Over the last few days, I went out to as many places as I could looking for the best five dollars meals that Reno can offer. I did my best to cover all kinds of pallet tastes and grade with the following in mind: how much food are you actually getting, how full do you feel afterwards, what’s the quality of the food and is this actually a meal?

A drawing of a yellow bowl with tomato soup, lettered pasta that spells "Eat Cheap" and a silver spoon against a green background.

Brooke Germain/The Nevada Sagebrush
Eat cheap by trying the best meals for under five dollars.

My first stop was Popeye’s Chicken. Five dollars bought me eight pieces of chicken and a water cup. I really don’t need to tell you how underwhelming the meal was, but it’s food at least. Dry breading, warm chicken, but only eight one-inch-wide chicken pieces. It wasn’t filling, or particularly delicious.

My next stop was McDonald’s. With five dollars, you can get your choice of two McDoubles, two McChickens or one of each—plus you get a large soda on the side. That’s lots of food for a low price. If you don’t think you can make it through two burgers, grab a sundae instead. Overall, the amount of food is a high point, and I was full after, for sure. That being said, anyone that’s ever been to McDonald’s can tell you exactly what the quality is like.

Fast food spot number three is much more exotic. A&W is a fast food place that a large number of people don’t know exists. While they’re a bit pricier when it comes to food normally, there is an option that lets you get food and an A&W root beer for less than five dollars. Ten corn dog nuggets and a small A&W root beer is just barely shy of $5, before you add tax. While it isn’t the most filling meal, the corn dogs are well fried and crispy on the outside. Plus, root beer from A&W is just better than most other root beers out there. Overall, not a great amount of food, but much better quality-wise than the other contenders so far.

On a whim, I went to Denny’s. I wasn’t sure what a five dollar Denny’s meal would look like, but I ended up finding a cool option that isn’t directly advertised on their menu. Two plain a-la-carte pancakes is two dollars. While their pancakes aren’t the best, you can’t beat getting four pancakes for five dollars, especially when you can still get them at midnight.

Near the end of my journey of scarf discovery, I decided to hit Jack in the Box. There were some good options here. When you can get two tacos for a buck, you know you can get a lot. That being said, other potential options here range from chicken nuggets to a Jumbo Jack, so they definitely get the diversity-of-choice award. Outside of the multitude of combinations under a buck, you tend to get stuck with the same problem: everything is pretty bland. Quality by itself, it’s not great, but it definitely beats McDonald’s and Popeye’s.

Another spot that I was unsure would even have a $5 option was Panda Express. That said, I got a Popeye’s amount of food. You get the choice of a large side or a small entree. The small entree fills the smallest Chinese take out carton that you’ve ever seen, and you don’t have enough left over for a soda. That’s pretty weak. On the other hand, the large side has a solid amount of food to it. You still need to stick to a water cup, but it’s actually filling. The downside in this scenario is that you get rice or chow mein, and both are pretty bland.

My last spot is a definite favorite. It maxes out all of my grading scales by far, but it comes with a bit of a caveat.

Costco’s food court is amazingly cheap. Four slices of pizza, a full sized chicken bake with an ice cream or churro, a turkey and provolone sandwich and a beef brisket all are less than $5.

When you’ve got as much choice as Jack in the Box with the quality of A&W and the quantity of food of McDonalds, it’s really a clear winner. The only downside is that you can’t get it without a Costco membership card. So, unless you’ve got a friend to hook you up or a yearly subscription, this is simply not an option. Thus, this only mostly counts as a meal for five dollars.

All in all, you’ve got a lot of choices when it comes to eating on a budget. Do you have a Costco card? Costco is a great option for you. For those that don’t, decide if you’re in the mood for a lot of food at low quality and head to McDonalds or Jack in the Box. If quality is more of a necessity, A&W might be a better choice.

Cameron Tolbert can be reached at AndrewMendez@sagebrush.unr.edu or via Twitter @NevadaSagebrush.