A cheap (if not free) lunch

10 cool spots where you and a pal can lunch for $10 or less

STEAMED RICE AND A SMILE Elaine Ken serves some happy diners at the Peeking Chinese Restaurant, in downtown Chico. Located downstairs from the Black Crow, the eatery features some chow mein dishes that readily fall within even the most frugal lunchtime budget.

STEAMED RICE AND A SMILE Elaine Ken serves some happy diners at the Peeking Chinese Restaurant, in downtown Chico. Located downstairs from the Black Crow, the eatery features some chow mein dishes that readily fall within even the most frugal lunchtime budget.

Photo By Tom Angel

Aside from Chico’s bountiful selection of Inependently operated affordable eateries, there are at least 22 fast-food restaurant franchises in the immediate Chico area.

In the eternal struggle of deciding where to take a friend for a lunchtime repast, two factors almost always manifest themselves: Is the food good? Is the food cheap?

That last one, at times, almost supersedes the first. Fortunately, for those of us in Chico, there are several eateries that offer lunch items that, when totaled, add up to $10 or less for two diners. Here are a mere 10 (although there are many more, and we apologize in advance for our space constraints). These are places we manage to get to once in awhile, so if your favorite isn’t here, don’t get sore. We’ll work our way to it eventually (and when space permits)!

BURRITO ZONE Rosa Cotz creates Mexican culinary delights at Aca Taco, in downtown Chico. The restaurant’s “Combination Plate” is considered a great bargain, with a choice of meat, beans and tortillas, plus rice, cheese, cilantro, onions, toppings and more.

Photo By Tom Angel

Note—eateries are presented in alphabetical order!

Aca Taco
133 Broadway
While most of the delicious food items sold here—burritos, tacos, enchiladas and so on—are worth purchasing, the best bargain on the menu—for two, mind you—has to be the combination plate. Just look what you get: a choice of meats (chicken, beef or pork, and if you’re abstaining from the intake of beast flesh, they also have a good vegetarian variation). You get a choice of beans: black or pinto (we always go with the black). Plus, lots of rice, diced onions, cilantro, cheese, a small tub of hot sauce, another of sour cream, another of guacamole, and foil wrapped, steaming tortillas (choice of corn or flour—corn, please!). One of these plates feeds two pretty handily, unless one of you hasn’t eaten in a day or two. The best part is, an Aca Taco combination plate tallies in at only $5.50 (plus tax)!

Burger Hut
933 Nord Ave. &
2451 Forest Ave.

This place has won our yearly “Best of Chico” competition so many times it deserves a place up above, right next to the translated City of Enoch! But it’s not ready to go just yet. It’s still got a lot of work left to do. Burger Hut rules.
As proof, consider its famous “Student Special.” For a mere $3.85 (tax included) each, you get a juicy, fresh, flame-broiled hamburger cooked just the way you like it, a half-order of French fries (hey, the Hut’s half order is a lot bigger than most places’ “large” fries!), and a medium drink of your choice. Want cheese on that burger? How about bacon? You pay only 30 additional cents per item. And it still comes in under $10 for two! As if that weren’t enough, the Hut has a burger bar where you can dress your meal with everything from lettuce, tomato and pickles to onions, Thousand Island dressing and those extremely yummy sliced jalapeños. At the new Burger Hut, on Forest Avenue just past Wal-Mart, the same deal is called “The Neighborhood Special.” Hey, a burger by any other name would still taste as sweet!

WHEN THE PIE HITS YOUR EYE Master pizza maker Celestino reigns like a benevolent emperor over the oven at his namesake pizzeria.

Photo By Tom Angel

Celestino’s Live From New York Pizza
101 Salem St.
You and a friend can scarf down on a New York-style slab o’ pizza and knock it back with a small drink for under $10 easily at Celestino’s. Many are the raves this modest establishment has received for its authentic and delicious-tasting pizza. For toppings, all your old favorites are here: pepperoni, sausage, cheese and so on. And Celestino’s is conveniently located at the corner of Salem and West First Streets, adjacent to the CSU, Chico campus (directly across from Taylor Hall). There’s even a walk-up window, in case it’s your prerogative to order, pay, gulp and dash. So remember: If you’re in school, stay there; but if you’re hungry, jump on over to Celestino’s. It’s that simple.

Gina Marie’s Pasta & Deli
305 Main St.
The two of you feel like having something Italian? And you don’t want the same old grab-and-gulp pizza, no matter how good it is? Then consider popping on over to Gina Marie’s on Main St. With salads (antipasto and otherwise) and a handy assortment of pasta dishes (spaghetti, ravioli and lasagna, to name but a few), plus lunch specials, you’re bound to find a combination that not only falls within your dining budget but also tastes good! Plus, they have stuff to go, so you and your special friend can enjoy your lunch in the park, or wherever else you wish.

Kona’s Deli
138 Main St. &
965 Nord Ave.

If you’re looking for a nice little place where you and a friend can both have good-size sandwiches, chips and drinks for under $10 total, you might want to pop into Kona’s and check out their “Junior Combo.” At $4.35 apiece (plus tax), these numbered combos offer a six-inch sub on white or wheat bread, a choice of meats (such as turkey, ham, faux pastrami and more, or a vegetarian substitute, if you prefer), a choice of cheese, plus mayo, mustard, lettuce, tomatoes, red onions, vinegar, oil, salt and pepper, a choice of chips and a small soft drink. You can even add pickles, diced peppers and more at no extra charge. The staff is friendly and there are lots of places to sit (although the establishment does get a mite packed during the lunch rush!). So grab your friend and surf over to Kona’s for a meal deal that’s practically paradise!

Peeking Chinese Restaurant
243 West Second St.
Not only does this restaurant have a handy location (a mere block from the CSU, Chico campus), it has some mighty good food. Situated downstairs from The Black Crow Grill & Taproom, the Peeking Chinese Restaurant offers a big bowl of chow mein for a mere $4.50 (plus tax). Naturally, you get your choice of beef, chicken, pork, shrimp or vegetarian. OK, so this one might mildly breech the $10 limit for two orders, but they give you so much food (you might well end up taking some of it home!), and it tastes so good, you won’t be sweating a few measly cents. The staff is friendly, the décor pleasant and the food fairly priced. What more could you ask for?

Pizza Face
128 West Second St.
Here’s another handy little pizza shop right smack dab in the middle of downtown Chico. For under $10, you and a chum can get two decent slices and two drinks, no problem. There are even lunchtime specials. Choices include the ever-popular pepperoni, vegetarian and pesto, and more! You can stand at those tables provided for your scarfing pleasure or just trundle your chow and drinks with you, munching while you take in another pleasant stroll around downtown Chico.

Sam’s House of Hofbrau
134 Broadway
This has got to be one of our favorite eateries. And while many of the specials cost over $5 per plate, there are those daily $3.99 sandwich/drink combos that fall neatly within your price range. Freshly prepared and cooked every day, Sam’s features turkey, roast beef, ham and the most delicious pastrami next to anywhere! With salads, falafels, the best cole slaw in town, and a whole lot more, you and your buddy are sure to find something that’ll suit you both a treat.

Sultan’s Bistro
300 Broadway
(inside the Phoenix Building)

Looking for fare a tad more exotic than your usual burgers, sandwiches, pizza slices and what have you? Step on into the Phoenix Building at the corner of Broadway and West Third Street and walk over to the counter that marks Sultan’s Bistro. While a lunch for two there will generally average over our $10 margin, there are items on the menu that will keep you under budget and provide you and your pal with sufficient sustenance. We like the spanakopita—a sort of Greek hot sandwich with spinach and feta cheese inside. One of these only runs about $3.95, plus tax. Throw in a couple of purchased drinks, and you’ve got yourselves a delicious little lunch for around $10.

Tacos Cortez
1110 Dayton Rd.
Originally starting out as one of those “taco wagons” still prevalent around Chico (notably, on Park Avenue, Nord and The Esplanade—each of which, incidentally, offers great meals for well under $10!), Tacos Cortez has been the little restaurant that could. Here, you’ll have no problem putting together something for you and your friend that’ll fill you up without emptying your pockets. Tacos, burritos, enchiladas … you name it. And they also have a couple of pretty darned good breakfast specials, including the quite delectable Huevos Rancheros. Great googly-moogly! What’re we waiting for?

In closing, it should be noted that there are many other nearby eateries where one can also purchase or conceivably put together a couple of decent meals for under $10. Unfortunately, time and space won’t permit the naming of them all. But these 10 should well serve you at the outset of your continuing quest for inexpensive and delicious meals worth having a conversation over. Happy dining!