For Cheap Eats Week, each Eater Boston staff member set out to spend $10 on a day of dining in the Boston area. Here's what we ate. (The fine print: beverages like water, tea, and coffee were allowed to be consumed at home or bought without contributing to the tally. Tax and tip not included.)
Katie Chudy: Armed with a $10 bill, an appetite, and a goal of feeding one person in the greater Boston area for one day, I start the day out early at Iggy's Bread in Cambridge. Iggy's, which supplies a variety of restaurants and grocers in town with fresh-baked bread, also has a cafe in its massive bakery. It's quaint without much room for settling in and staying for a while, but that's okay.
There's bread galore in all shapes and sizes from traditional baguettes, rolls, and breads to more advanced and eye-catching giant rounds of breads, specialty focaccia, and assorted pastries. They also have fresh bagels in a variety of flavors, ranging from plain to raisin studded. I decide to start the day with a sesame bagel ($0.85) and a individual package of chive cream cheese ($0.50), bringing the breakfast total to $1.35. The's a steady stream of people coming in and out, purchasing their baked goods and coffee as my bagel gets the proper cream cheese schmear. The bagel is great, chewy in all the right ways and nutty from the sesame seeds.
A couple hours later, at El Amigo in Waltham, I pull up a seat at an old table decorated only with a single brightly colored plastic salt shaker. I order two tacos, one chorizo and one carnitas, at $2 each. While I'm waiting, a plastic basket full of warm tortilla chips and salsa are placed on the table. It's the lunch rush, and the place is busy. There's only a handful of tables in this small restaurant, and all of them are full. The door opens regularly as customers come in to pick up their to-go orders.
I don't have to wait long before the two tacos make their way to the table. Garnished simply with a dusting of chopped onions, fresh cilantro, and a lime wedge, the tacos are delicately folded and stuffed with meat. The spicy flavors run deep and the squeeze of the lime brings a refreshing brightness to the mix. Lunch is a satisfying success.
Later that night, it appears that I'm not the only one who thinks dinner at Armando's (home of one of the most reliable cheap slices in town) in Cambridge's Huron Village is a good idea. The wait for two slices is about 15 minutes, so I wait it out in one of the old bench seats. The line is long and continuous. Mike, Armando's grandson, is hustling to keep it up. He's accommodating, polite, and friendly. The place looks exactly how you'd want a pizza place to look. Kids' little league plaques line the wood-paneled walls, and a handful of brightly colored, sloping benches surround the tables that line the walls. Behind me, a couple is sharing a large pie and swooning over it. At the end the meal, the guy walks up, shakes Mike's hand, and enthusiastically exclaims, "Perfect as always!"
My two slices, one plain cheese ($2) and one Sicilian piece ($2.50), are ready. Starting with the cheese slice, the dough is impossibly thin, and it looks soupy, but somehow, there's a great, crackly crunch. The tomato sauce is sweet in the best way possible, and the cheese has a great, fresh flavor. The Sicilian piece, while still having the same components, is a completely different animal. The cheese is crusted over and crunchy, and the thick dough almost resembles a sourdough.
With 15 cents left in my pocket and a full stomach, the mission was complete. I fed myself for a day, comfortably, for less than $10. Turns out, it can be done.
Jacqueline Cain: My $10 day starts the way many of my days do, with pao de queijo (cheese bread) from Fortissimo Coffeehouse in Union Square. This inviting, cheap breakfast and lunch spot shares its WiFi password with a $5 purchase, so I will often throw a couple $1.50 pao de queijo on a tab with my latte when I’m not in the mood for something bigger.
On this day, though, I save money by making coffee at home, and I start the day with only one cheese bread. (I also go home to use my WiFi; don’t worry.) The fist-sized bread is larger than the pao de quejio I often pick up three for $1 at my neighborhood Brazilian market (or sometimes, two for $1, depending on how hefty the cheese bread is that day). It’s a salty, chewy delight, and on this morning, it's especially warm and fresh. Surprising myself, I'm not hungry until lunchtime.
The day I choose for my $10 challenge gets busier as it goes on and will be spent largely in my car, so my plan is to walk into Harvard Square to pick up a hearty $5 small lamb gyro plate from the Chicken and Rice Guys truck and save it for dinner. Then, I’ll head across the square to Felipe’s for a delicious $3 pork tamale for lunch. Boom, not even $10, and not even all carbs. (Mostly carbs, though.)
When I get to Harvard Square, I find myself accidentally reveling; I should remember that that can happen at Harvard at any time of the year. It's the first Cambridge Open Market of the season, and the Chicken and Rice Guys’ line is two dozen deep. I haven’t moved up at all after two songs by the electric guitar-playing folk singer set up on the giant chess board in the University Plaza, so I drop a dollar in her basket (that does not count toward my $10 day) and leave. Like I said, this day is getting busier.
Luckily, my lunch plan is actually the tamale, so I head across the bustling square and put myself in that line. It's also busy at lunchtime, but the efficient staff move us right along. Ordering just the pork tamale garners "Just this?" or "Are you sure?" from most every employee as you head toward the register. True, it is not the heartiest thing coming off the line, but the intended side dish does just fine for a lunch portion. Accompanied by a generous scoop of pico de gallo and a dollop of sour cream, it is flavorful and light, with the starchy masa and just enough carnitas filling me up before I get a deli sandwich on the road. The deli sandwich puts me over $10, alas.
I attempt my $5 gyro plate plan again on another day, this time finding the truck at an office complex where one of my regular dining companions works. When I find CNR Guys just after 1 p.m., they are out of food! I should have gone earlier. Foiled again. The Tastes of Anatolia truck is set up as well, so I try their lentil kofte. Three tubes of legumes and spices come with the order, as well as a well-dressed salad of greens and shredded carrots. It's a delightful light lunch for only $3.
Now I wish I’d had a second cheese bread.
Rachel Leah Blumenthal: I start out the day with a dumb plan in mind — get a humongous breakfast at Neighborhood, a Somerville landmark in Union Square, for around the full $10, take part of it home, and eat leftovers/nap the rest of the day. Neighborhood's known for its huge, cheap portions of food — and more importantly, its legendary cream of wheat, the "appetizer" for every single meal. (Or you can order fruit instead, but don't bother. The cream of wheat is essential.) Each meal also comes with unlimited coffee, tea, or hot chocolate; a tiny cup of orange juice; and a plate of bread and pastries for the table. Plus, while you're waiting in line (which you will if you go after 9:30 or so), you can have coffee — and there are often free pastries available as well.
The problem is that my memory is flawed. It's been about a year since I've been to Neighborhood, even though it's right down the street, and I don't bother to do menu research before this trip. The ultra-giant portions I'm remembering are the special breakfasts, which all run $14 and tend to include some kind of pancake or French toast or waffle, plus a ridiculous combination of items like meats, eggs, and toast, plus the cream of wheat (or fruit), bread plate for the table, and the beverages. Those specials are truly two meals in one. Or even three or four, depending on your appetite.
I arrive and have to come up with a new plan, so I get the cheapest full breakfast available — three eggs with toast and homefries, $4.99. With the cream of wheat (the best single item of food in Somerville, in my opinion), the infinite hot chocolate that I should have ordered (but it's so hot out), and the bread plate for the table, I could probably still stretch this to a couple meals, but the idea of reheated eggs and toast doesn't excite me, so I scrap the leftovers plan and just eat as much as I can at breakfast. It's around 9:30 a.m., and I end up lasting until around 2:30 before I need lunch.
Alternately, I could have gone across the street to Union Square Donuts and spent $2.75 on a cake doughnut, and that probably would have carried me to mid-afternoon as well, with more money to spare for lunch and dinner.
Lunch is an acceptable $1.50 slice of cheese pizza from a no-frills pizzeria/convenience store a very short walk from home, Highland Pizza. It's my first time getting pizza here, and it probably won't be my last thanks to the cost and proximity. It's a fairly sizable slice, so it keeps me going for a while.
Dinner, by necessity, is going to have to be after 10 p.m. or so and in the Cambridge/Somerville area due to my fiance's work schedule, so I brainstorm a few cheap, late-night, nearby options for the remaining $3.50 in my pocket, places where he'll be able to get a full meal while I get some kind of filling snack:
- Chips and salsa at the new Lone Star Taco Bar in East Cambridge ($3)
- A griddled dog at Trina's Starlite Lounge ($3)
- An order of fries at Highland Kitchen ($3)
- A fish taco at Atwood's ($3)
- A half-pizza at A4, half-priced after 11 p.m. ($3 for half of a margherita, normally $12 for a full pie)
- A slider at Atwood's ($2.50)
- A kiddie cup at Gracie's Ice Cream ($2.75), although we probably can't make it there before closing and this doesn't really get him a full meal either. I guess I just really want ice cream right now.
The griddled dog at Trina's is the most like a full meal of all the options — I don't really want to sit at Highland Kitchen with an order of fries and nothing else, for example, and I already had pizza today, although I can almost always be convinced to go to A4 — but Joel's feeling Lone Star. We've been there twice already since it opened a couple weeks ago, and we love it.
I fail. A single taco will put me just $.50 over budget, and I really want a taco. How can I sit at Lone Star Taco Bar without a taco? I order the beef barbacoa. And then I fail harder, because I "accidentally" order a second taco. And a fancy beer. I maintain that I could have been satisfied, hunger-wise, with the single taco, ringing in at the slightly over-budget $10.50, but when tacos are involved, I'm weak, and breakfast was something like 14 hours ago, practically a different day, right?
Had I had time to get out of my neighborhood, Sullivan's on Castle Island would have been a no-brainer for one meal of the $10 day — a hot dog for $1.90 and maybe some fries for $2.10. I would have also enjoyed spending a few bucks on pastries in Chinatown.
How would you dine for a day in the Boston area with $10 in your pocket? Comment below with your thoughts — or better yet, give it a try and head over to the Eater Boston forum to share your experience, including photos. Find some helpful hints — like where to get 10-cent wings — in our daily dining deals map collection.