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  • Stephen Woods

Broke and Hungry: The Elusive $5 Lunch

Updated: Feb 27

Lovingly tasted by Stephen Woods (he/him)

The brief is simple: find the best food options for $5 or under on Vic’s three campuses, when most everything costs more than a fiver these days. So, what exactly can you get with that rusty Edmund Hillary sitting in your wallet?

The Lab (Kelburn and Pipitea)

Home to the $10 hotdog, right in the middle of the Hub. This is technically the only on-campus option for the business daddies at the Pipitea campus, which also has the smallest library I’ve ever seen. Credit to them though, The Lab has a few options under the five dollar mark, especially sweet things. 

The Good: They’ve got Big Cookies ($4.50), Brownies ($5), and even big chunks of Banana or Lemon Loaf ($4.50), tasting just like mum used to make. They all slap, too.

The Bad: Cheese Scones ($5) that turn back into dough while you chew them. You can also get Wedges ($5) from The Lab’s salad pop up in Kelburn, they’re fine, but I just always feel like I’m paying extra for unpeeled potatoes.

Subway (Kelburn and Te Aro)

The server at Subway gave me the dirtiest look when I ordered the Jaffles, and as a former Sandwich Artist™ myself I honestly can’t blame them. 

The Good: Toasties ($3.50) are pretty great value-for-money, and you’ll even have enough coin left over for a cookie. If you have no shame—and can afford to spend the extra dollar—you could get a Jaffle ($4.50). Salient’s editor-in-chief said she’d get one of these again if she didn’t have to order it herself. It does get marked down since Jaffle is the Aussie term for a toastie though. 

The Bad: Meatball Mozza Pot ($4.50) I refused to try this because of previous Subway meatball related trauma. Chipotle Quesadilla ($3), avoid this one, it’s just the tiniest amount of veg and cheese on half of a limp tortilla.

Krishna (Kelburn)

Great value. All vegan. Big yoga vibes. 

The Good: Their Vegan Sausage Roll ($5) tastes great despite being vegan, although it can be a bit dry if you don’t have any tomato sauce on hand. Their Samosas ($5) are amazing too, but they’re probably just a tad too small to see you through to dinner. 

The Bad: Hot Chips ($4.50) only here because they charge an extra dollar for aioli.

Noodle Kim (Te Aro)

There’s technically nothing on the Te Aro campus besides vending machines, but they’re also within spitting distance of Cuba street and have LEGO and miniature chairs on display in their library, so really I’m just super jealous of them. The only options on the same block of Vivian Street as the campus (excluding the dairy and Subway) are restaurants and Noodle Kim. And yeah, theoretically you could go into Ombra and get a Rosemary Focaccia starter ($5) but let’s be honest, the only reason you’d do that would be to say ‘what the focaccia talkin’ about?’ when they ask what else you’d like to eat.

The Good: BBQ Pork Buns ($4)  are unfortunately the only option from Noodle Kim, and they’re obviously only for heathens or fans of the street artist Porker, which is no doubt why I liked them.

The Bad: They don't do fast-food, they just cook fast. Or so the sign behind the counter says.

Louis’ Cafe (Kelburn) 

This cute little hole-in-the-wall is an underrated spot. It’s affordable, central, and has a surprising amount of food and drink options considering its size. Or at least, that’s how I remembered it.

The Good: Muffins and Scones ($5).

The Bad: They don’t have anything else under $6 other than cookies. Maybe they’ll get more cheap options once the Trimester is underway, but overall I was pretty disappointed. I had high hopes. Even though I remember their wedges may or may not be McCains done it agains.

Milk and Honey (Kelburn)

This wasn’t open at the time of writing this article, but it’s also technically a staff and post-grad only café, so most students wouldn’t dare step inside anyway.

The Hunter Lounge (Kelburn)

The only pub on campus, and a gorgeous spot in the afternoon when the sun shines in. Can be a bit hard to find if you’re new to the Kelburn campus though.

The Good: They don’t have any $5 options, but they’re getting a special mention since you can easily convince a friend to go halfsies on a pizza, which they have a decent range of, and all for around ($10).

Vending (applies across all campuses)

Got coins? Well too bad, because they all use PayWave now instead.

The Good: Pot Noodles ($3.50) typically only Maggi, although these tend to disappear pretty quick, at least from the vending machines in Kelburn. Bumper Bar ($4) decently filling, not pure sugar, and if you leave it in your pocket to get all warm it almost tastes fresh baked. OSM bars ($4) all manuka honey, oats, and hint of that good rice flour flavour. If you need to study like a demon there’s also always Red Bull or V (between $2 and $3.30) or whatever other guarana-caffeine mixture tickles your brainstem.

The Bad: The Musashi Protein Crisp ($4.50) is filling, but it’s a miserable textural experience. It’s like eating a ten-year-old LCM bar that’s covered in sawdust. The Jack Links Teriyaki Beef Steak Bar ($3.50) should be disqualified for being called a bar. You can also get two snack packs of chips for just under a fiver ($2.30 each) but two small handfuls of chips is a shit meal. If you do go for the chippy lunch though, just make sure to avoid the Cornados. They’ve got 0.5 of a health star, and you can taste it.

Ramsey Café (Kelburn) 

This is the pipe dream. Sadly it’s been closed when I’ve been by, but respect to the VUW Chaplaincy for this spot. These guys know that religious conversion starts with the stomach.

The Good: Toasties ($2) on Thursdays and Fridays, although I have no idea whether they’re any good. They also have bottomless drip coffee, as well as tea or hot chocs ($2). A gold coin lunch is unheard of these days, making it not only the cheapest lunch anywhere, but also the only place on any campus where you can buy food and a drink and still have money left over. 

The Bad: They might tell you that Jesus loves you. If they’re open that is.

In conclusion, it seems like the five-dollar lunch is pretty much dead. The days of the dollar menu are over. And it’s the same all over Wellington; everyone I’ve talked to while working on this article has shared their own stories of inflation and the cost of living. Whether it’s $9 for a 6 pack of McNuggets, the ongoing shrinkage of Domino's Pizzas, or the fact that a petrol station pie costs over $6.

I’m not a nostalgic person, but I can still remember Burger King’s 3 for 5 deals from back in the early 2010s. Your choice of burger, side, and a drink for $5. Just their small fries alone cost more than that now. And food prices just don’t drop, not under capitalism, which means that ten years from now, we’ll probably be thinking the same sort of thing about today’s prices.


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