Minimum wage meals
One of our restaurant reviewers recommends his favorite cheap eats
I hope the phrase “in these economic times” goes away in 2010. I can never think of any way to respond than, “Yeah, I know, things are tough all over,” when I hear somebody talk about fear and doubt, losing their home or their job, and the general feeling that this all just really sucks.
We all know eating more meals at home is a surefire way to save some cash, but I can’t do that all the time. Everyone needs a break from cooking, a chance to warm up in a place where someone else is paying for the heat, or interaction with total strangers from which you might make a friend. After all, it’s not totally gloomy out there.
So I set out to compile a list of my favorite meals in Reno available for less than $6.55, tax excluded. $6.55 is Nevada’s statutory minimum hourly wage for employees lucky enough to receive health insurance. Why shouldn’t an hour’s work be enough to buy something enjoyable for your belly that doesn’t come from a chain restaurant? To make the deal more accessible to all, I’m not covering happy hours, weekday/weekend specials, or anything requiring a coupon because the places I love the most during these economic times are the ones making great meal deals a full-time policy.Mi Ranchito
500 Denslowe Drive, 337-8411
This Mexican restaurant has earned more of my money than any place in town. It’s a pretty stripped-down affair that’s light on decoration and heavy on good food. The menu features mostly traditional dishes with a couple of Americanized plates thrown in. I went recently with my wife, Kat, and we shared the burrito and two-taco plate for $6.50. Each item comes with your choice of meat; we chose chicken for the burrito and seasoned pork for the tacos.
Our seasoned pork tacos came atop two crispy corn tortillas with onion, cilantro and red chile sauce. Mi Ranchito’s grilled meats are flavorful, flavorful, salty and flavorful. The grilled chicken is my favorite part of Mi Ranchito’s gigantic burrito, which is accompanied by healthy portions of rice and refried beans all stuffed into a flour tortilla. If you’re not craving a burrito, try the torta and two tacos, $6.50, or the tamale and two tacos for only $4.Nu Yalk Pizza
3305 Kietzke Lane, 826-8508
Nine out of 10 American families claim pizza is their favorite food. Maybe I just fabricated that statistic, but surely it’s close to true. Pizza is the family-friendly, affordable food a kid actually wants to eat. Of course, pizza has changed a lot in recent years with the incorporation of Alfredo and barbecue sauces and crazy toppings like avocado and pear. However, I’m kind of a purist. I like rich red tomato sauce with a hint of spice, a ton of cheese, and a pepperoni here and there, all atop a thin, crunchy crust. Nu Yalk Pizza makes it just the way I like.
Better yet, they’ll do it by the slice—$2.16 for cheese and $2.74 for a one-topping slice. When asked about the size of the slices, the cook said “big.” Taking a stab at specificity, I’d say they’re about one-eighth of an 18-inch pizza. If you order plain cheese, a minimum wage hour will buy you two slices and a mug of Pabst Blue Ribbon ($1.86).
I know Nu Yalk Pizza might look a little dank on the outside, but inside, the employees always seem like they’re having a good time serving up some stellar piesThe Last Crumb
9333 Double R Blvd., 851-3335
This is a relatively new sandwich shop and bakery worth raving about. I just went there for the first time a month ago, and for service, value and quality, it can’t be beat. I hope they never change.
Sandwiches with your choice of homemade bread made from organic flours and grains and a mind-boggling selection of meats and condiments run $4.95. I’d like to recommend the slightly toasted croissant with smoked salmon, brie, havarti and fresh greens. You could substitute that croissant for the Last Crumb’s Dutch Crunch roll and be equally pleased.
At that price, you could even still indulge in some carrot cake ($1.50) or strawberry shortcake or peanut butter cake (each $1.25) and walk out stuffed, feeling like you just ripped off the incredibly pleasant bakers working the place.Honey Bakery
403 Keystone Ave., 322-6668
There are three very enjoyable reasons I stop at Honey Bakery any time I’m in the area, be it breakfast or lunch. It’s not the service, which is always fine but never exemplary. It’s not the ambience, because with only one table, it’s pretty much a to-go operation, unless you sit on the sunny curb out front. No, the three things I crave incessantly are the barbecue pork bun, the chicken mushroom bun and the curry chicken bun. Each is just a dollar, including tax, and about the size of a tennis ball. Four should quash the hunger of even the biggest glutton.
Essentially, these buns consist of a sweet and sticky bread into which Honey Bakery stuffs wonderful mixtures like diced chicken in a curry sauce before baking them to perfection and serving them up warm. Honey Bakery also prepares a variety of sweet-filled buns, cakes and cookies galore, but for me, the savory buns are the draw.Chapel Tavern
1495 South Virginia St., 324-2244
Sometimes I wish there was a cheap breakfast that also took some of the edge off this harsh period in American economic history. Oh wait, there is—it’s called a Bloody Mary. Fortunately, there’s a quiet place with great music and friendly bartenders that serves up unique Bloody Marys for only $5. What makes a Chapel Tavern Bloody Mary so delicious is that, in addition to the traditional ingredients, they throw in some pepperoncini juice, a splash of Guinness, and vodka infused with horseradish, cilantro and peppercorn. Not mealy enough for you? The Chapel Tavern then tops the drink with a green olive, pearl onion, celery stick, pepperoncini and a few fantastic pickled green beans.
The bartenders are more than willing to dress your drink up to taste. They tend to go light on the tomato juice and heavy on the lime juice, so make sure you speak up if you like yours otherwise, or require it so spicy, it’ll tear your mouth to pieces.Asian Noodles
1290 East Plumb Lane, 828-7227
Reno has no shortage of pho restaurants, and I thought long and hard about the friendliest pho shop in town. I usually head to Asian Noodles to get my fill.
While you might occasionally have to share a table with someone, the cleanliness, speed and courtesy that characterize Asian Noodles largely offsets that detractor. I know people are passionately loyal to their pho purveyors, but most of it tastes the same to me. I always order a small bowl of rare steak pho ($6.41) and then doctor the salty broth up with so much red pepper, hoisin and soy sauce that it only vaguely resembles the chef’s original creation.
Because I throw so many bean sprouts and jalapeños in with the heaping of rice noodles and thinly sliced beef, a small bowl is incredibly filling. If you’ve never had pho before, try it, it’s not as exotic as you think. And if you’re thinking about breaking the ties with your regular pho place, think of Asian Noodles.
I walked out of Asian Noodles struggling to think up one last affordable food place to round out my list. And, though a chain, there it was, cheaper and more diverse than them all: Costco. $50 buys a one-year membership, which means a family of four visiting just once a week has access to a veritable buffet of food samples for less than 25 cents a head. Granted, the pickings are a little slim during the week, but the place offers weekend visitors willing to push and shove their way through a crowd an endless assortment of appetizers, microwaveable entrees, desserts and beverages in little paper cups.
Sadly, this is what it’s come to for so many in these economic times.