Cheap Eats of Fort Wayne

We’ve all been there:  Stomach growling, mouth watering and head hurting from lack of food, all while our wallets are a little light. Or maybe our pockets are full, but we don’t feel like shelling out a lot of coin for some tasty grub. Or even better, maybe it’s getting late and we just want something delicious, something a little greasy and something fast. Fort Wayne is full of places where the quality and taste of food rises way above the price tag, and here is a sampling of where you can sate your hunger with the money you find in between the couch cushions.

HAMBURGERS & HOTDOGS

There’s a little slice of Americana that sits in an old art deco building just south of downtown in the shadows of Parkview Field, and if you hit the area just right, you can literally smell it wafting in the air, luring burger lovers from all over.

Powers Hamburgers has been in Fort Wayne since 1940, when it was a regional chain rivaling White Castle. Created by four brothers with ties to this corner of the state, there were once three Powers Hamburgers stands here as well as some in Ohio and several in Michigan, where the business was born. In 1999, Michael Hall bought the business and still runs the last surviving stand here.
The diner is cozy – maybe seating a dozen or so people – and the burgers are made with fresh ground chuck dropped on a sizzling grill adorned with onions.

Burgers are a buck apiece – $1.10 with cheese. For a few dimes more you can get double burgers, a Coney dog, ham and cheese on a bun or even breakfast . (The place opens at 5 am.) But take caution, the food is addictive – you can’t eat just one or two burgers – and expect to smell like onions. That smell, though, is so good.

Specialties: Hamburgers ($1.00), cheeseburgers ($1.10), double hamburger ($1.70), double cheeseburger ($1.90), ham and cheese on bun ($1.15), ham and cheese on toast ($2.25). 1402 S. Harrison Street, 260.422.6620

The photo could be timeless. Taken in the 1930s, it takes up a huge chunk of real estate along Fort Wayne’s Famous Coney Island‘s west wall. Look closely, and only the uniforms worn by the employees and the ceiling look different. Stepping into the downtown wiener stand is like stepping back in time – and the food is just as cheap as it was back then. Opened in 1914, Coney Island has been owned and operated by the same family since 1916 and is a city landmark. Opened by three Greek immigrants before being taken over by Macedonians – Kathy Choka and Jim Todoranthe operate it today – the diner’s roots in the era of America becoming a melting pot are always on full display.

During the afternoons or evenings, you might see factory workers eating beside judges and lawyers, or police officers eating next to CEOs and bankers, or truck drivers sipping $1.50 glass bottles of Coca Cola served since 1914 – next to architects or yuppies.
Those Coney dogs haven’t changed in a century: grilled hot dog in a steamed bun with homemade Coney sauce and hand chopped onions for $1.50 each. Add 30 cents for a cheese dog. A bag of chips will set you back a whopping $.65, and if you’re in the mood for a hamburger or a piece of pie or even a bowl of chili, you can have each for under $3.

Specialties: Coney Island hot dogs ($1.50), cheese dog ($1.80), hamburger ($2.75), 8-ounce glass bottle of Coke ($1.50), homemade chili ($2.95). 131 W. Main Street, 260.424.2997, fortwaynesfamousconeyisland.com

BREAKFAST SPOTS

There are 15 red bar stools inside what is considered one of Fort Wayne’s first fast food restaurants, which makes the motto at Cindy’s Diner simple and to the point: “We serve the whole world, 15 at a time.” Originally bought by Noah Clauss for $6,000 in 1952, the diner has moved at least four times over the ensuing decades before landing at its current location. No move has stopped it from being popular, and if you show up a little after its 6 am opening, expect a wait. It’s now owned by Angie Harter, who began working at Cindy’s as a dishwasher in 1996.

Cindy’s is famous for its $6.50 Garbage plate – thinly sliced ham, shredded potatoes and onions mixed with a heaping of eggs and cheese. It’s not only delicious, but will fill you up for the entire day. A half plate of Garbage will set you back less than four bucks, and there are plenty of breakfast specials that run under $7 and sometimes under $6 – think corned beef hash and eggs, hot cakes, country sausage gravy and biscuits or a three-egg omelet with cheese. A killer bacon cheeseburger can be had for less than $4, and for $2.95 Harter whips up homemade milkshakes with an old-fashioned spinner. As a bonus, mini jukebox machines line the counter, where for a few coins you can select the music to accompany your meal.

Specialties: Garbage ($6.50), two fresh eggs with toast and jelly ($3.95), country sausage gravy and biscuits ($4.50), breakfast special of two eggs, fries, bacon, ham or sausage and toast ($5.79). 230 W. Berry Street, 260.422.1957

It’s a Waynedale staple, one which commuters traveling along Bluffton Road have flocked to for years – and despite a recent ownership change, it still serves up fresh-squeezed orange juice for under $3. The Bluebird Restaurant used to be the original Spyro’s before Jean and Spyro Giatras sold the joint roughly three years ago to Mike Amans. A lot of the Giatras’ Greek influence remains, with $5 breakfast sandwiches like the gyro, egg and feta cheese or the bacon, egg and American cheese.

There are also the frittatas – open-faced omelets – for every appetite for under $8 as well as traditional omelets including the Denver, the Mexican or the Greek-inspired Olympic, which features gyro meat, feta cheese, tomatoes and peppers. Egg platters range from under $5 to just under $7, and for those with hearty appetites there is the two-egg and gyro platter or the 1/3-pound hamburger patty and two eggs meal, both of which are under $8. Loaded skillets – layered hash browns, eggs and cheese with an assortment of toppings – are all under $9, with the Hobo Skillet – just the hash browns and cheese – under $7 for the cheap and hungry. And of course, there are the pancakes and waffles. For less than an Abe Lincoln greenback, you can get a full stack of pancakes or an order of waffles, and for the same price get your fill of crêpes.

Specialties: Fresh-squeezed orange juice ($2 for a small; $3.35 for a large), egg platters ($4.85-$6.95), breakfast sandwiches ($5), pancakes ($4.95 for a full stack). 4410 Bluffton Road, 260.478.4976

MEXICAN/TACOS

There are tacos, and then there are tacos. If you’ve had the pleasure of tasting the fare at the tiny hole-in-the-wall Tacos Arandas “El Amish,” you know it does the latter – and you’d be hard-pressed to find a better way to fill a hungry belly on a few bucks. El Amish does tacos and only tacos. All of them are $2 each, and you have your choice of buche (fried pork), chorizo (sausage), asada (steak), pastor (marinated pork), lengua (cow tongue), cabeza (beef cheek) or campechano (a mix of asada and chorizo).

And there is no skimping on the meat. Each taco is double-wrapped with tortillas and comes with heaping amounts of whatever you ordered along with cilantro and onions. For good measure, a large cooked jalapeño is always thrown in. For a long time, El Amish was the only taco place that used a vertical spit in an electric broiler for its pork, making the pastor tacos a huge hit. There are no tortilla chips here. Instead, everyone who takes a seat gets a helping of four sauces along with some radishes and cucumbers as an appetizer to enjoy while watching either Mexican music videos or soccer on the restaurant’s big TV screen. There are tons of beverage options from traditional sodas to a variety typically found only south of the border.

Specialties: Tacos, tacos, tacos, tacos. All $2. 2012 Broadway, 260.420.2731

Sometimes getting an authentic taste of Mexico can be difficult. A lot of the dishes at local Mexican joints have been Americanized. But the Lara family, who hails from Gaunajuato, Mexico, has opened a little taqueria that gives anyone who wants a true taste of their homeland a chance to do so. And they do it on the cheap, too. Taqueria Mi Tierra recently took over what for many years had been Mannie’s Place, a long-ago city nightspot for those on the southeast side.

One of the specialties Mi Tierra offers is the Parrillada – a gigantic, sizzling barbecue platter topped with carne asada, chorizo, grilled chicken, onions, cheese and a whole charred jalapeño pepper. It can feed three to four people and costs a whopping $15. A smaller version is called the Mocajete, Spanish for mortar bowl. For those who want a more American-style taste, the flautas are some of the best in town, especially those stuffed with shredded chicken. Then there are the tacos – almost any kind you like for $2 each. Just like El Amish, Mi Tierra does not skimp on the meat when it comes to tacos. There is also complimentary chips and salsa – always homemade. And you can’t leave without dessert – the sorbets are excellent and refreshing. There is an assortment of flavors, like pineapple and guava, but the most popular is cucumber. All of the flavors will set you back less than $2.

Specialties: Parrillada ($14.99-serves three to four), tacos ($2), flautas ($5.99), burrito dinner ($7.99), sorbet ($1.50).
2302 S. Calhoun Street, 260.210.3794

ASIAN CUISINE

At first glance, Golden Wok may not exactly be much to look at. It’s a small Chinese joint in a strip mall. When its open, there’s always a bright neon sign that’s hard to miss, especially glaring at night. Since it’s mainly a take-out place, there are only two tables, primarily to give those arriving early to pick up their orders a little place to rest. But since its opening about six years ago, Golden Wok has become the go-to place for those craving Chinese – especially when on a budget.

Many who’ve tried it swear the crab rangoon is the best in the city, and you can get six puffs for under five bucks. The dumplings are also a favorite, and you can get eight of them fried or boiled for a little over $5. If you’re looking for lunch, you can’t do much better when it comes to price. Beef, chicken, shrimp and special dishes are all under $6 and come with rice and the aforementioned crab rangoon. Most dinners are under $8. So don’t let the unassuming exterior fool you; what’s inside is mouthwatering and won’t hurt your wallet.

Specialties: Crab rangoon ($4.95 for six), dumplings ($5.95 for eight), lunch specials (beef, chicken or shrimp with rice and crab rangoon for $5.95), combination dinners ($7.95). 1930 Broadway, 260.420.9988

It’s been quite some time since Burmese refugees began to settle in Fort Wayne, and in that time there have been little hints of their culture sprouting up throughout the city. There are Burmese-owned grocery stores, mom-and-pop general stores and restaurants that add to the city’s flavor – and the crown jewel is Mahnin Asian Restaurant. Located in what used to be a filling station, Mahnin opened a few years ago without fanfare. The restaurant has no website or Facebook page, but word-of-mouth quickly spread.

The Burmese coconut soup – coconut broth with chicken and fried onions and garlic with boiled eggs – is one of the favorites. So, too, is the tea leaf salad, which is made from fermented cabbage and topped with tomatoes. Anyone who goes to Mahnin needs to try the samosas, another Burmese delicacy. These little fried pastries are stuffed with spiced potatoes, onions and lentils, and the restaurant only makes a certain number each day – and most days, they run out before filling demand. Not in the mood to try typical Burmese? Mahnin also serves up killer Thai dishes, and will make them as spicy as you want – but be careful, spicy at Mahnin can cause some who are not accustomed to break out into a real spice sweat. There’s a lot of food to be had at Mahnin, and not for a lot of bucks. All in all, you can get out of there without spending over $10, even when getting several items.

Specialties: Samosas ($4.49 for five), shrimp rolls ($5.39 for five), Nam Tok ($6.99 for chicken, pork or tofu, $6.99 for beef and $8.99 for shrimp), Burmese tea ($1.99). 2701 S. Clinton Street, 260.744.3584

There are two things at Kim Vu Vietnamese you would be hard-pressed to find anywhere else in the city: the Banh Nam and Bahn Bot Loc dumplings. The Banh Nam dumplings are steamed flat rice dumplings with shrimp wrapped in banana leaves. There is also a veggie version with faux ham. The Bahn Bot Loc dumplings are made with tapioca flour and shrimp and are also wrapped in banana leaves.
Both are favorites, but what’s also great about the dumplings, besides the taste, is the price. The Banh Nams go for a $1 each – 80 cents for the veggie versions – while the Bahn Bot Locs are two for $1.50.

Dumplings are not the only thing Kim Vu offers; the pork spring rolls – $2 each – are loaded with meat, and the won ton soup – also $2 – is packed with plenty of pork. Most dinners are under $9, with several under $7. And for a little more taste of Vietnam, Kim Vu offers Viet Sandwiches made with pork, chicken, beef or veggies and topped with Viet mayo, pâté, sweet and sour daikon and carrots, cilantro and jalapeño. All of them are under $4.

Specialties: Flat rice dumplings ($1 each), Vietnamese dumplings ($1.50 for two), Viet sandwiches ($3 to $3.75), wonton soup ($2). 433 E. Dupont Road, 260.220.1188, kimvufw.com

When Will Le opened Bahn Mi Barista on the north end of town, the idea was to integrate Vietnamese food and culture into the community. He also always had the idea to open a second restaurant closer to the city center. That happened last year when Bahn Mi Pho Shop took over what used to be Fairfield Donuts. Now, city residents can now enjoy a taste of Bahn Mi just a little south of downtown. Le brought all the popular dishes with the cheap prices to the new location.

The Bahn Mi chicken, pork and club dishes are all $5, while the Korean BBQ and Viet Special versions are $5.50. Pho with beef is $9, while the chicken is $8.50. Rice and noodle dishes are all under $8 – except for the Bahn Mi Pho Rice Dish, which consists of grilled pork over steamed rice, a side salad, an over-easy egg and an egg roll. Still, it only costs $9.25. Fans clamor for the ramen, but it was only served on Tuesdays until earlier this year. Some of the other items people go for are the Vietnamese iced coffees, the bubble teas and the smoothies that are staples of the original Bahn Mi.

Specialties: Bahn Mi (chicken, pork and club are $5); Korean BBQ and Viet are $5.50), pho (with beef is $9, chicken is $8.50), pork ramen ($13 for a full dish, $8 for a small). 1925 Fairfield Avenue, 260.745.4388, banhmiphoshop.com

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