The Michelin Guides have been in existence for more than a century. That is quite a long time to be the harbinger of good taste — a reputation in which the guides’ publisher basks. The prestigious institution awards one, two, or three stars to restaurants it deems worthy, and to earn even a single star is a feat aspired to by many but achieved by few.
A Michelin-starred restaurant conjures thoughts of haute cuisine, white tablecloth dining, and more often than not, a hefty price tag, but that is not always the case. In fact, inexpensive meals abound at some of the world’s most notable establishments, and in the United States there are several starred restaurants serving meals under $50. Take a look.
California has long had the reputation as the place where French cuisine meets coastal wine country. The intersection has served the region well, as there is no shortage of restaurants where light, nuanced food finds itself on the plats du jour. To avoid an astronomical tab at this Napa Valley gem, opt for the breakfast menu that is just as delectable as its evening counterpart. Try the chef’s duck confit hash or the ham and gruyère quiche for an otherworldly early-morning experience.
180 Rutherford Hill Rd., Rutherford, CA 94573
Photo: Courtesy of Cafe China
Dim sum largely owes its popularity to its affordability and, of course, its variety. Small amuse bouche-like bites with minuscule price tags are an ideal way to sample an array of dishes. Cold dishes (think noodles with peanuts) and a short stack of sweet potato pancakes ring in at a pleasant $7 and $5, respectively. If you’re craving something a bit more substantial, try the $15 kung pao chicken or decadent duck fried rice for $14. You’d be remiss to not cap the meal off with a rich mooncake filled with mung and red beans, pineapple, and topped with lotus seeds.
13 E. 37th St., New York, NY 10016
Dusek’s Board & Beer
Photo by: Dusek's / Facebook
Two words: beef fat. Perhaps not appetising on its own, but when it becomes the frying vehicle for thick-cut fries the appeal is apparent. The house-made fries have gained a cult following and the accompanying double-patty burger—while delicious in its own right—is almost an afterthought. Almost. Indulgent breakfast, lunch, and dinner options are all under $25. For a stroll down comfort food lane, try the Tennessee-style hot chicken and waffles.
1227 W 18th St., Chicago, IL 60608
A Michelin-starred restaurant in the tony Flatiron district is not unusual, but the inexpensive fare at this Indian haute-cuisine pantheon certainly is. You won’t be overwhelmed with guilt over expensed business lunches; mains like mushroom korma and a creamy nizami paneer are true standouts priced at exactly $25. Dining on exquisitely spiced dishes in lush, contemporary environs make a meal here especially distinctive.
The name of this San Fran restaurant is more of a term of endearment than epithet. Lazy bears who can’t fathom arising before sunset will take solace in the refined late-night menu that caters to night owls beset with the munchies. Starting at 9:30 PM, inexpensive snacks like duck confit rice is up for grabs at a mere $13 and a $7 crispy trout belly satisfies your belly.
3416 19th St., San Francisco, CA 94110
Photo by: Scott Suchman
The Puglian-inspired fare at this rustic-chic downtown eatery is the stuff of Italian countryside dreams. The one-star restaurant’s menu is a heartfelt ode to the chef’s ancestral home and features a host of refined dishes. You can cobble together an affordable meal by skipping traditional seating and heading to the bar where you can find noshes like $2 arancini, fennel seed-studded taralli (breadstick), spiced giardiniera, and burrata.
1340 4th St. NE, Washington, DC 20002
Housed in a former print shop, this farm-to-table restaurant offers a menu that is both rustic and refined, modern and vintage. Lunch is the best way to introduce your palate to food that is both elevated and approachable. Rotating prix fixe menus are $24 and include a silken duck liver mousse, carnaroli risotto, and ricotta gnudi. It’s best to make a reservation because locals and tourists alike vie for a seat to get first dibs on the some of the city’s best food.
An affordable lunch in the upscale business district of the capital may seem as likely as bipartisan politics, but the filling bento boxes at this Japanese hotspot prove otherwise. For less than $20, you can score one of several traditional boxes that come with a hearty main like grilled salmon or crispy fried oysters, and a sampling of smaller bites like vegetable and shrimp tempura and ocean-fresh sashimi. Rice, housemade pickles, and miso soup round out the lunch.
Carbs are the answer to the question of affordability here. Loading up on pasta and bread may be a dieter’s nightmare, but it is easier on one’s wallet. Make no mistake, the unique dishes are more than an afterthought—you'll find carefully-wrought, intricate plates of pasta and a selection of creative ‘breads’ like a toasted zucchini slice topped with winter squash yogurt, razor-thin coins of jalapeño, and puffed sorghum.
Chef and longtime advocate of Mexican cuisine Rick Bayless struck gold with this downtown staple back in the ‘80s and it’s been going strong ever since. Though the adventurous prix fixe menu changes frequently, one thing doesn’t—the bright, bold flavours that pay homage to traditional and rich cuisine and culture. Chilaquiles are relieved from their (Americanised) view as a hangover dish, and a platter of carne asada tastes like you’re being let in on a delicious family secret.
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