Times are tough, money's too tight to mention, the recession is biting and credit is crunching. Red ink is the new black. Doom-and-gloom mongering is back in vogue.

But just because we're reining in the spending and hauling in our belts a few notches doesn't mean we can't do it with fun and a dash of style. Austerity chic is back, and the place to embrace it is the gaggle of lively food counters known collectively as Ebisu Yokocho.

When this new "food alley" — it's actually a small arcade running right through the ground floor of a building — opened six months ago, the economy was in fine fettle and, for most people, the word subprime (if they thought about it at all) probably signified a lesser grade of beef. Now, this mini-block of retro charm is the hit destination of the moment.