Ballin' on a budget

8 insider tips for eating on the cheap at Austin's most expensive restaurants

8 insider tips to eat on the cheap at Austin's priciest restaurants

Barley Swine bar
Enjoy affordable eats during Barley Swine's Swine Time happy hour. Barley Swine/ Facebook

Austin is expensive enough without factoring in the enormous cost of eating out, but that doesn’t mean you have to miss out on the city’s incredible dining scene. Luckily, some of Austin’s best (and most expensive) restaurants offer deals that let you enjoy their menus at a fraction of the price. From decadent bar bites to happy hour specials, these are our best hacks for indulging your Champagne tastes on a beer budget.

Austin Land & Cattle
With steaks ranging from a $38 12-ounce ribeye to a $56 New York strip, ALC is the place where budding barons go to celebrate their latest sealed deal. But everyday folks can still get in on the action at the restaurant’s casual bar, where flip-flops replace Luccheses and a steak sampler featuring three small portions of filet, sirloin, and ribeye can be had for only $12. If you go weekdays between 4-7 pm, you can get your Rat Pack on with extra strong martinis for an unbelievable $7.

Barley Swine
If you lived in Austin between 2009 and 2011, chances are you spent some time feasting at chef Bryce Gilmore’s Odd Duck Farm to Trailer, where the entire menu could be ordered for less than $100. At Barley Swine, a tasting for a single person is around that same amount, but you can revisit the glory days by visiting between 5-6:30 pm every day (except for Saturday) for Swine Time. The menu changes constantly, but expect affordable treats like fried chicken with fish bone caramel and grilled asparagus with strawberry, chevre, and a chicken skin pecan crumble.

Counter 3.Five.VII
The a la carte menu in this downtown restaurant allows you to have your cake and eat it too. The seven-course option at the intimate chef’s counter runs $150 with pairings, but you can split three or four small plates for around $60. Under new chef Alan Delgado, the quality of both menus is superlative. Save the tasting menu for when your tax return comes in, and dine on mussels, housemade cheese, and excellent bread the other 364 days of the year.

Josephine House
Okay, the prices at this Clarksville staple aren’t exactly for the ramen and frozen pizza set, but if you need to plan a romantic date night without maxing out your card, go on Monday Steak Frites Night. Some of Austin’s most choice cuts of beef anchor this three-course prix fixe menu complete with a starter and dessert. Better yet, beg off work early to hit Josephine House between 3-5 pm when the entire food menu is 50 percent off.

With an imaginative three-course prix fixe that only costs $48, Lenoir is in itself one of the best fine dining values in town. If you want to knock even more off your bill, hang out in the cozy backyard wine garden and share snacks like blue corn hush pups and dip, smoked fish salad tartine, and farmer veggies with labneh with a couple of friends. Visit right after work Tuesday-Sunday from 5-6:30 pm, when all bottles of wine are half off. Toast your smart thinking with a Hubert Meyer Crémant d’Alsace Brut for only $24.

Arriving in time to catch Uchiko’s maddeningly short sake social usually requires a mad dash, but those in the know risk speeding tickets anyway for a chance to eat at one of Austin’s most lauded restaurants for far below the usual price. During the daily Sake Social, beautiful nigiri tops out at $5, creative rolls all come in at $6, and sake can be had for as low as $3. In fact, $8 is the most you’ll pay for a single drink or dish. It takes some planning to get there between 5-6:30 pm, but that’s part of the fun.

Vince Young Steakhouse
The downtown steakhouse is the type of place you take someone when you want to impress them (especially when you know they’ll foot the bill). The rest of the time, head to the swanky bar and lounge where you can order hearty plates like crab cakes, pork belly, and roasted bone marrow without breaking the bank. From 5-7 pm, the deals get even sweeter when the entire bar menu is reduced to just $10 per plate. That means you can feast on dishes like lobster rolls and steak frites for less than the price of a cocktail.

Chefs Stewart Scruggs and Mark Paul set the foundation for Austin’s current culinary scene when they opened Wink in 2001 with a focus on ever-changing seasonal menus and sustainable local sourcing. In its more than 15-year run, those standards haven’t slipped, and the $103 per person seven-course tasting menu is well worth it for the occasional indulgence. But when your wallet is feeling light, head next door to the wine bar, where you can fill up on hearty sliders with brie and caramelized onion, impossibly rich black truffle mac ’n’ cheese, and PEI mussels for half the cost. If you go during happy hour Monday-Saturday, 5-7 pm, you can enjoy even deeper discounts.