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Photograph by George Sakkestad

The Pleasure Is Mine: A slice at Pleasure Pizza is one of many affordable local dining options.

Cheap Eats

A food critic's guide to budget meals for students and people with student budgets

By Christina Waters

I FUELED MYSELF through graduate school on strong coffee and bagels filled with tuna salad. Tuna is a mighty source of protein, energy and flavor. And bagels, of course, are one of the user-friendliest staffs of life on the planet. Ergo, when somebody asks me about inexpensive lunch or dinner items, I immediately think of the Bagelry.

For under $4 you can get very full on fresh albacore piled onto your choice of chewy bagel. Another good thing about the Bagelry is that you can also find wonderful, freshly made soups, very affordable, if you're looking for a multi-course dining experience.

Great tuna sandwiches are available all over the West Side neighborhood close to UCSC. Emily's -- home of celestial pumpkin muffins -- makes a huge fresh tuna sandwich. So does the mighty Beckmann's Bakery, where you could also climb into a ham-and-cheese version of a meal-sized sandwich, or enjoy a giant hummus and roasted veggie model -- all for under $4.

Incidentally, if you're looking for the Rolls Royce of fresh sandwiches in the entire area, you'll find them at the Buttery Bakery. They're huge and they rule, in the $5 ballpark.

Hungry Cabrillo College scholars are lucky -- Carpo's is nearby, offering fast but nongreasy lunch and dinner plates priced for paupers. The burgers and fries are bountiful, and the crab sandwich is a major meal.

Or you could aim toward Aptos, and grab one of the carry-out boxes of California roll sushi available at Sushi on the Run. Healthy, gourmet and filling for $5-$6.

Mission Street is a gold mine of inexpensive dining possibilities. La Mission offers $5 lunch specials of your favorite Mexican dishes, and two Chinese restaurants -- Golden City and China Station -- feature more lunch specials, including plenty of rice, egg rolls and the all-important fortune cookie, for around $4.50.

There are all kinds of ways to get full without resorting to the purgatory of cuisine, fast-food chains. But I know what you're thinking: pizza. And here you have plenty of help -- you practically stumble over pizza in Santa Cruz County. .

Many of you don't really care how you get your calories, but for those who do, there's Pleasure Pizza, enlightened home of the thinking student's pizza. Topped with politically correct items as well as exotic variations on the classic pepperoni and cheese, these enormous pizzas -- sold by the enormous slice as well (around $5) -- will feed an entire dorm, and feed it well.

Don't forget about supermarkets. Zanotto's in downtown Santa Cruz and Safeway on the West Side have inexpensive food possibilities up the wazoo, so to speak. Build your own sandwich from their well-stocked delis. Or create your own quick, cheap meals from the dairy section. Yes, I'm talking yogurt plus fresh fruit. Do not, whatever you do, succumb to the aisle devoted to chips. That way lies empty calories loaded with grease and salt.

In a serious pinch you can always -- gulp -- cook. Keep it simple. Buy a six-pack of organic eggs and a jar of salsa. Scramble up three eggs (roughly 75 cents) and you've still got enough left for another meal. Still stuck? Email me and I'll talk you through it.

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From the September 26-October 3, 2001 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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