Santa Clara area poor student chow spots
Zanotto's market (Bascom and Naglee) has great sandiches that seem expensive but are HUGE - like 2 meals from one sandwich. Falafel Drive In (near Stevens Creek and Bascom) isn't super cheap, but it's not too expensive and the food's great. China Stix (Mervyn's Plaza, El Camino Real and Lincoln) has surprisingly authentic Chinese food considering the cheesy name of the place. There are a few places that have buffet lunches, like Mayuri (Indian), also in the Mervyn's Plaza, and Cafe Tandoor (next to 7-11, Lafayette and Poplar (you can have a BIG lunch, and a bowl of cereal for dinner! ;) Pretty good BBQ at Armadillo Willy's, Homestead near San Tomas. In the same shopping center, Stan's Donuts has the most sublime (and ginormous) glazed donuts ever. If you are willing to drive up to 99 Ranch Market (Wolfe and Homestead) in Cupertino, you can go to the take-out restaurant part of the supermarket and cram as much food as you can into a take out box for a really low price (I can't remember exactly how much). It's not gourmet, but not too bad (fulfills #2 and 3 of your criteria) - just stay away from the beef dishes, they are kinda iffy in terms of freshness.
Near Santa Clara University?
At the corner of Monroe and Benton you will find Franklin Mall, which has a several bars and restaurants. This Summer I ate a late dinner at Thai Pepper about a half dozen times. Thai food isn't as cheap as some other cuisines, but it makes a good splurge and if you go heavy on the rice (as they do in Thailand), you can fill your stomach and take home the extra. Or try the $7 lunch plates.
Here are the things I tried. Depending on your tastes in Thai food, you might enjoy some of them, too:
Mango Salad $9 - Made with some green (unripe) mango but also some ripe mango with the usual tangy lime dressing. This probably was the most unexpected and delightful thing I tried. Excellent for hot weather which, in Santa Clara, would be a lot of the year.
Choo-chee Crispy Trout $13 - Deep fried trout (lightly breaded, tail cripsy) in a thick coconut milk curry (choo chee is most similar to red curry). Wonderful contrast of crispiness and richness.
Those two make an excellent combination!
Green Curry Seafood $13 - Delicious curry with the usual shrimp and squid slices, plus rock cod and scallops. Very good, especially if you order it brutally hot.
I tried two salmon dishes, neither of which was as successful as the other seafood dishes:
Red Curry Salmon $13 - The fillet was fried to the point of being quite dry. This is common in Thailand, because it then soaks up a lot of sauce. Makes sense with a thin sauce like lime dressing, but I didn't think it was as successful with a coconut milk curry.
King & I Favorite $13 - A charbroiled fillet was served with an odd sauce that I can barely remember, I think it was dominated by the thick, sweet soy sauce more characteristic of Indonesian and Malay cooking.
The problem is I have been spoiled by the charbroiled salmon at Amarin Thai Cuisine on Castro St. in Mountain View. A nice fat cut served atop a salad and adorned with a "mango salsa," it is my favorite way to eat salmon. (I think this honor was previously held by a brick-shaped fillet of baked salmon I had at Stars in the late 1980s, crispy on the outside, nearly raw in the center. Or was it the blackened Cajun-style salmon at the Double Muskie Lodge between Anchorage and Seward that I sampled in 1989. Actually, the salmon en papillote recipe in the Julia/Jacques cookbook is right up there, if we're not grilling.)
Of course they serve the standards:
BBQ Chicken and BBQ Pork $9 - Very generous portions, certainly not bad, but their curries and stir fries are better.
Som Tum (Green Papaya Salad) $8 - Very good here. Especially if you order it wicked hot.
Basil Chicken $8 - Made with ground chicken, which is not to everyone's taste, but I think this allows for a higher surface-flavor-to-bland-meat ratio. Good, and safe to reheat (can't ruin the texture of the meat!).
Green Bean Chicken $8 - Made with the classic prik king red curry sauce (no coconut milk). Good, solid.
I can't recall trying these anywhere else in the area:
Garlic Seafood $13 - This garlic pepper presentation with steamed broccoli was too sweet for me. However, you will not fear vampires for the rest of the evening.
Moo Nam Tok $9 - Charbroiled slices of pork doused with chili powder and other spices perched atop a salad with some mint leaves. I had this in Thailand and still can't decide whether I like the combination of spices. Anyway, this is a very good version of it.
rose market - persian - castro st, mountain view
hot bite kabob - saratoga, ave - santa clara, ca
happi house - coupons are in the wave (or metro) 2 meals for $8
the food court inside mitsuwa - saratoga ave
ringer hut - san jose, ca
ryowa - mountain view
tapioca express - their bentos are passable
cafe ophelia - cupertino, ca | milpitas, ca - bentos as well $5 i think
My 5 picks are:
1) Thanh Long Restaurant on El Camino - A bowl of pho is about $5
2) Antojitos Salvadorenos (in Sunnyvale) - Usually, 2 orders of pupusas ($1.75 each, I think) are big enough for me
3) Tong Soon Restaurant on El Camino - Cheap lunch specials about $6
4) Zafran on El Camino - Indian Buffet
5) Dasaprakash on Homestead - lunch special for about $10, I have enough leftover for next day
1) Mayuri (SC) - Indian buffet!
2) Kabab N Curry (SC) - Order kababs off the menu
3) Giovanni's (Sunnyvale) - Rustica slices!
4) Noah's Bagels (SC) - Love the tuna fish on a bagel that comes with potato salad and a pickle for $4.50
1) Amber Cafe, Mountain View
2) Panera, San Jose
which school are you attending? here's my quick list in the area.
these are not the BEST tasting places, but you can't be choosy on a student budget.
i'll have to second su's mongolian
corner place - korean
ariyake - japanese/sushi
miyake - japanese/sushi
cupertino village - tons of chinese/taiwanese choices here
ranch 99 - dim sum and take out
wahoo's - baja/mexican
la victoria's - mexican
yiassoo - greek/gyros
st john's - burgers - check the nightly specials
falafel drive in - greek
milpitas square - many chinese choices again - family delight cafe in particular
yoshinoya - japanese something or other
ok...this list is a bit disappointing, i prefer the student spots in berkeley =P
How about a Korean or Indian buffet? Korea House or Mayuri? Won Ton House on El Camino is cheap and good (not great) for Cantonese noodle and rice dishes. University Chicken near SCU.
Based on your screen name, I'm guessing that you're a Chinese girl from Hawaii. An L&L Drive Inn is opening up in the new San Jose Marketplace on Coleman Ave. Food should be good, cheap, and plentiful.