Global economic crisis got you freaked? Have you unwound all your deals and cashed out of the hedge fund yet? Yeah, us neither. We’re doing just fine, thank you. But still. In deference to those who really are hurting, it seems bad form to order the dry-aged Kobe tenderloin topped with foamed foie gras. Now’s not the time for ostentation. So here are a few frugal suggestions for dining out. You know, for appearances’ sake.
The owners of Blue Mesa Grill, Jim and Liz Baron, seek out local farms and producers. Their effort produces a fresh, all-you-can-eat buffet ($10.95) every Wednesday from 11 AM to 2 PM where you can fill your belly with enchiladas made with local chicken (fed on organically grown grains) and goat cheese from Deep Ellum’s Mozzarella Company, all rolled in tortillas from Rudy’s and La Mexicana in Dallas.
Chef Graham Dodds of Bolsa built his kitchen without a freezer or a fryer. He describes his menu as “fresh, local, and thoughtful.” The flatbread made with Italian sausage from Jimmy’s Food Store across town ($11) is enough for two. Wash it down with a Lone Star long neck for $2.50.
The Garden Cafe, run by chef-manager Bill Dietrich, has become an East Dallas institution.
Order the Garden Plate ($6.95). The corn, green beans, carrots, potatoes, and herbs all come from the restaurant’s backyard garden. Oh, that comes with a slice of hot cornbread, too.
“Thai Noodle & Rice is a hole in the wall, but they have the best chicken, pork, and beef flat noodles [$9] in the city.”- Chef Kent Rathbun, Abacus and Jasper’s
The Kozy Kitchen serves breakfast and lunch, as well as a rotating dinner menu. When was the last time you had a lunch that cost less than $15 and was prepared by not one, but two chefs who earned their tall toques at Le Cordon Bleu in Austin? A breakfast prepared by chef-owners Nicholas Pavageaux and Tiffiany Darnell is the real bargain. Go for homemade challah French toast ($6) and a vanilla latte ($3).
Most of the entrees at Cafe Amore hover around $6. You can splurge on steak and seafood options ($13 or less). But the best order is the bubbly hot cannelloni, stuffed with ricotta, ground beef, and spinach, for $5.95. Sweet tooth? House-made spumoni ice cream is a treat at $2.95.
Roma’s is tucked into an unassuming strip center on Greenville, just south of Walnut Hill, and is surrounded by trees that shade the spacious outdoor patio. Complimentary baskets of glistening garlic rolls and a side of marinara prime your palate for homemade pasta. Order the sampler with lasagna, manicotti, and ravioli ($7.99).
So much love for Italian-style seafood, so little cash? Head to Sweet Basil, where you can feast in white-tablecloth style on a plate of linguini filled with clams, mussels, shrimp, and squid topped with marinara sauce for $16.99. A side salad will set you back a whole buck.
Tony’s is a family-run restaurant beloved by Lake Highlands locals. Mom and Dad can enjoy a rich fettuccine Alfredo or tortellini Bolognese (both $6.95) while kids 12 and under eat for $3.50 (and get a wodge of uncooked dough to play with while they wait for their food). You can bring your own wine and stuff yourself with free garlic rolls.
Villa-O is a fashionable, upscale eatery, but you can bask in the spotlight without paying Highland Park prices. Every Sunday they offer a special three-course dinner for $15.95. Go for handmade organic pasta, Wagyu beef Bolognese, and almond biscotti cheesecake with chantilly cream. All kids under 15 eat for free.
There are many reasons to go to Dunston’s. One is the boldface names that frequent the back room at the Lovers Lane location. Another is the bacon-wrapped 6-ounce Prime tenderloin served with a choice of two sides for $16.95. This is hands down the best deal in town. Perhaps that’s why they’ve been in business for more than 50 years.
If you want a dose of kitsch with your cut, go to Charco Broiler Steak House in Oak Cliff. Its red-eyed rooftop bull, Sonny the Steer, has presided over Jefferson Boulevard for 44 years and is a fitting greeter to guests looking for a 14-ounce T-bone served with a baked potato, iceberg lettuce salad, and buttered Texas toast for $11.95.
When you think of The Palm, you probably see dollar signs. But the downtown power lunch spot has a powerful secret: the business lunch special is a bargain. An entree (salmon, sirloin,
chicken parmigiana, scallops, twin tenderloin filets Oscar, or veal piccata) along with a soup or salad and a side dish go for $18.95. And you will need a doggy bag.
“I like Dodie’s on Greenville Avenue. The crawfish boil [$17 or market price] is to die for, but when you’re done, your lips will be on fire.”- Chef John Tesar, The Mansion
One regular calls Villa’s Grill “Texas de Brazil or Fogo de Chao on a government-bailout budget,” which, roughly translated, means a churrascaria-style restaurant with strolling waiters proffering tender slices of beef, pork, sausage, and chicken—but on a budget. While the cost of a meat feast at the swankier Texas de Brazil and Fogo de Chao hovers at around $40, here an all-you-can-eat meat parade is $16.90 (for dinner). And you can bring your own wine.
Caravelle Chinese and Vietnamese is popular with the surrounding Asian community not just because it has pink tablecloths and chandeliers. The food here is ultra fresh, inexpensive, and the real deal. Charcoal-broiled pork with vermicelli (curls of green leaf lettuce, shredded carrot, and daikon radish mixed with the skinny noodles) tasted the same in Richardson as the dish we recently sampled in Saigon. Maybe it was even better. And the portion was large enough for two to share ($6.95).
One celebrity Dallas chef loves to eat cheap at Chaat Cafe. He doesn’t want us to tell you his name because he’s a noted tightwad, but he takes his family here because all items on the menu are under $10. He recommends the huge sheet of freshly baked naan bread wrapped around a mixture of spicy chicken, tomatoes, onions, cilantro, and green chiles ($5.95).
“Avila’s is one of my favorites. I always order the chiles rellenos [$8.95]. There’s a lot
of love that goes into the whole operation.”
- Chef Julian Barsotti, Nonna
Speaking of chefs in the know, First Chinese BBQ, a Richardson outpost for authentic Chinese barbecue, draws several high-profile chefs on their nights off. It won’t win any awards for atmosphere, and the service can be brusque. But the crispy-skinned duck served atop steamed rice is delicious and, at $5.95, less than one glass of wine in their restaurants. Here, you bring your own booze.
In addition to build-your-own pho ($5.95 for a hearty bowl), La Me is known for its fantastic banh mi sandwiches. Our favorite, of course, is also the most expensive: the Buu Dien, with ham, pork roll slices, and soft liver sausage on French bread ($2.75). Egg rolls are four for $1, and there’s free wi-fi if you care to surf the Web while munching.
High-end, kosher-certified ingredients are expensive. That’s why the vegetarian-friendly Madras Pavilion luncheon buffet ($9.99) is a steal of a deal. What you’ll find: northern and southern Indian specialties such as exotic curries (some with vegetables, others with lentils); mulligatawny soup; vegetable samosas; and dosai, rice, and lentil crepes wrapped around potatoes, onions, and chutney. If you ordered these items a la carte, your tab would easily top $30.
Don’t let the bars on the windows dissuade you. Mai’s is a safe haven for those of us who love Thai. The delicious clay pot—shrimp, chicken, tofu, veggies, rice—will set you back a little less than $10. But our favorite is the steaming bowl of spicy chicken soup stocked with bean sprouts, mint, cilantro, and hot jalapeño ($6.50). It is big enough that it’s tough for one person to finish.
Take $7 to Thai-Rrific and find a lunch buffet that includes spicy hot lemon grass soup, salad, spring rolls, egg rolls, pad thai, barbecue chicken, chicken with vegetables and cashews, curry dishes, and more. Go a few times, and the attentive staff will greet you by name.
There are three reasons to go to Toy’s Cafe. One is the deep-fried corn patties (four for $6.95). Another is the Tom-Kha soup ($4.95 with chicken). But you’ll want the lunch specials accompanied by a salad with peanut dressing, a crispy Thai spring roll, and steamed brown rice ($7.95).
Dallas Fish Market was recently recognized as one of the top seafood restaurants in the country, but they keep their prices customer-friendly. The $30 sunset menu pairs three courses with a glass of their house wine, white or red. Savor the lobster corn chowder and grilled salmon, and see for yourself what all the fuss is about. Dessert is warm beignets to share.
Chamberlain’s Fish Market Grill offers a three-course lobster menu for $39. Okay, one man’s cheap is another man’s denied credit card. Instead think value: a creamy bowl of lobster bisque, the cool crunch of a lobster lettuce wrap, and an impressive finale of shrimp and crab stuffed Maine lobster.
Whether it’s Aw Shucks on Greenville or the two Big Shucks locations (on Mockingbird and in Richardson), these sibling neighborhood restaurants serve a different lunch special daily, like shrimp and fries or fish tacos (both $4.95). On Tuesdays, you can add a cup of gumbo for $1.50. There’s also something wonderfully appealing about their billing policy: you tell the cashier what you ate. On your honor.
The only problem at Fishmonger’s Seafood is that you might have to fight for a seat. This joint is always packed with locals taking advantage of the all-you-can-eat tilapia (Tuesdays after 4 pm) and fried catfish (all day Sundays and after 4 pm Wednesdays) for $11.99. That will also get you french fries, red beans and rice, and a choice of salad or coleslaw.
If you like your fish funky side up, head to Flying Fish and make friends with one of the many Billy Bass trophies on the walls while you wait for a basket of catfish fillet, hush puppies, and fries ($4.99). Dieting? Order a grilled, hand-sized slab of tilapia served on a mountain of fresh greens ($8.99). Want to know a real secret deal? An 18-ounce margarita is only $8.
Pad thai is popular at the original location of Asian Mint, but $1 sushi nights on Mondays and Tuesdays draw the crowds. Graze through nine types of fresh nigiri, including yellowtail, salmon, and red snapper, or throw down a sawbuck on 10 pieces of yellowtail that would normally cost you $22.50.
Oishii sits in an off-the-radar spot on Wycliff. Go on Tuesday nights, when, from 5 to 10 PM, nigiri sushi—tuna, octopus, red snapper, and salmon—is only $1 a pop. We like to sit at the sushi bar and watch the chefs. And not just for their knife skills.
Everyone thinks tiny Seabose in Carrollton is his own undiscovered secret. If so, that’s not true anymore. Spicy tuna rolls are $4.50 ($7.50 at Nobu), and tuna nigiri is a bargain at $2. Vegetarians can order avocado cucumber rolls for $2.99 and tamago (omelet) nigiri for $1.50.
Tables at Steel are always filled with Uptowners and businesspeople, but on Wednesdays from 5:30 to 7, the place really gets hopping for its famous “free” sushi night (which actually costs two drinks). The buffet table offers California rolls, spicy tuna rolls, shrimp tempura, and Cajun rolls. For the price of two domestic beers ($3 each), martinis ($5 each), or glasses of Cadaretta S.B.S. white wine (a splurge at $13 each), “free” almost doesn’t need the quotation marks.