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. What's more, they've opened a commodious outdoor dining space with tables and umbrellas, so you can enjoy your fare al fresco.
Bucharest Grill inside the Park Bar, 2040 Park Ave. (enter off Elizabeth), Detroit; 313-965-3111: Bucharest Grill is 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.
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 $3.75, $4.75 with sour cream and guac, or $7.25 for a big, two-tortilla burrito with the trimmings. And it's that simple. Add $2.25 to these base prices for chicken or roasted veggies, $2.75 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 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.
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.
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 weekend buffet is a fantastic deal.
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.
Good Girls go to Paris 15 E. Kirby St., Detroit; 313-964-2023: The traditional French pancake gets an American treatment here. Each crêpe takes about two minutes or less, from first careful pouring to the moment it's handed to the customer. Many are savory, but for sweet crêpes, which are the majority, customers like the "Fay," similar to a nonalcoholic Bananas Foster, plus pecans. Feel free to call ahead for take-out orders. Call for reservations if your party is of six or more. One dollar off orders with a Detroit Film Theatre ticket stub, or with a student ID. Serves 50 different crêpes available, with a full expresso bar and Intelligentsia coffee. Open 9 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 9 a.m.-10 p.m. Saturday and 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Sundays.
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 hummus, 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.
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: 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 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.
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. 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. 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 some of their choices.
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. 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; 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!
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. 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, on Wayne State campus.
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.
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.
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.
Woodbridge Pub 5169 Trumbull St., Detroit; 313-833-2701: Woodbridge's new seasonal menu may look pricey, but they still trade in their classics, especially their burgers. For meat, order 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 it. 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. Open from 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. daily.
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