Approximate cost per guest: $100 for an appetizer, entree, and dessert
It is possible to dine at EMP without a reservation -- just eat in the lounge. Boasting a 12-seat bar, plus a plush leather banquette flanked by wooden tables, the drop-in-only space makes for an equally luxe experience. Chef Daniel Humm's lounge menu is succinct -- four each of appetizers and main courses, two vegetable sides, and three desserts -- with prices ranging from $24 to $56. It's by no means cheap, but you can easily cover a three-course meal for two (plus cocktails!) with the $295 required for the prix fixe.
Approximate cost per guest: $52 for two courses at lunch
At $52 for two courses, lunch at Jean-Georges Vongerichten's Central Park gem feels like a downright steal when compared to the $138 dinner (it's a whopping $218 for the tasting of JG signatures). Diners will find many of the same premium dishes, too, like yellowfin tuna ribbons, spicy peekytoe crab salad, or, for an extra $12, four small themed desserts (chocolate, tropical, etc.).
Approximate cost per guest: $49 for the lunch tasting
Eat well, do good, and save money -- that sums up the City Harvest lunch at chef Eric Ripert's revered French restaurant. Available weekdays at Le Bernardin's lofty front lounge, the three courses not only offer a budget-friendly taste of Ripert's award-winning seafood preparations (ingredients change weekly), but $5 from every meal also gets donated to the menu's namesake nonprofit.
Approximate cost per guest: Around $50 for four shared plates
Aquavit chef Emma Bengtsson worked her way from pastry chef to executive chef, becoming the second woman in the US to command a two-star Michelin kitchen (the other being San Francisco's Dominique Crenn). At the bar, à la carte plates like country pate combining venison, duck liver, and foie gras and house-made gravlax serve as an excellent -- and affordable -- intro to Bengtsson's fresh Nordic cooking.
Approximate cost per guest: Around $58 for a shared appetizer and two entrees
After longtime executive chef Gabriel Kreuther left to open his eponymous restaurant (which received its own one-star nod), Danny Meyer tapped Abram Bissell to lead the kitchen at The Modern, a move that gave it a Michelin bump. The newly minted two-star venue recently reopened after a month-long renovation that included an upgrade of the bar area, where a by-the-dish menu is available. With 27 items to choose from and all but one costing under $40 (prices include hospitality, too), it's an economical way to sample Bissell's playful, ingredient-focused fare for less.
Approximate cost per guest: $82 for five of the most expensive items
Using Jungsik's "choice" menu, guests can essentially craft their own tasting of chef Jung Sik Yim's modern Korean cooking. Even if you order the priciest dish from each category (appetizer, rice, seafood, meat, and dessert), you can still come out ahead of the normal $190-per-person tasting by splitting the bill.
Approximate cost per guest: $52 for a two-course lunch prix fixe
The $52 two-course power lunch at Michael White's pricey Midtown establishment is nearly half the cost of the most expensive dinner entree, a whole branzino for two at $98. It's also quite extensive, with a crudi or antipasti as the first course and pasta or protein as the second. And there's plenty to choose from, like the restaurant's signature octopus fusilli, a Creekstone Farms sirloin, or seared scallops with cauliflower.
Upper East Side
Approximate cost per guest: Around $75 for a shared appetizer and individual entree
No time (or cash) for the sit-down tasting at Daniel Boulud's double-starred flagship? Snag a seat in the bar and lounge room, where you can sample surprisingly generous dishes à la carte, ranging from $33 to $66. It'll feel like a more leisurely affair here, but the staff doesn't skimp on hospitality -- you'll be getting the same winning service as prix fixe diners, plus an elegant, jazzy ambience.
Approximate cost per guest: Around $52 for a shared app and individual main
Tucked away inside Grand Central Terminal, you'll find the new-Nordic restaurant from chefs Claus Meyer and Gunnar Gíslason showcasing locally farmed ingredients. There are separate à la carte options, which means you can feast on the salt-baked beets that everyone has been talking about for a reasonable $24. Between the no-tipping policy and the crusty loaf of complimentary bread, you'll be able to fill up at a fraction of the $180 prix fixe.
[Editor's Note: Agern is currently closed due to a flood.]
Approximate cost per guest: Around $30 for shared appetizers, mains, and beer
At $65, chef Patti Jackson's prix fixe menu is already one of the best deals in town, but further savings can be had by dining in Delaware and Hudson's Tavern extension right next door. Jackson also draws inspiration from the Mid-Atlantic region for the pub menu, turning out dishes like schnitz und nepp (a ham-and-dumpling specialty from Pennsylvania) and a skate schnitzel sandwich to go with large-format beers from the area.
Approximate cost per guest: Around $50 for two tartes and a half-bottle of wine
The strategy here is easy: you, the bar, one of Gabriel Kreuther's famed tarte flambees. With its cozy white leather banquettes and fairly comprehensive menu -- including a long, award-winning wine list -- the front room is by no means a subpar experience. You can also drop by Kreuther's dessert annex, where pastry chef Marc Aumont turns out beautiful chocolate bonbons and small desserts.
Approximate cost per guest: $52 for the "Favorite Trio"
Sushi master Shinichi Inoue moved from one end of Manhattan to another, but he's still a Michelin winner. Unlike the traditional omakase at his former restaurant, Tribeca's Sushi Azabu, the offerings at Inoue's new uptown home are looser and more creative -- think torched saltwater eel and raw shrimp topped with chili pepper. Diners at the bar must do the set menu, but those at the table can cobble together a meal with à la carte pieces and rolls -- or go with the least expensive "trio" omakase with three pieces of tuna, salmon, and white fish.
Approximate cost per guest: Around $35 for five shared tapas
Don't be fooled by the fancy, white-tablecloth interior of Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich's sprawling restaurant inside Chelsea's Maritime Hotel -- prices, while on the high side, aren't completely out of reach. Our strategy? Dine at the barroom Tapas Bar, where chef Anthony Sasso -- who garnered a Michelin sparkler at Casa Mono -- has put together a menu of creative Spanish-influenced small plates like twice-fried patatas bravas with miso-uni mayo and mini-blood sausage "hot dogs."
Upper West Side
Approximate cost per guest: $68
There are a number of ways to sample John Fraser's vegetable-forward cooking at a fraction of the cost. Eat early (a pre-theater option is available daily through 6:30pm), eat on Sundays (when there's a three-course "Sundae Suppa"), or eat vegetarian (Dovetail hosts an all-veg, four-course tasting on Mondays) -- all three are priced at $68 per person, well below the usual $145 chef's tasting price tag.
Approximate cost per guest: $49
The Batali-Bastianich West Village powerhouse pares down its individual prices in the afternoon, but wallet-watching diners should opt for the $49 tasting, a four-course meal that closes with the enoteca's beloved olive oil cake. The only caveat? The entire table must participate in order to get the deal.
Approximate cost per guest: $35
Not only is the afternoon a good time to eat on the cheap at this pristine fish den, it's also when you get the best deal overall -- and the proof is in the math. The nighttime sushi omakase costs $65 for 10 pieces; the lunch option is $35 for seven pieces, plus half a roll. Average that out and the nigiri rings up to $6.50 each at dinner, but only $5 each at lunch -- and that's not even counting the extra half-roll.
Approximate cost per guest: Under $50, if you order strategically
At $65, Carbone's veal Parm may be out of budget, but order smartly with a friend at Mario Carbone and Rich Torrisi's retro red sauce palace and your table of two can actually get away with dining for less than $100. A combination of appetizer (chopped salad, $18), pasta (spicy rigatoni vodka, $29), and meat (cherry pepper ribs, $38) comes out to $42 person -- plus, the portions are as extravagant as the prices, so you'll likely be walking out with leftovers.
Approximate cost per guest: Up to $38
Lunch is the best time to eat affordably at this New American mainstay helmed by Alfred Portale. Entrees max out at $27 for dishes that will actually fill you up: local albacore tuna nicoise, sweet corn tortellini, and the Gotham burger (fries included), for example. There's also Gotham's famed greenmarket lunch, a $38 three-course meal highlighting ingredients sourced from the nearby Union Square farmers market.
Approximate cost per guest: Roughly $35 -- the average cost is $14 per dish, and you could easily get by on five dishes split between two people.
The plates at Alex Raij and Eder Montero's beloved Brooklyn tapas joint are meant to be shared, so pool your dinner budget with some friends and you can can cobble together an excellent Spanish spread -- ranging from $4 spiced chickpeas to $30 roasted suckling pig -- at a pretty reasonable rate.