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Meal Deals: A Food Pyramid for Penny-Pinchers

Sally Pollak Sep 11, 2018 10:00 AM

A true foodie town, Burlington boasts more than 150 bars and restaurants within its city limits. As tempting as it may be to take a bite out of all of them, doing so would likely break the bank.

Not to worry: We've scoped out five dining destinations in and around BTV where you and a buddy can chow down for $25 or less. And because we want you to eat a healthy, well-rounded diet, we made sure these stops hit each of the five recommended Vermont food groups: creemees, kale, pizza, pasta and pho, of course. The price is right, and the food is, too.

I Dream of Creemee

Burlington Bay Market & Café offers outdoor dining, lake and mountain views, and an array of hearty and inventive sandwiches. But the café is best known for its creemees — that's Vermont-speak for soft-serve ice cream. A medium cone ($3) is plenty big, and the maple-black-raspberry twist is a hometown fave.

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You might never make it past the creemee window, but if you've got willpower, head inside and order a classic Reuben on rye or a marinated portobello sandwich first. Neither will run you more than $10 — and remember, views of the lake are free.

Also try: Al's French Frys; the Bagel Café & Deli

Kale Me Maybe

It's a Vermont commandment to "Eat more kale" — as the ubiquitous bumper stickers and T-shirts say — and the leafy green never looked as good as it does at Zabby & Elf's Stone Soup. The Burlington lunch-and-dinner mecca serves a rotating array of colorful, nutritious and creative fare at its hot bar. Serving yourself makes it easy to control how much you spend.

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Pack in the vitamins with an Israeli or wheatberry salad, or craft your own plate of pickled beets, lima beans, dried cranberries, feta cheese and mixed olives. The open kitchen prepares casseroles, spanakopita, chickpea-and-cauliflower curry, and chicken wings. Fridays are for burgers and challah. Warm weather is for enjoying your meal at a sidewalk table under hanging flower baskets.

Also try: City Market, Onion River Co-op; New Moon

Life of Pie

Craving a slice? Consider Folino's your reward for safely navigating the weirdly aggressive cars and bikers in the downtown City Market parking lot. At this pizzeria on the South Union Street side of the lot, pies emerge blistery and beautiful from the wood-fired oven.

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Pizzas range from specialty (think three cheese, asparagus, bacon and truffle oil) to traditional (tomato sauce and pepperoni), or you can create your own. Each is big enough to share, and none tops $20. Order at the counter; pizzas are delivered. And keep the bill down with a BYOB six-pack from the vast selection of local brews at City Market.

Also try: American Flatbread; Pizza Barrio

Oodles of Noodles

On a side street in Winooski, a block or so from a string of newer bars and restaurants, is an Italian place that staked out its turf 34 years ago. The sweet-spicy smell of tomato sauce and garlic greets diners when they arrive at Papa Frank's. The menu offers a selection of comfort food and Italian specialties, including spaghetti with meatballs, chicken Parm, lasagna, and eggplant rollatini. Dinners, priced under $10, come with garlic bread.

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The restaurant is a place where families and college kids can eat and leave with money to spare. "Being affordable is our niche," says owner Moe Paquette, who's worked here for 28 years. "You couldn't high-scale it here if you tried."

Also try: Ken's Pizza & Pub; Manhattan Pizza & Pub

Go With the Pho

Lan Hong opened Pho Hong in a former bus station in the Old North End 10 years ago. Her adult daughters, who now work there, grew up eating the Vietnamese restaurant's meals at home, including the No. 13 and No. 15, noodle dishes with grilled pork and crunchy vegetables, plus crispy mini spring rolls. "And a lot of soups," adds daughter Thao Gintof.

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These days, it's local chefs and neighborhood residents who gather for Hong's meals, from bowls of beef pho garnished with sprouts and cilantro to plates of tangy mango salad. It's BYOB — which will save you major bucks — and takeout-friendly if you can't spring for a decent table tip. Don't forget to grab a ginger candy on your way out.

Also try: Pho Tao Vietnamese Restaurant; Pho Dang Vietnamese Café