My husband and I have been on the prowl for cheap restaurants in St. Pete ever since moving here this time last year. We’ve discovered a few gems that I have yet to post about, but will soon. We recently discovered that a new diner opened up close to where we live, just down MLK from us and there was always a packed parking lot on Saturday and Sunday mornings, which is a good indication of how the food is.
Five Bucks Drinkery – St. Petersburg, Florida
We’ve recently been on the hunt for cheap food in St. Petersburg, Florida since moving here a few weeks ago. We’ve cruised around the downtown area a few times with friends to help us get acquainted with the area and on one particular visit we were showing around some friends visiting from Tennessee. After visiting the Saturday farmer’s market, we strolled down to Central Ave where there are some great restaurants and stores by the water.
We saw some places that weren’t screaming ‘cheap food’ at us, like the BellaBrava, but we thought we’d pop our heads in for a beer. I’m sure the waitresses at these places weren’t thrilled that we were ordering the happy hour Bud Light special and no food (we tipped well), but we were more interested in checking the places out and having a beer or two and moving on to the next place. This was our kind of tour of St. Pete and a chance to check out the menu at places that might pique our interest for a later time.
After a little bar/restaurant hopping, we walked into the 5 Bucks Drinkery and our world changed. It was around lunch time, so we were one of the first (if not THE first) customers of the day. The six of us bellied up to the bar and got quickly acquainted with the big-ass beers. While they aren’t under $5, they were just a dollar more and were 32oz of deliciousness.
They had all kinds of great beers on tap as well as an endless supply of bottled beers. I settled for the Magic Hat #9 and started to peruse the menu just to see.
That’s when I fully understood the name “5 Bucks Drinkery”. There wasn’t anything on the menu over $5. That includes everything from a patty melt (which I’ve had and is delicious, but isn’t as good as a Waffle House or Denny’s patty melt…sorry folks) to loaded tots and their ‘haute’ dogs.
Sometimes there is something on a menu that I just have to try, no questions asked, no buts, I just have to. The 5 Bucks Drinkery had that item on their menu that I knew I couldn’t walk out without having tried. Their broad menu touted a few ‘Favorites’ including deep fried bacon with a maple syrup dip. Um, hello? Fried BACON? Like, deep fried bacon? Yes! They call it ‘Chicken Fried Bacon’ but my guess is that the batter is the same as their chicken and they want to be clear that it’s not just traditional pan-fried bacon. So, for $2.99 we ordered a basket of deep fried bacon with maple dipping sauce never to be forgotten.
The bacon was cooked well-done inside, the way I like it, and had a crispy batter coating it around the outside. The whole experience was like dipping bacon into pancake batter and pouring maple syrup on it. It was as heavenly and intriguing as we had hoped. This 5 Bucks Drinkery gets a gold star for a great cheap beer menu and awesome deep fried bacon!
We hit another cheap food destination while on the Caribbean side last weekend. In case you didn’t see our other cheap breakfast post about La Botanica Organica, make sure you check it out. This particular Sunday was rainy on-and-off, which is typical Caribbean weather, but we didn’t care much. We had our sites on this little well-known breakfast nook in Puerto Viejo.
The restaurant and bakery is on a rustic porch similar to most restaurants in the area and unlike the usual weekend morning, there was a table open for us when we arrived. The place was filled with friendly faces and delicious food and coffee in front of most. To be honest, before even going in, our friends had told us the best part of the selection is the homemade chocolate brownies, so we were looking every which way to catch a glimpse before sitting down. And we found them, on a bamboo display not far from our table.
Our friends, whom we were visiting, work at a nearby hotel and thus know most other hotel and restaurant owners, so immediately upon arrival to Bread and Chocolate, the Maryland native owner came over. He was a great guy and being a born-and-raised Marylander myself, we reminisced about blue crabs and Old Bay seasoning before we ordered. The menu itself wasn’t huge, but it was full of meal descriptions that made me want to try them all. I was absolutely torn as to what I should order, so I of course asked my husband to split two (out of 6) of the dishes we were both curious about.
We settled on a fried egg sandwich (fried hard to my liking of course) served on a bagel with homemade home fried potatoes and an order of biscuits and gravy. Keep in mind we’re in Costa Rica here and biscuits and gravy isn’t something you can really find anywhere, so we were psyched about the prospect. The fried egg sandwich was served on our choice of an everything bagel, which was crisp on the outside and soft on the inside, the way they should be. Not the way Bagelman’s makes them in the city. To our delight the potatoes were seasoned perfectly and while the biscuits were slightly dry, the unique mushroom gravy that topped them more than made up for it. My husband and I divided both plates in half and devoured our servings in no time flat.
So, after breakfast and another two cups of joe, we grabbed our brownies to-go. I chose the mint variety while our friends got the walnut type. When we got back to our friend’s Bali-style house on the beach we hung out with the dogs and later dove right into our mint brownies heated and topped with chocolate ice cream. It was bliss, I couldn’t believe I had never had a mint chocolate brownie before, knowing my affinity for mint chocolate chip ice cream, but this was awesome. The outside had a slight crust and the inside, extra fudgy. Heaven.
We can’t say enough positive things about Bread and Chocolate. We wished we could have tried everything on the menu and each dessert in the glass case, but our budget didn’t permit, so we’ll just have to wait until the next trip down there. Pura vida Bread and Chocolate!
La Botanica Organica
On our recent trip to the Caribbean side, we discovered that the best restaurants are the breakfast ones. There aren’t a ton open before 9am but there are a few that we went to and fell in love with. The first morning we were there our local friend brought us to a little place called La Botanica Organica (make sure you like their Facebook page), who has the freshest, most organic produce you can find around Puerto Viejo.
From their page:
Breakfast and Lunch Menu:
Super Goji Berry and Hemp Seed Granola…Whole wheat Pancakes.. Whole Wheat French Toast, Organica Eggs.. Organica Coffee and tea.. Lentil Burgers.. Hummus Sandwiches.. Fresh Salads.. Lunch Specails.. Vegan, Veggi and Raw and Gluten Free Options!
In the Shop: Everything from Tea Tree Oil to Natural Deodorants and Toothpaste.. tinctures.. natural Medicines.. Essential Oils.. Incense .. Crystals.. Special Ordering available
While most small farms in Costa Rica can’t afford the official certification for organic status, some are abiding by all best practices and with a tour of the farm you can see it for yourself. These small farmers are sought out by the owner of La Botanica Organica and they have an open and honest working relationship. One of the goals of the restaurant is to help the local economy so they don’t grow the food themselves, but rather support those in the area. It’s a great concept.
When we walked in we immediately noticed the concrete floors (mainly because my husband is now doing decorative concrete) with imprints of Costa Rican flora. It was rustic, yet modern, just how we like it and it fit in perfectly with the foliage creeping in from all sides of the place.
The rest of the charming decor included rustic wood benches and tables with centerpieces poised with local flowers and verigated leaved plants. They had their morning delivery of produce spread out on a back table which allows you to see just what your prepared food is made of. The kitchen is open where you can see a few locals running around putting together everyone’s orders. The macrobiotica on site is just off of the main patio for easy access after you eat.
We started off with cups of rich organic Costa Rican coffee and for me (a ‘coffee-only-in-case-or-emergencies’ drinker) a cup of hot herbal tea with dried tropical fruit, lemon grass and other local herbs. We quickly moved on to our breakfasts of organic whole wheat pancakes with fresh pineapple topping, a free-range egg scramble with broccoli, onion, bell pepper and feta cheese with fresh baked whole grain bread (amazing!) and a bowl of fabulous granola and local yogurt with goji berries. The three of us tried each others food and agreed that we picked a place that will become a regular stop for us. We live in San Jose, but plan to make it back to the Caribbean side more often.
When we were done we felt satisfied and reminded again why we live here. The owners are from California and have adapted well to living the pura vida life. They contribute to the local economy, make delicious food which is sometimes hard to find here, and have cheerful, attentive waitstaff. Thanks for a great start to an amazing weekend in Puerto Viejo, Talamaca, Cocles. You’ll be seeing us again soon.
After visiting the restaurant we moved on to visit the Jaguar Rescue Center just down the road to play with some monkeys! Make sure you support them, it’s totally worth the $15 per person for the tour.
To our surprise, we discovered Falfel Mundo, our new favorite place to eat in Tamarindo, Costa Rica, which is the unexpected cheap food place for under $10 per person, not at the overpriced seafood place on the beach. For my birthday this year I wanted to finally master this surfing thing. My husband and I have been trying to surf on our own for the past year with little success. I’ve been doing water sports behind a boat for 20 years so I assumed surfing would be similar, but I was wrong. Waves are much scarier than a boat. So, we headed to Witches Rock Surf Camp in Tamarindo for a lesson with Maria and we learned a LOT. We corrected a few things and were riding waves before the lesson was over.
So, getting back to the food, we stumbled on a place next to the Costa Rica Surf Club where we rented boards the next day called Falafel Mundo, a Middle-Eastern Cuisine place that only served three items, but served them VERY well; falafel, shawarma and shaksuka. Shira (almost like the He-Man counterpart) owns the place with her Israeli boyfriend where they have brought the delicious tastes of the Mid-East. They bring the spices for the dishes back with them from Israel or have their mom send a care package, so you know it’s authentic as it gets.
We bellied-up to the bar on the giant wooden stumps and ordered two half Falafel sandwiches and two half Shawarma sandwiches so that we could each share both. She asked if we wanted to add hummus and if we liked it spicy and of course we replied with a tandem ‘yes’. The hummus inside and the tangy yogurt sauce on each was the kicker to set things over the top. Falafel Mundo was a great experience overall and Shira was a pleasure to chat with while she prepared our food. This has become our “Bubba’s Fish Taco” of Tamarindo, the must-have when traveling through or coming within 50 miles of this beach.
Falafel Mundo is located next to Sharky’s and across from High Tide. Don’t miss this Cheap Food Here hotspot in Tamarindo.
Costa Rica translates to ‘Rich Coast’. Christopher Columbus, the Great Navigator himself, was the first European explorer to encounter Costa Rica in September 18, 1502. As he was setting anchor off shore, a crowd of local Carib Indians paddled out in canoes and greeted his crew warmly. Later, the golden bands that the region’s inhabitants wore in their noses and ears would inspire the Spaniard Gil Gonzalez Davila to name the country Costa Rica.
No matter what the history books have said, I think the real gold wasn’t discovered until I walked into the Waffle Place in Escazú. This gold mine is located in the Golden Plaza close to Multiplaza Escazú. Talk about rich, delicious food. And affordable to boot! My husband claims that I’ve acquired a knack for choosing the best thing on the menu the first time, and in this case I did. Now, it’s been a few weeks since I’ve been there and I have been lazy about posting, so I’ll let the pictures and descriptions do the talking.
The owner spent two years in Belgium studying the intricacies of waffles and the cuisine specific to that country and region. The menu is probably bigger than it should be, but I have yet to find something I didn’t love. I always get the waffle with creamy bacon and mushroom sauce over a fried egg. The first time ordering, not having seen the actual waffles themselves, I imagined something completely different. But, to my surprise the flavor was bursting and the richness unrivaled. Also shown here is a waffle with bacon and a fried egg over hashbrowns and topped with honey mustard for the perfect balance of sweet and savory.
They have a great lunch menu, as you can see from the soup in sourdough bowl (not uncommon in the US, but very scarce here in Costa Rica), there is more than just waffles here. Shown is a creamy tomato soup with avocado and a side salad. It’s pretty much guaranteed you’ll leave The Waffle Place more than just full, but completely satisfied.
WHAT’S SO GREAT ABOUT BUBBA’S?
There are several places in Jaco, Costa Rica to find fish tacos, or any tacos for that matter, like the Taco Bar and Jaco Taco, but we have certainly found our winner for best flavor, freshness and price. Bubbas was a little hole-in-the-wall place for several years and was recommended to us by our friends in Playa Matapalo. We went for the first time about 6 months ago, but each time I went, I was too excited about actually eating that I forgot to take pictures of the food and the place. Lame excuse I know, but I finally got a few pictures, but still forgot the actual tacos.
WHAT TO ORDER AT BUBBA’S
The place is pretty non-descript, but has a blue sign saying BUBBA’S with a marlin on it. There are about four aluminum 4-top tables with a basket of various hot sauces in the middle. No matter what you see on that menu, get the fish taco, all the way. That includes fresh grilled Mahi, cabbage, cheddar cheese, fresh tomatoes, onion, jalapeños, lime and a large dose of delicious! They come with a buttered ‘elote’ or corn-on-the-cob and don’t forget to order the fresh cut french fries and a lemonade. I’m telling you, you’ll never think twice about the other taco places in Jacó after you’ve left Bubba’s. Now, no matter if we are just driving past Jacó coming from Dominical or spent the day in Esterillos, we make it a point to grab a fish taco before heading home. The best part is, you can get the taco, fries and a drink for about $6, which is more than I can say for the other places.
BUBBA’S HAS A GUINNESS RECORD
As it turns out, according to the Guinness Book of World Records and the Junk Food News, back in August of 2008, Bubba’s took the world record for biggest fish taco. 100% of the proceeds went to establish a reef conservation project at a local highschool in Jacó. “The mission of www.reefball.org is to rehabilitate the world’s ocean-reef ecosystems and to protect the natural reef systems using artificial reef technologies. Reef Balls are artificial reef modules placed in the ocean to form reef habitat.”
Now the little taco stand has moved two streets north and onto the beach. I don’t recall what is next to it, but everyone in town knows where it is. Bubba also runs a very successful deep sea fishing charter company, so make sure you check that out.
Empanadas are something my husband and I regularly lust after and following a failed attempt at cooking our own, we tried a highly recommended place in San Pedro, Costa Rica just east of San Jose. Donde El Ché is the name of the joint and it’s specialties include empanadas Argentina-style and a chimichurri that will make you want to slap your mama (I’ve been trying to work that in somewhere). But seriously, these are definitely the best empanadas you’ll find north of Argentina. The directions to Donde El Ché is: from the Muños y Nanne, 100 meters East, on the left-hand side by the Jimenez y Tanzi.
The difference between Tico empanadas and Argentinian empanadas are the crusts. Ticos love them some corn and Donde El Ché’s are flour. I definitely prefer the flour and baking them as opposed to frying them. The filling on these guys were amazing. We tried the chicken, spinach and the tomato-garlic flavors with a clear winner. Surprisingly, the tomato garlic empanada had the most unique, intense and delicious flavor of all three. I of course ordered that one and didn’t want to share, but how do you brag about what you’ve got without letting others try it out.
Next course, my husband and I split the Vacío de Horno or something close to that, which means ‘Empty Oven’. And this is by far the best cut of meat I’ve experienced in San Jose. It was cured first similar to corned beef and then baked to perfect tenderness in a delicious savory sauce and accompanied by a baked potato and salad. Our friend ordered the Churripan, which was a slice of marinated pork on a homemade bun with chimichurri sauce to DIE for. The best I could do to tell what was in the chimichurri was olive oil, pimentos, whole black peppercorns, garlic, herbs and some sort of secret magnificence that I couldn’t quite detect.
My husband describes his cheap food experience at Donde El Ché as a fiesta in his mouth and vowed that if we ever opened a restaurant he would never be satisfied unless we could create the exact same feeling of wanting to return somewhere as they did. We’ll be back, you can count on that.
After being recommended by a friend in the neighborhood, we were led on the search for cheap food in Pavas, San Jose, Costa Rica. The bar’s name is Jettsy and looks like your typical Costa Rican bar on the corner but the food is extraordinary. It’s an open air restaurant, similar to the others around the country, with TV’s over the bar, rustic wood tables, plants everywhere you look and an attentive waitstaff (which is tough to find, mind you).
We were told the hamburgers were pretty great, considering the country we are in. I mean, how come hamburgers in Costa Rica are so terrible most times? But, Jettsy is different. They don’t use preformed patties and they use decent quality beef, bacon and cheese. So, if you’re looking for a decent burger in San Jose, or Costa Rica for that matter, look for Jettsy in Pavas.
The other food is great too. We ordered nachos, which came with chicken and beef, refried beans, cheese and jalapeños on a bed of corn tortilla chips. My only complaint about those were the store bought tortilla chips; I mean, come on, homemade tortillas are so much better. Take a look at the tortilla chips at Rostipollo for example. Finally, I ordered grilled beef skewers with onion and red bell peppers in some delicious sauce next to a bed of rice, sweet plantains and a salad. Great, great, great flavor and the food was definitely cheap. About $15 for two entrees and the nacho appetizer. Now, add the beers and Cacique and watch the check start to climb.
A great post made by a fellow foodie, Spork or Foon, who sites the drama of a restaurant chef that can’t take criticism and thinks all food bloggers are scum. It’s a great read and makes me want to send a flaming bag of poo to JoeDoe, via email of course.
Not the best response to paying customers. Isn’t the key to having a successful restaurant is by having repeat customers?