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College Issue: SoFo eats under $10
Inexpensive tasty treats just south of downtown
Betty Bombers - photo by Jen Wall

As a native New Yorker, I've seen plenty of neighborhoods rebranded to reflect an influx of trendy residents. In Brooklyn, a cabal of real estate agents invented East Williamsburg to lure hipsters ever deeper into fuddy-duddy — or industrial — Bushwick.

In Manhattan, a small strip of streets north of Houston Street, squished between East and West Villages, was re-christened NoHo in order to bring refinement to upscale restaurants and spas.

And while Savannah radiates its own distinct identity as a city, several bohemian businesses, galleries, and loft spaces are redefining the SoFo — South of Forsyth Park — district.

With creative minds, comes the need to fuel ideas gastronomically —cheaply, ethically, and with inimitable style. Below, indulge in some of the eateries that give the area its character.

Butterhead Greens

Is it in the water? I would argue that the magic at Butterhead Greens is in the fresh ingredients, but daily featured flavored waters — infused with cucumber, mint, lemon, or lavender — do add a refreshing element to an already diverse menu.

Although it's hard to imagine during the dog days of summer, Savannah does get a touch chill during the winter months. For meat eaters in hibernation mode, the "Flightless Heaven" sandwich ($8.50) is comfort food nonpareil — smoked turkey, Havarti, marinated red onions, oven-dried tomatoes, and homemade sage sauce. The "Sustainable Sammy," ($8.50) is also a fan favorite, serving up a tomato-y veggie patty with spinach, Gruyere, oven-dried tomatoes, and basil aioli. All sandwiches come with a choice of side, including Butterhead's much-lauded quinoa salad, sweet potato salad or chips.

Butterhead also offers robust entrée salads — many influenced by classics like Caesar or Niçoise, cheekily renamed to reflect a style all their own ("The Centurion" and "The French Angler," respectively). My favorite is the "Thai Style" ($8.50), which blends chopped greens and veggies, cilantro, basil, mint, whole peanuts, fried garlic, and glazed pork, served with a flawless baguette. You also have the option to build your own salad or grilled cheese sandwich.

The grilled cheese option pairs well with Butterhead's delectable roasted tomato soup, garnished with tasty croutons ($4 cup, $5 bowl). Composed of only five ingredients, trust me when I say that you will not miss a thing after tasting the creamy concoction. Be on the look out for other soups, teas, and combos du jour.

As part of Butterhead's commitment to the locavore movement, they work with Savannah Bee Company, Form, NLaws Produce, and other Savannah-based businesses. They deliver Monday through Saturday, in selected zones, using eco-friendly packaging.

A word to the wise: Butterhead Greens is located across the street from SCAD's massive Arnold Hall, packed to the gills with students who flock to the restaurant at regular intervals. Whether dining in or taking your snacks to go, call your order ahead to avoid the lines.

Betty Bombers

Chefs Patrick Zimmerman and Seth Musler, the same folks behind Butterhead Greens, paired up again on Betty Bombers, a completely different establishment located in the American Legion, a few blocks north on Bull St.

In lieu of delicately flavored waters, you'll find a variety of Fantas. Rather than leafy greens salads, give in to heart-stoppingly delish gravy fries ($5). And instead of the no-frills, utilitarian décor at Butterhead Greens, step into the 1940s with framed vintage posters, model warplanes, and other paraphernalia memorializing the "Greatest Generation."

I highly recommend the BBQ pulled pork sandwich ($6.95). Served with apple cider slaw on a toasty bun, it's piled high with smoky, juicy, salty, zesty meat — pig as it's meant to be eaten. I also enjoy the veggie burger ($6.95), an umami-laden patty paired with cheddar, lettuce, onion, basil aioli, and a pickle.

In the parlance of WWII propaganda, Betty Bombers is definitely on the winning side of meaty American goodness. Other items include hot pastrami, Salisbury steak, the army fave sh*t on a shingle (grilled beef, onion, gravy, hoagie), and, of course, the Bomber burger — all under $8. The menu promises that bacon or chili can be added to anything. So many meats, so little time.

Two words to the wise: Although Betty Bombers is a sit-down restaurant, you're expected to order at the bar and pay upfront. Perhaps in keeping with the retro vibe, they are cash-only. The Legion does have an ATM inside.

Al Salaam Deli

Should your taste buds wish to travel 7,000 miles, over several seas and an ocean, by all means invite them to dine at Al Salaam. Located on Habersham and 40th, the tiny deli has been serving satisfying and nutritious Middle Eastern delights for 15 years.

The gyro on pita ($4.99; $7.69 with soda and fries) is hands-down the best deal in town. Thinly sliced ground lamb with grilled onions, lettuce, and tomato is tender and flavorful. It's a perfect balance of savory sauce, superbly cooked meat, fresh veg, and wholesome pita. Impressively, every component of the deli, which also serves as an ethnic grocery, is managed the a mom-and-pop team of Meqbel and Rose Salameh.

Al Salaam's falafel ($4.99; $7.69 with soda and fries) — deep-fried ground chickpeas and spices, served with tomatoes, lettuce, and tahini sauce—is moist and crisp, in all the right places.

One might say that the dish, simple as it is, possesses a complex flavor profile. Each bite brings the nuttiness of the chickpea, the brightness of herbs like parsley and mint, the creamy lusciousness of hummus, and the stalwart grains of pita.

Yes, Al Saalam does offer classic Americana, such a cheeseburger ($6.69, $7.99 for a double) with lettuce, tomato, a pickle, and a side of fries. The restaurant boasts just a few tables and walls covered with signature yellow National Geographic covers — a decorative touch both cozy and worldly.

You'll feel at home here, with international flavors dancing on your tongue. Round out your meal with baklava ($1.79), a phyllo pastry stuffed with walnuts and cinnamon and dripping with honey.

As SoFo continues to blossom, so will its culinary options. Within the past year, Blowin' Smoke opened their second incarnation as a scrumptious Southern cantina about 10 blocks north of Al Salaam on Habersham.

And the popular coffee shop Foxy Loxy has spawned an empire on Broughton Street.

In a year from now, who knows what artistic current will develop and what cuisine styles will get cooked up on the streets south of Forsyth Park?