CHEAP EATS: From burritos to smoothie bowls, sandwiches to sushi, everything here is under $15

click to enlarge The Grinder from Gander & Ryegrass
 - DEREK HARRISON PHOTO
Derek Harrison photo
The Grinder from Gander & Ryegrass

Each year, the Inlander team sets out on a tasty mission for our annual Cheap Eats issue: Find and recommend as many affordable menu items as possible from restaurants across the Inland Northwest. As costs continue to rise with time, these issues become more challenging to put together. But there will always be loads of locally owned places that consistently outshine typical big-chain fast food in every way: price, freshness, flavor, quality of ingredients and convenience. Sometimes, you just have to look a little harder to find them.

While the following 21 staff-tested recommendations are a mere snapshot of the amazingly affordable eats to be found around Spokane, Coeur d'Alene and beyond, we know there are many more waiting to be discovered by us, and you. Drop us a line at food@inlander.com to share your favorites for us to scope out next time.

In the meantime, enjoy these "cheap eats," all less than $15, and please continue supporting our local food and drink purveyors who need your business more now than ever.

— CHEY SCOTT, Inlander food editor

TacoVado: Breakfast Burrito ($8)
1620 N. Ash St., 420-5708, tacovado.com

The first bite of the breakfast burrito from TacoVado lets you know this won't be your ordinary burrito experience. The tortilla, too often overlooked in burritos, is chewy and flavorful. You get a taste of the egg, which is perfectly salted and — unlike some inferior breakfast burritos — won't overwhelm each bite with a mound of yellow mess. And then there's the meat. You can choose between carnitas (shredded pork), adovada (red chili pork), barbacoa (shredded beef) or chili verde (beef with hatch green chili). I usually go with the barbacoa, if for no other reason than I tried it once and liked it and I haven't looked back. The avocado and melted cheese balance the flavor out, softening each mouthful into something heavenly. Here's a tip: Add some queso for $1. When I added queso, the burrito artist said, "Nice," as if I'd stumbled upon a secret only the most seasoned breakfast burrito lovers would know. (WILSON CRISCIONE)

Pizza Rita: Two Slices + Drink Lunch Special ($5)
502 W. Indiana Ave., 5511 N. Wall St., 201 N. Pines Rd., pizzarita.net
As one of Spokane's largest pizza chains, Pizza Rita has been a staple of the local "cheap eats" scene since its opening in 1989. The locally owned pizza joint is well known for giving out free fountain drinks with carryout orders, and for their promise of being the best price in town by accepting any competitor's pizza coupons. But their lunch special stands out: You can stop by any location at lunch and grab two slices of pizza and a pop for just $4.99. (DEREK HARRISON)

click to enlarge Dirty Fries from Stella's Cafe - DEREK HARRISON PHOTO
Derek Harrison photo
Dirty Fries from Stella's Cafe

Stella's Cafe: Dirty Fries ($8)
19 W. Main Ave., 290-5927, stellastogo.com
While many of us might worship Guy Fieri's trailblazing sense of hair care and fashion (or not), we can all agree the dude knows his way around tasty comfort food. So it was no surprise that when he pulled his Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives convertible up to Ruins' door a few years back, he found his way to sing the praises of Chef Tony Brown's dirty fries. During the pandemic, Brown moved the dish to Stella's in Saranac Commons, but the appeal remains the same: Delicious, crispy fries covered in a house-made aioli, salsa verde and melt-in-your-mouth pork shoulder. The dirty fries are priced like a side, but they easily make a meal — and a damn good one at that. (DAN NAILEN)

Gander & Ryegrass: The Grinder ($10)
404 W. Main Ave., 315-4613, ganderandryegrass.com
If you're pining for the return of chef Peter Froese' tasting menus, the sandwiches at Gander & Ryegrass offer interim satiation. During the pandemic, the Italian-inspired fine-dining restaurant shifted to an abbreviated takeout and delivery (through Treehouse or Uber Eats) menu, and the stars of these daytime-only offerings (11 am-3 pm) are definitely the sandwiches. Using this simple yet versatile vehicle, Froese and his team showcase the exquisite flavor combinations that G&R has become known for since opening in late 2019. Among the many options, you'll find a shrimp po' boy, mortadella, and rotating weekly specials like muffaletta (all for $10-$12, a serious bargain), but my favorite so far is the Grinder. A sturdy housemade bun cradles layers of shaved meats (copa, capicola and salami) topped with slow-roasted tomatoes, fresh greens and cicciola, a pork shoulder spread. (CHEY SCOTT)

The Crown & Thistle Pub: Potato Leek Pie ($12.50)
107 N. Fourth St., Coeur d'Alene, 208-758-8357, crownandthistlepub.com
What could be better on a cold winter day than warm, creamy potato and vegetable filling topped with a golden, flaky pastry crust? I recently ordered the potato leek pie to go, and reader, I was AMAZED because when I got home to Spokane 40 minutes later, this thing was still warm! The magic is in putting the hot pie filling into foil inside of the to-go box, then topping it off with a perfectly cut-to-size piece of buttery pastry topped with pepper. All the comfort of a pot pie with the crunch you only get from puff pastry. (SAMANTHA WOHLFEIL)

El Paisa: Chili Verde ($9)
1801 Lincoln Way, #2A, Coeur d'Alene, 208-930-4210, orderelpaisaid.com
Very little has changed since this North Idaho eatery opened in 2011, and although prices have crept up a bit, they're still reasonable considering how much food you get. And considering how good it is: mostly variations on chicken, beef or pork, the latter having inspired a near devotion to their "barbacoa" style sweet pulled pork. New year, new dish, however, so it was time to try chili verde. That's chunks of tender pork in a spicy green sauce, accompanied by delicately flavored rice and hearty beans (black or pinto) that were flavorful and just fork tender. Spicy enough to get your attention, but not overwhelm you. Combo plates include chips and chunky salsa fresca, so plenty to share with a friend. (CARRIE SCOZZARO)

Top of India: Samosa Chaat $8 and Chicken Soup ($6)
11114 E. Sprague Ave., Spokane Valley, 927-0500, topofindiarestaurant.com
For fans of Top of India's popular lunch buffet (still on hiatus), the takeaway lunch specials definitely appeal at $13 for dishes like tikka masala or chicken korma, plus naan and rice. But when you want to try a bit of this and that, try a handful of side orders like chaat. A mashup of flavors and textures, it's a traditional Indian snack with layers of crunchy, spicy, savory and fresh. TOI tops a crispy vegetarian samosa (stuffed pastry) with spicy, fork-tender garbanzo beans called chana. On top of that: piquant tamarind chutney and mint chutney, which meld into the samosa nicely. Freshness in the form of cilantro, onions and chopped tomato finish the dish. The only thing missing would be a dollop of cooling yogurt, although you can also tone down the spice level when you order. Pair the chaat with soup — their chicken soup has a bright, lemony flavor — for a filling and healthful meal. (CARRIE SCOZZARO)

Sushi Sakai: Lunch Special ($9.95)
818 W. Riverside Ave., 413-1232, sushisakai.me
A friend who works nearby tipped me off to this steal of a lunch deal in downtown Spokane. For just $9.95 you get a healthy scoop of rice, a side salad, and your choice of two things from a list of appetizers, entrees and sushi. Try the chicken teriyaki and the spicy tuna roll, as I did. Or, get a roll and two pieces of nigiri. Or, get two fried gyoza and some chicken katsu. The list of options is so extensive you could try a different lunch every week for years and never have the same combination twice. The deal is offered from 11 am to 3 pm daily. (SAMANTHA WOHLFEIL)

Cochinito Taqueria: Happy Hour Taco Pack for Two ($22)
10 N. Post St., 474-9618, cochinitotaqueria.com
An essential go-to for frugal diners everywhere, and not just on Tuesdays: tacos. Since the pandemic has impacted its ability to serve dine-in customers, Cochinito Taqueria downtown has been slinging some major deals to lure customers to order takeout. (Not that we needed any begging.) Currently offered daily during happy hour from 3 to 5:30 pm, and for takeout only, this special deal gets you a filling, flavorful and super affordable three-course meal. Best of all, it's plenty of food for two, or a second meal later for one. For $22, pick any four tacos — Pro tip: You should definitely mix and match; but our favorite is the 20-hour carne asada — from Cochinito's regular menu, plus housemade chips with either queso or salsa, and four churros for dessert with chocolate or caramel dipping sauce. Add a cocktail or drink to-go to truly bring happy hour home. (CHEY SCOTT)

DéGar's Reef Taco: Reef Taco ($6.75) or Burrito ($11)
12501 N. Division St., facebook.com/degarsreeftaco
Colorful, health-conscious and hearty describe the menu at DéGar's Reef Taco, a new independent fast-casual spot opened in mid-2020 by a former Taco Del Mar franchise owner in the Wandermere area. Operating currently as a drive-thru-only spot, DéGar's offers a concise yet varied menu of tacos, burritos and burrito-style protein bowls that'll fill your belly for a bargain. The signature Reef is a honking, 12-inch tortilla tightly packed with fresh, beer-battered cod and red cabbage, and topped with housemade tartar aioli and spicy-sweet salsa. If you're not ravenous, you can get the Reef in taco form ($6.75). DéGar's goes way bigger than your average street taco, and this one boasts a full piece of cod with all the same toppings, cradled inside double-layered corn tortillas. (CHEY SCOTT)

click to enlarge Build-Your-Own Bowl at Poke Express
 - DEREK HARRISON PHOTO
Derek Harrison photo
Build-Your-Own Bowl at Poke Express

Poke Express: Build-Your-Own Bowl ($11/small; $13/large)
1509 N. Pine Rd., 12208 N. Division St., 113 W. Indiana Ave., pokeexpresspokane.net
We all love customizable food, but can it get any better than build-your-own poke? Time for us poke lovers to get creative, as bowl combinations are limitless. Start with your choice of brown or white rice and selection of a small (two scoops) or large portion (four scoops) of spicy or non-spicy protein. If you aren't a fish fanatic, you can still enjoy poke, just opt for chicken or tofu. Topping time! Some popular bowl additions include sweet corn, sweet onion, jalapeno, onion, cucumber, seaweed salad, edamame, avocado, ginger, carrot and the list goes on. If you feel inclined to add a sweet touch, garnish your poke with diced mango or pineapple. Now that you're nearing the end of the ingredient counter, it's time to sauce and top your bowl. For a spicy kick and crunch, I recommend the finishing off with some spicy mayo and crispy onions. (NATALIE RIETH)

Garland Sandwich Shoppe: The Garland Dagwood ($13)
3903 N. Madison St, 326-2405, garlandsandwich.com
You really can't go wrong with anything on Garland Sandwich Shoppe's menu of fresh ingredients between slices of delicious bread. But a glutton like me always leans toward the Dagwood, a longtime diner staple that's appropriately named for an omnivorous comic strip character and will never leave you feeling hungry. It's a sandwich of extremes: You get turkey, ham and roast beef, layered with swiss, provolone and cheddar, and the lettuce, tomato and onion adds a needed bit of crunch. This version of the Dagwood is one hefty handheld, and it's really a bargain at just $13. (NATHAN WEINBENDER)

Di Luna's: Veggie Hash ($11.50)
207 Cedar St., Sandpoint, Idaho, 208-263-0846, dilunas.com
When I first moved to Spokane, a weekend jaunt to Sandpoint proved a perfect getaway. It's close enough that the drive isn't bad at all (and it's a pretty one, too), and the town is charming and walkable. A chance stumble into Di Luna's for breakfast made the eclectic little cafe a regular stop whenever I'm in town, and while you can't go wrong with anything, the veggie hash became my go-to thanks to its super-fresh mix of red and sweet potatoes, onions, sweet peppers and greens, all slathered in a perfect hollandaise. Even better? Take Di Luna's suggestion to add bacon to the mix for $3. It's crazy I know, but bacon somehow makes veggie hash even better! (DAN NAILEN)

click to enlarge Iron Goat Brewing's Gochujang Pork Burrito
 - DEREK HARRISON PHOTO
Derek Harrison photo
Iron Goat Brewing's Gochujang Pork Burrito

Iron Goat Brewing: Gochujang Pork Burrito ($10.25)
1302 W. Second Ave., 474-0722, irongoatbrewing.com
Near the start of the pandemic, the kitchen at Iron Goat Brewing started whipping up unique burrito specials. The success of the specials led them to later add three burritos to the regular menu: the gochujang pork, banh mi and chicken tikka masala. These massive wraps are incredibly tasty and filling, sometimes lasting me two meals. They've become a go-to order throughout the last few months. Specifically, the gochujang pork burrito is almost a weekly dinner for me. It's loaded with gochujang (Korean chili paste) braised pork, a fried egg, jasmine rice, kimchi, American cheese, green onion, cilantro and gochujang aioli. If you're thirsty, you can take up Iron Goat's beer crowler (32 oz.) and burrito special for $18. (DEREK HARRISON)

Umi Kitchen and Sushi Bar: Fried Rice ($14)
1309 W. Summit Pkwy, 368-9372, umispokane.com
Umi Kitchen and Sushi Bar's sushi is fantastic, but if you're anything like me, sushi rolls aren't quite enough to satiate your ravenous maw at those times when your stomach feels as empty as your wallet. I have two words for you: fried rice. At $14, Umi's "fried rice" menu option may not seem like a cheap eat at first, until the massive bowl comes out, and you realize that no matter how deep your craving is, there's enough fried rice to satisfy you. The expertly cooked rice is the best part of an Umi sushi roll, so why not dig into an entire bowl that makes the rice the star? (DANIEL WALTERS)

Bruchi's: Bruchi's Burger ($4.20)
707 W. Main Ave. (plus five other area locations), 474-0014, bruchis.com
Look, there are only so many options for a quick and tasty lunch. You can grab a sub sandwich somewhere, but maybe you're all subbed out. You can get fast food, but, ugh, do you really want McDonald's again? Enter Bruchi's. Of course, they have subs and cheesesteaks if you so choose, but I'm going to recommend something a little bit cheaper: the Bruchi Burger. It's incredible value for a quarter-pound patty with pickles, lettuce, tomatoes, onions and the game-changing Bruchi sauce. Add cheese for a quarter and bacon for another 75 cents. For my taste, it's a clear step up over some fast food burgers, but it's the same price. And you don't even have to go out to get it — you can order online and have it delivered right to your face. (WILSON CRISCIONE)

click to enlarge The Zegg breakfast sandwich from the Ultimate Bagel
 - DEREK HARRISON PHOTO
Derek Harrison photo
The Zegg breakfast sandwich from the Ultimate Bagel

The Ultimate Bagel: Breakfast Sandwich ($6.50)
1217 N. Hamilton St., 487-4630, facebook.com/theultimatebagel
Bagels are a breakfast essential, but when transformed into breakfast sandwiches, they ascend to a whole new level. The Ultimate Bagel near Gonzaga serves a variety of bagels that can be enjoyed on their own, or featured in some of the best breakfast sandwiches in Spokane. You can choose any of their delicious bagels (plain, sesame, poppy seed, garlic, whole wheat, onion, Everything and more) as the base for many sandwich options that feature eggs, cheese and Canadian bacon or sausage. Our favorite is the Zegg, which includes avocado, cheddar, pork sausage and an egg broiled on your choice of bagel. Don't forget to pair this meal with a cup of coffee to be fully fueled for the rest of your morning. These sandwiches smell so good you won't be able to resist eating them on the way home. (SPENCER BROWN)

Tasty Bun: Buns ($3.50 each)
829 E. Boone Ave., tastybun.com
Located near Gonzaga's campus, Tasty Bun is the perfect place to stop for a filling, affordable and — most importantly — tasty meal for students or Spokane locals. Tasty bun flavors include: fusion-style pulled pork with caramelized vegetables and spices, sloppy joe, Swedish meatball with gravy, a vegan bun with ginger-infused barley, mushroom, onions and carrots, and, for breakfast sandwich enthusiasts, an egg, bacon, sausage and cheese filled bun. When your tasty bun(s) are ordered, they're warmed to ensure your fillings of choice encased in the soft, steamed bun are ready to eat. Tasty buns are simple, yet flavorful, and the perfect cozy meal for a chilly winter day. (NATALIE RIETH)

Spokane Breakfast Company: The Mile High Burrito ($7.49)
315 W. Sprague Ave., 494-4399
Talk about a pivot: When live entertainment was put on hold, the Spokane Comedy Club transformed itself into a milkshake emporium over the summer. And now that the weather has gotten colder, they've rechristened themselves again as Spokane Breakfast Company. The menu leans heavily toward breakfast burritos, all of which are available in tortilla-less bowl options and run less than $9, from the taco-inspired Machete to the barbecue sauce-filled Lone Ranger. I opted for the Mile High, a mix of cheesy scrambled egg, ham, peppers, onions and hash browns, all tied together with the slight sweetness of salsa verde. Spokane Breakfast Company delivers throughout the day, but it's a great way to kick off your morning. (NATHAN WEINBENDER)

3 Ninjas Curbside and Catering: BBQ Quesadilla ($8)
1198 W. Summit Pkwy., 768-3613, facebook.com/mobilespokane
3 Ninjas — a popular Asian fusion food truck — branched out to a brick-and-mortar joint a few years ago, serving up their mix of fire wraps, beef bulgogi tacos and "Buffalo Sandos" from a small spot in Kendall Yards. Blessedly, they've remained open during the pandemic, allowing you to swing by and pick up one of my favorite choices, their BBQ quesadilla. It comes stuffed with caramelized onions, bell peppers, candied jalapeños, cheese, sriracha and, of course, barbecue chicken. Perfect for takeout or delivery for when you don't have time to make lunch. (DANIEL WALTERS)

Wellness Tree Juice: Smoothie Bowl ($8)
1025 S. Perry St. and 1028 N. Hamilton St., wellnesstreejuice.com
After a long workout, or for a healthy way to kickstart your day, a smoothie from Wellness Tree Juice is definitely the way to go. With locations in South Perry and near Gonzaga, Wellness Tree offers several options for those seeking a healthy snack or refresher. While the smoothies taste amazing, the juice bar's smoothie bowls are the best of both worlds, combining a smoothie base with some extra healthy treats. For just $8 you can pick any smoothie off the menu, add granola and three toppings. While the combinations are nearly limitless, our favorite is the Healthy Start which has cold brew coffee, peanut butter, oats, banana, date, vanilla bean, honey and cinnamon, creating a caffeine fix inside a full meal. These bowls do a body and your taste buds good for a reasonable cost. (SPENCER BROWN) ♦

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