7 Ways to be a Curious Eater on the Cheap

24 Jan

Wallet looking a bit empty?

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!

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8 Responses to “7 Ways to be a Curious Eater on the Cheap”

  1. Laurie Lessner January 28, 2012 at 12:18 am #

    Thanks Liz. Going to sign up for LevelUp – great tip. Do you have a friend referral code I should use?

    • Liz January 28, 2012 at 7:58 am #

      LevelUp is great! I emailed you the code – you’ll get $5 free wherever you want to start.

  2. Elizabeth January 24, 2012 at 10:14 pm #

    Nice tips! My Twitter account used to be devoted to tweeting about free food in Boston (hence the name), but I gradually stopped that a year ago. There’s a lot of free food around town!

    • Liz January 31, 2012 at 2:50 pm #

      Thanks! Since moving here I’ve been very happy to discover tons of free food opportunities. Great for being on a budget, but also great to explore new foods!

  3. soanthro January 24, 2012 at 8:15 pm #

    Such a great post! I had no idea about MA’s discounted drinks law. Also LOVE Restaurant Week here– have gotten to eat at a couple amazing places I never could have afforded otherwise!

    • Liz January 25, 2012 at 9:37 pm #

      Restaurant Week is great. I think as long as you’re not expecting exactly the same experience as on a non-restaurant week, it’s a perfect way to explore new restaurants.

      Thanks for reading!!

  4. Renee {Eat.Live.Blog} January 24, 2012 at 4:59 pm #

    Such a great post! I will be checking out Scoutmob right away!

    • Liz January 24, 2012 at 5:22 pm #

      Thanks Renee! I love Scoutmob – they only offer a few select locations at a time, but they’re all quality places. Plus I discovered Pinocchio’s Pizza in Harvard Square (awesome pizza) through a free slice via Scoutmob!

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