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A Foodie's Guide to Cheap Eats

How to save money and still feel like you splurged

A Foodie's Guide to Cheap Eats
Photo by Terry Brennan (5)

(page 2 of 4)


When the longtime Seven Corners student hangout Sgt. Preston’s became Republic, restaurateur Matty O’Reilly refreshed the place just as he had with the 318 and Aster cafés. He set a higher bar for budget-friendly bar fare by incorporating more premium ingredients and scratch-cooking techniques. Most of Republic’s menu items cost less than $10 and the craft beers are just as thrifty—Lift Bridge’s Farm Girl Saison, a locally brewed favorite, is regularly priced just $4 a pint. During the daily happy hour from 4 to 6 p.m., the restaurant offers its Thousand Hills grass-fed beef or Wild Acres turkey burgers for a practically fast-food-priced $6. The patties are juicy, well-seasoned, and served with a side of mixed greens. To boot, Republic’s lovely patio is just as vast as its beverage list, and far more appealing than Five Guys’ peanut-shell–littered digs. • 221 Cedar Ave. S., Mpls., 612-338-6146, republicmn.com


Last summer, Sameh and Saed Wadi retooled their five-year-old restaurant, Saffron, so its menu and space would be more accommodating to casual diners. Chef Sameh still specializes in flavors of the Middle East, but has introduced several new fusions, including housemade potato chips dipped in yogurt seasoned with za’tar. During happy hour (Monday through Friday, from 4 to 6 p.m.), the chips cost $3 and, for $8, Wadi offers another smart Arab-American combo, a “BLT” made with lamb bacon to accommodate religious dietary restrictions. • 123 N. Third St., Mpls., 612-746-5533, saffronmpls.com

Seven Sushi Ultralounge and Skybar

Nearly all the sushi joints in town—Nami, Origami, Wasabi, Obento Ya, Fuji Ya, Tiger, among them—offer a buck or two off makizushi (a.k.a. sushi rolls) during happy hour. But Seven has one thing they don’t: a swank rooftop lounge. Skip the plastic-cup martinis, with their florescent hues and too-sweet synthetic Jolly Rancher fruit flavors, in favor of the discounted spicy tuna or real-crab California rolls. • 700 Hennepin Ave., Mpls., 612-238-7770, 7mpls.com

Ristorante Luci

An intimate, dimly lit room accented with white tablecloths and a touch of nostalgia makes Ristorante Luci the definition of neighborhood Italian in St. Paul. The owners have updated the menu of the 23-year-old restaurant and offer a great Wednesday night deal. By choosing one dish from each of the four sections of the menu— appetizers, soups or salads, pasta, and entrée—for $40, two people can each have a four-course tasting meal. The kitchen has classics like pasta carbonara down pat, and the easy pace and family-run feel make for a great mid-week date night. Luci Ancora, Luci’s sister restaurant across the street, offers the same deal on Tuesday and Thursday nights. • 470 Cleveland Ave. S., St. Paul, 651-699-8258, ristoranteluci.com

Broders' Pasta Bar

More than 30 years ago, the Broder family opened its first restaurant on the corner of 50th and Penn in south Minneapolis. They’ve managed to keep the place feeling fresh with an updated menu and sharp décor, and state-of-the-art equipment, including an imported pasta machine in the kitchen and a wine-storage system in the center of the horseshoe-shaped bar. In summer, between 4:30 and 6 p.m. Monday through Thursday, Broders' offers a date-night dinner for two with a choice of two select pastas, side salad, olives, and a half carafe of wine for $30. While all the pastas tend to be consistently excellent, it’s hard to resist anything smothered in Bolognese sauce. Options are limited, and so is the seating, so come prepared to order a drink and wait on the patio. • 5000 Penn Ave. S., Mpls., 612-925-9202, broders.com


Marcos Pinguil, Chimborazo’s chef-owner, has livened up an aging building on Central Avenue with a few coats of paint and some hearty Ecuadorian cuisine. Starchy vegetables such as yucca, potatoes, and plantains come fried or mashed, or made into pancakes and croquettes, and accompany salsas like aji criollo, a cilantro and chile purée. The pork sandwiches are sloppy and wonderful and come with fresh-cut fries. On Wednesday date nights, select two special entrées and a bottle of wine for $35. • 2851 Central Ave. NE, Mpls., 612-788-1328, chimborazorestaurant.com


Bayport BBQ

Bayport BBQ

Texas-style barbecue—dry-smoked meat, served by the pound, with sauce on the side—is as scarce as Stetsons in these parts. But Bayport BBQ is just such a destination for Southern scratch cooking and live blues music. The kitchen staff bakes all the bread, smokes the meat, and mixes the lemonade (which is served in Mason jars and can be spiked with a shot of cherry-infused white whiskey). The big metal serving trays fill up fast, between the brisket, hot links, creamed corn, and baked beans, so take your pecan pie to go. • 328 Fifth Ave. N., Bayport, 651-955-6337, bayportbbq.com


Fasika’s $36.50 Ultimate Combination platter is best consumed when its presented, so plan on dining with at least two friends. The platter is as beautiful as the clothing worn by some of Fasika's East African clientele: a round injera bread is dotted, like an artist’s palette, with a rainbow of orange carrots, green lettuce, ochre cabbage, yellow lentils, white-cheese crumbles, and deep-purple beets. The scoops of meat stew, including Berbere-style chicken served with a hard-cooked egg, display a surprising range of flavor nuance, with their hot, dusty spice blends. • 510 N. Snelling Ave., St. Paul, 651-646-4747, fasika.com

Holy Land

The “small” version of the Sheik’s Dinner says it feeds three, but it can handily defeat four hungry eaters. The heart of the $34.95 meal is a platter laden with chicken, beef, and lamb kabobs, plus gyro meat, falafel, and stuffed grape leaves. The dinner also includes huge portions of rice, hummus, and Greek salad, plus pita bread, and a couple pieces of baklava—all of it delicious. There's more food than one person can comfortably carry, so if you're doing takeout, make sure to bring along an extra set of hands. • 2513 Central Ave. NE, Mpls., 612-781-2627; 920 E. Lake St., Mpls., 612-870-6104, holylandbrand.com

Mandarin Kitchen

Even amid tornadoes, thunderstorms, or blizzards, at 9:59 a.m. on weekends, Mandarin Kitchen draws an airport-security-length queue outside its strip mall digs. When the restaurant opens, a minute later, diners flow into the dining room fast as a current, dodging trolley carts, slow-moving grandmothers, and dumpling-plump babies until they fill every table. The dim sum snacks come fast and furious, so decisiveness is essential—or just bring the biggest group possible and order it all. Three people can stuff themselves for $40. • 8766 Lyndale Ave. S., Bloomington, 952-884-5356


Bryant-Lake Bowl vs. The Red Stag Supperclub

Restaurateur Kim Bartmann offers Cheap Date Night, two ways. Mondays at the Bryant-Lake Bowl are a local legend among the scruffily hip: two entrées, one bottle of wine or four tap beers, and a round of bowling costs just $28 per couple. The kitchen chooses the entrées and the drinks, so be sure to call ahead late Monday afternoon to inquire about the evening’s selections. If the entrée options include gnocchi with ramps and sweet corn or grass-fed braised beef short ribs, the deal’s a steal. If the choice is between the mixed-greens salad with fried goat cheese or the turkey wing with collards and polenta, you’re better off waiting till Tuesday at the Red Stag, where the crowd tends to skew slightly older and doesn’t spill as much beer. The Stag’s rotating $32-per-couple date-night menu often features slightly fancier plates, including the likes of bison pot roast and eggplant Parmesan. Modest portions leave room for the dessert that's offered in lieu of bowling. (Note: It may be easier to impress a date with your pronunciation of financier, than try to turn a baby split into a spare.) • Bryant-Lake Bowl, 810 W. Lake St., Mpls., 612-825-3737, bryantlakebowl.com • The Red Stag, 509 First Ave. NE, Mpls., 612-767-7766, redstagsupperclub.com


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