'Tis the season of drained bank accounts, but that doesn't mean your dining out fun must cease. Instead, venture to City Heights where affordable ethnic food awaits at these three restaurants.
El Salvador Restaurant and Pupuseria
It would be a pedestrian move to simply order the house specialty here: pupusas, or thick corn tortillas stuffed with a variety of meats, veggies and cheese. Yes, they're quite good, but there's a lot more going on at this El Salvadoran restaurant, starting with its incredibly unique beverages, like the refreshing ensalada ($1.75), a sort of drinkable fruit salad with minced pineapple, orange and apple. Since the place also specializes in Mexican food, you can try two regional versions of horchata side-by-side, the El Salvadoran beverage far nuttier with a sesame seed backdrop versus its sweeter, vanilla-rich cousin.
For solid food, definitely order the intense mixed pupusa ($1.99), a salty medley of ground meats and cheese, and don't leave without eating the pan relleno con pollo ($4.50). The sandwich arrives in an assemble-yourself fashion, with a crusty roll containing watercress, tomato, onions and copious amounts of mayo, plus a bowl of stewed chicken with green olives, still in its sauce, which you then spoon into the bread.
For dessert, another not-to-miss beverage, this time served hot - the atol de elote ($3.50) is a smooth, slightly sweet corn porridge that does more than satisfy on a chilly winter's eve. 3824 University Ave., (619) 282-3018, elsalvadorrestaurantandpupuseria.com
Super Cocina Comida Casera Mexicana
Even though it's been around since the late '80s, somehow Super Cocina still manages to fly under the radar. But for those of us familiar with this down-home Mexican cuisine, it's hard to imagine life without its rich, comforting stews, like the creamy pollo cilantro and spicy puerco en chile colorado, both of which taste as though someone's grandma made it.
First timers needn't hesitate at the cafeteria-style counter or lack of food descriptions next to each steaming tray of braised meat; when it's your turn in line, just point at what you'd like to try before making a commitment in your two-item combo for $8 (includes rice, beans and tortillas). There are also several soups, including the standout chicken and vegetable with a clear, flavorful broth with chunks of squash and carrots - to which you must add onions, cilantro and a squeeze of lime.
The menu changes daily, offering nearly 200 regional Mexican recipes from Oaxaca, Veracruz, and Michoacan; you can also dine in for a traditional breakfast. One thing that stays the same here are antojitos, or smaller bites: You won't regret the fried potato and cheese patty, topped with crema, and tender, stewed chicken-stuffed enchiladas verdes. 3627 University Ave., (619) 584-6244, supercocinasd.com
San Diego isn't exactly known for its Chinese takeout options, like, say, San Fran or NYC. Why? Who knows, just be glad for Minh Ky, where you can get all of your classic, Americanized favorites, like orange chicken and walnut shrimp.
The abundance of food for the price will shock you at Minh Ky, with enough to feed two in the house favorite crispy chicken leg and egg noodle soup for $5.50. When you order it to go, chopped chicken meat still on the bone comes atop noodles and veggies that you'll mix into the quart-sized container of broth once you're home. Dining in, the chicken comes on a plate covered in a sweet, salty soy sauce-concoction that's downright addictive. For takeout the sauce comes on the side, excellent for dipping meat or dashing into the savory soup.
Weekends are busy here, so calling ahead for pickup is advised. If you do dine in, expect a small, family-run restaurant in a strip mall vibe, where the service is caring and food comes out in a jiffy. Pro tip: the parking lot here is a nightmare, pull up to the nice white curbs along on Menlo Avenue, the side street directly next to the restaurant. 4644 El Cajon Blvd., (619) 283-4180, minhkychinese.menutoeat.com
Amy T. Granite is a dauntless eater who has written about food in San Diego since 2006. You can follow Granite and her tasty adventures on Twitter and Instagram @saysgranite. Send your mouth-watering ideas to her at email@example.com