Tuition, books, meal plans, beer. Your money goes fast, we know, but it would be a shame to live in the vibrant culinary city of Boulder and never get out to eat. Thankfully, we’ve got you covered with some seriously tasty yet seriously cheap options, because man should not live on Ramen alone!
Cuba Cuba Sandwicheria
2525 Arapahoe Ave., 11 a.m.-8 p.m. daily, 303-442-1143, cubacubasandwicheria.com
Think of the fast-casual atmosphere of a Chipotle but with a Cuba-via-Miami twist, and you’ve got a good idea of what bright, colorful Cuba Cuba brings to the plate.
Only $7-$8 each, the sandwiches all boast fresh bread flown in from Miami to get the authentic Cuban experience, and the most popular are the titular Cubano (with roasted pork, ham, Swiss, pickles and mustard) and the pulled pork. Vegetarians can try the Boulder Cubano sandwich, but the $7 plate of Vegetales en Salsa with roasted veggies, plantains, creole sauce and goat cheese is a more exotic and unique brand of tasty.
Don’t miss out by sticking to entrees. Cuba Cuba’s flan ($3) uses the owner’s grandmother’s recipe and is drop-dead delicious, as is the $2.50 Cortadito, which is a single shot of rich espresso paired the sweet evaporated milk.
Thai Avenue Rice and Noodles
1310 College Ave #220, 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Mondays-Fridays, 303-443-1737, thaiavenueboulder.com
Yes, it’s a food court, and so yes, you can expect cheap at Thai Avenue. What’s unexpected is the high quality that this rice and noodle shop dishes up. Food is made fresh, MSG is banned, portions are large, and the big players of curry are all in the line up, including red, green, Panang and Massaman. You can get those curries with chicken, pork, beef or tofu for $6.65 or spring for shrimp for $8.40.
With the same prices and meat choices, the Pad Thai and Drunken Noodles prove the eatery delivers on Thailand’s classics, but Thai Avenue is also a cheap option to chow on fresh veggies. The Pad Pak, for example, is packed with broccoli, cabbage, baby corn, straw mushrooms and onions as well as meat ($6.45/$8.40).
Also good to know: The spicy lemongrass soup ($3.50) with chicken, mushrooms, chile and lime juice is said by some to soothe winter head colds.
Pupusas Sabor Hispano
4550 N. Broadway St., 10 a.m.-9 p.m. daily, 303-444-1729
Americans are usually more familiar with Mexican food than the cuisine of El Salvador, but the delicious, cheesy taste of an El Salvadorian cheese pupusa feels like downhome comfort. A pupusa is a grilled cornmeal patty stuffed with your choice of filling, and for only $4.25, you can choose from beans, chicken, chicharron (ground, seasoned pork), fiddle head ferns, roasted Anaheim chiles or zucchini — all available with or without cheese.
Can’t choose one? Have two fillings for $0.75 extra. You can also add rice and beans to make a more filling meal for $2.25 extra.
If you’re still in a Mexican mood, Pupusas Sabor Hispano also serves burritos ($7.25-$8.25) and tortas (Mexican sandwiches, $7-$7.75) with all the above fillings as well as Barbacoa, chorizo, Carne Asada and more.
2000 Arapahoe Ave., 11 a.m.-midnight Sundays-Thursdays and 11 a.m.-2 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 303-444-7711, snarfburger.com
The owners of the tasty chain of Snarf’s Sandwich Shops have given this cute hamburger stand the kiss of life — in the KISS as “Keep it Simple, Stupid” model of smooching. Perhaps taking inspiration from In-N-Out, the slim, classic menu offers only burgers, a few sandwiches, fries, onion rings and frozen custard, and all are priced to move.
A single patty is only $3.75 and the more satisfying double $5.25, but the fun and nostalgia of the tiny location and outdoor picnic table seating has value in itself. Vegetarians might be surprised that the $5.75 veggie patty, crisp in a falafel crust with a topping of the house hot-pepper giardiniera, holds its own against the beef. Add those peppers or A-1 steak sauce, barbecue sauce, relish or Thousand Island to any burger for no extra charge.
Zoe Ma Ma
2010 10th St., 11 a.m.-10 p.m. daily but open until 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 303-545-MAMA, zoemama.com
The name of the Dim Sum/Then Some category of Zo Ma Ma’s menu will not only make you smile, you can also fill your belly with five choices of small plates for under $4 each: pork-and-shrimp pot stickers, vegan dumplings, pearl meatballs, steamed buns, and a hot-and-sour soup with a killer stock of pork and shitake mushrooms.
You also can’t go wrong with any noodle-based dish, because all the noodles are made in-house. You can sometimes see those and the dumpling dough being rolled out behind the counter. One of the splurge-iest thing on the menu is the Sunday-Tuesday special of the homemade noodles with Sichuan-braised beef at $11.79, but it’s a rich, delicious meal that two light eaters can split.
To best enjoy the casual, street-food concept, plan on sharing one of the few indoor community tables, dining on the patio or taking your quick bite to go.
Follow Kate Jonuska on Twitter: twitter.com/kjonuska.