In honor of Cheap Eats Week, Eater editors and contributors across North America took on the task of eating out for one day in their respective cities with a total budget of ten bucks. How would you eat your way through Philly for an entire day on just $10? Read on for a little inspiration.
For the record, there were a few rules, the most important of which were these:
· No groceries allowed — this is about dining out.
· Tax, tip, and most beverages don't count against the budget.
That said, I stuck to counter-service spots to keep it simple, and tax happened to be included in the listed prices. For all other budget-related quandaries, I kept in mind the full list of rules for The Contest, Eater NY's week-long version of the $10-a-day challenge. And then I probably broke (or at least generously interpreted) one of them. Hey, nobody's perfect.
That rule-bending wasn't really necessary, as the budget turned out to be more than enough, at least without getting too worked up about achieving an ideal dietary balance. Here's what my day looked like:
The Spot: Mayflower Bakery (1008 Race St.)
Purchase: Coconut bun; pork bun
Chinatown coffee shops might very well be my favorite genre of restaurant, and there was a case full of options (ranging from 70 cents to $1) with my name on it, so there was never any doubt in my mind where my ten-dollar day would kick off.
I entered with a plan to stick to a single coconut bun, which would allow me to walk back out with a full nine dollars still in my pocket. But then I order it, and the woman behind the counter predictably asks if I'd like anything else, and I panic and order a pork bun. As much as I love this coconut bun, I don't usually do sweet breakfasts, and suddenly I can't remember if one of these is substantial enough.
Coconut bun: delightfully misshapen and as tasty as ever. I can't finish the pork bun. Lesson learned.
A small coffee is not included in the official tally here, but for the curious, it cost me a staggering 80 cents.
Wallet count: $8
The Spot: Rosa's Fresh Pizza (25 S. 11th St.)
Purchase: Two plain slices
Dollar slices feel like the most obvious way to make it through lunch, and it might have been nice to at least try to seek out a real vegetable or two after breakfasting on a fist-sized lump of sugar dough... but on the other hand, pizza. Besides, my math-challenged brain appreciates the tidiness of all of these one-dollar items. So I ducked into Rosa's, whose no-frills shop keeps it simple with dollar slices (you can ask them to add toppings to yours, if you want to spend more time and money just to add a little additional hassle to the lives of everyone involved), a cooler full of soft drinks, some counters to rest your slices on as you eat, and not much else.
Rosa's also gives you the option to pay for some future slices for anyone who visits the shop in need of a meal. Oddly, the rules of this challenge fail to address charitable expenses incurred over lunch, but I pay forward a pair of slices anyway and make the executive decision that those two dollars don't count against my budget.
As far as the pizza goes, I wouldn't give it any special flavor awards, but I've spent more on pizza that was far less solid than this. For the record and for anyone stressed about my hydration, I also bought a bottle of water for $1.
Wallet count: $6
The spot: Lee's Cafe and Bistro (522 Washington Ave.)
Purchase: Barbecue pork banh mi ($4.50), spring roll ($1.25)
Total cost: $5.75
Heading back south toward home that evening with six bucks left to spend, my dinner fate was looking pretty clearly like it involved either tacos or a banh mi. And I've been eating even more tacos than usual lately, so onward to Lee's it was.
Immediately upon entering, an employee tried her best to goad me and my friend upstairs to the dining room. But while the entree prices at Lee's hover around the (usually) quite affordable $7 to $8 mark, that was still a bit too rich for my blood on this occasion, so we held firm on our decision to stay downstairs and stick to sandwiches.
Still, the barbecue pork banh mi left a little wiggle room in my budget, so I scanned the counter for snacks. Several varieties of bao lined the counter, but they all lay just out of reach at $2. I inquired about the cost of a single spring roll, which turned out to be $1.25. Sold.
"...But if you buy five, you get another one for free," came the taunting upsell. Clearly out of my price range, but I was eating with a friend with an accommodatingly cavalier attitude toward his own spending and a seemingly endless appetite for spring rolls. He took her up on the offer, and I said I'd kick in my share toward one of them.
In theory, the sandwich alone is delicious enough and substantial enough to constitute a meal. In practice, I was not about to come in under budget, so adding on one spring roll felt like it was just good business sense. And in reality — wherein I am being completely honest about what happened after we made our decisions, paid for our meals, and plunked ourselves down at the sole table in Lee's front window — I ended up plucking a second spring roll from the bag, too. I'm pretty sure this was the free one, I reasoned, suddenly and conveniently forgetting what was stipulated in the rules about free food.
Perhaps as karmic retribution for gaming the system, I made the walk home from Lee's feeling uncomfortably full. Regardless of their legality, the spring rolls were an unnecessary indulgence.
$9.75, not including coffee, water, tips shoved in jars, pay-it-forward pizza slices, or arguably free spring rolls.
And, if you read all the way through, you'll note that I still somehow managed to over-order twice. If I were to try this again, I could easily have gotten by on closer to $8, spread my money out to cover another snack along the way, or perhaps opted to spend a bit more on something healthier for one of my meals.
Feel free to share your ideal $10-a-day game plan in the comments below.