot donuts at Federal Donuts (half dozen for $6)

The colorfully-glazed fancies may get all the Instagram glory, but you haven’t really done FedNuts right until you scarf down a hot, sugar-covered fritter right out of the Donut Robot. They’re $1.50 each, but only a buck a pop if you get a half dozen, which is worth it if you want to make friends (or ensure late-night snacks). Split the difference and get a pair with each of the spice blends: Vanilla, strawberry lavender or strawberry brown sugar (3428 Sansom St., 267-275-8489).

The Miley Cyrus

Even though it’s more mainstream than shocking these days, this star is vegan all the way.

Banh mi at Fu-Wah

Tofu banh mi at Fu-Wah ($4.30)

When Benny Lai introduced made-to-order tofu hoagies at his family’s Vietnamese market, practically no one in Philadelphia was familiar with the phrase “banh mi.” The sandwiches are one of the good things to come out of the French occupation of Vietnam, with an airy baguette loaded with pickled daikon, shredded carrots, sliced jalapeno, fresh cilantro and a choice of protein — in this case, creamy Chinatown-made tofu marinated in Sriracha and fish sauce (810 S. 47th St., 215-729-2993).

Sweet potato fries ($4.75) and Groothie ($5.25) at HipCityVeg

These aren’t your grandma’s yams — the fries at Nicole Marquis’ plant-based joint are as satisfyingly snacky as fast food gets, and either of the dips (cilantro black bean or Sriracha aioli) do them right. And can’t miss the best smoothie in the city: Leafy greens blended with apples, bananas and other seasonal fruit (214 S. 40th St., 267-244-4342).

The Beyoncé

Pop’s top diva has flirted with plant-based diets herself, but soul food is her main jam.

Large fried chicken platter at Gigi and Big R ($11)

This food truck’s got soul in the most serious way, and spends weekdays spreading it through the Penn campus and surroundings. The fried chicken is golden and crunchy outside and still meaty inside, though any of the sides that come with threaten to steal the show — the toughest part is choosing between yams, mac and cheese, collards and way-beyond-blah rice and beans (38th & Spruce streets).

Pumpkin s’mores pop at Lil Pop Shop
Pumpkin s’mores pop at Lil Pop Shop Credit: Facebook

Pumpkin s’mores popsicle at Lil Pop Shop ($3.25)

Way more fun than getting your pumpkin spices in latte version is slurping down a seasonal pop from this bright dessert stop. This version even has actual pumpkin in the base, which is chock full of marshmallows, graham crackers and dark chocolate chunks (265 S. 44th St., 215-222-8529).

The Justin Bieber

For some reason (because this is the world we live in today), the Biebs actually made news when he announced he enjoyed the food of Southeast Asia.

Resham chicken kabob roll at Kabobeesh ($6)

This Pakistani spot specializes in kabobs (tough to tell from the name, yeah), and the chargrilled meat lives up to its billing. One of the best values on the generally low-priced menu is the sandwich rolls — essentially wraps made with the house naan instead of boring pita, and topped with lettuce, tomatoes, onions and optional sauce. Try the chicken resham (or reshmi), which is meat ground with spices and shaped into a sausage that cooks around the skewer (4201 Chestnut St., 215-222-8081).

Vegetable samosas ($3) and mango shake ($2.95) at New Delhi Indian Restaurant

There’s a standard buffet here, but better than the steam table are the fried-to-order veggie pockets — they’re bursting with hot potatoes and peas and come with a sweet and spicy dipping sauce on the side. Finish things on a refreshing note with a big mango shake, which blends fresh fruit with milk for a straw-killing cup of thick, exotic dessert (4004 Chestnut St., 215-386-1941).

Danya Henninger is director and editor of Billy Penn at WHYY, where she oversees the team, all editorial decisions, and all revenue generation — including the membership program. She is a former food...