Restaurant Week 2011: Thrifty, Nifty Cuisine Is Back

neon open sign - restaurant week 2011A first course of Restaurant Week 2011 is being served this week in New York City, Los Angeles, Baltimore, Philadelphia and other major cities. How deep a discount you'll be paying for your gourmet grub depends on where you live.

Participating restaurants in the Washington, D.C., suburb Bethesda, Md., and Hudson County, N.Y., boast the cheapest lunches at around $12, according to a list supplied for WalletPop by the promotion's organizer, OpenTable, an online reservation site. Sonoma County, Calif., Oakland, Calif., and the state of New Mexico are offering multiple-course dinners for as low as $20.Restaurant Week is a 20-year-old tradition that invites diners to dig into haute cuisine at easy-to-swallow prices during slow times for the restaurant biz. The Mrs. and I have used the promotion to get our money's worth at Nobu, a Japanese eatery that still draws throngs of foodies in lower-Manhattan.

OpenTable spokesman Scott Jampol said to WalletPop, "Restaurant Week offers an equation that's hard to beat: It's a great opportunity for diners and a great opportunity for restaurants to meet new diners."

Perhaps in recognition of an economy that has flattened like a busted souffle, New York City has kept its prices at $24.07 for lunch and $35 for dinner. Los Angeles and surrounding cities top the high end at $44 for a prix-fixe dinner (but L.A. also offers $26 and $34 options.)

One of the better bargains for both lunch and dinner is offered by Raleigh, N.C. -- a $15 lunch and $30 dinner.

Recognizing that some restaurants might offer price-fixed deals at other times (and maybe in a nod to the Groupon-ization of the industry), the promotion asks restaurants to whip up something unique for Restaurant Week to "keep it fresh and exciting," Jampol said.

"It's not a coupon type of thing," he said. "It's more of an easy way to visit an upscale restaurant."

Click here for the schedule of Restaurant Weeks. Don't forget to tip.
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