First-years at Darden have enough to calculate without trying to puzzle out the best meal values in Charlottesville. Here are 6 cheap eats — meals at $6 or less, and yes, I'm assuming that you'll order water.
(1) Saigon Cafe
1703 Allied Lane (by C'ville Coffee)
I could hardly believe my ears when Ron told me lunch here cost less than $4. I tried to ferret out the catch: Did you pay extra for, say, rice? (Nope.) Are the portions skimpy? (Not at all.) Was the food any good? (Typical Chinese food, nothing fancy, but satisfying.) I finally tried it out today, and sure enough, the handwritten poster in the dining room advertised the lunch specials: $3.45.
Plus, lunch comes with soup and a just-out-of-the-fryer chicken wing, with a delightful crunchy skin. Can someone pinch me?
Ron ordered Kung Pao Tofu, which wasn't even written on the lunch menu, but he's in the know. The tangy sauce, thick and gooey with peanuts, delivers the slightest kick of heat.
I ordered the tofu with veggies, which was more on the bland side but still good. The broccoli heads sopped up the brown sauce wonderfully. Next time, I'll try the tofu with green beans and garlic sauce, I think. Oh, and the entire lunch bill — including comforting hot tea for both of us — came to $8.02.
(2) Christian's Pizza
With multiple locations, including the downtown mall and the Corner, Christian's serves up creative slices. My favorite is the avocado, tomato, and feta combination. The pies, laid out for full display behind glass, might not look completely tantalizing, but any slice you pick will be popped back into the oven before you bite into it. I love the crispiness of the freshly warmed crust.
More options include fresh mozzarella, basil, and tomato slices ...
... pesto with tomato slices, asparagus, and Italian sausage with spinach ...
... and even pizza with tortellini pasta!
(2) Marco & Luca Dumplings
I can't type about these dumplings without an intense craving for them. Six (or is it seven?) heavenly pockets of sweet-salty goodness for a mere 3 bucks. Dip them into the sweet sauce (or spicy, if that's your thing) for an addicting treat. Marco & Luca has two locations: on the Corner and on the downtown mall.
(3) The Flat: Takeaway Creperie
111 A. East Water Street
OK, I confess: I changed the title of this blog post from $5 to $6 just for this creperie. It's the real definition of a hole-in-the-wall restaurant — literally, a window in a brick wall where you order and then wait to pick up your paper cone of goodness. The crepes are warm and wrapped with delicious ingredients, from the savory (chicken, asparagus, Swiss) to the sweet (Nutella, anyone?).
A look into the depths of a tofu-veggie crepe. (Yes, I like tofu; don't worry, all these places are tasty regardless of your view of soybeans.)
(4) Revolutionary Soup
Another Corner-Mall duo-location favorite, this casual place is just what you need after a week of networking events. The sandwiches and salads are divine, but it's their soups — all made from scratch — that are killer and cheap. I love the lamb curry and the tomato basil bisque, pictured below. Tip: Ask for a soup sample if you can't decide.
(5) Bodo's Bagels
Sure, the three local locations are all mobbed at breakfast, but don't forget lunch. Give me an everything bagel with avocado and tomato, and I'm a happy girl. Bodo's also serves up omelets for under $6 and a couple of tomato-based soups that are perfect for bagel dunking.
What is your favorite cheap Cville spot? Post your suggestions below for my next list of <$6 meals!