13 places that still have (relatively) cheap eats, Ronald McDonald, new boba tea

It all depends upon what you call “cheap.”

What we used to think of as cheap 10 or two years ago, and one year ago, no longer exits, except in a couple of places in Sonoma Valley.

Are “cheap eats” primarily filling food, or inexpensive nutritious food?

Restaurants all say “costs have gone up,” and that is true in many ways. Some of them got federal money to help with those costs. And some have struggled through rising food and supplies costs.

And rent around our Sonoma Plaza is sky high. A well-known commercial property Realtor confirmed what I had heard that restaurant rents around the Plaza range from $8,000 to $12,000 per month. That’s very hard to cover with a restaurant totally or half closed down, off and on, during the pandemic.

Restaurant survival can depend on owning the building or on the sympathetic generosity and largesse of property owners. But as one restaurateur told me, “Landlords have mortgages and monthly payments too.”

Some raise prices because supplies cost more, and others raise prices to make up for lack of income during forced closures. And still some are offering signing bonuses to dishwashers and servers.

So what hasn’t changed much and is still good and cheap? These best values are often found in lunch prices since it’s often less expensive than dinner out.

Food trucks keep prices low because of their main constituency and clientele, which are other workers whether in the vineyards or hospitals. They also have mush lower overhead than a brick-and-mortar business. Simple soft tacos with not so simple flavors are really cheap by most current standards at around $3 each. Similar bargains are available at Taqueria la Hacienda, a.k.a. Hacienda Bar & Grill in the Springs and other small Mexican restaurants.

McDonald’s and Jack in the Box sell burgers, fish, and chicken sandwiches, fries and drinks under $10. Taco Bell’s top of the menu deal of three Crispy Tacos Supreme and a soft drink cost under $10, although it just went up a couple of dollars. Not sure what is in all the “beef” the fast food chains use. Soon McDonald’s will carry Impossible chicken nuggets. How about leaving out the word “chicken?”

The outstanding best deal sandwich is Broadway Market’s readymade (every morning) sandwiches (up to $5), and their several-year Sonoma People’s Choice made-to-order equivalents. Hundreds, maybe thousands, of fans go there just for these sandwiches. 20511 Broadway, Sonoma. 938-2685.

Baker & Cook has fabulous breakfast pastries, breakfasts, soba noodle salad, root vegetables and chickpea hummus, smoked trout and egg bagel sandwich, buttermilk biscuit and sausage gravy, quiches and avocado toast. $4 to $14. 18812 Highway 12, Sonoma. 938-7329. Find baker Jen Demarest at the Friday morning farmers market at Depot Park too.

El Huerto Super Foods has loads of healthy smoothies and juices, bowls, toasts, panini, acai bowls and salads. Most under $10. 19213 Highway 12, Sonoma. 934-8729.

Golden Spring Mandarin Cuisine has full lunches that include appetizer of usually wonton strips, soup and a wide range of healthy main courses that come with rice. Soup is not included in to-go orders. Chicken, beef, pork and vegetable entrées are $7.85, prawns $9.25. Combo plates from $9.45 to $11.25. 18995 Highway 12 behind what was Palms Grill. 938-1275.

Some people know E-Saan Thai’s food from the Tuesday night farmers market. According to their website, they offer fresh rolls and even chicken satay as appetizers for $8. Full dishes with choices of meats or vegetables and curries, or Pad Thai at $10 to $13. 18629 Highway 12, Sonoma. 939-9077.

Scandia Bakery has many half and whole sandwiches on a variety of breads with varieties of meats or vegetables, and salads. Also combos of half sandwich with soup or salad. $4.25 to $10.50. 500 W. Napa St., Sonoma. 938-5820.

The Mill at Glen Ellen, in Jack London Village with the lovely flowers, has clam chowder with a housemade bun that is filling and $10.50; two ample sliders are $13; the garlic, plain or truffle fries run $8; and the Wagyu steak burger with fries and cole slaw is $19.50. All pizzas about $19.50. 14301 Arnold. Drive, Glen Ellen. 721-1818.

Jack London Lodge has various French fries $6 to $8, fish & chips $15.95, and burgers salads from $10.50 to $13, and burgers (including salmon) from $14.95 to $17.95. Plus flatbreads. 13740 Arnold Drive, Glen Ellen. 938-8510.

Not long ago, Mary Pizza Shack’s Soup and Salad deal was $7.95, and recently it has jumped to $9.50, which which is cheap for what you get. Mary’s signature salads (a meal at any size) range from $7.50 to $12.95 while a Cobb salad runs $15.25. Many sandwiches include soup, salad or fries, but those are $4 extra with the newish crispy chicken sandwich. Plain cheese pizzas range from $10.50 to $23.95, while Mary’s combo costs $18.95 to $28.95 and Toto’s combo is now $20.95 to 32.95.

Delicious Dish sells Hawaiian pop-up lunches as well as salads, bowls, and tasty sticky rice with Hawaiian entrées, ($14 to $16). Dinners to go cost $16 for one to $69 for four. Soft Straus ice cream cones and Hawaiian or local shakes are around $6. 18709 Arnold Drive, Sonoma. 721-4231.

Picazo Café has lots of $9.50 wraps, bowls and fish & chips for $10 to $12.45, burgers with fries $9.95 to $16 (salmon). Imaginative sandwiches are $9 to $10 with fries $2 extra. Avocado toast is $8. 19100 Arnold Drive, Sonoma. 931-4377.

Before he and wife Suzy were winery owners, Squire Fridell was TV’s Ronald McDonald. (Photo by Robbi Pengelly/Index-Tribune)
Before he and wife Suzy were winery owners, Squire Fridell was TV’s Ronald McDonald. (Photo by Robbi Pengelly/Index-Tribune)

Name dropping: Two Ronald McDonalds meet

For those of us who remember Willard Scott on NBC’s “Today Show,” last Friday brought a bit of sadness with the passing at age 87 of the would-be weatherman.

Scott started at NBC as a page (“Get me coffee”) and one day substituted for the actual meteorologist, without a clue as to what to say besides looking out the window to check the weather. It also happened to be the 100th birthday of someone he knew, so he wished that person a happy birthday. And off he went.

While giving a light version of the national weather, Scott threw in regular happy birthdays to centenarians most weekdays and became inundated with photos and stories of people turning 100 from all over the country.

As an original Ronald McDonald on television, Willard Scott was naturally funny, as is Sonoma Valley’s own Ronald McDonald, Squire Fridell.

Fridell told the Index-Tribune, “I worked with Willard in 1986 on a television show. We spent a week together and, yes, he was a wonderful man. Always upbeat and exactly what his TV persona revealed. The TV show was right after I was cast as Ronald McDonald.

“When I started playing the role Ronald McDonald (1986-1991), the ad agency sent me a video of the history of Ronald. Willard Scott was an early prototype and you would not recognize him as Ronald McDonald. He had a box of food on his head with a Dixie cup as a nose.

“The character developed when my predecessor, King Moody, took over. King played Ronald for years and then I was cast to portray the character.

“When we worked together, Willard and I laughed about his McDonald’s gig and the fact that he had also been Bozo the Clown.”

Eventually Scott added a late week highlight of festivals around the country that might be fun to attend.

So when I finished writing my 1988 book “Festivals U.S.A. –The 1,000 Best Festivals,” a lightbulb popped and told me to ask Scott him to write the foreword. How to do that?

I called New York for information in Manhattan, asked for NBC’s phone number, asked them to let me speak to Willard Scott, and of course I got his assistant. She giggled and said she would let me know.

A few days later our phone rang and it was Willard Scott, saying he would love to do it. Just one thing: Would I write it for him and he would sign it? My husband Jerry had acted in lots of local theatee and was good at putting himself in other people’s personalities. Truth be told, Jerry wrote it and Willard Scott made it even more him. He called again and said “It’s perfect! I will sign it.”

For several years I heard stories from people all over the country who saw Willard Scott waving my book on the “Today Show.” What a blessing!

The new restaurant and microbrewery proposed behind Jack’s Filling Station. (Sonoma Planning Commission)
The new restaurant and microbrewery proposed behind Jack’s Filling Station. (Sonoma Planning Commission)

Food and beer on Planning agenda

Due to come up on last night’s Sonoma Planning Commission agenda (after presstime) were both Jack’s Filling Station restaurant and brewery, and a new boba tea or bubble tea shop slated for the Marketplace shopping center.

When they bought the gas station and corner of Broadway and West MacArthur from Marie Lambert, Lou’s Luncheonette owners Erika and Chad Harris always intended to have a restaurant at that corner. There has long been concern about underground contamination due to many years of large gas tanks and an auto repair shop.

Yesenia Gallegos hopes to open a Sweet Straw Bubble Tea Shop or boba tea shop between Happy Garden Chinese restaurant and always local favorite, Homegrown Bagels.

Sweet Straw on Jefferson Street in Napa features great sounding and beautiful beverages such as fruit teas, matcha lattes, blended ice drinks and flavored fresh milks.

Gallegos plans a few seats inside and a couple outside, along with lots of to-go business.

It is not related to Sweet Scoops.

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