$5 lunches: The best spots in town for cheap eats

By Kevin Leap and Steven Persitza

Dining Critics

Tragedy has struck: You’re famished, on deadline and just learned that the office fridge bit the dust taking your collection of Hot Pockets, Lean Cuisines and White Castles with it.

On top of that, you only have three crumpled singles and a Dixie cup full of change in your bottom drawer. The final count: $5.01. Seriously now, what in the heck are you going to get for five bucks, especially since you’ve sworn off fast food? Well, help is on the way, and we’re going to tell you just where you can take that five bucks and get yourself a little grub.

Jeff’s Burgers

2152 Avenida de la Playa, La Jolla; (858) 454-8038

Hot sandwiches - patty melt, BLT, gyro - for around $4.50 and a variety of salads for $4.25. Jeff’s also serves up several burgers (including a veggie) for less than $5. Lots of other items such as carne asada or fajitas fall into the price range as well.

Harry’s Coffee Shop

7545 Girard Ave., La Jolla; (858) 454-7381

Open since 1960, breakfast is served all day - waffles and a variety of pancakes - not to mention the grilled cheese sandwich. You’ll even have enough for a good ol’ cup of Joe.

Bahia Don Bravo

5504 La Jolla Blvd., La Jolla; (858) 454-8940

Grilled fish, calamari or octopus burritos, all for $4.49. These are some killer portions, to say the least. If you’re not into a burrito, they have a great selection of tacos, most for under $3. I wonder if they sell a taco and a half?

Come On In Restaurant

1030B Torrey Pines Road, La Jolla; (858) 551-1063

Homemade soup of the day (cross your fingers for the butternut squash) or black bean chili, both $3.85.

Double Happiness Mandarin and Szechwan

1011 Camino del Mar, Del Mar; (858) 481-8584

Slim pickins here in the under $5 category, but we had to include an Asian vegetarian selection, and the vegetable lo mein at $4.95 is a delicious steal.

Harvest Market

155 Camino del Mar, Del Mar; (858) 847-0555

Check out the delectable variety of soups (tomato or mushroom bisque), sandwiches for $4.49 or salads sold by the pound. The best part is taking your lunch upstairs and eating on the patio complete with a multigazillion-dollar view. Sigh …

The Shack Bar & Grill

6941 La Jolla Blvd.; (858) 454-5280

Who can resist a big old hot dog covered with chili and cheese and a side of fries to boot? Especially for $4.75. This ain’t Costco, my friend.

Wahoo Fish Taco

637 Pearl St., La Jolla; (858) 459-0027

Whether it’s the giant quesadilla (go for carne asada), the chicken tortilla soup or the enchilada platter, you’ll leave full and with a little bit of change.

Leucadia Pizzeria and Italian Restaurant

16085 San Dieguito Road, Rancho Santa Fe; (858) 759-222 (also in La Jolla and Encinitas)

This is our all-time favorite for the under-five-bucks lunch. Choose from spaghetti and meatballs, ravioli with marinara, penne with meat sauce, angel hair with cream pesto or vodka penne. Throw in a Caesar salad and garlic bread, and for $4.99, you have a winner!

If you think this list was an easy task to compile … think again! The search took us far and wide, and there are surely some great places we missed.

That and the 10 pounds we gained eating pasta, burritos and chili dogs, but hey, we all suffer for our art, don’t we? Gotta go make sure the new fridge at work is plugged in.


What’s your favorite $5 lunch spot? Leave us a comment online or e-mail us at