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Oct 5, 2007 10:08 AM

Cheap, hidden ethnic (or not) eats?

I'm on a quest to sample food from all the local cheap ethnic restaurants. They can be holes-in-the-wall or sleek and new, but they have to be inexpensive (I'm talking approximately $5 or less per entree/menu item) and preferably off the beaten path. If there are any American places like this, I would be interested in hearing about them too. Here's my list so far:

Lily's Sandwich: $2.75 Vietnamese Banh Mi Sandwiches
(also see Thanh Nhi and Pho Van for cheap Banh Mi)
Sarah's Mediterranean Market: $4.95 Rotisserie Chicken Plates
Arandas #3: $2.85 Fajita Burritos

Any more to add?

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  1. marisco grill on burnet: the fish taco is huge, with lots of fish in a creamy sauce. I think it's $3.75. I love them.

    1. Wow, this is a tough task.
      A $5 limit excludes most of the places I call my cheap favs, and really limits your selections at the others. I had to cheat and slip in a couple barely over.
      I'm gonna skip all the trailers, too - that has been done better by others.
      And so, here it is,
      my favorite sit down places on extreme end of the Cheapskate <> Wads 'o Cash scale, Ethnic Edition:

      El Zunzal - For a taste of El Salvador, go for a couple of chicharrĂ³n pupusas ($2 each) and a banana Empanada ($1.50). The empanada is really tasty - the banana is on the outside. It's filled with a sweet filling and fried. Yum! This makes for a little bit of a lite meal, but a good one.

      Las Cazuelas - There are probably plenty of Mexican joints that have dishes to meet your goal, but this one holds a special place in my heart. You can choose from a list of lunch specials that include Chicken Mole, Chile Relleno and even a Mexican version of Liver and Onions served on a sizzling platter for less than $5. Or walk to the parking lot behind the building (but actually attached to it) and you will find a small food counter run by some very nice folks - they have color photos on the walls in case language is a barrier, and many dishes are around $5.

      Shalimar - Not a lot in this Paki / Indian joint for less than $5. You could get a few more choices at $5.50 or $6, but there is one spicy dish that makes the cut in price and flavor -Aloo Sabzi, it’s potatoes with a thick curry sauce, fresh tomatoes and spices. A nice veg dish for only $4.99. The down side is that you get only that dish, Nan is $2 extra.

      Want to check out some Pinoy food? Gammad offers a steam table. Choose 2 items and rice for $4.99. Or go to Mang Dedoy for the same thing plus soup at only $5.50.

      One of my personal favorite cheap eats is Wok 'N Roll. Stay away from anything on the Chinese menu - it's just generic sweet and sour this or General Tso's that. Instead, pick something from the rows color photos covering one wall. I usually get the steamed chicken- juicy bone in chunks covered with ground fresh ginger and spices and served over rice with a sweet soy. It's $5.95, and so a little outside your goal. If the $1 extra is worth more than the upgrade to this deliciousness, you will still have many excellent choices such as several styles of flat noodles, some great fried rices, or a big pho-sized bowl of WonTon soup with snow peas, carrots, sliced Bar-B-Q pork, and more. It's only $3.25, so add an order of fried chicken wings for a buck more. MMmmmm.

      Luis's Bar-B-Q on the corner of MLK and Harvey streets (just West of MLK and Airport). Look for the bright pink house with people standing in line in front of a window. Get the Combo Sandwich - you have to ask in advance if you want onions or pickles on it, I always get the onions. It is a simple sandwich, just white sandwich bread topped with a huge portion of sliced brisket, a sausage link and sauce. It's a massive meal priced around $4.50 or $4.75 (I forget).

      Nubian Queen Lola's - She has a tasty homemade Fried Fish sandwich for $4.99. These aren't processed patties; it's a fish fillet she breads and frys herself.

      Texas Chili parlor - The chili comes in a choice of hot, hotter, or damn that burns for $4.95, per small bowl or chili dog.

      4 Replies
      1. re: Alan Sudo

        Thanks for the reply, Alan. Perhaps $5 is a bit too restrictive. Maybe $8? But whatever the case, inexpensive.

        Also, I didn't realize Wok N Roll had good selections. It's right around the corner from my house, and I feel like trying it soon...

        1. re: brattpowered

          I almost always eat well and sometimes sumptuously for under 5.

          Half a chicken at Sams barbecue is 4.60,comes with bread and if you're a familiar face they'll throw in pickles and onions.

          Gene's New Orleans.Big changes are afoot at Gene's.The inside has been radically altered and it's now counter service.Get a half dozen Chicken Wings,Fries and Garlic Bread for 4 even.

          Like Mssr Sudo I champion El Zunzal.I get the Guacamole estillo Mexicano[2 bucks] and a Carnitas Taco[2 bucks]obviously you get stellar chips[not industrial]and good,not great salsa.

          All lunch specials at Los Altos are 4.75.Go on Thursday for good Carne Guisada,rice beans,tortillas and yes,chips and salsa...if they don't bring it ask for the Green.

          Guilty pleasure:Two two piece chicken boxes from Popeyes,comes with edible biscuits.I split em and pan fry em in butter with a little salt.4.32

          Crown and Anchor.A quarter pounder with a mountain of thin/crispy fries for 4 even.

          How about 4 .99c Carnita tacos at La Michoacana?On corn tortillas with Onion,Cilantro and good,seedy Red salsa.I eat there so often the Prima makes my tortillas from scratch when I get seated.

          Invest with a friend and spend 8 bucks on a platter from Galloways Sandwich Shop.It will feed two decent eaters or one hoss cat.

          I could go on and on.Some of the best food in Austin meets your requirements.There's no need to drop a bill at Uchi[although that's fun too]when you can have a feast for under 5 bucks.I'm usually sporty when it comes to tipping so my food is more but it's such a reflex I don't even count gratuity.The good will a couple dollars in a jar brings is an amazing investment.

          Almost forgot.Nikki's Pizza in Dobie Mall is very good at 2 bucks a slice.I took a buddy from Brooklyn and he was impressed.Ask em to burn it and you'll get a nice char on the crust.

          1. re: scrumptiouschef

            Thanks for the update on Gene's, scrumptious. I haven't been there in a while, but it sounds like it may be time for another visit.

            Your quest sounds like a lot of fun, brattpowered. I've found tons of delicious, cheap options during my own chowhounding adventures on the east side. If you want to see any details, just search this board for MPH and "Tex-Mex."

            Scrumptiouschef has started several good threads that might be of use to you. I've pasted links to them (and a couple of others) here:

            ChowHound Assignment:Go [To] A Place Never Reviewed On This Board

            Chowhound Assignment:Your Top 5 Food Carts/Trailers

            UT Eats

            Austin - April 23-29 - Cheap Eats?

            I hope you'll keep us posted about anything delicious that you find.

            1. re: scrumptiouschef

              I heard Gene sold his place--is the food still as tasty? Like MPH I haven't been in some time (more than a year for sure). Maybe that's why he sold? Though I know he's had various health issues recently.

              A half chicken at El Pollo Regio is the tastiest bargain in town at $7 or $8 with rice and beans and tortillas it easily feeds two.

              At Tam's you can get the char grilled pork bahn mi for $3.50 (less for togo), 1 spring roll for $1.25 (you have to smile politely because a normal order is 2), and a $0.50 cream puff.

        2. 'Korean Restaurant' inside Han Yang Market on Lamar north of Airport serves a few $5 bowls of stew that come with all the kim chee you can eat and a bowl of sushi rice. They're also cash-only, which is probably an indication of the sort of place you're seeking. If you ever want to do a shady business deal off the beaten path, you can safely do it here outside of the busy lunch hours while eating excessive amounts of the food that helped Korea avoid the SARS epidemic. I dig this place.

          Phoenicia Bakery (if you live near Sarah's, you live near Phoenicia's north central location at 46th and Burnett) serves a $3.99 roasted chicken wrap that is awesome. I wish they had vegetables besides shredded lettuce and thin tomato slices, but the juicy chicken and oddly light garlic sauce are great. It's a good modular meal.

          New World Deli at 43rd-44th and Guadalupe does not serve a 'half sandwich' - they serve a 'more than half a sandwich'. When it's a regular square sandwich, they just cut a corner off (What do they do with the corners? Email me if you know. I'd love to just hang out there and eat sandwich corners.) And when it's on a foot-long french roll, they just make it on a 6-8 inch french roll. Which is still a hearty sandwich. For $4.99 you can have 'more than half' a meatball sub, eggplant parmesan sandwich, or a meatloaf sub. The bread is very soft, toasted for flavor and texture contrast, and the fillings are piping hot. In fact, you should open up the sandwich a little bit to let it cool before you give it a shot. And the owner really likes what he does. It's not uncommon to find him chowing down on his own soups or asking customers if the roast beef he cooked the previous day was satisfactory.

          And I have to plug my favorite cheap, local taqueria, the newly renamed Jesus y Maria Taqueria on 2222 just west of Lamar. The menu has ten or so $4.99 meals that consist of rice, beans, and a combination of enchiladas, tacos, chalupas, and a good carne guisada. Bigger than most dinners I eat.

          Wow, I'll have to do some more research.

          1. If you can resist the BBQ, two black bean and cilantro tacos cost 4.95 at Ruby's BBQ. Get 'em with the BBQ sauce AND the pico de gaillo.

            * Actually, now looking at their menu, I see that they offer a number of BBQ sandwiches for 4.95 as well. I cannot attest as to their deliciousness because I am a vegetarian.

            1. How about a dosa (lentil flour crepe/flatbread around a variety of fillings) at Swad? I don't remember; they might get up to $6.

              Swad Indian Vegetarian Rstrnt
              9515 N Lamar Blvd, Austin, TX 78753