Eating out is expensive. What can you get for less than $10 in Atlanta these days? We searched for value dishes at our favorite restaurants and created a list for anyone on a budget or simply looking to maximize a meal for the minimum. In case you're curious, prices rarely come in nice, neat whole numbers. In the interest of consistency, we allowed for some wiggle room up to 50 cents above the dollar.
$1 Back before fancy Popsicles were all the rage, Myrna Perez was churning out Mexican paletas, or ice pops, at her colorful, fruit-centric shop LottaFrutta on the edge of Inman Park. Perez takes fresh fruit and transforms it into frozen treats just "like her abuelita used to make." Favorites include the puckery passion fruit and tangy pineapple. Each paleta is made in a small Dixie cup and impaled with a wooden stick for easy grabbing. $1.50. 590 Auburn Ave. 404-588-0857. www.lottafrutta.com.
$2 Zesto has consistently provided cheap and filling fast food since 1949. When the craving for vanilla soft-serve strikes, there is nothing better than a Brown Crown, Zesto's "real" vanilla ice cream dipped in a crackly chocolate coating. The super smooth, cloud-like ice cream melts so fast, your hands will be dripping with the stuff before you know it. $2.22. 544 Ponce de Leon Ave. 404-607-1118, and other metro Atlanta locations. www.zestoatlanta.com.
$3 At Grindhouse Killer Burgers, the crinkle cut chili cheese fries are a benchmark for spuds everywhere. They leave no trace of excess oil and are crispy on the outside, creamy on the inside. Add the burger joint's beefy chili and a blanket of melted cheddar cheese on top and you have one banging side dish that can be as satisfying as a burger. $3.50. 1842 Piedmont Ave. 404-254-2273, and other metro Atlanta locations. www.grindhouseburgers.com.
$4 Last year, Jim Stacy took his years of experience running the cult-favorite Pallookaville corn dog cart and turned it into a kitschy freestanding eatery in Avondale Estates. At Pallookaville Fine Foods, Stacy demonstrates his mastery of the corn dog arts with the delightfully monstrous Corndogula. The batter is sweet, but not overly so, and it acquires a delightful outer crunch when fried. Massive, borderline pornographic, and made with a 100 percent beef frank, the Corndogula is affordable fast-food perfection. $4.50. 17 N. Avondale Plaza, Avondale Estates. 404-500-1785. www.pallookaville.com.
$5 Few places in Atlanta can boast the staying power and customer loyalty of Nick's Food to Go. The iconic white and blue building may be emblazoned with a goofy caricature of a chef, but it's all business inside. In other words, you better know your order before you step up to the counter. There's something deeply satisfying about Nick's veggie gyro, a thick piece of warm pita stuffed with a generous helping of cooked vegetables, lettuce, tomato, onions, and tangy cucumber sauce before it's rolled up tight. $5.50. 240 Martin Luther King Jr. Drive. 404-521-2220. www.nicksfood.com.
$6 Bell Street Burritos owner Matt Hinton studied burrito building as a loyal customer of the well-remembered Tortillas on Ponce de Leon Avenue. His experiences helped him create his own temple to burritos. You get a lot for your money here, mostly in burrito form. For as little as $6, you can get a mini football-size bundle of pork, chicken, or steak wrapped in a large flour tortilla with pinto beans, rice, jack cheese, and salsa fresca. The result is a portable meal that will fill you up. $6. 209 Edgewood Ave. 678-732-0488; 1816 Peachtree St. 404-815-0011. www.bellstreetburritos.com.
$7 Whether you're sick or just aiming to give your gut a break from dealing with your less-than-perfect diet, soup is always the answer. The pho at Nam Phuong is clean, filling, and deeply satisfying. The clear, curative broth has minimal fatty sheen and hits all of the right notes — spice, beef, earthy umami — without overwhelming the palate like other anise-heavy versions can. Go for the pho dac biet, a combo of thinly sliced steak, well-done flank, brisket, tendon, and tripe, which comes with a towering platter of fresh herbs, bean sprouts, lime, and sliced jalapeños on the side. All the fixins make each serving feel more like a feast for one rather than a simple bowl of soup. $7.50. 4051 Buford Highway. 404-633-2400; 5495 Jimmy Carter Blvd., Norcross. 770-409-8686. www.namphuongatlanta.com.
$8 The bruschetta banh mi at BoccaLupo is one dish that proves what an outside-the-box thinker chef/owner Bruce Logue is. This Italian-Vietnamese hybrid is the perfect start to any meal. Playful and bright, this bruschetta takes Italian flavors — slow-roasted pork, chicken liver, and giardiniera — and combines the textures and flavors much like the Vietnamese would in a banh mi sandwich. For some, calling a few slices of bread brilliant may be a stretch, but anything this good for less than $10 is a masterpiece in our minds. $8. 753 Edgewood Ave. 404-577-2332. www.boccalupoatl.com.
$9 Sunday brunch is king at Big Tex Decatur, but Big Tex's giant biscuit and gravy dish might be a better fit for your average lumberjack than a member of the royal family. One mammoth buttermilk biscuit is drenched in creamy sawmill gravy and dotted with chunks of juicy pork sausage. Factor in two eggs any way you want them plus a side of home fries or grits and you've got one stupidly hearty midday meal packed to the rafters with flavor and value. If you happen to be freakishly hungry that day, you can add some crunchy fried chicken, fried steak, or sausage for $2 more. $9. 308 W. Ponce de Leon Ave., Decatur. 404-377-3939. www.bigtexdecatur.com.
$10 It's tough to find a "deal" at Riccardo Ullio's swanky Sotto Sotto, but even here you can eat gourmet without emptying your bank account. With the friendly priced beef carpaccio, you get succulent, marbled Brasstown beef tenderloin sliced super thin to make it extra tender. The mosaic of meat is covered with peppery arugula leaves, a squeeze of fresh lemon, and a drizzle of panna (cooked cream). $10. 309 N. Highland Ave. 404-523-6678. www.sottosottorestaurant.com.
Photos by James Camp, Dustin Chambers, and Joeff Davis