Monday, March 23, 2009

Stretch a Buck in the City of Brotherly.........

My last two travel posts have been about pretty over-the-top vacations in terms of eating, drinking and spending money. Vegas and New Orleans are about excess…excess of excess actually. But when I’m at home(or on small trips) I’m quite the penny pincher. I’m not into clothes or the latest trends(when I’m dressed in something other than jeans and a t-shirt my husband doesn’t know what to think). I cook dinner, at home, just about every night of the week and I pack my lunch(out of leftovers) for work. I clip coupons. I re-use store shopping bags as kitchen trash bags. I could go on and on(don’t even get me started on my husband the paper towel Nazi…one(1) paper towel per person per day is the rule). But we still love having fun. I mean, life should be fun. So here are some great ways to stretch a buck…but still have a lot of fun…in my neighborhood in Philly.

Nosing around for some grub....

1.) I pack my lunch in a brown bag for work, but my husband doesn’t. Instead he makes it his daily mission to find delicious and cheap food at lunch. I honestly think it’s the best part of his day. Each afternoon he and his buddies leave the office in search of a good, and yummy, deal. They do the usual, pizza, subs(hoagies here…and Primos to be exact…a Primos sub is a must have if you’re visiting…maybe even more than a cheese steak), but he’s found the deal that just can’t be beat…lunch carts. He’s quite the food snob, so if he’s in love with these things they can’t be all bad. He pays $3 for a meatball sub, chips and a drink. $2.75 for two hot dogs, chips and a drink. And apparently the cheese steaks rival the “Jim’s” and “Pat's” and “Gino’s” of the city. And they’re half the price.! If you’re not looking for an artery clogging lunch I’ve seen carts that just sell fruit salad, green salads, falafels, the list goes on. And since spring is here, just grab some grub off a cart and enjoy it in one of the many parks that dot center city. It isn't quite a cheese and wine picnic in Paris, but it's got it's charm. And never will you pay too much.

2.)BYOB!!! Ahhh. My favorite acronym of all time. In Philly, NJ, and surrounding areas, not all restaurants can get liquor licenses(it has something to do with the amount allowed per area, or price, or something(I don’t really know or care why, I’m just happy to be a part of it)). Basically, if you own a steakhouse, you don’t want to be the one to tell someone they have to have Sprite with their fillet instead of a nice glass of red wine. So they have BYOBs. This is the best overall “restaurant” deal in town. Take your big bag, fill it with wine, beer(my husband and I have even started taking a flask of gin or bourbon to drink on the rocks before the meal starts…and no one bats an eye) from home, and they’ll open it for you, pour it, chill it, you name it. They just want your business. So you can go to a somewhat pricey establishment for just the cost of food(AND get tanked and have a good ‘ol time). My favorite BYOB so far is Chloe(in Old City…it might not be a “stretch a buck” kind of place but the food is to die for, New-American cuisine, and if you bring your own wine it can be an affordable “special” night out). A BYOB that DOES fit the “stretch a buck” theme is Mejiu Korean Restaurant(in Old City as well. It’s cheap and wonderful. Don’t go in expecting Chinese. Korean is a world away.). You can go to this site: for an interactive map of all the Philly BYOBs by neighborhood.

3.) Chinatown baby!! My husband wishes we lived there. Lucky for him(and me) we only live 8 blocks away. The dining-out deals that can be had in Chinatown are second to none. And it isn’t all General Tsao’s Chicken, oh no, it’s an amazing and eclectic mix of Asian cuisine. I have a bunch of favorites but I'll give you two out of my top 10 recommendations this time around.
-Lee How Fook – You know that song “Warewolves of London” by Warren Zevon. He mentions "a" Lee How Fook(you know, "gonna get a big dish of beef chow mein"), and every time I’m in this place I can’t get the song out of my head. It’s reviews are consistently good and so is the food. The menu here is more along the lines of what you would think of when you think “Chinese” food. But there are also some great departures and it's a(drum roll folks.....BYOB!!).
-Nan Zhou, Hand Drawn Noodle House - I'm almost at a loss of words when it comes to this place(almost). It's a small, hole in the wall restaurant on Race street in Chinatown that sells the most addictive noodle bowls this side of the Pacific ocean. It's a quaint place and lets also call it "friendly". Basically they'll make you share tables with other diners if it's getting too full. But it's worth sitting next to a slurping stranger for these noodles. They're hand drawn on premises(dinner and a show folks!). You can actually watch the guy making them in the back if you care to peek. And I know I said it was cheap, but goodness gracious, cheap doesn't describe it. Basically if you're looking for an out of this world noodle bowl AND you're looking to use up some spare change, check out Nan Zhou( $6.50/person for a gut-busting experience).

Best "bang for your buck" bar in Old City

....and no, unfortunately it isn't this one(although my dog Lindy does shake up one bad ass martini)

My husband and I like a good drink special. We shoot pool at this pool hall in our neighborhood that always has drink specials at times OTHER than when we’re there. It’s become a bit of a joke actually. We’ll get a table, say "hi" to the waitress that knows us, and then like clockwork my husband will ask if there are any drink specials and the waitress will say, "not until-------"(fill in the blank…it’s always an hour later than we want to stay or an hour before we got there). But the pool is cheap and we enjoy it so I can’t complain. BUT when I find a bar that has fantastic deals I’m a free, walking advertisement. That being said, go to Sugar Mom’s in Old City . It’s in the basement of an old warehouse-turned loft apartment complex. We almost chose to live there while conducting our apartment search many months back, but when we though about what life would be like(the good AND the bad) if we had a great, cheap bar in our basement, we decided that might be a little too much temptation, and chose to go elsewhere.

Sugar Mom's:
Sugar Mom's is one of the best if you ask me. The best of what? You name it, and they're the best of it. They have a wonderful decor(dungeon meets arcade meets pool hall meets Cheers meets hipster bar meets....well, meets my approval), great food specials and they sell Wells Banana Bread Beer(it's a guilty pleasure...half dessert, half beer, all delicious...if you're an adventurous beer lover it's a must try). Sunday they have PBR tallboys for a buck...yes $1 and yes, they're 16oz of cold, frothy goodness. They also have half priced sandwiches and margaritas. Wednesday is 25 cent Pierogie day and $2 bud bottle day(I have Polish grandparents so it's like they climbed in my head and found out what I like, potato filled dough and cheap beer). Thursdays they boast $1.50 PBR tall boys, $3 burgers(veggie included) and $2 mixed drinks. Their list of specials go on and on and change often, but one thing stays the's a cheap place to drink and have fun in a not-so-cheap part of the city(P.S it's non-smoking to my delight).

I’ll re-visit this subject many times, I’m sure. So if you’re thinking of visiting Philly leave me a note and I’ll do a Top 10 list for you.

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