Welcome to the cheap eats: dining out that won’t leave you destitute
Dublin diners are spoiled for choice for reasonably priced, tasty options, and, though the rest of the country is not as well served, there are bargain meals to be had if you look hard enough
Pyke’n’Pommes street food: generating significant buzz in Derry
Sol Rio in Westport: a fantastic set menu with astonishingly good-value food
Chef JP McMahon outside Eat at Massimo in Galway city
In these hard times we live in, it can still be cheap as chips to eat out – if you do your homework. Diners are spoilt for choice on bargains, deals, and good value. It is easy to get a decent, substantial meal for less than €10.
Well, that is the case in Dublin anyway. Move outside the capital, however, and it’s a very different story. “Right now, there is great value in Dublin but, despite some local gems, much of the country is lagging behind,” says Joanne Cronin, who blogs at Stitch and Bear. “I’ve had enough of dry burgers and lasagne in a room fragranced with carvery. Prices outside Dublin have sometimes brought a tear to my eye. I would love to see more variety and good value throughout the country.”
It is a common complaint with diners, bloggers, and online commenters: why, outside of Ireland’s main cities, are restaurateurs not stepping up to the mark? The dearth of cheap eats outside Dublin illustrates the story of two Irelands. Outside the capital, there is a lack of competition in a struggling restaurant market, with value often limited to early birds and not-so-special lunch specials.
So where is Dublin’s best value? And should everyone else just stay at home?
Two distinct parts of Dublin city have emerged as the best spots to eat for less. One of these is the area that stretches from Capel Street to Parnell Street and includes Moore Street.
The range of cheap eats on the southside is smaller, and concentrated around the Camden and Wexford Street area. Green 19, where all mains cost €10, kicked it all off. Cafe Sofia, an old-fashioned and friendly restaurant at the corner of Wexford Street, does great-value breakfasts, lunches, and dinners for less than €10; you won’t find a better breakfast in the city.
Neon’s take on Asian street food is a casual dining experience beloved of adults and kids alike, with free whipped ice-cream for dessert. Bunsen’s take on the burger is a considered response to the “gourmet burger” phenomenon: their menu consists of burger, cheeseburger, fries, milkshake, and soda, and you’ll pay about €10 for a burger and chips. Camden Rotisserie does a succulent and delicious chicken dinner for about €10.
There are many other gems in the city, including Bison Bar’s substantial barbecued meat sandwich for €5 (Wellington Quay), and Indie Dhaba, an excellent value bar and restaurant serving small plates of Indian food.
Another tasty way to eat on the cheap in Dublin is to go to the deli counter in Fallon & Byrne on Dublin’s Exchequer Street, and pick up a plate of hot food with salads. It won’t cost you any more than €10. You can take it downstairs and have a leisurely meal in a lovely setting with a glass of wine, the whole thing coming in at less than €13.
Rest of country
Outside Dublin, value does thin out. Some towns are better than others. Athlone has good value, with The Left Bank Bistro and The Mill among local favourites.
In the thriving city of Derry, Pyke’n’Pommes street food is generating significant buzz. Brown’s in Town, widely regarded as Derry’s best restaurant, has a highly recommended early bird and Sunday lunch for £19.95. Also, check out Guapo’s much-loved 12-inch burritos for £3.50.
Burritos have proven to be an extraordinarily popular fast food option all around Ireland, and Limerick’s new Badass Burritos bar has won over many locals.
In Kilkenny, Key Largo is far from fine dining, but it’s a favoured option in a city that is quite short of cheap dining options, with a two-course early bird for €10.