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Triangle - Layoff-induced Budget Eating!

Yep, it finally happened - the economic woes hit home and I got the layoff pink slip last week. We're cutting back, obviously, but I don't intend for us to completely become hermits who never treat ourselves to a meal outside of our own kitchen.

Since I'm sure I'm not the only one in this situation - and even for those who are still employed, money's still tight right now - does anyone have any great recommendations for eating out on a budget? Lunches, dinners, whatever - any and all ideas are welcome. Let's eat cheap, folks! :-)

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  1. Sorry to hear about your situation, but it's not exactly rare these days. As a grad. student on a budget, my favorite staple for lunch is Blue Express on Duke's campus. It's in the LSRC building. I can get an entree with side salad and bread there for $6.50. Their daily spread usually includes a pasta dish (yesterday was chicken fettucine), a fish, a meat, and a vegetarian dish (like spinach risotto). One is hard pressed to find a filling meal with fresh ingredients for under that price.


    China Palace in Durham also has a great lunch special. $5.95 gets you an entree with either white or fried rice and an egg roll. It's one of the better if not the best Chinese restaurant around, so at this price it's quite the deal.


    My fallback for dinner a lot of the times is Q-shack in Durham. I think one can get a great 3 veggie plate there for $3.95 or somesuch. Also, they have cheap meat-and-two options that are quite substantial in portion and filling, not to mention salads and baked potatoes.


    Finally, the lunch prices at Pam's Farmhouse in Raleigh just can't be beat. Everything there is made from scratch, and you can get an entree plus two sides with biscuit and hushpuppies for just a little over $6. Here's a photo of a recent meal I had there (with sweet tea and out-of-this-world banana pudding):


    1. Roast Grill in Downtown Raleigh has hot dogs for $2 each, The Food Factory in Cary has daily $5 specials, Havana Grill in Cary gives you a Cuban entre and 2 Cuban veggies for less than $6 at lunch if you select from the days specials on the steam table, La Shish has a design your own platter starting at $6.25 for 2 items and if you are in Pittsboro, Allen and Son has a pretty good burger for less than $3.

      1. Eating out at a taqueria is our treat when the stipend check is low (or non-existent). Loco-Pops or doughnuts from Tasty Bakery in Graham and DiStefanos in Mebane are the dessert of choice (and if you're near Mebane, gas is often 20c/gallon cheaper at that exit than anywhere else in the region, no one can tell me why)

        Ye Olde Country Kitchen (Snow Camp) is where we take people when we're paying but don't have a lot of cash on hand.

        1. So sorry Suzy Q. My household is in the same boat. At least it is easier to cook cheap being home to stir slow stews, etc.!

          Our cheapest "I just have to get out" meals are the $1.50 Polish sausage/drink at Cosco (sauerkraut by request) and the $2.50 banh mi at the Asian Market on Brentwood at Capital Blvd. Snoopies, Tuesdays, $.99 hot dogs, need I say more?

          Moving up a notch or so, at Neomondes we split a shawarma and a sampler plate. Porter's has a 3/$10 small plates that we get at the bar.

          I've also signed up for a number of restaurant newsletter, there have been a few nice specials offered - although we have not been available for most of them.

          The pluses are lunch at nicer places that we were not able to visit during the day. Hoping to try the $9 lunch at The Mint. The $9 options are limited, but it will be a nice way to try them out! Greg Cox on his Epicurean blog (N & O) has a bargain bites segment which is worth watching.

          We are also taking the down time as a chance to eat heartier at lunch, lighter at dinner. We live very close to the greenway and have had some great walks with picnics too. A thermos of hot soup, good bread, cheese & fruit has been perfect in this weather.

          A recent thread on another board mentioned a special at restaurant.com. I looked at their Triangle offerings and there are a couple I might do - Blu Seafood in Durham participated.

          Timely topic, looking forward to everyone's suggestions.

          1. We're way past layoff age but enjoy going out to eat often. Here are some of our most recent deals:

            Soup and sandwich lunch last week at 411 West was something like $6 and both were great. I just looked at this week's menu online and don't see it listedl, but perhaps they don't post it online. Or maybe it was just a one time thing. If it's not a regular thing, it should be. We've always liked 411 West for food, service and ambiance.

            Indy last week had Buy One, Get One Free coupon for TGI Fridays. That's not a place we usually go, but their ribs are quite good and two of us could order from their "small portions" menu and get out of there for less than $15 including generous tip. I'll watch for more when I see new Independent.

            Resturant.com offers some good deals. We've tried lots of restaurants that way that we liked enough to return to. Some of them went off the program like An in Cary. Some we thought we'd like but didn't, Le Residence and Blu seafood come to mind, and some were restaurants we visit often, like Tosca. It's nice getting $25 gift certificates for $6 like you can right now, but you need to remember there's a minimum order of (usually) $35 and then adding tip makes it all not as much of a bargain as you think it's going to be. Never the less, it's a wonderful program with some wonderful restaurants on it. We're glad to participate.

            1. Condolences on losing your job. For what it's worth, most of the people I've known in that situation ended up doing better, maybe because companies laying off aren't always much fun to work at anyway.

              I'd rather eat lunch out rather than dinner: the crowds are less, the prices lower for what is often nearly the same food, and I like having the day's large meal earlier.

              My choices (admittedly Durham-centric and non-chain):

              1. The $4.99 barbeque and two sides deal at Backyard Barbeque on Hwy 55 in Durham.

              2. Lunch at Carolina Inn in Chapel Hill for around $10-12. Last time, I had NC-raised catfish over tomato 'gravy' with andouille sausage, leeks, and mushrooms over cheese grits for $12. Plus, the homemade bread is outstanding and the historic building is fun to walk around.

              3. Lunch at the Weathervane at Southern Season, especially on days nice enough to eat outside. The mango gazpacho is outstanding and I'm hooked on the fried green tomato and bacon sandwich.

              4. Weekend brunch at Piedmont for around $8-10.

              5. Any Indian lunch buffet, hearty and spicy. I like Bombay Grille and Taste of India in Durham.

              6. My favorite picnic: Cookout fast food and any nearby park.

              7. As mentioned by mikeh, Q-Shack in Durham.

              8. I keep hearing that the Angus Barn's bar has a two-can-share burger for not much money, but I haven't tried that yet.

              9. Some would disagree, but I find Torero's Mexican food to be pretty good and cheap. Two can easily split a dinner plate or lunch fajitas are around $7.

              10. The Federal in Durham, a dumpy bar with an incredible kitchen that makes everything from scratch. We knew it was special when, as we were eating one of the best burger-and-fry combos anywhere at $7, the blue-jeaned bartender was bemoaning to a patron that the menu required a last-minute change because the fresh mussels weren't delivered as expected.

              2 Replies
              1. re: wvurx

                The Federal has a lunch special (from their website):

                Lunch Special - Soup and Half Sandwich - $5.00
                • add a small side of fries or salad $1.00, served 11:30am-3pm.

                Their food is wonderful (for a bar ;) !

                I confess that I'm a fan of Costco's footlong hot dog and soda deal for $1.50. If I browse around on a day that there are samples, I can usually get dessert for free (a bite of pie, a piece of chocolate).

                1. re: sarahUNC

                  Mediterranean Deil in Chapel Hill is pretty reasonable price-wise, but they also have daily specials in the $6 to $7 range that are outstanding values - especially considering the quantity and quality of the food.

                  One of their regular specials, the spicy chicken wrap, comes with two veggie side items and is enough food for two meals.


              2. The single best bargain I've found is at Niko's Taverna in Brightleaf Square in Durham. It's listed as fried calamari in their appetizer section but beleve me it is almost too large to be an entree let alone an app. The platter comes with a large pile of perfectly fried calamari, tdziki, wilted spinach with a hunk of feta, a white bean salad, and a tomato salad. And you get all of this for $8! The gyro platter is also a big, delicous meal for around $10.

                Second place would go to Sushi Love. Their BOGO sushi roll deal is awesome. I can't remember their names but I get one that has fried softshell crab and another than hasa lot of unagi. $11 for both with BOGO.

                Third place goes to Allen 7 Son lunch special. A huge BBQ sammy and choice of one side (the onion rings or potato are hard to pass up) for $5.40.

                1 Reply
                1. re: bbqme

                  I'll second the fried calamari in the appetizer section at Niko's- also called Mountain Salad. It is amazing. That and a cup of their Avgolemono and I'm very happy - and have eaten way too much.

                2. The Vietnamese "mall" at Capital and Brentwood. Tuesday we had 2 small bowls of pho and 2 iced coffees and the bill was $15. Today we had one pho and one cold noodles with grilled pork, no beverages. It ran $13 and change and I didn't feel all that hungry at dinner. Oh, and I think their pho is probably the best in the area. Don't worry about the small. Most people could do their laundry in the bowl that they serve the large in. No atmosphere, though, unless the older gentleman is playing his mandolin. He's actually very good at it.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: rockycat

                    Thanks for the pho report. When we last got banh mi in the grocery there we realised that we keep forgetting to go in the "mall" and try the pho...

                    Hopefully this mention will help me remember now!

                    That plaza is one of the things that makes me glad I live in that area! So much good food so close to home...

                  2. I think this is a great topic and love the tips you've already gotten. I can make a few suggestions. If you like seafood, North Seafood Bistro on Durant Road features "Date Night" on Tuesdays. You can get 2 salads, 2 entrees (any on the menu!) and a bottle of wine for $35. We've been there for it twice and it was really good. According to their website they have $6.50 lunch specials daily, but we have not tried them for lunch.

                    Right next to North Seafood Bistro is Bella Italian Restaurant. I don't know if they are still doing it or not, but they had "Date Night" on Wednesdays (their website does not currently mention it, so I don't know if they still do). When we went it was two salads, any two entrees, and a bottle of wine for $29. It was very good.

                    McCormick & Schmick's Happy Hour is another great deal. I believe it's 4-6. Bar items start at just $1.95! That includes a cheeseburger and fries. They also have some items for $2.95 and some for $3.95. I believe you have to buy a drink, but the night we went, they even had drink specials.

                    Like others here, I also use Restaurant.com a lot. Be sure to get on their email list and wait until they put their coupons on sale. I've gotten them for 50-90% off. They're good for a year. Right now, I have $25 ones for Marco's, Baby Moon Cafe,, Johnny Carino's, North Seafood, Napper Tandy's, Cinelli's at North Hills, The Big Easy...and $10 ones for Ted's Montana Grill, North Ridge Pub & Fonda Birrieria. It's a great way to try new restaurants, and so far, we've only found 2 restaurants that we would not go back to, and neither was terrible.

                    Another suggestion for coupons is to check Money Mailer.com and ValPak.com. They usually have plenty.

                    Another resource I use is to check ZSpotlight.com. They have a daily event calendar where many places post their daily specials.

                    1. I thought of another place. Hi5 on Glenwood...most or all items on the menu are $5.

                      1. Sorry to hear, Suzy Q. Ninth Street in Durham is designed for a layoff budget. At Bahn's, a Vietnamese-owned eatery, every item (lunch and dinner) is under $6. The decor is simple but the food is good. Authentic Vietnamese on Wednesdays and Saturdays.

                        The tacos at Chubby's run from $2 to $4. This is not authentic taqueria food but all fresh ingredients and the salsas are wonderful.

                        1. Lotus Leaf Vietnamese cafe on the corner of Harrison and North Maynard is outstanding for the prices. Many entrees are in the 12-15 range. http://www.lotusleafcafe.com/

                          1. For a decent, cheap burger, try Andy's. They have a burger, fries, and drink deal for $3.99. There are better burgers out there, but not for the price, IMHO.

                            Oh, and another vote for Neomonde!

                            1. hi5--everything is $5 and the food is surprisingly good for a sports bar. 2nd city grill on lake boone trail--chicago theme, decent deli food cheap and fast too. this place is always crowded at lunch.

                                1. re: ToothTooth

                                  The happy hour specials at Tobacco Road Sports Cafe in Durham and Raleigh are a great deal:


                                  Also, it seems that Cuban Revolution in Durham has a pretty nice happy hour deal from 3:30pm until 6:00pm: