About the F.O.O.D. Column:
My two main criteria for this award are that the prices be low low – I’m saying you should eat a meal for around $7 – and yet the food still has to be so great that it makes you happy.  SO happy, you might even go there if it WASN’T so cheap!  Also, every photo is also a link to something – sometimes they’re a bit surprising – so feel free to click away…


F.O.O.D. Date: January, 6  2009

Ahhh, yes.  Here we are, people.  It’s a new year, and somehow, it feels like a new century, no?  A century finally starting where the real one never did.  A century of triumph and doubt and liberty and poverty and peace and war.  Ahh, yes.

Wait a second, THIS century feels just like the LAST century.  Hey!  No fair!

Sorry.  You’re right.  Except one thing is for sure – CHEAP FOOD STILL ROCKS.

Excuse us? 

Oh yes, bring on war and peace, poverty and affluence, liberty and prison, one thing never changes: the vibrant glow of someone who just found great CHEAP FOOD.

Um, Sam, aren’t you going to tell us something about your new band the happy problem?  Like, promote an upcoming show or something?

Oh, right.  Okay yes, the happy problem is ROCKING my WORLD at the moment, and we are very excited to be  heading soon to Pasadena and Anaheim for some really cool shows!  And you can find out all about us at www. myspace.com/thehappyproblem.

James, Nick, Sam, Pedro

James, Nick, Sam, Pedro


That’s better, thank you.

Can I talk about cheap food now?

Fine.  Jeez.

All-RIGHT!  Because I have got a DOOZY of a F.O.O.D. column for you this month!  (Is that how you spell “doozy?”  Doozie?  I know it’s not “Dozy” because that would rhyme with “cozy” and that might describe our upcoming show at the Old Towne Pub in Pasadena on January 13th, but it does NOT have anything to do with cheap food.)

listen for the happy problem playing inside...

The Old Towne Pub: listen for the happy problem playing inside...

Please go on.

Right.  So as many of you may know, I have begun publishing a shinier, funnier, more in-depth version of this here newsletter in my new BLOG, Saminating Shabermurs.  This new BLOG features PICTURES, LINKS, um, PICTURES…  did I say links?


Ah.  Well anyway, aside from all the pictures and links, Saminating Shabermurs also features two EXTRA BLOGS; F.O.O.D. (Sam’s Favorite Off-beat Offordable Dineries), and R.E.C.I.P.E.S. (Sam’s Really Easy Cooking, I Promise Everyone, Sheesh.)  And while I have had an awesome time telling you all how to ride your bikes from Hollywood to Chinatown, (while listening to the Breeders), to enjoy a Vietnamese vegetarian sandwich for $3.75, and helping you learn to bake easy strawberry jalapeno cornbread, I realized that having all these pages on the blog means I now have to write basically THREE newsletters a month.  Which, though I love writing, and finding myself amusing (as you all know), is taking a LOT of time.  Time that could be spent writing songs and rehearsing with the happy problem, WHICH, let’s face it, is the POINT of all this–

There’s a point, Sam?

THERE IS ALWAYS A POINT, PEOPLE.  How many times are we going to go over this?

So, the POINT is, this month, I am combining things a little, and I am now going to share the F.O.O.D. column with you as part of the regular newsletter.  How exciting is THAT?  You don’t have to click, you don’t have to surf, you don’t have to bookmark.  It’s just all right here for you.  Are you EXCITED?

We are.

I can tell you are.  And you should be even more excited because this installment of Sam’s Favorite Off-beat Offordable Dineries is about NEW YORK!  Yes, my hometown.  My old prairie home.  Ahhh…

Yes, Sam, we know what it looks like.

Yes, Sam, we know what it looks like.


There is a great myth floating out in the universe that New York is expensive, and I am here to DEBUNK that myth!  Yes, they gouge you in rent, but honestly everything else in this great city is totally affordable.  You might even say “offordable.”  You don’t pay to have a car, no valet or parking fees, you go anywhere for $2, you don’t pay heat or water bills, and sure, you can spend the MOON on a meal in New York, but you don’t HAVE TO.  In fact, I contest that New York is one of the CHEAPEST places to eat, if you know where to look.   

Which is why I feel it’s very important to make New York this month’s F.O.O.D. And this time, I have several options for you, too.   

Let’s begin with BREAKFAST:

Sidewalk Cafe

Sidewalk Cafe

Sidewalk Cafe, 94 Avenue A at Fifth Street:

Two jumbo eggs any style, with toast, coffee/tea, AND home fries, french fries or salad with yummy carrot ginger dressing: $3.75


I’m sorry, what was that?  You like ham, bacon or sausage with your breakfast?  No problem, that’ll be ONE DOLLAR MORE.

Oh yes, people.  Are you seeing the light yet?

But if Sidewalk Cafe isn’t your style, try Polish diner Neptune at 192 First Ave, where the same deal PLUS JUICE is $3.50.  And you get a choice of home fries, french fries, or KASHA.  UGHNGH.

I have no idea what kasha is, but whatever.  It’s cheap.

Also at Neptune, you can get a half order (4) of pierogies for $3.50.  And the best thing about Neptune, is that you also get two names for the price of one!  Because while the official name of the place is spelled with an “e”, reflected on the sign outside, the menus, and their listing on the internet, the AWNINGS of the restaurant spell it NEPTUN!  Citysearch? Neptune.  Menuism?  Neptun.  The confusion mounts.  The kasha flows.

Ok.  So you’re finished with your incredible edible New York breakfast, and now you’re ready for some LUNCH.  Where do you go to spend less than $5?

The Olive Tree

The Olive Tree

How about the Olive Tree at 117 MacDougal St?  This is also a two-for-one deal, as you get the yummy offordable dinery on top, and the famous Comedy Cellar below. In fact, to use the bathroom in between falafels at the Olive Tree, one must get a code for the Cellar door from the waitron, and head down and THROUGH the middle of the Comedy Cellar.  There you will find the TINIEST bathroom you’ve ever seen, along with the tiniest hallway vestibule waiting area outside of it.

(That was terrible grammar, but please bear with me.)

This Mediterranean restaurant/comedy club combo is very New York, in the way that married couples might share apartments with middle aged Indian men who work nights (to save on that exorbitant rent I mentioned earlier).  Really, it’s almost quaint, this unlikely pairing.  In fact, it’s almost annoying.  Because there’s nothing like taking a break from your hearty conversation with your high school friend Amy, and even heartier meal of babganoush and spiced apple cider, to walk through a comedy club in full swing, only to be HECKLED by the comedian on stage!  It’s not fair – you weren’t even TRYING to be in a comedy club.  You just had to pee from all the spiced cider upstairs.  And now you’re being pointed out to the crowd and USED as part of someone’s routine!  I PROTEST!

Which is why, in this edition of F.O.O.D., I am recommending the Olive Tree for lunch.  Same great falafel taste, no comedians.

And along with that great falafel taste, comes the great PRICE!  Yes folks, $3.75 for a falafel pita sandwich with cukes, tomatoes, lettuce, and tahini.  If you spilled it all out of the pita onto your plate for neater eating purposes – hypothetically speaking, of course – you would see that it covers the ENTIRE plate!  Now THAT is a great cheap meal.

And now that you’re full of tahini and weary from being taunted at the bathroom, time to unwind with a good beer, right?  So you head back across town to the cozy and clean Drop Off Service bar, housed in an actual laundromat, at 211 Avenue A.


Drop Off Service

Drop Off Service


And why this special place?  Why in a city of ten million bars, do we find ourselves at the back booth of a former laundromat on Avenue A at 3pm on a Sunday? BECAUSE, all draft beers are $3!  Yes, from 1-8pm on Sundays (and apparently at many other times as well) the numerous exotic specialty and even-famouser-than-that drafts are only $3.  The bartender is low-key and friendly, and the jukebox is filled with catchy tunes.

Ok fine, I have no idea what’s on the jukebox, but some guy stood there transfixed for a realllly long time, so I can only assume they’ve got some good stuff.


the view from my cozy table...

the view from my cozy table...


Anyway, I fully enjoyed my $3 pint of – hmm, I can’t remember what it was – but it was some fancy, distinguished-sounding British ale, and it was NOT Arrogant Bastard Ale, but they do have that one, too.

And then it must be DINNER time, right?  Obviously you’re craving nachos at this point, so you head back west a bit to Around the Clock at 8 Stuyvesant Place.  (Don’t be scared, it’s just a slanted thing across East 9th Street.)  Around the Clock is awesome because it is open around the clock (saw that one coming, eh?) and because they have everything from fruit crepes to shrimp scampi to their Lafayette sandwich of grilled chicken breast, melted mozzarella, tomato and pesto on toasted garlic bread.

Drooling, yet?

THAT sandwich is only $6.95.

And if you want their ATC sandwich, avocado, tomato, cheddar, lettuce and sprouts in a whole wheat pita with amazing carrot-ginger dressing, it’ll run ya a cool $5.95.

Oh, your bank is breaking, right?  Oh, New York is sooo expensive.  NOT.

BUT, my favorite thing to get at Around the Clock is the aforementioned NACHOS! Nachos for One, it’s called on the menu, and let me tell you, it’s NOT for one.  Two people are happily fed on this Nachos for One, and all for the low low offordable price of $4.95!

Around the Clock

Around the Clock

Ahh, but we’re not done yet, people.  There is still DESSERT to be had, and believe me, you don’t want to miss it.  Because for dessert, we are heading just east one block to the amazing Veselka restaurant at 144 Second Ave (ahh, those Ukrainian peeps), founded in 1954 by Wolodymyr Darmochwal (ahh, those Ukrainian names), where, for a mere $1.75, you can get a moist vanilla cupcake with not-too-sweet whipped cream icing COVERED in rainbow sprinkles!  And I don’t mean those long, soft, lame ones, I mean the original, round, teeny, CRUNCHTASTIC rainbow sprinkles.

Everything tastes better with rainbow sprinkles on it.  Everything.  IN FACT, thanks to the internet, I have just learned that Veselka means “rainbow” in Ukrainian! 

(Eerie, fate-like music.)

Crunchtastic Veselka

Crunchtastic Veselka


This is also why I have no picture for you of said cupcake, because I ate it too quickly to think to take one.  Sorry.  But please trust me on this, people.  You must get to Veselka.  Don’t worry that you can’t pronounce it.  And don’t worry what time you get there, because, like Around the Clock AND Sidewalk Cafe, Veselka is open 24 HOURS a day.

(Sorry, Olive Tree and Drop Off Service are only open until 4am.  Better hurry.)

So, the next time someone says “Oh I could never live in New York.  It’s too expensive.”  What do you say?  Just remember this installment of Sam’s Favorite Off-beat Offordable Dineries, and help DEBUNK THE MYTH!

And, the next time someone says “Oh, I just can’t find any good bands anymore. Where can I go to see an amazing live rock band?”  What do you say?


Because, really, isn’t too much cheap delicious food a happy problem?

And now that you are well-starving, have a great Shanuary Shabajaner and hope to see you out there!





F.O.O.D. Date: November 6, 2008

So it’s officially November (yeah, well a few days ago anyway) and it’s time for my very first SECOND installment of this F.O.O.D. column!  (Are you following me there?)  I will soon be back on the road with the happy problem and able to talk more about the fabbo offordable dineries all over this country, but this installment brings us another LA delight.  Via Café!  And it is located in the heart of the totally-awesome-dude Chun King Plaza in Chinatown:

Photo by Sam Shaber

Photo by Sam Shaber

Actually this photo is proof of one thing – I maybe shouldn’t always be taking my own pictures.  Because instead of shooting the archway from the outside of the Plaza, I brilliantly chose to shoot it from INSIDE the plaza, thus you see the Chinatown sign hanging backwards and you also get a good eyeful of the crappy buildings across the street.  Let’s try this again:

Photo by Sam Shaber (again)

Photo by Sam Shaber (again)

Aaah, MUCH better.  Don’t we love the little lanterns?  Don’t we love the giant A on the door of Via Café, to let us know it is Absolutely Amazingly Appetizingly CLEAN inside?  And don’t we love the picture below which I just stole from the internet (click on it to go to the link and give the photographer full credit) which shows just how cute and welcoming this Via doorway actually is?

Photo by someone on Yelp.com

Photo by someone on Yelp.com

So, aside from all the cuteness, there are more reasons why I love Via Café:

1. It takes exactly the length of the Breeders “Last Splash” album to ride my bike there from my apartment.

2. It takes exactly the length of Green Day’s “Dookie” to ride my bike back home.

3. Via Café has very cool art on the walls – even though they have now painted the walls BLACK and in fact have redone the entire place since I was last there, so that instead of the nice, light, airy café you see above, it is dark, sleek, arty, and sort of, well, like a bar:

Photo (once again) by Sam Shaber

Photo (once again) by Sam Shaber

But that’s OKAY!  Because Via Café also retains the one most important thing that any Dinery MUST have to be on this F.O.O.D. list, and of course by that I mean:

4. IT’S CHEAP!  Yes, as you will see by checking out their menu, Via Café has great snacks like vegetarian spring rolls with fresh herbs and totally-awesome-dude peanut sauce to dip them in for only $3.50!  They also have great bubble tea, or “boba” tea, as we experts know to say, for $2.85.  

I think we all know this by now, but for the uninitiated, Boba are little tapioca balls that sit on the bottom of the glass until you suck them up one at a time through a giant straw, which is provided by the establishment.  The first time they shoot into your throat you are convinced you are choking on someone’s eyeball.  But then you realize that it’s not Halloween, you’re not choking on an eyeball, and now you have to try that again and again and AGAIN because it’s so fun to almost choke on stuff!  And your reward for not choking?  Getting to chew on this slimy, tasteless gummy-bear ball thing that always seems to have a tiny teensy tiny hard crumb at the center of it.


Obviously I don’t have to explain to you why boba tea is the greatest thing on earth.

BUT, the piece de resistance at Via Café, the creme de la creme of the little Chinatown dinery, basically, the ONLY thing I ever order there is…


Photo of sandwich and BOBA window by - you guessed it - Sam Shaber.

Photo of sandwich and BOBA window by - you guessed it - Sam Shaber.

I mean, really people, are you just DYING?  How great does that look?  We’re talking fresh pickled carrots and cabbage, jalapenos, whatever-that-leafy-thing-is (mighty tasty, I’ll tell you) and soy turkey!  Oh yes.  You can’t see it in this highly professional photo(!), but stashed waaay back there between the perfect French baguette – which by the way is the main reason I get this sandwich because it is PERFECT in its crustiness and softness and sweetness and yumminess – are two slices of mouth-watering smoked soy.

I know, I know.  “Mouthwatering” and “soy” do not usually go together, but please believe me, at Via Café they abolsutely do.

AND!  This heavenly sandwich is only $3.75!  The only problem is that you have to get there at lunchtime – they always run out of bread in the afternoons.  An occupational hazard, no doubt.

I have no idea what I mean by that.

So you can see, the Offordable Dinery movement is gathering steam and running strong.  Just when you thought a sandwich and tea had to cost $15 (especially in most of damn Los Angeles), along comes a wonder like this to renew your faith in cheap great food!  The requirement of the Favorite Off-beat Offordable Dineries column here is that a meal be filling and fabulous for under $7 – and here we have succeeded once again!  At Via Café, you can have the most amazing sandwich ever AND a glass of boba tea for only $6.60!

And thank you for joining us once again.  Stay tuned for the next installment and get your wallet and your stomach ready – because they will both be FULLER after you read this column!  MUWAHAHAHAHAHA!

Dont be silly - of course I finished it after taking this shot!

Dont be silly - of course I finished it after taking this shot!




F.O.O.D. Date: October 7, 2008

Hello hello!  And welcome to the very first installment of my Favorite Off-beat Offordable Dineries column on this blog!  My two main criteria for this award are that the prices be low low – I’m saying you should eat a meal for around $7 – and yet the food still has to be so great that it makes you happy.  SO happy, you might even go there if it WASN’T so cheap!

So, with these requirements in mind, I thought I’d start out with one of my most-frequented Los Angeles haunts:

Torung Thai
5657 Hollywood Blvd at Wilton
Los Angeles, CA 90028
Phone: (323) 464-2750 

Extra bonus points if anyone can tell me how to actually pronounce the name of this place…

We live for Torung because it is ACTUALLY cheap – not “Los Angeles cheap” which means a sandwich is $9.50 and it’s extra if you want like lettuce or something – no no!  TORUNG is ACTUALLY cheap – and I’m talking like $5.95 for most entrees and you are STUFFED afterwards.  Check out the amazing Indian Salad, with lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes, sprouts, onions, tofu or chicken, a hard boiled egg, and PEANUT SAUCE on top!  BUT WAIT – could it be?  YES, there’s also a yummy Thai vinaigrette on the BOTTOM!  DOUBLE YOUR FUN for $5.95.

They also do an awesome Fresh Rolls, which are tofu spring rolls – like TWELVE PIECES people – sitting in a delicious brown sauce, laced gently with spicy mustard.  SO FRESH and DELISH!  And that one’s like 4 bucks or something.

And I also love their red curry and their yummy green beans, which I add tofu to as well.  All of these are under $6.50.

Other benefits of Torung are:

1. Open LATE!  Like actually late, like it’s packed with locals at 11:30 at night.  Wow – you almost feel like you’re in a REAL CITY and not Los Angeles at all…

2. Not “sceney” – no annoying “It Girls” or anyone wearing Juicy Couture in this place – unless maybe if they’re knock-offs from the Alleys downtown.  Just red leather dinery seats, friendly waitstaff, and a waterfall in the corner.

Ok, there is ONE downside to Torung, which is that it’s cash-only.  But hit the ATM on your way there (oh yeah, and the liquor store if you want to drink – it’s BYOB) and you’re good to go!  And don’t forget to order the amazing fried bananas in chocolate sauce for dessert!  If you have any room left, that is…


And thus concludes our first ever edition of F.O.O.D.!  Tell me what you think!  Send me your own F.O.O.D. suggestions from around the world!  As long as it’s CHEAP and YUMMY, bring it on!