Times are lean. Between car payments and rent and utilities and beer, there isn't always much left over for other important things, like food.

And none of us seem to have much time, either. While eating out might seem more expensive than fixing something at home, once you figure in the time you have to spend at the store, then preparing, then doing dishes, well, sometimes it doesn't seem like you're doing yourself any favors.

Or, like me, you may just be a miserable cook. (I blame it on my oven, which has only two settings: warm and burn.) Anyway, we've put together a list of the five places in Cheyenne to grab a cheap bite under a few specific circumstances.

Penny's Diner

Work on breakfast, don't breakfast on work.

Penny's is a themed restaurant that leans on a throwback to the 1950's. Normally I wouldn't have anything too special to say about a themed joint beyond "avoid!" but Penny's is different. I may not be especially enamored of some of their interior decor decisions, but I'm not here for the pretty. I'm here for a quick and cheap breakfast, something Penny's does and does very well. The 50's routine lends itself to a laid back ambiance where you can sit at the counter and work on coffee while chatting with your fellow man, or you can bring in a newspaper and chew on that. Either way, the food is great, fast and inexpensive, but the portion sizes are healthy and who doesn't want a few minutes of peace on the way into the office in the morning?

Lincolnway McDonald's

Quick. Quick like a bunny.

I don't know if McDonald's was the first fast food chain to adopt the idea of having two drive-through lanes - probably not. But McDonald's has done what successful companies do: they've stolen the best ideas. All of that might sound like too much discussion for figuring out the best cheap eats in the Windy City, but it is important. When you're already running five minutes late to your morning meeting and you know you're borderline homicidal because you haven't had your morning coffee fix, think Golden Arches. McDonald's might be conveyor belt food, but be honest with yourself. You ain't gonna shot the cow. Don't pretend you're something you're not. And be quick!


The Bread Basket

Rethink your sandwich.

When I order a sandwich most places, they might ask what kind of bread I want it on. But everyone seems to treat this as something of an unimportant detail. "Oh, we're out of wheat," doesn't generally lead to someone storming out. Run out of turkey, and we may have a problem. But what's the difference between whole wheat and white? Quite a bit, really. Visit The Bread Basket and prepare to have your ideas of sandwiching turned on its head. Now the important question is no longer ham or roast beef. What they put on the bread isn't nearly as important as, uh, the bread. That they're a ma and pa, so they don't extract a king's ransom for lunch, is an excellent bonus.


The Luxury Diner

The secret is out.

The Luxury Diner is one of those places invented for the internet. Long a local's haunt because you will drive right past it if you're not paying attention, the online review places agree with me that it's the cat's meow. Sure, you come for the food, but the atmosphere is also conducive to the important business of rubbing elbows. As a matter of fact, I'm still not sure why it didn't make the cut for the list of best places for a first date. My apologies if you had a first date in the last week and didn't take her here.

Good Friends Chinese

Cheap, meet glorious.

All the places on here will score you a meal for about a sawbuck, but when you measure the whole kit, Good Friends makes a serious case for itself to be the best all around value. While everything is cooked to order, they're nearly as fast as McDonald's in turning around your meal for lunch. Throw in a hot tea and you're still looking at less than three gallons of gasoline for a meal. That price includes a 20-25% tip and the romance of a fireplace.

I'm sure a case can be made for other places, but these are the five that came immediately to mind while I was thinking about it this afternoon. Sure, a pricier trip to some place where you have to wait in line, then wait for your food, then wait for the server to refill your drink, might all sound like a better idea to you. There are plenty of places for that, too. But when you want a square and your funds are bouncing off "E" these are your best bets in Cheyenne.