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A Foodie's Guide to Cheap Eats

How to save money and still feel like you splurged

A Foodie's Guide to Cheap Eats
Photo by Terry Brennan (5)

(page 1 of 4)

BARGAIN BITES

Craving steak but stuck with a hamburger budget? Just tap into the world of discount dining, and watch your dollars (and stomach) stretch. These dishes aren’t just a good value, they're damn tasty—well-worth rearranging your schedule for multiple happy hours and late-night trips.
 

Travail

Experiencing Travail’s 10-plus course tasting menu can feel like opening your mouth and walking into a flavor hurricane. It might begin with a marble of gel-encased gazpacho presented by a chef/server whose hair resembles the cotton candy you’ll later enjoy for dessert. The kitchen staff, led by Mike Brown and James Winberg, takes a playful approach to its innovative, tech-savvy cooking, from the pineapple Dippin’ Dots, to the foie-gras-and-Pop-Rocks lollipops, to the banana pudding that diners are instructed to feed to one another with baby spoons. One moment, a chef/server is swilling beer from a glass boot, cheered by the crowd; the next he’s playing gastronomical professor, deconstructing a plate of halibut and wild rice using a laser pointer. As the restaurant has matured, the kitchen’s daring combinations (beet salad with white-chocolate-covered blueberries?!) have become even more consistent. At $80 for two people (discounted to $70 on Thursdays for ladies, and $65 on Tuesdays and Wednesdays), it’s the best dinner theater in town. • 4154 W. Broadway, Robbinsdale, 763-535-1131, facebook.com/TravailKitchen
 

Barbette

There’s a reason why Barbette regulars frequent the restaurant’s happy hour year after year: the deals are as elegant as they are reliable. In addition to the drink specials (offered from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m., Sunday through Thursday, plus 3 to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday), select appetizers are discounted to $5 apiece. Snack with French sophistication on steamed mussels, fresh oysters, or liver pâté and Brie. And don’t forget a bowl of the city’s best-loved pommes frites. 1600 W. Lake St., Mpls., 612-827-5710, barbette.com
 

La Belle Vie

La Belle Vie isn’t a cheap date, but it is an extraordinary one. In the stately dining room, tasting menus tend to be reserved for special occasions: the five-course option runs $70 per person and the full chef’s menu is $85. But in the restaurant’s more relaxed lounge, diners can experience some of the very same dishes in the four-course tasting menu for $45. The kitchen staff, helmed by executive chef Tim McKee's protégée Mike DeCamp, works its precision-tuned magic on each small plate. For example, yellowtail jack is presented like a work of contemporary art, embellished with flecks of fresh chives, hoops of dried shallots, nubs of chorizo, and daubs of colorful sauces that enhance the fish with a bright, salty-sweet punch. And between the gratis gougères (cheese puffs), the amuse-bouche (a one-bite “mouth amuser”), and the plate of complementary post-dessert sweets, or mignardises—tiny, handmade chocolates, macarons, and such—diners are practically barraged with bonus bites. • 510 Groveland Ave., Mpls., 612-874-6440, labellevie.us
 

Bradstreet Craftshouse

The dimly lit digs of the Graves Hotel’s windowless first-floor lounge seems to stop time. How long have we been sitting here drinking? An hour? Five? But the craft-cocktail bar’s 601 Hour compels one to keep track of time, as Tuesday through Thursday from 5 to 7 p.m. and 11 p.m. to close, select drinks and sliders cost just $6.01. The beef mini-burgers are charming, though not as adventurous as the fried-chicken-and-bacon-stuffed waffle rounds. But the best choice is the mango-barbecue pulled-pork sliders topped with apple-jicama slaw. Bradstreet was an early adopter of the classic cocktail resurgence, so the bar’s drink list is compelling, though some of the 601 selections, such as the bourbon-based Sweet Lucy, can border on cloying. • 601 N. First Ave., Mpls., 612-312-1821, bradstreetcraftshouse.com
 

Bar La Grassa

Want to save money on a classy date? Try the substantial half-portion pastas at chef Isaac Becker’s trendy Bar La Grassa. Bypass the spendier crab-and-foie-gras-stuffed options, and you can indulge in a lovely bowl of bucatini with Bolognese, cavatelli with braised rabbit, or—the all-time favorite—gnocchi with cauliflower and orange, for less than $10. • 800 N. Washington Ave., Mpls., 612-333-3837, barlagrassa.com
 

Chino Latino

Middle age can be hard on one’s social schedule: it’s difficult to leave work before 7 p.m. to hit Chino Latino’s early happy hour, or to muster the energy for the late-night slot after 10 p.m. on weeknights. (Worse, a sense of maturity prevents one from participating in the restaurant’s obnoxious Sake Bomb ritual, which involves bandanas, shot glasses balanced on chopsticks, and pounding on the table!) Fortunately, on Sundays and Mondays, Chino’s happy hour runs from 4:30 p.m. till midnight in the bar and lounge, so you have plenty of time to order the braised barbecue pork shank, the guacamole-topped fried rice, and the famous French Toast of the Dead, which comes soaked in rum caramel and topped with banana coins. For a paltry $12, you’ll have a feast for two that’s far more satisfying than the frozen pizza and ramen of your youth. • 2916 Hennepin Ave., Mpls., 612-824-7878, chinolatino.com
 

Gather

Last year, D’Amico’s Gather replaced Wolfgang Puck’s 20.21 in the Walker Art Center, bringing with it a cooking philosophy of pairing global flavors with local ingredients—for example, a short rib bánh mì with house-pickled vegetables. The restaurant is open just one night a week, to coincide with museum hours, and during Thursday happy hour (between 5 and 7 p.m.), the bánh mì and all the rest of the small plates are just $5 apiece. The discounted seasonal “cocktail of the moment” is best enjoyed on the lofted patio, which offers a panoramic view of the downtown skyline. And on the first Thursday of the month, a local guest chef—or culinary artist in residence, if you will—sends out a couple of signature small plates, free of charge. • Walker Art Center, 1750 Hennepin Ave., Mpls., 612-253-3410, gatherbydamico.com
 

The Lexington's Onion Rings

The Lexington

The Lexington, in all its windowless glory, is still making itself relevant after more than 75 years. With new owners, a new chef, an updated menu, and top-notch jazz in its Williamsburg Room, The Lex looks ready for the next generation of Saint Paulites in the know. Cozy up to the bar rail for happy hour (weekdays 3 to 6 p.m.), and order plates of onion rings big enough for four, burgers with fries, or the Lexington Green Beans, steamed and sauced in spiced vinaigrette, all offered for a mere $6 a plate. • 1096 Grand Ave., St. Paul, 651-222-5878, thelexongrand.com
 

Masa

When you want a Mexican dining experience sans the foil wrappers and stacks of napkins needed to tackle a giant burrito, D’Amico’s Masa offers authentic, upscale fare with ambiance to spare. The airy, sun-drenched dining room attracts significant business clientele, but the 3-for-$10 lunch special requires as much cash as a meal at a scrappy, no-frills East Lake Street taquería. Create your own combo meal by choosing three small plates from a list that includes lush guacamole; crisp mango/jicama salad; tortilla soup; half-size tortas stuffed with roasted pork, skirt steak, or chicken breast; and a variety of tacos. The permutations are as tasty as they are endless. • 1070 Nicollet Mall, Mpls., 612-338-6272, masa-restaurant.com
 

Aji Contemporary Japanese

Sushi chefs keep pace, rolling sushi nearly as fast as customers can eat it at Aji, one of the best new dining additions to downtown Hopkins. Raw-fish lovers, bring your self-control, because $19.50 is the only thing keeping you from heading back to the unlimited sushi and salad bar as many times as your stomach can handle. The rotating selection includes a variety of sushi rolls, nigiri, soba noodles, and kimchi. • 712 Mainstreet, Hopkins, 952-358-3558, ajicj.com
 

Prohibition & The Living Room

Between the sexy digs and the bull-size steaks being served at Manny’s, the W Hotel often feels like it’ll make your credit card crash harder than the stock market that brought down Wilbur Foshay, namesake of the historic tower. But during happy hour, from 5 to 7 p.m., Foshay’s former mahogany-lined boardroom (now the 27th floor Prohibition Bar) becomes an attainable indulgence. The $5 cocktails, which are also served in the first floor Living Room lounge, outshine their modest price: for example, the cucumber Collins with a floral splash of St. Germain, or the ginger liqueur with tart cherry juice. Ditto the $5 appetizers, which include adobo chicken sliders and shrimp nestled in a seaweed salad. • 821 Marquette Ave., Mpls., 612-215-3700, mannyssteakhouse.com/parasoleatthefoshay
 


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