Note: This story includes a reference to Mojo Burrito in Red Bank, but the location is currently closed due to a broken water heater.
You've probably heard the saying: There's no free lunch.
Well, with inflation at 40-year highs, we were wondering if even a $10 lunch has become a thing of the past. With that question in mind, we recruited students in a "feature writing" journalism class at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga to find reasonably priced lunches within minutes of downtown Chattanooga.
We gave each student in the class a $10 bill and 48 hours to complete the assignment, which included taking a selfie of themselves with their lunch and rating the culinary experience on a 1-10 scale, with one meaning "don't waste your money, this was awful" to 10 signifying "OMG this is the best ever." Below are some of the students' mini-reviews.
Because the students were able to self-select their lunch spots and dishes the results probably skewed high. Still, if you're looking for a reasonably priced lunch, some of these suggestions might hit the spot.
— Mark Kennedy
Restaurant: Golden Big Bowl
Type of cuisine: Asian
Address: 5517 Brainerd Road
Dish Sampled: Chicken Teriyaki Bowl
Rating: 10 (1-10 scale)
Golden Big Bowl is the Perfect Quick Lunch Spot
Overview: Golden Big Bowl is an independently owned Asian takeout spot with only one location. Often referred to as Chattanooga's "hidden gem," Golden Big Bowl is known for its cheap and affordable teriyaki.
The Space: Golden Big Bowl's interior design consists of just a few tables and chairs since it is mostly known for takeout. The ceiling and light fixtures are colorful with hints of red and white. There are large windows by every table that lets the sunlight in.
The Menu: Golden Big Bowl is mostly known for its teriyaki, although there are more options on the menu. You can order a chicken, beef, shrimp or fish teriyaki bowl, each for under $10. If you are not in the mood for teriyaki, Golden Big Bowl offers wings, salads, burgers, chicken tenders and combination plates consisting of chicken, beef or fish for $7 -$12.
The Order: I chose to order a large chicken teriyaki bowl which came out to $9.75. I was told by the staff that this was the most popular dish, and I knew I would be getting a lot of food for the price. Each teriyaki bowl is served on top of rice and garnished with green onion and sesame seeds. The teriyaki chicken is perfectly chargrilled, which makes the meat tender and delicious. The rice is light and fluffy, and adding the onion and sesame seeds really bring out the flavor of the teriyaki. The way in which the chicken is cooked gives the restaurant an authentic Japanese taste.
The Service: I was shocked at how fast my food arrived, within about five minutes. The staff then checked on me throughout my meal and invited me to come back as I was leaving.
The Verdict: The food was delicious, and the service was very friendly and fast.
– Emma Blair
Restaurant: Mindy B's Deli
Type of cuisine: Deli sandwiches, soups and salads
Address: 828 Georgia Ave.
Dish Sampled: Tyler's Muenster Deluxe
Cost (not including tax or tip): $8.50
Local sandwich shop, Mindy B's Deli, beats chain deli shops by a landslide
Overview: Mindy B's Deli is a small, vibrant, sandwich shop settled in the heart of the Chattanooga Innovation district, where the motto is, "Sandwiches served with a side of snark."
The Space: Walking down Georgia Avenue, you might almost miss Mindy B's with its modest outward appearance. Once you open the doors, however, you are met with vivid decorations. The combination of three chartreuse walls with an accented vermilion wall almost makes it feel like you're inside of a fresh watermelon, the black and white checkered floor like seeds on the ground.
The Menu: Inside its deli case, it has pre-made salad bowls, but you can build your own with countless options for dressing, meats and veggies. It offers sides as well: potato salad, fruit salad, chili, coleslaw and more. Mindy B's has an extensive sandwich menu, with over 21 sandwich selections and a build-your-own option, all under $10. For vegan patrons and gluten-intolerant folks, it offers all veggie options, lettuce wraps and gluten-free bread. All of its bread options are sourced from Bluff View Bakery just up the road.
The Order: I ordered Tyler's Muenster Deluxe, a sandwich on its specialties list. At $8.50, it was well worth the price. The turkey was roasted to a moist, pull-apart texture that went well with the muenster cheese and crispy bacon. The sandwich was topped off with chipotle ranch sauce that was both creamy and tangy. This bread was soft and toasted with the perfect sear on top.
The Service: The owner, Mindy Benton (aka Mindy B), manned the register and was the first face that greeted me as I walked in. She waited patiently while I and a slew of other patrons browsed the menu, taking each of our orders with a nod and smile. She brought out everyone's sandwiches personally, making sure everyone had what they needed, even as newcomers continued to bustle in.
The Verdict: Mindy B's Deli combined the comfort of a homemade sandwich with restaurant quality. Its veggies are fresh, the meats are cooked to perfection and everything is served up on local-sourced bread that just can't be beat.
— Kat Finney
Name: The Purple Daisy Picnic Café
Type of cuisine: Barbecue/burgers
Address: 4001 St. Elmo Ave.
Dish Sampled: Half-pound charcoal grilled hamburger, served with barbecue chips
Cost (not including tax or tip): $10
Best Barbecue in town at the Purple Daisy Picnic Café
Overview: Near St. Elmo, the Purple Daisy Picnic Café is easy to spot because of the bright purple exterior and enchanting string lights. Tony and Lisa Davis opened the restaurant in 2005, converting an old service station into The Purple Daisy Picnic Cafe to provide quality and affordable barbecue, so that locals and tourists had good options for dine-in or takeout.
The Space: I found myself overwhelmed by the delicious smell of smoked barbecue as I walked through the wooden front door. Overall, the atmosphere is colorful and reminds one of a house out of the 1970s with a hipster and antique theme. On the right, flamingo lights decorate the walls with big mirrors to make a small space feel large. On the left, glass bottles and old clocks sit on wooden shelves.
The Menu: Food at the Purple Daisy includes all the options you would find at a classic barbecue restaurant. Smoked pork and chicken are offered for takeout, even served as family packs to take to picnics and events. Dine-in eats include sandwiches, hamburgers and hot dogs. According to Ashley Davis, a server at the café, the most popular options on the menu are the stuffed potato priced at $10.50, the "rainbow sandwich" priced at $10 and the banana pudding priced at $4.
The Order: Asking the waitress what she would recommend if I were to spend exactly $10, she immediately pointed at the half-pound hamburger served with kettle chips and a pickle. I customized my hamburger with lettuce, tomato, mayo, ketchup and American cheese. The hamburger was the size of my hand and was cooked to a perfect medium temperature. The presentation followed the picnic theme with a checkered background. The hamburger tasted smoky and mixed well with the salty and creamy flavor of the American cheese.
The Service: Service was prompt and friendly. Walking into the restaurant I was greeted with a smile by the host and handed a menu. I sat down and within two minutes my waitress had introduced herself and got my drink order. My food came out within 10 minutes, and it was exactly how I had ordered.
The Verdict: I really enjoyed this experience and will be going by for lunch again on the days I have work near Lookout Mountain. As I made my way out the door, I asked the waitress if they had a motto. She said, "Look at the back of my shirt!" I looked and read the motto printed: "Groovy kind of BBQ place." I felt I could not have summarized it better myself.
— Chloe Grigsby
Restaurant: Sluggo's Vegan Café
Type of cuisine: Southern vegan soul food
Address: 505 Cherokee Blvd.
Dish Sampled: Pesto bruschetta
Cost (not including tax or tip): $7.25
Eating Green: Sluggo's Vegan Café Review
Overview: With the number of people adopting vegan diets on a rise and a limited number of vegan eateries in Chattanooga, Sluggo's, an independent café on the North Shore, provides a new twist on vegan dishes that are yummy and affordable.
The Space: Located next to Pizza Bros, the outdoor café tables and chairs remind you of a classic coffee house. When you enter the tiny building, the new-age artwork on the walls catches your eyes. Although there is not a lot of seating inside, the bright yellow walls add to the café's character.
The Menu: Sluggo's menu offers a variety of vegan dishes and appetizers that they pledge are "microwave and deep-fryer free." The café offers everything from salads (kale, garden, chef); a variety of bowls (sweet Thai chili, ginger peanut kale, ginger curry); wraps (roasted pepper and spinach hummus, "cheeky" wing wrap); sandwiches (barbecue sub, Philly seitan); burgers (lentil patty melt, mushroom walnut); chili and tofu plates. The dishes range from $3.99 to $13.99. Sluggo's also offers a brunch menu from noon to 3 p.m. every Sunday.
The Order: With so much to choose from on the café's menu, I picked pesto bruschetta because of the description's emphasis on "fresh tomatoes." The menu described the dish as "fresh tomatoes on toasted baguettes with pesto aioli, cashew 'uncheese' and almond Parmesan." The pesto was the star of the dish, giving the bread a basil, garlicky kick. Likewise, the tomatoes were fresh and juicy and perfect for adding on top of the bread. The cheese was too powerful for my taste; however, everyone's tastebuds are different.
The Service: Overall, the service was great. The staff seemed to be on top of their task at hand.
The Verdict: I enjoyed Sluggo's and would definitely go back. With so many unique vegan dishes that are affordable, I think it is worth a try. Although I'm not vegan, it's interesting to get out of your food comfort zone every once in a while and try new things.
— Grace James
Restaurant: Mojo Burrito
Type of Cuisine: Tex-Mex
Address: 1800 Dayton Blvd.
Dish Sampled: Mini Mojo Burrito (Chicken)
Mojo Burrito is a quick, customizable and filling lunch spot
Overview: Directly off of busy Dayton Boulevard sits Mojo Burrito. Though founded in St. Elmo in 2002, Mojo Burrito now only has one location in the Red Bank area.
The Space: The restaurant displays a fun mixture of eclectic decor, from mismatched light fixtures to colorful tabletops and eye-catching paintings. According to its website, Mojo Burrito prides itself on showcasing work from local artists, designers and photographers.
The Menu: Mojo Burrito offers a wide range of Tex-Mex cuisine including burritos (both build-your-own and specialty options), tacos, nachos and more. Best sellers include the Enchiladito, a grilled or fried burrito smothered in sauce ($12.50-$13.50), the shrimp Po'Boy ($13.50) and the build-your-own Mojo Burrito ($10-$12.50).
The Order: For my midday meal, I decided to try the build-your-own Mini Mojo Burrito for $8. I chose chicken as my protein as well as spinach, tomatoes and shredded cheese for my three fillings. The dish was also served with chips and salsa on the side. This burrito was a considerable amount of food. The chicken was cooked to perfection; however, the included rice and beans were a tad on the cold side. As for the side, the salsa was an excellent texture and perfectly flavorful without being too spicy. The meal could have benefited from a few more tortilla chips.
The Service: Both the workers making the entrees as well as the cashier were incredibly welcoming and helpful. After walking through the door, I was met with greetings and smiles from all the employees. Though the line was fairly long, I ordered my burrito, paid and found an empty booth in no time.
The Verdict: Overall, Mojo Burrito is a great option for a midday meal. Though some of the menu options can be a little pricey, the build-your-own burritos (particularly the minis!) are a reasonable price for a substantial amount of food.
— Alison Lemmons
Restaurant: Ankar's Hoagies
Type of Cuisine: Mediterranean, Middle Eastern and American
Address: 5018 Hixson Pike (Other locations: Downtown; Brainerd Road; Highway 58)
Dish Sampled: Steak in a Sack
Ankar's steak in a sack is a Chattanooga staple
Overview: Established in Chattanooga in 1979 with a goal of providing quality meals at affordable prices, Ankar's Hoagies offers a wide variety of Mediterranean, Middle Eastern and American foods at four convenient locations.
The Space: While the restaurant's ambiance is nothing fancy, its atmosphere is warm and unpretentious. Patrons place their orders at a counter, draw their own drinks at a soda fountain and seat themselves in comfy, well-worn booths and diner chairs. The space is fairly small, but it feels cozy, with plenty of natural light. As a bonus, there's a drive-through at all locations except for downtown.
The Menu: Ankar's menu isn't Cheesecake Factory-level huge, but it's still pretty lengthy. Popular items include beef and lamb gyros for $6.09, a Greek salad for $6.49, a falafel gyro for $5.89 and a variety of reasonably priced hamburgers and black bean burgers.
The Order: During the years I spent as a vegetarian, Ankar's was my go-to spot for a quick lunch, and I'd order the "Falafel Rider" every time. Since I've gone back to eating meat, though, I think I've tried nearly everything on the menu, and my current favorite is the Steak in a Sack. It's not much to look at, just half a piece of pita bread stuffed with thinly sliced steak, caramelized onions, cheese and mayo. The meat is flavorful, the mayo is tangy, the onions are sweet and the cheese is cheese. It's a simple, cheap, perfectly tasty dish. It isn't overly greasy or messy, but will definitely satisfy a craving.
The Service: My order was ready in under five minutes and was handed to me with a smile. Ankar's doesn't have waiters, and my interaction with the staff behind the counter was brief but pleasant.
The Verdict: I've been eating at Ankar's for as long as I can remember, and I recommend it to my friends all the time. I'm rating the Steak in a Sack a 9/10. It would've gotten a perfect score, but I found the portion to be a little bit small. On a day when I was less hungry, or if I'd also ordered a side of fries or onion rings, my feelings might have been different. Either way, Ankar's is a staple restaurant for many lifelong Chattanoogans, so if you haven't ever tried it, you should.
— Emma Smith
Restaurant: River Street Deli
Type of cuisine: Deli
Address: 151 River Street
Dish Sampled: "Elana Ruz," a grilled honey turkey sandwich with cream cheese and strawberry preserves
River Street Deli serves up big personality
Overview: Among the shops and ice cream spots in Coolidge Park, the River Street Deli is a bustling lunch destination that offers an array of freshly made sandwiches, soups and salads. Owned and operated by Bronx, New York-native Bruce Weiss and his team, the restaurant provides a change-of-pace lunch destination as Weiss instills his big-city roots into the restaurant's vibe and food.
The Space: The River Street Deli faces Coolidge Park on River Street. With its red and white neon sign, American flag and daily special menu, the deli is hard to miss. Upon entering, you are met with the calling of orders, the sizzling of pressed sandwiches and the aroma of spices and sweets coming from behind the countertop.
The Menu: Among the menu items is a peanut butter, banana and honey sandwich for kids, listed at $2.95. A veggie sandwich on focaccia bread that offers roasted eggplant, three kinds of cheese, roasted red peppers and more sells for $9.99.
The Order: I fell for Weiss' recommended "Elana Ruz" sandwich. He describes it as "thin slices of turkey on top of cream cheese and topped with strawberry preserves. It is one of my favorites."
The Service: As I paid for my order, an employee helping cook and work the register told me that "Bruce is a part of the experience. I have worked here for three years, and he keeps us going and makes it fun."
The Order: As someone who is not a fan of cold sandwiches, the "Elana Ruz" changed my opinion quickly. The strawberry preserves offered a refreshing sweetness atop the turkey that was perfect for the 72-degree F spring day. The cream cheese offered a buttery substance that rounded the sandwich out, reinforcing the delicate sweetness.
The Verdict: The River Street Deli exceeds expectation and has become an iconic part of the North Shore dining scene.
— Jacob Robinson