Capital City Cheapo

I was raised on macaroni and cheese and from-the-box brownies, so a good day for me is boiling a pot of pasta. Starchy and processed store-bought foods are always an acceptable option for penny pinchers, but even when you’re strapped for cash, there’s no real sin in eating out. Like the Matt LeBlanc of the pre-Joey era used to insist, there’s nothing better than a sandwich. Along with coffee, tea, and breakfast tacos, bread stuffed with… well, stuff… is one of the cheapest and most fulfilling forms of grub money can buy.

photo / marklarson Sandwich from Jason’s Deli 

We’re certainly lacking in New York City bagels, Wisconsin-grown corn-on-the-cob, and Chicago-style pizza (settle down, Conan’s lovers – I’m a fan myself), but Austin’s a total foodie town. Finding two slices of bread, some relish, and a handful of fresh fixins is easy. It’s time to haul your change jar to the coin machine and trade that crisp new $5 bill in for a snack.

Right off the bat, I’ve gotta acknowledge an Austin tradition. Thirty-two years and counting and Thundercloud Subs is only getting better. The owners have successfully combined an entrepreneurial spirit with the taste of homegrown goodness and local flavor, making each and every one of the 25 locations feel like an original. Subs start at $3.29, which gives tightwads a great opportunity to eat cheap and support a local business.

While we’re on the subject of Austin staples, I must mention Jason’s Deli. Like many semi-expensive, sort of delicious establishments, I have a love-hate relationship with this overcrowded cafeteria chain. However, I would be denying you sound financial advice if I didn’t tell you about their $1.99 grilled cheese and peanut butter and jelly. Yes, it’s on the kid’s menu, but that’s a technicality. I have never been refused service… and I even ask for tomato on my toasted cheese.

If you’re lucky enough to live south, I would highly recommend a quiet afternoon with a good book at Garden District Coffee House. Housed in The Great Outdoors center on South Congress, this sunny spot has affordable made-to-order sandwiches, jovial baristas, and an excellent people-watching patio. Go on a payday and you may even be able to splurge on a small plant. Oh, and while you’re frequenting the south side and places that begin with a “G,” stop by Green Muse for a fantastic hummus sandwich.

There’s something about the word “garden” that draws a crowd, because on the opposite end of town is another homespun sandwich success. Garden Spot Café and Catering is a North Austin self-proclaimed mom and pop shop that serves deli-style sandwiches for a lowly $4.45. Meat lovers should definitely check out their cold sandwich menu, and on-the-run types will love their grab-and-go “reach-in” refrigerator.

photo / hamron Which Wich 

Most cheapskates don’t make it over to West Austin on a regular basis, but when life hands you Hancock Drive, make a sandwich stop at Russell’s Bakery. This oldie but goodie is a café, bakery, and wedding cake emporium with a chalkboard lunch menu that consistently stays under seven bucks. Russell’s is probably more like a once-a-month treat, but their ham hoagie is excellent and their pimiento cheese is usually the reason there’s a line out the door.

Next up is the always engaging East Side and the soulful success of Gene’s New Orleans Style Po Boys & Deli. That pesky fork in the road at East 11th Street will probably get you lost, but at least you’ll be hungry when you arrive. Get your po boy hot (smoked sausage, roast beef, catfish), or get your po boy cold (turkey breast, salami), but at about four dollars a pop, get your po boy for less than a pot of gold. (I know, I know…)

Guadalupe is home to a plethora of inexpensive cuisine, but the king of the sandwich is the centrally-located and slightly obsessed-over Foodheads. It always looks like a lawn party is in full swing at this happy-go-lucky homestyle business. For five or six bucks, stuff as much as possible between two slices of pumpernickel, focaccia, or Jewish rye. Sure, six bucks is steep when you’re on a budget, but listen. When’s the last time you had a sandwich with roasted potato, tarragon mayonnaise, black forest ham, and Muenster cheese? Plus, the icebox pickles are free!

No matter where you live in Austin, you can’t be far from a Which Wich. With nine Central Texas locations, it’s apparent that this stainless steel concept chain has been well-received by Austinites. And it makes sense. Build-your-own paper bag ordering is as close to having a personal chef as you’re going to get with a $5 bill.

Even with our medium-sized population and manageable square footage, Austin can be a little overwhelming when it comes to food. I am absolutely certain as I wrap up this week’s column that there are literally hundreds of sandwiches I’ve missed. While this random smattering of reasonably priced wiches will get you started, I’m confident in your abilities to find many more without me. Which makes me feel unnecessary and dejected. I guess I’ll eat my pain. Who wants a sandwich?

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About Sarah Murray Sarah Murray is an Austin-based freelance writer and principal of Aerabela Brown Agency. Like everyone else in the world, she’s also working on a screenplay.