Growing up in the '90s, I would always cackle at my octogenarian dad when he would hand me a $5 bill and tell me to go buy lunch with it. Maybe during the Korean War you could get a full lunch for $5, I would tell him, but not these days.
Enter the aughts and it's gotten even worse–supposed recession busters like Subway's $5 footlong deal still leaves you short of a thirst-quenching beverage to wash it all down.
Not at Long Beach's cash-only Deli News, though, where my father's dream of $5 meals still stands tall. In fact, if you hand the cashier a $5 bill for one of the lunch specials at this cheapo Italian joint, you might even get change.
Deli News does not cost less than its contemporaries because of the food quality. Nor is it so slow that they are hoping to lure in customers with low prices.
The bustling, counter-service eatery instead sits in an awkward (probably cheaper) location in one of the several shopping centers along Bellflower Blvd. and Stearns St., with an affordable menu of satisfying favorites that has made it a weekly stop for both starving CSULB students and frugal families from the surrounding suburban 'hoods.
A local staple is Deli News' pizza, which for $5.99 nets you a generously sized medium, one-topping pie. Hand tossed with a sweet crust that never comes out greasebomb-y, the pizza is cooked in an oven (not a microwave, a sign at the register tells you) that envelops the place in a constant aroma of baked cheese and carbs.
During lunch, cheese, pepperoni and "the works" pizzas are all available by the slice; one with a side salad and a drink costs $4.25 and two with a drink is only $4.50.
For 50 cents more than the priciest pizza deal, the lunch specials tread into sandwich territory. Deli News has a full lineup of hot and cold subs that range from the standard BLT to California-style turkey and avocado to traditional Italian sausage and bell pepper–all of which come on a soft white 7" bread roll for $3.25.
My go-to is the eggplant and meat sauce sub, a mozzarella-oozing experiment that ends up being like a non-vegetarian eggplant parmesana made in your mouth. Add a side of chips, potato or pasta salad and a drink to any small sub and the lunch special's grand total is still just a mind-boggling $4.99 (take that, Subway!).
In a world where food prices keep rising and cheap usually means crappy, Deli News performs a public service by proving it doesn't always have to be that way. Here, a $5 bill can get you a filling lunch special or a heaping plate of fettuccine alfredo and the only catch is that it's actually tasty enough to bring you back.
If your stomach is on a budget and you have the will power to battle Los Altos shopping center parking lots, Deli News is the one place that understands the value of the dollar–just like my pops.
Deli News, 5555 E Stearns St., Long Beach, (562) 598-2123