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How to Eat for $30 or Less at 10 Great Restaurants

By Scott Kearnan
January 14, 2014

Three courses for $30: at your typical pub, that's doable. But at a truly exceptional restaurant, it seems much more unlikely. Still, we figured out a few ways to enjoy more elevated meals at a bargain price. Through a combination of nightly specials and strategic ordering, it's possible to eat like a king on a beggar's budget.  

  • Fleming's Prime Steakhouse

    A three-course steakhouse dinner for under 30 bucks? It can be done, Sundays at Fleming's through February 2, when you can choose among options for a first-course salad and dessert, with prime rib au jus (served with creamy horseradish and dijon sauces) as the centerpiece for just $29.95. The temporary nature of the deal is sort of a bluff; it tends to recur frequently throughout the year. 

  • Marliave

    This romantic, old-school downtown Italian isn't inexpensive, but you can swing yourself a steal if you know when to come. From 4-6 PM and 9-10 PM daily, it's $1 oyster time. So you can slurp, say, six as an appetizer ($6), dig into an entree of ricotta-stuffed ravioli with roasted tomato ($19) and finish with a scoop of house-churned ice cream ($3), and still stay within budget.

  • Tavolo

    Every Wednesday, chef Nuno Alves hosts a three-course dinner at his Dorchester Italian that culls inspiration from one of the 20 regions of Italy. (And features his fabulous homemade pasta, like housemade beet ravioli seen here.) Upcoming weeks include trips to Alto Adige, Piedmont, Tuscany and Apulia. Plus a February 26 visit to the northern region of Emilia-Romagna, where options being considered include a starter of rabbit tortellini in brodo with greens, marsala-braised lamb with mushrooms over whole-wheat fettuccini, and cenci fritti, fried and sugared pastry ribbons. At $30 per dinner, you can visit the whole boot for less than the price of one plane ticket. 

  • Russell House Tavern

    Considering its cool cocktail program, you'll probably want to reserve some extra funds for the beverage menu at this handsome Harvard Square American. So choose wisely - opt for an orange & arugula salad ($9), crispy pork belly sandwich ($13) and a sorbet trio ($8), and you won't exceed your $30 ceiling. 

  • Met Back Bay

    It may be in a neighborhood known for its Brahmin-esque style, but this location of Met offers a slew of nightly specials that even those on more modest budgets can enjoy. On Monday nights, a spread of creative burgers (including the Mexico City, topped with guacamole, charred tomato salsa, cilantro and jalapeño) are just $4.99 each, leaving plenty of room for your choice of snack and dessert too. Or come on Sunday nights for a chicken dinner; a fried or roasted bird comes with mashed potatoes & gravy and a buttermilk biscuit for just $14.99, so you're only halfway to $30.

  • Coda

    The South End isn't known for cheap eats, but Coda is one of the few quality spots where you might actually orchestrate a three-course meal for a modest price tag. Right now, for instance, you can start with butternut squash soup ($5), move on to rich short ribs ($19) and finish with apple fritters accompanied by bourbon-cider-caramel dipping sauce ($6). 

  • Temple Bar

    Porter Square's herbivore-friendly establishment offers a nightly vegetarian prix fixe tasting menu for $29, which includes a butternut squash soup, French green lentil cake and crème brûlée. But for the next few weeks you don't need to be veggie to score a deal. A "Winter Warmer" prix fixe is available until February 13, with first-course options like flash-fried calamari, entrees like lamb osso bocco and the warming "dessert" of a third-course nightcap like a peach-inflected Hot Buttered Scotch.

  • Tremont 647

    "Taco Tuesdays" are legendary at this South End staple, and they're an excellent time to arrange yourself a three-course meal that won't break the bank. With tacos at $2 each, you can gorge on a main course of four ($8) and still have room (in your wallet, anyway) to start with a Cubano quesadilla of pork with chipotle aïoli ($9) and finish with chef Andy Husbands' banana cream pie ($8) served with chocolate and caramel sauces.

  • Estragon

    An oft-overlooked Spanish spot away from the main drag of South End restaurants, Estragon is tapas-focused. But you can have the best of both (small and large) worlds from Mondays through Thursdays from 5-7 PM. There's a $1 "Tapas Blitz" menu, so share half-a-dozen delights ($6) like patatas bravas and crispy fried chickpeas; order your own Pechuga Villeroy, goat-cheese-stuffed chicken breast with chile-peach coulis ($14), and dig in to a sweet third course or something from Estragon's selection of dessert-friendly sherries. 

  • Ten Tables

    Owner Krista Kranyak now has three locations of her farm-to-fork favorites: Jamaica Plain, Harvard Square and Provincetown. A meal at her intimate, classy little establishments could cost you a pretty penny - but each also offers nightly specials that will save you some. Over at the Jamaica Plan original, that includes a special Thursday night deal on the bar side: pasta of the day and a glass of house wine for $14. That means you can still start with some bar bites, like duck cracklings ($4) and toasted almonds ($3) and finish with a mignardise spread of housemade cookies and jellies ($9).


Places Mentioned

Tremont 647

American • South End

Food23 Decor19 Service21 Cost$35
Ten Tables

New American • Jamaica Plain

Food27 Decor23 Service24 Cost$48

Spanish • South End

Food25 Decor23 Service23 Cost$34

Italian • Downtown

Food23 Decor22 Service22 Cost$34
Fleming's Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar

Steakhouse • Park Square

Food25 Decor23 Service25 Cost$59
Met Back Bay

Steakhouse • Back Bay

Food21 Decor22 Service20 Cost$35
Russell House Tavern

American • Cambridge

Food22 Decor21 Service19 Cost$30

American • Back Bay

Food22 Decor20 Service23 Cost$27
Tavolo Ristorante

Italian • Dorchester

Food24 Decor22 Service22 Cost$30
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