Wednesday, October 8, 2014

What’s Eating You: The Cheap Lunch Edition

By Luke Tsai
Wed, Oct 8, 2014 at 12:27 PM

click to enlarge Tian Jin Dumplings for the win. - CHRIS DUFFEY
  • Chris Duffey
  • Tian Jin Dumplings for the win.
What’s Eating You is a semi-regular feature wherein I provide incredibly helpful answers to your most pressing East Bay-centric food questions. Send questions to Luke (dot) Tsai (at) EastBayExpress (dot) com, with the subject line “What’s Eating You.”

Dear Luke,

Like most working stiffs, I eat out for lunch pretty often, which is starting to burn a hole in my wallet! What are some places in Jack London/Downtown Oakland where a girl can get a decent lunch for under $10? Signed, Brokeland


Dear Brokeland,

I’m with you. The way I was raised, anything other than last night’s leftovers or a sandwich assembled by my own hand feels like an unspeakable luxury. Fortunately, here in Oakland, ten bucks can go a long way at lunchtime. Full disclosure: Whenever I think about “cheap, delicious lunch,” my mind goes immediately to Asia and doesn’t want to come back. That said, I tried to include at least a little bit of diversity in the following list.

1. Ben’s Restaurant (398 Third St.)

I once dubbed Ben’s the “best Chinese restaurant that you’ve never heard of,” and that still might be the case. Tucked away in the Jack London produce district, Ben’s is a small, unassuming spot, but its $6 rice plates are hard to top. The Wednesday-only fried chicken special is the stuff of legend, but really, I’ve never had a bad dish. Make sure you ask for the house-made black bean chili sauce.

2. Dragon Gate Bar and Grill (300 Broadway)

With its private karaoke rooms and servers decked out in slinky, high-cut qipao, Dragon Gate is a night spot through and through. But did you know that the Taiwanese street food specialist also serves lunch? Be glad that now you do: On the discounted lunch specials menu, everything is under $10, including the best Taiwanese beef noodle soup in town.

click to enlarge The feijoada at Rio California. - CHRIS DUFFEY
  • Chris Duffey
  • The feijoada at Rio California.
3. Rio California (1233 Preservation Park Way)

If there’s a Downtown Oakland restaurant with a more pleasant outdoor patio than Rio California’s, I haven’t found it yet. Located in the elegant, tree-lined Preservation Park, Rio serves Brazilian-style sandwiches and a rotating selection of daily specials. My favorite, available on Wednesdays and Thursdays only, is the feijoada ($9.95), Brazil’s national dish: a slow-simmered black-bean-and-sausage stew, served with collard greens, rice, and toasted yucca flour. It's delicious.

4. Tian Jin Dumplings (989 Franklin St., Ste. B)

Sixty-cent pork buns and $6.80 for a generous portion (15 to an order) of the best dumplings in town — what’s not to like? Pro tip: This little takeout window doesn’t have much seating to speak of, so I like to bring my dumplings across the street to the Pacific Renaissance Plaza. The benches facing the fountain are some of my favorite seats in Chinatown.

5. Desco (499 Ninth St.)

A $10 limit is kind of pushing it here, but how many sit-down Italian restaurants in the Bay Area would even be worth discussing with that kind of budget constraint? For lunch, Desco usually serves one or two pasta dishes at around that $10 mark, but my pick would be the Piadina Desco ($9): a flatbread sandwich that’s loaded with thinly sliced pork belly and sauerkraut-like braised cabbage.

6. Anula’s Cafe (1319 Franklin St.)

Even after recent troubles with the city forced Anula’s to (very slightly) raise its prices, the tiny deli-cafe’s daily lunch special — now $8 — is still one of the better deals in town. The best day to go is Tuesday, when the aforementioned special lunch plate features jerk chicken, peas and rice, steamed vegetables, and a scoop of house-made mango chutney. Vegetarians will be happy to note that there’s always a non-meat lunch special as well.

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