Cheap Dates

The Moveable Feast

Story and photos by Meredith Pakier

Clockwise from top left offerings from: Alem’s Coffee, Taco’s Oscar, Tashi Delek, Aman Cafe, Sfizio, La Marcha


You’re looking forward to that date, but your budget tells you to keep it under 16 bucks. Does that have to mean dining on a cold bench next to a food truck? Here are six comfy eateries that check all my boxes (before tax and tip) with delicious and affordable dishes served up in inviting environs.

My perfect Sunday morning always begins in the courtyard at Alem’s Coffee. Two of my go-tos from their selection of Eritrean breakfast offerings: the $11 shihan ful, a hearty, warmly spiced fava bean stew; and the kicha fit-fit, shredded kicha flatbread stir-fried with berbere and clarified butter until each piece has soaked up all that rich and spicy flavor. 5353 Claremont Ave, Oakland

For around $4.50–$5.50 per taco, you can explore the array of Tacos Oscar’s ever-changing and innovative specials like charred broccoli coated in a smoky peanut-arbol chile salsa or tender shredded chicken tinga. But it’s their thick signature tortillas, handmade with fresh masa, that really set them apart. 420 40th St, Oakland

Serving a combination of Tibetan, Indian, and Nepalese cuisine, Tashi Delek offers large portions fit to share family style with entrées often under $15. Highlights include an assortment of freshly made steamed momos stuffed with lamb, chicken, or potato; mattar paneer featuring peas and cubes of homemade cheese swimming in a creamy tomato sauce; and their Nepali-style fried whole trout served with an addictively punchy herb sauce. 11224 San Pablo Ave, El Cerrito

Malaysian roti canai, the ultra-flaky, super-laminated flatbread, is the star of the show at Aman Cafe. For less than $16, you can rip and dip into their Root Garden, a surprisingly hearty combination of saucy sautéed vegetables and spicy coconut sauce. The dish truly soars when paired with their tart mango lassi for a few extra bucks. 4021 Broadway, Oakland

The handmade spaghetti and tomato sauce at Sfizio will run you $10, but if you have an extra six bucks, you can add three massive meatballs. The menu of appetizers and pastas at this cozy corner spot rotates with the seasons, and while grilled Monterey Bay squid might taste like a splurge, plates rarely exceed $20. 6099 Claremont Ave, Oakland

The weekday 4 to 6pm happy hour at La Marcha never disappoints. Just sidle up to the bar and order an $8 glass of wine, sangria, or beer, and fill up on a selection of $8 tapas. These are not puny, single-bite plates, but rather sizable servings of Spanish classics like patatas bravas and beef-and-boar albondigas, perfectly portioned for two to share. 2026 San Pablo Ave, Berkeley

As the costs of running a restaurant continue to fluctuate, menu prices will change as well. When you visit these spots, please keep in mind that some prices may have gone up, but that extra dollar may be one you’ll be glad you spent. ´


When Meredith Pakier is not writing as part of the Market Hall Foods marketing and communications team, she’s hiking with her dog, Nico, and dreaming about starting a garden.