Celeb cook/author/irritant Rachael Ray—who recently stirred up trouble in this town by popping into such diverse local eateries as Pearl Bakery, Hobo's and Family Supper—is the Food Network's latest sweetheart. That's because she can cook quickly, babble incessantly and dine out for $40 a day. Um, forty bucks a day? I would hope Ms. Money Bags could stuff herself silly with that kind of cash. My editors stuck me with a real challenge: The cheap bastards gave me $40 to dine out for five days—no cooking allowed! That's $8 a day. Sounds impossible, right? Turns out, Portland has plenty of options for those of us on a super-tight budget.
First stop: Annie's Donuts (3449 NE 72nd Ave., 284-2752). My glazed doughnut (65 cents!) was so fluffy, so light, so wonderful—and while not quite so large as the massive doughnut in my dream last night, it was still, well, dreamy.
On my way home from Annie's, I stopped in an Italian cafe called Parisi's (4605 NE Fremont St., 287-7444). Though it shares my last name, I could tell right away that none of my relatives were involved: It was orderly, and no one was shouting. The food, however, was up to par, and my Turkish Roast gelato ($2.50) tasted just like a thick shot of Middle Eastern coffee.
For lunch, I headed to Foti's (1740 E Burnside St., 232-0274), a no-thrills Greek deli where the gyros smelled fabulous but were beyond the budget due to my mid-morning dessert. I opted for the spanakopita ($2.95)—very good, with the right combo of spinach and cheese.
Monday was somewhat of a failure—my food was good, but I was hungry. I even resorted to eating the free samples at my deli job, and when my boyfriend and his dad went out to eat and very graciously brought me home a meal of my own, I ate it all without regrets.
First day's total (including tips): $7.60
Today I was very lucky. Free pastries came out of nowhere at every turn—cream puffs when I arrived at the office and chocolate croissants at a meeting later that day. Somewhat sadly, I ate so many that I wasn't hungry until dinnertime, when I stopped at El Burrito Loco (1942 N Portland Blvd., 735-9505) for a bean-and-cheese burrito ($2.50). It wasn't megalithic, but it filled me up, and the refried-bean-dripping-cheese combo was tasty once I smothered it in fresh salsa.
Total: A whopping $3, with tips
I skipped breakfast and for lunch went to Dalo's Kitchen (4134 N Vancouver Ave., 808-9604, entrance on Williams Avenue), a hole-in-the-wall Ethiopian gem with entrees the size of a small country. I sprung for the large vegetarian platter ($8.99), a gargantuan meal of lentils, spinach and sautéed potatoes—a feast that could've fed three people. I sprung for an extra enjera (75 cents), the fermented flatbread that's an Ethiopian staple, and my food lasted well into Thursday.
Total: $11.47, with tips
Since my leftover enjera kinda-sorta resembled a pancake, naturally I poured maple syrup on it and ate it for breakfast on Thursday. Well, guess what? ROUND OBJECT + SYRUP does not exactly equal a scrumptious breakfast. I ate the rest of my leftover Dalo's for lunch—sans syrup—and swung by Thai Thai II (1400 SE Stark St., 232-3957) for dinner. A generous, tasty portion of mild red curry with tofu ($6.99) arrived in under two minutes. How exactly they do that, I don't know. I prefer not to ask.
Total: $8.39, with tips
I had leftover Thai for breakfast and did lunch at the Center Cafe (900 SW 5th Ave., 226-0401). A self-serve cafeteria in the bowels of a downtown office tower, it's loaded with dozens of affordable choices. I scored a chicken-and-artichoke calzone ($4.29). It was by no means the best I've ever tasted, but it was did the trick.
Later, I optimized my cost-to-fullness ratio by grabbing some carbs at New Seasons Market (6400 N Interstate Ave., 467-4777, and other locations) with $1.32 worth of the roasted potato salad, whose raw-onion-and-mustard tang hit the spot.
However, by 8 pm I was starving. A rumor about "dollar sushi happy hour" lured me to Dragonfish Asian Cafe (909 SW Park Ave., 243-5991) where I held out until 10 pm for the prices to drop. Unfortunately, "dollar sushi" really meant "$1.95 for a four-piece roll plus a one-drink minimum." My friend bought a beer for herself while I went with a spicy tuna roll ($1.95) and I resorted to eating all of the wasabi when I finally called it a week.
Total: $8.61, with tips
Week in review
In all, I spent $39.07, including tips. To be fair, I snatched up free food whenever possible—grocery samples, generous offerings of co-workers' leftover lunches, and, well, an entire meal from Pambiche (2811 NE Glisan St., 233-0511) thanks to my boyfriend's dad. So, while I don't expect a contract offer from the Food Network anytime soon, I do have 93 cents left over—just enough for another glazed doughnut.
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Introduction: Cheap Eats 2006
Hot Chef/Cheap Eats: Portland's best chefs get outta the kitchen and eat the street.
Cart-ography: Our take on takeout carts.
Really Cheap Eating: Or how a celeb chef could never survive on $40 a week.
Restaurant Listings: From A to O
Restaurant Listings: From P to Z
Editor: Byron Beck
Assistant Editor: Johanna Droubay
Art Directors: Thomas Cobb, Maggie Gardner
Photographer: Jenna Biggs
Stylists: Alex Bravo and Tera Hersel
Models: Kristina, Sarah and Alex of Q6 Models
Designers: Renée Bielawski, Brian Brown, Joe Davis, Tom Humphrey, Cari Vander Yacht, Matt Wong
Copy Editors: Matt Buckingham, Ian Gillingham, Margaret Seiler
Contributors: Elianna Bar-El, Mark Baumgarten, Byron Beck, Joanna Cantor, Adrian Chen, Kelly Clarke, Shoshanna Cohen, Kate Darling, Ian Demsky, Johanna Droubay, Zach Dundas, Tim DuRoche, Sage Friedman, Nigel Jaquiss, Maya Kukes, Joe Lino, Seth Lorinczi, Ivy Manning, Amy McCullough, Mike McGonigal, Carin Moonin, Laura Mulry, Laura Parisi, Roger Porter, Kim Potter, Margaret Seiler, Laura Shinn, Karla Starr, Hank Stern, Angela Valdez, David Walker, Miriam Wolf