In our constant pursuit of specific, über-relevant on-the-ground travel advice, we’ve employed our worldwide network of Local Experts to guide you through new locales. In order to give you the most specific, überest-relevant, most on-the-groundest travel tips, we’re rolling out a series of challenges that will test our Experts’ local knowledge and hone their travel senses: the $5 Challenge!
First on our list was lunch. For the tourist on the go, it’s quite possibly the most important and frequently missed meal of the day. We challenged our Local Experts from Shanghai to San Francisco to find lunch in their destination for under $5. The criteria were simple: it had to be delicious; it had to be local (no golden arches); it had to be filling (no purse snacks); it had to be purchased at a restaurant. Could our Local Experts rise to the challenge? Decide for yourself, and inter-surf to the hyper-lined headings for more recommendations.
Our Local Expert in Istanbul had no trouble finding filling goodies – five of them, to be exact – for under an Abraham. A couple examples:
Kumpir: Baked potatoes, but really big ones, which you fill up with all sorts of stuff to your liking. Common ingredients are: butter, kaşar cheese (which is like the Turkish mozzarella), olives, sausages or salami, beans, sweet corn and maybe ketchup and mayonnaise.
Kokoreç: This is a classic of the Turkish tradition, but is hard to grasp the idea of consuming this if you are fragile in the stomach or too picky about what you put into your stomach. Kokoreç is animal intestines… it’s a bit like consuming the brains, kidneys and other offal.
Another destination that proved easy hunting grounds for the $5 Lunch Challenge. Boasts Kevin:
This is Bangkok, one of the world’s powerhouses of cheap street food and I might struggle to actually get UP to $5. So let’s say here’s a classic Bangkok meal for TWO for under $5.
He goes on to describe what has to be one of the most delicious $5 lunches we came across: Pad Thai for around a buck.
Pad Thai is vermicelli noodles tossed about in a hot wok with tofu, garlic, palm sugar, tamarind, lime juice and fish sauce with a bit of egg, fresh prawns, dried shrimps, bean sprouts tossed in as well.
Choose between three different hot dishes and a choice of sauce, all thrown into one cardboard carton for 30kr ($5 exactly). I chose noodles and vegetables, shrimps in batter and mini egg rolls, with a sweet-and-sour sauce. I could also have chosen between rice and vegetables, chicken pieces in batter, beef in curry sauce and a chili sauce.
London was another locale that stymied our expert on the street, but Erin’s tastebuds proved tenacious and eventually she scored big at the Borough Market.
I… made a beeline for the English flag bunting and handwritten sign announcing, “Handmade by Me – England’s Best Pork Pie”. Obviously popular, the only hot pie variety left for the day was a chicken and leek pie for £3… It was truly fabulous and oh so British, a perfect recommendation plus about 58 cents under budget.
Our Local Expert skipped the formalities and headed straight for a local classic:
The chacarero is a sandwich you’ll find all over Chile. It’s grilled strips of beef, vaguely fajita style, peeled sliced tomatoes, and a healthy haystack of yes, you guessed it, shredded, cooked stringbeans on bread. Like many sandwiches in Chile, you probably won’t want to pick it up with your hands, but rather, do like the locals do, and grab a (steak) knife and fork to attack your chacarero with.
Considering five dollars a pushover, Sanjay decided to step up the challenge and dine for two on a date.
For Rs. 80 ($1.71) each, you and your partner can get a full blown meal with unlimited helpings. As much puri (bread), rice, curries, dal, sambhar, rasam (lentil soups) you want to eat. With a cup of yogurt and a sweet dish to finish off. This meal is typical of Andhra Pradesh, a south-Indian state known for its flavorful and spicy food.
Judy also increased the challenge considerably, ruling out the ubiquitous falafel in favor of something more authentic: lunch at the city office’s subsidized cafeteria.
Friendly city workers will greet you at the buffet-style serving area and you’ll choose a first course of fresh salads that include all the Middle Eastern specialties: spicy Moroccan carrot and cilantro; crunchy red cabbage; regular coleslaw; hummus; tabbouleh… Slide your tray along to the next section where you’ll be offered a main course of either fish of the day or sliced beef, roast chicken or chicken schnitzel. That comes with two side dishes of rice and/or potatoes (no one is looking if you take both) and a cooked vegetable from whatever happens to be in season.
Steer clear of the food trucks parked outside of Vatican City, advises our Rome Local Expert. Instead, head to nearby Alice Pizza a Taglio.
My favorite is the pizza with mushrooms and four cheeses. So far, we have spent 3.90 Euro. Luckily, water in Rome is free, good, and cold when you fill up your bottles at any of Rome’s water fountains. Which leaves us with .30 Euro, just enough to head across the road from Alice to the bar for a quick “pocket coffee,” a mini shot of espresso encased in chocolate.
Nick savored the chance to share a variety of his favorite dirt-cheap eats, but ultimately decided on Zizo’s, “said to serve up the best spicy sogoq sandwiches in Cairo.”
My less-than-five-dollar feast consisted of one sogoq sarnie and one liver sarnie. Each sandwich actually consists of two fingers of bread, and they can quickly become very filling.
The liver sandwich was juicy, tangy and smothered with tahina. The sogoq was gorgeous: fiery as hell, and drenched in a rich gravy-like sauce.
The City by the Bay is chock-full of micro-neighborhoods catering to diners with an ethnic penchant on a strict budget, according to Louis.
Little Saigon – This three block area within the Tenderloin district downtown is packed full of delicious Pho shops, a Vietnamese noodle dish that usually comes in at right around $5.
[Taco trucks] congregate on the wider or quieter streets of the Mission district, especially Harrison, Folsom and South Van Ness and Treat, Shotwell and Capp. Tacos off the truck regularly cash out at $1.50 a piece.
San Francisco’s “other Chinatown” – This neighborhood, informally headquartered at Sunset Supermarket on 25th Avenue and Irving Street in the Sunset district, features some of San Francisco’s best options for cheap lunch buffets, American and Asian deli sandwiches.
and so many more…
$5 buys you lunch in a lot of places, apparently. Local Experts from the following cities pulled off the challenge successfully and now you can too!
- New York
- Lake Tahoe
- Hong Kong
- More Hong Kong
- San Diego
- Salt Lake City
- Orange County
- Los Angeles
- Bryce Canyon
- Atlantic City
- Buenos Aires
- Salt Lake City
- Tel Aviv