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How to Eat for Under $30 at 8 Upscale Restaurants

By Megan Giller
January 13, 2014
Photo by: Carrie Ryan, Sweet Louise Photography

Austin’s exponential growth means a lot of fantastic restaurants (yay!) but also a significantly higher cost to eating out (boo). But don’t think that you have to dine out less often. Instead, choose your dishes wisely and you can eat at some of the best restaurants in town for a fraction of the price. Here are eight trendy places where you can get a three-course meal (appetizer, entree and dessert) for less than $30, excluding tax and tip.

  • Elizabeth Street Café

    Chef and owner Larry McGuire is often faulted for his restaurants' high price tags, but there are definitely ways to maneuver his spots without spending a million. At this Vietnamese-French fusion restaurant, start off traditional with an order of spring rolls, like the poached shrimp and vermicelli with peanut dipping sauce ($12). Then move on to a big bowl of rich spicy pork meatball pho ($12) with thick meatballs in a decadent broth filled with fresh herbs grown in the backyard garden. One of the best parts about this South First Street spot is their dessert menu, the stuff of French dreams. Try the croissant bread pudding ($8) with banana custard, duck-egg-and-palm-sugar ice cream and candied hazelnuts.

    1501 S. First St.; 512-291-2881

  • Mettle

    Owner and bar maven Bridget Dunlap and chef Andrew Francisco have really done it up at this far East Sixth Street spot. The lavish interior features floor-to-ceiling windows as well as accents from local artists, like a massive glass sculpture from Leigh Taylor Wyatt. Though a lot of the menu will run you some dollars, go with Francisco’s pet project, his airy, vegan chicharrones served with salsa verde and roasted orange salsa ($6). Then move on to the fried chicken with sweet potatoes and collard greens, served with a chili sauce ($14), and finish off with one of the avante-garde desserts like the birch ice cream with fennel-seed meringues, white-chocolate sassafras crema, salted hazelnut powder and hazelnut oil dots ($9).

    507 Calles St.; 512-236-1022

  • Bartlett’s

    The dark mood lighting and large leather booths might make you think this place is off-limits if you’re on a budget. You might also balk at going to a self-proclaimed steakhouse and not ordering a steak. But we stand by the claim that the veggie burger here is the best in town. Before we skip ahead, since you’re going veg for your entree, power up on protein with a half order of peel-and-eat shrimp with cocktail sauce ($9). Then move on to the veggie burger ($13), a black bean and brown rice patty studded with Crimini mushrooms, topped with a thick slice of melty Jack cheese and a sweet soy sauce blend. It comes with couscous, but we recommend subbing it out for Bartlett’s drool-worthy fries at no extra cost. For dessert, hit up the decadent brownie or apple-walnut cobbler (both $7).

    2408 W. Anderson Ln.; 512-451-7333

  • Justine’s

    French food conjures up images of both fine food as well as high bills, but it doesn’t have to be so. Ubercute, uberhip Justine’s has its fair share of pricey items, but some of the best are on the thrifty side. What’s French dining without starting with some snails? The escargot here ($9) are served out of their shell and are basically a vehicle for herbed melted butter and baguettes. Then move on to the bolognaise, an often-overlooked menu item, partially because it’s technically Italian and partially because it’s not listed with much description. The pasta is homemade, and the red, meaty sauce is decadent for winter. Finish a night of excess with a traditional but fabulous crème brûlée ($6).

    4710 E. Fifth St.; 512-385-2900

  • Photo by: Thierry-ClĂ©ment Bignolet

    Arro

    Speaking of food from the Continent, this newcomer to West Sixth Street specializes in modern French cuisine in a hip yet relaxed environment. Chef and owner Andrew Curren also knows that not everyone has a lot of extra dough to spend. One of the staples on his menu is a fixed-price option, three courses for $25. Choose from appetizers like French onion soup or a vegetable tart, then move on to entrees like an excellent pickled mushroom salad with blue cheese or the traditional mussels and frites. End the night with a pot de crème or lemon goat cheese tart.

    601 W. Sixth St.; 512-992-2776

  • Photo by: Carrie Ryan, Sweet Louise Photography

    Olive and June

    Unless it’s pizza, Italian food is another type of cuisine that can rack up the dollars. For a low price tag and large portions, try the Sunday fixed-price, family-style dinner at this Rosedale-area restaurant; $29 buys you three courses. The menu rotates, but last week it featured a winter panzanella salad with butternut squash and endive as well as salted cod fritters, a cappellacci pasta with caramelized onion, grape tomatoes and Pecorino; and a roasted rabbit entree with cauliflower and salsa verde. If you’re looking to feed a family, also keep in mind that children under 12 eat for free on Sundays.

    3411 Glenview Ave.; 512-467-9898

  • Clay Pit 

    The historic building that houses this upscale Indian fusion restaurant adds a classy atmosphere to any evening. Reap the rewards without paying the price. Start with the curried mussels ($9) with an order of buttery naan ($2) to sop up all the sauce. Next try a biryani, a baked rice dish with raisins, nuts and special curry sauce. We like the paneer biryani ($12), which highlights the housemade farmer’s cheese that Indian food is all about. Last go for a traditional dessert, the kheer ($3.50), a decadent rice pudding with pistachios done impeccably.

    1601 Guadalupe St.; 512-322-5131

  • La Condesa

    Look elsewhere for cheap enchiladas and traditional Mexican food. Even the ceviche at this downtown hot spot is served more like crudo, with just a few small bites on the plate. Instead, go for the tortilla soup ($9), a spicy tomato broth with chicken, avocado, queso fresco and crispy tortilla strips. Then venture over to the fusion side of the menu with the Taquitos Arábicos ($14) with seared venison, pickled cucumber, chipotle harissa, fennel-pollen yogurt and cilantro, all on a bacon-fat tortilla that tastes more like grilled pita bread. You could order a big dessert, but the best part here is always the housemade ice cream, so we recommend going straight for the gold. At $2 a pop, you can try the brown-sugar-banana ice cream, coconut sorbet and cream-cheese ice cream while still staying in your budget.

    400 W. Second St.; 512-499-0300

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Places Mentioned

La Condesa

Mexican • 2nd Street District

Food23 Decor26 Service22 Cost$38
 
 
 
Mettle - East Austin Bistro

New American • East Austin

Food- Decor- Service- CostM
 
 
 
Justine's

French • East Austin

Food23 Decor23 Service21 Cost$40
 
 
 
Elizabeth Street Cafe

French • Bouldin Creek

Food- Decor- Service- CostE
 
 
 
The Clay Pit

Indian • Downtown

Food23 Decor20 Service20 Cost$27
 
 
 
Arro Austin

French • Downtown

Food- Decor- Service- CostE
 
 
 
Olive & June

Italian • Brykerwoods

Food- Decor- Service- Cost 
 
 
 
 
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