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Cheap thrills: Great Buffalo food under $5

This month, with summertime splurges in the rear-view mirror and back-to-school lists looming, it seemed an appropriate season to explore how much tasty fun you can have for $5 in and around Buffalo. These include some of my longtime favorites, a few new choices, and suggestions from readers.

Niagara Cafe at 525 Niagara St. serves the relleno de papa made with mashed potato and ground beef and a pastelillo with beef, cheese and potato. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

Rellenos de papa and pastelillo

Niagara Café, 525 Niagara St., 885-2233

This Puerto Rican mainstay has been serving up budget-friendly food since 1993. Takeout customers line up next to glass cases displaying fried snacks. Fried turnovers called pastelillos ($2.30) come in varieties like beef and cheese, and pizza; the mashed potato sphere called rellenos de papa has a core of seasoned ground beef ($2.30).

Guercio & Sons serves The Vincenzo sub. It's made with baby arugula, roasted red peppers, artichokes, tomatoes and fresh mozzarella on a long roll. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

The Vincenzo

Guercio & Sons, 250 Grant St., 882-7935

Shoppers looking for deals on dizzingly diverse goods from Italy and around the world know this West Side grocery's deli makes worthwhile sandwiches (just not after 3:30 p.m. or on Saturdays). Fresh mozzarella, roasted peppers, tomatoes, artichoke hearts and arugula layered onto a long roll makes a vegetarian feast. ($5)

Wawa Asian Snacks in the West Side Bazaar serves the banh mi Vietnamese sandwich. It comes with choice of meat, in this case pork, pickled daikon, carrots, cucumbers, cilantro, jalapeno and butter. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

Pork banh mi

Wa Wa Asian Snacks, West Side Bazaar, 25 Grant St., 464-6389,

A new food stall in this immigrant business incubator offers this well-balanced version of the Vietnamese sandwich. Tofu, chicken and fish patty are among versions available, but I prefer the grilled pork. Slices are nestled in a buttered roll with pickled daikon and carrot, cilantro and cucumber (plus jalapeno if you like). ($4.95)

A&C Meat Company makes the Italian Sausage Supreme. It's a mild quarter pound Italian sausage patty topped with caramelized onions and peppers, provolone cheese and banana pepper aioli on a Costanzo roll. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

Sausage Supreme

A&C Meat Co., 6472 Southwestern Blvd., Lake View, 980-3018,

Known for its varieties of housemade fresh sausage, smoked sausage and bacon, this little shop also has a sideline in ready-to-go meals. A patty of the shop's own mild Italian sausage, with fennel and anise, is dressed with banana pepper aioli, caramelized onions and peppers, and provolone on a Costanzo's hard roll. ($5)

99 Fast Food at 3398 Bailey Ave. in Buffalo serves appetizers that can be served together such as the BBQ Pork Skewer. Behind is the Vietnamese Eggroll which is stuffed with noodles, mushrooms, carrots and pork and wrapped in rice paper and deep-fried. The two come to $4.35. Photo taken Wednesday, Aug. 16, 2017. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

Vietnamese egg roll, pork skewer

99 Fast Food, 3398 Bailey Ave., 836-6058,

Every Vietnamese restaurant in town has a thin-skinned fried roll ($1.85). None beats 99's consistently crackling shell, filled with ground pork, carrot, minced mushroom and bean thread. Wrap the lettuce leaf heat shield around it and dunk away, then use the rest of the sauce on your skewer of shallot-marinated, caramel-glazed pork ($2.50).

Lomo Lomo food truck makes cracked potatoes with curry sauce. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

Cracked potatoes

Lomo Lomo, find location schedule at

As a food truck, Lomo Lomo takes some tracking down, but its brief menu, informed by an international atlas of culinary influences, is worth it. Exhibit one is this dish of crushed potatoes deep-fried until every crag is crunchy, then sprinkled with lime juice, scallions, and a housemade garlic mayonnaise brightened with curry. ($5)

The Lexington Co-op serves Alpha Omega Salad. It's made with organic wheatberries, red and green bell pepper, red onion, organic peas, dried cranberries, sunflower seeds, carrots, parsley, chives, garlic, organic lemon juice, organic canola and olive oils and flax seed oil. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

Alpha Omega grain salad

Lexington Co-op, 807 Elmwood Ave., 1678 Hertel Ave., 886-2667,

Healthy, filling and inexpensive: the cooperative's salad bar offers lots of choices at both of its locations, including this salad of organic wheat berries, carrots, red onion, red pepper, red wine vinegar, lemon juice, olive, flaxseed and canola oil, garlic puree, parsley, chives, sunflower seeds and cranberries. ($3.99/8 ounces)

Paula's Donuts serves two donuts and a 16-ounce. cup of hot or iced coffee special. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

Pair of Paula's Donuts and coffee

Multiple locations 

For an iconic yet inexpensive Buffalo dessert for two – or dinner for one – it's hard to beat a pair of these jumbo sweets. Red velvet is a chocolate glazed doughnut with just enough color to look adventurous. The headlight is a raised yeast doughnut, chocolate frosted, with a poof of angel cream. On a diet? Take your coffee black.  ($3.85)

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