Five ways to eat well without breaking the bank

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While it’s true that tough economic times usually have people running to the nearest fast-food joint for a meal, it doesn’t have to be that way. It turns out that there are a variety of fantastic deals out there just waiting to be discovered. Below is your own personal Dining Survival Guide featuring restaurants that offer menu items for under $20. This is, of course, just a short list of a few of my personal favorites. There are many more cheap eats out there waiting for you to discover them. 

So, put down that greasy hamburger or that meatball sub and read on to learn how you can get a great meal at a great price right in your own neighborhood.

1. Mamoun’s 

Best falafel in town? These succulent, moist and authentically-spiced chickpea patties are waiting for you at Mamoun’s in Albany. Visit this little gem of an eatery on lower Washington Avenue for a delicious and authentic Middle Eastern meal. Not only is the food amazing, but the setting is pure charm with its hammered tin ceiling, exposed brick walls and ornate coffee bar. You may not be aware of Mamoun’s authentic deliciousness, but critics have praised it many times, it’s your turn to find out why. 

For a great meal at a great price, order the grape leaves to start ($4.25) and the falafel sandwich platter ($6.95) which comes with homemade hummus and pita chips, and you’ll still have money left over to buy yourself a piece of baklava! Two can even eat for under $20 by sharing an appetizer, like the hummus or baba ghanouj and ordering an eggplant, chicken or lamb kabob pita sandwich. 

Mamoun’s is located at 206 Washinton Avenue near the corner of Lark Street in Albany. Open Monday-Friday 11:30am-3pm and 5pm-10pm. Weekends noon-10pm. For more information call 434.3901 or visit: www.mideasterndining.com/index.html.

2. Bros Tacos

Experience authentic Mexican food at a reasonable price on Ontario Street in Albany. Bros Tacos, a tiny little taco joint just big enough for a counter and a few small tables, boasts using the freshest ingredients from local farms and produce companies, and cheeses which are pure dairy with no processed or oil substitutes. They also make their handmade tortillas daily and feature a variety of freshly made, imaginative salsas like the sweet and tangy pineapple salsa or the very hot, but addictive, habernero papaya salsa. 

My favorite? The grilled fish tacos served with pico de gallo, salsa roja & Bros Tacos crema for $3. Throw in an order of chips and salsa for an extra $1.75 or the popular grilled corn on the cob with lime, cotjia cheese, and chili powder for $2.75 and you have yourself an amazing south of the border feast at a bargain price. 

Tacos start at a mere $2.75 for two, or get a taco platter with rice and beans starting at $6.25. Not in the mood for tacos? You can also get a variety of burritos, quesadillas, tamales or tostadas, all at $6.75 or less. 

Bros Tacos is located at 319 Ontario Street in Albany. Open Tuesday-Saturday 11am-11pm and Sunday 1pm-8pm. Closed Mondays. For more information call 395.1096 or visit: www.brostacosblog.com.

3. Okinawa 

In the mood for sushi? I always am, and I’m always guaranteed top quality sushi at a great price at Okinawa in Wynantskill. At lunch time I tend to order the sushi combo special. For $7.95 I get two sushi rolls of my choice – Spicy Tuna and a Smoked Salmon with Avocado – are my go-to choices, along with a garden salad and a bowl of miso or wonton soup. The combo deal will run you a little more at dinner time, about $11.95. 

You’ll also find a variety of tempura and teriyaki dishes, starting at $9.95 with soup, salad and rice. But if you’re looking for something remarkable and more unusual, consider the pepper tuna salad for $8.95. It is peppery, but if you like it hot you’ll enjoy this light dish of raw tuna sliced over a shredded cabbage. The quality is unmistakable, as raw fish that isn’t top quality is hard to disguise with no sauces or gravies for it to hide beneath.

And here’s a tip for cocktail lovers: because Okinawa has no bartender, and apparently no real mixology experience, they tend to compensate with added alcohol. Talk about getting a bang for your buck! Try the lip-smacking (and butt-kicking) MaiTai for $6.75, just don’t try to drive too soon afterwards.

While the service is always friendly and accommodating, don’t expect to get in and out in a hurry; urgency is not part of the culture here. However, the food is consistently good and the atmosphere is relaxing and conducive to enjoying a good meal. 

Okinawa is located in a small plaza off Route 66 in Wynantskill at 61 Main Avenue. Open Monday-Thursday 11am-10pm, Friday and Saturday 11am-10:30pm and Sunday noon-1opm. For more information call 283.7716 or visit: www.okinawa518.com.

4. Sukothai 

Affordable and exotic? Hit the jackpot with a visit to one of Sukothai’s two locations in downtown Albany. The Central Avenue location is newer and bigger, but for the charm and intimacy that I have come to associate with Sukothai, head for the quaint Lark Street location. 

For rock bottom prices starting at $6.95, get yourself any number of wonderfully sweet and spicy curries, including yellow, red, green, pineapple, pumpkin, Masman or Panang all served with jasmine or brown rice and your choice of chicken, beef, pork, shrimp or tofu. I’ve sampled just about all of them, and they are all amazing, at this price or not. 

Also available are a number of appetizers, all at $4.95-$6.95 and large enough to share with two or three people. My recommendation? Begin your meal with the crispy on the outside, tender on the inside Veggie Samosas. These little pockets of flaky fried goodness are stuffed with potato, onion, black pepper, yellow curry powder and served with a spicy sauce for dipping. Then move onto the green curry with shrimp for dinner. This variety includes bell pepper, green beans, carrots, zucchini, basil and coconut milk. Not only is the price right, but the portions are generous. I dare you to finish the whole thing.

The Central Ave location is open Monday-Friday 11:30am-10pm, Saturday-Sunday oon-10pm. For more information call 433.7203.

The Lark Street location is open Monday-Wednesday 11:30am-9:30pm, Thursday-Friday 11:30am-10pm, and Saturday & Sunday noon-10pm. For more information call 463.0223. For more information about either location visit: www.sukhothaialbany.com.

5. Off Shore Pier 

Fresh fish fry, broiled trout, steamed crab legs, clam rolls? No, you’re not at the beach, you’re at the Off Shore Pier, a no frills restaurant and fish market located on the corner of Route 4 & Third Ave Ext. in East Greenbush. 

Since 1979, this small, unassuming little establishment has managed to stay afloat amidst an explosion of shopping plazas and big box stores. Why? Probably because for a song you can get some of the freshest fish around at a very reasonable price, all year long. 

To start your meal off, the standard menu offers Manhattan and New England clam chowder ($2.95 for a cup) as well as clams or oysters on the half shell ($4.25 for six). 

When you’re ready for dinner, the selection is much more extensive. Try the traditional fish fry featuring fresh Haddock (at $6.75 you can’t go wrong) or a shrimp or scallop dinner at $9.95. You can even get swordfish or Alaskan king crab legs if you want to spend a little more. All dinners come with choice of fries and either cole slaw, macaroni salad, potato salad or cottage cheese (but why bother trying to be healthy at this point?). Fry choices include regular, curly fries or "shore fries", which are basically home fries without the onion.

Most seafood items can be fried or broiled. I usually order the broiled trout or tilapia with curly fries and cole slaw. It’s more food than I can eat in a sitting, a true cheap eats champion. 

Now, don’t expect fancy here. You order your meal at a window, and it’s served on a plastic plate with plastic utensils. But, if you’re all about fresh seafood, this place shouldn’t be missed. Find out for yourself why this place has survived for 30 years. But be sure to bring cash, they don’t accept credit cards.

Off Shore Pier is located at 637 3rd Avenue Extension in East Greenbush. Open Monday-Saturday 11:30am-7:30pm (open until 8:30pm on Friday). Closed on Sunday. For more information call 283.9880 or visit: www.offshorepier.com.

Christina DeMers is an online marketing manager, food blogger and amateur cook who lives in East Greenbush, but eats just about anywhere.

 

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