Nirvana for Noshing

CN&R’s food aficionado guides you to the best grub for your buck

C. Moore peers out from behind one of Celestino’s fresh-baked pizzas.

C. Moore peers out from behind one of Celestino’s fresh-baked pizzas.

Photo By Melissa Daugherty

Finding cheap eats in Chico is akin to shooting fish in a barrel, but finding cheap eats that are not only easy on your wallet but damn good, too, takes some finesse. That’s where I come in. If you’re not particular, eating cheap in Chico is easy. Taco wagons are everywhere. Just take your pick and hope for the best.

However, if like me you possess a more refined palate but are seriously strapped, there are several delightful eateries in town that will tantalize your taste buds for less than five bucks. Keep in mind that most good, inexpensive eateries downtown will be extremely crowded for lunch, due to high-school, college and downtown-business traffic. Even though they can be mobbed during the lunch hour, I’ve included some of my favorites, because the food is excellent and the service is speedy.

On a side note: The best places to grab a quick bite that feature affordable and oh-so-fresh food are the farmers markets on Thursday evenings and Saturday mornings. For less than $10, you can try the tamales, sample some Indian food, grab some fresh chai or lemonade, and go home with fruit and flowers. It doesn’t get much better than that. For the other times, here’s a quick list of five good, cheap eateries in Chico. So save your ducats and enjoy your food.

1. Brooklyn Bridge Bagel Works
Two words: bagel sandwich. For $3.30, you can order your choice of Egg McBagel, and there’s something for everyone. The popular Sausage McBagel has scrambled egg, sausage and cheddar cheese, while the Veggie Egg McBagel has bell pepper, mushrooms, green onions, scrambled egg and cheddar cheese. Grab a cup of coffee or fresh-squeezed orange juice, and you’re good to go. The bagels and spreads are always a good option, too. Enjoy the art on the walls during your brief wait. You may even see Batman flying over the Brooklyn Bridge. If you’ve got leisure time, sit outside and people-watch outdoor-café style. This eatery sits in the heart of downtown at 117 W. Second St., right across from hipster rendezvous The Naked Lounge, so there’s plenty to see.

Hillary Barton and Greg de Gouveia chow down on a McBagel from Brooklyn Bridge Bagel Works.

Photo By Melissa Daugherty

2. Celestino’s Live From New York Pizza & Deli
The best, most authentic pizza in town. For $5.50, get a slice of pie with a fresh salad on the side. I recommend the olive special (black olives, artichoke hearts, fresh garlic, mozzarella and basil) or the Godfather (pesto, fresh tomatoes, olive oil, mozzarella, ricotta and sun-dried tomatoes). Celestino’s vinaigrette is good, and the salad is made with romaine, spring mix, red onions and parmesan. The student special, a slice of pepperoni or cheese with a drink for $3.50, served 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Friday, is a good deal. Despite the quickness of the staff, Cel’s can get super crowded at lunchtime, so plan your visit a little early or a little late to avoid the dreaded out-on-the-sidewalk line at 101 Salem St. Sit on the back patio, which is generally pretty empty, if you want some mealtime solitude.

3. Carnivore Creations
Out at the airport, on the corner of Piper and Fortress, sits a truck and a mobile kitchen. Some of the best food I’ve had in a long time has come from this delightful eatery. Alex and Yvette serve up some huge sandwiches and salads that are delicious and mainly organic; most are about $5. Try the Fuji apple and cashew salad with chicken and blue cheese and experience the love. Get the homemade balsamic vinaigrette or buttermilk Ranch.

Due to catering engagements, they’re not always there, but between 11 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. on most weekdays the black SUV with the mobile kitchen in tow dishes out gourmet-style food for a good price. Daily specials are popular and they go quickly. Fear not, however, there is an e-mail list you can get yourself on to reserve the daily special. Fresh ingredients and the know-how of Chef Alex Tibbs make the food memorable. Try eating it picnic-style out of your car, while watching the clouds float by. Remember to give them at least 20 minutes to make your meal; they put a lot of effort into the quality of the food.

The hungry lunch crowd locks to Tacos El Paisa.

Photo By Melissa Daugherty

4. Tacos de Paisa
Oh, Jose, I sing your praises. My favorite taco wagon, conveniently located next to the Dowtown Liquor & Market at Eighth and Pine streets, which has Jarritos for $1, is Tacos de Paisa. Jose serves up affordable burritos, tacos and tostadas made with fresh avocado, not watered-down guacamole, as is often the case at wagons of less repute. A lot of Chicoans are converts to the church of Paisa, so expect a long, mouthwatering wait if you see a parking lot full of cars. The staff is always friendly and accommodating to special requests. For around $5, you can get a burrito and couple of tacos and be full until tomorrow, when you go back for more. My friends and I have made up a song that we sing on the way to the popular taco truck. It goes something like this: “Mmm, mmm, tostada … mmm, mmm, tostada … ” I’m not joking. I told you I sing his praises.

5. The Pita Pit
This busy downtown eatery serves up some good pitas, made fresh to order. My favorite is the falafel pita ($4.95), which I get with feta cheese, lettuce, tomato, onions, cucumber, green peppers, olives, sprouts and mushrooms. The chickpea patties are fried up right in front of you, then passed along the assembly-line style counter to the toppings and sauces. The choice of toppings and sauces, such as teriyaki, secret sauce and mango habañero, makes The Pita Pit somewhere you can eat often and still get something different every time. The most popular pita, the chicken Caesar, is delicious and only $5.85. The employees are friendly and quick. In a town of college students, The Pita Pit understands the importance of staying open late. For midnight munchies, the Pit (at 240 Broadway) delivers until 2 a.m. and stays open until 3 a.m.

Chris Ocampo whips up a pita at The Pita Pit.

Photo By Melissa Daugherty