This is not a piece complaining about food prices or inflation, but the tough reality is that everything is more expensive these days. And yet, there are still times when we just don’t have the time or energy to make breakfast at home, pack a lunch to take to work, or cook dinner. Or maybe we just want to treat ourselves while also supporting local restaurants and food trucks, who have borne the brunt of the economic effects of the past few years.
Understanding that disposable income is a vanishing proposition during these inflationary times, I wondered whether it was indeed possible to procure a satisfying meal for $10 or less, including tax and tip. I initially entered into the quest hoping to be able to get a main and a drink or a side, but this wasn’t always possible. That said, none of the meals left me unsatisfied, and if I couldn’t afford a Diet Coke or a bottle of water with my entrée, I just supplied my own.
You’ll notice that some well-known cheap eats aren’t represented here, like the $1.99 beans and rice at Wheatsville Co-op, or combos at P. Terry’s and ThunderCloud Subs, or breakfast tacos at Tacodeli or Veracruz All Natural. That’s because everyone knows about them. I also didn’t want to do a roundup of sandwiches and tacos, although if we’re being honest, sandwiches and tacos are among the cheapest meals you can get these days. To that end, here are a half-dozen spots, hidden gems or places with hidden gems on their menus, where you can feed yourself something interesting for a sawbuck and silence your grumbling tummy without insulting your wallet.
The Fort Never ($6)
23.7-ounce bottled water ($2)
Total with tax and tip: $10
If you squint and look at it sideways, you could almost imagine this sandwich as the Rosedale bagel shop’s version of something Monte Cristo-adjacent. It’s not pretty – when I unwrapped it at my desk to enjoy a working breakfast, the raspberry jam had oozed out of the edges, rendering the sandwich very murdery-looking. However, with the help of very conscientious bites and lots of napkins, I managed to avoid getting jam and cream cheese all over my laptop and clothes. The salty Canadian bacon played nicely with the umami of the cream cheese and sweetness of the jam, and the bagel was fresh and pleasantly chewy (you can choose from among 10 flavors of bagel for your sandwich; I chose plain because I like plain bagels). It was a filling, substantial breakfast that tided me over until a late lunch.
Three Steve Perry (cheese) pizza rolls with marinara dipping sauce ($6.99)
Total with tax and tip: $8.97
I learned about this food truck at 5000 Burnet Rd. through my high schooler’s friend, who keeps a running list of places where you can get the most caloric value for your buck. As someone whose two major undergraduate food groups were Taco Bell bean-and-cheese burritos and DoubleDave’s pepperoni rolls, I had to investigate. All the sourdough pizza rolls are named after famous Steves, including Steve Miller (veggie) and Stevie Nicks (Hawaiian). I went with the four-cheese Steve Perry rolls. I really loved the tangy, chewy sourdough of the roll, and the cheese filling was gooey and generous. You can choose from among three sauces – ranch, chipotle ranch, and marinara – for dipping. I chose marinara, but no one would judge you for choosing ranch. It’s your birthright as a Texan. Two rolls were quite satisfying; I know it would mess with their par, but it would be really cool if you could buy single rolls so that you could both mix and match flavors and get just as many rolls as you need (not that leftovers like these would be a bad thing).
Magical Bean and Cheese Burrito ($5)
Fountain drink ($1.50)
Total with tax and tip: $8.34
While JewBoy Burgers is known for its audacious, towering testaments to both imagination and beef, it’s also where I found what might be the most economical meal in this whole roundup. This $5 burrito, enjoyed across two lunches, consists of a large Sonoran-style tortilla (thin and chewy rather than thick and pillowy), a generous helping of creamy refried beans flavored with schmaltz (chicken fat, so know that this isn’t a vegetarian item), and green chile queso and shredded white cheddar. I had wanted to add an OG latke to the burrito to help bulk it up, but the additional $1.50 would have put me over budget, and I didn’t want to give up my tall cup of pineapple cream soda, which was a light and kicky accompaniment to the rich (and indubitably magical) beans and cheese. Had I known I’d have been able to stretch this $5 beauty into two filling meals, I would have popped for the potatoes.
Texas Honey Ham
Little Frito Pie ($7.99)
Total with tax and tip: $10
This is a small-but-mighty little dish that may not satiate those with larger appetites. The chili that adorns the modest pile of Fritos is rich and porky, a mixture of Texas Honey Ham’s signature ham bone soup, pulled pork, a generous helping of shredded cheese, and a kiss of a slightly mustardy barbecue sauce. I really enjoyed the blend of textures and flavors in this dish, the tender chunks of pork mingling with the crunchy, salty Fritos. Despite the fact that my hungry teen stole a few bites (“This is probably too small for me, but I think a large would be too much,” he said), it kept me full for several hours. Texas Honey Ham, a beloved mainstay on the West Lake dining scene, also offers a pig in a blanket (a large pancake wrapped around a slice of ham – you can add chocolate chips!) for $4.99, and I was sorely tempted.
Half Italian Veggie ($6)
Devilish Egg ($1.10)
Total with tax and tip: $9.13
When I first unwrapped this sandwich from its protective wax paper, I thought it seemed a little small, but as we all know, appearances can be deceiving. This petite panini, effectively a Margherita sandwich, hid thick slabs of mozzarella cheese, gorgeous summer tomatoes, and a generous smear of basil pesto between its modest slices of sourdough. It was quite delicious, and I polished off every morsel. I’d ordered a deviled egg on the side to add a little protein, but the sandwich was a sufficient lunch, so I passed the picnic treat on to my spouse. This wee Tarrytown cafe is jam-packed with casseroles, salads, sandwiches, pastries, and other treats; I’m certain there are additional gems in their deli case for diners on a tight budget.
Anything’s Baked Potatoes
Loaded baked potato ($11)
Add cheese ($.50)
Can of soda ($2)
Total with tax and tip: $16.61
OK, hear me out: This meal exceeds the $10 cap, but every potato from this Rosedale food truck is good for two hearty meals. I weighed this monster on my food scale when I got it home, where it clocked in at a pound and a half. The butter, bacon, and cheese were already melted onto the creamy interior; I added the sour cream and mixed everything together, then set aside one half of the potato for the next day’s lunch. If I’d had some cooked broccoli or spinach on hand, I would have tossed that in there for some added fiber and nutrients, but a baked potato really is a nearly perfect meal. This is easily the simplest potato on the menu, but most of what’s on offer at Anything’s could feed one person for at least two meals, if not more. Some of the potatoes have an entire meal on top of them, like the Chicken & Steak, which comes with fried chicken, steak, collard greens, and white sauce, all for $19. Here, you can eat like a king and still keep the lights on.
Where to Dine Out on the Cheap
5000 Burnet Rd.
Wed.-Sun., 6-9pm & 12mid-3am; Mon.-Tue., closed
5111 Airport Blvd.
Tue.-Thu., 11am-9pm; Fri.-Sat., 11am-10pm; Sun., 11am-8pm; Mon., closed
Texas Honey Ham
3736 Bee Caves Rd. #6, West Lake Hills
Mon.-Fri., 7am-4pm; Sat., 7am-3pm; Sun., 8am-2pm
2727 Exposition #112
Mon.-Fri., 11am-7pm; Sat.-Sun., 11am-5pm
Anything’s Baked Potatoes
Tue., noon-7pm; Wed.-Sat., noon-9pm; Sun., noon-6pm; Mon., closed