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Dinner for Two--$20 or under

Please help me out here.

A friend and her long term lover have been eating at the Old Country Buffet in Watertown four nights a week! He likes to take her out their because he considers it "good value." He uses coupons, etc, to make it even cheaper than it is anyway. But even though she's hardly a foodie, it's really wearing on her.

I told her I could readily find her some other spots where they could have dinner for under $20.
To say they have conventional tastes is putting it mildly. He wants meat and two veg, and she wants fish and two veg. They'll go for the occasional Chinese or Italian or Mexican--I'm not sure about their spice tolerance.

Well, after Great Taste and Hong Kong Eatery, I found myself longing for other suggestions and other points of view about this. Good pizza, a good diner--it doesn't have to be fancy. But I would like to help them find some new places she really good enjoy, while staying within his financial constraints.

Any suggestions most welcome, and I will past them along.

thanks to you all--

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  1. They could split a pizza at Flatbread Co., Somerville.

    In Watertown, there's Friendly's or Miller's Ale House, both pretty cheap.

    They could try an 'upscale' burger place like Tasty Burger or Boston Burger Co. The latter has a conch burger she might like.

    1. if she signs up the email list for the mount vernon in east somerville near sullivan, she'll get a weekly email advertising on Monday, this week for example, twin boiled lobsters for $10.99 and a tues. haddock special for under $10. They also have relatively unadvertised specials of two meals including soup, salad, veg, main course such as fish or pork chop for a bit over $20 every day. It's really very old school but there is parking in an adjacent lot and popovers or a loaf of bread brought to your table. I've never had the 2 for $20, as I go for simple stuff like a sandwich when I need to get out of the house and need a break from caring for a special needs child. full bar, which they may not want or need! no spice issues unless someone springs for the buffalo chicken appetizer, which is very spicy. It's not a buffet, but it is sit down service.

      3 Replies
      1. re: Madrid

        Yes, thanks, I just had the lobster special with her at the Mount Vernon, Monday.
        Lover has prejudice against the Mount Vernon, but other wise, you've got the idea.
        Thanks for the suggestions, all, and please keep them coming.

        1. re: femmevox

          well, if he is prejudiced against the Mount Vernon and likes the Old Country Buffet (I know, it's for the "value"), he probably likes the S&S in Inman Square too. Or would. There is a lot where you can park for free if you get lucky. There is also the happy pricing at Grendel's Den in Harvard Square.

        2. re: Madrid

          Busy Bee in Brookline serves full dinners all day Mon-Fri and most are under 10 bucks.

        3. Where do they live? About 15mins from the watertown buffet, I live in Arlington,,I would recommend Zocalo in Arlington (mexican), or Greek Corner in North Cambridge. Two really good restaurants where a dinner for 2could be had for 20$.

          1. All my best frugal suggestions require a bit of adventurousness from the timid. I think a lot of so-called challenging food is only tough to face down when you don't have a trusted guide for your first visit or two. For instance, the soft tofu soup / dinner entree (BBQ, stone pot, bibimbap) combo at Kaju Tofu House in Allston is a tremendous deal ($17-$20), especially when you figure in the rice and panchan, but that's going to freak out your typical Old Country Buffet aficionado without someone to explain things to them.

            I'd be looking to steer them to the Super 88 food court, Eastie tacquerias, and weigh-your-plate churrascarias, for starters.


            3 Replies
            1. re: MC Slim JB

              and who knows, this could be a great step forward for their relationship as well! Take an adventure. I love the idea of them in an Eastie tacqueria a lot more than at the Mount vernon or the S&S! Hey, maybe they could take a water taxi to the KO Pies location at the shipyard in Eastie.

              1. re: MC Slim JB

                i was also thinking of ethnic places such as rod dee, china-town, super 88, etc. Just make sure that the heat is dialed down to the requirements of the patrons. the problem is usually that you cannot get them to turn up the heat, not turn it down.

                1. re: MC Slim JB

                  If you go Friday to a churrascaria with a buffet, they will probably have fish too. Oasis in Medford usually has some kind of basic moqueca and I have seen 'bacalhoada" or Salt Cod at Gauchao. Closer to Watertown is "Panela de Barro" in Waltham and they published their buffet dishes before, but I don't have that handy to confirm fish is included.

                  Portuguese restaurants generally offer both meat and seafood, sometimes at a lower price point. Portugalia would work at lunch time, but is more expensive at Dinner unless you get some of the sandwich options in the bar. JJ's has a really excellent grilled salt cod (bacalhau a lagareiro) which is outside the budget and their steak doesn't wow me, but you might get out for a bit less with their 1/2 chicken (good) and octopus. If brunch is an option, the Neighborhood could also satisfy both and they have reasonably priced Portuguese lunches too, but no dinner.

                  And you can sometimes get a decent baked stuffed haddock and steak tips in the same place. Salemwood Cafe might be one option, but you will probably ring up closer to $30.

                  Jimmy's in Arlington would probably also be along the lines of the couple's tastes and has some good food, but not dinner for 2 at $20.

                2. The Deluxe Town Diner in Watertown might work. They can get Blue Plate Specials of franks and beans, mac and cheese, meatloaf, etc. for about that cost, if they stay away from ordering other food.

                  1. the Halfway Cafe in Watertown is doing 7 for $ 7.00 specials this month - see the link

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: MABMAQ

                      The Halfway Cafe is horrid! Wait -so is The Old Time Buffet...

                      Seriously, just walking by the place makes me sick to my stomach. I ate there only once (wasn't my choice) & I think I still have heartburn fr the oldoldold grease...yuk. Fitzs nearby on Main St. has nightly specials & would be a better choice, IMHO.

                    2. How about Little Q Hot Pot on Mass. Ave in Arlington? The portions are generous and varied; and it's fun My server was very helpful in describing the process and offerings.

                      4 Replies
                      1. re: gracenote

                        TWO enthusiastic DITTO thumbs up for Little Q. SO great - fresh, flavorful, choice of protein and choice of broth, lovely staff. Every time I leave Little Q I feel spiritually and physically renewed. Such a great spot. AND very inexpensive. :)

                        1. re: gracenote

                          Really good suggestion. You can be as adventurous or timid as you want there -- everything from steak & fish in a tasty chicken broth to beef tongue and sea cucumber in Mala broth. I'm a big fan of the latter, but they can start with the simple stuff and work upwards :)

                          1. re: Boston_Otter

                            I've eaten at Little Q a couple times, it is great. I didn't recommend it because it does not fall within the 20$ budget constraint. I'd say you could get by for 30-35$ for 2 people there. No way you get a full meal for 2 normal people on 20$. Is it worth $10 extra over these other places? Yes.

                            1. re: AaronInBoston

                              If you ordered carefully, I think you could. Hotpot broth for two is $5.50, a basic meat is $6, fish dumplings are $3, veggie platter is $6. Noodles are another $1.50. So for $22, you can get a decent amount of food for two people... though you're right, $30-35 is more accurate if you want a good variety of stuff. (On the topic of Little Q, next time you're there, get the spicy beef tongue appetizer. It's wonderful.)

                        2. Joseph's II on Main St. in Waltham might fit the bill perfectly. They serve dinner on weekend nights. Very old-school, blue-plate (and hair!) kind of place with some decent middle-of-the-road food at affordable prices.

                          I also second the Half-Way Cafe suggestion.

                          1. The 99 has 9.99 entrees and free popcorn...middle of the road menu, too, nothing too scary.

                            1. Verona in Watertown (red sauce Italian) could work.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: Pia

                                Or maybe Greg's for their early bird specials (also Watertown). Good, old school red sauce Italian.

                              2. gosh, why not Charlie's Kitchen in Harvard Square? The double cheeseburger is $5.25 (up from $4.95) and comes with fries and a small iceberg lettuce and (pink) tomato salad.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: Madrid

                                  Thanks to you all! I forwarded this list, and will let you know what (if anything!) they try.

                                2. 2 burritos and a side of fried plantains at El Pelon. This is a great time of year to eat at their outdoor tables (in the Fenway): cooler end of summer before the students return en masse.