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How to Eat for $30 (or Less) at 6 Top ATL Restaurants

By Christopher Hassiotis
January 13, 2014

Maybe you spent a little more than you meant too during the holidays. Maybe you spent exactly what you expected to, and that was still too much. Maybe the economic resurgence you've been hearing about hasn't quite resurged your way. Or maybe - just maybe - you're looking to have a great experience at one of Atlanta's top restaurants without paying an exorbitant amount. Not only is that do-able, it's totally the way to go. Plus, you'll probably leave the restaurant without feeling overstuffed and gluttonous - another thing we'd like to leave back in the holidays.

Read on, spendthrifts, on how to spend $30 or under (not including tax and tip) at some of Atlanta's otherwise pricier places.

  • JCT. Kitchen

    Sunday Supper is the name of the game at JCT. Kitchen as the week wraps up. Bring a crowd (or at least a few friends), because this Westside restaurant only serves family-style on Sunday nights as it takes a break from its upscale, Southern-inspired à la carte menu. Each diner pays a the same amount ($24) and the table receives deceptively flavorful deviled eggs, a fresh tossed salad and a basket of warm biscuits (with divine vanilla apple butter) to start. The menu includes five "fancy" meats (slow roasted rabbit, cider-braised brisket, fried chicken) and nine homestyle vegetables (buttered green beans, roasted cauliflower with brown butter, Brussels sprouts and toasted hazelnuts), and the table as a group chooses one meat and three sides for the table to choose from. Dessert is usually a choice between a pie or a cake. There is no wrong choice.

    1198 Howell Mill Rd., Suite 18; 404-355-2252

  • Floataway Café

    The European-inspired winter menu at Floataway has some real winner, but entrees can run up to about $25-$27 - not optimal for those on a budget. Start off with some cold starters: marinated olives ($4), or local arugula dressed with a simple lemon vinaigrette ($9). Rather than picking a pricy entree, opt instead for one of the restaurant's pizzas - the Rosa ($16) with onion, parmesan, pistachios and rosemary is particularly engaging, but the Salsiccia ($18) offers both housemade Italian sausage and prosciutto di Parma. The gelato trio ($8) of buttermilk, lavender, and cinnamon is enough to share, as is the incredibly dense and rich gâteau victoire ($10).

    1123 Zonolite Rd. NE, Suite 15; 404-892-1414

  • The Spence

    Richard Blais' Midtown affair prides itself on daily innovation and menu renovation, so take all of these examples with a grain of salt (or, knowing what a culinary trickster Blais and his molecular gastronomy can do, a "grain" of "salt"). Take a friend for sharing, and start off with a snack of crispy squash blossom oozing pimento cheese, accented by lavender honey ($8) and, instead of an entree, stick to sharing a number of small plates. Recently impressive: the pork terrine with carrot-and-fennel jam ($9) guajillo-braised duck tacos with yuzu crema  crispy duck chicharrones ($9) and roasted beets with aged cheddar and pecans ($11). Add a side like corn creme brulee ($6) or fried brussels sprouts with a tangy Thai-inspired vinaigrette ($7). The desserts ($7 each) are all deconstructed, but your wallet won't be - a pumpkin custard with North African spice blend ras el hanout is both seasonal and surprising.

    75 5th St. NW; 404-892-9111

  • Babette's Café

    The prix fixe menu ($21 per person) at this adorable Inman Park eatery is the way to go for those on a budget but looking for a variety of tastes. Offered Tuesdays through Fridays, the menu changes weekly, but always features a choice of three appetizers and three entrees per person. Recent options included starting with fried shrimp topped with spicy tomato vinaigrette, or duck confit served over potato hash, while entrees included a pan-roasted pork chop or a cassoulet of lamb, pork, duck, sausage and white beans. Dessert's not included in the menu, but the nine-layered Doberge cake ($8.50) or the date-and-pistachio cookies ($4) are great for sharing and still keep you under the $30 mark.

    573 North Highland Ave. NE; 404-523-9121

  • The Optimist

    Dinner at this popular Westside eatery can run towards the pricey, but a little bit of planning means an affordable dinner's possible. Start off with an appetizer - the mussels in a Thai-inspired green curry and coconut milk broth ($12) are enough to share, and smaller cups of fragrant gumbo or silky she-crab soup ($6) are available off menu. It the Optimist is offering a fried whole fish in ginger/garlic sauce (~$30), it's enough for two to share, and packed with zingy Asian flavors. Split a side item ($6) or two - the smoky fried basmati rich packs a punch of madras curry. Have the pudding-esque chocolate and Frangelico crémeux ($8) or mascarpone cheesecake with persimmon jam ($8), if you've got room.

    914 Howell Mill Rd.; 404-477-6260

  • Paper Plane

    Sure, you can eke under the $30 limit most nights at Paper Plane with a little restraint - nothing at this Decatur spot is too, too pricey. But why not swing by on Monday night for a steakhouse-on-a-budget experience? Mondays at Paper Plane are "Steak Night," when a special menu is unfurled. Starters like roasted bone marrow with gremolata ($7.50) and baby iceberg wedge salad ($5.50) are playful homages to the classic steakhouse offering, while less in-demand cuts of meat - hangar, blade and strip - are inexpensive (between $12.50 and $14.50), reasonably portioned and cooked on a plancha grill. Sides on the changing menu are often creamed kale or roasted baby carrots ($5.50), and desserts have included pecan tarts with spiced sorghum chantilly, or a fig ice cream ($6.50).

    340 Church St., Decatur; 404-377-9308

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Places Mentioned

The Optimist

Seafood • Knight Park/Howell Station

Food26 Decor25 Service24 Cost$55
 
 
 
Babette's Cafe

European • Poncey-Highland

Food25 Decor23 Service26 Cost$43
 
 
 
JCT. Kitchen & Bar

Southern American • West Atlanta

Food24 Decor23 Service23 Cost$38
 
 
 
Floataway Cafe

French • Morningside-Lenox Park

Food26 Decor22 Service25 Cost$49
 
 
 
The Spence

American • Midtown

Food23 Decor23 Service23 Cost$47
 
 
 
 
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