Budget-conscious travelers with $20 to burn on a meal will eat well on their next urban vacation. Mid-range dining options abound in America's big cities that pack quality into cuisine at reasonable prices. Diners can enjoy meals like fresh grilled seafood, gourmet pizzas and smoky barbecued meats at wallet-friendly restaurants. Check out America's best meals for under $20.
To discover many of NYC's hottest dinner spots, leave Manhattan and cross into the hipster haven of Brooklyn. Head immediately to Paulie Gee's, a gourmet pizza joint run by Paul Giannone, a software engineer turned pizza maker from New Jersey. Paulie Gee's dishes out-do some of the best bites in the borough, turning pizza creation into an art form, with crispy thin crust options, such as "A Whiter Shade of Kale," featuring marinated baby kale grown on Brooklyn rooftop farms. Other exotic favorites include "Anise and Anephew," with braised fennel, anisette cream drizzle, guanciale (unsmoked Italian bacon) and fennel fronds; and the "Harry Belafontina," which includes fontina cheese, tomatoes, beef meatballs and golden raisins. Save room for dessert, like a sweet pizza with Nutella and sliced Bosc pears.
Here’s a wallet-friendly Chicago restaurant to go to when a barbecue craving kicks in hard. Smoque BBQ in Irving Park has perfected the "low and slow" cooking technique of low temperatures combined with long cook times. Smoque's BYOB policy helps keep prices down. Bring the wine or beer of your choice to complement barbecue dishes, such as baby back ribs smoked over apple and oak with a Memphis-style spicy dry rub. Low prices for main courses leave you plenty of room to indulge in sides, such as coleslaw, barbecue baked beans and cornbread.
Any restaurant where lines form outside before the doors even open has gotta be good. At Sushi Gen, the popular Los Angeles sushi eatery, beat the crowds clamoring to order the $15 sashimi lunch special by arriving early. In a city where fresh sushi can make a considerable dent in your budget, this lunch deal is a veritable steal. Sushi Gen's sashimi lunch is a fish lover’s delight, and includes chopped toro, spiced salmon belly, shredded crab meat, smoked fish, grilled yellowtail tuna, red snapper, cuttlefish, regular tuna and salmon, octopus and hamachi. The sashimi lunch also includes small plates of pickles, miso soup, tofu cubes and a salad. Meshiagare! (That’s bon appetit in Japanese.)
Taste the culinary genius of San Francisco's superstar chef, Daniel Patterson, at Il Cane Rosso in the city's Ferry Building marketplace, and pay a fraction of what you would have forked over at his high-end 4-star restaurant, COI. You'll find only locally-sourced food at Il Cane Rosso. For less than $20, diners can indulge in menu options that change almost daily, such as the organic, herb-rubbed 1/4-lb. chicken; a smoked eggplant caponata sandwich with ricotta cheese, toasted pine nuts, basil and raisins; and yellow zucchini soup topped with a splash of chili oil. Also included in the reasonable prices are stellar views of the San Francisco Bay.
With all the charm of a proper seafood shack -- complete with lobster pots, suspended fishing nets and nearby picnic tables -- Tackle Box in Washington, DC’s Georgetown neighborhood features a menu of fishy options. Sure, lobster rolls grace the menu, but diners can also choose from among additional fish options, including bluefish, trout, tilapia, cod, catfish, shrimp, scallops and haddock, as well as 1 sauce (spicy marinara, tartar and lemon-garlic aioli), and 2 sides (hush puppies, fried green tomatoes and mashed potatoes). Save room for dessert with a slice of homemade blueberry pie.
Dining in America's big cities isn’t an either-or choice between super-cheap dives versus wildly pricey restaurants. It's easy to savor delicious eats within a mid-range budget.
Valerie Conners is a freelance writer and editor who has worked for media outlets such as the Travel Channel, Discovery Channel, Animal Planet, Boston Globe, Philadelphia Inquirer and Frommer's Travel Guides.