Spend or Save? Pricey Burgers, Affordable Steaks

By Christopher Hassiotis  |  February 17, 2014

Sometimes you want to go out for an extravagant, money-is-no-object dining experience. And sometimes, well…sometimes you're staring in horror at the post-holidays credit card bill. And you just paid rent. And your dog's sick. But that doesn't mean you can't live it up while sticking to a budget. Presenting the ultimate guide to high ($$$$) and low ($) dining in Atlanta, whether you're a true baller or just want to have a ball.

  • Steak

    Spend: Chops Lobster Bar's a Buckhead mainstay, and its flashy clientele has no problem dropping some serious dough on items like a 12-oz. Kobe Wagyu New York strip ($89).

    Save: Known for his way with meat, chef Kevin Rathbun works wonders at all of his restaurant, no matter the price. At Rathbun's, you can get a reasonably priced flatiron steak served with white balsamic butter, arugula and apples ($18)

  • Burger

    Spend: Speaking of Chef Rathbun, head over to Kevin Rathbun Steak for one of the city's pricier burgers. A hefty 12-oz. patty of prime Wagyu ribeye, it's topped with applewood-smoked bacon and Tillamook cheddar, a fried egg and a pickle ($18.25).

    Save: The Varsity's a kitschy Atlanta throwback to greasy spoons and burger joints of the past century. A basic hamburger comes with just mustard, ketchup and pickles ($1.89), but you can upgrade all the way up to the half-pound Big Varsity, topped with bacon, cheese and chili ($5.99).

  • Credit: Table & Main

    Fried Chicken

    Spend: Roswell's Table & Main does a nice fried chicken, but you're paying for both the quality of the bird - pastured and all-natural - as well as the charming surroundings in a converted historic house. A choice of sides helps offset that - go for the Brussels sprouts with candied citrus dressing ($19).

    Save: The Busy Bee's known for its fried chicken, marinated for 12 hours, lightly breaded and fried in peanut oil to a crisp golden brown. Served with a choice of two side items and either corn bread or a dinner roll, the plate's on special Fridays ($9.99).

  • Whole Fish

    Spend It's not always on the menu, but when you can get a whole fish at Cakes & Ale, go for it - chef Billy Allin's skill most recently served a North Carolina river trout with radishes, salad greens and a tangy dill-yogurt sauce ($33).

    Save: Seafood around ATL's pricey, but you can still score a deal on a whole fish by hitting up Chinese restaurants like 1968 at Cafe 101, where a whole flounder comes pan-fried, steamed, boiled in a black bean sauce or served salt-and-pepper style ($22.95).

  • Weekend Brunch

    Spend: Plan a few hours to take in a brunch at The Café at The Ritz-Carlton - you'll want to get your money's worth from the Buckhead hotel's spread of glistening chafing dishes, bread baskets, salad cauldrons, imported charcuterie and cheese, carving stations, dessert tables…and on, and on and on ($69 per person, plus $15 for unlimited sparkling wine).

    Save: Providing hearty Southern breakfast fare since 1956, The Silver Skillet's an Atlanta classic diner that won't break the bank, whether you're getting a chicken biscuit ($3), a side of country gravy ($1), or two old-fashioned buttermilk pancakes ($3.95) - or all three.

  • Caviar

    Spend: Kimball House in Decatur's gotten much acclaim for its oysters, and rightly so, but pay attention to the rest of the menu - the five caviar selections (served classically with creme fraiche, lemon and more) start with 60 grams of trout roe ($25) and head all the way up to 20 grams Siberian Oscietra caviar ($120).

    Save: Midtown's 10th & Piedmont features University of Georgia farm-raised sturgeon, and a caviar "trilogy" platter features multiple samples of dishes made with the caviar from a deviled egg topped with crisp pork and caviar to a filo pastry cup filled with creme fraiche, smoked salmon mousse and caviar ($17).

  • Oysters

    Spend: At The Optimist's Oyster Bar selections change daily, and depending on whether they're all the way from Washington State or Canada, oysters can run up to $3.75 a pop. Paired with housemade oyster back shots, a dozen can drain a wallet fast ($30-$40). 

    Save: In Virginia-Highland, you can stop by Fontaine's Oyster House on Tuesdays for their "Time Travel Tuesday" special means a selection of a dozen house oysters will run you just $5.

  • Sushi

    Spend: Want a great food memory? Tomo chef-owner Tomohiro Naito wants to give it to you. His omakase tasting menu spans hours, flavors and experiences, and changes daily depending on what's fresh, what's interesting and what's tastiest, and the price varies accordingly (think $125 per person).

    Save: It may not be fancy and it may not be refined, but the sushi at Ru San's does the trick. Avoid the overpriced specialty rolls and dig through the multipage menu for the dollar list, which features rolls, nigiri, tempura and more. The sushi's simple and the preparation's sometimes sloppy, but you can eat a solid meal for under $15 (and just pretend it was all the chef's choice). 

  • Pork Chops

    Spend: Matthew Basford, executive chef at Canoe, loves to give familiar proteins unexpected preparations, and draws from all over the world for flavor. That creativity's great, but can come with a hefty bill; the hickory-roasted pork chop entree currently on his menu is served with African squash, pearled barley and sikil pak, a pumpkin-seed dip with Mayan origins ($29).

    Save: Open 24 hours a day, the Majestic Diner serves "food that pleases" - including a pork chop (grilled or fried) plate with two sides and griddled Texas toast ($10.99).

  • Credit: Alex Fenlon

    Multi-Course Experience

    Spend: Is it the expected choice? It is. But there's a reason Bacchanalia is Atlanta's go-to spot for celebrations and great impressions - the five-course experience's price only goes up as you add drinks and optional supplements to dishes like caviar and cheese plates (Starting at $85 per person).

    Save: Korean food's what you want, and this truly is an experience. Woo Nam Jeong Stone Bowl House has a 12-course option for two people that runs the gamut from braised short rib to Korean fried chicken to jellyfish salad to stuffed fishcake ($69 for two).