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Westcliffe's good, cheap eats 

HRM's best-kept secret sits at the corner of Oxford Street and Bayers Road.

An unassuming little storefront at the intersection of Oxford and Bayers hides one of HRM's best-kept secrets. The Westcliffe lunch counter, with the blinds perpetually drawn, serves up fast, affordable food in a room distinguished primarily by Beverley and Tyler's personalities.

They're the people who make the Westcliffe tick---Beverly, motherly and friendly and "yes hon" and "hello dear," juggling the cooking, the phone and the register while never breaking a sweat; Tyler, hyper and making sandwiches and delivering food to tables, chatty, full of nervous energy, but looking happy just to be serving people. They're quite the pair, with the good-natured bickering and banter between them; better than a big-screen TV in the corner.

I only know their names because that's what the regulars call them as they line up at the counter stools for their meals. They're greeted by name in turn and the whole atmosphere is of being in someone's kitchen in their home.

The menu looks like it hasn't changed in years and that includes the prices---I'm pretty sure there's no cheaper place in town.

There are a couple of salads on the menu, but mostly everything is done on the vast flat-top griddle and in the fry baskets.

We place our order by writing it down ourselves on little squares of white paper, then head to the big coolers at the back for our pop before sitting in one of the two booths.Most people gravitate towards the counter.

Having heard about the milkshakes, we put back our pop and order a couple. Our milkshakes ($1.75 each) are slurpably thin---easily sucked up through the straw. Just ice cream and milk---no artificial stabilizers, flour-based thickeners or anything else to detract from the pure enjoyment of a real milkshake. Chocolate tastes like chocolate, not a pale imitation.

It's not long before Tyler is bringing our food, leaping around the corner of the counter and plunking it down, beaming. Cheeseburger and fries ($3.50) and two-piece fish and chips ($5). Nope, they're not typos--- those are the real prices.

The burger patty is handmade, not pre-formed or pressed, and is fabulous. The beef is well-seasoned, the cheese is plentiful, the onions fried and abundant: Delicious---best burger for the buck in town.

The fish is flaky, the batter crisp, the fries golden brown. The portions are not huge, but they are filling and hark back to the days before "supersizing." And believe me, I've paid a whole lot more for bigger portions that were unfit to eat. It's unbelievable that this fish and chips is only five bucks---if there is somewhere else in Metro serving comparable sizes and quality, I'd love to hear about it.

A number of people come for take-out, including one gentleman who's surprised to learn he's been given an extra piece of fish. "It's because last time you were in, you wanted three pieces but we only had two---this one's on us to make up for it," he's told.

Dessert is a butterscotch sundae ($1.65): Ice cream, butterscotch sauce and whipped topping in a glass, exactly like you'd get at home as a kid---nothing remarkable, just really good.

When it's time to leave, I almost expect them to come around the counter and give us hugs as we go. That's how homey this place feels.

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