published Wednesday, March 30th, 2011

Strategies for stretching your dining-out dollars

Being young and modestly paid doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Thrift-store clothes are way more stylish than that name-brand stuff, and who needs an Xbox 360 when you’ve got a Super Nintendo?

Still, everyone needs a break from the ramen noodles, and you know mom wouldn’t approve of your new “beer for dinner” diet.

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    Staff Photo by Tim Barber/Chattanooga Times Free Press - Mar 25, 2011 - Maria Parra prepares chicken and steak tacos at Taqueria Jalisco.

Believe it or not, it is possible to eat well, eat locally and eat frugally. Follow our tips for dining out on a budget.

DATE NIGHT

Crepe-a-delic

137 River St.

The myth that the quality of the date depends on the heftiness of the bill is bunk. Turn your focus instead to creativity and charm. The French supposedly know more about romance than anyone else, so crepes are probably a good place to start. Crepe-a-delic, which backs up to Coolidge Park, offers a wide selection of both sweet and savory crepes — ranging from $4 to $10 — so it’s perfect for dinner, dessert or both. It’s a nooksome place with low lamps, fine art and fresh flowers. It also has specials that can take the pressure off your wallet — half-price beers on Tuesdays, students get 25 percent off on Wednesdays. Bring a date you want to linger with, though — the crepes can take a while.

LATE-NIGHT EATS

Hair of the Dog Pub

334 Market St.

It’s 2:15 a.m., and you’re thinking it might be a good idea to spend your last couple of bucks on something to help the future hangover rather than exacerbate it. That’s the exact reason the British invented pubs (probably). Chattanooga’s Hair of the Dog Pub claims to be based on those wonderful alehouses across the pond and serves up its entire menu until 2:30 a.m. Those who partied hard enough to work up a real appetite can order burgers, fish and chips, sandwiches — your typical pub fare — but the average and thrifty diner should stick to the starters menu. Three dollars will get you a large platefull of fries, and $4.25 will drown those fries in beer cheddar soup. Make sure you ask for a fork. These can get sloppy, and no one wants to watch you lick melted cheese off your fingers.

TIPS

  • Call ahead to ask when a restaurant or bar’s happy hour is or what daily deals are offered.
  • If you’re still in college, see if your student ID will get you a discount.
  • Check online deals websites like Chattadealz.com for coupons and offers.

BIG BANG FOR YOUR BUCK

Merv’s Restaurant

713 Mountain Creek Road

Merv’s lives up to the promise painted on the front door: Five dollars will net you “The Best Hamburger in Town.” Add to that “small” french fries easily big enough for two for under $4 and pitchers of Yuengling beer for less than $8, and you’ve got the ideal launching pad for a night out with friends. And if you are planning to head out for a night on the town, make sure to order the burger without the fifth-of-an-entire-onion garnish.

LUNCH HOUR

Taqueria Jalisco

304 E. Main St. (truck parked at the old Discoteca building)

As temperatures climb, there are few better ways to spend a lunch break than sprawled under the umbrellas or makeshift awning of the Taqueria Jalisco truck, digging into one of the fresh, full, $1.50 tacos served through the truck window. The tacos (both Mexican and American style) are a sure bet, but the truck also serves up burritos, gorditas, tamales, sincronizadas, quesadillas and its famous tortas — each for $6 or less. The best deal is the $5 special, which sets you up with two tacos, refried beans and rice. The truck will soon be moving because of the redevelopment of the property it’s parked on, but you can be sure to find it parked at the Chattanooga Market come May, says owner Maria Parras.

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