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Food & Drink > Short Order

Short Order

Hamilton on rye: Places where impoverished college students can eat mostly for $10 or less

 

Published 8/26/2009

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Abe's Coney Island 402 W. Michigan Ave., Ypsilanti; 734-448-5200: This popular after-bar stop has a kind of self-deprecating humor, billing itself as "Ypsilanti's finest four-star coney dog, steak-and-egg joint." Whether you're stopping in for eggs over easy with hash browns "burned" in the morning, or sopping up booze and making ironic jukebox selections at 3 a.m., Abe's will hit the spot.

Aladdin Sweets 11945 Conant St., Hamtramck; 313-891-8050: You might see the name and think it's a sweets shop, but it's much more than that. If you're cool with plastic cutlery and polystyrene plates, prepare yourself for some of the best Indian-influenced food you can buy with the coin under your car seat. It's really that cheap — and well-done.

Alcamo's Market 4423 Schaefer Rd., Dearborn; 313-584-3010: We asked our friends for tips on eating on the cheap, and our former photo intern Antal Zambo told us about the ultimate turkey sub deal. He told us, "There's an Italian deli in East Dearborn called Alcamo's that serves up big turkey subs for $3," adding, "I'm kind of loath to give up this secret, but they're nice people — so I don't mind waiting in line." We appreciate it, Antal!

Bucharest Grill inside the Park Bar, 2040 Park Ave. (enter off Elizabeth), Detroit; 313-965-3111: Who knew so many people wandering the neighborhood west of Foxtown had a hankering for Eastern European food? How else to explain the success of Bucharest Grill, a small counter setup in back of the Park Bar. For just a fistful of singles you can have affordable shawarma sandwiches and creative hot dogs. For the health-conscious, Bulgarian goat cheese replaces chicken on the veggie version of the shawarma — though some object to the use of mayo. Warning: Take your meal out to a seat in the Park and the bottles and taps of their formidable bar are sure to call your name.

Buddy's Restaurant & Pizzeria 17125 Conant St., Detroit; 313-892-9001: We know our readers love Buddy's, the winner of this year's Best Neighborhood Pizza category, and a regular winner of our pizza categories for almost 25 years. Well, here's your chance to have the greasy, meaty square-cut pizza you love in the original setting, where they first started selling the pizza. The building, a former speakeasy, has some real charm. Walk downstairs into the bar and be transported to a time of Formica and wood paneling. Secure parking.

BTB Burrito 810 S. State St., Ann Arbor; 734-222-4822; 1140 S. University, Ann Arbor; 734-222-3715: A friend of ours says it's "the best burrito joint in town," and it's always open nice and late, 11-4 a.m. at their smallish State Street spot, and 11-3 a.m. most days at their "cantina" location on South University. A regular vegetarian burrito sets you back just $3.50, $4.50 with sour cream and guac, or $6.75 for a big, two-tortilla burrito with the trimmings. And it's that simple. Add $2 to these base prices for chicken or roasted veggies, $2.25 for steak, or $3 for a steak-chicken mix. It never gets more expensive than $10 for a giant steak chimichanga. What's more, the tax-inclusive prices mean you never have to fumble for anything smaller than a quarter at 2 a.m.

Byblos Cafe and Grill 87 W. Palmer, Detroit; 313-831-4420; $: Located near Wayne State, this busy shop has held its own for several years, being all things to all people. Their massive menu offers more than 90 dishes, including Lebanese, Middle Eastern, American and even quesadillas, Cajun salmon, fettucine Alfredo, and fish and chips! All this, and even orange Crush to wash it down. Also has bargain prices of $3.75-$5 for wraps and sandwiches.

Cass Cafe 4620 Cass Ave., Detroit; 313-831-1400: A fixture on Cass Avenue for years now, this hip eatery's big-room bistro has really kicked up the kitchen in the last few years, with creative specials centered on such exotic foundations as ahi tuna and Creole-blackened sirloin. And everything's prepared and plated consistently better than the old kitchen ever could. But nothing ever costs more than $15, most things are less, and what hasn't changed is that trusty lentil burger, a low-rent Cass Corridor classic itself. It seems to have been only $6 forever. Snag one of those on a night with a PBR special ($5 pitchers Sunday, $1 shell glasses Tuesday) and you have a pretty cheap night out with a pal or two. Heck, even a night alone at the bar can be fun, as there's usually a nice mix of neighborhood fixtures, old and young, white and black, poor and less-poor. The only thing they all seem to share is an unbeatable knack for chatter that ranks the joint among the best places to eavesdrop on conversations.

Circa 1890 Saloon 5474 Cass Ave., Detroit; 313-831-1122: This place is a mainstay for Wayne State faculty and students, with homemade soups, pizza, and notable burgers. This is also the place where, since the 1980s, they've staged a mock funeral for Old Man Winter.

The Potato Place Restaurant and Bakery 107 W. Warren, Detroit; 313-833-8948: Now in its 19th year, the Potato Place has a casual menu centered around stuffed backed potatoes, but rounded out with soups, salads, sandwiches, subs, ice cream, and such baked goods as brownies and cakes made on-premises. Ice cream. And some of those potatoes are doozies, like the "taco" potato (ground beef and cheese), the "chicken and cheese," and the "steak, cheese and mushroom." In all there are 24 different kinds of potatoes with different toppings. Between Cass and Woodward, near Old Main on Wayne State campus.

Duly's Place 5458 W. Vernor Hwy., Detroit; 313-554-3076: The little eatery with a big following of late-night spouse-soppers draws on grizzled Detroiters as well as hungry hipsters, making for an interesting cultural tension. And when we say people rub elbows here, we mean it: The railroad-style diner has low seats before a long lunch counter, with a few tables tucked in the back. It's not just the ambience Duly's has going for it — with its timeless plastic-lettered marquee menu and a toilet hidden somewhere back in the kitchen — but the food is solid dinner fare. Enjoy a late-night plate of scrambled eggs with jalapeno peppers. The management doesn't tolerate any nonsense, but if you behave yourself the staff may give you a free Dum-Dum sucker on the way out.

Earthen Jar 311 S. Fifth Ave., Ann Arbor; 734-327-9464: Featuring vegetarian north Indian food in one big buffet, with dozens of selections. But instead of all-you-can-eat dining, this is dining by the pound — $4.99 a pound to be exact. After your food is weighed, you can sit down and eat in their casual shop or carry it out. And no tipping means you can get almost a pound of scandalously healthful food for less than $5.

El Comal 3456 W. Vernor Hwy., Detroit; 313-841-7753: Elda Castellanos' Central American fare includes pupusas (tortillas filled with beans, cheese or pork or a mixture of all three) and chuchitos (miniature pork tamales), and is augmented with Mexican fare. Service and setting are completely unpretentious, and their buffet offers a good selection of fare, including pupusas, menudo and Mexican, Colombian and Guatemalan tamales in corn-husk wrappers. The buffet is a fantastic deal, open 11 a.m.-3 p.m. on weekdays ($6.95), and 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays ($7.95 plus tax).

Fleetwood Diner 300 S. Ashley St., Ann Arbor; 734-995-5502: A stainless steel beauty of a joint, the food could probably be better, but what does it matter when you're open all the time? Some of our peeps love the place; others tag along but stick to the hippie hash. Open all night for the up-all-night.

Gandy Dancer 401 Depot St., Ann Arbor; 734-769-0592: Why would we include a place with valet parking on a list of restaurants cheap enough for college students? Because this is where you can go when your parents are footing the bill, especially for brunch. Voted last year by our readers as the Best Brunch Buffet, this is where they shovel it in every Sunday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. That brunch menu encompasses the classics: scrambled eggs, hash browns, bacon and sausage, carved roast beef and ham, made-to-order omelets, fresh Belgian waffles with bananas Foster and even house-made breads and pastries. It's a sumptuous Sunday treat, but at $21 per person, the fam will prolly have to spring for it. It's $20.95 for adults, $9.95 for children aged 2-10; reservations are recommended, but not necessary.

Good Girls go to Paris 2 John R, Detroit; 313-964-2023: The traditional French pancake gets an American treatment at this miniature downtown eatery. Each crêpe takes almost four minutes, from first careful pouring to handing through the window on a paper plate. Among the "savories," one big seller has been the 7, or "Sarah." "Vera" combines bacon and spinach with Boursin, and two other savories pile on Black Forest ham. For sweet crêpes, which are the majority, customers like the "Fay," similar to a nonalcoholic Bananas Foster, plus pecans. You can also design your own for 50 cents an ingredient. Don't call ahead. Your crêpe does need to be made to order, and it'll be much better if you eat it right then. Sometimes eating is about more than protein and calories; it's about flavor. Open 7 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 7 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Saturday. Closed Sundays. Watch for two new locations to come, including one in the Park Shelton near Wayne State and CCS.

Goldengate Café 18700 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-366-2247: Yeah, it's a little hippie-dippy, but it's seldom dull on a Wednesday night. That's because it's fire night, and drumming night. A fire rages or smolders in the stone fireplace on the patio, while bring-your-own drummers hypnotize themselves (and the neighbors) with free-form wallops and throbs. The eatery serves a mostly vegan menu, with some dairy, but the majority of diners are omnivores seeking a healthy meal. They'll find a good one, and they won't find the holistic trip laid on in a preachy way. Open 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Monday-Saturday.

Goodwell's 418 W. Willis St., Detroit; This health-food store serves good, cheap vegetarian pita sandwiches. Though it's takeout only, you can usually find a place to sit on Willis, right next to Avalon Bakery. On a warm afternoon, you'll likely see more than one college student taking in the open atmosphere outside.

International Mini-Café 111 E. Kirby St., Detroit; 313-377-2555: In the basement of the International Institute at Kirby and John R, just east of Woodward, is one of the best lunch deals in town. Each day they offer a different soup; three Indian dishes, two of them vegetarian; a "Mideast feast" of hommous, tabouleh and falafel; a veggie quesadilla; a pasta dish, such as spaghetti with chicken meatballs; nachos; three pizzas; Greek salad; and three American-style sandwiches. Desserts are Middle Eastern pastries, and you will often find crisp, fresh samosas waiting on the entrance table.

Jerusalem Garden 307 S. Fifth Ave., Ann Arbor; 734-995-5060: The only place where falafel is more popular than this tiny Ann Arbor spot would be in Jerusalem itself. Ann Arbor is a lot more convenient and the journey to the Middle East won't get you better food. Falafel — fried patties of ground chick peas, onions, garlic, parsley and other seasonings, served wrapped in pita with baba ghanoush, hommous or refreshing tabbouleh — are as cheap ($4.75) as they are delicious. Cheap eats at their best. It's fast, but not fast food as we know it. Splurge and have a cup of lentil soup.

Joey's Meat Cutter Inn 2638 Orleans St., Detroit; 313-393-0960: Good-size burgers for $4.50, or $4.75 with cheese? And they're not stingy on the meat, gigantic and hearty. If you have enough cash you can shoot for higher things: stuffed chicken breasts, baby back ribs or whitefish. Or, you can choose to spend those extra sheckels at their bar; they mix their drinks generously.

Krazy Jim's Blimpy Burger 551 S. Division St., Ann Arbor: 734-663-4590: Where Packard meets South Division lies arguably one of the best burger houses in the country, where they're made on the grill right in front of you. And it's an Ann Arbor institution spanning six decades, right down to its R. Crumb-influenced menu. It's $4.30 for Jim's ultimate cheese sandwich, and just $5.62 for the veggie burger. A half-pound burger costs just $5.10, or $5.70 with cheese. (Then there are the unique fried goods, like fried cauliflower.) The burger stop's slogan? "Cheaper than food." Cafeteria-style setting means no tipping; read the "instructions" before ordering; open until 10 p.m. every day except Sunday (8 p.m.).

Lafayette Coney Island 118 W. Lafayette Blvd., Detroit; 313-964-8198: Many late-night music lovers head here for tube steaks after leaving concert venues. And the waitstaff, presumably to better serve their temporarily deaf clientele, bellows food orders to the kitchen at maximum volume. Lafayette serves up only all-meat franks — not the filler-laden "hot dogs" on the menu at lesser eateries. FYI: The restrooms are, appropriately, located within the bowels of the establishment. We've heard tales that this 24-hour place is open in the daytime too. Also, next door is Lafayette's longtime rival, the more modern, cafeteria-style American Coney Island (114 W. Lafayette, Detroit; 313-964-6542).

Le Dog 306 S. Main St., #1G; 734-327-0091; 410 E. Liberty St., Ann Arbor; 734-665-2114: In the winter, Le Dog is the place to go to for a hot, homemade soup and a hunk of Zingerman's bread for less than $5. You'll be glad you did.

Le Petit Zinc 1055 Trumbull St., Detroit; 313-963-2805: Charles Sorel, raised in France but with the Caribbean personality of his native Martinique, is providing a splash of sunlight at his breakfast-and-lunch spot in Corktown. His small space has bright yellow walls and bright yellow napkins. It's accented in green and turquoise and is adorned with paintings in primary and other cheerful colors. Outdoors is a patio with raised beds for perennials. Patrons may order crêpes, salads, sandwiches, cheese, ratatouille and coffee. Doesn't sound cheap, does it? Surprisingly, nothing on Sorel's menu costs more than $7.25, and every creation, from crêpes to salads to classic French small plates, are works of art, meant to be savored.

Lefty's Lounge 5440 Cass Ave., Detroit; 313-831-5338: 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. At $7.50, Lefty's large Cobb salad even has tender grilled chicken strips instead of the usual chopped meat. Half-sandwich-and-soup combos are just $6.95. Pizzas are slightly charred, thin-crusted beauties, reasonably priced at $8.75 for a 12-incher with one topping. And it is difficult to find a better burger-and-beer special at $5.50 (Friday through Sunday), offering an especially juicy half-pounder with steak fries and a 23-ounce draft. 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: 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 $1.50 each, and the cost for three with two sides is $7.25. But we're guessing you'll go for the wet chicken burrito ($7.95) 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. The most expensive thing on the menu is $10.25, and that's for a steak-and-chicken fajita. No smoking; wheelchair accessible.

Mexican Village 2600 Bagley St., Detroit; 313-237-0333: 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: 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. Watch out for the high alcohol content of that Summer Brew, if there's any left. Meads like Blue Sunshine have a sharp, almost astringent crispness to them. 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: 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, Hamtramck; 313-874-5726: 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!), they permit smoking (character!) 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; 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; $$: 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. And those sandwiches are deals: A falafel sandwich is $3.25, as are the four other vegetarian sandwiches. For carnivores, meat-kebab sandwiches are around $3.50. As for their entrées, they're big enough to guarantee you'll leave with a box. Jeez, their $24.99 takeout combo for two is enough food for a small army. Though it does a brisk take-out business, the interior is bright and commodious, with enough room for large parties. What's more, it has a gelato bar for your sweet finish.

Seva 314 E. Liberty St., Ann Arbor; 734-662-1111: What's that you say? The restaurant our readers voted as the Best Vegetarian Restaurant this year has cheap eats? Well, the pastas, couscous dishes, quesadillas and portabella burgers are more expensive, sure, but there are some less expensive choices. For $8.95, you can get tofu rancheros, eggs veracruz and the joint's classic burrito — "unchanged since the '70s." For $9.95, you can get a "veggie Reuben," a tempeh-lettuce-tomato sandwich, or a char-grilled tempeh burger. For the enthusiastic vegetarian, any meal for less than $10 at Ann Arbor's premiere veg-head restaurant is definitely a deal. Breakfast served all day.

Steak Hut 1551 W. Lafayette, Detroit; 313-961-0659: Three words: Sunday morning folk. Get there before noon for a mix of Corktowners, anarkids and other characters enjoying a musical accompaniment with their breakfast. Music with your bacon and eggs at $3.95 is a good deal anytime.

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 piece de resistance. This holdover from the old White Tower chain has lived a long, charmed life, due, in no small part, to the reasonable prices.

Totoro 215 S. State St., Ann Arbor; 734-302-3511: Normally, you don't think of doing Japanese food if you have $10 to spend, but Totoro has some great lunch specials that can include soup and salad for $9. The high end of cheap, we grant you, but when you really need Japanese for lunch, remember: Totoro beckons.

Traffic Jam & Snug 511 W. Canfield St., Detroit; 313-831-9470: 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: 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.

Woodbridge Pub 5169 Trumbull St., Detroit; 313-833-2701: OK, this could get expensive. The most popular items on the menu (as on all menus) are the burgers. They're a succulent half-pound of certified Angus, dressed up with white cheddar or goat cheese or caramelized bacon or portabellas, delivered rare if you ask for rare. They also serve what may be the best vegan burger in the city, the "Stevers McFever," named for the owner's folk-singing pal, and it's a deal at $8. So far, so cheap. So where's the danger? It's that bar against the wall, and drink specials that include Whiskey Appreciation Night (Thursday), with $2 off all whiskey shots, or the bottomless mimosas for brunch — from noon to 4 p.m. — for $11. Open from 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. daily.

See any inaccuracies in these listings? Let us know. Call 313-202-8043 or e-mail to mjackman@metrotimes.com.

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