Sometimes, it's only $5 that's standing between you and a full belly. Many restaurants cunningly price their least expensive items at $6, because hey, it's close enough to $5 and it still sounds cheap, so $6 it will be. That makes it almost impossible to find much of anything under $5. Almost.
Here are 19 real-deal belly fillers (not relegated to happy hour) for under five bucks. You'll still need $6 because it's polite to tip, and 20% of $5 is a dollar, so there you go. Dig deeply into the couch cushions for that extra buck. It's in there.
Potato Leek Soup, Dan Kelly’s Pub, $5
This smooth-as-butter potato leek soup, scratch made and set next to a portion of sturdy dark bread, is enough to produce a tear in the eye of a hungry man. That they bother to serve it in an earthenware crock as pretty as an art piece makes it even more dear. It's a meal for the price of a snack and the very definition of fortifying.
Rice and Beans, Tinto Cocina, $5
If you were really thinking right, you'd take your fiver and make a big pot of beans and rice at home. But sometimes life doesn't provide for that much thinking. So go to Tinto Cocina y Cantina, where the Caribbean-inflected Mexican food is down home and approachable as anything, regardless of what the stylish decor and full bar might suggest.
Butter and Parm Pizza, Burch, $5
Believe it. You can get an entire pizza pie at one of the most stylish pizzerias in town if you're willing to forgo the animal protein and red sauce. Which you should, because this is a study in elegant minimalism, a holy trinity of flavors: yeast, fat, and milk.
Field Greens Salad with Lemongrass Vinaigrette, Lake & Irving, $5
Ordinarily we wouldn't think of a salad as a meal, but the sophisticated lemongrass vinaigrette here makes it so. This friendly neighborhood bistro with a great beer list has a stealthy little secret: Japanese influenced menu items from tempura mushroom fries to togarashi fried Brussels sprouts to furikake chicken. Those will run you a few bucks more, but let this perfume-like vinaigrette be your gateway drug.
Tamales and Tostadas, Maya Cuisine, $2.50
The juggernaut of local cheap eats, Maya won our Best Mexican category last year for so many good reasons, not least of all their enormous portions and eye-poppingly low price tags. All-scratch tostadas and tamales are just $2.50, with about two dozen permutations to choose from, including barbacoa, lengua, chorizo, and even vegetarian. So cheap it's almost charity.
Vellee Rolls, Vellee Deli, $4.50
While we like to think of the skyway system as a warm and inviting extension of our fair cities, that ain't exactly so. Much of it is a vast wasteland of fast food and junky convenience stores. So when beloved food truck Vellee Deli moved into the skyway last year, office drones had a heyday, snaking around velvet ropes in anticipation of a decent lunch. Five little crispy pork eggrolls with sweet and sour sauce are just $4.50. How's that for a day brightener?
Colombian Street Dog, Cafe Racer, $5
The little four-bite Colombian street dogs from Cafe Racer are more get-you-through-your-day things than a proper lunch, but girding yourself for the coming couple of hours is sometimes all a body can hope for. Plus it's a vehicle for Sriracha and cilantro aioli, the kind of condiment that could turn dregs into ambrosia.
Taco Tuesdays, Unideli, $2.50
Because it's got the hip anti-charm of being situated in the middle of the best Asian grocery in Minneapolis, we already want to love Unideli. Sometimes waits are harrowingly long, especially when you're hangry, but they do an honorable job with lots of Asian soups, snacks, curries and even house made Kombucha. A best-kept secret is Taco Tuesdays, where Asian-style tacos (with the likes of kimchee, bulgogi, shredded pork belly, kimchee verde, and fermented hot sauce) go for $2.50 each.
Sambusas, Afro Deli, 3 for $3.99
So popular are these savory meat-filled and deep fried pockets, Afro Deli employs no fewer than three full-time employees to specialize in folding sambusas by the hundred, day after day. Bring a table full of them to your next function and see how people clamor to gather 'round. The green Somali hot sauce that accompanies them, "basbas" made with cilantro, chile, garlic and citrus is just awaiting the right branding to become the next ketchup. We want to put it on everything from eggs to hotdogs, but especially the sambusas, which come in beef or chicken.
Bowls of soup, The Himalayan, $4.95
Some places are humanitarian enough to offer cups of soup for under five, but rarely do they offer bowls. It must be the inherent friendliness, hospitality, generosity, and selflessness, the basis of Tibetan etiquette, that makes the Himalayan offer heaping bowls of fragrant Kwati (eight bean soup) and Aloo-Tama with the captivating allure of pickled bamboo shoots, for just $4.95. Plus, you can even have it your way by choosing your spiciness level.
Slice, Hello Pizza, $4.50 and under
New Yorkers consider one- and two-dollar slices their birthright. Big floppy slices, cheap, hot and good are the perfect on-the-go comestible. While we're kinda big city, yet kinda not, we don't do slice joints all that well. But Hello Pizza does, tucked coquettishly into that neighborhood intersection between Minneapolis, Linden Hills, and Edina. So the next time you're hustling from one zip code to the next, grab the most authentic East Coast slice we've found around here.
Phyllo Pies, Shish, 3 for $3.95 or 4 for $4.95
Call them what you want— spanakopita, phyllo pie, spinach pie — these buttery and flaky pastries are filling enough for a simple meal and decadent enough to be a a treat. Why not make it both? Shish offers them filled with cheese or spinach, or else have two of each flavor for $4.95.
The entire appetizer and banh mi list, I Heart Pho, $5 and under
If you are a Minnesotan unfamiliar with the life-giving properties of always cheap, always delicious Vietnamese cooking, then we mourn for you. But you're not unfamiliar, we just know it. You're savvy! Savvy enough to know that St. Paul's Payne-Phalen neighborhood now has a standup Pho joint— barebones and simple, yes, with daytime hours only. But they advertise that they don't use MSG (which is important, depending on how you feel about MSG and some people feel very passionately indeed). Eggrolls, spring rolls, wings, and the entire banh mi list all fall under $5.
Fries with Ketchup, Saint Dinette, $5
We've got a soft spot for these because they're crinkle cut, the way we had them as a kid, poured onto a baking sheet from an Ore Ida bag. They serve them with Heinz ketchup, the only straight-faced way to do things, and present them regally in a little silver pot.
Chachu, Ramen Kazama, $4.50
Part of the frenzy around Ramen Kazama is the perfect harmony of quality food in a fast casual setting. Exquisite, soulful cooking rings in under $15; it's quick, but always made with care. Bring about $12 for the ramen (these bowls are worth every dime) but for less than $5 you can have a small bowl of chachu pork (sugar, sake and dark soy sauce braised pork) served over rice with pickled ginger and a boiled egg. It's a very special dish, and quite nourishing. For the price, it's crazy.
Beef Tacos, Iron Door Pub, $5
There are tacos and then there are tacos. There are little corn tortillas filled with barbacoa and al pastor and tinga and other things to ply with onions and cilantro and salsas and we love them. But there's another kind of taco— the gringo taco that comes one way only: with beef and a crunchy shell and cheese and lettuce. It's a neanderthal-esque, delicious way to put down a base for beer, booze, and perhaps more booze and more beer.
The Value Menu at Breaking Bread, $5 and under
While dining out is often fancier than what you can slap together at home, it needn't be. And sometimes you just don't want it to be. You want to outsource it, yeah, but you also want to recognize it. Enter Breaking Bread, which is in the business of feeding people who are hungry. Only got a few bucks? Only got a couple? They got you. Grilled cheese, soups, tuna melts, cornbread and salads all fall in the $2 to $5 sweet spot.
A loaf of Injera Bread, Shega Foods, under $5
Unless you're a family of five, it's all but impossible to eat a loaf of injera in a week. It's delicious, intensely nutritious (it's calcium, fiber and iron-rich, fermented, and even gluten-free) and its gut-expanding qualities are the stuff of legend. If you can, spend a few bucks more on the knee-buckling beef tibs or myriad other stews and slaws available at this bright and friendly grab-and-go market.
Hush Puppies, Butter Beans, Black Eyed Peas, Carolina Gold Rice and Butter, Collard Greens, Biscuits and Sorghum Butter, Slaw, Hoppin' John, and House Pickles, Revival, $4.50 and under
We've often said that side dishes do not a meal make, but soul food is exempt from that missive. This cuisine is all about using what you've got, the whole of it designed to be cheap and filling. And wouldn't you know it? It's turned out to be one of the world's most beloved food traditions. What you're tasting is ingenuity. Revival is a place for all the people, all the time— just watch for the crush of bodies in the vestibule night after night. While it's not cheap, it is a value place, which is of course what's so appealing about it. You won't get their already classic fried chicken for $5 (though a two-piece is just $8!) but the place is a veritable heaven for vegetarians on a budget.
You got a 20th dish under $5? Tell us all about it in the comments section.