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Start the day on cheap chow

Downtown Portland still doesn't have a deli where a person can order 'coffeemilknosugar' or 'eggandcheeseonaroll' and fly out the door in 30 seconds. What is does have, however, are comforting, no-nonsense coffee shops.

Getting a good breakfast for less than $5 is a cakewalk at the following downtown diners.

New Crystal Cafe

In spite of the New Age name, the hard-boiled New Crystal is not for sensitive types. Want conversation? There's the sound of a spatula scraping across the grill. Extras include retired cops in Downtown Clean & Safe uniforms mumbling in the back booths, wood paneling and a staff that grunts its hellos.

For $3.50, you get eggs, bacon, toast and coffee. No need to sugarcoat it: The scrambled eggs are watery, and the bacon is tough. Bump this deal up a quarter, though, and you have two pancakes, one strip of bacon, one egg and coffee.

316 S.W. Stark St., 503-223-0830

Fuller's

The view from Fuller's counter in the Pearl District is constantly changing. Wink's Hardware has become the Lawrence Gallery, condominium developments steadily advance, and there's the smell of pricey real estate in the air.

Unpretentious Fuller's, though, stays the same. Fuller's breakfast special, at $2.99, is one of the best deals on the menu. It delivers one fluffy pancake, one egg any way you want it and a strip of crispy bacon. No charge for the great counter atmosphere, swivel stools and waitresses who pour coffee from the pot, hand on hip, just like in the days of old.

Breakfast is served all day, and Fuller's is now open Sundays.

136 N.W. 9th Ave., 503-222-5608

Leo's Nonsmoking Coffee Shop

Leo's offers classic diner food in a classic atmosphere. Doctors and dentists on their way to work stop in at the Medical Dental Building on Southwest 11th Avenue for oatmeal or eggs. Everything is served on ceramic diner plates.

Time has slowed at Leo's. Literally. A clock on the wall ran 40 minutes slow one recent morning. Early birds wake up quietly here. And as the window emphatically states, this is Leo's Nonsmoking Coffee Shop, in case you have the urge to light up after breakfast. Quiet talking, though, is allowed.

The curved counter has blue-green stools and booths, and newspapers are set out at nearly every seat. One underused soda fountain waits behind the counter. Customers are mostly regulars, but newcomers are welcomed by the efficient staff. If you haven't been here Ñ or seen the dentist recently Ñ you probably ought to go.

Leo's is open for breakfast and lunch, weekdays only.

Medical Dental Building, 837 S.W. 11th Ave., 503-228-1866