Cheap Eats: April 8 Cafe

Why go? In a San Ramon strip mall with several cookie-cutter food options (Taco Bell, McDonald’s, Chipotle), April 8 Cafe’s Asian-fusion comfort fare is a revelation.

What’s the vibe like? Seating is limited; snag a yellow stool at the street-facing counter. Paintings of folks enthusiastically enjoying the food are a humorous touch.

What to order? Bao (steam buns) are a big draw. Get one stuffed with crispy fried chicken or thick pork belly, plus pickled veggies, zippy sauce, and crushed peanuts. Guo zi (eggy crepes) range from savory braised pork to sweet banana and Nutella. The house special spicy beef noodle bowl is truly piquant—and perfect for winter.

Added bonus: Add a fruit-and-soda "mojito" ($3.25–$3.85) such as lychee rose or strawberry lemon. Return for happy hour, 2–5 p.m. on weekdays, for a drink and snack for $7.49.

How much? Most diners will want two bao ($3.50–$4.95), guo zi ($6.95–$10), or snacks such as popcorn chicken or pot stickers ($1–$7.59).

2491 San Ramon Valley Blvd., Ste. 1, San Ramon, (925) 718-5811. Lunch and dinner daily.