As much as I hate to play into the “starving college student” stereotype, I have to admit I’m a little strapped for cash these days. And if you have any self-respect for your college student identity, so are you. But truthfully, being low on funds doesn’t mean you have to starve.
Now the problem with society is that it thinks “cheap” restaurants constitute places like Mickies Dairy Bar or The Weary Traveler (Google search “madison cheap eats” and you’ll see what I mean). Granted, these restaurants aren’t crazy expensive, either. But when I say “cheap,” I mean cheap. Like, pretty much free.
And if you don’t mind subsisting on popcorn, you can eat for free – The City Bar (636 State St.), Essen Haus (514 E. Wilson St.) and Der Rathskeller at Memorial Union (800 Langdon St.) all offer free popcorn after a certain time.
For more free bottom-of-the-barrel tidbits, head to Wando’s or Chaser’s on Tuesday nights. Wando’s serves up free bacon with a $1 beer, and Chaser’s gives out all their leftover onion straws beginning at 10 p.m.
Okay, enough of the appetizers. It may seem impossible, but you can enjoy a substantial meal for less than $5 without having to resort to McDonald’s, Taco Bell or ramen. Let’s begin with taco night.
Atypically, taco night at Chaser’s (319 W. Gorham) is not Tuesday. It’s Wednesday. Which, as my friend Devin pointed out, is a wise move on their part because it gives them the corner on the Wednesday night taco market. If a someone misses taco Tuesday or finds themselves hankering for a taco on Wednesday, they only have one place to head.
“The food is nothing to write home about,” Madison local Suzanne Liebergen said, “but having a nice lil’ tradition to get you through the week makes it worth it.”
On Wednesday nights from 4 to 10 p.m., tacos at Chaser’s are only 50 cents apiece. You can get sour cream for 50 cents more, a soft tortilla for $1 more or chicken instead of ground beef for $2 more. If you choose to skip all these marginal upgrades (and I recommend you do), you can get 10 Tacos for $5. And salsa is (cha-ching!) free. They also offer $3 margaritas and $2.50 Coronas – not bad.
If Wednesday tacos aren’t quite your style, you can always try out Wednesday corn dogs at Johnny O’s (620 University Ave.). That night, you can get FREE mini corn dogs with any purchase. All taps and pitchers are half-price to boot.
If corn dogs and tacos feel a little passe to you, you’re in luck – wing night at Brothers (704 University Ave.) offers up yet another Wednesday night food option with a barbecue kick to it. Though the saucy 15 cent wings are delicious, be warned that their fame means you might spend quite a while – sometimes up to an hour – waiting in line for them.
Despite the thrill of a cheap price, a night of eating low-grade-yet-deliciously-greasy bar food might leave you feeling crummy. The solution? Fresco (227 State St.), the swanky rooftop restaurant above the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art. You may not be able to afford the fancy panko-crusted salmon or the ricotta cheese gnocchi entrees, but between Memorial Day and late October, $5 will get you some equally fancy seared sashimi scallops or Prince Edward Island mussels off their night-time only appetizer menu.
If you want to shell out another $5, you can enjoy a pomodoro (white rum, fresh lime and pomegranate juice) or a Fresco champagne cocktail off their drinks menu. Otherwise, satiate yourself with the thought of all the ignorant peons gaping and traipsing around gawking at art beneath your feet. Puh! What do they know of not spending money? $5 is the new $500; they just haven’t caught on quite yet.
Ok, who are you kidding? You’re a college student; grit is a way of life. You belong at the Nitty Gritty (223 N. Frances St.), yet another institution serving up cheap eats every night of the week. From 10 p.m. to 1 a.m., their itty bitty gritty burgers (basically miniature versions of their signature hamburger) go for only $1 apiece.
And as a final note, I highly recommend going to Jimmy John’s (527 State St.) any day of the week for their day-old bread. For 50 cents (or free, with some schmoozing) they’ll sell you a whole loaf.
Hope this helps you break the “starving college student” stereotype. You can eat out every night of the week without breaking (or even denting) the bank.
Sam Stepp is a senior majoring in journalism. Comments, questions, recipes, suggestions? Email her at [email protected].