Passage to the Caribbean
Am I the only one who finds Caribbean food overpriced? I love it, but how can a plate of curried stew made with cheap cuts of meat often run me up to 14 bucks? Passage to the Caribbean, in the old Starlite Cuisine location on Cornwallis Street, bucks the trend. The overall menu is affordable, but they have a whole section dedicated to three- dollar items! Buy one three dollar rice and peas, add another three dollar portion of their hot 'n' tasty jerk chicken (hotter still if you lather it in extra jerk sauce) and you have a filling, affordable lunch. Bonus: You get the same amount of food for a dollar less ($5) when you buy their daily special of rice, peas, cabbage and choice of meat over the lunch hour.
5467 Cornwallis Street
Korean Garden Express
If, by some odd circumstance, there's a dyspeptic Haligonian out there who hasn't heard about this place, here's a recap: Korean Garden Express often has the longest lunch queue in the Scotia Square food court and is my benchmark for quality cheap eats. They often sell out of their overwhelmingly addictive classic, Seoul Chicken ($6.09). The fluffy white rice soaks up the sauce, the unguent chicken nuggets slide down easy and the raw cabbage keeps you lively. Or put it this way: A guy next to me in a Big Ballin' t-shirt ate two plates' worth.
Scotia Square Mall
Fid Resto's small plates
After the fine dining market fell out back in '09, Fid Resto wisely reinvented itself. The menu went down in price, but the quality stayed high. Recently, chef Dennis Johnston even pulled his regular menu once a month to offer small dim sum-style plates of food that you order by ticking off on menu chits at the table. Dishes cost between $3 and $7 and servings are bigger than you might expect. With 20 new small plates every month, the challenge keeps his team inventive: you might find mini-tourtières, club sandwich sushi, beef cheek cheeseburgers, goose scrunchins and churros with caramel.
1569 Dresden Row
Issa's Saj House Lebanese Restaurant
The falafel ($3.99) or shawarma ($4.50) sandwiches at Issa's are fine, but Ma'Noosh is the true treasure here. Piping hot out of the oven, folded for easy handling, these Lebanese pizzas come topped with cheese and spices (mint and sumac for example), tomato and olive, or lahem b'ajeem, a tomato-ground beef blend that works best with extra lemon and hot peppers. Prices range from $2 (plain with spice) to $5 (meat and cheese). Mix and match---they're simple, filling and fresh lunches.
19 Alma Crescent, Fairview
Sundaes at Cousins
Sit at the counter and order sundaes ($3.50) at Cousins. Every ingredient was processed using the best science from the 1970s. Take a heavy pour of strawberry, chocolate or caramel goo on two scoops of plain vanilla, carpet bomb that with canned whipped cream and top with a cherry. I've witnessed cute couples and kids get extra cherries. Every spoonful stirs up a sentimental high that transports you back to the first time you tried your parent's prescription pills and read Lester Bangs. Bonus: for $5.50, try Cousins' long list of affordable old-timey cocktails, from pink ladies or black Russians to brandy Alexanders.
3545 Robie Street
Thuy Vietnamese Cuisine
When I feel really miserly, I visit Dartmouth's Harbourview Weekend Market. There is no greater hive of candy hawkers, role-playing game pushers or delete bin DVD sellers in the city. People cling to their wallets like life preservers, hoping to wave down deals with a hard stare. Thuy Vietnamese Cuisine feeds them all. Thuy makes $5 banh mi with pate, chicken, BBQ pork, cilantro and picked vegetables packed into a foot-long baguette. Hitting that spot situated somewhere between the wallet, heart and gullet, the banh mi brightens (and softens) the corners on any visit to Dartmouth.
42 Canal Street, Dartmouth
Cheese Curds Gourmet Burgers & Poutinerie
I see Cheese Curds as a first-date destination for budding bromances. Two dudes go surfing at Cow Bay. They drive past the oil refinery, the air base, the new Mercedes in plastic wrap. They shop for new band outfits at Value Village. Then they eat custom poutines at Cheese Curds. A small starts at $4.50 and the large is $6.25, with custom toppings running from $1.50 to $2.50. One of you must have a toutiere poutine, covered in seasoned ground meat. A pepperoni poutine punches up your testosterone, while the butter chicken poutine---curry sauce, big strips of chicken---shows you are capable of great sensitivity. 380 Pleasant Street