Cheap eats in Dallas are plentiful, as evidenced by the sheer number of taquerias that litter our city's landscape. But in the land of $14 cocktails, is it possible to eat well on $10 a day?
A humble $10 bill surely won't enable you to rub shoulders with Dallas's upper crust feasting on $20 dry-aged burgers — but can it fill you up? In honor of Cheap Eats Week, that's the answer I sought. Read on to learn all the lurid details of one man's $10-a-day eating odyssey.
I stagger out of my North Oak Cliff apartment and into the beating sun. The light blinds me. I howl. Involuntarily, I begin to sob.
I realize now that I may need coffee.
But where? Davis Street? Too fancy. Oddfellows? Too expensive. Weekend? Same. Method? Those hipsters will smell my $10 stink a recently-pedaled and fairly-traded mile away. It is dawning on me that I simply cannot afford to blow a quarter of my budget on coffee alone. My head hurts. And like Winnie the Pooh, my tumbly is getting rumbly. Coffee alone just won't do; breakfast is in order.
8:01 AM — LONE STAR DONUTS: SMALL COFFEE (8 OZ) AND A DONUT (BACON-MAPLE), $1.79
Sugar and salt, savory and sweet, light but with a crumbly crunch — the maple-bacon donut at Lone Star delivers a pleasing melange of flavors and textures. It is exactly what I needed.
On the other hand, a mere eight ounces of coffee? Meh. I guzzle the meager swill, black and steaming, hoping that the resulting pain of fresh mouth burns will distract my brain from the piercing pangs of white-light caffeine withdrawal that will soon rain down upon me. $10 a day, man. The struggle, it ain't fake. >> Dollars remaining: $8.21
I begin to hallucinate from lack of caffeine.
I awaken alone, disoriented, in an abandoned lot somewhere near Hall Street and 75. I chalk up my impromptu nap to a not-at-all-deeply-worrisome blackout, likely caused by willful coffee starvation, and head out on foot to find some rapidly approaching lunch. Luckily for my budget, I am thinking what I am almost always thinking anyway: burritos.
12:15 PM — LA VICTORIA: ONE BURRITO (BEAN, CHEESE, JALAPENO), $2.60; SALSA COMPLIMENTARY
I scarf this meatless burrito like an unhinged madman, with a fervor and zeal that a common vegetarian simply does not possess. My burrito is overflowing with gooey cheese and from-scratch refried beans, more soupy than stewy, but rich and meaty and sit-in-your-belly satisyfing. The tortilla maintains a perfect texture balance, toasty yet pliable, and the crunchy, not pickled, jalapenos are peppered in generously.
Because La Victoria has, for my money, the best salsa in town, and is operated by generous and wonderful humans, I of course slather it in said gratis salsa. God bless this place. >> Dollars remaining: $5.61
While I leave La Victoria a little lighter on dough, I'm weighed down by satiation and contentment. A bean and cheese burrito may sound basic, but at La Victoria the whole heaping mess is inarguably greater than the sum of its parts. Between now and dinner, I try to find something else to do besides eat.
Because this is Dallas, I resist the urge to get day-drunk on a patio.
It is hard.
I refresh Twitter for the 950th consecutive time and come to grips with the fact that when I am not thinking about food or booze or otherwise consuming them my life is devoid of all joy and meaning.
I begin planning in earnest my dinnertime agenda. I weigh all the possibilities — a cheap as hell grease-bomb cheeseburger at Keller's, maybe? A couple dollar-and-change tacos filled with various pork products from Banqueta? A big-ass pizza slice from Lover's Pizza on Mockingbird? Hmm. Decisions.
I decide to head back home to Oak Cliff.
6:12 — KESSLER PARK EATING HOUSE: TWO ORDERS OF PEPPERONI ROLLS (TWO PER ORDER), $4.33
The well-spiced, no-frills pepperoni rolls at Kessler Park Eating House — the relatively new down-home neighborhood haunt from the folks who brought us all the unholy genius of Jonathon's — are only two bucks per two-piece order, which is a steal. They're served with a mini-cauldron of marinara, reminding me of a well-worn diner classic: the grilled cheese and tomato soup combo.
These babies aren't quite as comfort-food sinful as a grilled cheese, but they're a bread lover's dream: chewy and melt in your mouth, like buttered dinner rolls, and easily pulled apart, but stuffed with cured meats — plus sturdy enough to stand up to multiple marinara sops. I reminisce about the trait all of my cheap meals have shared: the dubious distinction of being eaten, by me, manually. They've all been crammed into my maw by my bare freakin' hands. I guess eating frugal means cutlery: optional. >> Dollars remaining: $1.36
And speaking of, there's still some frugal eatin' to do. I'm thinking dessert.
7:20 PM — KIDD SPRINGS PARK PALETERIA: CHILE-MANGO PALETA, $1.25
After some brisk haggling with the paletero, the man in the park selling ice pops (and chicharrones) from a mobile freezer, I purchase the day's final treat: a chile-mango paleta, heavy on the chile. To my delight, it is prepared with chunks of real mango. Walking along the park, lakeside, I watch my neighbors terrorize the legions of chubby, clearly well-fed ducks; the similarities of our physiques are not lost on me.
Frantically, I attempt to eat my paleta before the merciless sun melts it down my shirtfront. And then, an epiphany. The world is my paleta. Because all I need is another $10 bill. Actually, scratch that: all I need — all you need, evidently, to eat well, or at least decently, for one day in Dallas — is a mere $9.89.
Dollars remaining: $0.11
>> Number of forks, knives, or spoons utilized: 0
>> Hardest thing: Portion (and self-) control. Stretching 10 bucks all day means saying no to that second donut and repeating mantras like "they are paying me to do this" when those between-meal snack attacks inevitably strike
>> Actual fruits and vegetables eaten in 24 hours: marinara, salsa, jalapeno, and chile-dusted mango