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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 3 of 4)


Two years ago, street food meant literally food in the street, like banana peels and spilled slushies. Today, food-truck traffic practically jams the streets of both downtowns, with Australian kebabs, mac 'n' cheese, a full-on bacon trolley, and not one, but two cupcake mobiles. Among the ever-expanding fleet, several notable Twin Cities chefs are cooking in trucks to offer office workers a quick, affordable taste of their talents.


The Barrio mini-chain, which chef Tim McKee helped launch, serves authentic Mexican fare with fine-dining refinement. The restaurants’ spin-off food truck has been a test ground for deep-fried soft-shell crab tacos and tortas. No tequila-on-wheels, unfortunately. • barriotequila.com, @barrio_truck

World Street Kitchen

When Sameh Wadi, chef-owner of Saffron, took to the streets, he expanded the geographic bounds of his Middle Eastern/Mediterranean repertoire. The curried chicken fusion bánh mì is fantastic, but to really see Wadi cut loose, order the Yum Yum Rice Bowl. The dish has the catch-all quality of Korean bibimbap, offering a heap of rice topped with a choice of chicken, short rib, or crispy tofu and piled with garnishes. Fresh herbs and greenery (cilantro, basil, Chinese broccoli) balance the rich umami tidbits (fried onions, peanuts, shiitake mushroom), and the whole mess is laced together with an addictive, creamy-spicy “secret sauce” and the sticky golden yolk of a soft-cooked egg. • eatwsk.com, @eatwsk1

Smack Shack Lobster Roll

Smack Shack

Josh Thoma, Tim McKee’s onetime business partner, brought the Twin Cities its first great lobster roll. The East Coast staple is nearly impossible to find in these parts, and the one served at Smack Shack is an impressive introduction: the briny pink-and-white meat arrives mostly unadorned, bursting between two slices of griddled Texas toast. Lobster prices have risen since the truck’s launch—sandwiches now cost $13—but it still beats trying to chase the creatures Annie Hall–style into the pot. • smack-shack.com, @smack_shack


Chef Stephen Trojahn, who formerly inhabited the fine-dining universe of Cosmos, launched his solo career in a mobile gastropub. His Gastrotruck specializes in gourmet sandwiches, which are stuffed with the likes of meatloaf, smoked pork belly, or black-bean patties, and garnished with housemade ketchup and mustard, pickled vegetables, and hot sauces. The grass-fed beef-brisket sandwich possesses all the pro’s culinary touches: the meat is tenderized in a rich, malty beer braise and topped with arugula and horseradish sauce. • gastrotruck.mobi, @gastrotruck

Chef Shack

Bison meat isn’t for amateurs. It’s easily overcooked, which turns it dry and tough. But the Chef Shack staff—led by Carrie Summer and Lisa Carlson, two fine-dining veterans—serves perfectly juicy bison burgers that are piled to jaw-straining heights with lettuce, tomato, fried egg, and cheese. The Shack is best known for its mini-donuts (made with organic ingredients and Indian spices), but the rotating menu includes everything from tongue tacos to beet ice cream. • chefshack.org, @chefshack1

128 Mobile Café

When St. Paul’s beloved 128 Café went mobile, it created a dangerous scenario: barbecue addicts could have the restaurant’s famed ribs come directly to them. Though 128 doesn’t specialize in Southern cuisine, its command of the baby-back rib is unmatched. The meat on the rack is flecked with crispy black char, but the bites between the bones are pillowy and tender. And the spunky barbecue sauce adds just the right punch—it’s sweet and acidic, laced with pepper and smoke. The truck also offers salads and sandwiches, but the ribs are tough to resist. Cash only. • 128cafe.net, @128cafe


You are what you eat. And if you order the same pizza from the same place every time you don't want to cook dinner, guess what that makes you? Boring. Get yourself out of a takeout rut with these Thai joints, sub shops, and taquerías that have opened within the last couple of years.


Ipotli’s cobbled-together, skyway-level digs won’t compel one to linger, but the two-entrée combination—vegetable korma, chicken curry, chana masala, and chicken tikka masala are among the choices—comes with rice and bread for less than $10 and transports easily to a cubicle desk. Tandoori chicken on rice is oddly, yet deliciously, topped like a taco salad, with corn, lettuce, and shredded cheese. For an extra dollar or two, pair it with an earthy-sweet chai tea or a mango yogurt shake. • 601 Marquette Ave., Mpls., 612-605-8242, ipotli.com

Krungthep Thai

St. Paul’s legendary Bangkok Thai Deli recently opened a Minneapolis location, Krungthep Thai, on Eat Street. It’s not as glamorous as some of its Uptown competitors, but the prices at those Hennepin/Lake restaurants reflect their more upscale ambiance—and when it comes to takeout, why bother? At Krungthep, an order of fragrant green curry and pad Thai topped with a protein “combo” (pork, chicken, and shrimp) costs less than $20. Total. Just remember that, as with its sister restaurant, Krungthep’s spice levels aren’t plotted on the typical Minnesota curve. If you usually ask for medium, you probably want to start with mild. • 2523 Nicollet Ave., Mpls., 612-874-7721

The Anchor Fish & Chips

A line stretches out the door at the always-packed Anchor Fish & Chips. Groups grumble and try to decide who will check in with the host to find how long they’ll have to wait. You smugly saunter past the crowds, up to the front of the line, and smile at the host, who is telling others the wait is still an hour, as she hands you a bag, neatly packed, with fish 'n' chips, shepherd’s pie, and a side of mushy peas. The fried Alaskan cod will suffer a bit in transit, so you might as well succumb to temptation and devour it before you get to the car. • 302 13th Ave. NE, Mpls., 612-676-1300, theanchorfishandchips.com

Mozza Mia

Parasole restaurant group’s first pizza joint, Mozza Mia, offers gourmet pies, plus a few extra perks you won’t find at other local pizzerias, including silky, house-made mozzarella and a full bar. The Quattro Stagioni, or “four seasons,” is one of the kitchen’s signatures. Artichokes, onions, mushrooms, and Cotto ham divide the pie into four quadrants, with a sunny-side-up egg cracked squarely in the middle. If the restaurant is slammed with Edina cinema patrons, get your order to go. And sample the housemade limoncello while you wait. • 3910 W. 50th St., Edina 952-288-2882, mozzamia.com

Sosa Foods

Minneapolis-made mofongo on Minnehaha—say that five times fast! Or instead, go order some at Sosa Foods. Puerto Rico’s unofficial dish is a plantain mash that arrives mounded and fried, served with a rich broth, or “juice,” and sides of either shrimp or pork. Sandwiches like the tripleta, a mix of pastrami, ham, and turkey served on a long roll, come hot off the griddle laden with onions and shaved lettuce. The family-run eatery is housed in a convenience store and has limited seating, so call ahead for takeout. • 3909 Minnehaha Ave. Mpls., 612-728-9644, sosafoods.comcastbiz.net

On’s Thai Kitchen

On Khumchaya, who formerly headed the kitchen at her sister’s famed Bangkok Thai Deli in St. Paul, went and opened her own restaurant on the opposite end of St. Paul’s University Avenue. All the staples—pad Thai, spring rolls, curries—are reliably delicious. But On’s point of differentiation is her command of home-style dishes that aren’t often seen on local menus: the spiced meat salad, nam thok; the seafood custard, hu mok; Dungeness crab stir-fried with scrambled egg and yellow curry; and deep-fried pork belly with Chinese broccoli. (If you dine inhouse, the whole tilapia, which comes steamed or fried, is great for sharing.) • 1613 University Ave. W., St. Paul 651-644-1444, onskitchen.com

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