A few more bucks can fill your plate and your stomach.
Edited by Beth Stallings; by Chuck Bowen, Jennifer Bowen, Katie Dragga, Christina Ipavec, Jason Lloyd, Brittany Moffat, Andy Netzel, Kim Schneider, Colleen Smitek, Beth Stallings, Erick Trickey, Michelle Venorsky and Jim Vickers
World’s Best Fried Bologna Sandwich Beer Engine 15315 Madison Ave., Lakewood (216) 226-BEER buckeyebeerengine.com
Mom never packed you anything like this in your lunchbox, and it’s a good thing she never tried. She would have had a tough time squeezing the Beer Engine’s version of fried bologna into a plastic sandwich baggie. Two thick slices of German bologna (weighing a total of 5 ounces) are topped with caramelized onions and served on a crisp baked pretzel bun. Because this is a microbrewery, after all, the accompanying side of Dijon whole-grain mustard is made with Altbier, a German-style brown ale, and serves as an excellent dipping sauce for the pub chips that come with each sandwich (you can upgrade to shoestring fries for 50 cents). If you want to carve out a little extra beer money in your budget, visit before 4 p.m. weekdays and get $2 off any burger or sandwich.
CBC Sandwich with Eggplant Fries Rudy’s Pub 20110 Van Aken Blvd., Shaker Heights (216) 752-9280 rudyspub.org
Adding grilled chicken and melted cheddar cheese to a BLT is certainly tasty, but it’s nothing shocking. That’s why the showstopper here isn’t the admittedly hearty and delicious chicken bacon cheddar sandwich served on a kaiser roll with ranch dressing. (And let’s face it, it’s a tough dish to mess up.) Instead, the supporting role played by the eggplant fries gets most of our attention. Tender strips of eggplant are battered and fried for a crispy, nongreasy side that’s a slightly sweet, veggie-inspired alternative to predictable old potatoes. Plus, it’s served with a creamy, high-octane horseradish Dijon mayo that’ll clear your sinuses.
We know a veggie sandwich is a hard sell. We’ve slapped some vegetables on multigrain bread before. It tastes fine, right? Wrong. A proper veggie sandwich is an intricate dance of sharp tastes, and Tremont’s La Bodega sandwich shop has it down. In the case of its No. 29, the bite of the red onion is dulled by the cream cheese spread just thick enough to relish, but not so thick you need to scrape any off. The zing of tomato is tempered by the drizzle of sweet honey, and the soft spinach is negated by the walnuts, which provide enough texture that you’ll forget there’s no meat. Or at least you won’t care. Served with a side of chips or a banana, the sandwich is piled high and a little messy from the honey, but we dare you to stop halfway. You’ll look down and think, Wow, I’ve got enough left for later. Then you’ll take another bite.
Chorizo Tacos with Goat Cheese Tremont Tap House 2572 Scranton Road, Cleveland (216) 298-4451 tremonttaphouse.com
Fast food drive-thrus and corny Mexican chains have given the taco a bad rap, smudging its good name with greasy 99-cent, late-night deals. Like a superhero, the Tremont Tap House has saved our taco-in-distress, bringing a gourmet touch back to the crunchy tortilla dish. The Tap House stuffs three golden fried taco shells with chorizo, fire-roasted red pepper salsa that has the perfect spark without setting your mouth ablaze, and enough mild goat cheese to steal the show in every bite. And for less than $10, you’re still getting one hell of a deal, even if you’re not making a run for the border.
Heather's Toasted Bagel Breakfast Sandwich Sweet Melissa's 19337 Detroit Road, Rocky River (440) 333-6357 sweetmels.net
Loaded with at least six slices of applewood smoked bacon, this massive breakfast bagel perches high on the plate and taunts you — daring you to find a way to bite into every layer at once. Show no fear, and squish it down to get all the elements of this breakfast beast in every mouthful. The mess is worth it to simultaneously discover white cheddar and fluffy eggs followed by the tangy taste of fried green tomatoes. But that’s not all — the whole shebang comes with a fruit cup, chocolate chip scone and side of roasted potatoes drizzled with a delicious peppercorn ranch sauce. The only downside? You can only get the sandwich on weekends. It’s worth the bit of planning required to conquer this dish.
Serving bread on toasted bread really shouldn’t work. But when you top stuffing with havarti cheese, turkey slices, cranberry and gravy, all of a sudden you have the basket-of-burgers version of Thanksgiving dinner. And because it’s hard to find a bar menu these days without some interpretation of a slider (Kobe beef, Italian meatball, foie gras — we’ve seen all of the above, and in more than one place), it’s refreshing when new ground is broken. Big enough for one very large appetite or two smaller ones, this quartet of triangle-shaped sliders is sure to inspire some people to try to replicate the dish with their Thanksgiving leftovers come Black Friday. But why settle for an imitation when you can get the real thing plus a hefty serving of waffle fries for less than $10?
Mumbo Jambalaya Fat Fish Blue 21 Prospect Ave. E., Cleveland (216) 875-6000 fatfishblue.com
The mumbo jambalaya on Fat Fish Blue’s New Orleans-celebrating menu comes in a bowl as wide as a dinner plate. It screams hearty (we couldn’t take a meatless bite) and heat (obvious from its fiery orange glow). This dish has a kick. The Cajun spices cling to the chicken, but the unfamiliar, peppery smoked-pork taste of the andouille sausage stands out and keeps the meal from giving in to the monotony of relentless heat. Fat Fish Blue’s kitchen produces plenty of Big Easy-style dishes, but at $9.99, the jambalaya, the cheapest non-sandwich option on the menu, gives you the most south Louisiana flavor for your dollar.
Charm Thai serves food that’s much more ambitious than carryout fare. But with a menu full of entrees at less than $10, it’s just as affordable. In fact, the restaurant’s take on Thai is as masterfully done as any of its peers. Try the tender beef platter, which is more of a mix of meat and veggies than its name suggests. Although thin strips of steak still dominate the dish, they’re blended with what seems like a full day’s serving of fruits and vegetables — bell peppers, straw mushrooms, baby corn and pineapple chunks — all served over your choice of several types of rice or noodles. Head here for an inexpensive date night. With the restaurant’s hip decor, it’s easy to think you’re at a downtown hotspot rather than an unassuming shopping plaza on Broadview Road.
Crab Cake Portobello Stacker The Harp 4408 Detroit Ave., Cleveland (216) 939-0200 the-harp.com
Because many Irish restaurant menus rightfully lean on corned beef, shepherd’s pie and other Emerald Isle staples, it’s a pleasant surprise when one starts whipping up inventive fare. Among the Harp’s offerings is a portobello and crab cake sandwich. Although it’ll never replace your deep-seated love for thinly sliced brisket, it’s still a hearty, more healthful choice. You wonder for a moment where the crab cake is until you realize it’s riding piggyback on the enormous portobello mushroom cap and hiding beneath melted cheddar cheese. Tomato, grilled onions and lettuce round out the stack, served between two thick squares of focaccia. As if all that wasn’t enough, the meal also includes a side of coleslaw or house-made chips. Go with the chips. You are at an Irish pub after all.
Looking for a reason to stray from the run-of-the-mill chain pizza slathered with tomato paste and greasy cheese? Order the arayiss pitza — a tasty cross between pizza and a hamburger with a Lebanese spin that subs lemony hummus for sloppy sauce. OK, we know the combo sounds strange, but the seamless mix of seasoned ground beef, sweet tomatoes and crunchy pine nuts baked atop Aladdin’s pita bread will have your taste buds in a tizzy. Who cares why — the dish just works. And don’t be fooled by its modest size: This four-slice pie loaded with toppings packs enough meat to satiate even the fiercest case of hunger. Best of all, it’s not greasy, meaning you can scarf down the whole plate without eater’s remorse or a pile of used napkins.
Half-price sushi deals are rampant throughout the city. And while they’re appetizing for our wallets, having to consult the calendar or the clock every time we want a decent spicy tuna roll gets old fast. Then we stumbled upon the unagi roll at Vieng’s Asian Bistro in Crocker Park. It stands alongside the usual sushi roll suspects — California, Philly and crunch — and all of them are less than $10 each, all the time. But what makes the unagi roll worth the trip is the barbecue eel that tastes tender and sweet with a hint of heat and comes tightly wrapped in rice. Cucumber brings a crunchy cool to the eight pieces for $7. It’s so tasty you don’t even need the soy sauce.
There is nothing understated about this pile of chorizo sausage-based goodness, and it doesn’t resemble any hot dog you’ve encountered before. Of course, there’s the obligatory squiggle of mustard along the inside of the “bun” (really, two tasty hunks of toasted bread), but you notice that later, after you’ve encountered the pickles, coleslaw and the most striking feature of the creation: a fried egg artfully plopped on top of it all. Verve Restaurant, which opened in the space formerly occupied by the Juniper Grille, aptly calls its approach “creative comfort food.” And if the “hot dog” doesn’t convince you, the side of fries ($3) — not waffle, not sweet potato, but a plateful of old-school spuds drizzled with sausage gravy — certainly will.