Cheap Eats


In the restaurant world, the price for creating ambience tends to get passed on to the customer. The steep costs of a prime location, splendid décor and a unique dining experience all get added to the price of the food, no matter how underspiced and underwhelming. Instead of overpaying for ambiance, we surveyed strip malls, gas stations, food carts and holes in the wall to find fun, frugal ways to sample the diversity and vitality of the Sacramento region’s food scene.

Sushi rolls
Most priced under $10

Most good sushi places wait until happy hour to serve a reasonably priced roll, but Hasu Teriyaki & Sushi in Folsom churns out fresh and affordable sushi all day long. Most of the rolls cost less than $10, but if a sushi roll alone won’t fill you up, the $10.99 lunch special pairs a half roll with a bento box piled high with chicken teriyaki, rice and salad. 25075 Blue Ravine Road, Folsom; (916) 983-7777

BBQ sandwich

You won’t find aioli or microgreens decorating the sandwiches at Tahoe Park institution MoMo’s Meat Market, just the essentials: smoked meat, sauce and the flimsiest bun imaginable. But who cares about a strip of bread when the meat piled on top is perfectly tender, and the spicy barbecue sauce provides such a profound kick? MoMo’s plants its smoker right on the Broadway curb, so you know the smoke ain’t fake. Chicken and hot link sandwiches are $5.99, but the famous tri-tip costs only an extra dollar. 5776 Broadway; (916) 452-0202;

Falafel Platter
Falafel Corner’s Falafel Platter

Falafel platter

Who would have thought that some of the best made-from-scratch Middle Eastern food in the region comes out of a shopping center in Natomas? The tiny Falafel Corner may not offer much in the way of a dining experience, but their fried falafel is an experience all its own. It comes crispy and brown on the outside, green and fluffy on the inside, and then gets topped with a homemade tahini sauce. If you have any room left, add a piece of honey-soaked baklava for two dollars more. 3620 N. Freeway Blvd.; (916) 891-0375;

Made-to-order deli sandwich

It doesn’t get any more “classic Sacramento” than Corti Brothers, and although the high-end grocery store is not exactly cheap, its top-notch deli sandwiches remain an affordable feast. This isn’t rocket science, just a perfect synergy of great bread, great meat, great cheese and great condiments from a store that refuses to compromise on quality. There are a few tables set up outside, but if you’re taking your sandwich to go, be sure to grab a bottle from the brilliantly curated selection of craft beer singles. 5810 Folsom Blvd.; (916) 736-3800;

Tori's Place Gumbo
Tori’s Place Gumbo

Tori’s Gumbo

The hand-painted sign on the side of Tori’s Place in Del Paso Heights claims that they “specialize in gumbo,” and it’s not an idle boast. Gumbo is served only Friday through Sunday, so consider this filling, made-from-scratch Cajun stew the dangling carrot at the end of your workweek. After all, carrots are one of the many vegetables stuffed into this loaded stew, jostling for space with copious chunks of chicken, sausage and shrimp. 1525 Grand Ave.; (916) 646-6038

Khao Poon

Khao poon is a spicy rice-vermicelli soup of Laotian origin, usually made with various pounded meats, coconut milk, lime leaves, garlic, chilies and more. The beauty of the soup is that while it is extremely spicy, the cooling effect of the coconut milk keeps you coming back for more. North Sacramento’s Asian Cafe doesn’t look like anything special from the outside, but it makes a powerful bowl of khao poon that includes red curry, ginger, bean sprouts and shredded cabbage. You can add quail eggs or porkblood cubes for a small fee, but you’d be gilding a perfectly good lily. 2827 Norwood Ave.; (916) 641-5890

Braised duck leg and noodles with soup
$4.95 small, $5.50 large

If you’re looking for the luxurious richness of duck for a rock-bottom price, then look no further than Lolli Bowl, a South Sac Asian eatery that offers a full meal of duck leg, noodles and soup for about five bucks. That’s a mountain of warm, comforting and slightly decadent food for less than the cost of most fast-food cheeseburgers. 6830 Stockton Blvd.; (916) 428-6800

Pho Ru's Banh Cua
Pho Ru’s Bánh Canh Cua

Bánh Canh Cua

One of the most singular dishes in the city comes from Pho Ru, a Vietnamese restaurant tucked inside a South Sacramento shopping center. Bánh canh cua is a thick, viscous crab soup filled with noodles, shrimp, quail eggs and your choice of pork or chicken. Fishy yet filling, the dish comes with tapioca noodles, but you can also substitute udon. If you don’t care about stretching your dollar, take the soup to another level by adding scallops or Dungeness crab. 6115 Mack Road; (916) 476-3754;

Savory Fried Chicken
Savory Fried Chicken’s Fried Half Chicken with Lumpia and Garlic Rice

Fried Half Chicken with Lumpia and Garlic Rice

Let the ambiance-heavy Southern cuisine joints on the grid boast about their higher-priced fried chicken. We’ll stick with the ridiculously tender offerings at the Filipino fast-food restaurant Savory Fried Chicken. For less than 10 bucks, you get a juicy, crispy-skinned half chicken, as well as lumpia and rice (although we recommend splurging an extra quarter for the garlic rice). If you love fried chicken, you will tear this bird apart; if not, you’re still covered with all-day Filipino breakfast and delicious desserts. 9174 Franklin Blvd., Elk Grove; (916) 395-3905

$7.25 small, $9.25 large

Often considered the soul food of Mexico, pozole is a traditional soup with links to Aztec religious rituals. Pozole, which means hominy, forms the base of the soup along with seasoned meats, vegetables, broth, chilies and garlic. Located in an old coffee shop on the corner of Stockton and Fruitridge, Alonzo’s Mexican American Food makes excellent pozole to go with its south-of-the-border greasy-spoon grub, as any of the restaurant’s many longtime regulars can attest. 5649 Stockton Blvd.; (916) 453-9225

Chicken Fried Mushroom Po'Boy
Mother’s Chicken Fried Mushroom Po’Boy

Chicken Fried Mushroom Po’boy

The vegetarian cuisine at Mother frequently shocks carnivores with its heartiness and intense flavors. Enough vegetarian friends of mine have tried to push football-leather tofurkey and hockey-puck vegan burgers as acceptable substitutes for meat that I’ve developed a healthy skepticism. But Mother’s take on the po’boy sandwich is the real deal. It’s served on a house-made roll with pickles, iceberg lettuce, “drive-thru aioli” and house-made hot sauce, and for once you really won’t miss the meat. 1023 K St.; (916) 594-9812;

Croque Monsieur

The beloved East Sacramento bistro Cafe Rolle always appears at or near the top of any list of best restaurants in the city, but its simple and satisfying lunch items mostly fall under 10 bucks. You could throw a dart at the menu and come away pleased, but the croque monsieur is as much a French classic as “The Rules of the Game.” A masterpiece of relative restraint, Cafe Rolle’s version of the sandwich blends warm ham, melted Gruyère and pesto mayo on baked bread. 5357 H St.; (916) 455-9140;

Sour Cabb Age with Fried Shredded Pork

The bars on the windows of Yang’s Noodles reflect the rough character of its South Sacramento neighborhood, but once you’re inside, the warm service and freshly prepared food make you feel at home. Like the name says, the housemade noodles are the main attraction, and they go well with just about any of the Taiwanese and Szechwan-influenced dishes on the menu. Our favorite is the sour cabbage with fried shredded pork: The sauerkrauty brininess of the cabbage plays well with the sweetness of the pork, and both are ably supported by glass noodles, onions and garlic. 5860 Stockton Blvd.; (916) 392-9988

Soup of the day

If you have time to brave the lines, there’s no cozier and more soul-nourishing lunch in town than a warm cup of soup from La Bonn e Soupe Café; add one of the simple, French-style sandwiches and you’ve got the perfect cold-weather lunch. The tiny cafe is open for only a few hours a day, which usually results in a long queue of fast-food-avoidant state workers and jurors on long lunch breaks. 920 Eighth St.; (916) 779-9754

Grilled Chicken Combo
Grilled Chicken Combo from Tacos La Piedad

Grilled Chicken Combo

If you drive along Northgate Boulevard with your windows down, be prepared to stop suddenly when the smell of woodgrilled chicken from Tacos La Piedad fills your automobile. A huge pile of wood sits on the side of this otherwise aesthetically unnotable Mexican restaurant, making more than enough smoke to penetrate the aggressively spiced rub, resulting in a fall-off-the-bone tender bird. You can get four pieces for $6.49, or a twopiece meal that includes rice, beans, tortillas and salsa for the same price. 2700 Northgate Blvd.; (916) 923-4022

Hungarian Goulash Lunch Special

It is practically impossible to find a filling, sub-$10 lunch on the eastern half of the grid without resorting to some form of fast food, but the long-running, familyowned midtown restaurant Cafe Marika remains an oasis in a barren wasteland of burgers and pizza. There are seven options for the ridiculously reasonable lunch special, but we prefer the pork and paprika sauce of the Hungarian goulash, which comes served on homemade spaetzle. 2011 J St.; (916) 442-0405

All-you-can-eat Indian Buffet
$9.99 lunch daily 11 a.m.–3 p.m.; $12.99 dinner Tuesday nights

From the outside, Mehfil Indian Restaurant appears to be just another unfortunate tenant in a particularly rundown Roseville shopping center, but step inside and you’re instantly transported by the palatial South Asian interior design. And yet for all the lush décor and excellent service at Mehfi l, the lunch buffet remains an economical way to load up every member of your family with flavorful food, even the herbivores. 1605 Douglas Blvd., Roseville; (916) 791-1199;

Chicken or Beef Gyro Sandwich
$7.99 for beef, $6.99 for chicken

In a building connected to a drive-through Subway in Rancho Cordova, the dedicated crew at Grills & Greens cranks out amazing “Persian fast food.” The gyro sandwiches cram freshly grilled chicken or beef into a split pita along with tomatoes, pickles, baby greens, onions, parsley and your choice of four sauces. We prefer the roasted bell pepper sauce, but the owner offers free samples for first-timers, so find out for yourself if you prefer the garlicky tahini, the spicy mango or the yogurt-based cucumber sauce. 3040 Sunrise Blvd., Rancho Cordova; (916) 853-2265

Best Bakery Cheap Eats

Bacon and Egg

They say that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and while they may not have had the bacon and egg from Mahoroba Japanese Bakery in mind when they said it, this square meal of a palm-sized cylinder certainly feels important. Thick bacon, a fried egg and cracked black pepper get baked into a light pastry, giving you a full breakfast for less than the cost of an Egg McMuffin. 4900 Freeport Blvd.; (916) 454-1879

Pork buns

Full disclosure: While living in Southside Park and working for minimum wage, I might have died of starvation if not for the baked BBQ pork buns at Lam Kwong Deli and Market. That nostalgic appeal aside, the pork buns at South Sac’s ABC Bakery are arguably better, more bready on the outside, meatier and less gelatinous on the inside. But these warm pork and doughy dumpling concoctions are such low-cost handheld treats, try both versions and decide for yourself. Lam Kwong Deli and Market: 2031 12th St.; (916) 443-8805; ABC Bakery: 1309 Florin Road; (916) 421-4259

Pan dulce Generally less than
$1 per item

If you’re in the market for the thick, colorful Mexican pastry known as pan dulce, then you probably already know to stop at La Esperanza Bakery. They come in a variety of shapes and colors and contain a variety of delicious fillings, and the beautiful exteriors of the La Esperanza pastries conceal flavors ranging from pineapple to pumpkin. La Esperanza’s pan dulce is especially thick, and even the croissants are not so much flaky as crusty. 5044 Franklin Blvd.; (916)455-0234

Best of the Cheapest


Duc Huong
Duc Huong large and small

Duc Huong Sandwiches bánh mì
$2.25 small; $4 large

When you walk out of Duc Huong Sandwiches with a mini-footballsized bánh mì that costs less than a coffee shop cupcake, don’t be alarmed if a brief sense of wrongdoing rushes over you. After all, the sandwich is loaded with grilled pork, jalapeño, carrots, cilantro and other veggies and herbs, all crammed into a soft roll, and it tastes better than any of the $11 Vietnamese-style sandwiches served around town. But no, that was really the price, and now you can enjoy your bánh mi guilt-free. 6825 Stockton Blvd.; (916) 428-1188


Lalo’s Restaurant al pastor taco

We love the sub-$2 offerings at Chando’s, especially the underrated chorizo taco, but the Lalo’s Restaurant combination of onion, cilantro and seasoned pork wrapped in two warm corn tortillas remains not just the best cheap taco in Sacramento, but the best taco at any price. Squeeze a little lime on top and you’ve got three of the best bites you’ll find anywhere in the county. 5063 24th St.; (916) 736-2389


Faisal Market cheeseburger

We could just as easily substitute Whitey’s Jolly Kone in West Sacramento or Connie’s Drive-In in Del Paso Heights in this space, but with apologies to all the area’s wonderful vintage burger stands, the best cheap burger in the city hails from this humble halal market in South Sacramento. Made with high-quality meat, the Faisal Market burger gets grilled before your eyes on the flat top behind the counter, and it comes on a sesame seed bun with lettuce, tomato, red onions, melted cheese and special sauce. 7924 Fruitridge Road; (916) 387-0522


Osaka-Ya snow cone with vanilla
ice cream $5

Nothing signifies summer in Sacramento quite like ordering a snow cone from the window at Osaka-Ya. Take your warm-weather treat to the next level by adding a scoop of vanilla ice cream in the center, and marvel at the deliciousness that occurs when the syrup mixes with the melted ice cream. Flavors include watermelon, sour apple, pineapple and root beer, but make up your mind, because they don’t mix flavors. If supercharged snow cones aren’t your thing, Osaka-Ya also offers root beer floats, flavored mochi bits and plain old ice cream. 2215 10th St.; (916) 446-6857


Village Bakery
$2.85 for cheese, $3.25 for pepperoni, $3.50 for vegetarian

Besides supplying bread and buns to many local restaurants, Village Bakery also serves a mean slice of pizza, complete with fresh toppings and a chewy, delectable crust. Located near the Amtrak station in Davis, the shack-sized Village Bakery makes a great snack stop before boarding the train, and the pizza comes served piping hot in a slice-shaped box. However, if you want to stick around and pair your pizza with a reasonably priced craft beer, the nearby Davis Beer Shoppe allows you to bring in outside food. 814 Second St., Davis; (530) 750-2255


Four Seasons Gourmet Chinese Restaurant lunch-special rice plates

You might not expect some of the freshest Chinese food in the area to come from a shared space inside a Chevron station, but that’s the case with Four Seasons Gourmet Chinese Restaurant. It offers a wide array of proteins on its lunch-special rice plates, everything from sweetand-sour meats to curry squid, all priced under $10, and all cooked fresh to order. 1601 Research Park Drive, Davis; (530) 758-0058


Arlington Brothers gourmet hot dogs
$5 and up

This food truck doesn’t produce the cheapest hot dog in town, only the best. But even the basic package includes a substantial frankfurter on your choice of handmade bun with your choice of more than a dozen condiments and sauces. The beauty of Arlington Brothers is they allow you to go hog-wild on the homemade condiments; if you want watermelon- cider mustard, white-wine jalapeños, golden-beet sauerkraut and spinach-basil aioli on your dog, it’s your world. You can usually find them set up in front of a brewery, with a roster of regulars that includes Track 7, Device, Sactown Union and Moonraker. Various locations; check their Facebook page.


Bean & Barrel

Several area restaurants hold dollar-oyster nights, including Station 16 and Skool, but West Sacramento coffee shop Bean & Barrel wins the category due to its relaxed vibe and visually stimulating design. It also offers a nice selection of wines and bottled beers to pair with your raw mollusks—we prefer to pair oysters with a crisp white wine, a peppery saison or a pale Belgian table beer. 289 Third St., West Sacramento; (916) 873-8136;