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.
In Tipperary, Cashel has a gem in its rock-solid reliable Indian restaurant, Rajput, where dinner and drinks cost less than €20; the flavours are layered, subtle and surprising.
In the west, Sol Rio in Westport has a fantastic set menu with astonishingly good value food: with two courses for €21.95 or three for €25.95.
Lastly, Galway has a good choice of restaurants. Cheap options are relatively limited, but Eat at Massimo and sister restaurant Cava Bodega continue to win plaudits for value and quality of food.
Peter McGuire blogs at Cheapeats.ie
BLOGGERS' PICKS FOR KEEPING IT CHEAP
Eatforafiver. com looks at Dublin eateries that provide good value, and so far has included about 55 places.
"People can be nervous of cheap food, often associating low price with poor quality, but I've been astonished by the value, quality and variety of food available for my fiver," says Meredith. "For innovative fresh salads that make you feel healthy, try Staple Foods at Merchant's Arch. For dosa, uttapam and biryani, try Madina on Mary Street. For generous quantities of Chinese food, try the Oriental Emporium on Abbey Street. For pizza, chips and a can: Star Pizza on Talbot Street. For fun, enthusiastic Venezuelan servers, go to El Arepazo at Merchant's Arch. And for Balkan cuisine, try His Food in Moore Street Mall."
The wave of Asian restaurants that has hit Dublin has resulted in many great cheap eats, says Cronin.
"For under €10, you can enjoy a large bowl of soul-warming pho (Vietnamese noodle soup) at Pho Viet on Parnell Street. Or walk a few minutes into the shadow of the Pro-Cathedral, where you will find a warm, welcome and pocket-friendly genuine Chinese food at M&L Sichuan.
"For Irish cheap eats, take a trip south to 'the real capital' [we think she is referring to Cork], where Market Lane offers an excellent three-course early-bird menu for €20, or go for a Cork twist on street food at O'Flynns Gourmet Sausages."
"You can get cheap food easily enough if convenience store sambos are what you're after, but food that's good and good value can require insider knowledge," says Aoife Cox of award-winning blog The Daily Spud. "The past few years have seen better value in casual dining, especially in Dublin where I'm based, though I'd still love to see more diverse sandwich options, like proper Vietnamese banh mi.
"Vintage Kitchen on Poolbeg Street is my latest favourite for value, at €25 for two classy courses, with a bring-your-own wine policy with no corkage charge. Govinda's on Abbey Street is an old no-frills reliable, while Skinflint on Crane Lane offers interesting grilled pizzas, some for under a tenner."
Dublin gets the column inches, but Cork has a renowned food scene, and there is good value to be found, says Lyons, who has blogged about food in Cork since he retired six years ago. He has a few local favourites.
“At Cafe Gusto, Washington Street, six Cicchetti (Italian tapas), two main courses (from a large choice) and two glasses of good wine costs €30 for two, Thursday to Saturday. At the House Cafe in the Opera House, typical fare includes Ballyhoura wild mushrooms with free range egg in a delicious omelette for €8.50. Small-plate menus are increasingly popular. Jacques, in the city, and the Greenroom at Sage in Midleton are also worth a call.”