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Those small snack plates known as tapas are an art form in Spain. They vary throughout Spain’s regions, reflecting the fruit of the land or sea. They’re often shared, and always delicious. In Spain, where dinner is served late, they make the perfect appetizer, and often come free when you buy a drink. The tradition is built around conversation, with the idea that small, shared plates encourage discussion among friends more than individual meals.

RELATED: Why you should visit Montenegro now

tapas

Tapas, or small snacks, usually come with each round of drinks in Spain. Photo: Salomé Chaussure – Flickr.

The history

The word tapa comes from the Spanish word “tapar” which means “to cover.” Way back in the day, when people traveled through Spain on old Roman roads, and when hardly anyone could read or write, innkeepers would serve their guests small portions of everything they offered. That tradition morphed over the years, and bartenders or restaurant owners would serve bread and meat bites to customers drinking sherry, since the salty nature of the snack made patrons thirstier. People would use the bread and meat to cover (tapar) their glasses of sherry to keep the flies off, and thus the tapas tradition was born.

Best tapas spots

In Barcelona, Las Ramblas is one of the most popular streets in the city, full of places to shop and eat. But it’s very touristy, and also draws pickpockets. Instead, try going to Gracía, a neighborhood with an increasingly hipster bent. Try Restaurant La Pepita or Nou Candanchu.

In Madrid, delicious tapas restaurants are lurking around every corner. Stop in Museo del Jamón on Calle Mayor to get your feet wet and really immerse yourself in ham (really, there is jamón everywhere). Then pick one of thelittle streets of Calle Mayor and wander to a tapas place. If you think there’s no room for dessert, Calle Colorares has a great chocolatería.

Many bars around Spain have gone against tradition, tacking price tags onto tapas. In Granada, though, tapas remain mostly pure and free. Near Plaza de Santillana is Bodegas Espadafor. Not only is its food good, the walls are adorned with art depicting bullfights and the bar has a great sherry selection. Also try Bodegas Castañeda on Calle Almireceros, off Calle Elvira.

What’s on the menu

In honor of this time-honored and delicious tradition, here are some of the most delicious and authentic tapas Spain has to offer:

croquetas

Croquetas have a fried crispy outside with a warm and creamy inside. Photo: Kent Wang – Flickr.

Croquetas — Quite possibly one of the most beloved and common tapas, and often available in tapas restaurants in America. Croquetas are small and often cylindrical, with a soft, warm and creamy inside and a crispy, fried shell. The inside isoften made with flour and cream, or may be made with potatoes. They’re then rolled in breadcrumbs and fried. Most croquetas have some kind of meat or fish mixed in, so look for croquetas de pollo (chicken) or croquetas de jamón (ham), to name a few.

jamón serrano

Slices of jamón serrano are cut from cured pig thighs often seen hanging in Spanish bars and restaurants. Photo: Anne-Arnould – Flickr.

Manchego y jamón serrano — Manchego, a cheese that’s a hard, very salty and not too sharp, is often served alongside jamón serrano, which is ham cut from the pig’s legs you’ll see hanging in almost every restaurant and market in Spain. The flavor combination is perfect, and both pieces of the concoction are very Spanish.

Pan con tomate

Pan con tomate, or bread with tomato, is a popular tapa in Catalonia. Photo: yosoynuts – Flickr.

Pan con tomate — Or bread with tomato, is a very Catalan dish. Catalonia is the region surrounding and including Barcelona, and stretching up into Southern France. They take a tomato and smear it all over some fresh, often toasted and oil-covered bread, throw the rest of the tomato away, and sprinkle some salt over the bread. At tapas restaurants in America, you’ll often find this topped with manchego. It’s a wonderful dish, but in Spain they serve simpler dishes, not weighed downwith sauces and cheeses like we do with much of what we eat here. So make sure to try it in its true form before adding cheese.

Tortilla de España

Tortilla de España is made with eggs and often onion and potatoes. Photo: ornello_pics – Flickr.

Tortilla de España — This is probably one of the most universal tapas dishes in Spain, and it has nothing to do with what we often think of as tortillas. Many menu translations will call it a Spanish omelette, but it’s really more of a thick frittata. Tortillas can be made with many things, but some of the most common are tortilla de papas (potatoes), tortilla de calabacín (zucchini) and tortilla de cebolla (onion), or some sort of combo. Some places serve these cold, so keep that in mind if you’re not into eating cold eggs.

Papas bravas — Another basic, these are fried potatoes with a little bit of spice. They’re cubed and often served with some sort of aioli or similar dip.

Jamón con melón

Jamón con melón. Photo: yashima – Flickr.

Jamón con melón — A beautiful salty/sweet combination, jamón and melón isn’t quite as easy to find as some of the other tapas for some reason. There’s a wonderful kind of melon available in Catalonia throughout most of the summer that is green like honeydew but is much sweeter. Slice that up and wrap it in a slice of jamón, and you’ve got yourself a little bite of heaven.

Tagged: Food & drink, FREE!, International

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Oh the humble diner, where comforting, hardy breakfasts and hot coffee are always on special. The perfect throwback to a mostly bygone era. Here are some of the best diners in America, by region, in no particular order.

Vintage diner photo

The best diners in the west

Bertie Lou’s Cafe — Portland, Oregon

From its menu to its walls, Bertie Lou’s shows its funky, Portland-esque style without losing that classic diner vibe. Specifically, by proudly displaying napkin drawings as fine art and offering tasty concoctions like the Bertie Crisco, an incredibly hearty sandwich of spicy chicken sausage and pepper jack between two layers of french toast. Unsurprisingly, this place is known for its delicious breakfast dishes, which also happen to be cheap—breakfast or lunch can cost you anywhere between $5 to $10.

Steuben’s — Denver, Colorado

A little bit more of an upscale and modernized take on the classic diner, Steuben’s has been featured on the Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives for its recreations of American regional classics. Unlike some diners on this list, Steuben’s is notable for more than just its breakfast fare. Early risers can indulge in treats like from-scratch biscuits and gravy and all-you-can-eat buttermilk pancakes. But the lunch and dinner menus also shine, thanks to updated takes on classic dishes, including pot roast, cayenne étouffée and meatloaf. This one’s a bit more of a splurge than the other diners on this list, but the green chili cheeseburger is well worth it.

Golden Coffee Shop – San Francisco, California

It’s not often that you can find a good meal for under $10 in San Francisco. Enter the Golden Coffee Shop: a haven for old-school classics like corned-beef hash and short stacks of buttermilk pancakes, which you can enjoy at its perfectly old-school wrap-around counter. But what really sets this apart are the Chinese essentials you’ll also find on the menu—tuck into some fried rice or chow mein if you’re not in the mood for hash browns. But we’ve got bad news for the night owls: This may sound like the perfect late-night hangout, but it closes mid afternoon. We’ve got a solid silver lining for you, though. Most dishes cost between $6 and $8.

Eggs and hash are a staple at the best diners.

True Midwestern diners

Diner Grill – Chicago, Illinois

This is what it’s all about—the diner’s diner. The diner your great-grandfather would love. The bare-bones, vintage variety that’s been slinging burgers since the 1930’s. Enter Diner Grill’s the Slinger: two hamburger patties on top of hash browns, with two slices of American cheese and two runny eggs, all of which is covered in chili. And if that wasn’t enough, it’s served with a side of toast. But if you’re not in the competitive-eating business, there’s also patty melts and egg sandwiches. You will not have a hard time keeping your check under $10 in this 24/7 former railway car diner, since most of its dishes are around $6.

Fleetwood Diner – Ann Arbor, Michigan

Open since 1949, Fleetwood Diner is known for its hip vibes and its famous Hippie Hash. What is this, you ask? Why, a mixture of homemade hash browns, grilled tomatoes, green peppers, onions, mushrooms and broccoli topped with feta cheese, of course. And this dish is the perfect start—or end—to your day, thanks to the diner’s 24-hour schedule. The menu also boasts the classics, including burgers, milkshakes and omelets, as well as traditional Greek foods and salads. All reasonably priced, so you have no reason not to add that hippie hash onto your meal.

Vintage diner photos

Diners with Southern flair

Danny’s All American Diner & Dairy Bar – Tampa, Florida

Don’tdrive too fast, or you might miss this small, humble diner—which happens to serve up sandwiches that are anything but small and humble. And if you love sports, you’ll love Danny’s All American Diner’s burger-naming conventions. There, you’ll find the Roberto Clemente Burger, the Field of Greens salad and the Pitcher’s Mound sandwich. As well as the famous ‘must-have’ chili, which can be found slathered on various menu items or ordered as a side. The best part? Prices at Danny’s All American Diner & Dairy Bar are a home run, as nothing on the menu is more than $10.

Uncle Lou’s – Memphis, Tennessee

Uncle Lou’s has only been operating for a fraction of the time that some of the diners on this list have, opening in 2001, but has already made an imprint on the Memphis community. Although this diner’s main focus is fried chicken, it also serves several specialty sandwiches and desserts. Uncle Lou’s menu was created with families in mind, offering six different “meal deals” to fit various party sizes. Pro tip: This is also great if you’d like to store 35 pieces of chicken, 12 sides and 18 biscuits for yourself, for future meals. Prices at Uncle Lou’s are pretty cheap and you should be spending around $10 per person… That is, if you share (as you should).

The best diners always serve piping-hot coffee.

Seriously good Eastern diners

Square Diner – New YorkCity, New York

If you’ve ever seen Edward Hopper’s painting titled “Nighthawks,” you’ll swear it was inspired by the Square Diner, which opened in 1945 and was once known as the Triangle Diner. Its exterior is the classic train-car style, but with a unique grey roof. The interior is highly stylized and truly transports you to the diner’s heyday, with wood-paneled walls and ceiling, essential fire-engine red booths and bar ample seating. The menu is full of hardy breakfast and lunch entrees that will give you flash-backs to Grandma’s homey cooking. Eggplant Parmigiana, London Broil and even Gyros can be found on the menu. Prices range, and although it is not guaranteed you’ll eat for less than $10, it certainly can be done, which is not an easy feat in the Big Apple.

Mul’s Diner – Boston, Massachusetts

We bet creme brûlée would not be the first thing that comes to your mind when you gaze upon the big, silver lunchbox that is Mul’s Diner, where the decor screams ‘retro’ from the shiny outdoor paneling to the checkerboard tiles inside. Regardless, bottomless coffee and creme brûlée French toast are what Mul’s Diner is known to do best. Serving a variety of both sweet and savory twists on classic diner fare, Mul’s offers deliciously cheap breakfast and lunch, with only a couple items on the menu that are more than $10: The New York Sirloin and the Irish breakfast, both of which are worth the extra cost.

Vintage diner sign

The Non-Continental

Rainbow Drive-In – Oahu, Hawaii

Welcome to the place that Guy Fieri most likely sees in his dreams. Yes, Rainbow Drive-In was featured on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives, and for good reason: They serve one of the cheapest and best lunches in all of Hawaii. And its food is, naturally, wildly different from anything else on this list. First of all, you can add mahi to any plate. And what are those plates, you may ask? BBQ ahi tuna, fried rice with eggs and the famous Loco Moco bowl, which is a scoop of rice topped with a hamburger patty, an egg and gravy. If you’re not feeling adventurous, you can still get cheeseburgers, chili dogs and corned beef sandwiches. Plus, you can eat them outside on the giant patio. The average price of a plate at Rainbow Drive-In is roughly $7, so start looking for a cheap flight toHawaii immediately.

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Tagged: California, Florida, Food & drink, Hawaii, New York City

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When it comes to traveling cheaply, no one can do it quite like your grandparents. Pack up the suitcase (they shared one), grab the map, Grandpa sticks a couple 20s in his back pocket and they’re off. As an ode to all the grandparents in our lives and the era of cheap travel they were raised in, we’re going to take a page out of their books and road trip right. We of course adjusted some of these tips for a younger audience, so let’s see if you inherited that gasoline in your veins.

Courtesy of Erica Yeater

Courtesy of Erica Yeater

Make PB&J sandwiches a staple—Eat them all day, every day. Pack a loaf of bread and jars of peanut butter and jelly, and you’ve got most of your meals on this trip taken care of for less than $5. And with rest area picnic tables abounding, you should have no trouble finding somewhere to set up shop.

 

Courtesy of Sheila Scarborough.

Courtesy of Sheila Scarborough.

Don’t be afraid to use that senior discount—Most 55-year-olds awake one morning to find a packet from AARP in their mailbox, beckoning them to sign up and receive discounts out the wazoo. Those go a long way in keeping the price for hotels down on a road trip. Since most of us planning cheap road trips are probably closer to being seniors in college than senior citizens, try AAA or your student ID. Hotels often offer AAA members discounts, and students can usually get into exhibits and museums for less.

cool-grandma-on-telephone

Make friends along the way—What? That’s the cheapest room you have? Where did you say you were from again? Oh Albuquerque! Well I had a cousin Margie that used to live in Albuquerque, right across the street from that cute little supermarket. No way, your uncle used to run the supermarket!?! Small world! You found a cheaper room for us, did you? Well you tell your uncle that Margie’s cousin from Ohio says hello.

If you are anything like most grandmas, you know someone everywhere. Play the name game and use those connections, and watch the results pile up in the form of dolla bills.

  

vending-machine

Courtesy of David Goehring.

Pack lots of snacks—And avoid those pesky, overpriced vending machines at rest areas. They’ll run ya dry.

 

Courtesy of David Brossard.

Courtesy of David Brossard.

Never buy bottled water—Bring your own jugs or better yet, horde some ice from the hotel ice machine and let it melt overnight. If that seems a little old-fashioned for you, just bring a reusable water bottle and fill it up as you go. It’s more eco-friendly that way, anyway.

 

 Courtesy of Dyxie.

Courtesy of Dyxie.

Keep plans loose—If the town you planned to stay in one night seems a little crowded, don’t be afraid to interrupt your itinerary. You’ll likely find a cheaper motel to stay in at the next exit.

roll-away-beds Ask about the rollaway—Grandparents traveling with a gaggle of grandchildren rely heavily on these portable beds. Stick a couple kids on a rollaway and you’ve saved yourself from having to buy an extra room for the night. The same rule applies if you are traveling with a big group of friends. You don’t have to pay for multiple rooms, and no one has to sleep on the floor.

Take it slow and take it in—The whole point of a trip is to see new things, so make sure to slow things down and take in the scenery. You’ll find the best (cheapest) little gems in the form of roadside attractions, so make sure you explore off the main highway.

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Tagged: Cheap Tips, Family

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Miami Beach is full of views that’ll make your jaw drop, from cotton candy sunrises to perfect beach bodies to–unfortunately–sticker shock at many restaurants. For the first day or two of your visit, you’ll be happy to subsist on Cuban bread, cafecitos and sunshine. But when you’re ready for a real meal, check out these Miami Beach eateries that’ll fill you up and still leave you with enough cash for a top-shelf mojito.

1) Huahua’s Tacqueria: There’s no shortage of Latin food in South Florida, but this self-described “fast casual gourmet taco shop” juxtaposes classic Mexican fare with gringo staples. Think mac ‘n queso, portobello tacos with spicy tofu crema, fried chicken tacos with jalapeno cornbread, and taco salad on a bed of romaine, cabbage and kale. Most items are under $10; there’s also a daily happy hour from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. featuring $1 off nachos, $3 beers and $4 margaritas. Bonus: Huahua’s is located along Miami Beach’s swanky Lincoln Road shopping district, where the people-watching is as delicious as the food.

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2) Spris Pizza: At this thin-crust pizzeria — also on Lincoln Road — the early bird catches the deal. Every day from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m., the price you pay is based on the time that you order. Place your order at 5:15 p.m., and you’ll pay $5.15. Order at 6:15 p.m., and you’ll pay $6.15. You get the idea. Choose between three popular pies. Spris makes pizza in only one size; it’s enough to fill up one or two people, depending on how hungry you are.

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3) La Sandwicherie: Body-conscious beachgoers don’t always eat carbs… but when they do, they nosh on fresh ingredients sandwiched between a baguette or croissant at this French-owned cafe. With most menu items under $10, this eatery’s sandwiches include dignified ingredients like smoked salmon and Brie — natch. There’s also a nice selection of salads, a juice bar with enticingly named concoctions like Miami Cool and Bayside Breeze, and desserts that feature that most continental of delicacies: Nutella.

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4) Go-Go Fresh: Cheap food doesn’t have to mean prepackaged. From house-made vegan soups to veggie burgers with made-from-scratch ketchup, this place’ll have you eating and feeling like South Beach’s beautiful people. Try the baked-to-order empanadas, with fillings like beef and chimichurri or guava and cream cheese. Each costs just $2.75, and two should fill you up.

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5) Doraku Sushi: Overpriced Japanese food? Slow your roll. Every day, this popular sushi spot offers two happy hours with discounts on food, drinks and desserts. Snag lunch deals from noon to 3 p.m., and separate dinner specials from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Among the offerings are $5 draft beers and $6 spicy tuna rolls.

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6) Joe’s Take Away: Locals, celebs and tourists flock to Joe’s Stone Crab for a sit-down seafood dinner. But the restaurant’s adjacent carry-out counter serves a fried chicken that’s definitely not an afterthought. For $6.95, take home a flavorful half bird that’s crispy on the outside, moist on the inside and large enough to feed a family. A la carte side dishes are available to round out your meal.

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Tagged: Beach, Cheap Tips, City, Florida, Food & drink

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Cheap of the Month gives a snapshot of a cheap weekend getaway each month.

Albuquerque International Balloon Festival. Courtesy of a4gpa.

Albuquerque International Balloon Festival. Courtesy of a4gpa.

Born from Pueblo Indian culture and shaped by a mixture of Spanish influence, oldwest culture, Route 66 travelers and Bugs Bunny references, Albuquerque is a great deviation from the hum-drum, sick-of-winter lives we’re all living elsewhere.

Courtesy of ABQ Museum Photoarchives.

Courtesy of ABQ Museum Photoarchives.

Plane, train or automobileAlbuquerque has two airports and is a major Amtrak stop between Los Angeles and Chicago, so getting there shouldn’t be a problem. Check Cheaptickets.com for some hotel and flight packages under $500. Bring a friend and split the hotel costs.

Bus leaving ABQ station. Courtesy of Brett VA.

Bus leaving ABQ station. Courtesy of Brett VA.

Cheap local transit – Once you’re there, grab a pass for the ABQ bus system to get you around town. Adults ride for $1, or opt for the unlimited three-day pass for $6 to cover you for the whole weekend.

Sandia Mountain sunset. Courtesy of John Fowler.

Sandia Mountain sunset. Courtesy of John Fowler.

Sunset in the Sandia Mountains – “Sandia” means watermelon in Spanish, and historians believe the mountain range that lies to the east of the city was named for the pink hues it takes on at sunset. Hike the Sandias in the day for a free activity, but make sure you’re back in time to catch the sunset.

Old Town shopping. Courtesy of Michael D Martin.

Old Town shopping. Courtesy of Michael D Martin.

Old Town Albuquerque – This section of town today hosts about 10 blocks of shopping and other tourist destinations, but this is where the city began in 1706. The historic adobe buildings are situated around a plaza in true Spanish nature, and many old homes have been converted to shops and restaurants. Check out San Felipe de Neri Church, built in 1793. 

Breakfast burrito with green chiles at Java Joe's. Courtesy of ammanteufel.

Breakfast burrito with green chiles at Java Joe’s. Courtesy of ammanteufel.

Green chiles galore – Albuquerque’s culinary scene is dominated by green chiles and new Mexican food. Head toward the University of New Mexico for some authentic and reasonably-priced grub.

Rio Grande Valley State Park in the fall. Courtesy of littlemoresunshine.

Rio Grande Valley State Park in the fall. Courtesy of littlemoresunshine.

Picnic along the Rio Grande – The famous river that cuts through the city offers some greenery in an otherwise arid climate. Rio Grande Valley State Park is free to enter and offers access to trailheads and the river. Rent a kayak and take float.

Pillow fight. Courtesy of Jan Papas.

Pillow fight. Courtesy of Jan Papas.

Pillow fight anyone? Word on the street has it that some Albuquerqueans are looking to take part in International Pillow Fight Day on April 5. I’m sure your hotel won’t mind if you borrow a pillow.

UFO Museum in Roswell, New Mexico. Courtesy of Frank Pierson.

UFO Museum in Roswell, New Mexico. Courtesy of Frank Pierson.

Take to the road – If you’re staying for more than a weekend and feel like a little day trip, drive an hour north to experience the culture of Santa Fe, or three hours southeast to check out Area 51 and the aliens at Roswell.

 

Tagged: Cheap of the Month, Cheap Tips, Destinations, Food & drink