Despite the number of new high-end restaurants, Detroit is still blessed with a wide base of affordable food. If you know where to look, it's not terribly difficult to piece together three substantial meals a day for less than $10. The tradition of Coney Islands and slider joints, not to mention taquerias and Mediterranean restaurants with pita sandwiches eases the challenge. To test my hypothesis, I ventured into Detroit with $10 to see just how much bang I could get for my buck.
I used these rules set up by my colleagues in New York who are competing in what's been dubbed The Contest (godspeed!), as well as a few standards of my own. I wanted to a) find the most food for the best price and b) hit a different neighborhood for every meal. Glad my daily caffeine regime was exempt from the rule book, I hit the streets confident that $10 a day was within reach.
10:37 a.m. I got a late start on the breakfast game, so my schedule is slightly off. After prescreening a few menus online, I head to Harmonie Garden in Midtown. I've done lunch and dinner here before with pretty good results but never breakfast. However, the menu promises a breakfast sandwich from a meager $2.75. Depending on the size, this could ultimately be a poor choice that leaves me hangry for the first half of the day. It comes with a meat option for an added .75-cents, but I don't want to blow my budget too early. I decide to opt for a more conservative vegetarian version on a pita with mayo, lettuce, tomato, and cheddar cheese.
I walk in and sit down at one of the two top tables. The place is almost completely empty save for an employee behind the bar. I place my order and receive a glass of water and silverware. I'm immediately regretting my choice to dine-in, considering I'm ordering something for less than $3. After a few minutes, I decide to order a cup of tea to sip while I wait, knowing it doesn't count towards the overall budget.
Several more minutes pass, before the cook comes out with my sandwich, which, to my surprise, is generously portioned — sliced in half with a thick layer of hot scrambled eggs folded neatly into the pita pouch. The first bite hits the spot, though in the future I'd order it sans mayo. It's actually large enough that, I'm actually having a hard time finishing it off. For the sake of the challenge, I forge ahead knowing that I may not be ready for lunch for several more hours.
>>>Dollars remaining: $7.25
3:30 a.m. Time for a lunch break, I head to Southwest where making a dollar stretch is hardly a sport. There are so many delicious tacos for less than $2 one could easily fill up all day on a tight budget and never leave this side of town. Rather than going that route, venture to Livernois hole-in-the wall Pupuseria y Restaurante Salvadoreno for what I've heard are some tasty and especially thrifty Salvadoran dishes. Grabbing a table near the back wall a server hands me a menu filled with pupusas — all $2.25 a piece — and other full-priced, but equally delicious looking entrees. I settled on one cheese, bean, and jalapeno-stuff pupusa, but being a pupusa virgin and unsure of what size they were, I panic and ordered two. The blunder takes a bite out of my budget.
I take the next few minutes to mentally calculate how much money I have left for dinner and determine if my original plan, a slice of pizza, would still work. When my plate is finally delivered, I'm pleasantly surprised to find the pupusas were larger than expected and come with a hefty side of cabbage slaw (Yay vegetables!). I grab the plastic container of salsa that accompanies my meal and drizzle some of the mild sauce over the pupusas, then take up my fork and dig in.
My first bite is a delicious, hot mess of melted cheese and peppers mixed with the crunchy corn tortilla exterior of the pupusa. It burns my mouth a little. I don't care. Delicious and dense, this is a strategic delivery system for calories and flavor. Scooping up some of the cabbage, I find more to like, though I started to wonder if this was maybe too much food so close to dinner. I wrap up the leftovers — half a pupusa and some slaw — and pay the check ($4.50).
>>>Dollars remaining: $2.75
5:42 p.m. I can't say I'm hungry at this point, after my late and especially satiating Salvadoran lunch (with leftovers), but for the sake of fulfilling the challenge I swing over to Eastern Market for takeout. Supino's offers slices within the slim margins of my remaining budget. With the specialty slices out of my range the choice is between a pepperoni for $2.75 or cheese for $2.25. I go for the cheese, pay, and wait a few minutes for my triangular box. While Supino's is certainly superior when served hot, I definitely don't have the appetite at the moment and opt for a late-night snack of cold pizza snack.
>>>Final dollars remaining: $0.25
Overfull and under budget, I'll admit I was impressed with my food for the day. Not only was my three-meal menu delicious, but it came with leftovers and a surprising amount of vegetables.
For more riveting budget dining coverage head over to The Contest at Eater New York or contributor Hannah Lowe's chronicles from Ann Arbor.