Most of us have tightened our belts during the past few years in response to a wobbly and uncertain economy. For the region’s diners, that often has meant a shift to more economical restaurant meals. Happily, there’s a world of inexpensive dishes out there that deliver just as much (and, in some cases, more) flavor and variety than fancier fare. Here are 50 cheap eats that show just how delicious thrifty dining can be.
BBQ Pork Báhn Mì $2.75 (above)
If you’re seeking a sandwich with some zing, make your way to HUONG LAN SANDWICHES in South Sac. Food lovers flock to this busy restaurant and market for its delectable Vietnamese báhn mì sandwiches. One of the most popular is the barbecued pork báhn mì, composed on a soft French bun and partnered with pickled daikon and carrot, fresh cilantro, slivers of cucumber and jalapeño peppers. This captivating sandwich is exuberantly flavorful and delivers a spicy smack to the palate for less than 3 bucks.
6930 65th St.; (916) 429-9999
Chango Chicken Melt $6.99
At SERRANO’S CAFE, this hefty sandwich is the perfect choice for a cold, blustery day. Prepared on rye bread, it contains thick chunks of moist chicken breast smothered in melted Swiss cheese, bolstered with bacon strips and roasted green chilies. Almost too thick to bite into, it’s some serious comfort food.
3021 W. Capitol Ave., West Sacramento; (916) 376-0860; serranoscafe.net
Tuna Wasabi Sandwich $7
Bored with your traditional tuna fish sandwich? Make a trip to LITTLE BELGUIN DELI & BEER BAR, which in addition to offering a dazzling selection of draft beers also plates up some yummy sandwiches. The vivacious tuna wasabi sandwich is an enticing nosh: White albacore tuna is mixed with a kicky wasabi mayonnaise, and the sandwich is constructed on sturdy multigrain bread spread with cream cheese and stacked with lettuce, cucumber and avocado.
780 Lincoln Way, Auburn; (530) 820-3056
The Rat Trap Sandwich $6.99
It may not have the most appealing name, but this ’wich served at NEWCASTLE CHEESE SHOP delivers in spades when it comes to flavor and value. Crammed with four meats (turkey, ham, roast beef and pastrami) and three cheeses (Jack, pepper Jack and cheddar), plus all of the regular fixin’s (lettuce, tomato, red onion and peperoncinis), this spectacular sandwich is guaranteed to fill you up for the rest of the day.
455 Main St., Newcastle; (916) 663-3704
The Angie $6.25
Downtown workers love THE LEAVEN & EARTH SANDWICH FOOD TRUCK, which has been parked at the same corner for nearly 10 years. The innovative, made-to-order sandwiches are terrific, especially The Angie, whose delicious addition of garlic herb sauce may require a brisk tooth brushing back at the office. Filled with pulled roasted chicken, artichoke hearts, provolone cheese and a thin slice of prosciutto, it’s an elegant and savory lunch treat.
Ninth and G streets; (916) 613-4493
Chile Verde Crispy Taco $1.85
A crispy outer shell, fragrant chile verde, chopped lettuce, and dollops of guacamole and sour cream
505 ½ L St., Davis; (530) 758-8453; taqueriadavis.info
Fish Taco $3.75
Moist fish, crispy lettuce, a judicious addition of queso fresco and a frisky dose of salsa
EL SOMBRERO TAQUERIA
4060 Douglas Blvd., Granite Bay; (916) 772-7770; elsombrerotaqueria.com
Pork Adobada Taco $1.50
The quintessential Mexican street taco
97A Natoma St., Folsom; (916) 402-1748
Lengua Taco $1.25
Beef tongue topped with spicy tomatillo salsa, chopped white onion and lots of cilantro
EL PAISANO TACO TRUCK
1460 E. Main St., Woodland; (530) 661-1040
Shrimp Taco $3.50
A messy and scrumptious treat
8121 Madison Ave., Fair Oaks; (916) 863-0535
Meatball Calzone $8.95
At DOMINICK’S ITALIAN MARKET & DELI, this halfmoon- shaped, beautifully crafted calzone is a real bargain for Italian-food fans. Baked in a stone oven, the plump, nicely browned pastry is filled with sliced meatballs laid atop layers of intense tomato sauce and melted mozzarella and ricotta cheeses. It’ll take two to finish this substantial dish, so bring a friend.
8621 Auburn-Folsom Road, Granite Bay; (916) 786-3355; www.dominicksmarketdeli.com
Pesto Veggie Combo Slice $6.50
Pieces Pizza by the Slice offers a fun and creative selection of (huge) pizza slices. One of the most electrifyingly delicious is the garlicky pesto pizza, loaded with a raft of vegetables: eggplant, spinach, tomato, zucchini and red onions. When you order, make sure to ask for an addition of feta cheese and sun-dried tomatoes—they’re the perfect embellishment.
1309 21st St.; (916) 441-1949
Pepperoni Pizza Slice $2.50
VILLAGE BAKERY’S enormous slices of fresh pizza are an enduring favorite of Davis’ student population. The delicious pepperoni slices seem to sell out as fast as they come out of the oven, so call ahead for availability. Packed up in a cute triangular box, the pizza can be enjoyed on Village Bakery’s casual outdoor dining patio or taken to go.
814 Second St., Davis; (530) 750-2255
Individual Pizza Lunch Special $8.50
LINDA’S CHICAGO STYLE PIZZAERIA offers this tasty lunch bargain—an individual three-topping pizza with a side salad and a large drink— seven days a week. There’s an array of topping options; my favorite combo is artichoke, Canadian bacon and olive. The pizza is generously sized, and the salad is crisp and fresh. All in all, a great deal.
7815 Greenback Lane, Citrus Heights; (916) 722-2700; letseat.at/lindas
7-Inch Maui Wowie Pizza $7.59
Be prepared to wait a good while for your order at FAT MIKE’S PIZZA, a bustling, familyfriendly pizzeria. But it’s well worth your time, especially for the Maui Wowie, a fantastic combination of ham chunks, red onion, tomato wedges, bacon and pineapple. You’ll love the sweet-salty, crunchy-soft circus of flavors and textures, and the thick, pillowy crust is terrific.
8970 Grant Line Road, Elk Grove; (916) 686-8543; fatmikespizza.com
Roo Burger $5.50
COOKIE’S DRIVE IN makes burgers from kangaroos? You betcha. Check out this juicy specimen: a quarter-pound patty served on top of one of the finest buns in town and partnered, of course, with the requisite mayonnaise, lettuce, tomatoes and pickles. 5640 H St.; (916) 457-8353
Cheddar Bacon Barbecue Burger $5.89
Head to TAYLORS and strap a bib on to tackle this baby—there’s no way to avoid the glorious mess as you work your way through layers of crisp bacon, flavorful beef and cheddar cheese, your chin bathed in vivacious barbecue sauce. Wash it all down with a custom milkshake, a specialty of this Loomis burger joint. 3636 Taylor Road, Loomis; (916) 652-8255; taylorsloomis.com
Skip’s Original Burger $7.99
SKIP’S KITCHEN is where swank meets oldfashioned burger dining. Sip a glass of Pinot Grigio as you savor this burger fashioned from a hand-packed sirloin/chuck blend. Cradled in a poufy brioche bun, it comes with your choice of cross-cut or sweet-potato fries. Bargain bonus: If you choose the joker card when ordering, your whole party gets a free meal. 4717 El Camino Ave., Carmichael; (916) 514-0830; skipskitchen.com
Grand Junction Burger $5.91
Plunge deep into the heart of South Sac for BURGER JUNCTION’s famous burger: a one-third-pound patty piled with pastrami, melted cheese and sweet grilled onions and enlivened with an enticing Thousand Islandish sauce. (If you’re an onion ring fan, Burger Junction’s may just be the best in the city.) 7900 Florin Road; (916) 393-4420; myburgerjunction.webs.com
Johnny Cash Burger $8.75
Best known for its outstanding selection of beer, SAMUEL HORNE’S TAVERN also cranks out some fabulous burgers. Most popular is the decadent Johnny Cash, whose Angus beef patty is smothered with bacon, cheddar cheese and grilled onions. But it’s the palatejolting bourbon-espresso red-eye sauce that raises this burger to superstar status. 719 Sutter St., Folsom; (916) 293-8207; www.samuelhornestavern.com
Apple Walnut Waffle $7.75
Sometimes dessert and breakfast can be interchangeable. Such is the case with WAFFLE BARN’s apple walnut waffle, a decadent concoction that’s sure to please both kids and their parents. Studded with walnuts, the marvelously crispy waffle is topped with a sweet, apple-pie-like apple compote and more walnuts. 1050 Pleasant Grove Blvd., Roseville; (916) 783-1752
Corkwood Big Breakfast $6.50
CORKWOOD RESTAURANT, a worn but cozy coffee shop in an abandoned bowling alley, is about as authentic as its gets, offering lots of roomy counter space for your morning newspaper, swiveling bar stools and a warm, friendly waitress who knows everyone’s name. Order the Big Breakfast: your choice of ham, sausage or bacon with two eggs, a big, crusty pile of hash browns and toast. 154 W. Main St., Woodland; (530) 662-9386
Buttermilk Pancake Combo $6.50
Arrive early, or expect to wait (and wait . . . ) on weekend mornings at CAROL’S RESTAURANT in West Sac. But your reward is one of Carol’s famous breakfasts, including this simple but satisfying combo: two plate-size pancakes, two eggs and two pieces of bacon or sausage. You won’t leave hungry. 1201 W. Capitol Ave., West Sacramento; (916) 372-4631; carolsrestaurant.net
Biscuits and Gravy $6.45
When you’re in the mood to ingest a week’s worth of calories in a single meal (and thoroughly enjoy every bite), head to STAGECOACH RESTAURANT for a plateful of biscuits and gravy. Crusty, airy and warm, three housemade biscuits are swathed in a lake of country gravy, accompanied by your choice of bacon, sausage or ham. 4365 Florin Road; (916) 422-9296
The Duke Scramble $8.99
Two hungry people will be very satisfied by this outstanding dish at CHARLIE’S CAFE: a lusty egg scramble laden with ground beef, mushrooms, onions, fresh spinach and lots of cheddar cheese. It’s plated up with crispy country potatoes and a biscuit with pepper-flecked gravy. 8000 Auburn Blvd., Citrus Heights; (916) 726-4772
Spaghetti and Meatball Lunch $6.95
Lusty and bellyfilling, Español’s enormous portion of made-with-love spaghetti is drenched in a meaty, bold tomato sauce, then crowned with a single oversized meatball. Plunge into this dish on a rainy day or when you need to tackle a case of the grumpies—it will nourish your soul. 5723 Folsom Blvd.; (916) 457-1936
Rainbow Noodle (Kot-Swe-Thot) $7.75
You may not think of eating cold noodles, but congenial little Green Elephant Restaurant will convince you otherwise. These lovely yellow egg noodles are prepared “salad style” with minced chicken, chopped cabbage, tangles of fried yellow onion and the vibrant addition of tamarind juice. 5911 King Road, Loomis; (916) 652-6325; greenelephantloomis.com
House Chow Mein $7.50
Packed with chunks of chicken, fat pink shrimp and tender strips of beef, Sunrise Chinese Restaurant’s house chow mein is one of the finest in the region. Pay $1.50 extra to substitute wide chow fun noodles in the dish. (It’s worth the splurge.) Pair the noodles with Sunrise’s excellent wor won ton soup for a sumptuous—and economical— winter meal. 4689 Mack Road; (916) 428-8882
Supreme Noodle Soup $8.50
This lavish, exotic, goodie-packed soup is one of the most delicious dishes at Andy Nguyen Vegetarian Cuisine. A spicy lemongrass broth contains noodles, velvety chunks of shiitake mushroom, squares of soft tofu and assorted soy meats that look an awful lot like bologna. Floating bits of carrot and broccoli clusters brighten up the dish, and thin slices of jalapeño pepper add a zippy burn. 2007 Broadway; (916) 736-1157; andynguyenvegetarian.com
Bun Ga Nuong (Grilled Chicken and Vermicelli Noodle Salad) $8.95
The perfect nibble on a sweltering Sacramento afternoon, East West Cafe’s bun ga nuong pairs cool, thin rice noodles with fabulous, freshly grilled chicken and shredded lettuce, cucumber and carrots. Sprinkled with roasted peanuts and served with a complex, slightly sweet dipping sauce, the dish is exuberantly fresh and light, filling you up without weighing you down. 9261 Laguna Springs Drive, Elk Grove; (916) 684-9988
Tri-Tip (quarter order) $6.99
Marinated and grilled beef served with firstrate corn bread and your choice of a side
HOUSE OF CHICKEN & RIBS 3535 Elverta Road, Antelope; (916) 332-7041; thehouseofbbq.com
Beef Brisket BBQ Lunch Basket $9.50
Beef brisket with your choice of two sides; try the seven-cheese mac ’n’ cheese and the cowboy beans.
SIERRA SMOKEHOUSE BBQ 2533 Merrychase Drive, Cameron Park; (530) 672-7477; sierrasmokehousebbq.com
Half Chicken (lunch) $8.59
Blackened skin and glistening, moist flesh—a serious treat
CENTRAL STATION GRILL 3084 Sunrise Blvd., Rancho Cordova; (916) 631-0005; csgrill.net
Pulled Pork (before 1 p.m.) $8.99
Alluringly smoky and fork-tender—order some Texas tater tots while you’re at it.
T & R TASTE OF TEXAS BARBEQUE 3621 Broadway; (916) 739-1669
Half Rack of Pork Ribs $12.50
Friendly owners, great ’cue cooked out in the parking lot— what more can you ask for?
MOMO’S MEAT MARKET 5776 Broadway; (916) 452-0202
Turkey Dog $4
Located in pretty Old Town Auburn, BURNEY’S OLD FASHION HOT DOGS offers a great selection of dogs. One of the simplest and tastiest is the turkey dog, a straightforward nosh for folks who wish to avoid beef or pork franks. Settle in and enjoy your meal while admiring Burney’s cheery wall murals of—what else?—hot dogs.
886 Lincoln Way, Auburn; (530) 887-1262
The Big Beefy $4.50
Get traditional with THE WIENERY’s Big Beefy, an all-beef, ballpark-style hot dog sprinkled generously with chopped red onion, tangy sauerkraut and perky dill relish. Mayonnaise and mustard also are included in the mix. Bring the kids (the name of the establishment is sure to make them snicker) and round out your meal with a fizzy root beer float.
715 56th St.; (916) 455-0497; thewienerysacramento.com
Bandito With Cheese $5.75
Tuck some breath mints into your pocket before devouring this dog from THE HOTDOGGER. Cradled in a freshly baked bun from local Village Bakery, the—um—fragrant treat is drenched with hot meat chili, spicy salsa, chopped onions and tomato, then sprinkled with cheddar cheese.
129 E St., Davis; (530) 753-6291; thehotdogger.com
California Dog $5.99
You’ll love the sophisticated edge to this creative dog from KNUCKLEHEAD HOT DOG DINER. It’s topped with tomatoes, crunchy cucumber slices, guacamole and bacon. The intriguing addition of cream cheese makes for a fun mélange of textures and temperatures. Pair this dog with Knucklehead’s sweet-potato fries.
7456 Foothills Blvd., Roseville; (916) 782-0338; knuckleheadhotdogs.com
The Sonoran $5.95
RUFFHAUS HOT DOG CO. serves this feisty dog wrapped snugly with a crisp piece of bacon and placed in a chipotlemayonnaise- smeared bun. It’s topped lavishly with plump pinto beans, a dose of pico de gallo salsa, cheddar cheese and roasted green chilies.
4355 Town Center Blvd., El Dorado Hills; (916) 941-3647
Giant Bavarian Pretzel $7.95
Warm, doughy and served on a freestanding hook with mustard sauce and pimento cheese spread
FIRESTONE PUBLIC HOUSE 1132 16th St.; (916) 446-0888; firestonepublichouse.com
Bulgogi Nachos $7
Tortilla chips layered with bulgogi (marinated steak), sprinkled with Korean slaw and topped with cheddar cheese: Korean-Mexican fusion at its finest
TAKO KOREAN BBQ 3030 T St.; (916) 346-4933; sactako.com
Chicken Shwarma $6
Tender chicken chunks, sautéed yellow onions and ripe tomatoes, fortified by a zingy yogurt sauce
FFRESH MEDITERRANEAN 1120 Fulton Ave.; (916) 486-1140
Salad Bar $0.40 an ounce
Stocked with tons of vegetables and located at the CalPERS employee cafeteria (open to the public)
CALPERS PLAZA CAFE 400 Q St.; (916) 795-3091
Warm pita filled with meat sliced off a vertical spit, enlivened with finely chopped red onion, juicy tomato dices and lettuce and doused with tzatziki (tangy yogurt blended with fresh cucumbers, dill, chopped mint and garlic)
OPA! OPA! 5644 J St.; (916) 451-4000; eatatopa.com
Salisbury Steak $7.99
Swimming in a tasty brown gravy and served with your choice of mashed potatoes or steamed rice and salad or vegetables
SAM’S HOF BRAU 2500 Watt Ave.; (916) 482-2175; thehofbrau.com
Revuelta Pupusa $2.25
A thick corn tortilla stuffed with moist pork and cheese—made to order
PUPUSERIA LA CHICANA 25 Purity Plaza, Woodland; (530) 668-0270
Two-Piece Fish Combo $6.49
Huge, crusty, deep-fried fish with a moist, flaky interior and greaseless fries
TUGBOAT FISH & CHIPS 150 G St., Lincoln; (916) 645-9870
Pad Prik Khing (Green Bean Stir Fry) $7.25
Vibrant flavor and a citrusy aroma from the addition of kaffir lime leaves
ORCHID THAI CUISINE 745 S. Highway 65, Lincoln; (916) 543-9988; orchidthaicuisine.info
Bavarian Pasty $6.45
Green and red cabbage, yellow onion, bell peppers and ground beef encased in a hand-held pastry
PASTY SHACK 4746 J St.; (916) 454-9630