College students experience a rather unfortunate paradox: We love to go eat at restaurants, but we rarely have the funds to do so. Inexpensive options like Cook-Out and McDonald’s are great, but some hungers call for something more unique. East Tennessee is full of wonderful, one-of-a-kind eateries that won’t break the bank. Naturally, these places can be hard to find, so we’ve decided to compile a list of some of our favorite local restaurants, in order from cheapest to not-as-cheap.

  1. China Garden

2111 N Roan St., Johnson City, TN, 37604

Every college student loves some good Chinese takeout, and it’s hard to beat the masters over at China Garden. The location itself may not be much to look at, but the food more than makes up for it. Classic takeout meals, like orange chicken and moo shu pork, are crafted to perfection, and there are plenty more unique dishes waiting to be discovered.

2. Babylon Restaurant

2122 N. Roan St, Johnson City, TN, 37601

Just up the road from the Mall at Johnson City sits the Babylon Restaurant, a family-owned restaurant that brings the best of the Mediterranean to East Tennessee. There isn’t anything like it in the area, with strikingly flavored meals, like beef shawarma and lamb shank, dominating the menu. Each dish comes with perfectly cooked fresh vegetables too, so you don’t feel too bad about cleaning the whole plate. The entrees mostly surpass the ten dollar mark, but the sandwich selection is just as amazing and is more than affordable for most college student budgets.

3. Hawg N’ Dawg BBQ & Coneys

202 Union St, Erwin, TN, 37650

Just up the road from Milligan lies the small town of Erwin. While there are plenty of good places to eat in town, the undisputed best is the little barbecue place known as Hawg N’ Dawg. Its main attraction is the titular dish, the Hawg N Dawg: an all beef hot dog piled high with their famous pulled pork barbecue and slathered in your choice of sauce. If that doesn’t sound appealing to you, they have a host of other creative BBQ and coney dishes to try, like the excellent BBQ Nachos.

4. Mid City Grill

106 South Commerce St, Johnson City, TN, 37604

Late nights are just a part of college life, and hunger can set in quick once the sun goes down. Luckily, Mid City Grill is at its best in the middle of the night, with a wide array of tasty burgers to fuel your late night study sessions. The location is, once again, a bit rough on the outside, but you’d be a fool to let that deter you from some of the best burgers and sweet potato fries in Johnson City.

5. Red Chili 

435 E. Elk Ave, Elizabethton, TN, 37643

For those looking for a different flavor of Asian food, Red Chili in downtown Elizabethton is a must. This quaint Korean restaurant may only be open for lunch, but it’s well worth the trouble to try the incredible Be-Bim-Bob, their staple rice-and-meat dish. The rest of the menu is just as remarkable, even if lunch is a little pricier than the other restaurants on this list.

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