Has the one-two punch of the rotten economy and holiday shopping left you a little light in the pockets? You say you're too tired to cook but too broke to go out? Never fear. Eating out doesn't have to break the bank and spending your money at local restaurants helps support their hardworking owners and staff.
Best Thing Since Sliced Bread
Located in Midtown along a strip of Vietnamese markets and other businesses, Lobster King is well known for its dim sum, fresh seafood, and other specialty dishes. Now they are offering a deal that can't be beat: bahn mi sandwiches for $2.50.
Bahn mi sandwiches combine standard Vietnamese ingredients like thinly sliced carrots, daikon, onions, jalapenos, cilantro, and meat — your choice of chicken, pork skin, meatball, or a combination — on a crusty French baguette. The sandwiches are made to order, so you can sit down and enjoy one in the restaurant or take it to-go. Either way, the turnaround is quick.
You'll probably need two to get full, but if you buy five, you get one free!
Lobster King Seafood Restaurant, 32 N. Cleveland
Straight to the Heart
Caritas Village, located in the heart of Binghamton, is one part community center and one part restaurant. Its aim is to provide a positive alternative to the street corners for neighborhood children, which is why Caritas Village has a homey feel to it. Comfy sofas, stacks of board games, vibrant art, and lots of friendly faces fill the building.
Chef Erik Waldkrich, who is the son-in-law of Caritas founder Onie Johns, has created a menu of tasty sandwiches and other delights. There is soup always on, and daily specials range from pot roast to chicken shwarma. The specials, which cost a mere $6, come with sides and a dessert. (The coffee bar is the most economical in town.) One meal at Caritas is sure to fill your stomach and warm your heart.
Caritas Village, 2509 Harvard (327-5246)
Chef Matthew Crone, a native son who earned his restaurant stripes in Portland, Oregon, recently returned to Memphis to open Sole Restaurant & Raw Bar (along with longtime friend, Chef Jackson Kramer) in downtown's Westin hotel. The restaurant is decidedly posh and has a cosmopolitan feel, and the menu features mostly seafood with a smattering of beef and chicken for good measure.
If fine dining is no longer in your budget, but you still want the experience, treat yourself to one of Sole's daily $9 lunch specials, featuring dishes such as grilled salmon with wilted spinach and crispy catfish and creamy Delta grits. The price includes tax and tea, so unless you can't resist dessert, you won't break the $10 barrier. I have certainly paid much more for a meal of this caliber. Lunch is served from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., so you could technically have lunch as an early dinner.
Sole Restaurant & Raw Bar, 221 S. Third (334-5950)
Seven Ways to Save
Clip those coupons. Check out local papers for buy-one/get-one-free coupons, or visit restaurant.com to save yourself from $7 to $30 at a number of eateries, including fine-dining establishments.
• Don't forget the kids. Many restaurants offer "Kids Eat Free" or "Kids Eat for $1" specials. In fact, with a little research at memphisloveskids.com, you could have the kids eat free nearly every day of the week.
• Be an early bird. Join the octogenarians (and new parents) between 5 to 7 p.m. and save yourself some cash.
• Join the club. Many restaurants reward their frequent visitors through club cards. These cards often earn you a free meal after you purchase a set amount (e.g., buy eight meals, get the ninth free). Some cards allow you to accrue a percentage of each meal.
• Do lunch. Many restaurants have great lunch specials. Take advantage of them. Even if you don't get the special, chances are you'll spend a lot less eating lunch than dinner.
• Water, please. Don't order soda and automatically save yourself a couple of bucks. (Skip the alcohol and save even more.)