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7 Genius Ways to Dine Cheaply in Expensive Cities

In this article, you will learn seven genius ways to dine cheaply in expensive cities. Whether you are a budget traveler or trying to stick to a family budget while on vacation, these tips will help you enjoy delicious meals without breaking the bank. We will explore creative strategies such as finding local food markets, trying street food, and utilizing happy hours and lunch specials. By the end of this article, you’ll have a toolkit of cost-saving strategies to navigate expensive dining scenes like a pro.

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7 Genius Ways to Dine Cheaply in Expensive Cities


Traveling to expensive cities can be an exciting adventure, but when it comes to dining, the costs can quickly add up. However, with a little planning and creativity, it is possible to enjoy delicious meals without breaking the bank. In this article, we will explore seven genius ways to dine cheaply in expensive cities, allowing you to make the most of your travel experience while staying within your budget.

Understanding Budget Travel

What is budget travel?

Budget travel refers to a style of traveling where the focus is on minimizing expenses without compromising on the overall experience. It involves finding ways to save money on transportation, accommodation, and most importantly, dining. By being mindful of your expenditure and making wise choices, you can make your travel budget stretch further.

The importance of budget travel in expensive cities

Expensive cities are notorious for their high cost of living, which often extends to dining out. By practicing budget travel in these cities, you can avoid overspending on food and still experience the local cuisine. This means you’ll have more funds available to explore attractions, visit museums, and indulge in other activities that make the city unique.

Tips for planning a budget travel experience

When planning a budget travel experience, it’s essential to prioritize and allocate funds wisely. Start by setting a daily food budget and researching budget-friendly dining options in advance. Look for local street food stalls, food markets, and establishments that offer lunch specials or early bird menus. Consider accommodations with kitchen facilities to cook your own meals, and make use of discount websites and apps to find great deals. With these tips in mind, you can plan an enjoyable and affordable dining experience in expensive cities.

7 Genius Ways to Dine Cheaply in Expensive Cities

The Challenge of Dining in Expensive Cities

Why dining in expensive cities can be difficult for budget travelers

Dining in expensive cities can be a challenge, especially for budget travelers. The high cost of ingredients, rent, and labor often translates into higher menu prices. Additionally, popular tourist areas tend to attract expensive restaurants, making it harder to find affordable dining options.

Understanding the high costs of dining out

To better understand the high costs of dining out in expensive cities, it’s important to consider various factors. Rent and operating expenses are higher in prime locations, resulting in increased menu prices. Quality ingredients also come at a premium, as restaurants strive to offer the freshest and most flavorful dishes. Lastly, labor costs, including wages and benefits for restaurant staff, contribute significantly to the overall expenses.

Creative Ways to Save Money on Dining

1. Exploring Local Street Food

One of the best ways to enjoy affordable and delicious meals in expensive cities is by indulging in local street food. Street food vendors often offer a wide range of options that allow you to sample the city’s culinary delights without spending a fortune. From savory snacks to flavorful meals, street food can be a treasure trove of affordable dining options.

2. Embracing Food Markets and Food Halls

Food markets and food halls are another great way to save money while dining in expensive cities. These vibrant culinary hubs are filled with stalls offering a variety of cuisines at reasonable prices. You can explore numerous options and indulge in a diverse range of flavors, all within a single location. Food markets and food halls provide an excellent opportunity to immerse yourself in the local food culture without breaking the bank.

3. Opting for Lunch Specials and Early Bird Menus

Many restaurants in expensive cities offer lunch specials or early bird menus, where you can enjoy discounted prices for meals served during specific hours. By planning your dining schedule around these promotions, you can dine at upscale establishments for a fraction of the regular price. Take advantage of these deals to savor quality cuisine without the hefty price tag.

4. Taking Advantage of Happy Hour Deals

Happy hour deals are not limited to drinks alone. Many restaurants also offer discounted appetizers and small plates during specific hours. Take the opportunity to enjoy delicious bites and explore the culinary offerings of expensive cities at a lower cost. Happy hour can be an excellent option for trying out different restaurants and discovering hidden gems without straining your budget.

5. Trying Ethnic and Cultural Cuisine

Expensive cities often boast a diverse culinary scene, with a wide range of ethnic and cultural cuisines available. Exploring these options can not only introduce you to new flavors but also provide more affordable dining experiences. Ethnic and cultural restaurants tend to offer generous portions at reasonable prices, making them a fantastic choice for budget travelers looking to dine cheaply without compromising on taste.

6. Utilizing Food Delivery Apps and Websites

Whether you prefer dining in the comfort of your accommodation or exploring local parks and gardens, food delivery services can be a convenient and cost-effective choice. Utilize food delivery apps and websites to order meals from budget-friendly establishments, allowing you to enjoy delicious food without the higher prices generally associated with dine-in restaurants.

7. Cooking Your Own Meals in Hostels or Accommodations with Kitchens

If you’re staying in accommodations with kitchen facilities, take advantage of them by cooking your own meals. Shopping for groceries at local markets and supermarkets can be a fun and cost-effective way to experience the local food culture. By preparing your meals, you have full control over your ingredients and portion sizes, ensuring a budget-friendly and personalized dining experience.

7 Genius Ways to Dine Cheaply in Expensive Cities

Finding Affordable Dining Options

Researching budget-friendly restaurants in advance

Before arriving in an expensive city, spend some time researching budget-friendly restaurants. Look for recommendations from travel blogs, online forums, and review websites. By gathering information in advance, you can plan your dining itinerary and identify affordable options that align with your taste preferences and dietary restrictions.

Asking locals for recommendations

Locals often have the best insight into affordable dining options in their city. Strike up a conversation with hotel staff, taxi drivers, or friendly locals to ask for their recommendations. Not only will you likely discover hidden gems that are off the beaten path, but you may also receive invaluable insider tips on the best time to visit and must-try dishes.

Checking out online reviews and ratings

Online review platforms like Yelp, TripAdvisor, and Google can provide valuable insights into the dining scene of expensive cities. Pay attention to reviews from fellow budget travelers, as they may offer specific recommendations for affordable and delicious options. Consider the overall ratings, the number of reviews, and the credibility of the source when making your decisions.

Considering dining in less touristy neighborhoods

Tourist areas in expensive cities often come with a higher price tag. Consider venturing out of these areas to explore less touristy neighborhoods. These areas often have smaller, locally-owned restaurants that offer more affordable and authentic dining experiences. In addition to saving money, you’ll also have the opportunity to interact with locals and discover hidden culinary treasures.

Navigating Menu Options

Identifying budget-friendly dishes on menus

When faced with a menu, it’s helpful to identify dishes that are more budget-friendly. Look for options like soups, appetizers, and vegetarian dishes, as they are often cheaper than main courses. Consider trying local specialties or dishes made with seasonal ingredients, as they are more likely to be affordable and incredibly flavorful.

Understanding portion sizes and sharing meals

Portion sizes can vary greatly between restaurants, and some dishes may be large enough to share. If you’re dining with friends or family, consider ordering a few dishes to share among yourselves. Not only will you get to sample a wider variety of flavors, but you’ll also reduce costs by avoiding excessive leftovers or oversized portions.

Opting for lunch portions or appetizers

Another cost-effective strategy is to opt for lunch portions or appetizers instead of full-sized meals. Many restaurants offer smaller portions during lunchtime, allowing you to enjoy the same dishes at a reduced price. Alternatively, ordering appetizers can provide a satisfying meal while saving money.

Avoiding pricey add-ons and extras

While dining out, be wary of pricey add-ons and extras that can quickly increase your bill. Drinks, desserts, and sides are often additional expenses that can be easily skipped. Stick to water or opt for drinks available at happy hour prices. Save indulgences like desserts for special occasions, or consider visiting a local bakery or sweet shop for affordable alternatives.

7 Genius Ways to Dine Cheaply in Expensive Cities

Utilizing Discount or Coupon Websites

Exploring deals on websites like Groupon

Websites like Groupon offer discounted vouchers for various services, including dining experiences. Explore the available deals for restaurants in the city you’re visiting to find discounts and promotions that suit your budget. However, always read the terms and conditions carefully to ensure the voucher can be used during your travel dates.

Subscribing to local dining newsletters for exclusive offers

Many restaurants have loyalty programs or newsletters that provide exclusive discounts and offers to subscribers. Before your trip, consider subscribing to the newsletters of budget-friendly restaurants in the city. This way, you’ll stay updated on any ongoing promotions or special deals that can help you save money on dining.

Using mobile apps that provide dining discounts

Mobile apps dedicated to dining discounts, such as Eatigo or OpenTable, can be a valuable resource for budget travelers. These apps allow you to find restaurants offering discounted prices during off-peak hours or specific days. By strategically planning your dining schedule around these deals, you can enjoy meals at a fraction of the original cost.

Taking Advantage of Happy Hour Deals

Understanding the concept of happy hour

Happy hour refers to a designated period, usually in the early evening, where bars and restaurants offer discounted prices on drinks and sometimes food. It’s a popular social event, allowing people to unwind while enjoying affordable drinks and snacks. Although happy hour traditionally focuses on beverages, many establishments also offer discounted food options during this time.

Researching establishments with affordable happy hour options

Before your trip, research the establishments in the city that offer happy hour deals on food. Look for those that serve appetizers or small plates at reduced prices. Prioritize venues that align with your preferences in terms of cuisine and ambiance, enabling you to enjoy a memorable dining experience at a lower cost.

Enjoying discounted drinks and appetizers during happy hour

During happy hour, take advantage of the discounted prices to enjoy drinks and appetizers without overspending. Choose establishments that offer a wide selection of beverages and appetizers, allowing you to sample a variety of flavors and dishes. Happy hour can be an opportunity to relax, socialize, and enjoy the city’s culinary scene without burdening your budget.

7 Genius Ways to Dine Cheaply in Expensive Cities

Planning Meals around Specials and Promotions

Looking out for lunch specials and early bird menus

One of the easiest ways to enjoy affordable dining in expensive cities is to plan your meals around lunch specials and early bird menus. These time-limited promotions often offer substantial discounts compared to regular dinner prices. By adjusting your dining schedule, you can experience exceptional cuisine from renowned restaurants at a fraction of the cost.

Taking advantage of promotional events like restaurant weeks

Many cities host promotional events like restaurant weeks, where participating establishments offer prix fixe menus or discounted dining options. These events provide an excellent opportunity to try out a diverse range of restaurants and sample their signature dishes. By planning your visit during restaurant weeks, you can enjoy unique dining experiences while saving money.

Participating in dining loyalty programs for discounts and rewards

Dining loyalty programs can be a great way to save money on meals during your travels. Look for establishments that offer loyalty programs or rewards systems and sign up before your trip. By accumulating points or taking advantage of discounts and promotions, you can enjoy discounted meals and even earn rewards for future dining experiences.

Exploring Affordable Culinary Experiences

Attending food festivals and street food events

Food festivals and street food events are a fantastic way to experience the local culinary scene while staying within your budget. These events often feature a wide variety of vendors offering affordable and delicious dishes. From traditional street food to contemporary gastronomic delights, you’ll have the opportunity to savor a diverse range of flavors and immerse yourself in the city’s food culture.

Taking cooking classes to learn local dishes

Cooking classes not only allow you to learn the secrets of local cuisine but also provide an affordable culinary experience. Seek out cooking schools or culinary workshops in the city you’re visiting and enroll in a class. You’ll not only learn new recipes and techniques but also get to enjoy the fruits of your labor by indulging in the dishes you prepare.

Participating in food tours for a taste of multiple cuisines

Food tours are a popular option for those seeking a comprehensive culinary experience in expensive cities. These guided tours take you to various establishments, allowing you to sample local specialties and dishes from different cuisines. Food tours are often reasonably priced and offer a fantastic opportunity to discover hidden gems and expand your culinary horizons.

7 Genius Ways to Dine Cheaply in Expensive Cities

Cooking Your Own Meals

Choosing accommodations with kitchen facilities

When planning your trip to an expensive city, consider booking accommodations with kitchen facilities. Opting for hostels, rental apartments, or hotels with in-room kitchens allows you to prepare your own meals, helping you save considerably on dining expenses. Having access to a kitchen provides the flexibility to cook whenever it suits you and experiment with local ingredients.

Shopping for groceries and cooking meals yourself

Make a point to visit local markets and grocery stores to stock up on fresh produce, meats, and pantry staples. Cooking your meals not only allows you to exercise creativity but also ensures that you stay within your budget. Experimenting with local ingredients and flavors can be an enjoyable and rewarding experience, giving you a true taste of the city you’re exploring.

Taking advantage of local markets and grocery stores

In addition to groceries, local markets and grocery stores often offer ready-to-eat meals or deli sections with a variety of options. Take advantage of these offerings for days when you want a break from cooking or when time is limited. These pre-prepared meals are often more affordable than dining out at restaurants and allow you to experience local flavors at your convenience.

Tips for Dining Cheaply with Children

Finding family-friendly dining options

Traveling with children adds an additional dimension to budget dining. Look for family-friendly restaurants that cater to children’s preferences and offer affordable options. Many establishments have dedicated menus or promotions for kids, making dining out with children a more affordable and enjoyable experience.

Checking for restaurants with kids eat free promotions

Some restaurants offer kids eat free promotions on specific days or during certain hours. Take advantage of these promotions to reduce the overall cost of dining. Before your trip, research the restaurants in the city that provide this offer and plan your dining schedule accordingly.

Ordering kids’ meals or sharing adult portions

When dining with children, consider ordering kids’ meals instead of full-sized portions. These meals are often priced lower and include child-friendly dishes. Alternatively, you can opt to share adult portions with your children, allowing them to sample a wider variety of flavors without the excessive quantity or cost.


Traveling to expensive cities doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice delicious meals or blow your budget. By implementing these seven genius ways to dine cheaply, you can navigate the culinary landscape of expensive cities without emptying your wallet. Embrace local street food, explore food markets, take advantage of happy hour deals, and plan your meals around special promotions. Consider cooking your own meals, participating in food tours, and asking locals for recommendations to discover budget-friendly dining options. With a little creativity, research, and planning, you can enjoy memorable dining experiences while staying within your budget in expensive cities.

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