In the late 90s, I was a fan of the $3.25 plate at Hayble’s Hearth and ate almost every Sunday at Robinson’s, where three “vegetables” (choices included brains-n-eggs and Mac-n-cheese), biscuit and coffee were $4.50. Is a good lunch for $5 or less a thing of the past? No, you just need to know where to look, and the choices are more diverse than ever.
Bánh Mì Saigon Sandwiches & Bakery
3808 Gate City Blvd, Greensboro
Forget the $10 imitation at downtown bistros, Greensboro’s cheapest sandwich is also among its absolute best. Fresh-baked baguette with daikon, carrots, cucumber, jalapeno and cilantro, and all the choices delicious. My favorite is the shredded pork and pork skin, but the roast pork, BBQ, rotisserie chicken, curry chicken, tofu, meatball, veggie meatball, fish roll, and sardine are all great, and most only cost $3.50.
Carniceria el Mercadito
103 Muirs Chapel Road, Greensboro
This Mexican grocery store, bakery, and grill has the best damn tacos, burritos, and gorditas in the Triad. Take-out or dine at the inside picnic tables. There are a variety of choices for $5 or less, including huge gorditas and burritos for $3.50 and tacos for $2 each (4 for $6). The clientele is largely Latino, but gringos like Republican honcho Tony Wilkins and myself swear by this place.
Over a dozen locations throughout the Triad, use the website to find the one near you.
Keep your fancy nationally-rated eleven-dollar burgers; I’ll take Cook-Out’s cheap char-grilled goodness. You can get a burger tray with two sides and a drink for $4.99, a big double burger and a Coke or Cheerwine float for $4.78 or a small burger and a fancy shake for $4.18. My fellow non-believers may be bothered by the Bible verses on the wrappings, but this heathen doesn’t care. Pork BBQ is $2.99 for a sandwich and a dollar more for a plate, and while it can’t compare with Lexington BBQ #2 or Short Sugar’s in Reidsville, it’s as good as Stamey’s. And they’re open till 3 a.m. (4 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays).
4139 Spring Garden St, 2432 Randleman Rd, 611 MLK Dr, Greensboro
1301 Patterson Avenue, 907 Waughton St, Winston-Salem
The Spring Garden location (I’ve not been to the others) is small and ramshackle, but this is my favorite fast food chicken (their spicy variety is like what Popeye’s sold in the 80s). They also have the best okra, fries and poppers, and their biscuits are great if you like the honey-butter glaze (I do). At the time of this writing, the $5 Big Box includes a leg, a thigh, coleslaw, mashed potatoes, a biscuit and a small drink. On their website, you can find coupons for 2 pieces, side and biscuit for $3.
115 E. February 1 Place, Greensboro
The kind of chili your mama made if she was a Greek lady from Cincinnati, with a meaty sauce spiced with cinnamon, allspice, Worcestershire and baker’s chocolate. A regular chili and spaghetti plate is $4.75. A small chili, spaghetti, cheese and beans plate is $4.50. A bowl of chili is $4.75 and a chili cheese dog with a side is $4.50.
Indu Chaat House
Inside Indu Convenience Store, Fanta City
4925 W. Market St, Ste. 1104. Greensboro
“Chaat” is Hindi for savory snacks sold at stalls or food carts in India, Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh, but at this kitchen inside a grocery store, those so-called snacks are vegetarian meals to delight even a carnivore like me. The “Indian pizza,” a fusion popular across Asia, starts at $4.99. The more traditional Rajma, Dal Tadka, Samosa Chole Chat, Dal Makni, and Shari Paneer all come with bread or rice for $4.99 and make great budget meals. Vegetarian Desi Burgers are $3.99. Be sure to have some Indian tea, Bru coffee or a sweet, salty or mint lassi. They have dining tables.
Stamey’s Old-Fashioned Barbecue
2206 W. Gate City Blvd, 2812 Battleground Avenue, Greensboro.
Them that loves it will hate me for saying this isn’t the best ‘cue in Greensboro, but I do like the chicken and there’s no denying it’s a local favorite. A chopped sandwich is $3.25 and for $1.40 you can add beans, slaw or the very good hush puppies. I grew up eating real Brunswick stew, the kind with venison, rabbit and squirrel, but their pork/chicken variety is a hearty meal for $3.75. The Battleground location is closed for repair following a fire, but most Sundays they have a food truck in the parking lot.
TJ’s Deli & Grill
Parkway Plaza, 1211 Silas Greek Parkway, Winston-Salem
The specialty of the house, the wonderful “Cham” (so-called because it has fresh deep-fried chicken, grilled ham and provolone on a hamburger bun) is $6.10 and that’s what you really should try, but for the purposes of this list there’s an excellent egg salad sandwich on wheat bread for $3.90, homemade with fresh eggs, lettuce, tomato and mayo, .40 cents more with cheese. Speaking of that, the grilled cheese sandwich is very fine, with a lot of cheese for $3.80.
United House of Prayer for All People Madison Kitchen Cafeteria
101 S. Dudley Street, Greensboro
Greensboro’s cheapest and tastiest cafeteria (and cheapest soul food) is in the basement of a church opposite A&T. Your best choice is $6-8 for a meat and two vegetables, especially the wonderful fried fish (cooked to order – I recommend crispy and skin-on), but you can absolutely fill up on two vegetables and two pieces of cornbread for $4.84. The corn bread and the Mac-n-cheese (which counts as a vegetable choice) are the best in town. No website, but open seven days a week, call 336-574-2596 for hours
Washington Perk & Provisions
228 W. Acadia Ave, 301 W. 4th St, Winston-Salem
Cozy neighbor deli, small grocery store and coffee shop. Turkey sandwich on homemade bread is $4.50, and grilled havarti is $4.00. Daily specials, often for $4.00, include a meatball sub and a Philly cheese steak. Excellent frozen custard.