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45 Cheap Eats
Big appetite, small wallet? no problem. All the dining picks in this package are both delicious and affordable – meaning they're right at home in Milwaukee.

We're a parsimonious lot. That’s the implication inherent to the stereotype that our city is a frugal mecca whose denizens nurse an appetite for cheap food. Consider Downtown Dining Week, whose eighth round of fiscal-friendly meals took place earlier this summer. The $10, $20 and $30 three-course menus drew masses of diners into restaurants where they’d never been. They went for a host of reasons, but price was surely one of them. So it’s no surprise that one DDW-goer brought his wallet and his own Diet Coke. True story. But there’s no need to be that tight for the deals included here. For $10 or less, they’ll set you up with a meal that covers so many bases, you won’t need to tote your secret stash of beverages. Honest.

(Download a PDF map of all the restaurants you see here.)

1. Anmol

Some of the most authentic Indian/Pakistani food you’ll find this side of Karachi. We’d be remiss not to mention the fantastic chicken makhani and mutton biryani, but true bargain hunters should go for the rolls: kebabs and chicken specialties wrapped in roti, naan or paratha. But when holding these generous delicacies, use both hands. (ALC) (711 W. Mitchell St., 414-672-7878) $5.50 each

2. Pacific Produce

Tucked inside this massive Asian grocery is a tiny counter called Banh Mi Nhu Y, the source of killer banh mi sandwiches. The grilled pork version is a simple but terrific creation of the star protein, cilantro and pickled veggies served in a baguette. We'll be making regular pilgrimages to 27th Street. (ALC) (5455 S. 27th St., 414-817-0241) $3.50

3. Hinterland Erie Street Gastropub

Regular Facebook and Twitter posts promote the Third Warder’s weekly pho special (Monday nights in the bar/lounge). Five bucks is seldom better spent than on this aromatic noodle soup – in beef and vegetarian versions – that diners season themselves with fresh herbs, chiles, fresh limes and Sriracha. The more, the better. (AC) (222 E. Erie St., 414-727-9300) $5

4. Jimmy's Grotto

Resembling a calzone redesigned by H.R. Giger or a kind of shellfish, the “ponza rotta” here starts ultra-cheap and rises in price with each topping added. This is technically the only place in the world to buy one of these, as Jimmy’s Grotto trademarked the name. Instead of being baked like a calzone, the ponza rotta is folded over and deep-fried. Oh yeah. (MH) (314 E. Main St., Waukesha, 262-542-1500) $4

5. Cermak

Unfortunately for your beltline, a burrito the size of those found at chains like Chipotle or Qdoba is becoming a common thing. But when you’re hungry, and we mean hungry, a fresh, well-seasoned pork burrito with Mexican rice and all the fixings from Cermak will do the trick. Five bucks gets you a whopper, with free guac and salsa. Rolling you back to your car will cost extra. (CH) (1541 Miller Park Way, West Milwaukee, 414-988-9051) $4.99

6. Conejito's Place

What you save on food at this cheapskate institution can go toward the drink bill. (The bar is busy for a reason.) The soupy mashed pinto beans spread on crisp tortillas make for tasty meatless eating (three for $3.90). The pork burritos are about a tenth the size of the monsters currently in rotation at Mexican restaurants, but these slide down easily and breezily, and are only a buck-30 each. Fave order: a couple of chicken-cheese enchiladas, mummified in melted cheese. Three of them with rice and beans: $4.75. And of course everything arrives bubbly hot on a paper plate. (AC) (539 W. Virginia St., 414-278-9106) $1.30-$5

7. Adam Lucks, Chef and co-owner of Comet Cafe, Honeypie and Palomino

"I take so many people to Cafe Corazòn [3129 N. Bremen St., 414-810-3941]. Their shredded beef is so f--king good. You're kind of shoulder-to-shoulder in there, and they make you feel very welcome." Enchiladas, $9

8. El Rey's Taco Loco

This Mexican grocery store might be better known for exotic produce and butcher cuts, but its in-store taqueria serves up fresh, tasty Mexican food on the cheap. The tacos make it easy to sample the plentiful offerings. Skip the fish and select tender chicken or perfectly spiced pork. All tacos come with cheese, lettuce, tomato and a heaping helping of avocado. (ALC.) (916 S. Cesar Chavez Dr., 414-643-1640; 3524 W. Burnham St., 414-643-1616) $1.89 each

9. Dr. Dawg

For your dog-loving pleasure, the Doctor offers a 6-inch Vienna beef, Chicago-style wiener with the works ($3.29). But that's not all. Ramp up to the next level with the footlong in a monster of a bun ($5.99). Take a photo. It'll last longer. You can even switch to a higher-grade, Imperial Wagyu dog, and do it up Chicago-style – $4.99 or $8.99. (AC) (6969 N. Port Washington Rd., 414-540-0400; 7700 W. Layton Ave., Greenfield, 414-810-1900) $3.29-$8.99

10. Georgie Porgie’s

Burgers, frozen custard, tree fort. A winning trifecta – at least in the case of Georgie's, which achieves some mastery with its chicken sandwiches (simple to slathered) and burgers (one is the Yee-Haw, with cheddar, BBQ sauce and bacon). Best part is the change in your pocket. (AC) (9555 S. Howell Ave., Oak Creek, 414-571-9889) $3.99-$7.99

11. Oscar’s Bar & Grill

It's not news that co-owner Oscar Castaneda used to work at Sobelman's. It's not news that the Big O – with chorizo, bacon, two cheeses, jalapenos, onions and a side of guac – is a cardiologist's worst nightmare. But maybe it is news that if we had only 5 bucks to our name, Oscar's basic burger and fries is what we'd eat. Or any of the other half-dozen or so patty choices on the menu. (AC) (1712 W. Pierce St., 414-810-1820) $5-$7.25

12. Kopp’s Frozen Custard

Burgers the size of a Frisbee? Got it. Onion rings, battered, fried and served up crisp as a newly shorn lawn? Done deal. Get 'em both and drop 8 bucks, max. Throw in a frozen custard cone, and you're in the low double digits. All worth it. (AC) (5373 N. Port Washington Rd., 414-961-3288; 7631 W. Layton Ave., Greenfield, 414-282-4312; 18880 W. Bluemound Rd., Brookfield, 262-789-9490) $2-$6.35

12. Nell Benton, Chef/owner of The National

“Enjoying the Reuben at Benji's in Shorewood [4156 N. Oakland Ave., 414-332-7777] while overlooking the lake is a perfect Sunday afternoon in my book.” $9.49

Taking Flight

There's no scarcity of wing deals in town. We've found the ones that soar. By Cristina Daglas

14. Steny’s

Thirteen sauce options coat the baked beauts at this Walker’s Point standby. And no need to shy away from “hot” on the flame scale. They’re for the spice lover, but they won’t result in pain. Just a wet brow. (800 S. Second St., 414-672-7139) 50 cents each on Tuesdays, 7 p.m.-1 a.m.

15. Club Garibaldi

The wait can be extreme. Get a glimpse of the cooking space, and it will make sense. Grilled to perfection, each batch to order, the wings arrive at your table with a bit of char and a nice kick. So grab a brew, wait it out, and thank us later. (2501 S. Superior St., 414-483-6335) 50 cents each on Wednesdays.

16. Maxie’s

They’re not Southern per se, but wings could surely be inducted into the comfort food Hall of Fame. As such, Maxie’s whips up a hearty plate of battered wings served in a “zesty” barbecue sauce. Best part? (6732 W. Fairview Ave., 414-292-3969) On Tuesdays, they're half off the regular $10.95 price.

17. Leff’s Lucky Town

Mild, medium, hot, ass-kickin’ and Cajun BBQ – a nice but not over-the-top sauce selection. Also not over the top? The sauce application, but that’s because something else sets these fellas apart – a sprinkling of seasoning on top. (7208 W. State St., Wauwatosa, 414-258-9886) 50 cents each or seven for $3 on Tuesdays.

18. O’Lydia’s

They’re seasoned, grilled and finished off in the fryer, before resting in a pool of Buffalo sauce (or whatever you choose – sauces change). The sauciest of the bunch perhaps, but the char on these jumbo numbers offsets it nicely. (338 S. First St., 414-271-7546) 40 cents each on Wednesdays, 5 p.m.-midnight.

19. Paulie’s

Paulie’s is about choices: plain, Paulie’s “original” breaded or lightly tossed in sauce. And about those sauces? Eight are Legend Larry’s, which is based in Sheboygan and a consistent National Buffalo Wing Festival award-winner. The other three are house selections. Like we said, choices. (8031 W. Greenfield Ave., West Allis, 414-257-2854) 40 cents each on Mondays, 10-wing minimum.

20. TomKen’s

Every week, the sauces change – Bomb Bayou, Buffalo Sings the Bleus, Rum Rainier, Jerk. And those are just a sampling. For the adventurous wing-seeker indeed, but an award-winner nonetheless. First place in people’s choice and the most unique award at 2013’s WingFest Milwaukee. (8001 W. Greenfield Ave., West Allis, 414-258-9110) 50 cents each on Mondays and Thursdays.

Go With the Dough

Super-sized slices and mini pizzas are the epitome of cheap chews. By Ann Christenson, Claire Hanan and Matt Hrodey

21. Classic Slice

It's rad overhearing co-workers placing an order by phone: "I'll take one 'I'm Feta Up!' and a 'Meatallica'" (right). Even better than hearing that is making one of these formidably sized pieces – such as the Satyricon, a party with sausage – past tense. The daily lunch special (11 a.m.-2 p.m.) is a one-topping slice and fountain drink for $5.50. (AC) (2797 S. Kinnickinnic Ave., 414-238-2406) $4.50-$7

22. Transfer Pizzeria Café

A rim of chewy, bubbly bread deliciousness frames Transfer pies in any size. The weekday lunch deal (11 a.m.-3 p.m.) is pretty sweet – a one-topping pizza with an 11-ounce soda for $6.95. (AC) (101 W. Mitchell St., 414-763-0438) $6.95

23. Times Square Bistro and Pizzeria

'Za from this gas station comes with a garlicky nugget of baked crust dough, like your pepperoni slice had a baby while you waited. You’ll enjoy devouring both from this contender in the New York-style, served-by-the-slice category. (MH) (605 S. First St., 414-224-6300) $4.49

24. Brick3

A ravishing ratio of crust and toppings – from caprese (left) to Philly cheese steak – lets you make this chewy slice do what it's supposed to do: fold over like a sandwich so you can inhale it, neatly, while on the run. (AC) (1107 N. Old World Third St., 414-224-6040; served at Dicks Pizza & Pleasure, 730 N. Milwaukee St., 414-272-3425) $2.92-$4.67

25. Ian's

Wacky toppings of the week (fish taco, Asian beef) are the claim to fame for Madison-headquartered Ian's. These pie-loving folks do just as deft a job with traditional pizza ingredients, too. (CH) (146 E. Juneau Ave., 414-727-9200; 2035 E. North Ave, 414-727-9200) $2.75 or $3.75

26. Vedo’s

The made-to-order slices are worth the 10-15-minute wait. Fresh and hot, with the ideal balance of salt and garlic; the crust, crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. (CH) (1808 E. Capitol Dr., 414-962-2008) $2 and up

27. Al Calderone Club

The Shorewood pizzeria shows its by-the-slice options in a glass case. The chicken Tuscany is a delicioso mix of fresh mozz, grilled chicken, Gorgonzola and artichoke hearts. But the daddy of yum is the meatball-and-penne-topped Arthur Avenue, which pays homage to the famed Italian restaurant haven in New York’s Bronx neighborhood. (AC) (4475 N. Oakland Ave., 414-964-3663) $3-$3.75

28. Glorioso’s Italian Market

We're digging the mini (7 inches in diameter) version of Glory's 14-inch pizza. Fresh, simple and Italian mama-style. The pizzaiolos load up the thin but sturdy cracker-like crust with sausage, pepperoni or a veritable garden of veggies. (AC) (1011 E. Brady St., 414-272-0540) $2.50-$4

29. Mr. Wok Pan Asian

Champion cheap eats sometimes lurk inside unassuming strip malls. Such is the case with Mr. Wok, whose kitchen churns out Chinese and, better still, Malaysian cuisine. Just as the sun shines brightly on the beaches of the latter Southeast Asian country, this kitchen makes the Malaysian side of the menu blaze with a fury. The Malaysian chicken-potato curry (served with roti chanai – a rich crepe-like flatbread) is a standout, as is the spicy, stewy Rendang beef. (AC) (2128 Silvernail Rd., Pewaukee, 262-521-9780) $8.50-$8.75

30. Indian Bazaar

Past the rows of rice and spices is a modest dining room: utilitarian tables, plastic cutlery and a water cooler. But in that dining room – and through a tiny window – come Indian delicacies of the vegetarian persuasion. You can’t go wrong with the dosa, an Indian crepe of sorts filled with varying types of curries. All dosas come with an assortment of chutneys and the ubiquitous sambar as a dipping sauce for the flaky feast. The standout is the masala dosa – which measures about 2 feet in length. (ALC) (5254 S. 27th St., 414-325-6480) $5.99

31. Arin Bert Coffee & Grill

The city’s only Armenian restaurant (named after a famous fortress in an ancient kingdom) offers something called the chicken lula kebab – a seasoned, grilled link of rolled chicken served with rice pilaf and two sides (potato-beet salad and tabbouleh, for instance). Bert’s bounty. (MH) (222 W. Wells St., 414-755-2810) $7.95

32. Pho Hai Tuyet

Do not despair if a cheap eat does not seem a candidate for a home decor magazine. "Hole in the wall" should not separate you from a potent star anise-infused pho (a Vietnamese noodle soup). Some assembly is required for the diner to make all the ingredients meet (noodles, choice of meat, chiles, lime juice, sauces, etc.). Once they do, this is a super and substantial meal. (AC) (333 W. Brown Deer Rd., 414-446-8364; 204 W. Layton Ave., 414-763-1138) $7.99-$10

33. Buckley’s Restaurant and Bar

The weekly Meatloaf and Mashers special (Monday nights) defies the notion that you can’t dine well without dropping a wad. This generous slice of homemade meatloaf,with mashed potatoes and gravy, is a soothing way to start a frenetic workweek. (AC) (801 N. Cass St., 414-277-1111) $10

34. Parkside 23

Hello, Monday. You’re not looking so bad, after all. All day, PS23 runs its 10 Buck Burger and Brew deal. That’s a Niman Ranch beef patty (with bacon, caramelized onions, wild mushrooms and Dijon-horseradish sauce) with fries and either Pilgrim’s Pride (the house beer) or a Sprecher root beer.(AC) (2300 Pilgrim Square Dr., Brookfield, 262-784-7275) $10

35. Swingin’ Door Exchange Saloon & Eatery

The half-rack of ribs and seared ahi tuna appetizers are just a couple of the tasty, low-cost plates that satisfy at this old Downtown bar laced with history and chemistry. Also dependable: the pan-fried tofu with crispy vermouth carrots. (AC) (219 E. Michigan St., 414-276-8150) $6-$10

36. Triskele’s

A tad afield of the hustle and bustle of First Street in Walker’s Point, Triskele’s is a chill place to roll into on a weeknight. And a Tuesday it should be. They mix up the sauces for their all-you-can-eat mussels. One week, you can get tomato basil or parsley-garlic butter; the next week, it’ll be poblano pepper cream or shallots and chardonnay.Sop up that gorgeous broth with slices of toasted baguette. (AC) (1801 S. Third St., 414-837-5950) $8

37. Zak Baker, head chef of the resurrected Pizza Man

"One place we spend more money than anywhere else is El Señorial [1901 S. 31st St.,414-385-9506]. The tables are filled with Mexican families eating parrilladas [mixed grills]. I get the chilaquiles." $9.95

38. Speed Queen

You’re not going to mistake it for Arthur Bryant’s, but Speed Queen’s barbecue scratches a certain itch. The shoulder dinner begins with a layer of tender pork atop white bread and ends in a little cup of heaven, er, coleslaw. All in all, the sweetest, tangiest, spiciest sauce around. (MH) (1130 W. Walnut St., 414-265-2900) $9.82

39. Mazos

There are more than a few unassuming establishments in town that trade in meat patties, but Mazos’ heavy-as-a-rock cheeseburgers linger in mind long after the last mouthful has digested. Buy dinner for three or four at this classic diner, and you’ll be asking for a double bag. Those fearing the enormity of American food portions might want to dine elsewhere. (MH) (3146 S. 27th St., 414-671-2118) $6.38

40. Cafe India

A worthy addition to anyone’s Indian food rotation, the lunch special at this restaurant in a gas station strip mall includes portions of as many dishes as your server can ladle into a carryout container (saag paneer, lamb curry and chicken tikka masala are possible). Once they add the soda or lemonade, this becomes one happy meal indeed. (MH) (605 S. First St., 414-224-5444) $8

41. Martino’s

Italian beef sandwiches are a study in simplicity with supremely satisfying dividends. The recipe? Italian bread, mozzarella cheese and thin slices of succulent sirloin that were soaked in au jus. Topped with your choice of mild or hot peppers, you’ll likely be thinking about this sandwich days after it’s disappeared from your cafeteria-style tray. (CH) (1215 W. Layton Ave., 414-281-5580) $6.05

42. Braise

Tuesday through Thursday, the chalkboard special in the bar is two baby beef sliders topped with sweet green garlic jam and served with dense, unexpectedly satisfying chickpea fries. This funky pairing will leave you with extra dough to try a cocktail such as the Serendipity, made with New Glarus Serendipity Fruit Ale, Bittercube’s cherry bark bitters and Gosling’s ginger beer. (AC) (1101 S. Second St., 414-212-8843) $6

43. The Gyros Stand

A place for custard-slurping and gyro-chewing. This custard stand/Grecian joint ticks a lot of boxes for us, and we’re sure it will for you, too. Serious cheapskates might get a burger, but for a few dollars more, you’re in for some pita pleasure. (MH) (1110 E. Oklahoma Ave., 414-747-1103) $2.89-$6.38

44. Karen Bell, owner of Bavette La Boucherie

"I can't seem to veer away from the quesadilla at Cempazuchi (1205 E. Brady St., 414-291-5233). I get the roasted poblano and mushroom. It comes with pico de gallo, guacamole and is drizzled with a cilantro cream. I am addicted!" $6.95

45. Thai Bangkok

The low-budget decor isn't the reason you linger over your laab – a ground beef or chicken salad seasoned with fish sauce, chiles, mint and onion. Load up that carryout bag with spicy gang gai red curry, pad seuw (rice noodles stir-fried with meat and veggies), and if you've got an adventurous streak, beef tripe. Flavor and heat don't cost extra. (AC) (9112 W. Brown Deer Rd., 414-362-0189) $8.25-$9.25

This article appears in the August 2013 issue of Milwaukee Magazine.
To read the more like it, subscribe to Milwaukee Magazine.

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