The Big Max Burger
I-80 at exits 142 Altoona
and 126 Urbandale
1300 50th St., West Des
Mon. - Fri. 11 a.m. - 2
p.m., Mon. - Thurs. 5 p.m.
- 9 p.m., Fri. - Sat. 5
p.m. - 10 p.m.
$10 — the new $40
Everyone’s looking for a bargain.
Last week, McDonalds announced
a huge increase in its November
sales, crediting its “dollar menu”
and driving cardiologists to despair.
Better Homes & Gardens recently
introduced a “$3.50 dinner” feature.
I’ve received several inquiries
about “good $10 dinners,” a specialty
of alternative papers like Cityview.
Unlike big daily papers, alternatives
have always covered the emerging
ethnic scene where the best bargains
are found. So, for an entire week,
I tried to stick to $10 dinners,
with only one slip.
This summer the Des Moines Register
published a two-page story about
goat meat, yet somehow ignored
our only authentic birrieria (restaurants
devoted to goat). La Peña
(2010 Indianola Ave., 288-3226)
has been serving goat stews for
five years, not five days. Luis
and Carmen de Avila hand grind
their flours, meals, spices and
salsas and use chilies de arbol,
the first food that Columbus saw
in the New World. My $8 roast
goat dinner cost way less than
one at any restaurant the Register
noticed. Next, I found that La
Rosa (2312 Forest Ave., 255-9520)
is holding its price on tamales
— at just $12 a dozen! Steamed
in cornhusks and filled with both
sweet and savory delights, Rosa
Martinez’s tamales are civic icons.
She learned her art from her father,
Don Juan, who learned from the
Aztec god of love. On Christmas
Eve, the tamale line at Rosa’s
door will extend half a block.
Feeling winter in my bones, I
returned to five different Vietnamese
cafés for pho that meal-in-a-bowl
of beef bone stock and noodles.
Most local versions take 12 hours
to prepare and still cost around
$7. The best were served at Lucky
Dragon (1452 2nd Ave., 288-3936),
TNT (3452 ML King Parkway, 277-2077)
and Pho Hao Dao (1521 Second Ave.,
288-1277).? I checked out two
reader tips about bargains in
more traditional dining rooms.
I visited Grandma Max’s (GM) for
“a breakfast deal that’s better
than Denny’s.” I found lots of
cheap entertainment: simulated
deer hunting; life-sized porcelain
dolls; bulletin boards advertising
everything from llamas to ballet
lessons; and urinals that provided
privacy walls and coupons. However,
when I asked about the super breakfast
deal, my waitress just pointed
at the menu where $7.49 bacon
and eggs was typical. Even spaghetti
went over my $10 threshold. So
I broke down and ordered a $17
hamburger. Weighing in at four
pounds, The Big Max dwarfs the
Gunderburger, which has famously
kept an entire town on the Iowa
map. If you can eat a Big Max
in one hour, you get a T-shirt.
You still pay the $17 though —
there’s no discount for self-abuse.
One taste of the giant stale bun
convinced me to give up after
maybe 6 ounces. Leaving the restaurant,
I finally noticed the touted breakfast
special. A big $4 breakfast deal
was advertised on GM’s outside
window, leaving a bad taste in
Another local special was offered
graciously at one of Iowa’s best
restaurants. Phat Chef’s “economic
stimulus package” provides $10
entrees on weekdays. Rather than
hiding them, waiters enthusiastically
endorsed those bargains, which
were advertised on every table.
My confit of pork shoulder with
braised cabbage was so good I
returned another night for tempura
fried chicken with mashed potatoes,
gravy and spiced corn. Both bargains
ranked with kitchen’s other entrees,
and no one tried to shame me out
of ordering them.
Bottom line — this year The New
York Times declared, “$40 is the
new $30” for entrée pricing.
Now it seems that $10 is the new
New Year’s Eve dinners are bargain
priced this year. Chef Hal Jasa
announced a $60 feast at Phat
Chef’s — down from $175 two years
ago… Tag Grandgeorge is advertising
a $50 dinner at Le Jardin that
includes champagne. CV
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