People eating fried whole catfish with tails and everything count: 4
Cop count: 3
When you're driving around Dallas looking for a place to eat lunch on the cheap, you've gotta know what you're looking for. If the place has fancy freakin' awnings or a shmancy revolving door or a valet of any kind, flip it the bird and keep on driving. Now, on the other hand, if it looks like an old Wendy's that's been converted into a mom-and-pop and/or there are bars over the windows and/or the buildings surrounding it look like they may or may not be abandoned, find yourself a parking spot up front and hope you have cash on you.
Driving down Live Oak Street, you'll see a no-brainer cheap place that should top your list: Alligator Café offers its customers plenty of options that'll fill even the hungriest and guttiest of guts for less than 10 bucks. It had my favorite gumbo in Dallas with chicken and andouille in it for $5.95 and a muffuletta with fries on special for $6.95—but I was craving me some fried gator. Because, for me, the whole point of coming to Alligator Café is for the gator sauce. And nothing dips in gator sauce better than gator (fries and fingers tie for second place, though). After ordering my fried gator (which comes with french fries and really tasty hushpuppies for $8.95), I took my number with me to a seat at a nearby table. Then, I made my way to the fixin's bar for two buckets of gator sauce, a bucket of "tarter" sauce, a bucket of ketchup and a thing of hot sauce. As I balanced the entire shebang, I thanked myself for spending four summers waiting tables even if it did mean that I would never be able to A) respect hostesses again, B) eat at Johnny Carino's without wondering what "extras" I got for asking for my salad dressing on the side, and C) hang out with cokeheads.
4416 Live Oak St.
The gator was everything I wanted it to be and more, the 300 fries that came with my order were giant, and the buckets that once had fixin's in them were empty about halfway through my meal. Yum.
Get the Food & Drink Newsletter
Our weekly guide to Dallas dining includes food news and reviews, as well as dining events and interviews with chefs and restaurant owners.