Tag Archives: cheap eats

Nothing Fancy – Part 3

25 Apr

My mood is entirely weather-based, and today’s gloom in Nashville started my day off worse than waking up on the wrong side of the bed.  I had to take action, and luckily, Yeast Nashville bakery is on my way into work.   They have changing daily specials that always includes some sort of amazing egg casserole, soup and baked goods, but the stars of the show are their kolaches.

Never had a kolache?  Like the mighty armadillo, kolaches have made their way up to Tennessee by way of Texas and now there’s no turning back.  Although kolaches are traditionally Czech and Polish pastries, most Americans know them from the world famous Czech Stop, in West, Texas.  They can have a savory filling or are topped with sweetened cream cheese, fruit and/nuts.


Your mission, should you chose to accept it, is to:

1. BUY ROOSTER BREAD NOW FOR LATER.  They always, always, always sell out before the end of the day.  What is rooster bread you ask?  Why, it is only the finest sriacha and cheese blend loaf of bread this side of the Cumberland.

2.  Start with the classics.  While (seriously) everything Yeast Nashville makes turns to gold, the kolaches really are the best.  Try the jalapeno/sausage/cheese kolache to spice up your morning.

Also, as if you needed more of an incentive, they have incredible coffee. They serve Drews Brews which is pretty much the only coffee shop coffee that doesn’t either taste burned or like cigarettes.  And it’s local. Boom.



“Nothing Fancy” Series – Part 2

4 Apr

The next person who tells you they eat McDonald’s all the time because, “It’s so cheap,” tell them to eat more tacos!

Tacos should be simple – small corn tortillas, filled with meat and topped with onions and cilantro.  No exceptions.  However, to determine who has the “best” tacos, one should look to the sauce in my humble opinion.  A place has a bottle of Tabasco for your tacos?  “Getthefuggouttaheya,” or of course the Southern equivalent is, “Oh honey, bless your heart.”  Give me unlabeled containers of creamy green and dark reds with visible chili peppers in it, I’ll love you forever.

I’ve described the tacos at El Tapatio (4801 Nolensville Pike, Nashville, TN 37211 – next to Whitt’s BBQ) as, “So good I forgot to look at my phone,” which, in these modern times, is really saying a lot.  But the sauce, the sauce!  For $4.90 I got two spicy pork tacos, one shrimp, pickled carrots, radishes, a green sauce and a red sauce.


I have no idea what’s in the sauce, but I can tell you that it’s homemade, spicy as hell, and is better than anything else you’ll find on Nolensville Road. ¡Yo Quiero El Tapatio!

“Nothing Fancy” Series – Part 1

28 Mar

Some of the tastiest food in Nashville can be yours for five dollars or less.  In part one of my “Nothing Fancy” series,  I ventured out to Reina la Bendición, “The Queen’s Blessing,”  on 330 Timmons Street, just up from the Nolensville Pike/Thompson Lane intersection if you’re heading away from downtown.

Reina specializes in El Salvadorean food, and for those in the know, thaReinat means pupusas.  Pupusas are made from masa flour that has been stuffed with beans, cheese, pumpkin flower, meats, etc. and grilled to crispy perfection.  I asked for two bean and cheese pupusas and sat back to watch their tiny, busy kitchen as they hand made all of the food to order.

While their menu is fairly small (and entirely in Spanish), it makes up for it in big flavors.  Pupusas traditionally come with a cabbage slaw, and Reina’s is the best I’ve ever had.  It’s fresh, with hints of lime and spice to it.  Pupusas are a humble $2.25 each and come with a massive portion of (the best ever) slaw and hot sauce. Add a side of yuca frita (fried yuca) and nothing can ruin your day!

Come back next Friday for more in the  “Nothing Fancy” series to get the beat on what to eat, cheap!



Eating Cheap at European Winter Markets

5 Jan

I’m a pretty annoying eater apparently.  I eat slowly, in really small amounts, and I can never finish my food unless it’s a fancy restaurant with tiny portions and weird sauces.  I am also pretty cheap so needless to say, especially when solo-traveling, I rarely eat ‘meals.’

Instead, I prefer to travel to Eastern Europe during the winter months for authentic, regional street food sold at Holiday markets.  For under three dollars a meal, you are guaranteed to get some portable, filling, and tasty fuel to keep you warm and on the go

Pro-tip:  Many markets close after New Year’s Day but Prague’s Christmas markets, for example, are open until January 13th.  Do your research so you won’t be disappointed.  

Below are my top six favorite things to eat (and drink) from European Holiday markets:

prague 8001.  Grilled or ‘fried’ cheese (Prague)- either Edam or Hermelin cheese that is lightly breaded, then either fried or grilled.  They put the salty, oozy cheese on a slice of rye bread and you can choose to top it with a dark berry marmalade.  WOA. BEST FOOD EVER.

2.  Liquid lunch (Europe)- All around the world, no matter the city, you will see vats of mulled wine (hot, spiced wine) that is sold for take-away so you can browse the Christmas markets.

Pro-tip: If you are in Budapest, you will notice there is very little plastic waste unlike the rest of Europe or in America.  At Holiday markets there, you buy hot wine and put a separate deposit down on the ceramic mug that they put your wine in.  You are free to either keep the mug and leave the deposit, or return the mug and get your deposit back.  

langos3.  Langos (Budapest)- Also referred to as Hungarian Pizza, this delectable treat is always fried potato dough, covered with sour cream and cheese, then up to you (or the region) as to what else you can add.  Try it with garlic sauce, onions and mushrooms.

Pro-Tip- for the BEST langos in Budapest, you don’t have to wait for winter.  You can get it all year round at the central market upstairs.  This is where you will get the freshest langos with more options for toppings than you can get at Christmas markets.  You will also see this in other countries throughout Europe, but it is authentically Hungarian (and better there).  

4.  Grilled Sausage (Europe)- Grilled sausage is just about the best lunch you can get.  It comes crackling off the grill and is placed on a large bun, where you can fill it with sauerkraut and mustard.  Seriously good, seriously cheap.

prague 7765.  ‘Chimney Cakes’ (Transylvanian Origin) – These are popular in Eastern Europe where the dough is rolled in cinnamon and sugar, wrapped around iron rods and placed over hot coals to cook.  They are a great breakfast snack; like a superior cinnamon toast.

6. Medovina (Central and Eastern Europe)- Medovina is mead, or fermented honey.  If you remember your Old English Epics, you will recall that Beowulf and his retinue drank heaps of mead at Herot.  It’s not great (it’s REALLY sweet), but it’s fun to drink and think about when men were warriors.

My 5 Favorite Slices in New York (and one in New Jersey)

13 Dec

I know, I know. Everyone knows the best pizza in New York is Grimaldi’s, right? Please. I’m talking slices, not sit down. Slices that you can grab and go and not have to wait an hour for. They may not be the best, but they are my favorites.

iphone pics incl. paris and prague 4251. Artichoke Basille’s Pizza– Artichoke slice: They have only a few different slices to choose from, but the star of the show is the Artichoke slice. It is a huge, thick slice slathered with hot artichoke dip for sauce and covered in fresh mozzarella, baked to a bubbling, golden brown.

I wish I was banished to a deserted island so I could choose this as the only thing I eat for the rest of my life. $4 is totally worth the price (14th Street between 1st and 2nd Aves (212) 228-2004).

2. Pizza Gruppo Truffle pizza: If you want the truffle pizza but don’t want to sit in a restaurant, go to Gruppo. Grab some truffle slices and head down to my favorite loner haunt Mona’s, an interesting Irish bar down the street. Trust me, you’ll love it. Gruppo has the thinnest crust I’ve seen in NY, which is saying something. (Gruppo- 186 Ave B (212) 995-2100, Mona’s 14th and B)

3 Certe Pizza– Saw-seech slice: I used to have to work in Midtown Manhattan, known as lunchtime wasteland. This place, NY’s first official ‘green’ pizzeria, was the best thing that opened up in that neighborhood, and still is to my knowledge as far. I go back every time i’m in Manhattan for the saw-seech slice, a little spicy with crumbled chicken sausage, rappini, and red peppers. They also have amazing infused garlic or pepper olive oils to dip your crusts into! (132 East 56th Street, (212) 813-2020)

iphone pics incl. paris and prague 4564. Driggs Pizza Grandma slice: directly off the Bedford L there’s a whole lot of haircuts and expensive hip places, but if you exit off the Driggs side instead of Bedford and turn the corner, you will see Driggs Pizza, that has been in the neighborhood since 1968, which is quite a long time for ever-changing Williamsburg.

They have the best for your worst hangovers, and my favorite is the Grandma slice. It is pesto, red sauce and fresh cheese that is simple, and cheap. Don’t forget to get a few pepperoni bites for the road. (558 Driggs (718) 782-4826)

5. La Bella Mariella: This place has changed names a couple of times, but the menu stays the same. People either love or hate this one but I think that’s because they haven’t ordered the Vodka slice. The pizza is a perfect NY thin crust with tangy vodka sauce and cheese. I LOVE this slice and it’s super convenient if you are going to see a show at the Knitting Factory. (374 Metropolitan (718) 963-2378)

*Disclaimer before I get death threats- Roberta’s is awesome too; just not in my top 5.

5.5. And for New Jersey, it’s Benny Tudino’s: If you are going to see a show at Maxwells, take the time to stop by this place for a plain slice- don’t get fancy. This one is my favorite plain slice, or “cheese slice” hands down. They have the best sauce I have ever tasted because it actually tastes like tomatoes and doesn’t have any sugar added to it. It is also ‘home of the largest slice.” (622 Washington Street, Hoboken, NJ (201) 792 – 4132)

Best (and Cheapest) Day Drunk Adventure in Nashville

20 Nov

So you’re low on funds but still want to party and explore?  Or maybe your band is on tour and you only have the morning off in Nashville? This trip is perfect for you, and all conveniently located in Centennial Park so if you have the token wet blanket with you, they can lie in the grass while you go have fun.

While Memphis and Kansas City may be more famous for their barbecue, Nashville is still a pretty good contender.  Start with lunch at Hog Heaven, famous for it’s Kickin’ chicken white barbecue sauce.  Hog Heaven has been a Nashville staple for over 25 years, serving up pork, turkey, chicken, beef and ribs off their smoker that you can smell from across the street.  Try the pulled pork slathered in white sauce with a side of turnip greens for a taste of Nashville’s best.

Hog Heaven 115 27th Avenue North, Nashville, TN 37203 (615) 329-1234.  $3-12.00

Next, mosey next door to the best, and oldest, dive bar in Nashville, the Springwater Supper Club and Lounge.  Nashville legend has it that Al Capone would hang out here when he needed to lay low, and the tradition continues for anyone looking to escape the crowds and get a cold beer.  The bar is CASH ONLY and doesn’t have a liquor license but the $1.25 PBR until 8:00 pm and surly, but wonderful bartenders, make it worth it.

Springwater 115 27th Avenue North, Nashville, TN 37203.

Once your get a couple of beers in you, wander through Centennial Park over to the Parthenon.  The Parthenon was built in 1897 for Nashville’s Centennial Exposition.  Meant to only be temporary, the building was originally constructed of plaster and wood as a facade, then re-built in concrete.  It is now an historical museum for the Centennial, holds a small permanent art collection from James M. Cowan, and of course, Athena.

Did you know that Nashville is known as ‘The Athens of the South?’  Yeah, we don’t get it either since I’m pretty sure Athens (GA) is the Athens of the South but nevertheless, the Parthenon is a replica of the Parthenon in Athens, Greece, complete with a fully gilded 42 feet (13 m) Athena.

The Parthenon  2600 West End Avenue, Nashville, TN 37203  (615) 862-8431.  $6.00 for Adults.

Return to Springwater if you have time and see the cast of characters change as the day goes on.  Maybe you’ll even be lucky enough to meet Nashville legendary musician and serious weirdo, Dave Cloud.

Foodie Friday

16 Nov

I’ve been wanting to try the Peppercheese sandwich at Pepperfire, a deep fried pepper jack cheese sandwich, for quite some time and today is the day!  The deep fried sandwich is fried a perfect golden brown with oozy, warm pepper jack cheese melted in between.  It was so good I didn’t even start to feel guilty until I got to the second half.

If you want to pull some Man Vs. Food level eating, try the cleverly dubbed Tenders Royale, the peppercheese topped with hot chicken (light mild, mild, medium, hot, x-hot, or xx-hot).  Everything is made to order so you’re actually getting fresh, fast food but if you’re in a hurry, you’ll definitely want to call ahead.

Pepperfire Hot Chicken 2821 Gallatin Pike, (East) Nashville, TN 37216.  (615) 582-4824

Top 5 Things to do in (and around) Cozumel, Mexico

12 Nov

1.       Diving

Cozumel has some of the world’s best reefs, and is ideal for new and experienced divers.  Inexperienced divers will enjoy having a dive master with the group who will help you with extra weights if you need it, or even take your photo.  Divers with more experience are given freer access to deep dives with high visibility, as well as cavern and wreck dives.

Some of my favorite dive spots are Punta Dalila, La Francesa, and the Cedral wall where you can see loads of fish, as well as sea turtles, octopus, moray eels, crabs, a nurse shark or two, sponges and beautifully colored corals.

In Cozumel, unlike other locations, you will normally have a dive master out with the group, no matter the skill level.  I would highly recommend ProDive Mexico as your outfitter.  They have several locations throughout the island and on the mainland (Playa del Carmen), have full gear rental you can trust and have a PADI 5 Star rating.

Pro Tip 1: If you are looking for a hotel with dive shop, the Allegro Cozumel is an excellent choice.  It has a ProDive Mexico shop right on the property, and the boat leaves from the hotel so you don’t waste time or money with taxis or other travel.  They offer trips but also full courses so you can get certified while you are there, or work on a specialty.

Pro Tip 2: Trips are offered daily to dive or snorkel with whale sharks, the largest fish in the world, from June through September.  You don’t want to miss this if you will be there during the summer months!

2.   Punta Sur

If you drive to the southernmost part of the island, you will reach a sign to visit Parque Punta Sur and Faro Celarain, which has the lighthouse and is a wildlife preserve.  You pay a suggested admission of around $10 USD, hours are between 9 am – 5 pm.

Pro Tip:  Bring bug spray and sunscreen with you everywhere you go.

The first stop you come to is the crocodile preserve on the right, with small ruins on your left.  The ruin is called Tumba del Caracol.  The crocodiles live in the brackish mangroves at Punta sur but you will not see them anywhere else.


When you continue towards the lighthouse, look to your left and notice sticks or paint stirrers in the sand.  If you are lucky enough to be there between April and September when the sea turtles lay their eggs and hatch, you will see lots of sticks where community activists have marked where the eggs are in the sand.  The area is heavily protected from poachers with good cause; thousands of sea turtles come ashore each year to lay their eggs.  Learn more here.

At the end of the island you will reach the lighthouse, established in 1908. There is a small maritime museum on the ground floor where you can read about past lighthouse keepers and see how they lived, then you ascend the 127 stairs to the top of the lighthouse where you climb in directly under the clamshell Fresnel lens.  Then you can climb out onto the balcony where you can see the staggering beauty of the clear ocean on one side, with the mangroves on the other.


3.       Cenotes

Cozumel and the mainland of Playa del Carmen are loaded with “cenotes,” or sinkholes.  Many of these cenotes are open to the public for swimming, snorkeling, and some even for diving.

Two must see cenotes on the mainland are Ik-Kil, close to Chichen Itza, and Cenote Ponderosa.  Ik-Kil is very large, with a depth of 85 feet.  A quick shower is required before descending the long staircase down and then you can run and jump in.  Ik-Kil is quite crowded due to its proximity to Chichen Itza, so for something more relaxed, check out Cenote Ponderosa, also known as The Garden of Eden cenote.  It looks like a dream lagoon, something only seen in movies and is sparsely populated.  It is not nearly as deep but has stalactites and stalagmites that you can swim through while snorkeling, and you can also set up a dive excursion.





4.      Coba

While I absolutely recommend the trip to Chichen Itza, there are other, much less crowded ruins that are closer if you’re coming from Cozumel like Coba.  From Cozumel, anything you do on the mainland you must take the ferry.

Pro Tip: There are two ferry companies.  DO NOT buy a round trip ticket, even though it might save you a dollar or two, IF you want to control your return time to Cozumel.  Carefully review the timetable of your outgoing ferry before buying the round trip ticket or you might be stuck waiting hours for the last ferry at 10. 

Coba is a rather large ruin site situated around two lagoons.  Historians think Coba had around 50,000 people, making it one of the largest and most powerful civilizations in the Yucatan.  Coba is a series of sites, with a central temple that tourists where can climb to the top as well as a ball court.  When you arrive you will be accosted to take a pedicab to the central temple.

The walk is a little long (and hot, BRING WATER), but an integral part of the experience of Coba.  The white roads are ceremonial and along the way on your pilgrimage, you will notice the flora and fauna that the people relied on for every aspect of their lives.  One such example are the trees from which many of the buildings were painted.  If you apply water to the white park of the bark, the trees will change red, or blue or yellow.  In the picture below, you can see the yellow ‘paint’ created.


5.       Back away from the All-Inclusive meals

While it’s great to wake up and have all you can eat food, the meals are prepared for the general public.  Meaning, you will never have full-flavored meals in a resort due to dietary restrictions, and it’s unlikely you’ll be able to add anything but salt and pepper so what else can you do but EAT TACOS!

My favorite places on the island are below, in no real order:

  • Coconuts– Unbelievable atmosphere.  This is a perfect restaurant to visit if you go to Punta Sur, as it is close by.  It is at one of the highest parts of the island so you sit almost at a beach front cliff.    There are dogs running around that are cared for by the restaurant that are fun to watch, and bonus points that they don’t beg for food- even though they will eat it.
  • Los Otates– Pozole.  Some people like soup when it’s hot, and I am one of those people.  You will see many local people eating here, and in a town that does not eat out often, this means something.  Los Otates also has tacos that are nothing to scoff at.
  • El Pique– Best Tacos.  Cheap eats, perfectly simple menu, and off the beaten path.
  • Chilangos Taqueria– Best authentic Mexico city-style cuisine.  Huaraches, tamales, and quesadillas.  This late night spot is definitely off the beaten path so you may actually get to practice your Spanish in Mexico!  Delightful.
Rachel Louise Martin, Ph.D.

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