How to Eat for $30 at 7 Top-Notch Restaurants

By Rina Rapuano  |  January 20, 2014

Admit it - you went overboard during the holidays, and not just with the calories. January often brings a post-spending-spree tightening of the belt, with earnest resolutions to cook more at home and spend less money in restaurants. Lucky for you, we’ve rounded up seven great places where you can dine on two to three courses for $30 per person or less, excluding tax and tip - and some of them might surprise you. 

  • Credit: Scott Suchman

    Belga Cafe: Low-priced-lobster Tuesdays

    If you have lobster taste on a canned-tuna budget, head to Belga Cafe on Tuesdays when all nine mussel pots cost only $15.95. That price includes the mussels Ostendaise, which normally costs $26 and sports half a lobster draped across the top. In addition, each pot of mussels comes with a large serving of fries, and the low cost allows for plenty of options to keep you under $30. If you share the mussels, you can still afford your own appetizer of crab cigars or cheese croquettes - and you won’t have to share that $8.50 Hoegaarden-honey milkshake with apple donuts and beer caramel sauce either.

    514 Eighth St. SE; 202-544-0100

  • Carmine's: Grab some friends

    You’ve probably heard of the legendary gigantic portions that come to the table at Carmine’s. But you may not realize that since all portions are intended to feed six, the price per person drops dramatically the more people you have in your party. For instance, an order of lasagna ($29.95), a mixed salad ($22.50) and a strawberry shortcake ($14.50) would seem outrageously priced for one or two people, but the cost averages to about $11 per person when sharing it with five friends. And from what we hear, you could probably add two more people and still not leave hungry.

    425 Seventh St. NW; 202-737-7770

  • Central Michel Richard: We did the math

    Our beloved jolly French chef may have taken a beating this week for his sumptuous Villard Michel Richard in New York, but even the scorched reviewers admit that Central Michel Richard is as enchanting as ever. Tabs generally run $40-$45 per person, but selective ordering - and sharing - can keep the check low. Here are three ways to do just that: Share the bacon and onion tart ($13); order the mussels and the venison sausage for mains ($19 each); and share the chocolate bar ($9). Share the “faux gras” ($17); dine on filet mignon tartare ($16) and pasta bolognese ($19); and share a napoleon dessert ($8). Or share the deviled eggs ($9); order the bacon cheeseburger ($20) and the lemon chicken schnitzel ($23), and share the chocolate lava cake à la mode ($8). Each menu brings the total to $60 before tax and tip. Voila!

    1001 Pennsylvania Ave. NW; 202-626-0015

  • Decanter: It’s all about selective ordering

    Opulent St. Regis dining room Decanter isn’t the kind of place anyone would associate with budget dining. Ever. But a quick tabulation of a meal that features a large, shareable pork-belly flatbread ($22) as its linchpin shows that smart diners can always find a bargain. Start with a garlic burrata and goat-cheese appetizer ($12) or maybe the warm corn and Parmesan cappuccino ($13), end by splitting one of the $9 desserts - perhaps the cured lemon and basil tart, the poached fig napoleon-white chocolate mousse or the “Black Forest” mascarpone cheesecake - and you’re golden.
    923 16th St. NW; 202-509-8000

  • Credit: Greg Powers

    Del Campo: Head straight for the bar

    Sure, Del Campo's dinner menu sports some hefty price tags - including a $44 veal chop and a $46 18-ounce rib-eye - but deals abound if you sit at the bar. You could start with an appetizer of grilled tomato, anchovy and goat-cheese crostini ($8); move on to Peruvian chicken salad sliders, which come four to a plate ($8), and finish up with any of the $10 desserts, and still come in $4 under budget - enough to add a sidecar of house-smoked olives. The massive $20 chivito sandwich with fries - arguably big enough to serve as appetizer, entree and dessert all on its own - still leaves enough coin for a sweet ending.

    777 I St. NW; 202-289-7377

  • Credit: Scott Suchman

    Osteria Morini: Happy hour, happy wallet

    With Osteria Morini’s 7 for $7 happy-hour menu, diners who like to graze can build a meal from several small plates and add either dessert or a cocktail. Savory snacks include arancini, a dip of truffled ricotta and housemade crackers, sliders of mortadella and fontina, and fried ravioli. Order three, and you'll have enough to splurge for one of the lower-priced desserts, which range from $8-$12 (and are well worth both the price and the calories). You could also opt for two $7 plates and one of the wines or the cocktail on the $7 menu.

    301 Water St. SE; 202-484-0660

  • Poste Moderne Brasserie: Mix-and-match

    Poste’s menu can be mixed-and-matched to reveal some tasty, shareable and budget-friendly options. Share the pommes frites ($8), order the French onion soup burger ($18) and share the butterscotch pot de crème ($9). A lighter option could be to sub in a salad, like the Brie and Asian pear salad ($6), and move on to chicken liver parfait ($14) and butterscotch pot de crème ($9). Or you could eliminate dessert, if you’re lucky enough to lack a sweet tooth, and go with Brussels sprouts ($8), the housemade charcuterie board ($11) and a selection of farmstead cheeses ($11).

    555 Eighth St. NW; 202-783-6060