With food prices rising, the problem of creating good, economical meals at home seems to grow beyond the normal tattered pocketbook. Now, some possible solutions to this problem might include free-loading meals from wealthy friends or going on a food stamp diet. But searching out the “Cheap Eats” places around town is perhaps a better alternative to either. “Cheap Eats” places are those rare kinds of San Diego places, mostly in the beach areas, that offer specials on complete meals for under a dollar. Most of these places feature these specials once or twice a week, but by visiting each place for its special, a thrifty, hungry person can eat a week's worth of nourishing, balanced meals for around five dollars.
When one first thinks about a cheap meal served in mass quantities. thoughts of left-overs fried in old grease may come to the mind. The nourishment of Cheap Eats meals, however, is surprisingly high, although they range in taste from very good to merely starvation prevention. Portions are generous, at least definitely worth what you pay. If you don’t mind eating from paper plates, with plastic forks (and sitting on the curb or in the parking lots if you're under 21 — several of these places serve alcohol), this guide to Cheap Eats will help those “fed up” with the high cost of sustaining life.
This guide will exclude all fast food, chain-operated eateries that supply hamburgers, hot dogs, pizza etc. Although that kind of food can be purchased for under a dollar, only freshly prepared, substantial meals from small, privately owned operations will be dealt with here.)
A survey of the Cheap Eats places is a week-long operation:
The People, 4790 Voltaire, Ocean Beach, 223-9773. Today a delicious vegetable dish called “Mexican stew” is served over rice, with ! tortillas, for 50 cents. Dinner is served around 4:30 p.m. and continues until Mitzi, the friendly bartender-cook, runs out of stew. There is seating for forty at three standard tables, and six low tables with cushions on the floor. If you enjoy the sun or cool ocean 1 breezes, visit the outdoor Garden which seats 36. Even non-vegetarians would enjoy this freshly prepared vegetable stew, ‘ made from zucchini, tomatoes, > several other vegetables and cheese, and served over white rice. The portion amply fills a paper plate and tastes as if it is made with lots of care and time.
While you wait for dinner, enjoy . the aquariums built into the bar. The People is a dark, casual bar, decorated with Polynesian fish nets and murals. Those under 21 must evacuate the premises by 8 p.m. Live entertainment is featured nightly and there is a large selection of beer and wine.
For the cheapest meal of the week, head down the coast to The Pennant, 2893 South Mission Blvd., South Mission Beach. A 19 cent spaghetti dinner is served on Tuesdays at 6:30 p.m. until 10 p.m.
The Pennant, (488-1671), a small, cozy bar, has been serving food for five years. For 19 cents, you can find a plate full of spaghetti with sauce, and a piece of garlic bread. The spaghetti may not compete with an Italian momma’s, but it is tasty. If you're still hungry, splurge another 19 cents on a second helping. The place is very busy on Tuesdays, but spaghetti is enjoyable when eaten en masse. Jack, the owner, says he serves food as a service to his customers, mostly young people living down at the beach.
If you can handle another spaghetti dinner, this time with a salad and a huge piece of buttered French bread, try Maynard's, 1060 Carnet, Pacific Beach. 488-9346. Spaghetti dinner is 60 cents, double orders for $1.20, served from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m.
The bar is filled with a rowdy, noisy, biker crowd. But if you’re a minor, or just looking for a delicious dinner, visit the cook at the rear of the building. The kitchen window opens out to the parking lot for easy ordering. The cook says he's from Costa Rica, and tells you he’s been cooking since he was nine. He creates the meat sauce in a huge black pot, and ladles the soft, fat spaghetti from two equally huge pots. The meal is ready to go in a few minutes, and is served on a good, heavy duty paper plate. The sauce is a gourmet's delight, with bits of meat and onions simmered into a delicious, steamy, treat for the taste buds. Along with the spaghetti and a hot, buttery slice of bread, comes a tossed green salad covered with a savory Italian dressing.
Maynard's spaghetti was the best dinner sampled, based on flavor, freshness, the size of serving, and will call you “baby doll” and amuse you with tales of his childhood in South America.
If spaghetti two nights in a row would get you down, an equally tasty meal can be obtained for the same 50 cents, back at the People in Ocean Beach.
Mitzi, the bartender-cook there, starts creating the chow mein on Wednesday afternoon with fresh Chinese vegetables. Topping the mound of chow mein served on white rice, is a pile of crunchy chow mein noodles. With soy sauce, and maybe a shot of sake, The People’s chow mein dinner can compare with chow mein from a Chinese restaurant, at about a tenth of the price. If you’re still hungry after the chow mein, try a unique, delicious munchie, a Chinese pork bun, imported from a place in L.A., the only place that makes them in Southern California. For 35 cents, sample the bun, which is a soft, sweet puff made from rice flour, and filled with well-seasoned bits of pork. The bun is steamed and served with HOT Chinese mustard.
Tonight there are two excellent opportunities for cheap Mexican dinners; the choice would depend on whether you find yourself getting hungry in Pacific Beach, or in the Stale College area.
If you are in Pacific Beach, try Tug's, corner of Emerald and Mission Blvd. (488-5882). Delicious Mexican food is served daily from 12 noon to 2 a.m. but the Thursday night special is a real deal. For 60 cents, you receive three tacos, a tostada, and a large salad. The food is served from a tiny kitchen in the back of the bar. If you are under 21 but go in during the afternoon and the bartender is nice, he may let you eat inside. But, if not. take' your plate down to the nearby cliff overlooking the ocean. It's a nice place to enjoy a meal.
On the other days, as well as Thursday, Tug’s serves three 50 cent combination plates and one 60 cent plate. Number one, is two tacos, a salad and refried beans. Number two, is one taco, a tostada, and beans. Number three consists of three tacos and beans, and the 60 cent meal is two tacos, a tostada and salad. The beans are a bit runny, but the meals are filling and worth every penny. Bill, a bartender at Tug’s, says some people eat there every day, if that's any recommendation. For those over 21, Tug’s has a long padded bar, with a full selection of beer and liquor. There are two pool tables and a foosball game for after dinner enjoyment.
People near SDSU can mosey over to Andy’s Saloon, 7149 El Cajon Blvd. (460-5145). You have to be 21 to eat inside, but you could ask a friend to bring out the 50 cent special to the curb. Andy's Mexican dinner is very similar to the one at Tug’s. For two quarters, you receive two rolled tacos, (filled with something there was so little of, I couldn't figure out what it was) a delicious tostada, refried beans, and-a separate salad with thousand island dressing.
The rolled tacos tend to be soggy, but are rich with corn flavor and great to dip in the rich, peppery hot sauce. Cheese and hot sauce cover the lettuce, tomatoes, and beans of the crisp fried tostada. The tostada is delicious and filling, leaving your mouth warm and happy for ten minutes after you finish eating.
Beer at Andy’s is 30 cents a mug, and $1.50 a pitcher. Mugs of fruit wines sell for 35 cents, and for 40 cents you can drink sangria, ruby chablis, or burgundy. Andy's bartender will make any mug of wine into a wine cooler at no extra charge.
Dinner is served from 6 to 10 p.m., in the comfortable, old roadhouse atmosphere.
Bring your mouth back to Maynard’s for their Mexican plate, 60 cents, served from 6 p.m. until 11 p.m. Again, Maynard's wins for the tastiest cheap eats around. On Friday the plate is filled with two crunchy, beef taquitos, fluffy Spanish rice, and mellow, delicious, refried beans. The dinner is freshly cooked by our Costa Rican friend, and the plate heaped to overflowing.
The weekend offers additional opportunities for cheap eats in San Diego. Saturday and Sunday are the days to try an inexpensive breakfast. With the price of eggs, milk, and bread spiraling upward, it often pays to eat out and leave the dirty frying pans to someone else.
Pied Piper Pies, 4110 West Point Loma Blvd., Ocean Beach.
Breakfast is served from 7 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. for 89 cents
Alan, the cook, will prepare two eggs to your specifications, and the pleasant waitresses will bring to you your made-to-order eggs, with a pile of hash brown potatoes, and a piece of toast with butter. Coffee, if needed to get your morning motor running, is 20 cents a cup. The Pied Piper is a small, modern coffee shop, but it's nicer than other breakfast havens around.
To satisfy a greater breakfast hunger, and if you can afford to spend $1.25, return to the Pennant, for their Saturday morning meals. From 9 a.m. until I p.m., enjoy three eggs, bacon and sausage, plus a drink of your choice. (Screwdrivers and and Bloody Marys are the regular favorites.) You'll not only leave with a full stomach, but a happy head.
If your funds are in good shape, return to the Pennant and for another $1.25, try their spicy omelette, served with refried beans, taco shells, and your favorite drink, available from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m.
For only 60 cents, visit Maynard's for the third time, for their omelette, filled with peppers and served with chorizo, a hot, delicious Mexican sausage. Breakfast is served at Maynard’s from an early 8 a.m. until the last group arrives just before they stop serving at 12 noon.
In Ocean Beach, you could begin the day with a chili omelette and toast, enjoyed in the outdoor garden at The People. The filling and tasty omelettes are served from 10 a.m. until around 2 p.m. for only 50 cents. Mitzi and Jerry also offer an intriguing Saki Bloody Mary for 50 cents, while breakfast is being served.
On any day of the week it is nice to end your meal with a tasty dessert. It is almost hard to believe that you can find a delicious dessert for a nickel more, but it's possible. For a nickel a scoop, all 19 Thrifty Drug Stores in San Diego sell fantastic ice cream. Thrifty's stores are located all over the county, from Poway to National City, open from 9 a.m. until 10 p.m. Since I live not more than 150 feel from my neighborhood Thrifty Drug, I have sampled and delighted in many flavors. Thrifty features one or two “Flavors of the Month”, which come and go. The Pink Grapefruit Sherbet is a tart, refreshing end to any meal. Strawberry Cheesecake is rich vanilla ice cream, swirled with sweet strawberries and possesses a delicate cheese flavoring. For standbys that are usually available, the Mocha Almond Fudge rates high, and even the Chocolate Chip is more chip than vanilla ice cream.
(Besides the places listed here there are a lot of church centers located around college campuses that prepare meals for hungry students and anyone else who can sniff out a good cheap eat a mile away. Also around town, especially in the downtown area, there are a lot of other places offering good food at low prices. Share your discoveries!)
The Cheap Eats sponsors say that they don't make any money on their meals, but do it as “a public service". Obviously, the theory is that if you like a place for its cheap eats, you'll buy something more another more expensive meal or a drink or two. But remember, all you need for your Cheap Eats meal is a pocketful of coins, a way to get there and an adventurous spirit. Seek Cheap Eats and ye shall find.