Good Eats on the Cheap
In my search for quality lunch spots in Connecticut, I began a quest for fast casual restaurants that satisfied my stomach- and my wallet. I wanted restaurants where you could sit down for a quick bite, or order your food to go, and who offer large servings or the ability to get multiple items for under $10. Here are a handful of my finds.
By (my) definition, an arepa is a food that you eat and then immediately want ten more. The Venezuelan dish is comprised of a sweet corn cake stuffed with a variety of fillings depending on the region. At Norwalk’s Valencia Luncheria (pictured above), there are over twenty-five choices of fillings including meats, cheeses, vegetables and even fruits. Think chorizo and mozzarella; pernil, avocado and queso; and ham, brie and mango. Valencia also serves savory and sweet empanadas with a perfectly crisp shell, and both arepas and empanadas fall under $5 each.
A New Britain icon, Capitol Lunch has been serving hot dogs downtown since 1929. What used to cost fifteen cents has only risen to a $1.90, and with everything else on their menu under $5, you can get a nice mix of items within our price limit. With assembly line service, you can be in and out in minutes, making Capitol Lunch the perfect grab and go lunch spot. If you do get a hot dog (why wouldn’t you?) make sure to get it topped with their famous secret recipe sauce.
Located in El Mercado in the Frog Hollow neighborhood of Hartford, El Tepyac is a Mexican food stall that serves some of the best tacos in the city. You can get three tacos for $5, with the chicken, barbacoa, and chorizo being my go-tos. The flautas, quesadillas, and churros are also stand outs, and the perfect addition to any order. The bonus of El Tepeyac being located in a market is that you can peruse the grocery area, which has fruits and vegetables and spices not found in large supermarkets.
Nardelli's Grinder Shoppe
Nardelli’s Grinder Shoppe originated in Waterbury in the 1920s and has expanded from one location in the Brass City to fourteen outposts across the state. Their signature overstuffed sandwich topped with a mix of diced vegetables in a secret marinade has won them many awards over the years and still holds true to those first grinders made back in the day. A half size can easily be considered a meal, but if you’re really hungry, the whole grinder rings in under ten dollars as well.
El Pollo Guapo
If you’re a fan of Mercado food truck, you’ll love El Pollo Guapo. Sharing owners, El Pollo Guapo focuses on all things rotisserie chicken, with a touch of their signature Spanish flair. The fast-casual restaurant serves ¼ rotisserie chicken meals, rice bowls, salad bowls and tacos all under $10. The menu stand-out? The Almost Legal Rice Bowl with rotisserie chicken, rice, spicy slaw, avocado, plantains, grilled corn, pico de gallo, queso fresco, pickled onion and sriracha aioli.
Mamoun's Falafel Restaurant
This New Haven mainstay satisfies Elm City residents’ cravings 365 days a year. While you’ll find Mamoun’s busy during the day, it’s also bustling at night, serving its famous falafel and shawarma pitas and platters until four in the morning. A falafel sandwich runs under $4, with a platter costing a little over $6. If you like things spicy, and I mean spicy, their hot sauce is a tasty, tear-inducing addition.