Monday, February 02, 2009

You Asked for It: Cheap Restaurants

You might have noticed that I tried to survey my readers to see what kinds of posts you'd like to see more often (comments aren't an accurate indicator). After a month of votes slowly trickling in, the readers' choice is pretty clear: CHEAP RESTAURANTS (four included at the end of this post). I didn't vote, personally, figuring that I've kinda got like a president's veto power thing in this case. But, if I had voted, I'd have called for more cheap eats as well. Unfortunately, I don't know how much dining out I'm gonna be doing this year considering our precarious income situation and the difficulty of containing Jasper's boisterousness. Plus, in the past year, the number of Richmond blogs dedicated to food has increased ten-fold, mostly restaurant focused. And I'm still not sure anyone is really filling Brandon's shoes (my initial influence to blog about food). So, as usual, I gotta be different, and try and set this site apart from the crowd. Please feel free to provide your own data analysis in the comments section (especially considering the larger Richmond and food blog contexts). Regardless, expect more unpredictability, and that includes me turning over some rocks and finding bargain places for you to binge while we're suffering through cabin fever at home.

Your second choice was expensive restaurants. I'm guessing that my stories about fine dining are more for entertainment value than my unqualified opinion. But, those are the real rackets that often need to be scrutinized, whereas cheap places often exceed expectations. So just Paypal my email address with the subject line of the bourgie place you want me to and Karen to go for dinner (and send a sitter over too). Which brings me to a minor regret. I should have asked if you wanted to read good "reviews" or bad ones. The negative reviews get the most hits, but they also get the most angry comments. Plus, positive reviews really help you decide where to go for dinner and what to order. There's so many ways to be useful. I hope to be responsible in the process.

In conclusion, the outcome of this poll is really enlightening for me. I wish I could design this site to suit everyone's needs/tastes. Unfortunately, I'm too temperamental to guarantee any kind of consistency in my future posts. The fact is, i'm gonna blog about what I want and you're gonna like it. I mean, I really do hope that you'll like it. But, that's really a secondary consideration, at this point. I mean, are you gonna ask for a refund? Seriously, though. If you read this site, please feel free to email me with ideas/suggestions/questions (see profile for contact info). Hearing from yall reminds me that it's not just me and WetlandSusie out here.

Now, lemme try to give you enough cheap eats to cross that one off my list for the next few weeks. Here we go with a few very affordable meals I've had recently:

Momotaro Sushi
2803 W. Cary St.

Hold tight for high praise. On my way home from work, I popped into Carytown's newest sushi joint (and the closest to my house) and then called Karen to say that I was bringing home a surprise dinner. The price of the rolls were cheaper than I've seen at a lot of other places, plus they give 10% off if you have a student ID. I ordered very unadventuraously, trying to play it safe, save money, and put off an extravagant meal for dining in. I took home a spicy tuna (we have to try it everywhere), a california roll (not real sushi, but still an important benchmarker), a spicy yellowtail roll (the special of the night), and the momotaro roll (california-like with crab and spicy mayo). Folks, this was some of the best sushi I've had in Richmond (I know, maki rolls aren't sushi, blah blah blah - but it survived the ride home on my bike). The yellow tail was so delicious that Karen was sure they snuck some kind of "deep fried goodness" into the minced fish. We never figured it out, assuming the texture was the sesame seeds. We both really admired the subtle perfection of the spicy sauce added to the fish (same with the tuna). The momotaro didn't feature a lot of crab, but it didn't matter. That spicy and fatty topping together with tender sweet crabmeat was nearly erogenous. I'm going back early and often to help them get off to a good start, since we can't go to that other Momo place in NYC any time soon. (Momotaro is a Japanese folklore hero who's story is a lot like the genesis of the American Superman).

La Palmera
7701 Midlothian Tpk

Best plantains I've ever had. Karen said the chicken in her enchiladas was tastier and more moist than most and the sauce was deep and mole-like. When I told the server that I'm vegetarian, she said she'd throw together some sides that would fill me up "until you don't feel vegetarian." I'm not sure exactly what she meant, but I seriously did overeat. Maybe it was that the horchata was over-sweetened. But, I think the place is a safe bet for lots of authentic Mexican options. Go here and swear off Casa Grande, El Paso, and Mexico restaurant. Even if you're already discerning enough to steer clear of those chains of culinary crimes, La Palmera will deliver at or above your standard for decent Mexican. Plus, Janet from Richmond swore by it in 2007.

Young Bin Restaurant
7437 Midlothian Tpke # B (next to a Marshalls, bonus!)

If I told the whole story of my visit to this place, I'd be revealing too much of my ignorance. Let's just say, I'm vegetarian, don't like kim chi, and I'm not really into very many pickled veggies (although I should learn to love the stuff, cuz they're free with everything here). Korean food may not be for me. But, for the rest of you, Young Bin will probably be a real treat. If you like beef, go there now. The tables around me had platters of steaming meat and a dozen small bowls of accompanying veg. Some dropped the meat in broth, others in lettuce leaf wrappers (so jealous at the sight of this). They were having fun and you probably would too. The highlight for me was the complimentary hot tea. It tasted like brown rice syrup, only hot and appropriately dilute. Mmmm. I'd go back for that. On the way out, I said "go mop sum nee da," (Korean for thank you very much). A useful by-product of my three years of Tae Kwon Do. They've got a little grocery store there too. Take home a big sack of rice, cuz times are tight.

Bacchus for Brunch
Main and Meadow

I hear both Bacchus and Rowland's brunch services are suffering (must be my kiss of death). The best thing about an empty restaurant is not having to feel bad about my high energy wild child spinning around like a top in our booth. I just wanna relay the highlights, cuz it wasn't all good. Eggs baked in tomato sauce for $5 (came with home fries). A great deal (but needed crusty bread instead of dried up corn bread). Karen is more into the egg/tomato combo than I am, but it was big and pretty and tasty. I got a frittata with broccolini, mushrooms, and riccota and it was the size of a medium pizza. It made me ask Karen on the way home, "is there anywhere in Richmond that makes good frittatas?" (feel free to answer that one for me). She responded, "Maybe you're just not into frittatas, Jase." "You like them. Name one that's any good." I'm not going to tell you Karen's answer, cuz you'd think I was ego tripping. But I will say that I don't put big chunks of bland potato in mine, and it's small and concentrated enough that every bite is eventful and cheesy, instead of big gaps of plainness. Bottom line: Bacchus' prices are much better at brunch. Help'em stay open.

Jasper demands a recount!
(this is the face he makes whenever he spots a camera pointing at him. Basically, he wants to put all technological devises in his mouth - after a thorough inspection, of course)


  1. Thanks for the timely reminder that I need to go to La Palmera.

    And I love the eggs carbonara Bacchus serves at brunch.

  2. you know, it has been awhile since i have hit the bacchus for anything at all. i always feel everything has been dipped in extra oil.. we will go back and try.

  3. I don't consider these cheap restaurants.. I was surprised how much it cost for Cuban sandwiches at La Palmera..

  4. What do you consider cheap? (not being snarky) For me anyplace I can get lunch for under $10 with (soft) drink and before tip is cheap to me.

  5. I'd like to hear TB's answer to this, because it's so relative and contextual. I've got unrealistic expectations with my definition of "cheap." I've had to adjust to fit the reality of limited options in my neck of the woods, sparse veggie options, and just so I can relate to the people who read my blog. Frequently, I am resigned to to adopt Janet's terms above. But I'd really much rather get a 12" sub that's $5.85 and split it with a coworker. Of course, those deals are pretty infrequent (or they're disgusting).

    Also, for me, it's about HOW you order. Even a hoity-toity place with pretentious food to satisfy their old-money customers can offer an out of character bargain or a way to subsist off of select side-dishes while sitting at the bar in a paint-splattered t-shirt and cut-offs, drunk on happy-hour rail drinks (CanCan's raw bar/Acacia's prixe fix/White Dog's closing kitchen deals). I think that is especially true of mid-level places like the ones I've mentioned here. Let's hear what's cheap by your standards.

  6. Money? Relative & contextual?

    OK. It cost ~$18 for 2 cuban sandwiches with tostones at La Palmera. The bread was Bunny Bread/Puffy loaf. Bleah!

    (Note: The Cuban cafe at Stratford Hills is closed. They did better cuban sandwiches, BTW.)

    This past March, we were at a Puerto Rican restaurant in Kissimee, FL and got the pernil (pork shoulder) dinner with soup, salad, mofongo (yum!), crusty cuban bread and flan for $15 for the two of us.

    I need to check out Cafe Caribe (Dominican, I think) on Hull between Warwick & Happy Mart. It was closed this Sunday.

    Food in Richmond is overpriced in general.

  7. There's a Cuban restaurant opening near Grace and 2nd & Grace, another place within walking distance. Looks como el cosa real, Arroz con Pollo, Pecidillo, Ropas Viejas and Cubans. They's been working on the place for a year and were still doing demolition as of last night.

  8. Anonymous9:00 AM

    What about Cielito Lindo? If you work the ala carte menu, you can fill up for very little $.

  9. We go to Cielito Lindo quite a bit since it's pretty affordable. We'll be glad when it gets nice enough to sit outside. I wish they served Bohemia there. It's the best Mexican beer available in los Estados Unidos.

    I wish it had less of a gringada ambiance. Too many people pretending to be on spring break at Cozumel.

  10. Cozumel... Now that's a knee slapper. Note the pics I added to this post. Jasper's offense at being marginalized by the voters and the arrangement of Momotaro sushi rolls on my coffee table. And yes, that's unfiltered sake in the background (got it at Whole Foods). Mmmmmmm, good.

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