College budgets

A shortlist of eateries where you can feed for cheap

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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. Aladdin serves 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 have a commodious outdoor dining space with tables and umbrellas, so you can enjoy your fare al fresco.

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.

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, fettucine Alfredo, and fish and chips! Also has bargain prices for pita wraps, at $4-$6.

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. 

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 20th 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; Earthen Jar's buffet-style eat-by-the-pound cuisine is cheap; most of it's vegan. They have everything from Indian specialties to vegan mac 'n' "cheese" to scrambled tofu. And, in the spirit of keeping it local, the dairy they use comes from legendary Calder's. You get a pound of food (literally — it's weighed by the pound) for less than six bucks, which is great for these times, with the R-word always looming over us.

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.

Frita Batidos 117 W. Washington St., Ann Arbor; 734-761-2882;; $: Chef Eve Aronoff's new casual restaurant serving Cuban fare, serving a frita — "a Cuban burger made from spicy chorizo served with shoestring fries on top in a soft egg bun" — and batidos — "tropical milkshakes made with fresh fruit, crushed ice and a drop of sweetened milk." Sandwiches are around $7-$8.

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. Noted for its 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 the fam will prolly have to spring for it. It's $24 for adults, $12 for children aged 12 and youger; reservations are highly recommended.

Good Girls go to Paris 15 E. Kirby St., Detroit; 313-964-2023; The traditional French pancake gets an American treatment. Each crêpe takes almost four minutes, from first careful pouring to handing to the customer on a paper plate. 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.

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.

Harmonie Garden 4704 Third St., Detroit; 313-638-2345: Not every dish at Harmonie Garden is the most sublime Middle Eastern food ever, but some are outstanding, and the food is certainly tasty and a great value when all aspects are considered: quality, quantity, price, friendly service. One of the more remarkable bargains in this restaurant of bargains is the Sunday buffet, spread out along the bar. It's $9.99 for all you can eat plus coffee.

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 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 less than $5? It's true! And they're not stingy on the meat, serving them up 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. 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 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 $8, 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. 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 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.;; $: 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; 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. 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; 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 St., 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!) 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; 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; 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; 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.

See any inaccuracies in these listings? Let us know. Call 313-202-8043 or e-mail to [email protected]

About The Author

Michael Jackman

Born in 1969 at Mount Carmel hospital in Detroit, Jackman grew up just 100 yards from the Detroit city line in east Dearborn. Jackman has attended New York University, the School of Visual Arts, Northwestern University and Wayne State University, though he never got a degree. He has worked as a bar back, busboy,...
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