There's nothing wrong with a plate of greasy fried shrimp. OK, maybe there is. Linda Moles, owner of inner Southeast's seedy trans-fat emporium My Father's Place, seems to understand that just because you want to eat cheap, it doesn't mean you want to feel cheap. Her spinoff project the Side Door, just around the corner from Father's, provides square meals containing actual nutrients, while leaving plenty in your pocket for bottom-shelf booze.
The Side Door has the all-purpose ease of a neighborhood diner: It's an equally appropriate destination for a morning bagel, spaghetti dinner or afternoon latte-and-laptop session (yes, there's free wi-fi). Mercifully low prices bring relief from the gentrifying east side's rising cost of living, as the toasty-warm dining room, decked with glossy wood and exposed brick, offers respite from a cold, yucky day. The servers are friendly, unpretentious and don't give you the once-over. Gazing out at the rain while Pavement plays on the stereo recalls visions of a Portland gone by, when we didn't try to pretend it was L.A.
For breakfast, be healthy and smug with yogurt and granola ($4.75) topped with fresh apple, banana and raisins. Bagels ($1-$5.75) come with everything from veggies and hummus to ham, egg and cheese, although the eggs are hard-boiled and that's kind of weird.
For lunch and dinner, choose from a selection of hot and cold sandwiches, like the non-greasy Stark Dip ($6.50), loaded with roast beef, melty Swiss, horseradish aioli and sweet caramelized onions. Don't pass up the homestyle pasta dishes: The spaghetti with meatballs ($6.50) is decent, but the vegetarian lasagna ($6.25), bursting with succulent zucchini, red peppers and mushrooms, is the star. The huge plates of pasta come with pesto crostini, and you can add an enormous green salad for a buck. Save room for housemade cookies—sometimes only 50 cents each!
Sometimes you want a fancy meal, sometimes you want a bucket of Crisco, but sometimes you just need to eat. The Side Door is nothing fancy, but it turns the cheap, easy meal-as-chore into a simple delight. SHOSHANNA COHEN.