Keep the Change: Affordable Marin Bites

The May online issue of Marin Magazine sings the praises of several budget friendly eateries in the county.  Cheers to that (with the happy-hour-priced cocktail, of course)! 

The article touches on a few of my favorite establishments, so I’d like to suggest some additional tasty selections not mentioned in the article:

  • Boca Happy Hour:  The Empanadas.  All 4 varieties are fresh and flavorful, but my love affair with manchego cheese leads me to the veggie option every time.
  • Lotus Cuisine of India: The Bengan Bartha.  Having only been to Lotus for dinner, I don’t know if this slightly spicy eggplant dish makes its way to the buffet at lunch.  Regardless, it’s not to be missed after the sun goes down.  Resist the urge to get the Tandoori Chicken standby; branching out is good!
  • Sushi Ko:  The Udon Soup.  With all this unseasonably cold May weather, I’ve been craving Sushi Ko’s slightly sweet rendition of the classic.  You’ll easily get two meals out of the large portion, making this dish a Marin Outlier favorite.

Check out MM’s picks for affordable bites in the full article below.

Bargain Meals in Marin

BY ERIKA LENKERT
Bargain Meals in Marin

Cheeseburger with Parmesan fries for $6.75 at the Tiburon Grill.
PHOTOS BY TIM PORTER

Even if you already have a favorite place for a quick, inexpensive bite in Marin, you’ll want to cut out this list and put it in your glove box (or keep it handy with our iPhone app). Why? Because we’ve unearthed 12 exceptionally tasty places to dine out at a fraction of what you’re used to paying. Destinations in their own right, the following restaurants offer lunch for under $10 per person and dinner for under $20 — and often way less than that! Better yet, they give you good reason to go beyond your go-to slice or burrito and explore the diverse flavors and neighborhoods of our exceptional county.

1. Tiburon Grill: Happy Hour

The happy-hour menu and seating options at the restaurant within the relaxed-chic Lodge at Tiburon are so enticing and expansive that it’s impossible not to rationalize making the scenic drive to the eastern part of our county. First there’s the half-price menu featuring many of the usual “contemporary grill” suspects, including a hefty cheeseburger with Parmesan fries for $6.75 and a Flintstone-size portion of fish tacos for $6. Add $6 featured wines by the glass or $6.50 well cocktails and you’ve got dinner and drinks for around $13, plus tax and tip. What’s more, you can make reservations for the sunny dog-friendly and family-friendly front and back patios, the masculine-feeling dining room, or the living-room-like lounge complete with couches fronting a roaring fire. Even better, happy hour extends to all day on Sunday.

Deal hours Weekdays 4 to 7 p.m. and all day Sunday
Where 1651 Tiburon Boulevard, Tiburon, 415.435.5996, tiburongrill.com

2. Boca Steakhouse: Happy Hour

Resident and restaurateur George Morrone gained fame as one of San Francisco’s “it” chefs of the ’90s. But he garnered popularity here for expanding Novato’s dining scene with Boca, his Argentinean steakhouse — and for offering a good portion of its bar menu at half price during happy hour. The deals go down in the bar area on weekdays between 4 and 6:30 p.m. That’s when you can join the crowd to load up on the likes of oven-roasted clams and mussels in white wine sauce for $5.50, a crisp Caesar salad for $4, and a respectable burger for $5. If the savings justify it, splurge on butterscotch pudding — a full-priced but worthy indulgence.

Deal hours Monday through Friday 4 to 6:30 p.m.
Where 340 Ignacio Boulevard, Novato, 415.883.0901, bocasteak.com

3. Sol Food: Pollo al Horno

One of San Rafael’s worst-kept secrets, this eternally loud and casual dining hot spot draws crowds nightly for its flavorful, inexpensive Puerto Rican food and festive environs. The center of the frenzy is often the pollo al horno plate — one or two boneless oregano-and-garlic-marinated chicken thighs with organic salad, rice, beans and fried plantains for $8.50 or $10.25 respectively. But the bistec sandwich and vegetarian plate have legions of fans as well. Don’t worry about the line out the door. Fast counter service and quick turnover in the newly remodeled, tropically inspired dining area promises you’ll have a table before you’ve thrown back your first limonada fresca.

Deal hours Monday through Thursday 7 a.m. to midnight; Friday 7 a.m. to 2 a.m.; Saturday 8 a.m. to 2 a.m.; Sunday 8 a.m. to midnight
Where 901 Lincoln Avenue, San Rafael, 415.451.4765, solfoodrestaurant.com

4. Lotus Cuisine of India: The Lunch Buffet

The Indian cuisine at Lotus is so good it can easily become an addiction — and an expensive one at that. Prices on the menu featuring antibiotic-free meat, vegan and gluten-free dishes range from $11 to $14 on up, meaning takeout for two can set you back $40 or more. Not so with the all-you-can-eat lunch buffet special. Every weekday you’ll find a veritable smorgasbord of Indian cuisine’s greatest hits — including spectacular renditions of saag paneer and chicken tikka masala — all for $8.95 plus tax and tip. Add the atmospheric setting, complete with babbling fountains and paintings of Ganesh and Buddha, and you’ve got one of the best deals in town.

Deal hours Monday through Saturday 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
Where 704 Fourth Street, San Rafael, 415.456.5808, lotusrestaurant.com

5. La Maison de la Reine: Pho

A Chinese-influenced Vietnamese restaurant, this casual spot in the Corte Madera Town Center mall covers various Asian-food favorites, from pot stickers to Mongolian beef to Thai iced tea. But the star here is classic Vietnamese pho. Layered with complex, well-integrated flavors, the homemade beef broth gently spiced with star anise and clove brims with rice noodles and chicken (or shrimp, pork or beef) and is accompanied by the expected cilantro, Thai basil, bean sprouts, jalapeños and lime garnish. Large enough to feed two, approachable to little ones and served in a relaxed family-friendly dining room or on a heated covered patio facing the parking lot, it’s all yours for a reasonable $7.50 at lunch and $9.95 during dinner.

Deal hours Monday through Thursday and Sunday 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Where 346 Corte Madera Town Center, Corte Madera, 415.927.0288, shoptowncenter.com

6. Table Cafe: Dosa with Curried Cauliflower

This gem of a cafe, aptly located next to a stress-management center and yoga studio, offers exceptional salads and soups, all made from organically farmed and sustainably produced ingredients. But the real draw is the glorious Western interpretation of India’s classic dosa, or Indian-style crepe, accompanied by various fillings. Fluffier than traditional options; stuffed with health-minded combos like curried cauliflower, wilted greens and pickled vegetables; graced with a side of pear chutney; and served like an open-ended burrito for $9.75, it’s a meal that more than justifies the price and the drive. Owner-operator Suzanne McGoldrick continually exceeds expectations with her deliciously dynamic menu.

Deal hours Tuesday through Friday 10:30 a.m. to 7 p.m., Saturday 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
Where 1167 Magnolia Avenue, Larkspur, 415.461.6787, table-cafe.com

7. Surfers Grill: Surf Salad

Yes, this beach shack serving the expected fare of burgers, fish and chips, sandwiches, and nuggets isn’t much cheaper than other establishments baiting day-tripper dollars at Stinson Beach. However, its unparalleled beachfront views and the size and quality of the Garden Salad — a mélange of locally grown organic greens, tomatoes, avocado and house-made garlic vinaigrette for $8.95 — increase the value of the offerings. Add a wind-blocked, shaded patio perched on the sand and it’s about as good as it gets in these parts without having to put on a pair of shoes.

Deal hours Daily 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. in summer; in winter, weekends and holidays only, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Where Stinson Beach Park, Highway 1, Stinson Beach, 415.868.1777, surfersgrill.com

8. Arizmendi: Pizza Lunch Special

With flour-dusted floors, bustling bakers and massive ovens and racks visible behind the counter, this cooperative cafe is clearly as much a working bakery as a place to enjoy the daily $5 lunch special: a wholesome slice of artisan vegetarian sourdough pizza with a side salad. The ingredients of the seasonally inspired pies (which can also be bought and baked later) change daily, as do the breads and other irresistible goodies. But inspired combinations such as arugula, carrots, roasted garlic and balsamic vinegar atop a thin, moist trademark sourdough crust — which can be enjoyed at cafe tables overlooking Fourth Street — reminds us there’s much more to pizza than pepperoni.

Deal hours Daily 11:30 a.m. to closing (or until pizza runs out)
Where 1002 Fourth Street, San Rafael, 415.456.4093, fourthstreet.arizmendi.coop

9. Weezy’s: Kid-Friendly Portions

A cute name for a cute concept, Weezy’s is Terra Linda families’ standby for kid-size portions of grass-fed burgers and fries. The covered patio’s few tall-backed barstools are kid magnets for sure, but because most of the seating is outdoors along the side of the building or in a small corralled patio, the roadside shack strategically located across from the neighborhood recreation center and pool is more of a fair-weather attraction. Still, one-eighth pound burgers for $3, burger-fries combos starting at $5, and alternatives like garden burgers and sweet-potato fries make this local favorite a year-round bargain and best bet.

Deal hours Daily noon to 7 p.m.
Where Suite 621-A Del Ganado, Terra Linda, 415.479.7433, weezys-shed.com

10. Mi Pueblo Food Center: The Food Court

Anchored in an enormous, vibrant supermarket in the heart of San Rafael’s Canal area, Mi Pueblo’s food court serves the real deal, from to-die-for tacos al pastor (marinated pork cooked on a classic vertical spit, $1.35 each) to mole that’ll inspire tears of joy — and everything in between, all made in-house and offered at embarrassingly low prices. Order from the counter; grab a Mexican Coke (made with sugar, not corn syrup) and a decadent 85-cent empanada de crema dessert; sit at any of the brightly colored tables; and savor the flavor of Mexico — and the fact that you can feed a family of four for around $15 (less than $4 per person).

Deal hours Daily 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Where 30 Bellam Boulevard, San Rafael, 415.578.3971, mipueblofoods.com

11. Charlie Hong Kong: Spicy Dan’s Peanut Delight Bowl

Presenting a contemporary spin on Asian street food, this colorful shoe box of a restaurant in downtown Mill Valley appeals to the health-minded and hungry. The draw is simple: organic “signature bowls” of rice or wheat noodles topped with your choice of curry or sauce and optional exotic preparations of meat, fish or tofu — priced starting at $6.95. Rounding out the menu are salads, soups, rice bowls and bánh mì (Vietnamese sandwiches), $4.95 “kid bowls,” and deliciously refreshing homemade sodas — any of which can be enjoyed at one of the quick-turnover tables or packed to go.

Deal hours Daily 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Where 25 Miller Avenue, Mill Valley, 415.888.8303, charliehongkong.com

12. Sushi Ko: Lunch Specials

The words “sushi” and “cheap” are rarely used in the same sentence, let alone a bargain dining guide. But the weekday lunch specials at this reliable Japanese restaurant in Larkspur Landing makes scratching the raw-fish or deep-fried itch a relatively inexpensive endeavor. Of the two daily changing specials showcased at the front door, the “cooked” option might include tempura, fried calamari, pot stickers, teriyaki chicken, soup, rice and salad for $9.95. The sushi box is a selection of nigiri and rolls — also with soup, rice and salad — for $10.25. Meanwhile, a lunch specials menu has 10 additional choices, all under $12 and served in aptly atmospheric Japanese-restaurant surroundings.

Deal hours Monday through Friday 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Where 819 Larkspur Landing Circle, Larkspur, 415.461.8400, sushi-ko.com

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