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Cheap Eats

The 99 best splurges in the metro under $10

Cheap Eats
Photo by Todd Buchanan

(page 1 of 8)

What’s cheap? When I embarked on a quest to discover the best cheap eats in the Twin Cities, my first task was to define “cheap.” To do so, I scampered to the top of the Foshay Tower, perched cross-legged on the spire, and meditated. “I know that $12 is the new $10,” I told the little birds that flitted around me curiously. “But I think I don’t care, because in the wake of the Great Recession, people are more sensitive to these incrementally creeping prices than ever before.”

“Then you must do what you think is right,” twittered the little birds. “Go forth and find the most delicious, craveable, wonderful dishes everywhere—but they must cost less than $10.”

So I plunged to earth and did just that. But I was tested mercilessly. Dishes that cost $10.50, $10.95, even $10.25 mocked and baited me at every turn. I ran weeping from one particularly beguiling temptress, a beef with broccoli for $10.95. In the end, though, I emerged triumphant: Here is my list of the best cheap eats the Twin Cities currently has to offer—the dishes that will haunt you in your dreams with their deliciousness yet make nary a dent in your wallet. You’ll find date destinations, takeout spots, and some of the most authentic and delicious ethnic dishes from Lebanon, Ecuador, Ethiopia, Vietnam, Malaysia, and so many more places in these pages. So empty your penny jar, rifle through those couch cushions, and don’t forget to look under the car seats before you go for a bite. It’s a delicious time to be thrifty.

Date-worthy Destinations

Nick and Eddie

Walleye and chips, $9

This Loring Park restaurant had a near-death experience last summer and emerged as a completely different restaurant, one that is essentially the Minnesota holy grail: a date-worthy, sexy, stylish spot with five-star cooking and $9 entrées! The walleye is that $9 entrée: It’s a generous fillet of line-caught walleye, tempura-breaded and fried until it’s crisp yet as light as a balloon. The fish is served with a big pile of hand-cut, real-potato-tasting fries, and presented alongside a tartar sauce made with pickled habaneros. Dip a forkful of the light-as-a-wisp walleye in the zippy tartar, follow it with a meaty French fry, and grab your phone to tell everyone in town you’re eating cheaper than them—and better. ☛ 1612 Harmon Pl., Mpls., 612-486-5800, nickandeddie.com

Smalley’s Caribbean Barbeque

Barbecue pulled-pork sandwich, $9

A barbecue pork sandwich from Smalley’s is a spicy-tender pimiento-smoked joy. Get the coleslaw as your complementary side dish and pile it up on top of the sandwich for a hot-and-cool taste sensation. ☛ 23 Main St. S., Stillwater, 651-439-5375, smalleysbbq.com

Toast Wine Bar & Café

Antipasti plate, $10

This little wine bar feels like an insider’s secret, partly because it’s hidden on a side street in Minneapolis’s North Loop neighborhood and partly because, when you order something like the $10 cheese-and-antipasti plate, you are presented with all of the fine-dining tricks of the trade that make white-tablecloth restaurants feel so special—the hard-to-find cheeses and crazy-exotic garnishes like mustard-cured candied violets. No wonder this is where you’ll find all the fine-dining professionals on their nights off. ☛ 415 N. First St., Mpls., 612-333-4305, toastwinebar­andcafe.com

Cheeky Monkey Deli

Cumin pork roast, $8

An individual pot of succulent, tender pork with a wee bit of spice and a lime on the side to jazz it up is just what a Minnesotan craves to get through a cold winter night—and the fact that the joint is date-night stylish and serves beer, wine, and fabulous desserts makes it all the more reason to bring someone special here. ☛ 525 Selby Ave., St. Paul, 651-224-6066, cheekymonkeydeli.com

Wilde Roast Café

Turkey-meat-loaf sandwich, $9

With a full wine list, generous beer list, and a chandelier- and fireplace-bedecked dining room that resembles a luxurious old mansion, the Wilde Roast is a coffee shop that outperforms most full-service restaurants. Be sure to try the turkey-meatloaf sandwich: It’s comforting, filling, and big enough to prevent you from ordering every decadent and delicious dessert in the pastry case. ☛ 518 E. Hennepin Ave., Mpls., 612-331-4544, wilderoastcafe.com

Mai Village

Bún grilled shrimp noodle salad, $8.25

The family behind Mai Village imported a whole pavilion from the city of Hue to fill their Frogtown restaurant—an astonishing feat. But if you can pull yourself away from ogling the architecture, you’ll note that the bún salads are some of the best bargains in town. The one made with grilled shrimp is excellent—the shrimp (or your choice of other topping) contrasts nicely with the roasted peanuts, fresh green onions, shredded mint, pickled carrots, and a lively sweetened-vinegar-and-chili sauce. ☛ 394 University Ave., St. Paul, 651-290-2585, maivillage.net

Ngon Vietnamese Bistro

Com tam platter, $10

The décor is French in a theme of understated frills, the cuisine is highly accomplished Vietnamese, and the drinks list is filled with affordable small artisanal-produced bottles. No wonder Ngon is first in St. Paul’s heart! But it’s the broken-rice platters that steal the budget limelight. Ten dollars gets you a choice of steak, shrimp, chicken, roast pork, or a pork meatloaf and egg cake, as well as a serving of broken rice (stickier than the unbroken kind, not as sticky as real sticky rice), cucumber slices, and sweet pickled carrots and daikon. ☛ 799 University Ave., St. Paul, 651-222-3301, ngonvietnamesebistro.com


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