They say it’s cheaper to cook your own meals. While this might be true half of the time, there are plenty of options for eating out that can actually save you some money and time. Considering it can cost you more than ten dollars to buy all of the ingredients (some of which may go to waste), and the fact that it can take you an hour or more to prep and clean it all up, it may actually be worth it to take a break from the chore of cooking. Instead, use your budget wisely towards a meal that can be just as satisfying and without all of the hassle.
Here are fifteen restaurant meals that you can typically buy for under ten bucks each, and some of them are enough to feed more than one person. To maximize your savings, order the food to go rather than sitting down inside the restaurant to eat. This will help you avoid having to pay a twenty percent tip and will also eliminate the possible temptation for you to order more than you had planned.
These fifteen are just a starting point, but start to keep your own personal list of cheap go-to meals that you can turn to when you don’t feel like cooking so that you can keep costs low without having to compromise on taste and satisfaction.
15. Olive Garden’s Unlimited Soup & Salad
Olive Garden isn’t typically a restaurant you’d want to eat at if you were trying to be economical, but for just $6.99 you can get a whole lot of bang for your buck with their unlimited soup and salad lunch special. If you’re feeling fancier than fast food but want to eat your fill and still feel satisfied, this is a pretty good bargain. Their soups are pretty amazing, especially their famous Zuppa Toscana that has a hearty blend of protein (Italian sausage) and vegetables (potatoes and kale). And the salads are pretty high-end, not just your typical lettuce and crouton mixture.
14. Vietnamese Pho
If you’ve never heard of or tried pho, you are truly missing out. Google your nearest Vietnamese restaurant and order some now. Yes, go now, we’re serious. That’s how good this stuff is. What is it? Pho is the holy grail of Asian cuisine; rice noodles and sliced steak goodness simmering in a steaming bowl of beef broth. At only seven to eight bucks a bowl, you could live off this stuff. Also, if you have gout of if you’re recovering from the flu, try the chicken pho which is a lighter alternative but the flavor is like chicken noodle soup on steroids (not literally).
Okay, so food’s probably not the first thing you think of when you hear Ikea, but eat at their cafeteria just once and you’ll soon realize that not everyone shops there for the furniture. Swedish meatballs aren’t the only thing they serve either. For around $7, you can buy a roasted chicken dinner that comes with mashed potatoes and veggies. Or if you’re really feeling fancy, you can upgrade to a salmon fillet meal for around $9. And occasionally, they serve an impressive half-rack of ribs meal that comes with fries and veggies, all for around $8 (it’s the best bargain you can find on ribs anywhere). You’ll have a couple bucks to spend on their desserts, which are to-die-for and pretty cheap at only $1.50 per slice of cake. And you might get tricked into buying furniture as well.
12. Fish Tacos
Fish tacos are a signature food item in southern California where everyone knows about Taco Tuesday specials. Basically, you can visit almost any Mexican restaurant (including Rubio’s) and get a fish taco for $1.50. If you’ve never had a fish taco, it might be worth making a trip to California for. Imagine a battered and fried fish fillet paired with fresh cabbage and spicy salsa, all wrapped up in a warm corn tortilla. Depending on your appetite, you can feed up to three people for under ten bucks, making it a great reason for not having to cook dinner on a Tuesday night.
11. Applebee’s Classic Burger
For just nine bucks, you can upgrade your typical burger and go for a classic restaurant-level burger from Applebee’s that doesn’t disappoint and comes with a complimentary side of fries. It’s your classic burger with lettuce, tomatoes, onions, and pickles, but at A-grade restaurant quality with freshness and portion size all in check. Considering that a typical fast food burger meal would cost you around seven bucks elsewhere, the two extra dollars make a huge difference. So if you’re wanting to enjoy a restaurant experience while eating on the cheap, consider ordering a classic burger from Applebee’s. You can’t go wrong.
10. Chipotle Burrito Bowl
It’s no wonder Chipotle is one of the top Mexican food restaurants out there… they serve fast and delicious, high-quality Mexican food at affordable prices. For around seven dollars, you can order a chicken, carnitas, or steak bowl that’s enough to feed two people.To get the most bang for your buck, load up on rice, beans, and all of the included toppings. Also, skip the drink and instead, order a side of meat for only two dollars. Ask for the extra meat after your bowl has already been made so that they can put it on the side instead of taking up space in your bowl. You’ll have enough food for lunch and dinner.
9. Gyro Plate
Any Greek restaurant you can find sells gyro plates. Perhaps you’ve seen gyros more frequently at a food truck or market stand. Regardless of where you go, gyro plates are amazingly delicious and healthy! A typical gyro plate comes with fresh-carved gyro meat, a side salad (sometimes grilled veggies), and warm pita or Greek rice. Daphne’s, the popular Greek food chain, serves a mix & match gyro plate combo that comes with two choices of meat instead of the just gyro. You can also try a chicken kabob or steak kabob on top of your gyro meat, all for just nine bucks. That’s enough food to feed two people!
8. Chick-Fil-A Grilled Market Salad
For just under eight dollars, you can purchase a grilled market salad from Chick-Fil-A that features your choice of grilled or fried chicken (chopped). Considering the quality of the ingredients, and the fact that the portion is ridiculously huge, this makes a great budget-friendly restaurant option. Technically speaking, Chick-Fil-A is considered to be a fast food chain, but their salads are a level above fast food quality. So if you’re in a rush and want to order a cheap, healthy but satisfying, restaurant-quality meal, grabbing a grilled market salad is an excellent choice. You’ll have just enough change for a drink or cookie as well.
7. Pad Thai
Pad Thai is a star dish at Thai restaurants all over the world, whether you’re at a Thai street market or at an American Thai restaurant. What makes Pad Thai so lovable is the fact that you can order it just about anywhere for under ten dollars. What is Pad Thai? It’s a flavor-rich dish of chewy rice noodles drenched in sweet and sour sauce and topped with chicken, peanuts, and vegetables. If you’re ever at a Thai restaurant and don’t know what to order, you can never go wrong with Pad Thai. It consists of all of the major food groups and is ridiculously satisfying.
6. Fried Calamari
Fried calamari is usually found in the appetizers section of your menu. However, they can be considered a meal of their own due to their portion, calories, and satisfaction level. If you don’t want to sit down at a restaurant table just to order an appetizer, consider placing an order over the phone and picking it up to go. Just make sure you pick it up promptly to avoid getting soggy calamari. And don’t forget to ask for your tartar and marinara sauces. BJ’s sells their crispy calamari for just under ten dollars. It’s a high pallet dish that can satisfy you at a reasonable cost.
5. Charley’s Philly Steaks
If you want real satisfaction, consider ordering a Philly cheese steak sandwich combo from Charley’s Philly Steaks for just under eight bucks. If you want to eat at just the right portion size, split the massive sandwich and save half of it for later. The meal is quite hefty featuring a steak, cheese, and pepper filled sandwich and side cup of fries. You might not be able to consume an entire meal in one sitting. And considering you’d have extra change to spare, you might want to upgrade those fries and make them “loaded” with bacon and cheese. That’s enough to make this a meal for two.
4. Teriyaki Chicken Bowl
If you’re feeling hungry and want something that tastes fresh, try ordering a teriyaki chicken bowl. You can’t go wrong with a bowl of rice, veggies, and perfectly grilled chicken topped with sweet teriyaki sauce. Teriyaki chicken is another dish that is super budget-friendly and can be ordered just about anywhere for under ten dollars. Most food courts have a teriyaki food stand of some sort where there’s a hibachi chef grilling the meat right in front of you. For under ten bucks you can get a similar taste and quality to that of going to an actual hibachi restaurant that charges over twenty bucks per person.
3. Boston Market Meals
If you’re craving a good home-cooked meal but don’t want to do any dishes or spend an arm and a leg, Boston Market has some great options for traditional American family meals. For around eight bucks, you can choose from a selection of meats (rotisserie chicken, roasted turkey, meatloaf, or ribs) and two choices of sides. Yes, if you’re nuts about Thanksgiving, you can have a traditional Thanksgiving dinner any day of the year for under eight bucks. They have a huge selection of sides to choose from including mashed potatoes and gravy, steamed veggies, corn, mac and cheese, and more.
2. Papa John’s Wings
Sounds odd, but if you want to know where to find the best-tasting wings, go to Papa John’s. Seriously, their wings are leaps above the rest. First of all, it tastes like real chicken! The wings are cooked perfectly and their sauces don’t disappoint either. If you want to play it safe, stick with the basic buffalo or barbecue flavors but if you’re adventurous, try the honey chipotle. You can order eight pieces for $8.99 and that would suffice for a meal. However, you can usually find a coupon code online for anywhere between twenty to forty percent off, giving you even more savings!
1. Fried Chicken
Here’s another good chicken dinner that you probably don’t want to eat everyday, but certainly makes for a tasty occasional meal – good ole fried chicken. You don’t have to order a whole eight-piece bucket if you feel bad about the calories. Instead, KFC and Popeye’s both offer single portion meals for under eight bucks. They usually come with two pieces of fried chicken and your choice of two sides (mashed potatoes and gravy, coleslaw, corn, mac and cheese, etc.). If you really want to go light, you can also order grilled pieces instead of fried. You’ll also have enough change for a dessert.
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