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Authentic Ethnic Restaurants

Shel Horowitz's Monthly Frugal Fun Tip for May 2006

In working-class neighborhoods and rural counties with large concentrations of a particular ethnic group, there may be tremendous bargains in eating out. In almost any town, you'll find some kind of cheap fare if you're willing to be adventurous. A few examples: San Francisco's Chinatown, Federal Hill in Providence (Italian), Chicago's Mexican barrio near Midway Airport, Cuban Calle Ocho in Miami, Jackson Heights (New York's Little India), or practically any family restaurant in the small towns of New Mexico.

Typically, these restaurants cater to the locals, and function to some degree as social centers. They'll likely be brightly lit, family-owned places with ample portions of country cooking, priced so people in the neighborhood can afford lunch every day or dinner a couple of times a week. Nothing fancy, but food as their grandmothers prepared it in a different country. You may be the only diner from outside that culture. Oh, and if you know a few words in the language, even a simple thank-you, you may find that the staff are absolutely thrilled. I remember saying thank-you in Arabic in a Yemeni restaurant in Brooklyn, and all of a sudden, several dishes that I hadn't ordered started appearing--on the house!

Even outside of ethnic communities, you may find such places. Find out if there's a well-known "restaurant town" nearby; the wealth of choices may astonish you. My own town, although its ethnic communities are very small, boasts a "restaurant row" that attracts eaters from a 50-mile radius

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