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4 cheap dining spots people overlook

Here are a few offbeat suggestions to spice things up next time you're looking for a meal at a reasonable price. Ikea is one of them.

By MSN Money Partner Feb 24, 2012 9:14AM

This post comes from Len Penzo at partner blog Len Penzo dot Com.


Len Penzo dot Com on MSN MoneyThere's nothing worse than being stuck in a rut. When it happens, the quickest remedy is to try and think unconventionally.


The trouble is, for most of us, outside-the-box thinking can be extremely difficult.

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True, thinking outside the box can get you into trouble. (Consider James Franco hosting the 2011 Academy Awards as an example.) But when it works, folks, it's magic. After all, I think we can all agree that the guy who decided to deep-fry ice cream was a genius.


Speaking of food, one of the common ways people get bogged down in the mire of boring conventionalism is when it comes time to pick a restaurant. More often than not, folks refuse to spread their wings and branch out, continually going to the same old tried-and-true establishments.


With that in mind, I thought I'd pass on a few offbeat suggestions of my own to help spice things up the next time you're out and about and looking to get a bite to eat at a reasonable price.


Ikea. There is a large subset of people who regularly visit this Swedish furniture store for the famous Swedish meatballs served up daily at Ikea's cafeteria-style restaurant. My daughter, Nina, happens to be an especially big fan of them. For $3.99, Ikea sells a lunch plate consisting of 15 meatballs with cream sauce, and a side of mashed potatoes and lingonberry sauce. Ikea also offers other fare including cold-smoked Najad salmon with marinated vegetables for $4.99.


And if you think those are great deals, breakfast lovers can get a plate of scrambled eggs, bacon and potatoes for 99 cents. (Post continues below.)

Regional airports. Many have restaurants that offer decent food at reasonable prices. That's why my family and I will occasionally grab a bite to eat at one of Southern California's numerous airstrip diners; the best ones -- like Norm's at Brackett Field in LaVerne -- often provide clear views of the runway so you can watch airplanes taking off and landing while you're eating.


As recently as a few weeks ago I had an absolutely terrific breakfast at a small airstrip coffee shop in Monterey: eggs Benedict, hash browns, sausage, toast and orange juice, all for only $12, not including tax and tip.


Home improvement centers. I don't know how many times I've walked out of my local Lowe's or Home Depot with a hot dog from the stand that typically sits near the exits. For me, it's truly difficult to ignore the tempting aromas of the traditional red hots, bratwurst and Polish sausages -- especially when they're being served up with fresh sauerkraut or grilled onions. Toss in a soft drink and you usually have a quick and tasty lunch for under five bucks.


Costco. One of the best things I like about shopping at Costco -- aside from the money-saving bulk-purchase deals -- is tasting all the complimentary food samples they usually offer. Yes, you can try to fill up on the free handouts, but it's difficult to do so without riling up the nice ladies who pass out the vittles. (Trust me on this one, folks.)


Besides, if you're really famished, you'd be much better off visiting Costco's concession stand, where you can get a quarter-pound hot dog with all the fixin's and a 20-ounce refillable soft drink for only $1.50. Believe it or not, Costco has not raised the price on its hot dog special since 1985. And if hot dogs aren't your thing, you can also get a giant slice of pizza, regardless of the toppings, for just $1.99. That's less than many chains' pizza delivery fees.


Best of all, because Costco's concession stands are sometimes outside, no membership card is required. Heck, the only way it could get any better is if they offered deep-fried ice cream for dessert.


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