In our efforts to save money, we still gotta eat, right? And while many of us are dutifully brown-bagging our lunch to work, some days we just want to get out of the office and stretch our legs.
Despite popular belief, eating out doesn't have to gobble your paycheck. It also doesn't have to involve miles of $5 footlong subs.
Here are a bunch of places in downtown Tampa where you can get lunch for $5, including a drink (because we're all tired of drinking just water).
Take your pick of thrifty meals at this family-run coffee shop, including rice and beans with bread, butter and a can of soda for $3.84, tax included. Choose from red beans, black or Spanish in a 16-ounce bowl. Feeling like meat? The cafe has a broiled breast of chicken with bread, butter and a can of soda for $4.05. 601 N Morgan St., (813) 223-6740.
Cappuccino on the Go
Located on the third floor of the Bank of America building, this coffee shop and deli is a favorite haunt of busy downtown workers. Many of its half-sandwiches — filling enough for a meal — are priced at $3.25 or less, plus tax. Choose from tuna salad, egg salad, BLT, turkey, ham and swiss or veggie. Sixteen-ounce Coke, Diet Coke and iced tea are $1.25 plus tax. Or go for a heavy soup of the day; a cup is $2.94 including tax. It comes with crackers and a slice of bread, which are sure to fill your belly. 101 E Kennedy Blvd., (813) 221-7570.
Carmen's Sandwich Shop
After 39 years in the restaurant business, Carmen Kingsley must know something about keeping customers happy. These days, she's fully aware that price matters and has priced her fare accordingly. Get any sandwich, from egg salad to turkey, on your choice of bread with home-brewed iced tea for $5. Before 1 p.m., can you also get $5 breakfast specials served with iced tea: two eggs, grits, bacon and toast or Cuban cheese toast with egg and bacon. 408 E Zack St.; (813) 229-1318.
The Family Downtown Cafe
At high noon you'll be hard-pressed to find much for less than $5 in this cafeteria-style restaurant on the ground level of the TECO building. But wait until 2 p.m., and the cafe sells any remaining salads for half-price. That comes out to $3 for a large cobb salad. Fountain drinks are $1.25. 702 N Franklin St., (813) 228-4263.
Get your fill of Tampa's favorite sandwich with a Cuban from this Colombian-owned restaurant next to the bus station. Rio Cafe sells a "Cuban Real Deal'' with ham, salami, pulled pork, cheese, mayo, mustard and pickle on Cuban bread for $3.95. You can also get the same version on semi-sweet egg bread, "Media Noche Midnight.'' Cans of soda or bottled water are $1. 602 E Polk St.; (813) 436-9659.
Susan's Cafe & Deli
Susan Owens probably took a risk by opening a cafe a few months ago in these tight economic times. So to get people through the door, she's offering great deals: $5 footlong sandwiches with chips and a fountain drink, lemonade or iced tea. Sandwiches include meatball, pork rib, philly cheese steak and chicken breast on Cuban bread. Bring a fellow cheapskate, because they are actually big enough for two. 510 N Franklin St., (813) 514-6739.
The tried-and-tested two-slices-and-a-drink lunch is actually hard to find for five bucks downtown. Westshore almost gets there at $5.50, plus tax, but that doesn't quite make our cut. If you're not famished, Westshore sells a slice and a fountain drink with free refills for $4.37, out the door. The slice doesn't have to be cheese, either. You pick from whatever they have on hand, including meat lovers, mushroom and pepperoni slices. 505 N Franklin St., (813) 549-5626.
Contributing: Dalia Colón