London: 4 restaurant chains that are affordable and homegrown

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Sometimes, you just want a quick bite without paying a small fortune—and without succumbing to the temptation of an overfamiliar yet predictable McDonald's either.

In London, it's possible to find piquant pepperoni on an Italian pizza, a wholegrain sandwich packed with organic veggies, or a brie-and-bacon-stuffed French croissant, if you know the affordable spots to look out for. Here's a cheat sheet:

Ready to Eat? Try Pret a Manger

Pret serve pre-prepared sandwiches, salads and lunchtime snacks in slick brushed steel and chrome food bar throughout London (and increasingly in New York). Ingredients are delivered fresh every day and as the name suggests, the huge menu steers away from standard English sandwich fare, aiming for food with a dash of Gallic panache. Instead of ham and tomato sandwiches, Pret offers Brie, tomato and basil baguettes. There are Pret takeaway shops all over the city. Look for the distinctive magenta and white placards. Sandwiches and a drink from $6.

Portuguese fried chicken at Nando's

London's more up-market answer to KFC offers chili-pepper spiced Portuguese peri peri chicken in sit-down restaurants with real crockery and metal cutlery and decorated with splashes of Mediterranean color. Spiciness comes in grades—lemon and herb is for chili novices, then there's medium, hot and extra hot; which in spice-loving London will blow the roof off most American mouths. Nando's are ubiquitous; see an online map. Average price for 2 courses with a drink $20-25.

Value-Priced, Decent Pizza at PizzaExpress

This British chain offers the antidote to the spongy, cheese saturated shopping mall pizza. At PizzaExpress, Italian-style, thin-crust pizzas are prepared in open-plan kitchens, fired in super-hot gas ovens and whisked to marble tables in a matter of minutes by sharply dressed young wait staff. Our favorite is the Fiorentina, with fresh spinach, grana padano, free range egg, garlic oil and olives. Look for the royal blue and white placard near almost every subway station in London. Average price for 2 courses with a drink $20. There are 10 PizzaExpresses across town. See a list here.

Curry in a Hurry at Masala Zone

Indian curry has (thankfully) eclipsed soggy Fish and Chips as Britain's national dish. An end of the week or after work 'Indian' is a national pastime and washing down a hotter-than-hell Vindaloo of Phall and right of passage for adolescent British males from Land's End to John o'Groats. This small London chain offers curry in cool contemporary surrounds—with retro-chic 1930s posters and artifacts, mood-lighting and buzzy young crowd. If you're new to the menu and spice-shy opt for a mild Chicken Korma, cooked in butter and coconut. There are Masala Zones in Covent Garden, Soho, Earl's Court, and Camden. Average price for 2 courses with a drink $25.


Did you know that most McDonald's locations in London sell the Chicken Tikka Snack Wrap?


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