Yet those frugal food havens do exist. With a little exploration off the beaten track, Midpeninsula foodies have found some hotspots featuring tasty grub that won't clean out the wallet. And we're not talking about fast-food chains or your basic burrito.
The Voice singles out three standout places to get a good lunch for less than $8.
When Google perennially tops Fortune Magazine's list of best places to work, the 15 free eateries are always a talking point. However, despite the free in-house chow, Google employees are still willing to make the short trip over to Sunny Bowl for its signature Korean dish: bibimbap.
Sunny Bowl really has only one dish, but when you do it this well, it's more than enough. As the restaurant's name indicates, it all starts with the bowl. Diners choose between a cold one or a sizzling stone pot called a dolsot.
Either way, the bowl is filled with jasmine rice and topped with a colorful array of veggies including lettuce, cucumbers, radishes and carrots. The tough decision comes when choosing a protein. Sunny Bowl offers beef, short ribs, chicken, shrimp, tofu and broccoli, asparagus, egg-batter fish, tuna sashimi and seaweed salad.
Waitresses fly throughout the restaurant making the rounds, and dishes appear on tables before you can put your napkin on your lap.
1477 Plymouth St., Suite C
Mountain View, CA 94043
Rose International Market
Walking into Rose International Market is like stepping off the streets of Mountain View and into a bustling bazaar. Boxes of cashews and pistachios line the walls while the aromas of falafel and mint meld in the air. But at lunchtime, people are there for one reason: kabobs.
The first visit can be a little intimidating. It is not immediately clear where to order, and menus can be scarce. Fear not. Menus can be found at the market cash register, which is also where to order.
Rose specializes in Iranian cuisine. Customers choose from chicken, lamb or a mix of minced beef and lamb called koubideh. Each kabob is charbroiled, then pulled from the grill and placed on a tray covered with the traditional thin lavash bread (think pita, but as thin as a tortilla). The tray is then topped with a mix of greens, including mint and parsley, and a quarter of an onion.
Patrons can wrap their succulent meats in the lavash, or use it as a tasty placemat. To really spice things up, grab one of the shakers on the table. It's not pepper, but rather ground sumac, a spice with a sour taste that compliments the savory meats.
Rose also offers a variety of other Iranian dishes, with prices ranging from $2.99 to $4.99.
1060 Castro St.
Mountain View, CA 94040
Tava Indian Kitchen
There is a simple elegance to the burrito, corralling favorite Mexican fare into a warm tortilla. Whether that is chicken, steak, veggies or shrimp, the burrito can answer the call.
But what happens when a diner is not feeling like Mexican food today, but the burrito still calls? Swap out the Mexican core for Indian and call it a "burroti."
That's precisely what Tava Indian Kitchen in Palo Alto has done. Think Chipotle, minus the banality and stigma of a chain, and plus delicious tikka sauce. Tava captures the burrito imagination, that side of you that always wondered what would happened if other cultures swaddled their food in a fluffy tortilla blanket.
While the options are simple and straightforward, the unusual concept and downright tastiness of the burroti has attracted a loyal following in only a few months of operation.
The menu is more of an instructional manual than a list of options: a step-by-step guide of how to get best of the East into a wrap from the South and then into one's mouth. Start with the container: "burroti," rice bowl or salad bowl. Then pick between the creamy tikka and daal sauces. Next, select a filler of chicken, lamb or a scoop of cheese called paneer mixed with garbanzo beans.
Then it's time to spice it up with mild, medium or spicy chutney before topping the dish off with lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers and onions. Burrotis and bowls made with chicken or paneer are listed at $6.99.
Town & Country Village
855 El Camino Real
Palo Alto, CA 94301