#1 Top Cheap Eats: El Pescador Fish Market

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Fish Sandwich at El Pescador (Courtesy of El Pescador)

#1 El Pescador Fish Market (La Jolla, CA): Situated  just north of San Diego, this hole-in-the-wall fish market takes our #1 cheap eats spot for its extremely fresh fish and most delicious seafood sandwiches on the planet. In business for over 30 years and located off the beaten tourist path, El Pescador is a locals joint that to the eye doesn’t look like anything special. It is a small, you order at the counter, and there are only a couple of tables but man do they know how to do a seafood sandwich justice.

I used to live in San Diego and would come to El Pescador for lunch whenever I got the chance. While everything on their menu is amazing and cooked to perfection, I would always get the dungeness crab sandwich with avocado. The sandwich consists of huge chunks of fresh moist dungeness crab with ripe avocado, lettuce, tomato, onion and some sort of amazing sauce that I can’t remember exactly what it was but just that it was heavenly delicious. Served on a buttery char-grilled sourdough roll that itself alone is out of this world, this sandwich will honestly take you to food euphoria. And at $9.95, the dungeness crab sandwich is truly a steal for the quality.

If you go to El Pescador (which you must do if you are ever in San Diego) get your sandwiches to go then make the one minute drive to the gorgeous La Jolla coast line. There you can park yourself at a picnic table and take in the beautiful view of waves crashing into the cliffs while enjoying one of the best, if not the best, sandwiches of your life. (627 Pearl Street, La Jolla, CA. Open daily 10AM- 8PM).

#2 of Top Cheap Eats: Charleston Farmers Market

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Checking out the pickles at the Charleston Farmers Market.

#2 Charleston Farmers Market (Charleston, SC): I love farmers markets. No matter where I am I seek them out. I love the crafts, the people watching, the dogs, the farmers, the fresh produce, and of course, the food. For me, spending a Saturday afternoon at a local farmer’s market with my hubby and my beagle is perfection.

One of my favorite farmers markets is the Charleston Farmers Market in Marion Square. I was lucky enough to live only a couple of blocks from this farmers market and would head over there whenever I could.  It’s not a huge farmer’s market but it is very well put together with activities for the kids, a live country/blue grass band and a wide variety of  high quality vendors including artisans, farmers and food vendors.

Our favorite food vendor was the Omelet Stand, but we didn’t go there for the omelets. We went there for one thing and one thing only – their barbecue pulled pork sandwich. The sandwich consists of incredibly moist pulled pork, topped with coleslaw and served on a buttery bun. Add some of their barbecue sauces and hot sauce to taste and the result is the best tasting pulled pork sandwich the Savory Sisters have ever tasted.  I don’t remember the exact cost of the sandwich but I know it was cheap. Maybe $6? If pork isn’t your forte, there are plenty of other food options including shrimp and grits, crepes, gyros, paninis, pickles, kettle corn, donuts and pastries.

So if you ever find yourself in Charleston during the months of April thru December, take a break from the overpriced touristy restaurants and head to the Charleston Farmers Market for an afternoon of fresh air, country music, shopping and delicious cheap food. (Open Saturdays from 8am to 2pm,  April 3rd-December 19th.)

My husband Andrew and our beagle Brady at the Charleston Farmers Market.

#3 of Top Cheap Eats: Giacomo’s

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#3 Giacomo’s (Boston, MA): Located in the historic North End Italian section of Boston, this small Italian ristorante brings you straight to Italy with authentic Italian food and tight quarters – let’s just say you get to know your neighbors well in this tiny space. Giacomo’s takes the #3 spot on our Cheap Eats countdown as it is known not just for its delicious food but also for its amazingly affordable prices.

Seafood Pasta - Photo Courtesy of Yelp

We started our meal at Giacomo’s with a nice Chianti that about matched the wine prices in Italy, meaning it was almost cheaper than bottled water.  Although the restaurant has your typical chicken parm and other meat dishes, its pasta is what makes this place really stand out.  I chose a seafood special with fresh lobster and your choice of sauce.  Almost all the pasta dishes give you the option to choose any of their sauces, but if you get a seafood dish you must go with the Giacomo sauce.  Giacomo is the house pasta sauce that seems to be a combination of tomato sauce, clam sauce and white wine sauce. Boy is it delicious and it complimented my lobster and pasta perfectly.

The dish, which included tons of succulent lobster and was one of the most expensive items on the menu, was about $18.  All of Giacomo’s entrees range from about $14-$20 and provide a hefty amount of food that is sure to leave leftovers.

The downside of this place?  Everybody loves cheap, delicious food, so be prepared to wait a looong time.  They do not accept reservations so we recommend getting there really early or late if you don’t want to wait forever.  I went on a freezing winter weekday at 8:30 and still had so wait about 30 minutes.  Also, they only accept cash but there is an ATM across the street if needed.

So if you are ever in Boston and want to experience authentic Italian food make sure to check out Giacomo’s. Your tummy and wallet will be very happy. (There are two Giacomo’s locations in Boston, but the North End location is at 355 Hanover Street).

#4 of Cheap Eats: Romy’s Kahuku Prawn & Shrimp Inc.

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Sweet & Spicy Shrimp at Romy's (photo courtesy of Yelp)

#4 Romy’s  Kahuku Prawn & Shrimp Inc. (Kahuku, Hawaii): Located near the famous Sunset Beach on the island of Oahu, this roadside shack looks like nothing special on the outside but don’t be fooled, as they serve  the freshest, most succulent shrimp I have ever tasted. The restaurant sits on a shrimp and prawn farm that at first glance looks like the lush countryside of Vietnam. Romy’s catches everything daily and they cook all the shrimp and prawns live to order – you can’t get any fresher than that.

While Romy’s shrimp and prawns are incredibly fresh, what makes them truly special is their sauce. You can choose between the butter-garlic and sweet & spicy. As an Asian-fanatic, I prefer the sweet & spicy. It has the perfect amount of sweetness and heat and tastes like something you would get at a Thai or Vietnamese restaurant, only better.  No matter which sauce you get your prawns/shrimp will be doused in it. And since they are served in the shells, be prepared to get messy.  Concerned about heading to the beach while still covered with sticky sauce?   There are sinks right next to the tables to clean yourself up.

The sweet & spicy shrimp/prawns are served with a large scoop of rice in typical Hawaiian style.  At $12.75 a plate, it’s a pretty sweet deal. So if you ever find yourself lucky enough to be in Oahu, make the drive out to Romy’s for lunch. Enjoy the scenery, enjoy the food, and then head to Sunset Beach to digest it all and soak up the Hawaiian sun.

#5 of Top Cheap Eats: Pho 14

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#5 Pho 14 (Washington, DC): A new countdown begins that is the polar opposite of our last top 5 – best cheap eats!  Our number 5 spot goes to Pho 14 in Washington, DC for its fresh authentic Vietnamese food that doesn’t empty your wallet.  During my first five years of living in Washington, DC I searched high and low for a great Vietnamese restaurant within the District limits without success. I even tried the pricey options in Georgetown but those restaurants also left something to to be desired.  It wasn’t until after I moved up to the devoloping neighborhood of Columbia Heights that I finally discovered Pho 14, the perfect hole in the wall Vietnamese restaurant that met my Vietnamese food cravings with utmost satisfacation.

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Fresh Rolls from Pho 14 (photo courtesy of Yelp.com)

There is nothing fancy about Pho 14. They simply know how to make delicious cheap Vietnamese food. Their fresh rolls are some of the freshest I have ever tried, seemingly made to order.  If you’re unfamiliar with this typical Vietnamese appetizer, it is usually rice paper filled with a combination of rice noodles, bean sprouts, lettuce, cilantro, shrimp and sometimes pork. Pho 14  serves their fresh rolls with a peanut-hoison dipping sauce that perfectly complements the ingredients in the roll.  Pho 14 calls these Spring Rolls but I like to call them Fresh Rolls since Spring Rolls at other restaurants often mean fried rolls.

Pho 14 is known for their Pho, a popular Vietnamese soup that is a meal in itself, but for my main course I prefer to get the Bun Bowl with Lemon Grass Pork – a combination of vermicelli rice noodles, pork, assorted vegetables, peanuts and herbs served with a fish sauce.  The pork is grilled to perfection and the lemon grass adds a flavorful sweet undertone.  The fresh vegetables and peanuts give the dish a nice crunch while the herbs just further excite your taste buds.

This meal, which is almost guaranteed to provide leftovers or serve two, rings up to $12.90 without tax. And for a fresh flavorful meal in the district, that is pretty darn cheap.  (Reservations not required although it does fill up quickly.  1436 Park Rd NW, Washington, DC 20010)