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24 Must-Try $30 Meals Around the U.S.

By Zagat Staff
January 13, 2014
Photo by: Thierry-Clément Bignolet

These days, you don't to be a big spender to have a satisfying meal at some of America's finest restaurants. Today we're proving that you can get a three-course meal at at top-notch destination for $30 or less in 12 cities around the U.S. Let us know your favorite gourmet deals in the comments.

  • Atlanta: 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 the same amount ($24), and the table receives 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 simple 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.

  • NYC: MaisonO

    Tadashi Ono's rock-and-roll izakaya MaisonO, whose widely roving menu invites you to eat a little or a lot, is a good bargain in general. And they've just rolled out an affordable new special with winter weather in mind: from 6 to 8 PM, diners can choose from three hot pot meals, which includes a carafe of sake, a side of burdock root or spinach, and a bowl of rice. Choose from pork belly ($24), duck breast ($26) or Aphrodisiac (a seafood medley; $28). Sounds like a deal worth sneaking out of work early for.

  • Photo by: Tamara Palmer

    San Francisco: State Bird Provisions

    If it feels like you've waited your whole life for a shot at a reservation, or if you happen to walk in during the lucky sweet spot when tables turn over, it's nice to know that you don't have to break the bank once you've made it into the Bird.

    Meal 1: Guinea hen dumplings ($3), rabbit and fontina croquettes ($2), CA state bird with provisions ($16), chocolate roll cake with sesame mousse, Seville orange-clove caramel ($8) = $29

    Meal 2: Raw oyster with spicy kohlrabi kraut and sesame ($3), sourdough pancakes with sauerkraut, pecorino and ricotta ($8), half-dozen cast-iron quail eggs with apple, sunchoke and Mt. Tam cheese ($16), "world peace" peanut muscovado milk ($2) = $29

  • Boston: 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 fab homemade pasta, like housemade beet ravioli seen here.) Upcoming weeks include trips to Alto Adige, Piedmont, Tuscany and Apulia. 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. 

  • Los Angeles: MB Post

    The menu at David LeFevre’s hot Manhattan Beach restaurant is all about sharing, and everything will most likely come out as it’s ready - there’s no real appetizer-entree-dessert progression. With that said, you can fight over the buttermilk cheddar bacon biscuits ($5), and move on to blistered green beans with crispy pork ($9), steamed mussels with green curry, Chinese sausage and coriander rice ($14), and skirt steak with broccolini ($18). Finish big with The Elvis, a mess of chocolate pudding, peanut butter mousse and bacon brittle ($7).

  • Miami: Harry’s Pizzeria

    Head over to chef Michael Schwartz's trendy Design District pizza joint for a Florida local brew and plenty of food to share on the cheap. Start off with the meatballs doused in red sauce ($8) then pesto pizza ($13) made with homemade cheeses and fresh tomato, before devouring the zeppole with honey and whipped ricotta ($6) for dessert. 

  • Houston: Dolce Vita Pizzeria Enoteca

    There's not a better place in town to gather with a few friends and split several small plates of veggies, fried goodies, salumi and some of our favorite pizza in all of Houston. The grilled broccoli with pecorino Romano is a good place to get in something green ($5), with a classic Margherita pizza to follow ($16). Top it all off with a sweet cannoli Siciliani for $7.

  • Boston: Temple Bar

    Porter Square's herbivore-friendly establishment offers a nightly vegetarian prix fixe tasting menu for $29: right now that 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.

  • Los Angeles: Connie & Ted’s

    As long as you can get in - it is one of the hottest restaurants in town right now - you can easily get out with a seafood sampler for $30 for two. Start with the stuffies, quahog clams stuffed with breadcrumbs, sausage and sweet red peppers (two for $9), and then the asparagus salad with tomatoes and herbs ($11). The Portuguese stew, one of our favorites, has everything - mussels, clams, fish and linguica sausage in a tomato broth ($22). Don’t forget the hot buttered rolls ($5), and you’ll need a piece of the amazing mile-high devil’s food cake ($9).

  • Photo by: Nick Murway

    Chicago: The Radler

    This new Logan Square beer hall is an affordable alternative to the increasingly expensive neighborhood dining halls. Confit Brussels sprouts or marinated mushrooms with rahmkase cheese and buckwheat bread go for $8, all sausages cost $9 for a quarter-pound, and throw in a dessert of Black Forest cake or chestnut Nutella crêpe cake for another $7. Sausages come in four different flavors, including a traditional knockwurst and a gamey boarwurst. Add on a Haus Radler or Helles to this dinner, and you will just tip the $30 mark.

  • NYC: Osteria Morini

    Michael White's restaurants tend to spring to mind when we think of special occasions, not bargain meals. Yet at Osteria Morini, some concessions to the wallet can be found. On Monday nights, any of the restaurant's excellent pastas goes for $10 after 9 PM - we're partial to the garganelli in a creamy truffle sauce with radicchio and prosciutto, or the tortellini with duck-liver mousse. Lunch (11:30 AM to 3:30 PM daily) also offers another chance to try White's Emilia-Romagna-style cooking on the cheap, thanks to the $28 two-course lunch.

  • Photo by: Luuvu Hoang

    Seattle: LUC

    Chef in the Hat's bistro in Madison Valley is rightly beloved for its deeply satisfying renditions of classics including the cassoulet, pictured here. Thierry Rautureau's a big fan of soup as a starter, so begin your meal with a bowl ($7), followed by steak frites ($22) or the beef Bourguignon ($20).  

  • Denver: Bramble & Hare

    More casual but no less sophisticated than its next-door sibling, Black Cat, this farm-to-fork gastropub hits the mark with a daily changing three-course prix fixe that's so market-driven the kitchen may not even finalize the dishes until just before service. Recent hits from the $29 menu have included a salad of roasted beets, walnuts and housemade ricotta with greens grown by chef-owner Eric Skokan; beef stew with goat-cheese dumplings; and a good old-fashioned banana split.  

  • Chicago: Kinzie Chophouse

    Think steakhouses are out of the question when dining on a budget? Think again. This River North chophouse offers a seasonal prix fixe menu for $27. The winter menu offers entree choices of New Zealand lamb chops, seared duck breast over blue-cheese potato gratin or pan-seared scallops with a carrot, corn and pea risotto. Start the meal with smoked Gouda and beer soup and finish it with maple bread pudding with bourbon crème anglaise. Right now, the cheapest cut of beef will cost more than the entire prix fixe dinner, but the restaurant has previously put steaks on the discounted menu.

  • Miami: Bocce Bar

    This new Italian space serves plenty of hearty, large-portion meals that are perfect to share including the kale caesar ($8) with white anchovies to start. For an entree, a big pasta dish like rigatoni ($13) with heirloom tomato and fresh basil will fill you up but still leave enough room for the warm panettone donuts ($9) with cappuccino gelato parfait for dessert.

  • Photo by: Tamara Palmer

    San Francisco: Fog City

    Bruce Hill's latest restaurant has gotten a lot of media buzz, which might lead to the impression that it's not affordable. But au contraire, there are some real steals to be had at the former Fog City Diner, which now looks completely different inside and on the plates.

    Meal 1: Deviled eggs with crispy quinoa and bacon ($7), burger with smoked tomato aïoli and American cheese ($14), vanilla frozen custard with egg-yolk caramel ($6) = $27

    Meal 2: Wood-grilled tomato soup ($6), wood-fired clams ($16), two French crullers ($6) = $28

  • Seattle: Tavolata

    One of Ethan Stowell's stalwarts, this Belltown beauty has the kind of chill vibe that makes you want to hang out all night long. Start with the generous salumi selection ($14), and then consider eating like an Italian, sharing a pasta for primi ($14-$16) and an entree ($25-$30) on the oft-changing menu. The roast black cod is exceptional, as is any handmade pasta featuring rabbit.

  • Photo by: Amber Ambrose

    Houston: Triniti

    It seemed highly unlikely any combination of items from Triniti would meet the $30 challenge, but by the grace of the restaurant gods, we found their brunch menu. Behold the following selections: smoked salmon toast with orange dill cream cheese, fried capers and pickled onions ($9), a Hot Brown Bennie with a poached egg, candied bacon, smoked turkey breast, greens and mornay sauce ($15), and one of pastry chef Samantha Mendoza's big fat cinnamon rolls ($4).

  • San Diego: Brooklyn Girl

    You can’t go wrong with their self-named B.G. Famous Hummus ($7) featuring flatbread, house crackers and plantain chips. Possible entree options include the fall squash risotto ($18) or spaghetti pasta arrabiata with wild shrimp ($17). Add on one of the daily changing cupcakes to complete the meal ($3.50).

  • Photo by: Thierry-Clément Bignolet

    Austin: Arro

    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.

  • Atlanta: The Spence

    Richard Blais' Midtown affair prides itself on daily innovation, so take all of these examples with a grain of salt (or, knowing what a culinary trickster Blais and his molecular gastronomy can be, a "grain" of "salt"). Take a friend for sharing, and start off with a snack of crispy squash blossom oozing pimiento cheese, accented by lavender honey ($8) and, instead of an entree, stick to sharing a number of small plates. Some recent favorites: the pork terrine with carrot-and-fennel jam ($9) guajillo-braised duck tacos with yuzu crema and crispy duck chicharrones ($9), and roasted beets with aged cheddar and pecans ($11). Add a side like corn crème brûlée ($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.

  • Austin: 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. Then try a traditional dessert like the kheer ($3.50), a decadent rice pudding with pistachios.

  • San Diego: Prep Kitchen

    Start off with an order of patatas bravas ($5), lightly fried potatoes served with harissa aïoli. Follow it up with a hearty entree like tagliatelle bolognese ($19.50) or butternut squash gnocchi ($18). Only a few dollars more yields a scoop of locally made gelato ($4) or a salted caramel and pecan brownie ($3.95).

  • Denver: Spuntino

    Of the many lovely surprises that John Broening and Yasmin Lozada-Hissom’s Italian-inspired cafe in LoHi spills forth, reasonable price tags are the kicker. On the way to Lozada-Hissom’s famous desserts, such as warm orange olive-oil cake with pistachio gelato or the signature chocolate-caramel tart with brown-butter gelato, you might start with bruschetta (say, artichoke-mascarpone with olive tapenade) and move on to a seasonal pasta like ricotta cavatelli with housemade sausage and cannellini. Or you could sample the salumi for starters (including duck-liver mousse) and go light at the end with just a cup of gelato. The point is, even at a place with a reputation like Spuntino’s, you have options.

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