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Cheap Eats

10 places to dine on a budget

Photographed by Jeffery Johnston

Even with all the grand restaurants that surround us here, there are times you just want a good,  cheap meal.
That isn’t a problem. There are plenty of affordable menus in the New Orleans metro area. An added bonus is all of these places are locally owned and operated. So when a dry burger and soggy fries from a chain fast-food restaurant won’t cut it as a cheap eat, here are just a handful of options to pick from.

The Joint
801 Poland Ave.; (504) 949-3232; 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., Monday and Tuesday; 11:30 a.m. to 9:00 p.m., Wednesday to Saturday; closed Sunday

Of all the food styles New Orleans is known for, barbecue really isn’t one of them. Thankfully, there’s The Joint to fill that void.
Across the street from Jack Dempsey’s restaurant, The Joint has been around for about five years and is quickly becoming another Bywater favorite. With affordable barbecue plates that could be served in the hills or North Carolina without anyone questioning their origin, it’s not hard to understand why.
There is nothing out of the ordinary on the menu but The Joint cooks some of the most delicious meat you can find in the city. It is hard to single out one plate or sandwich to sample – everything’s good. When it comes to sides, however, the macaroni and cheese shouldn’t be missed. In fact, it rivals the macaroni and cheese at neighboring Jack Dempsey’s.
Regardless of what you order, the amount of food you pick up from the counter will impress you for the price you’re paying.
The atmosphere is laid back and casual, and you can eat in the dining room or outside on the patio. And while it takes a few minutes for each order to be prepared, the short wait is worth it.

Courtside Grill
2800 Tulane Ave.; 822-8050; 6:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday to Saturday; closed Sunday

On the corner of Tulane Avenue and South White Street, in the shadow of Orleans Parish Criminal District Court, sits this inconspicuous family-owned restaurant. Most who whiz on by in their cars don’t even realize it’s there. Those people don’t know what a bargain they just passed up.
At the back of the small dining room is a surprising collection of food: poor boys and cold sandwiches made to order, gumbo, hot lunch and breakfast plates. You name it and it’s probably available.
A favorite of Orleans Parish Sheriff’s deputies, New Orleans police and others whose business finds them wandering the city’s halls of justice, the prices are hard to beat for the amount of food that’s offered. Breakfast plates won’t cost you more than $4. Lunch and dinner plates will set you back less than $6.
It is nothing too fancy in regard to a setup, but the Styrofoam boxes customers get their food in are packed very generously. Combine that with a fast, friendly staff that remembers customers even after one visit and it’s a winning combination.
A lunchtime rush can find you waiting a little longer than usual for food, but the constant in and out definitely won’t have you wasting your lunch hour.
The only disadvantage: parking. There is no lot, so parking is first-come, first-serve in the surrounding neighborhood.

Taqueria El Chaparral
320 South Broad St.; 822-8099; 8 a.m. to 9 p.m., Monday to Saturday; 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Sunday

If a drive to Taco Bell and a bag of Tostitos is your idea of an authentic Mexican meal, Taqueria El Chaparral will either be a let down or a learning experience.
This is authentic Mexican food that you won’t find at any drive-through.
There are mainstays on the menu such as tacos, burritos and quesadillas, as well as meals that come with rice, beans, salad, pico de gallo and a batch of homemade tortillas. The ingredients have a fresh taste that leave no question that your order was made shortly after your placed it. You will wait a little longer and pay a few dollars more than you would at some other cheap eateries, but this is worth it.
Taqueria El Chaparral is only a few months old, having opened last December, so crowds are only now starting to pick up as word gets out about the restaurant. With good food and a staff that’s attentive and friendly, this is a secret that deserves to be shared with others.
Like Courtside Grill, the only drawback is parking because there’s no parking lot. However, spaces are ample in the neighborhood on the lake side of Broad Street.

Koz’s
6215 Wilson, Harahan; 737-3933; 11 a.m. to 7. p.m., Monday to Thursday; 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., Friday; 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., Saturday; closed Sunday

In a city as parochial as New Orleans, people are fiercely loyal to just about everything: their moms, schools, corner watering holes, food stores and so on. Poor boy shops are no different.
Mid-City has Parkway, Uptown can claim Domilise’s as its own, the French Quarter has Maspero’s, while St. Roch and the Bywater area is home to Jazzy Po-Boys.
Pre-Hurricane Katrina, Gentilly had The Bakery, which for decades fed those who wound up in its Franklin Avenue location.
The storm’s floodwaters destroyed the restaurant, and The Bakery closed. But those who grew up on the overstuffed sandwiches quickly found their fix at Koz’s in Harahan. It is The Bakery and its old crew, simply with a new name and new location.
The crew from Gentilly ensures the poor boys are still some of the best in town. The signature Chamber of Horrors, the moniker of the old University of New Orleans gymnasium, comes dressed and is stuffed with sheets of roast beef, ham and turkey, Swiss and American cheeses, Italian dressing and hot mustard, and will fill you up or leave you with leftovers.
In addition to the sandwiches, Koz’s offers several hot meals, salads, soups and daily specials.

Pancho’s Super Buffet
100 Labarre Road, Metairie; Grand opening: To be announced

If cheap Tex-Mex is more your speed, chances are you, and thousands of others, spent several combined hours of your life waiting in line at Pancho’s Mexican Buffet when it was housed in the old Rosedale Mall in Metairie.
After Hurricane Katrina the restaurant was shuttered, the mall torn down and countless Pancho’s fanatics had to learn new ways to attract the attention of wait staffs. Anywhere else, running a mini Mexican flag up a mini flag poll would just look strange.
Now, to the relief of many, Pancho’s is preparing to reopen on the corner of Labarre Road and Airline Drive at the site of the now-defunt Ho Ho Super Buffet. No official opening date has been announced as work continues, but management says the restaurant should be openthis month.
If it’s your first visit, be sure to try a little bit of everything you see on the serving line. If you want to play it safe at first, don’t worry, it’s all-you-can-eat – and the food is good enough to demand seconds. Just be sure to save room for the sopapillas.

Café Nino
1510 S. Carrollton Ave.; 865-9200; 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Monday to Friday; Noon to 9 p.m., Saturday and Sunday

Café Nino isn’t anything fancy to look at. It is a shack in a parking lot, and the dining room is no-frills.
The food, however, is something to talk about. This is some of the best Italian home cooking this side of the Mediterranean.
Owner Nino Bongiorno cooks all the food himself. He prepares a simple menu that rarely changes: chicken or eggplant parmigiana or veal Marsala with a side of lasagna or pasta and two pieces of bread. Pizza, either thin- or thick-crust, is also available, and Philly cheese steaks are an option.
Bongiorno doesn’t skimp on the servings. In keeping with the no-frills theme, food is served on Styrofoam plates. Be sure to grab the plate with two hands. If you’re not careful, it will collapse under the weight of the food when he hands it to you. He’ll also remind you that refills of soft drinks are free after he sprinkles parmigana cheese over your order.
While there’s no alcohol on the menu, Bongiorno sips wine as he works and offers every patron a glass “to help with digestion” when they pay at the end of their meal. That is just part of the charm makes this restaurant a welcoming place to sit and dine.
Despite the “operating hours,” things can wrap up early on any given night if a rush of people late in the evening cleans out the serving line. Be sure to have cash on hand since Café Nino doesn’t take credit cards.

Lakeview Brew Coffee Cafe
5606 Canal Blvd; 483-7001; 8:30 a.m. to 9 p.m., weekdays (kitchen closes at 8 p.m.); 7 a.m. to 3 p.. weekends

Plantation Coffee House in Lakeview, long a favorite meeting spot for area residents, may still be shuttered since Hurricane Katrina, but a newcomer is quickly taking its place – almost literally.
On the lake side of the Canal Boulevard underpass and on the other side of the street, Lakeview Brew Coffee House – housed in an old florist shops that was housed in a repurposed service station – is within a stone’s throw of where Plantation was. So it comes as no surprise that Lakeview Brew is quickly becoming a favorite among neighbors and UNO and Delgado students.
It is an inviting place, with Lakeview Festival posters lining the walls, adding to its cozy neighborhood feel. On a sunny day, it’s a great place to sit and watch the world go by as you enjoy a cup of coffee or a quick bite.
Daily specials supplement the daily menu of sandwiches, salads, soups and pastries and desserts. The egg salad sandwich in particular is good for a quick lunch. Fluffy and light, it fills you up without leaving you feeling stuffed.
As an added bonus, food is made-to-order, so there’s nothing sitting under heat lamps or pre-packaged. To that extent, a surge at lunchtime may cost you a few extra minutes. But you’ll spend no more time – or money – than at a fast-food joint.
 

Copper Monkey Grill
725 Conti St.; 527-0869; 11 a.m. until, every day

So it’s the weekend and you’re down in the French Quarter for a night out. Like clockwork it happens: the late-night hunger pangs. On nearly every street corner there’s either a Lucky Dog cart or a daiquiri shops that also hocking pizza by the slice. There is a better option.
Frequented by neighborhood denizens and service industry workers alike, Copper Monkey Grill is merely steps away from the neon glow of Bourbon Street, but it’s an entirely different atmosphere.
Never crowded, the bar offers some impressive food in a quiet and relaxed atmosphere. On the Esplanade Avenue side of the French Quarter, Port of Call is the heavyweight champ when it comes to the best burger. Copper Monkey holds the title when it comes to the Canal Street side. It may be blasphemy to many, but their burger and fries basket is just that good. The menu also offers options such as quesadillas, salads and steaks.
While your order may take a few minutes longer than getting handed a $5 slice of pizza or hot dog, the wait isn’t lengthy by any means. And when you add in a drink with your meal and find the total to be somewhere in the neighborhood of about $12, depending on your particular order, that makes it all the more palatable.

Pizza Depot
2151 Gause Blvd., Slidell; (985) 643-8600; 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday

There is that national all-you-can-eat pizza buffet where employees pretend they enjoy welcoming anyone and everyone who walks in the front door. Then there’s Pizza Depot on the Northshore.
This all-you-can-eat pizza buffet in Slidell is the real deal.
While the chain buffet may be a few bucks cheaper in the end, what are you really paying for? Small slices of pizza, cold pizza, empty pizza pans, unsupervised children running up to the serving line and grabbing at everything and a noisy game room.
For a few bucks more what do you get at Pizza Depot? Decent size slices of pizza, pies that are fresh out of the oven, employees who monitor the buffet line and make sure no tray is empty for more than a few moments and an enjoyable atmosphere – just about the total opposite of everything at the chain restaurant. In general, the pizza’s just better, too. And even though this is a family-friendly restaurant, there’s no noisy game room.
The dining room isn’t huge, but it’s large enough to handle an influx of people. And when it’s prime eating time, the many positive attributes of Pizza Depot find a line forming at the cash register day in and day out.

Rocky’s Gourmet Pizza
3222 Magazine St.; 891-5152; 11:30 a.m. to either 9 or 10 p.m., seven days a week

Don’t let the name of this Uptown pizzeria fool you.
Do they serve gourmet pizza? Very close. Will you be paying gourmet prices? Not at all.
A mix of traditional pizzas and some of their own creations – such as the French Market with tomatoes, mushrooms, broccoli, roasted red peppers and red onions – keep things interesting, but you can also create your own pies. Menu options also include panini sandwiches and various pastas, again with a mix of traditional bowls with slight variations or some of their own creations.
There is never too much of a crowd, and instead of slacking off, the staff prepares your food in the open kitchen like the dining room is packed at a peak hour. To top off the speed, meals are always brought out piping hot and the wait staff is attentive to diners’ needs. Need a refill? It is probably on the table before you realize you’re getting low.
There is a quaint feel about the dining room. It may be the shutters and shotgun house-style ornamentations that are on the wall and hanging from the ceiling that almost make it feel like you’re having a fresh dinner on the front porch.
When you wrap up your meal, take advantage of the location and kick back with a brew at either The Bulldog or Balcony Bar, each just a few steps away, for a truly enjoyable experience.

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