These days, folks are counting every penny, trying to make limited budgets stretch as far as possible. But just because you don’t have a lot of money to go out to eat doesn’t mean you have to settle for a fast food lifestyle. Charlotte has many restaurants where you can get an exceptional meal without breaking the bank.
Eating out in Charlotte is often a treat, an occasional necessity, but almost always more expensive than dining at home. However, with a few simple tricks and a little research, the indulgence of restaurants doesn’t have to be a drain on your pocketbook. You can save money without sacrificing the experience by knowing where to go (see below) and practice a few of these money-saving tips:
- Bigger can be better: With portions being the huge sizes they are nowadays, it’s easy to get filled up without clearing your plate all on your own. If on a date, keep it reasonable by splitting an appetizer and a meal to cut back on the overall tab if you know the servings are substantial. One main entree can also be stretched into two meals by simply saving your leftovers for lunch the next day; make sure you tailor your order to something that will keep and reheat well.
- Be smart with your spirits: Make your buck stretch further by finding the BYOB (bring your own booze) restaurants in your city. This will allow for dinner and drinks on a much smaller budget. Always ask about drink specials too. Whether it’s two-for-ones or just discounted house wines and wells, you can shave off a decent portion of the tab if you’re willing to step away from the premiums.
- Keep an eye on the clock: Happy hours are not just for drinks, as many places will offer food specials as well. If you are willing to dine earlier or later, you may be able to save on both your meal and your drinks.
- Have a nose for specials: Many places will have weekly specials, some every day of the week. Whether it’s the college cliché of Taco Tuesdays or half-price Mondays, get to know the schedule of the restaurants nearby and frequent them on those days.
- Sides can steal the show: Free bread or chips and salsa? Unlimited fries? Side salad included? Keep an eye on the extras and a smaller, lower-priced meal could be plenty to fill you up.
Here are a few suggestions, including award-winning and nationally recognized spots, where you can have dinner and a beverage for $15 or less.
Crepe Cellar Kitchen & Pub
3116 N. Davidson St.
Charlotte, NC 28205
The steak and frites here are way over our $15 budget, but go for the signature buckwheat crepes and enjoy a taste of France in NoDa instead. The crepes come with a variety of fillings, including spinach with wild mushrooms and turkey, apple and brie, accompanied by the Crepe Cellar’s award-winning hand-cut, twice-fried French fries for just $11. Or try one of the French baguette pizzas for the same price. You’ll have just enough left over for one of the great import beers on draft.
Fern, Flavors From The Garden
1323 Central Ave.
Charlotte, NC 28205
Charlotte’s top vegetarian and vegan restaurant has many reasonably priced dishes on its menus, which change seasonally. Two favorites for the budget-conscious: the Om Burger, a crispy patty made with a house blend of tofu, chickpeas and hemp seeds topped with smoked tomato, and the Laughing Buddha Bowl, combining all the essentials for a vegan diet – beans, rice, vegetables and greens – in just the right proportions. Add a cup of herbal tea to bring your meal in under budget.
Good Food On Montford
1701 Montford Drive
Charlotte, NC 28209
Award-winning food doesn’t have to cost a fortune and this sweet spot on Montford proves it. Operated by Bruce Moffett, one of Charlotte’s top chefs best known for his work at Barrington’s, and his brother Kerry, Good Food achieved national attention soon after it opened, being selected as a semi-finalist in the prestigious James Beard Foundation awards. The menu, composed largely of local and regional products, features a variety of small plates, ranging from crispy quail to P.E.I mussels, priced from $6 to $12. To go with your small plate, add a selection from the huge list of bottled and draft beers sourced from local and craft breweries, priced from $3.50 to $5.
Mert’s Heart And Soul
214 N. College St.
Charlotte, NC 28202
Experience the best of soul food at this award-winning spot in the heart of the Center City. Mert’s is famous for any number of dishes and the menu is one of the most budget friendly in uptown. Try the salmon cakes, a Charlotte regional specialty made with fresh poached salmon, or the Southern fried chicken, considered by many to be the best in town. Both are priced under $10 and come with two sides of veggies cooked Southern style and some terrific cornbread. Add a glass of iced tea or a $3 beer and you may still have enough in your pocket for a slice of one of Mert’s awesome cakes.
Queen City Q
225 E. 6th St., Suite A
Charlotte, NC 28101
North Carolina is known for its barbecue, and at Queen City Q, you can sample some of the best without breaking the bank. Try a plate or sandwich of award-winning hand-pulled pork, or a small order of ribs, or make a selection from the long list of designer quesadillas and tacos. Wash it all down with a selection from the vast and reasonably priced beer list. You won’t go away hungry – or broke.
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With 15 years of experience covering restaurants in Charlotte and the Carolinas, and two regional guidebooks under her belt, Renee Wright examines the dining scene with enthusiasm plus a deep knowledge of food trends and outstanding local eating ops. Her work can be found at Examiner.com.