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Unless we’re talking Taco Bell, hot dogs or pizza by the slice, a $5 bill won’t get you far in Food Land. Or will it? Such was the premise of this month’s Dollar-Wise quest: Find five items for $5 (or less) that are both pleasing to the palate and plentiful enough to qualify as bang for your buck.
BABY SPINACH SALAD $4.95 (half-size)
Ambrosia 621 621 Capitol Mall
This stylish little cafe offers a bevy of tasty salads, and the spinach is especially good, with fun flavor accents including candied pecans, shredded Jarlsberg cheese, marinated red onions and mandarin orange slices. Dressed with a delicious balsamic vinaigrette and served prettily on a white plate, it’s a satisfying, sweet/salty delight. Mine came with a hunk of fresh wheat-walnut bread, making for a surprisingly filling lunch, even at the half-size portion.
BEEF TORTA (or anything, really) $3.95
Oscar’s Very Mexican Food 3061 Freeport Blvd.
With its long-standing reputation as the place to go for a good cheap burrito, this small, friendly stand (right across from McClatchy High) did not disappoint. The beef torta, served on a pillowy soft bun and filled with tender shredded meat, sweetened by red and green bell peppers, was mouthwateringly wonderful. Also noteworthy: the California burrito. At $4.35, it’s not Oscar’s cheapest but certainly is unique: Along with meat, cheese and the other usual suspects, it’s stuffed with french fries.
THAI NOODLE SALAD $4.75 (small)
Cafe Bernardo Midtown 2726 Capitol Ave.
At Cafe Bernardo, $4.75 buys you one of the most return-visit-worthy salads in Sacramento, and even the small version is filling. (Noodles are like that.) The plentiful pile of thin noodles is mixed with nice shards of chicken, shredded carrots, crunchy cucumbers and scallions, and it’s all smothered in a fabulous spicy peanut dressing. Still hungry? Ask for a side order of Paragary’s fresh bakery bread—only 75 cents for a quarter loaf. Now that’s what I’m talkin’ about.
PHILLY CHEESE STEAK $4.99 (small)
Charley’s Grilled Subs 547 L St. (Downtown Plaza)
I usually don’t include chain restaurants in Dollar-Wise. But I’m making an exception here because it’s not often you find a well-turned-out Philly cheese steak at this price point. Served on a nicely grilled Italian roll and filled with lovely lean steak—there wasn’t a trace of fat or gristle—it also had plenty of gooey provolone and grilled onions. Though my lunch buddy thought the small was a little dinky—“I could finish that in six bites,” he said— it served me well.
HALF-POUND BURGER $5
Roxy Restaurant and Bar 2381 Fair Oaks Blvd.
OK, so I’m cheating a little here: This is a happy-hour-only deal. But it’s such an amazing bargain that I would be remiss not to include it. This big, juicy burger, made with Lucky Dog Ranch beef and served on a beautiful brioche-style bun, is one of the best in town, bar none. (Note: Happy hour at Roxy runs 3–close on Mondays, 3–7 p.m. on Tuesdays and 3–6 p.m. other days.)