It’s hard to resist eating out for every meal in a town like Charlottesville, but ain’t nobody got money for that. So we cooked up a list of our favorite cheap eats—the expected ($3 dumplings at Marco & Luca, obviously) to the not-so-expected (read: grit bowl). They run the cuisine gamut, from Asian to Mexican to classic American, but they all have two things in common: They’re good enough for lunch or dinner and all under $10. We’re not saying you should eat out for every meal, but—oh, who are we kidding? With these kind of choices (and prices), of course you should.
With its convenient Corner location and daily specials, Thai and Vietnamese fusion spot Lemongrass has a strong following for its inexpensive lunch. But the dinner menu is capable of wowing without wearing out the wallet as well.
For just $10, the mango tofu is both authentic and affordable, featuring firm, steamed tofu, fresh ripe mango cubes, carrots and bell peppers atop imported Thai jasmine rice (brown rice is available on request) and doused in mango sauce. The sweetness of the mango plays perfectly with a hint of Asian spice, and the addition of fresh mango transforms the mouthfeel of the dish, making it a well-rounded meal. $10
You can turn your mango tofu into mango chicken for $1 more, but with the big flavors going on here, it’s not necessary. Stick with the plant-based protein in this naturally gluten-free delight, and keep your morals and your money right.
104 14th St. NW #6 244-8424
Use your noodle
It’s fresh, it’s cheap, and as far as quick-service ethnic food goes, it’s pretty authentic. Entrées on the Zzaam! Fresh Korean Grill menu include a noodle bowl, salad bowl, rice bowl, burrito and tacos, each of which are $6.95 (the bowls come in a smaller size for $4.49), and come with the protein of your choice and all the toppings you want.
We recommend the bibimbap, a classic Korean mixed rice dish. Beef and a fried egg are the traditional proteins, but there’s a whole selection of meats (and tofu) to choose from if those aren’t your jam. Can’t decide? Try half bulgogi (grilled marinated beef) and half dak (grilled marinated chicken), and you can never go wrong with the fried egg.
A bibimbap bowl with meat and toppings (which include roasted, pickled and fresh veggies) is pretty flavorful in and of itself, so you may not need to pour anything on top. The ginger and creamy chili sauces are perfection, though, so go ahead and get a container of each on the side. $4.49-6.95
Zzaam! Fresh Korean Grill
1232 Emmet St. N, 284-8980
One problem we find with nachos (maybe nacho problem, but definitely our problem) is that often the bottom layer, after all the good stuff, is just soggy chips and cold crumbs. Enter the nachos at The Bebedero. Black beans, longaniza (a Spanish sausage similar to chorizo), house-pickled hot peppers and cheese sauce layer with salty tortilla chips. The dish isn’t baked, so they stay extra crispy. $10
Insider tip: There’s a veggie option available that, trust, is no less delicious.
313 Second St. SE, 234-3763
Don’t worry—you won’t find any ricotta or marinara in this Japanese lasagna. Under the “special roll” category, it’s a California roll (imitation crab meat, cucumber and avocado), served with all six pieces snuggled up together to resemble a sort of loaf (or a serving of lasagna, if you will), topped with creamy, spicy red sauce and then baked.
At the end of the day, it’s still a classic California roll, but the time in the oven does add another layer of flavor. A few pieces of rice may be slightly charred, giving the whole thing a smokey flavor, and there’s enough sauce to cover the entire top (giving it more of a lasagna-esque appearance). And at only $8, it frees up your dinner budget for a bottle of sake. $8
12 Elliewood Ave., 328-2741
Fill ’em up or keep ’em simple—sandwiches are a no-brainer for your midday meal.
A crusty baguette forms the trough for salami, prosciutto and Rock Barn capicola ham piled with peppers, onions and lettuce, then drizzled with oil and vinegar. $10
2206 Ivy Rd., 202-1308
This veggie-friendly sub smells almost as delicious as it tastes—grilled peppers and onions unite with slices of Twin Oaks tofu, cheddar, black olives and lettuce. $7.99
512 E. Main St., Downtown Mall, 984-1862
Hearty toasted focaccia and sliced cucumber play the perfect foils to Feast!’s legendary pimento cheese. $7
416 W. Main St., 244-7800
Take It Away
A tried-and-true option by all accounts, any combo at Take It Away—corned beef and havarti? Hummus and provolone? Smoked turkey and sprouts?—is the perfect one. Just don’t skip the house dressing! $4.75+
115 Elliewood Ave., 295-1899
Grilled ham and cheese
Can’t argue with a classic (sandwich or ambience), and Chaps has it, from the ’50s soda fountain vibe to the deliciously greasy-crispy bread. $6.85
223 E. Main St., 977-4139
Cemita de pollo (above)
Order this traditional Mexican sandwich—with avocado, Oaxaca cheese and onions on a brioche-like bread—with the 29 North spot’s pulled rotisserie chicken. $9.95
1871 Seminole Trail, 964-1052
Dog days of summer
Watch for the roadside sandwich boards off Interstate 64 in Crozet for Sam’s Hot Dog Stand: patio seating! Combo deals! Hand-dipped ice cream! They’re pointing you in the right direction. On a weekday afternoon, the bright red, green and white restaurant is quiet, but the food is fresh and the cook will personally check to make sure you’re enjoying your meal. If you’re doing it right, you’ve ordered one of two things: a Sammy burger (a sloppy Joe-style burger with a sweet and tangy special sauce) or the two-dog combo (two all-beef hot dogs on warmed buns, a generous portion of hot, seasoned crinkle-cut fries and a soda for $7.74). Choose from up to 10 different toppings free of charge, or order it with “The Works” for every topping on the menu.
Insider tip: It’s not on the menu (Sam’s Hot Dog Stand hack!), but order an old-fashioned root beer float and the cook will make you one with Hershey’s ice cream. $7.74
Sam’s Hot Dog Stand
5786 Three Notched Rd. (Crozet)
Pick your own
Fifteen years in the biz, Sticks is clearly doing something right, and it’s a classic choice for cheap eats. Go with a platter: one kebob over basmatic rice and grilled flatbread, with a sauce and a side. It’s the kind of place where everyone has their favorite combo, but if you need help choosing, chicken is a no-brainer. Put it with cilantro-lime sauce and cucumber, tomato and red onion salad on the side.
Insider tip: An extra kebob only puts you 50 cents over your $10 budget. Treat yourself. $8.50
Sticks Kebob Shop
917 Preston Ave., 295-5262; 1820 Abbey Rd., 295-5212
Ordering ramen is a commitment. The Japanese (well, originally Chinese) noodle soup is usually served in a small vat, topped with at least half a dozen add-ons. It’s delicious, so the giant bowl isn’t hard to slurp down, but it’s also filling and not always cheap.
But at Mican, for only $6.50 you can order a petite ramen bowl, which is exactly what it sounds like—noodle soup with the broth and protein of your choice plus toppings, in a much smaller portion. Perfect for a light lunch. And if that’s not quite enough, consider also ordering a fried avocado kebab—yep, a skewered, panko-crusted avocado quarter for only $2. It’s crispy and creamy at the same time, and before tax and tip the whole meal is less than 10 bucks. $6.50
112 W. Main St. #6, Downtown Mall, 977-0167
Get your grits
When Café Cubano became Grit Coffee in late 2014, many of its loyal followers mourned menu favorites (see ya, Rocco Z; we miss you, Nisqually). But when one door closes, somewhere there opens a window. And, in the case of Grit, that window is the grit bowl. Eaten for breakfast, lunch or dinner, the grit bowl boasts a creamy pile of white stone-ground grits topped with ingredients either sweet or savory. Choose The Student ($6), with brown sugar, house granola and maple syrup (and prepare for
a sugar buzz) or The Grad ($7.75), with bacon, cheddar and a fried egg. It’s The Townie, though, uniting fresh chorizo, black beans, salsa fresca and bourbon- pickled jalapeños that gets our vote.
Insider tip: Whatever you order, get a cold-brew coffee with it. It’s the best in town. $6-7.75
112 W. Main St., Downtown Mall, 971-8743; 1110 Old Trail Dr. (Crozet), 205-4253; 19 Elliewood Ave., 293-4412
Top it off
By the slice or the whole darn thing, pizza is a staple for lunch-hounds on the go.
For $9, try this simple pie of marinara, garlic, oregano, sea salt and olive oil. $9
205 Monticello Rd., 244-3226
Slice of pepperoni
A classic slice big enough for two (or one, if you’re really hungry). $5
913 W. Main St., 245-4007
Tortellini and pesto
A crisp crust supports a smattering of pesto topped with tri-color cheese tortellini. $4
3440 Seminole Trail, 973-7280; 1880 Abbey Rd., 293-6788; 118 W. Main St., Downtown Mall, 977-9688
Mona Lisa Pasta
With their powers combined, mozzarella, provolone, asiago and gorgonzola top our favorite at this pasta shop. $2.79
921 Preston Ave., 295-2494
Avocado and feta
A fully loaded slice with fresh diced avocado, chopped tomatoes and feta cheese. $3.95
310 E. Main St., Downtown Mall, 977-0162
Beer and sausage go so well together that Josh Hunt launched a restaurant pretty much dedicated to the pairing. But you needn’t go to his German-style Kardinal Hall for Hunt’s delicious dog deal. That’s at Beer Run, the first brew temple he opened with his stepbrother, John Woodriff, back in 2007.
“We sell a ton of those hot dogs,” Hunt says. “It’s a great deal, but it’s not cheap stuff.”
The “stuff” is a 100 percent organic frankfurter, homemade vinegar coleslaw and lager mustard on a hearty pretzel roll. For the mustard, chef Hernan Franco starts with a French-style dijon and adds horseradish and whatever lager Beer Run might have among its 17 rotating taps. Along with the slaw of cabbage, carrots, white vinegar, black peppercorns, crushed red pepper, salt and sugar, it’s the perfect counterpoint to the unctuous sausage. Oh and the roll? Imported from Germany.
Add a side—go for the seasoned potato wedges and dunk ’em hard into the smoky paprika mayo—for just $2 more. For meat rejecters, Beer Run offers a veggie dog with the same tasty toppings at the same price. $4.50
156 Carlton Rd. #203, 984-2337