When I reveal that I’m a food writer, inevitably, I hear the same things. “That would be fun.” Yes, it is. “How do you find a good restaurant?” Well, the answer is simple. Choose a restaurant (really, any one will do), sit down and order food, then determine whether or not you’d come back. I promise, there are no secrets here.
Occasionally, I bump into something worth writing about. Well, that’s the simple answer. And, sometimes, these worthwhile eateries are not only tasty, but reasonably priced.
Here are three of those spots worth hitting up when you’re on a budget, but not willing to compromise on excellence. Some are classics. Some are off the beaten path. All are worth visiting and are a few of my favorite haunts.
Pho Soc Trang
4242 S Division Ave., Kentwood
Pho Soc Trang is yet another unassuming little building off Division. It sits behind Wei Wei Palace (another place worth checking out) under a yellow marquee with the words “BEEF NOODLE SOUP” crowded in between Vietnamese characters. Inside there are a lot of concentrated people slurping down enormous, hot bowls of pho. Oh, and I couldn’t find anything on the menu more than $8.
Now if you haven’t had pho, you should. Put this down and go to Pho Soc right now. I mean, “beef noodle soup” is a translation that does not do it justice. The list of spices, herbs and ingredients that go into this dish would make Homer’s catalogue of ships palatable. My recommendation is to order it up with rare flank steak, but you can’t go wrong with any option. You’ve never tasted anything like this. Your Western taste buds can thank me later.
Taqueria San José
1338 S Division Ave., Grand Rapids
This old drive in off Division looks, well, unimposing and gracias Dios for that. The unpretentious little spot churns out some of the best tacos, burritos, tortas and quesadillas that you’ve ever had. Bonus: Almost everything is under $5, but the tacos are the real star here. Done the right way (fried corn tortillas, white onion and cilantro), the goat or pork tacos are divine. But you should buck up and order the tripe or the tongue.
658 Fulton W, Grand Rapids
I am a sucker for a good slice of pizza. I go weak in the knees when I see a little pizza parlor with the old checker tile and those cafeteria-grade table booths that seat four – or a boozy six. I’m somewhat of an addict. I’ve stopped for slices all over the country but nowhere does it for me like Vito’s does. It’s just something about the grease to cheese ratio or the perfect amount of chew to the crust. It’s the sauce: Not too thick, just the right amount of sweetness to the tomatoes. I’m not sure where the magic comes from, but whatever it is they do behind the counter at Vito’s I hope they keep it up. They have my unwavering loyalty for West Side pizza – and it’s only $2.50 for a slice.