When it comes to food, I’ll try anything (exception endangered animals, that’s where I draw the line). A little hole-in-the-wall or a five-star eating experience – I love to try everything. As you know, I’m on a serious budget, so here are my top seven tips to being an adventurous eater on the cheap:
1. Eat out for lunch, eat in for dinner. Lunch deals are great. When I lived in small towns, I looked for lunch specials Monday-Friday. Since moving to Boston I’ve been spoiled by inexpensive lunch combinations every day of the week. You’ll receive a slightly smaller portion of food during lunch hours compared to dinner, but often for half the price. Plus, you can sample appetizers and entrees all within one order (for example, I’ve been to Thai places where you can order a soup, spring roll, dumplings, and noodle dish for $8 or $10).
2. Take advantage of happy hour. Massachusetts state law (unfortunately) prohibits discounted drinks, but the good news is you can find half-price appetizers before 6pm and on late-night menus. Instead of paying $8-$12 per app, you can make a meal out of them for less than $15. Plus, you’ll be able to sample multiple dishes.
3. Go to an expensive restaurant during you city’s Restaurant Week. I’ve enjoyed three-course lunches at great locations including Oishii, Henrietta’s Table, and Mooo… for $20 (dinner is $30). The next Boston Restaurant Week is March 18-30 and the Winter 2012 Dorchester-Milton Restaurant Week is on now through January 30.
4. Master a dish you love to eat at a restaurant. I’m known to crave Indian food. I would always eat it out because, when it came to cooking my favorite dishes, I had no idea where to start. I attended a beginner Indian cuisine class last year at BCAE and increased my confidence to start cooking Indian food at home. Any home cook will tell you – aside from super fancy, imported, or rare ingredients – making a meal is significantly less expensive than having someone else cook it for you.
5. Use online discounts, but be smart about them. I’ve bought and never used LivingSocial and Groupon ’deals’ before they expired (which is worse than simply paying on my own). Sites like LevelUp and Scoutmob are my favorites: LevelUp offers discounts to use at the time of sale and you pay through your LevelUp account; Scoutmob provides 50% off (and a few freebies) to select shopping and dining locations in major cities throughout the US.
6. A little research can go a long way. There are cultural and culinary gems in every town and city, no matter what the size. Take some time to try out lesser-known spots and I guarantee you’ll be glad you did. For example, Boston’s Chinatown and Allston/Brighton areas have some of the best Chinese and Korean restaurants that you’ll never see on Phantom Gourmet. Be adventurous – you’ll get to better know your city and you’ll save money.
7. Search out free food events. Twitter is a great tool for this – for example, @BostonTweet will let you know about everything from free burrito giveaways to fun local festivals. Town websites often have calendars where they’ll post upcoming events – HarvardSquare.com is updated frequently and perfect for this. Sometimes just showing up to an event ready for a few samples can introduce you to new products and restaurants you’ll love.
So those are my tips. Have anything to add? Feel free to comment!