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Cheap eats
Good food doesn't have to be accompanied by a big price tag. We've searched high and low to provide 50 options — from dive bars to upscale eateries — where patrons can indulge for $10 or less.

By Maureen DiVirgilio
Photography by Michael Buck

Good food may be a luxury for the taste buds, but it doesn’t always have to be accompanied by an expensive price tag. For this summer’s Cheap Eats guide, we’ve searched high and low to provide you with 50 different options in Greater Grand Rapids — from dive bars to upscale eateries — where the savvy patron can indulge in a unique culinary experience for just $10 or less.

Downtown
SpeakEZ Lounge, 600 Monroe Ave. NW
The mantra here is “Old school without
pretense,” a perfect fit for the classy but laid-back vibe of the SpeakEZ, which offers live entertainment — including a Sunday night jazz series, Open Mic on Mondays, and various other events each month — plus artisanal cocktails and an eclectic menu. During lunch, patrons can enjoy SpeakEZ’s higher-end fare on a budget with a $7.50 sandwich-and-soup combo. Try the Smoked Chicken and Asparagus sandwich paired with the homemade French Onion Soup.

Flanagan’s Irish Pub, 139 Pearl St. NW
Every downtown needs a rowdy Irish bar, and Flanagan’s provides just that. In the daytime hours, it’s a great low-key lunch and dinner spot. Food and drink specials are featured each day for those who want to have a good time on a short budgetary leash. A favorite menu item: the Reuben Bites ($4.95). Picture a Reuben sandwich morphed into the crunchy form of a spring roll with Thousand Island dressing to dip it in.

Rockwell/Republic, 45 S. Division Ave.
For those with a taste for the finer things but suffering from shallow pocket syndrome, don’t worry: You can enjoy fine cuisine for less during happy hours: 3-6 p.m. Mon.-Fri., and noon-5 p.m. Sat. and Sun. Rockwell/Republic offers an array of house-made sushi rolls — from the Spicy California to the more adventurous Sweet Potato Tempura — and plates to share, such as Spinach Dip or Potstickers, for $5. Insider tip: Come on Thursdays for half off the extensive martini menu.

Ritz Koney, 64 Ionia Ave. SW
The allure of Ritz Koney? A traditional Coney Island-style menu in an urban bar setting. Food specials run all week, from $1 coneys on Monday to kids-eat-free Saturdays (with the purchase of an adult meal). Stop in Wednesday for two brats plus a side for $6.99; retro beers are only $1.25 that day, so you can really put on the Ritz for less.

Stella’s, 53 Commerce Ave. SW
Stella’s stuffed burgers have won national recognition, and on Thursdays from 6-11 p.m., patrons can see why for only half the price. The burgers, which usually run from $10-$11 and come with a side of Stella’s now-iconic Chronic Fries, range from the spicy Hot Stuff Burger to the vegetarian-friendly Hippy Stuffed Black Bean and Lentil Burger.

Gardella’s, 11 Ionia Ave. SW
Half-off Wednesdays are the day to save some bucks at Gardella’s, with 50 percent off all drinks and a $4 food menu (offerings change weekly; check the Facebook page for updates). On Thursdays, you can stop in from 4-11 p.m. for $5 appetizers. Gardella’s three-story location in the heart of the downtown entertainment district makes it a perfect place for a quick after-work snack or a pre-event bite.

Taqueria San Jose, 1338 S. Division Ave.
Taqueria San Jose is one of the most universally well-liked Mexican joints among those who have made the pilgrimage. Depending on the time of day, seating arrangements can be tight, so plan ahead or order take-out. The tacos range from under $2-$3. The al pastor tacos (marinated pork) are phenomenal. For $6-$7, try one of the taqueria’s sizeable burritos — devotees swear by the birria (goat meat) burrito.

Menna’s, 44 Ionia Ave. SW
The famed college-town entity that is Menna’s has made its way to Grand Rapids. Known for its gigantic wraps (think burritos) but with decidedly non-traditional ingredients, Menna’s also keeps late hours. The eatery is open until 4 a.m. and will deliver for a charge of 50 cents or less per item. Try the Chik’n Philly Dub (chicken, Swiss, onion, green pepper, mushroom and Sweet Baby Ray’s BBQ) for $6.50.

East Beltline & Knapp
Twisted Rooster, 1600 East Beltline Ave. NE
During happy hour (3-6 p.m. M-F), Twisted Rooster offers $4 appetizers. Try the BBQ Chicken and Gouda Quesadilla. A truly “twisted” take on the ’dilla, it involves savory BBQ chicken, grilled bits of pineapple, caramelized onions, grilled corn, and, of course, gouda (normally $8.99). With $2 well drinks and $3 drafts, you could grab a drink — or two — and still be under the $10 mark.

Ming Ten, 2090 Celebration Drive NE
Nestled in the Knapp’s Corner shopping area, the offerings at this Chinese-Japanese buffet vary but always include fresh sushi, as well as grilled and barbecued meats and vegetables, accompanied by steaming rice, dumplings and soups. The lunch buffet (11 a.m.-3 p.m.) is $7.99, and the dinner buffet is only a few dollars more at $10.99. Once you’ve had your fill, try to find room for the complimentary dessert — American fare, including BYO sundaes.

 

Greek God dish at Brandywine

Uptown/Eastown/Wealthy
Brandywine, 1345 Lake Drive SE
Expect a laissez-faire attitude from the staff at this small and vibrant spot — combined with a perfectly executed breakfast. Brandywine keeps most breakfast offerings in the single-digit price range, but the Really Good Deal is the junior-portioned omelettes (just the right amount). Try the Greek God: spinach, mushrooms, tomato, black olives and feta cheese, served with toast ($5.39).

Wealthy Street Station, 1157 Wealthy St. SE
Wealthy Street Station has long been one of the most underrated eateries in GR. With new proprietor Joe Welniak taking the reins, plans to expand the scope of this quirky Polish-Mexican-American joint may soon put it in the spotlight. While the burgers garner a lot of attention — and rightly so — the Polish menu should not be ignored. Try the Polish Dinner ($7.99) for a veritable smorgasbord: cabbage roll, sauerkraut, pierogies, kielbasa, a cold side and buttered rye bread.

Brick Road Pizza Co., 1017 Wealthy St. SE
Brick Road is known for its multi-dimensional pizza menu. In addition to various
types of crusts and a long list of toppings, the kitchen also creates pies for vegetarians,
vegans and those who live a gluten-free lifestyle. The lunch buffet (11:30 a.m.-2 p.m.,
Tue.-Fri.) is comprehensive, with pizza — obviously — but also breads, salads and soups. For $8.25, you can carb-load on the artisan fare to your heart’s content and not feel
that guilty afterward.

Erb Thai, 950 Wealthy St. SE
Erb Thai’s portions are plentiful, spicy (don’t be a hero: if you’re nervous, choose the mild), attractively plated — and all under $10. Try the Bai Gra Praow (Basil Rice), one of the house specialties: bell peppers, onions and Thai sweet basil leaves sauteed in a brown sauce with your choice of meat for $7.50. There are vegan-friendly and gluten-free options, too. Also cool: You can take your food across the street with you to the Meanwhile.

The Green Well, 924 Cherry St. SE
Though always delicious, this may not be the first place you think of when you want to save a buck. But Monday nights, Green Well brings the price point down a couple notches for the Schwag ‘n’ Cheese special: from 4-10 p.m., $9.99 gets you the Gourmet Grilled Cheese (the Superman of grilled cheese), plus Great Lakes Kettle Chips and your choice of “schwag” beer in a can.

Gaia Cafe, 209 Diamond Ave. SE
Though many Grand Rapids restaurants have made an effort to offer vegetarian and vegan-friendly options, Gaia remains one of the few completely vegetarian spots in town. Usually bustling during breakfast and lunch, Gaia offers accommodating service, daily specials, and a self-service coffee bar with fair trade coffee. It’s easy to eat for under $10 here: Try the Mex Brex: black beans, scrambled eggs, cheese, romaine, tomatoes, sour cream and scallions, served with house-made salsa and flour or corn tortilla ($6.75).

Little Africa, 956 E. Fulton St.
Little Africa not only offers Ethiopian, Eritrean and other types of African cuisine unique to the area, it’s also vegan-friendly — and cheap. Try any one of the dishes served with injera, a traditional Ethiopian flatbread, for only $5.50. Another good deal: Gather a friend or two and get the group rate: for $9 per person, patrons are served a delicious array of entrees to sample and share.

Yesterdog, 1505 Wealthy St. SE
One of Grand Rapids’ most storied eateries, Yesterdog has been making award-winning hot dogs for decades and has perfected the art of the dog. Six styles of hot dogs, all $2.70 or less, a retro feel created from ’30s and ’40s decor, and a deliciously bad attitude make Yesterdog the ideal place for a quick, cheap meal. Go all out and order an Ultradog or two (chili, cheese, onion, pickle, ketchup, mustard, $2.50), but don’t forget cash — they don’t take credit cards.

Rinaldi’s Pizza, 966 E. Fulton St.
Conveniently located at Diamond and Fulton, swing into Rinaldi’s for fast, cheap pie on the go. Rinaldi’s offers $2 slices of pizza, plus a cookie and fountain beverage for under $6. For deals on full-sized pizzas and Rinaldi’s subs and deli creations, check online or in-store for coupons and discounts.

GoJo Ethiopian Cuisine and Deli, 421 Norwood Ave. SE
The atmosphere is a crucial part of what GoJo offers: The cozy environment makes dining comfortable for all patrons, regardless of their familiarity with Ethiopian cuisine. You’re likely to be waited on by the owner or one of the family, who are more than happy to explain the menu offerings to guests. Most choices are well under $10. The best bet is the buffet — just make sure you call ahead, since hours for this tiny gem vary.

The Winchester, 648 Wealthy St. SE
Mondays at The Winchester are burger nights: For $8, you can get a house-ground, all-natural beef burger, a generous heaping of hand-cut fries, and an “old man can” (classics like Stroh’s, Black Label and Hamm’s). Available are burger mainstays — Olive, Bacon Mushroom Swiss and the Classic — as well as more eclectic options that change each week. For an addition $2, you can bypass the lawnmower beer and upgrade to a craft draft — a deal, since The Winchester is known for being up on its beer game.


Try the “Generous but never too sloppy” Brooklyn Reuben at Schnitz Deli.

Schnitz Deli, 1315 E. Fulton St.
Schnitz sandwiches are everything a deli sandwich should be: large, lots of savory meat, freshly baked bread, tasty cheese, toppings that are generous but never too sloppy — and all under $10, ranging from $6.50-$8.25 (many are available as half-sandwiches, too). There are multiple Reubens and a selection of other storied favorites — or, you can craft your own. The friendly service and chattering crowd create a great high-energy environment. If it’s too much for you, take your sandwich next door to Common Ground Coffee Shop, grab a coffee, and relish the peace.

North Side
China City, 1140 Monroe Ave. NW
All the “special combination plates” — such classic Chinese-American dishes as Kung Po Chicken, General Tso’s, Lo Mein — are $6.95 for a generous portion, and come with pork-fried rice and an egg roll. Fast, dependable and always delicious.

 

Try the No Pasta Lasagna at Graydon’s Crossing on
Mondays when healthy, meatless items are half off.

Graydon’s Crossing, 1223 Plainfield Ave. NE
Like its sister pub Derby Station, Graydon’s offers half off healthy, meatless items on Mondays. Try the No Pasta Lasagna: Asiago cheese “crisps” are interspersed with layers of savory veggies and quinoa, then topped with a smoked marinara and balsamic reduction (normally $11, just $5.50 on Mondays).

Rezervoir, 1418 Plainfield Ave. NE
Pizza and beer always make for a perfect pairing, but for a classy duo on a truly low budget, drop into Rezervoir on Mondays — only $5 for a two-topping pizza, and $3 for a can of craft beer from the well-curated selection of microbrews.

Choo Choo Grill, 1209 Plainfield Ave. NE
Choo Choo Grill is the little red building that could. Grab any of the 1/3-pound burgers for under $5, or try the Red Caboose, a 1/2-pound deluxe cheeseburger that comes with steak fries for $6.49. And if you’re feeling really indulgent? The Chocolate Peanut Butter Malt ($4.19) is kind of famous and it might be your civic duty to try it.

The Cheshire Grill, 2162 Plainfield Ave. NE
In 2013, Cheshire won a Best Neighborhood Restaurant award, bringing some duly-deserved press to this hard-working eatery. Priding themselves on the made-from-scratch menu, the staff also serves breakfast all day. For an inventive take on a breakfast entree, try the Cheshire Breakfast Grin: a split English muffin topped with two sausage patties, two poached eggs and homemade six-cheese sauce, served with American fries for $8.49.

Red Jet Cafe, 1431 Plainfield Ave. NE
Housed inside the former Creston Library, Red Jet’s modern interior, clean lines and high windows may provide one of the best ambiences of any Grand Rapids eatery. From 6-9 p.m. Monday-Thursday, patrons can enjoy a wood-fired pizza (choose two toppings) and a draft beer for $7.99. Red Jet also houses a bar and a selection of espresso beverages, so the options for post-dinner drinks are impressive.

Fat Boy Burgers, 2450 Plainfield Ave. NE
Everything on Fat Boy’s menu is under $10. Established in 1952, the folks at Fat Boy make the sausage and grind the hamburger, which lends that little something extra to the array of meat-laden, diner-style dishes. Get a burger — the classic Fat Boy comes with green olives, cheese, lettuce, tomato and mayo — for $5.49 (tack on fries and a drink for $2 more).

Michigan Street
Farah’s, 710 Michigan St. NE
Arguably the most laid-back establishment in the strip of Michigan Street bars, Farah’s combines a low-maintenance atmosphere with friendly staff and cheap drinks. But the sleeper hit is definitely the food. Really delightful — and cheap — sandwiches, burgers and bar fare are always on tap. On Sundays, go for the 50-cent wings from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. And maybe hit the $3.50 Bloody Mary bar while you’re at it.

Bill’s Family Restaurant, 1235 Michigan St. NE
This is it, folks: Grand Rapids’ ultimate diner. Two waitresses, four rows of booths, a hard-working kitchen and comfort food right off the grill — that’s Bill’s. Not only are most menu items under $10, a sizeable chunk are under $5. Breakfast, lunch and dinner options are available, but Bill’s is probably best-known for breakfast. Try the pancake breakfast ($5.50), including two eggs, two pancakes, and your choice of meat. Suggestion: upgrade to the famous blueberry pancakes.

Birch Lodge, 732 Michigan St. NE
The array of knick-knacks covering Birch’s walls juxtaposed with plenty of TVs for sports-watching and a modern jukebox combine for an ambience that can only be described as “eccentric.” Birch Lodge offers a food special most nights, and the regular menu falls within the $10 range. Noteworthy items include the FREE taco bar noon to 5 p.m. on Sundays, and the Schulers & Cole’s Burger ($7.99), a 1/3 pound burger topped with Win Schulers cheese dip, sandwiched between Cole’s garlic bread. Ask for extra napkins.

Bob’s Sports Bar, 725 Michigan St. NE
It’s dark, it’s small, and its regulars are so regular there’s a chance they sleep on the pool tables when Bob’s isn’t open. It may seem like a prototypical dive bar, but the staff is friendly, the chairs are comfortable, and discerning deal hunters in need of a mid-week pick-me-up can pop in for Weenie Wednesdays: two hot dogs, chips and a beer for $5.

Logan’s Alley, 916 Michigan St. NW
A dive bar that prides itself on its craft beer selection — more than 200 bottles — Logan’s food offerings are likewise diverse and high-quality, including a rotating seasonal menu. The kitchen is open until the bar closes, making this a great destination for night owls. The appetizers and sandwiches are all reasonably priced. Devotees rave about the homemade hummus platter ($5.95), and, of course, Logan’s “world famous” tots: A gigantic platter of tater tots smothered in cheese, bacon and sour cream easily serves two for $8.95.

Grand Coney, 809 Michigan St. NE
Open 24 hours for round-the-clock goodness at reasonable prices, this diner has become a Grand Rapids staple. Some of the best deals involve, of course, the Coney dogs ($2.49-$3.49). You can pick from a range of styles (Detroit vs. Flint) and toppings. While the breakfast offerings are plenty ample, try a pita sandwich: The Country Chicken Pita is a can’t-miss favorite ($7.49), and the Gyro ($6.99) is a great take on a Greek classic.

Nantucket Bakery, 200 Union Ave. NE
Just off Michigan Street on Union, Nantucket is the bakery of choice for Heritage Hill residents as well as those who come from farther afield to purchase the freshly baked breads, cookies and other delicacies. Nantucket also happens to sell generously cut slices of gourmet pizza (with a near-perfect crust, of course) for only $1.

East Grand Rapids
Rose’s on Reed’s Lake, 550 Lakeside Drive SE
Rose’s offers happy hour from 2-6 p.m. every day of the week except Sunday, with appetizers and wood-fired pizzas at 20 percent off. Not all of the choices slide under the $10 mark, but the ones that do are worth it. Try the Breads and Spreads platter: edamame hummus, roasted red pepper hummus, black bean hummus, smoked rainbow trout dip, grilled naan bread and fresh-cut vegetables ($8.20). Drink specials are $2.99 (including sangria), and if the weather is pleasant, you can enjoy it all on a sprawling patio overlooking the lake.

Derby Station, 2237 Wealthy St. SE
Derby is a mainstay in East GR, and arguably the best place to watch a game and kick back with a craft beer. But don’t be fooled by the laid-back vibe: Derby Station takes its beer and dining menus seriously. In addition to higher-end takes on pub food and a dedication to using local food sources, Chef Ryan McClure offers vegetarian and vegan options. On “Meatless Mondays,” this kind of fare is half off. Try the Vegetarian Chorizo Pierogies or the Tilapia Tacos. With 35-plus rotating taps, you can use the dollars you saved to buy yourself a pint of something special.

28Th Street And Southeast Side
Bar Louie, 3191 28th St. SE
A national chain, the Bar Louie in GR is the only one of its kind in the region. On Tuesdays, from 5 p.m. to close (2 a.m.), you can grab a burger for a dollar, and if you want, add plenty of extra fixings for likewise reasonable prices. Bar Louie also features a bangin’ happy hour: $3.25 drafts, $4.25 glasses of wine, and $5.25 hand-crafted martinis — definitely the best place to console yourself after nearby Woodland Mall defeats you. Or to congratulate yourself after you’ve won.

Arnie’s, 3561 28th St. SE
A Grand Rapids staple, Arnie’s has been around longer than most of our grandparents. It has thrived by serving up fresh-cut sandwiches, classic entrees, and, of course, its famous baked goods — free cupcakes come with most meals. After 3 p.m. during the week, Arnie’s offers certain menu items for $5. On Tuesday nights, you can get a half-portion of the classic Scandinavian Shuffle sandwich (thin bread, choice of meat, Danish cheese, cucumber dressing, lettuce, tomato) and a side.

 

Pal’s New Jersey Pot Roast with home-style potatoes, veggies and a mini loaf is a deal at
$8.69.

Pal’s Diner, 6503 28th St. SE
The retro splendor of Pal’s Diner is well set back to one side of the strip mall anchored by the Cascade D&W. The diner, built in New Jersey in 1954 and moved in one piece to Michigan, is recognized as a historical structure. Nowadays, the bright-pink interior and diner-style food is still iconic — try the food-coma-inducing New Jersey Pot Roast: slow-cooked choice English chuck served with home-style potatoes, carrots and another side of choice, plus a home-baked mini-loaf (offered after 4 p.m., $8.69).

Shepard’s Grill and Tavern, 6246 28th St. SE
An incongruous exterior — Shepard’s is located in “that” strip mall with the vibrant yellow awnings — masks an interior that wouldn’t be out of place in Naples — Florida, that is. Relaxed decor, including maritime regalia covering the walls, adds to the charm. The cuisine ranges from nachos and hot dogs to fresh-caught lake perch and bacon-wrapped shrimp. Though the fresh perch is available as a dinner entree, try it as the more budget-friendly sandwich (served with your choice of side) for $9.99.

Cantina Mexican Grill, 2770 East Paris Ave. SE
Affectionately referred to as La Cantina or “The Can” by devotees, this gem on the corner of 28th Street is best known as a dinner and late night spot. But on weekdays until 2 p.m., you can get filling lunch portions of Cantina’s deliciously messy take on Mexican fare. Try the enchiladas option: $6.50 for two enchiladas with your filling of choice, plus Spanish rice and refried beans.

Trailhead Café, 1200 East Paris Ave. SE
Owned by the folks at Grand Rapids Bicycle Co. (located next to Bill and Paul’s Sporthaus), Trailhead Café is a great option for high-quality breakfast and sandwich options made from locally sourced products such as Nantucket Bakery bread and produce from Ingraberg Farms, and national brands like Boar’s Head. For $8.95, you can have half of any sandwich and a serving of one of the housemade soups. Gluten-free and vegetarian options are available, and with some advance notice, Trailhead will create lunches for you and your friends to take on a bike trip.

Westside
Sandy’s Donuts, 2040 Leonard St. NW
Most doughnut shops are relatively inexpensive. But we all know size matters, and Sandy’s delivers huge pastries, many for less than $1. While there are many items to taste, including glazed, cake, cinnamon-fried, long johns and more, go for Sandy’s take on the traditional apple fritter — it doesn’t disappoint..

Maggie’s Kitchen, 615 Bridge St. NW
Long established for its award-winning Mexican cuisine, Maggie’s is good for the soul and for the budget. Everything on the menu is well under $10. Try one of the burritos — all under $5 — like the Barbacoa (beef cheek dressed with onions and cilantro), or mix and match tacos for $2.50 each. Nothing pretentious here, which, in a world of ever-changing food trends, is often a recipe for success.

O’Toole’s, 448 Bridge St. NW
O’Toole’s has some sort of special almost every day. While the $4.75 burger-and-fries deal on Sundays is perhaps the best known, there are also $2 tacos on Tuesday, $4 mac-and-cheese on Wednesdays, $3 flabreads on Thursdays, and half-priced boneless wings on Saturdays (plus drink specials, naturally). While most discounts don’t start until 6 p.m., never fear: O’Toole’s also offers $5 food specials during its two happy hours (4-6 p.m. and 9 p.m.-midnight).

Monarch’s Club & Deli, 646 Stocking Ave. NW
On Sundays, head to the Monarch, which offers a free sloppy joe bar for patrons. The perfect accompaniment for this savory treat? Perhaps a $3 Bloody Mary or $2 PBR. Monarch’s Club, with its dark wood-and-brick interior, is also a comfort deli with plenty of sandwich offerings in the single-digit dollar range — the kielbasa ($4.95) is fresh and locally made. Or try one of the panini, like the Black and Tan (roast beef, corned beef, Swiss cheese, 1,000 island, choice of slaw or kraut, on rye ($7.65).

Westsider Cafe, 1180 Walker Ave. NW
The Westsider is known for its authentic Polish offerings. Though modest, it gets plenty busy for breakfast and lunch. While enjoying the bustling atmosphere, grab a baked pierogi (traditional potato-and-cheese pierogi, baked in sweet and sour tomato sauce, served with choice of sauerkraut or kapusta and rye for $7.25) and a cup of the house favorite: dill pickle soup ($1.75). American-style breakfast and lunch options are also available.

Putt Putt’s, 1148 W. Fulton St.
In a round-up of cheap eats, Putt-Putt’s deserves a shout out. The usual bar menu of fried appetizers — get the pickles, just get them — burgers and sandwiches rounds out the page-long list, with other rotating specials. A few years ago, Putt Putt’s was a concrete building with no windows. Nowadays, an inviting front patio and bright, open interior make it more welcoming, but a tight-knit atmosphere remains. One wall is decorated with photographs of patrons sporting Putt Putt T-shirts all over the planet. Come for a drink, stay for the food and friendly service.GR

 
   
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