Hey UTA! Here's Your Guide to Cheap Grub in Arlington

Classes at UT Arlington started late last week and everyone is excited about the new fancy-pants $160 million College Park District, which includes a 7,000-seat center for sports, concerts and general hoopla (like commencement ceremonies). The 20-acre area on the east side of campus also has new dorms and "lofts" flanked by small restaurants, and since it's a state-mandate to teach kids about commuting, there's also a huge parking garage.

With more than 33,000 students each semester, the area around central Arlington is growing out of its pants so quickly you honestly wouldn't even recognize it. In what use to be a row of used car lots and furniture shops (well, there are still a lot of those), there's a bevy of new restaurants, like Twisted Root, Flying Fish, Babe's and soon, a Torchy's and Freebirds. All are within walking distance of UTA. Not that anyone would walk, we're just saying they could.

But, in an effort to make UTA and central Arlington feel more like home to all the displaced eager-to-learn young souls, we've put together a rough guide to some off-the-beaten path restaurants that will be kind to their thin wallet, or insufficient debit card.

Shipley's (501 E. Abram) Everything you'll ever need to know about nursing a hangover can be found for about $3 at Shipley's Donuts, which is just north of campus. And the drive thru is so very handy. If they're not sold out of the apple fritters, buy five. Thank me later.

Beirut Café (1201 S. Cooper) Aesthetics might not be a high point at this slightly beaten-down restaurant that hugs Cooper just south of campus, but don't let that cloud your judgment. You must go here, and you must have the lentil soup. You're like, "What? Lentil soup? C'mon!" Trust me on this one; something magical is happening in this light green elixir. Unicorn tears? Perhaps. Once I sneaked a peek in the kitchen to see if there really was a unicorn, and all I caught a glimpse of was a full black burka cooking up a storm. Take a boatload of breath mints and start with the soup, and then anything else that grabs your attention on them menu, because it's all great.

Bethany: Boba Tea House (705 W. Park Row) This is both a tea house and restaurant, but the big draw is the boba tea, which is also sometimes called bubble tea, pearl tea or milk tea. Or, how about boba milk tea with tapioca pearls? The menu has more options than a Scantron. The owners are really nice and they update the menu often, keeping things fresh. This spot gets crowded at lunch and on the evenings, but the boba milk bubble pearl tea-thingies are worth it.

Old School Pizza and Suds (603 W. Abram) The ever-revolving door of restaurants that has been through here is dizzying. But, I think Old School has staying power because, well, they have pizza and beer and they're literally a stone's throw from campus. Like a 5-year-old could stand on the sidewalk, throw a rock and nail it. More important, the pizza is thick and gooey, and the place has a wall of beer taps that change out seasonally, because we all know that broke college students want to make sure their beer has fresh hops, right? The place is funky because it's still just an old house -- they haven't bothered with tearing down walls to open the place up, so the bar is one room and the dining area is at least two different rooms, plus there's a big patio out back.

Pho Palace (2126 S. Collins) The banh mi chicken here is not only fantastic, but most amazingly, it cost only $2.75. Yes, $2.75. Yes, it's real chicken. Yes, the bread is fresh. And, yes, it's actually enough for a full meal! Deep breath ... There is one bit of bad news though; it's not actually a palace (I know you're disappointed). But, in terms of east Arlington strip mall, it's not too bad. The folks who run the place are very friendly. Plus, the pho is great, as is the bun. As is everything else that passes by that makes me want to ask, "Oh! What's that?"

La Taqueria Original (1822 S. Cooper) If you want amazing, authentic, keeping it so real it's a bit intimidating if you're not fluent in Spanish street tacos, then try La Taq on Cooper, just north of Pioneer. There's not any Tex-Mex here. It's Mexican all the way through. An order of the tacos al pastor is a simple yet, amazing meal. The tender meat wrapped in bold spices topped with cilantro, onions and a squeeze of lime, all wrapped in fresh tortillas is as good as it gets.

Grease Monkey Burgers (200 N. Mesquite) There are two very solid options for burgers. Grease Monkey's fat burgers will cure whatever ails (or fails) you. And there's one architectural element of note: The inside/outside bar is a significant feature because most places in this area black out their windows. So, Grease Monkey's embrace of its surroundings really is quite bold. This spot is also a good place to watch Rangers games.

Chop House Burgers (1700 W. Park Row) The serious burger connoisseur has to try Chop House Burgers, which is near the UTA baseball fields (closed on Sundays). They were on Diner's, Drive-Ins and Dives last year and since then the line is sometimes out the door. If you have the time, their brisket and ground beef patties are worth the wait. And save room for the cinnamon custard pie. Do it!

Potager Cafe (315 S. Mesquite) This place is as hippie as one will get north of Austin-proper. The food is organic and free-range. The menu changes daily depending on what's in season or available at the time. And, here's the humdinger, patrons are served small portions in an effort not to waste one iota of food. In a gentle voice, they'll ask you to take only what you're sure you'll eat, then come back for seconds if you're still hungry after finishing your plate. (Like, lick it for good measure if you want to be sure to get more). The food is fresh and the owner is always around, checking on customers.

Prince Lebanese Grill (502 W. Randol Mill Road) I'm hesitant to write this because this place is already busy enough. I love it. It's amazing. They also received the Diner's, Drive-Ins and Dives treatment a few years ago, and rightly so. I love the open kitchen where you can see all the vegetables on the huge grill and knives chopping through parsley almost constantly. The "Bankers Special," popular with the bank next door, is the spicy chicken schwarma and is enough for two meals. Once you eat it, you won't be able to stop thinking about it. (Photo is at top of article.)

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Lauren Drewes Daniels is the Dallas Observer's food editor. She started writing about local restaurants, chefs, beer and kouign-amanns in 2011. She's driven through two dirt devils and is certain they were both some type of cosmic force.