I’m always up for a challenge, so when Eater asked for writers willing to eat in the Twin Cities on ten bucks a day, I leapt at the chance. However, once I landed the assignment and spent a few minutes Googling cheapie options, I quickly realized ten bucks doesn’t get you squat.
Oh if only it were $12 a day, allowing for about four bucks for each meal. But $10? That means roughly $3.33 per meal. Sure, that’s doable if you’re eating a McBreakfast-Lunch-Dinner, but guys: this is for Eater! They take their food seriously. But more importantly, I take my food seriously. Unless I’m terribly hungover and also paying for food with change dug out of my couch, I’m not willing to divide a large Domino’s pizza into three separate meals (though at $7.99 a pop, I’d still have some cash left for an off-brand two-liter bottle of soda!). I wanted to showcase locally owned, non-chain eats. Cheap is not good enough for this gal; I deserve cheap, delicious, and preferably supporting the local economy.
Coffee & Breakfast
I never, ever start my day without coffee. However, a cup at my favorite spots would eat up 30 percent of my food budget, and since I am not willing forgo a meal so I can caffeine myself, I decided paying for coffee wasn’t an option. Luckily, I sourced three spots just giving away what my grandpa called Swedish blood plasma.
First option: the Nespresso counter at Kitchen Window. These guys are more than eager to make you a fancy cup of coffee/espresso in an even fancier disposable tiny cup. All you need to do is say something like, "I’m getting married soon and trying to decide if we should register for a Nespresso," or, "I’ve heard great things about Nespresso, but have never tried one…" or just a plain, "Make me a coffee, please."
Second option: Kowlaski’s. My neighborhood Kowalski’s always offers free hot coffee to shoppers. But you have to drink it out of Stryofoam cups, which feels a little too church basement, in a bad way.
My pick: Caribou Coffee. Did you know that when you sign up for Caribou Perks, aka their rewards program, you get a free medium beverage? So I signed up and scored a free coffee. Bonus: their egg sandwiches are only $1.99 and are actually pretty decent. I would’ve rather had the breakfast buddy at Ideal Diner, but at a whopping $4 a pop, it was just too luxurious. And yes, I know those awesome doughnuts from A Baker’s Wife are only 50 cents each, but I can’t subsist on carbs and sugar alone. Caribou—a chain, but technically locally-owned—wins this round.
I’m a grazer, but since I only had $8.01 in my pocket, I decided to only eat snacks of opportunity. We all know Costco, Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s do some fine sampling, but the France 44 Cheese Shop offers samples fit for a queen. Don’t mind me, standing over here at this tiny table, feasting on pimento cheese spread and fancy crackers! And also don’t mind me as I sneak right back out the door.
Not to sound like a Real Housewife or anything, but I don’t eat a whole lot of grains. I just feel better that way, okay? While I could’ve opted for a meatball bahn mi from Jasmine Deli ($3.75 ), or tacos from Taco Taxi ($1.75 each), I splurged on one of my favorite dishes in all of the Twin Cities: Pho Tau Bay’s green papaya salad. It’s a generous portion of shredded green papaya, topped with beef jerky, crushed peanuts served with a side of salty-sweet dressing. At $4.50 a pop, it ate up a huge portion of my budget, but who cares because I love it!
How does one do dinner on $3.51? Creatively. I could do a slice from Hello Pizza ($3.25), or maybe split a burger and fries from The Nook ($6.95, divided by two). Instead—mostly due to its proximity to a night class I’m taking—I hit up Manning’s, just northeast of Dinkytown. Thursday night means 50-cent wings, and boy oh boy are they delicious! Not dry, and not slimy—perfectly cooked and lighted coated with buffalo sauce. I got a half-dozen for $3.50. Paired with complimentary, self-serve popcorn, I left satiated, but not stuffed, which is a nice change from my normal feeling post-dive bar dinner.
Total spent, minus tax and tip… because you can’t avoid the former and you’re a jerk if you skip on the latter: $9.99. It wasn’t easy, but I did manage to eat well and not lash out in a crazed fit of hanger. If there’s one piece of advice for anyone looking to eat on ten bucks a day, it’s this: Learn how to cook.