A shortlist of eateries where you can feed for cheap
Published: August 24, 2011
Lefty's Lounge 5440 Cass Ave., Detroit; 313-831-5338; leftysloungedetroit.com: A sports pub? In the first floor of the massive, 1926 Belcrest apartment building? That's right. The creation of former ballplayers Dave Marcon and Ron Way, it's a place to watch the game in a historic setting. It even sports a patio overlooking the Belcrest's renowned art-deco swimming pool. But it's definitely about the sports, with more than a dozen giant-screen TVs to prove it, and a menu replete with sports references. (Think of it as a side of cheese.) Don't expect house-made dressings, artisanal bread or elaborate preparations, but the food shows some care. Open 10-2 a.m. Monday-Friday, 11-2 a.m. Saturday-Sunday.
Louie's Ham & Corned Beef 3570 Riopelle, Detroit; 313-831-1800: This boxy, newish diner on Mack and Orleans (near Eastern Market) has a giant pig on its sign. With a hog as a mascot, it's hardly a surprise they have a lot of pork on the menu. And you'll pay full freight for that pastrami on rye or Canadian bacon. But the breakfasts are a little cheaper. Another bonus: You can dodge that tip with their drive-through window.
Maria's Comida 11411 Joseph Campau, Hamtramck; 313-733-8406; mariascomida.com: There was a time when the thought of a Mexican restaurant in Hamtramck would have been cause for chuckles. But family-owned and -operated Maria's has the last laugh. And prices are very reasonable. Tacos are quite affordable, but we're guessing you'll go for the wet chicken burrito drizzled in spicy salsa with two choices of corn, refried beans or rice. It's all done well, down to little details like seeds in the salsa, delicate crumbly bits of chicken in the burrito, and yellow rice flecked with slivers of onion and pepper. Wheelchair accessible.
Mark's Carts 211 W. Washington St.; markscartsannarbor.com; $: Not a restaurant, but a food court filled with food carts, this is the brainchild of Mark Hodesh, owner of Downtown Home and Garden, as well as the food court and commissary kitchen behind it. Hodesh, who opened the Fleeetwood Diner in 1972, decided to take the rear property he couldn't rent and turn it into a kitchen and court for carts. Open since May 9, they have six carts up and running, including Darcy's Cart (Mexican), Debajo del Sol (Spanish), Eat (global fusion), Humble Hogs (meat and mac 'n' cheese), San Street (Asian street food) and the Lunch Room (vegan).
Mexican Village 2600 Bagley St., Detroit; 313-237-0333; mexicanvillagefood.com: Michigan's oldest Mexican restaurant consists of a set of lively rooms with music, murals, margaritas and Mexican food. Portions are healthy here. Go with a party of three and share two entrées. Seriously. Or go with the family: They get the secure, guarded parking; you get the portions that guarantee a doggie bag for later. Open 11 a.m.-midnight Sunday-Thursday, 11-2 a.m. Friday-Saturday.
Motor City Brewing Works 470 W. Canfield St., Detroit; 313-832-2700; motorcitybeer.com: Right across the street from Traffic Jam, this brewpub has a quirky tiled interior, with its concrete bar molded in PVC, its Wednesday-night art shows, and its sturdy menu of pizzas and small plates. For less than $10, you can get a pizza made with ingredients from as local as possible, or a cheese, baguette and salametti plate with your choice of mustard. The beers are excellent. And those Wednesday night art shows are a tightwad's dream, offering work from experimental, established and ex nihil artists, often hanging work that goes for as little as $15. Have a pizza, drain a craft brew or two, and invest in a work of art for a little more.
Pita Kabob Grill 619 E. William St., Ann Arbor; 734-622-8082; pitakabobgrill.com: The good news is, at Pita Kabob, you'll find vegetarian pita sandwiches for less than $5. The better news? The meat ones are generally just a dollar more.
Pizza Bob's 814 S. State St., Ann Arbor; 734-665-4517; pizzabobs.net: It's about $8 for a 10-incher with pepperoni. Kinder still, you can share a 16-incher with same for $6.50 each. Don't want pepperoni? It'd cost the same for any topping, and they range from bacon and meatballs to banana peppers and pineapple. Lunch, dinner, takeout and delivery.
Polish Village Café 2990 Yemans St., Hamtramck; 313-874-5726; thepolishvillagecafe.com: Even if you have to drive a bit to get there, the gut-busting meals they serve make your gas money a value. Not only do you step down into a long basement decked out with Hamtramck history, the meals here are literally made by Polish grandmas in the kitchen, who you can usually spy on the way to the bathroom. Get the "Polish plate" for $6.95, with a little of everything: kielbasa, stuffed cabbage, pierogi and mashed potatoes and gravy. Comes-with soup choices include duck blood and a dilly "pickle soup." At these prices, you may consider ordering a bottle of European beer from their well-stocked bar. Either way, you're sure to stagger out on the verge of a food coma after having spent less than $10. Perfect, right? Well, not for everyone: It's not handicap accessible (those quaint stairs!) and it's cash-only (just like the old days!). If those are deal-breakers, roam a few rods down the street to Polonia Restaurant (2934 Yemans St.; 313-873-8432).
Pollo Chapin 2054 Junction St., Detroit; 313-554-9087: Mexicantown isn't all chimichangas. Away from the touristy bustle of Bagley Street you'll often find other Latin American delights, such as Pollo Chapin. Expect black beans, store-bought tortillas, and chicken, chicken, then eggs and then more chicken. But mixed in with the wings and thighs is the cuisine of Guatemala, including unusual tamales, (masa made with broth and lard, stuffed with pork or chicken and, sometimes, an olive, wrapped in a banana leaf and steamed) and chicken "chapin," barbecue and milanesa (breaded cutlets). Prices are breathtakingly low — two pieces of chicken, a roll, two sides and soup for $5, for example — but if you really want to scrimp, breakfast is available any time. Heck, even the house-made chicken soup comes free with every meal. Having a house party? They'll sell you 100 pieces of chicken for $92!
Royal Kabob 3236 Caniff St., Hamtramck; 313-872-9454; hroyalkabob.com: Here's a weird disconnect: In a metroplex with one of the largest Middle Eastern populations in the whole hemisphere, it has been nothing short of challenging to find good Middle Eastern food in the city proper. With the arrival of Royal Kabob on Caniff in Hamtramck, at least that multi-ethnic enclave has a shop that can provide everything from an ambitious platter to a humble, wax-paper-wrapped falafel sandwich.
Seva 314 E. Liberty St., Ann Arbor; 734-662-1111; sevarestaurant.com: What's that you say? A restaurant our readers regularly vote as the Best Vegetarian Restaurant has cheap eats? Well, the pastas, couscous dishes, quesadillas and portabella burgers are more expensive, sure, but there are some less expensive choices. For $9.25, you can get tofu rancheros, eggs veracruz or the joint's classic burrito — "unchanged since the '70s." For the enthusiastic vegetarian, any meal for less than $10 at Ann Arbor's premier veg-head restaurant is definitely a deal. Breakfast served all day.
Taqueria Lupita's 3443 Bagley St., Detroit; 313-843-1105: Though located smack dab on Mexicantown's gringo-frequented strip, Lupita's caters to a back-home crowd, with authentic, homestyle Mexican food and rock-bottom prices. Though most of the fare is meat-oriented, the pinto beans — not refried — are the best in the city. And the carne asada or al pastor are tangy and delicious. Open 9 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 9 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday.
Telway Diner 6820 Michigan Ave., Detroit; 313-843-2146: As one of our food writers joked, this is the kind of place where the waitresses had tattoos before everyone else. The 24-hour, seven-seat burger joint is the dive of late-night dinner-fare: Small and cramped, with an attitudinal waitstaff and a smattering of gossipy regulars. The food's consistently good, and occasionally great — though most people come for the burgers, the chicken sandwiches are the pièce de résistance. This holdover from the old White Tower chain has lived a long, charmed life, due, in no small part, to the reasonable prices.
Traffic Jam & Snug 511 W. Canfield St., Detroit; 313-831-9470; trafficjamdetroit.com: Here's one for the parents when they visit: There's free, secure parking for them across the street, and the restaurant's quirky interior is loaded with enough Detroit memorabilia to raise a smile. The food is excellent, much of it made in-house, as they brew their own beer and even make their own ice cream. And the selection changes all the time, depending on the season. Unless you're self-conscious about being out with the folks, you can enjoy the open-air patio on the corner of Canfield and Second.
Union Street 4145 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-831-3965; unionstreetdetroit.com: Another place to go with the 'rents, Union Street is an old standby. For $2, they get to park securely, and the reassuring interior blends classic aged hardwood with modern accents of art deco, including that damn impressive 1920s bar. As for the food, each dish on the menu is prepared with home-cooked lovin' and tends to be hearty, including a smoked pork loin foccacia sandwich, the "Union Street jambalaya," baked brisket and barbecue rib fingers. Those of age (or with cool parents) will find a good variety of imported beers.
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