Ian McNulty: 10 meals for under $10, a quest for cheap eats, tasty value around New Orleans Food and restaurant news in your inbox

Ian McNulty: 10 meals for under $10, a quest for cheap eats, tasty value around New Orleans Food and restaurant news in your inbox

You can get great food just about anywhere if you’re willing to fork over enough money for it. But New Orleans has long had a reputation as a place where you can eat well without spending an arm and a leg.

Is that still true? With prices up for seemingly everything these days, is this still a city where good food and good bargains can coexist?

To answer that question, we set ourselves a challenge: Find 10 dishes for under $10 each.

I joined WWL-TV reporter Jade Cunningham for this quest, which resulted in this story, and her report here.

First, we set some ground rules. We were interested in local, independent restaurants only. That meant no chains, which can tap economies of scale not available to the little guys. Plus, local food is just better.

And we were after true meals for under $10. They could be sandwiches, but not snacks, appetizers or side dishes.

We used the pre-tax menu price and we always tipped, even when the gratuity would push the total we paid over $10, because that is simply part of choosing to go out to eat.

We found local staples and flavors from other traditions gaining more popularity here. And we talked with family owners who are proud to be able to serve good food that more people can afford.

These are examples of what’s out there, food for thought for your next budget meal. The quest continues.

I want to hear about your own finds, if you’re willing to divulge. Post them on our Where NOLA Eats Facebook group.

Grumpy old man breakfast at Frady’s One Stop

3231 Dauphine St., (504) 949-9688

Corner stores like Frady’s were once far more common around New Orleans neighborhoods, and this one in the Bywater is a museum-quality representation of the tradition.

There are still some basic groceries on the shelves, but most people line up for the plate lunches and po-boys that Kirk Frady and his crew prepare just over the counter. The grumpy old man breakfast, served all day, should brighten up the morning for any frugal visitor, with two eggs, bacon or sausage, grits or potatoes for $6, tax included.

“We’ve made grumpy people not grumpy by eating it, because it’s so delicious, and it’s affordable, too,” said Frady.

Baleada at Norma’s Sweets Bakery

2925 Bienville St., (504) 309-5401

The lunch counter at the small, vibrant Latin American grocery is packed with traditional dishes from different countries and customers. One that has a special place is the baleada, beloved in its native Honduras and a specialty here.

It starts with a handmade flour tortilla cooked on the griddle to order, then filled with any number of ingredient combinations. The most basic, or sencilla, has a smear of smashed red beans with crumbled cheese and crema for a mere $2.50. Order it con todo to add eggs and avocado and your baleada basically becomes a breakfast burrito for $5.

Store owner Juan Castillo likes to compare baleadas with roast beef po-boys.

“It’s simple, it’s cheap, it’s comfort food, and everyone loves them,” he said.

Five-piece fried chicken at McHardy’s Chicken & Fixin’

1458 N. Broad St., (504) 949-0000

Rising chicken prices have made headlines, but the five-piece box, a half chicken, is just $7.04 (yes, they calculate things down to the penny here). McHardy’s is now a local institution, known for quality and value. Maintaining that balance is an important part of the shop’s identity, and the family works hard to preserve it, said co-owner Alvi Mogilles.

“It has truly been a challenge, but one of the positive things for us is that we are a family business, so families sometimes have to pull in their belts a bit in order to meet the challenges of the rising costs,” she said.

She frequently coaches new customers on how to make a simple order of chicken into a full and thrifty meal by adding a few vegetables or cupboard staples at home.

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Ian McNulty: 10 meals for under , a quest for cheap eats, tasty value around New Orleans Food and restaurant news in your inbox

“We know our customers are working on a budget, too,” Mogilles said.

Hot roast beef po-boy at Adams Street Grocery

1309 Adams St., (504) 861-1120

This longtime grocery caters to the needs of its neighborhood clientele, which includes a lot of college students. So, right next to the coolers filled with beer and seltzer, there’s a deli counter making po-boys at prices that still live up to the name. The half-sized versions of many po-boys are still under $5; even for full-sized versions, only the seafood po-boys exceed $10. The hot roast beef ($7.99) comes dripping with gravy to soak into the Dong Phuong bakery bread.

Hamburger steak plate at Leni’s Café

741 Baronne St., (504) 523-0069

Leni’s has the look of an all-American diner and plate lunches that make you feel like you’re eating at somebody’s house.

It draws a clientele across all walks of life. Despina Patselikos, always up front working the register, says her husband Pete is meticulous about managing his kitchen so he can keep prices low, portions generous and quality high. The plate lunches change each weekday but this one is served daily for $9.75, with tax included.

Falafel sandwich at 1000 Figs

3141 Ponce de Leon St., (504) 301-0848

A falafel sandwich is the standard vegetarian option of many Middle Eastern restaurants, and it’s easy to find one for under $10. It’s hard to imagine a better one than the 1000 Figs version, which rings in at $6.75. The difference is all the fresh garnishes and dueling doses of the zhoug and toum, two garlic sauces (one green and tangy, the other creamy and rich). It’s an easy introduction to the small, delightful cafe, where fresh touches and a careful eye elevate the whole menu.

Hot sausage banh mi at Mr. Bubbles Sandwich Co.

925 Behrman Highway, Terrytown, (504) 570-6377

Long ago dubbed the Vietnamese po-boy (in local parlance anyway), banh mi has always meant bargain. That’s especially true at the takeout shops that specialize in these sandwiches and little else. This one is in the atrium of Hong Kong Market, the sprawling Asian supermarket, and the grocery’s own deli makes very good banh mi for less than $5. Still, I am drawn to Mr. Bubbles and this specialty bánh mì made with hot sausage links cooked in crab boil, which is a bit of fusion between Vietnamese and Louisiana traditions. It’s just $6. See also the related Mr. Bubbles Café, 1441 Canal St., (504) 516-2994, with a similar menu and price range in the CBD.

No. 6 burger at Bud’s Broiler

Various locations

New Orleans burgers tend to fall into two broad categories. There’s a plus-sized thick patty version, epitomized by Port of Call. And then there’s the old-fashioned type served at Bud’s, with a slim patty hot off the grill tucked into a little paper wrapper. You order by number at Bud’s, with slight variations on toppings per number. The No. 6 brings the house, but it’s still just $5.25. It’s a no-fuss classic and you can still add fries and keep things under $10.

Quart of gumbo at Orchid Seafood

1125 N. Broad St., (504) 482-9092

This takeout shop has a hot bar filled with local comfort food staples. That includes a terrific gumbo, served in quart-sized cups for $8.99 ($9.49 if ordered without rice and $9.99 with rice on the side; Orchid Seafood has factored the different ways its customers like their gumbo).

The packaging even fits in a large-sized car cup holder for easy transit. Whether you sip directly from the lid (I can never resist) or bring it home and pour into bowls, you have at least two servings of gumbo with plenty of sausage, chicken and shrimp throughout.

Half muffuletta at Nor-Joe Import Co.

505 Frisco Ave., Metairie, (504) 833-9240

When it comes to muffulettas, half a sandwich is still a whole lot of food. Nor-Joe serves one of the best in town, and this Italian deli and market has a reputation built on them. At $9.99, this one could hardly be closer to our $10 threshold. But it had to be included. Factor in the quality of the sandwich, and it’s one of the best examples of the bargains available out there.

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