The coronavirus is re-writing the “contract” between the dining room and the customers at the tables, and, in response, Waterloo Region food operations large and small have focused on re-building that confidence.
If you are looking for the proverbial cheap eats, here are ten suggestions, from fried rice and a sub to pork belly bao and vegan daikon fritters.
Lamb kebab, Shawarma Plus
Minced lamb with onions and parsley stuffs a pita (white or whole wheat) to which is added tomatoes, lettuce, onions, pickles and garlic mayo and hot sauce. Make sure you add pickled turnips—a classic topping of this food which draws on the owner’s family cooking and Syrian heritage.
Veal sandwich, Nostra Cucina
Pretty much a sandwich as big as your head, the veal sandwich, called “The Love,” is thinly sliced, breaded and shallow-fried veal, roasted peppers, sautéed mushrooms, red onions, tomato sauce and Provolone cheese. The
sandwich won gold last year as Ontario’s Best Veal Sandwich, a competition sponsored by the Veal Farmers of Ontario and held at Toronto’s St. Lawrence Market.
Five-spice belly bao, Bao Sandwich Bar
Inside is braised pork belly in a five-spice sauce ratcheted up a notch or two with garlic mayonnaise and settled and cooled with cucumbers, pickled daikon, carrots and a bit of cilantro. The kitchen makes steamed bao buns by the dozens daily. It’s a fairly traditional dough that’s a little sweeter than a regular bread dough that is shaped into an oval, folded over on itself and steamed. You can get banh mi and bao versions: both are under $10.
Munchie Sub, Pepi’s Pizza
This sub has assumed mythic proportions in Waterloo Region, not least as, to phrase it in a less colloquial manner, a snack one seeks out after one has spent a good portion of one’s evening in local public houses partaking of various liquid inebriants. But, any time of the day, the Munchie sub is meaty with Pepi’s sub sauce, lettuce, tomato and onion. The oven-toasting sends it over the top.
Banh mi sandwich, Banh Mi Givral Deli
A seemingly humble sandwich deceptively offers so much: baguette, toasty and crisp and packed with either pork, chicken or beef and supported by carrots, cucumber, cilantro and spicy mayo. This inexpensive street food is a blend of Vietnamese and French cultures—and deliciousness for well under $10.
Daikon fritters, Wooden Boat Food Company
While chef Thompson Tran’s banh mi sandwich is ninety-five cents over the $10 threshold, there are several delectable snacks like deep-fried pork dumpling moons with Wooden Boat’s signature nuoc cham sauce on the menu at the kitchen on Hurst Street in and around Courtland and Kent avenues. Tran throws down the fried-dough gauntlet: “The daikon fritters with jalapeño-cilantro sauce are delicious and gluten-free and vegan, too. They are amazing and, I’m willing to state, not available anywhere else.”
Lil’ Breakfast, Harmony Lunch
Almost as famous as Harmony’s burgers are its breakfasts, offered Friday to Sunday from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.. The wallet-friendly Lil’ Breakfast includes pork sausage patties, which set off the appetite perfectly and combine with eggs beautifully, and potato pancakes that are rich and creamy with a crisp exterior. But, the breakfast item that is perfectly placed is an apple-pickle salad that, imbued with a hit of vinegary acidity and some crunch, is a balance to the all richness and fat. I love that.
Breakfast bowl, Ethel’s Lounge
Keepin’ it honest (and big) for the first meal of the day, Ethel’s breakfast bowl is home fries with scrambled eggs, bacon (or sausage) and Cheddar cheese. The inimitable Ethel’s has no deep-fryer but that never means compromising on the flavours in their bar and diner fare. The bowl is oven-baked and served with salsa and sour cream.
Baked hot dog, Crazy Canuck
There are ballpark franks and then there are baked hotdogs. At Crazy Canuck, located in Waterloo but adjacent to the St. Jacobs Market and in downtown Kitchener, the jumbo dog is nestled into a soft toasted garlic-butter baguette and baked with cheese, bacon and tomato with jalapeño mayo on the side. Then you get your choice of a side. Now, the price is over $10, but if you let them know that you saw this story, the dog is yours for $9.99.
Thai street-style fried rice, Choun Kitchen
Lightly perfumy Jasmine rice, a staple in Thailand, is the starch component of a dish that then fries together eggs, carrots, onions, garlic, bok choy and an in-house seasoning sauce. It’s a good vegetarian selection, but you can add chicken, shrimp, beef as well as tofu—but that pops the price point over $10, of course.