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Food & Drink

Best Budget Bites: $5.49 Roast Beef Sandwich from Wally’s

Doing it better than Arby's since the purported moon landing.

Jay Boller|

Hey, looks pretty good!

The cost of things these days? Far too expensive! Inflation, supply chain, giddy price gouging from proprietors large and small—the boring factors are too numerous to count. To protect our readers, Viraluae launched the Best Budget Bites series, where we showcase toothsome, wallet-friendly food items that’ll actually fill you up. Have a nomination? Hit us up: tips@viraluae.com.

What: Roast beef sandwich
Where: Wally's Famous Roast Beef, 8120 Penn Ave. S., Bloomington
Cost: $5.49
Availability: Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-3 p.m.

The bar a sub-$10 sliced roast beef sandwich must clear is obvious: Arby's. Now, the Jon Stewarts and Simpsons of the world built careers besmirching the name of Arby's, which, interestingly, is a mashup of "Raffel brothers," the Ohio siblings that founded the eventual fast-food giant in 1964. We're not going to be edgelord contrarians and suggest Arby's is "good," though we will stick up for the, um, not-so-little guy and say it's not that bad.

In any case, we're already veering dangerously off-topic here. Point is: Any local riff on the quickie sliced roast beef sandwich will invariably draw comps to Arby's and, ideally, surpass it in quality. I've tasted Mavericks Real Roast Beef in Roseville—arguably the go-to local purveyor of this type of dish—and can report that it slid just over that hurdle with its $10 sandwich. If you venture to the southern suburbs, however, there's an establishment nestled in the ground floor of a Bloomington office tower, Wally's Famous Roast Beef, that's been doing its thing since 1969. At just $5.49, the Wally's sandwich is a clear class leader.

Wally's bona fides jump out the minute you enter its retro dining room. On a recent visit, I saw kitchen workers lugging pans containing massive, spice-rubbed hunks of beef to and from ovens. Looming just behind the register, the deli slicer sat freshly operated, with ribbons of beef dangling from its blade. The staff was courteous and lightning-quick, even as I showed up, schmuck-like, 15 minutes before closing time.

Before we get into the taste (spoiler: fuckin' terrific), I'll come clean with some pricing audibles. You can get out the door with a roast beef sandwich, sliced razor-thin atop a toasted Kaiser bun, for under $6, this is a true fact. But Wally's wants to up-sell you, and they did so effectively with me: I sprang for the $1.99 Styrofoam tub of au jus (more than enough to share) plus an .89-cent slice of cheddar, putting my grand total at $8.37.

The delicate, fist-sized mound of roast beef, which is advertised as medium-rare, arrived with pinkish notes that suggested more medium. I'm not complaining. This roast beef passed the eyeball test with flying colors; owner Jeff Sagal, who acquired the business from founder Wally Erickson around 2004, tells Jason DeRusha that he uses "exclusive" beef that's sourced from out of state. No matter its origins, it's a far cry from the sad grey stuff Arby's churns out. When dipped into that au jus (itself screamingly legit, with bits of charred meat orbiting one another), the sandwich melts down to an elemental beefiness that triggers a pleasure center deep within every carnivore. The star of the show might be the creamy, seemingly house-made horseradish sauce. It tingles your sinuses like the best wasabi while contributing to the savory flavor-bomb beneath.

Wally's won't challenge the $17 beauties from, say, South Lyndale Liquors or Marty's Deli for local sandwich supremacy. But for a quick, cheap lunch in the south metro? There's no excuse for choosing fast food over this beefy institution.

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