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The chow line

Restaurants that fill bellies without emptying pockets

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HOT PICK: TAQUERIA DEL SOL

Taqueria del Sol is the Atlanta staple for fresh, cheap Tex-Mex. There are three locations where thrifty patrons can find something to satisfy the taco tooth: on the Westside (1200-B Howell Mill Road, 404-352-5811); in Decatur (359 W. Ponce de Leon Ave., 404-377-7668); and on Cheshire Bridge (2165 Cheshire Bridge Road, 404-321-1118).

Who can resist $1.99 shrimp-corn chowder, $2.99 enchiladas or the famous $1.99 flour-tortilla soft tacos? At a whopping $8.99, the chef's Lowcountry chicken is the menu's priciest item, but after a Southern-fried chicken breast served atop ancho-mashed potatoes with Lowcountry gravy and sriracha sauce, you might be able to skip a few meals to save up. Expect slightly surly service, but while you're being herded like cattle, remember: It's just an effort to keep the long line moving.

It is, in fact, possible to become tired of Wendy's after having everything on the 99-cent menu ... twice ... in 48 hours. Luckily, Atlanta is home to a wealth of options for cheap chow.

In college, there is something to be said for proximity. Although beggars can't be choosers, they often have to be walkers. Students on foot from Agnes Scott should check out 5th Earl's (309 E. College Ave., 404-377-5477) cold or hot panini-style sandwiches for only $6.25. In between classes at Georgia State, grab a 12-inch pizza from Slice (259 Peters St., 404-588-1820) for $10.95 or a slice for $2.25. Kool Korners (349 14th St., 404-892-4424) near Georgia Tech offers Cuban sandwiches with the traditional ham, roast pork and Swiss cheese pressed together flat for around $5. Hungry Emory students flock to Los Loros (1248 Clairmont Road, 404-633-3103) for strong margaritas and piles of Mexican food priced less than $10.

For the more adventurous, Buford Highway is Atlanta's Vegas Strip when it comes to cheap, ethnic establishments. Hit the dim sum jackpot at Canton House Chinese Restaurant (4825 Buford Highway, 770-936-9030), where colorful plates of steamed dumplings all cost less than $10. Affordable pho (Vietnamese noodle soup) houses line Buford Highway, but the $2 sandwiches at Lee's Bakery (4005 Buford Highway, Suite C, 404-728-1008), stuffed with meat and pickled veggies on freshly baked French bread for an amazing $2, offer a different taste of Vietnam. 88 Tofu House (5490 Buford Highway, Doraville, 770-457-8811) serves bubbling tofu soups 24 hours a day for $6.99.

Empty calories may fill the belly, but believe it or not, a good, square meal is still within your reach. Eats (600 Ponce de Leon Ave., 404-888-9149) serves pasta plates and meat with veggies for less than $10. Cure a wave of homesickness at Son's Place (100 Hurt St., 404-581-0530) with soul food made from scratch starting at $6.95. For comfort without the lard, head to Green Sprout (1529 Piedmont Ave., Suite D, 404-874-7373) where vegetarian Chinese entrees cost about $8 and soups, $1.95.

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