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[whitespace] David Sawley
Photograph by George Sakkestad

Meal Deal: Pick a hand, any hand. Soquel Bagelry manager David Sawley can deliver lunch for less than a fiver.

Get Lunch

There's no such thing as a free lunch, but is it possible to find a $5 midday meal in Silicon Beach?

By Janet Blaser

FULL OF PROTEIN AND FLAVOR, and easy on the pocketbook, Mexican food is always a sure bet for an inexpensive, filling meal. My favorites: the overstuffed chicken primavera burrito at Taqueria La Mission, a real bargain at $3.25 (in the Metro bus station on Front Street, Santa Cruz). A close second are the flautas ($4.25) at Costa Brava on Seabright and Murray. Piled high with fresh cabbage, slathered with salsa, guacamole and sour cream, these crispy, fried corn tortillas stuffed with your choice of fillings (I like the chicken or veggie) will satisfy the biggest hunger.

And of course, there's Tacos Moreno at 1053 Water St. (beware the line) and Taqueria Vallarta (608 Soquel Ave.), where gigantic servings are the order of the day. For freshness and authenticity, the Taco Bar at El Palomar (1336 Pacific Ave.) is the best. Corn tortillas are rolled on the spot by a crew of amazingly unflustered and perfectly coifed women, and then stuffed with equally fresh fillings cooked on the grill right there in front of you. The Taco Bar Happy Hour is further incentive: 11am-3pm, Monday and Thursday, and 5-9pm, Tuesday and Thursday, tacos are $2 and burritos are $3. Even the everyday prices--$2.25-$2.75 for tacos, $3 for quesadillas, and $4-$5 for burritos--are more than reasonable.

In the mood for something a little more exotic? Head to Charlie Hong Kong (1141 Soquel Ave.), bypass the rice and noodle bowls, and check out the Vietnamese sandwiches. Built on a Kelly's French roll and filled with any of Charlie's wonderful toppings (like Sichuan Mushroom Medley or Teriyaki Salmon), marinated vegetables and spiced mayo, they're a delicious alternative to the standard ham and cheese. And at $3.95, what a deal.

The Bagelry has been a staple in town for almost a quarter of a century, keeping the populace satisfied and satiated with a never-ending smorgasbord of fresh, homemade toppings, more than a dozen kinds of bagels and various extras (cookies, soups, salads). Mainstays like Pink Flamingo, Cheese Louise and Fandango have made room for newcomers like Scrambagels and Bagel Belts, but you can still find fresh avocado, hummus and lots of vegan options here. This local institution has three locations: downtown Santa Cruz at 320 Cedar St.; on the East Side at 1636 Soquel Avenue; and in Soquel Village at 4763 Soquel Dr.

Sometimes, nothing hits the spot like a good piece of pizza. Head to Pizza My Heart, centrally located on Pacific Avenue between Cathcart and Lincoln streets. The weekday lunch special includes a slice, a really good salad and a drink; two slices and a drink; or a mini-calzone and a drink--for just $4.95.

Sandwich heaven begins with a "Z." Both Zoccoli's Deli at 1534 Pacific Ave. and Zanotto's Family Markets at 700 Front Street offer a great selection of made-to-order sandwiches. Prices hover around the $5 mark, and both places accommodate all kinds of dietary preferences in their menus. Zanotto's also has a sushi chef on hand weekdays during the lunch hour, so you can pick up a bento box to go instead of your usual tuna on rye.

(Janet Blaser writes Meal Ticket and A la Carte every week.)

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From the September 13-20, 2000 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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