Welcome to the land of Cheap Eats, where ethnic restaurants tempt you with affordable exotic fare, there's a great little counter service eatery on every corner, and food trucks rule the road. We'll explore the varied and colorful landscape in this new column, which will run the fourth Friday of each month.
Sometimes, our itinerary will take us to places with a common theme - burger joints, say, or taquerias. On other occasions, we'll set out on a whirlwind tour that may begin at a Korean barbecue food truck and wind up at a pie shop. Regardless of the destination, in most cases you'll be able to make the journey to one of these eateries for 10 bucks or less per person - the food, that is. Beverage, tip and the price of a gallon of gas come under the "small print" heading.
Our inaugural adventure takes us deep into Mongolian barbecue territory, where customers choose from a buffet-style selection of uncooked meats and vegetables, then take them to a chef who stir-fries them with the sauce of their choice on an enormous flat wok. Dinner and a show all rolled into one, you might say, and for a bargain price to boot.
2414 Wake Forest Road, Raleigh; 811-170 Ninth St., Durham
828-3103 (Raleigh); 416-0200 (Durham)
The granddaddy of area Mongolian barbecues, the original Bali Hai in Raleigh first fired up the big wok three decades ago. The decor is, to put it mildly, on the dowdy side (the Durham location is much spiffier), but the food is consistent. Be advised that if you order the "super spicy" sauce (level 10 on a 1-10 scale), that's precisely what you'll get.
Crazy Fire Mongolian Grill
multiple locations; see website for listings
A huge selection and create-your-own sauces proved so successful at the original location on Buck Jones Road that Crazy Fire has grown to six locations in 10 years. Reasonable prices are even more of a bargain when you sign up online for the monthly newsletter. Each edition includes a discount coupon.
The Great Fusion Grill
243 Grande Heights Drive, Cary
The newest entrant in the local Mongolian barbecue field aims to set itself apart by billing itself as a "fusion grill" and backing up the claim with sauce options such as honey citrus pepper, tomato, and sesame mushroom. Otherwise, the selection is pretty much the same as elsewhere, unless you count desserts (cheesecake and Japanese mochi ice cream) and the decidedly different menu offer to "add a tortilla for only $1."