do we have a best of list?
re: The Dairy Queen
Well, in the past year we've covered
Best pizza: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/749383
Best Vietnamese: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/581796
Best donuts http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/693867
Best gyros http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/465910
Best wings http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/715727
Best BBQ brisket http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/707990
Best Indian http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/716644
Best nachos http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/519406
Best French: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/728425#5847423
Best Italian and Spanish: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/744551
Favorite meal under $10: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/695553#5484036
Best of Minneapolis http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/703760#5570619
Best of St. Paul http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/705767
Fill in the gaps?
re: The Dairy Queen
Best Fried Chicken http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/692738
Philly Cheese http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/442373
Ruben Sandwich http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/730950
Deli Meats http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/732999
Beef Jerky http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/417972
As far as best-of-the-best on a budget, there's such a wealth of good cheap food here! For guidance, see Jeremy Iggers' blog on TCfoodies - he does a great job of finding and reviewing excellent cheap food.
My votes for b-o-t-b-o-a-b: Obento-Ya, Chimborazo, Saigon, Kafe 421, La Sirena Gorda, Keefer Court, Brasa, Ghandi Mahal, Punch, Caspian Bistro, Birchwood (tho dinners can over $20), Holy Land, Seward Cafe, ... there would be more, but I don't get out much!
Bar La Grassa's menu makes it very easy to have excellent food at a variety of budgets.
If you're willing to go to $30 per person, Travail's 10 course tasting menu for 2 people is probably one of the best deals in the area.
Midtown global market has some great food (e.g. La Sirena Gorda) for pretty cheap.
Turtle Bread Company on Chicago in MPLS has a fantastic lunch offering, for pretty cheap. Nothing fancy, but their soups are excellent and reasonably priced. Their quiches are also very good.
Lastly, while I hate to spoil the secret, Pardon My French on Cliff Road in Eagan is great. Lunches are in the $7 - $9 range, and are very good - I've had most of their sandwiches, some of their soups, and a couple of their more substantial lunches, and it's all excellent quality, very well prepared. I'm looking forward to going there for dinner soon, their evening menu looks quite interesting. Oh - their deserts, pastries, and breads are fantastic, and are very reasonably priced compared to similar quality goods in other MPLS area bakeries.
La Sirena Gorda
920 E Lake St, Minneapolis, MN 55407
Pardon My French
1565 Cliff Rd Ste 1A, Saint Paul, MN 55122
Bar La Grassa
800 N Washington Ave, Minneapolis, MN 55401
It's well worth a visit. Their sandwiches are very good, and both sides are great. The side salad is a good portion with a very good vinaigrette (with a touch of honey?) and their other side, the crudite, is julliened radish, carrot, and beet. Their soups are great too. I've really been wanting to try dinner there - the menu looks great, and if the quality is as good as their lunch, it should be a great value.
There are probably a couple places that everyone would agree on (La Belle Vie comes to mind) but after that, I doubt you'd get a consensus. Everybody's got their personal favorites. What's a board without opinionated locals, right?
But for places to eat well on a strict budget (er, do you mean before or after beverage?), I'll make some suggestions and I would guess others could too:
I haven't been to Travail, but hear the raves and imagine it would fit
Rinata (especially at late night happy hour)
Not fancy, but Black Sheep Pizza is very good
Sea Salt when in season
Actually there are quite a few places where you could keep down the costs but have a good meal by sitting in the lounge/bar, taking advantage of whatever specials are available, and/or especially sharing some smaller plates. I'm thinking of the 112 and Bar LaGrassa in particular.
2203 44th Ave N, Minneapolis, MN
2451 Hennepin Ave, Minneapolis, MN 55405