The most sought-after request for restaurant recommendations generally goes like this: "I'm looking for a restaurant that's nice for a date, but not too fussy. I want a nice night out with a cocktail and a decent meal. I want to dress up. I want good food. But I don't want to break the bank."
This kind of search is especially important in the realm of dating, where you need to exude the facade of a high roller without actually, you know, spending a lot of money. You need a place that's high-energy but not noisy, with a menu that's not dull but also not weird. Mainstream but not boring. Chain restaurants that don't seem like chain restaurants.
If you want cheap-cheap eats, we have a list here. Meanwhile, for cheap dates, we've found 10 restaurants right down the middle:
Formerly Craft Dallas, this restaurant at the W hotel in Victory Park has been reconfigured a couple of times, but currently it resides in the crowd-pleasing "gastropub" mode. That means good bar offerings and a menu that runs from a $14 burger to a $38 tenderloin. Cheddar-jalapeño fritters with trendy Sriracha dip are $7, and you can cheat by ordering that $12 appetizer flatbread as your entrée. The cachet of dining at the W comes free.
Del Frisco's Grille
The Grille nets you all of the intangibles of its older sibling, Del Frisco's Double Eagle Steak House, at a lower price. You get the lavish atmosphere and on-point service, with menu options that run as low as $13 for a fried chicken sandwich with a side of French fries. This allows you to spring for a $7.50 starter of deviled eggs or split a $13 flatbread topped with mushrooms and onion, with great largesse. And when you bypass the $39 strip steak, you're doing it because you're just "not in the mood for steak right now" (and not because you're clutching your wallet).
This California import has roots in the "better burger" trend, with a selection of 10 burgers, topped with foodie delicacies such as bone marrow porcini butter and fig marmalade. There is an enterprising veggie burger made from beet and kidney beans, topped with arugula, and served with fries for $11. But the menu goes way beyond that, with steak, entrée salads, tacos and a slew of starters such as mussels and nachos. So, whereas you could not take a date to a Hopdoddy without looking like a bit of a piker, you could totally get away with it at Eureka. It also has a serious bar program with a worthy lineup of craft beers and cocktails.
This new restaurant adjacent to Look Cinemas in Addison has a Houston's lineage without the association of the Houston's name. So you can feel like you're doing the indie thing and not some chain, eyeroll. The menu is not the cheapest on this list, but it is broad enough to comprise both $12 pulled pork sandwiches as well as $38 rib-eye steaks (though we both know you'll be going for that sandwich). There is also Veuve by the glass for $10 — a steal. Besides, its proximity to the movie theater offers the convenience of a built-in date night as well as reduced transportation costs; you gotta factor in every penny.
No ordinary Tex-Mex, Mesa is the true-Mex creation of chef-owners Raul and Olga Reyes, with house-made tortillas and a mole sauce made from a family recipe with more than 20 ingredients. Tamales or tenderloin enchiladas may not be dirt cheap at $17, but cocktails such as house-made horchata with vanilla rum are one-of-a-kind and a bargain at $8. But Mesa is about relative value: The level of refinement is high, and in other cities, food this fine would command a much higher price.
That Norma's might be cheap is duh. It's a diner where $9.99 blue plate specials such as meat loaf and chicken-fried steak are as expensive as it gets. Before you say this is too cheap: The only Norma's you want to bring a date to is the one in North Oak Cliff. Only at that Norma's are you an intrepid explorer who has unearthed a retro gem in a wave of increasingly overpriced Bishop Arts eateries. Plus you can start and finish with a cocktail at one of Bishop Arts' overpriced eateries and still come out ahead.
The Asian/ethnic restaurant is every tightwad foodie's dating secret weapon. You look smart and edgy for finding something cool and underground, and it's almost always a cheap date. The challenge, usually, is getting the right atmosphere, and Kenzo Tran's Vietnamese/pho restaurant in Fort Worth has that covered: cool bar, chic dining room, even an open kitchen to add a sense of excitement. And with prices ranging from $9.95 for pho to $12.95 for clay pot salmon, you get a lot of bang for your dining buck.
Public School 214
California-based chain does the modern gastropub thing right, using natural materials like wood to maximize the sense of richness. The menu strikes that ideal balance of adventure and familiarity with items such as shrimp and grits, deviled eggs with crispy prosciutto, and bacon cheddar tots with Sriracha ketchup; prices hover between $10 and $16. A list of of 24 craft brews as well as wine on tap reinforce the "modern" aspect.
This Fort Worth ex-pizzeria used to be a branch of Fireside Pies, and it also used to be a pizzeria. Ba-da-boom. Restaurateur Tristan Simon, who sold his Fireside Pies chain but kept this location, always envisioned this as more than a regular pizzeria. In addition to pies, the menu has $15 pastas and shareable starters such as wood-roasted vegetables that can serve in an entrée capacity for one. A bustling bar scene enhances the date appeal, with all cocktails priced at $9.
Upscale Mexican restaurant in downtown Dallas was among the first to comprehend the wisdom of an elastic menu whose prices start at a low-low $2.50 for a taco to a maximum $24 for lamb shank. But most of what they serve — enchiladas, chicken Milanesa, redfish — comes in at around $10, with sangria and wines by the glass a mere $7. Cheap Mexican food is nothing new, but the atmosphere at Wild Salsa feels luxe, with a firepit centerpiece and expensive-looking Day of the Dead artifacts.
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