By Jacqueline Alnes
In the past two days, several friends have sent me this article listing eight different meals in Portland, Ore., costing less than $8. [Ed. Note: This blog even mentioned it, on Monday.] I loved the article, but I’m competitive by nature (and a perpetually half-broke graduate student) so I decided to do the Times one better. I’ve come up with a list of five meals in downtown Portland that cost around $5, not including tip.
My life requires balancing two full-time classes, two hours of thesis credits (I’m gonna need a coffin full of Voodoo Doughnuts to get me through 100 pages of writing), and teaching an introductory composition class. I live on an IV of coffee, spend my Friday nights grading, have almost no time to make food, and have next to nothing to spend on food other people make.
Given this so-to-speak lifestyle, this list isn’t a frivolity. It’s a necessity. And even if you’re visiting Portland for no reason more edifying than buying a stack of books at Powell’s and spending the rest of your life reading – for fun this time — these cheap meals ought to come in handy.
For a first-day-of-school breakfast, or on a day where I have to cram in early-morning grading, Lovejoy Bakers offers a cup of steel-cut oatmeal with brown-sugar brulée or only $3. This creamy, wholesome bowl of goodness is best enjoyed in an Adirondack chair on Lovejoy’s outdoor patio – a great spot for watching pampered pups walk past while basking in a rare ray of sun. If work is going to be done, a cup of Stumptown coffee ($2) is necessary, which brings this pre-test breakfast to $5.
Lovejoy’s other multiple-choice answers to the breakfast question include B) cinnamon braid ($2.25) + coffee ($2) = $4.25; C) scrambled egg and butter on a ciabatta roll = $5.50; and D) Bran muffin ($2.80) + hot tea ($2.50) = $5.30. And unlike most tests, there’s no wrong answers.
Lunch: Not Your High-School Cafeteria
Bid adieu to the plastic chairs, bland tile floors, and food pranks of your high-school cafeteria and say hello to the smorgasbord that is SW 3rd Avenue: tourists ambling down the sidewalks with maps in their hands (trying to find Voodoo Doughnuts, most likely), cars whizzing past, and food trucks cheek-by-jowl in a vacant lot bordered by a typically Portlandesque mix of buildings. DC Vegetarian, an all-vegetarian and vegan food cart, is wedged between Pho Le and Alaskan Reindeer Sausage – a typical array of SW 3rd food carts that puts high school’s soggy tater tots and limp pizza slices to shame. On a rainy day, there’s no better lunch than a grilled-cheese sandwich ($4) from DC Veg. With their mix of cheddar and pepper-jack dairy cheeses or vegan Daiya mozzarella and pepper-jack, these sandwiches are the perfect mix of creamy cheese and crunchy, buttery bread. I love adding tomatoes ($.50), but with avocado ($.75), vegan tempeh bacon ($1), or banana peppers ($.50) on the menu, there are plenty of ways to customize a delicious sandwich for under $5.
Let’s face it: school can be rough. For me, any day can be made better by a leisurely walk from campus to the Pearl District and TILT. Entering TILT reminds me of walking into a friend’s garage, because it kind of is. The restaurant has cement floors, garage doors that open to patio seating, shop cloths instead of napkins, noisy music, and slick wooden booths or barstools where patrons can sit and chat as long as they want. With burgers taller than my face, slices of pie that take up half a plate, and salads in plates nearly as big as a car tire, TILT’s servings are ridiculously generous, which is why I stick to the beer-battered house fries ($3.50) and a classic bottled Coke ($2.25) for a filling, indulgent after-school snack.
Walk up to the counter at Los Gorditos in the Pearl and you can order from three different menus: meat, vegetarian, or vegan. I have a severe cheese allergy, so I order from the vegan menu, but I never miss the cheese at Los Gorditos. If I’ve got money to spare (hello, payday!) I order the vegan soycurl fajita burrito ($7.50), a huge, warm tortilla stuffed to groaning with seasoned soycurls, peppers and onions, beans, rice, and fresh cilantro. For a lighter dinner, I love the soyrizo taco ($2), with its perfectly spicy faux-meat, beans, onion and cilantro piled on top of a warm, tiny tortilla, and a regular taco ($2), with its magic combination of beans, rice, lettuce, tomato, onion, cilantro, and avocado. The tacos come with chips and salsa, and I love washing everything down with a lime Jarrito soda ($1.50), bringing my taco-dinner total to just $5.50.
Fueling an All-Nighter
Let’s say – hypothetically, of course – that I procrastinated until the night before an essay was due and got really hungry around midnight. A late-night walk to Sizzle Pie clears my mind, and a slice or two of pizza gives me enough energy to hit my word count. Though I always order vegan slices, Sizzle’s also serves up slices for vegetarians and meat-lovers. I love the names of their pies (Drugs Benedict, Thunder and Lighting, and Bad Reputation), and I also love that Sizzle offers “cuts” instead of slices, meaning that you can order half a slice for half the price. Spiral Tap ($1.50/cut), with its creamy caramelized onion spread, house red sauce and nutritional yeast, is one of my staples, and I often pair it with a cut of Apocalypse Dudes ($1.75) for a taste of cilantro pepitas pesto, not-a-ricotta, artichokes, Kalamata olives, and roasted garlic.
I haven’t written my lesson plans or syllabus yet, but I guess I can rest easy knowing I have my meals planned out for those days when cooking just isn’t an option.
Now, back to writing my thesis. Send coffee, please.
Jacqueline Alnes is a writer and graduate student at Portland State University with a wicked thirst for Stumptown Coffee.
Photos from pechluck.com, thezenofmaking.com, foodspotting.com, and dailyloveaffair.com.