Like shopping, travel, or haircuts, dining does not have to be expensive -- one just needs to know where to go, and what to do once there. There's a savvy satisfaction to dining cheap somewhere good; you're always grinning over at your friend and going, "Wow! That was so good! And so cheap! And so good! Wow!"
Earlier this year we rounded up what we thought were the 11 most essential Twin Cities restaurants (10 just wasn't enough). But then we thought, could it be possible to eat at all 11 of them for $10 or less? It's possible! Read on.
See also: 11 Essential Twin Cities Restaurants
The carrot cross sections are out of a children's bunny book; the beets are like big beets had babies; the romanesco is Seussian, neon and jagged, like the gods smoked a doob and said: "Let's think up some veg." The $10 vegetable plate at Heyday is a work of art to the eye and a textural wonder on the tongue. Some are roasted, some blanched, some fried, some al dente, and others pliable to the tooth. Enrobed in a glaze of bagna cauda (mildly funky anchovy butter) and served with a side of powerfully robust house-made breads and whipped butter, this can't-believe-it's-true nourishment is easily enough for two.
There are plenty of elegant Nordic bites to be had at the Bachelor Farmer, many of them under 10 bucks, too, but possibly the best way to eat for under a tenner is downstairs at Marvel, their stunning secret speakeasy, where one can pair some of the wildest, or most classic, but always most perfect cocktails in town with an order of Cheetos for $1. Sure, it might cost 15 times that for the drink, but it's a total package worth the price tag. Don't drink? The $3 popover, a holdover from the Dayton's department store days, is still almost bigger than a bread box, warm as grandma's smile, and meltingly tender when slathered with honey butter.
As far as we're concerned, the Original Red's Savoy on East Seventh is the only one to fuss with (no offense to the others). The seasoning provided by 50-year-old ovens doesn't lie, and the flavor is all in the history, patina, and the yesteryear classics. The best way to get a Savoy pie is to choose your own toppings: Order a small, have it all to yourself, and avoid that awkward moment when someone snatches up the final crust piece or the final center cheesy square -- whichever one, it will inevitably be the one you were coveting. A small cheese starts at $7.99, with additional toppings to the tune of $1.25 each. Go "east side" style with sauerkraut. Sounds strange, tastes divine, the brine cuts through cheesy fat like a shiny steel boat bow through muddy waters. Zing! It's a refreshingly different trip to flavor town.
8. Haute Dish
This burger is nothing short of a work of ingenious craftsmanship, each element elevated to its very essence. The Haute Dish burger and beer for $10 deal is so mind-blowingly great, so quintessential, that chef Landon Schoenefeld had to relegate it to the lounge only because he and his talented kitchen crew got stuck making too many burgers. The heavily seasoned patty is crisped in butter in a cast iron skillet, and lettuce, tomato, pickle, and onion evoke the fast food of our childhood. Applewood smoked bacon, gorgonzola powder, and a double helping of American cheese round out the umami blast that keeps hordes lining up year after year for this absurd deal.
7. El Burrito Mercado There are about as many ways to eat cheap at El Burrito as there are colors in a piñata factory. Sweet breads, fruit smoothies, caldos (heady, flavorful meat soups), sopes, tacos, tres leches cake, we could fill this page with the length of the list -- almost nothing on the menu exceeds 10 bucks. But maybe the best way is to mix and match a whole bunch of mini tamales, smooth corn masa filled with pulled pork, chorizo, or cheese, just $1.59 each (max one dozen per order). Add a few cheap Coronas and this is a cocktail party in the making.
Most classic spots have sneaky ways to dine reasonably; after all, a classic place tends to gather classic clientele and those who've been around the block refuse to be taken. Get a taster of Murray's famous beef with a half roast beef sandwich and a cup of French onion soup made with profoundly complex beef broth capped snug with a raft of toasty cheese. All for $10. Basking in the newly remodeled splendor is free, as are witticisms from servers who've also been around the block and know a thing or two about a sandwich. Well, sorta free: Don't forget to tip.
5. Wise Acre
In a world where salad greens all come pre-washed, prepackaged, and prefab, they can get to tasting like so much bunny roughage. In this sort of world, a plate of hand-selected, seasonal, locally grown greens lightly dressed in handmade red wine vinaigrette can be revelatory. Wise Acre has a mission to raise all of its food on or near its Plato, Minnesota farm, and in off-season their greenhouses hang heavy with the misty headiness of living energy. Similar things can be said about French fries: They're everywhere, but where do they come from? Wise Acre's come from Plato, too, hand cut and served with house-made ketchup. Make a vegetarian meal out of these two dishes, or save half your cash and have only one. They're $5 each.
Never one to shrink from a challenge, chef Lenny Russo has been gearing up for ballgame frivolity as the new Saints stadium develops at his doorstep. What was once Heartland Direct Farm Market, with the finest groceries available to Midwestern man, will now be a Lowertown wine bar with the finest charcuterie, sandwiches, vino, and sausages known to Midwestern man. Until it opens somewhere around May, give these more casual eats a trial run in Heartland's lounge, where beef fat fries (can be made vegetarian, too!), pickled veggies, and fried cheese curds are all under $10.
You gotta try hard to spend over $10 at this Vietnamese institution, with all the mammoth pools of noodles; banh mi thick with pate, roasted meats, and fresh julienned veggies; and peanut-y vermicelli salads ringing in well under the 10-dollar mark. Spring rolls, light and translucent as raindrops, are just $4, meatballs redolent with lemongrass and a side of sweet soy only $3.50, and if your bowl of pho isn't colossal enough, just add an extra helping of noodles for two bucks.
2. Cossetta Built sturdily on marinara-soaked Italian roll, a sausage and peppers hero from an Italian deli is one of those essentials that assuages even the most monstrous, manly hunger pangs. It's got a big squiggly pile of onions and peppers on top, and at only $8.95, you might have a bit of shrapnel left over for a mini biscotti.
1. La Belle Vie
One of life's greatest pleasures is to share a dessert with someone you like in a fancy room. La Belle Vie has got two of these things covered; you're on your own with the other. Though its Tim Gunn levels of fabulosity suggest otherwise, it's possible to snack in the LBV lounge for little more than you'd pay for mediocre stuff. Choose a dessert, for instance, a pineapple tarte tatin with spiced coconut sorbet and yuzu. Spend an hour deconstructing flavors, clinking forks, leaning back, swooning and smirking at each other for all your good fortune and canny discernment, all for the low, low price of 10 dollars.
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