State Street is synonymous with UW-Madison, and some all-time favorite Badger hangouts have been on University Avenue. But when Isthmus asked our food crew to reveal their favorite campus eats under eight bucks, the choices turned out to be largely along Regent Street from Park to Monroe. It may be a sign that rents on State Street are making it harder for anyone to find -- or offer -- a bargain there. Fortunately, there are other options.
1511 Monroe St.
Squint and the curved edges of a sleek 1950s Coke machine reflect poodle skirts and varsity jackets. Since 1947, Mickies has served generations of students, blue-collar workers and greasy-spoon aficionados colossal plates of cheap eats. Sitting at the counter is the best: When coffee arrives in an industrial-strength mug, there are little stations with sugar and cream (and Land O'Lakes butter pats) at arm's length. Ordering off handwritten menus on the wall is fun, or just say "eggs over easy with toast and bacon, please" and you might hear "want potatoes with that? They come with the special." When it costs $7, it's okay to say yes. When an enormous plate of perfectly crisped-around-the-edges eggs with tender yolky centers, four slices of toast, a pile of potatoes and bacon arrives with a topper of hot coffee, it's pure, overwhelming bliss. Slather the plate in Tabasco or Sriracha -- Mickies will hook you up.
-- Adam Powell
1336 Regent St.
A favorite that has been around for a while is this Vietnamese karaoke bar. A large bowl of pho will set you back a mere $7.50 here, and the star anise-perfumed broth is flavorful and the sliced beef tender. The place fills up at night with revelers belting it out in private karaoke rooms, the doors to which are constantly opening to reveal the giggle-fests within. It's a sometimes surreal and always entertaining spot to nosh; plus, the über-friendly staff always makes for good conversation at the bar.
-- André Darlington
1517 Monroe St.
The New Orleans Take-Out menu is fat with cheap eats, and for vegans, the red beans and rice is a hearty, satisfying meal. The NOTO version features small red beans that are slowly simmered with celery, onion and green bell pepper -- the holy trinity of Louisiana cuisine -- until they are tender but not mushy. The beans are served with steamy, long-grain white rice. A regular order is $4 and includes a side of French bread, which is vegan, or corn bread. The large order is big enough to share, and still a bargain at $6.
Everything here is made from scratch except the French bread. Other vegan options include sweet potato fries and dirty rice. Vegetarians have even more choices, including a hefty cheese po'boy sandwich for $6.75.
-- Cheryl Breuer
910 Regent St.
This young Regent Street sausage operation is building a big fan base, and even offers those fans the chance to put their own recipes on the menu. That menu is already full of fancy hot dogs under seven bucks, perfect for the hungry and budget-conscious.
The cilantro/spicy mayo/pickled slaw of the pork-based bánh mì sausage is probably the most composed of O.S.S.'s many inspired topping sets, and completely delicious. And according to line staff, the bánh mì is one of the best-selling of the restaurant's specialty sausages. With its fresh flavors, bright colors and charmingly appropriate level of messiness, it deserves its status -- and it's only $5.50.
-- Kyle Nabilcy
822 Regent St.
Fraboni's makes a raft of fresh sub sandwiches, but the #1 Italian, with Genoa salami, coppa ham and provolone, dressed up with lettuce, tomatoes and Italian dressing, is both delicious and an homage to the old Italian neighborhood. The small is the perfect size for lunch, and since it's just $3.19, you can -- and must -- splurge on a cannoli, another $3. Wait at the deli counter as sweet ricotta studded with chocolate chips is piped fresh into the crispy pastry, then dusted with crushed pistachios and powdered sugar. Can you do better? I don't think so.
-- Linda Falkenstein
203 W. Gorham St.
Is there any better comfort food than the dumpling? So many cultures have a variation of this soft, doughy, chewy explosion of flavor, from ravioli to pierogi. Paul's Pel'meni offers this dumpling aficionado a new experience that has changed, if not my life, at least my pub-crawl strategy. Paul's makes the Russian dumpling pelmeni, and throws down an order of beef, potato or some of each, with a sauce of curry, butter, cilantro and lime that puts Sriracha to shame. The dollop of sour cream seals the deal.
Paul's Pel'meni is open till 3 a.m. –– the ultimate late-night pile of spicy-and-creamy that Eastern European cuisine does so well. Best of all: $4.50 for a generous half order, $6.50 for the full order.
-- Julia Burke