We've all been there – bored with the cheap eats and frozen pizza, longing for an elegant dining experience. But we shy away from our favorite restaurants because the entrees cost as much as a tank of gas.
Milwaukee's dining scene is a diverse one, and there are plenty of inexpensive establishments that serve a fantastic meal. But what about the places that are strictly "special occasion" for many of us? You might be surprised to find that there are delicious options all over the city for under $10 – and we're not talking a side of grilled asparagus or a Caesar salad.
Here are just a few Milwaukee meals that will leave you, and your wallet, feeling full.
Carini’s La Conca d’Oro's buffet (lunch)
3468 N. Oakland Ave., (414) 963-9623
This all-fresh spread is served from Tuesday-Friday 11 a.m.-2 p.m. and includes five salads, two soups and an entrée. Better yet? It’s all you can eat, so you’re guaranteed to leave satisfied. If you go to Carini’s for dinner, check out their sandwiches and panini, which range from $7.50 to $9.50.
Casablanca lunch buffet
728 E. Brady St., (414) 271-6000
Casablanca’s legendary lunch buffet is cheap and delicious. Served Monday through Saturday from 11 a.m.-3 p.m., the spread includes seven different salads, a variety of hot dishes, two soups and homemade pastries, falafel and pita bread.
Coquette Café’s Pan-bagnat
316 N. Milwaukee St., (414) 291-2655
Leave it to the French to produce a meal that is healthy, delicious and shockingly affordable. The Pan-bagnat is traditional lunch fare in Nice. Choose a side of pommes frites, Coquette slaw or fresh fruit.
METRO’s sandwiches (lunch)
411 E. Mason St., (414) 272-1937
There’s no greater tried-and-true penny-saving maneuver than ditching dinner and opting for lunch instead. METRO’s lunch menu offers delectable sandwiches that cost from $8-$10. Try a grilled Portobello mushroom foccaccia creation with roasted pepper, zucchini, spinach and provolone cheese or a chicken salad croissant with fresh fruit. All sandwiches come with homemade bread and chips.
John Hawk’s Pub deli sandwiches
100 E. Wisconsin Ave., (414) 272-3199
Lucky for you, this Milwaukee institution has a reasonably-priced menu, and there are plenty of options that cost less than the price of two Abe Lincolns. But their deli creations are cheapest of them all, ranging from $6 to $8 and served with kettle chips. Plus, you can’t beat the view of the river.
Le Reve’s tomato, brie and pesto on a toasted baguette (regular menu) and tapas menu
7610 Harwood Ave., Wauwatosa, (414) 778-3333
The mouthwatering toasted sandwich is served with a side of pommes frites or a petite green salad. And don’t forget about their new French tapas menu offered weekdays 3 p.m.-5 p.m. A delicious selection of charcuterie or gourmet cheese can be had with French bread for as little as $6.95.
Ryan Braun’s Graffito panini (lunch) and gnocchi (dinner)
102 N. Water St., (414) 727-2888
Price: $9 and $8
The tomato mozzarella panini is topped with basil pesto and sounds hard to resist, as does Graffito’s roasted veggie panini with Portobello mushroom, goat cheese and bell peppers. If you’re there for dinner, you might want to try the gnocchi. It’s technically an appetizer, but the staff tell us that many people have ordered it as an entrée, which makes sense – these traditional Italian potato dumplings are heavy and very filling, so it doesn’t take many to do the trick.
Safe House’s sandwiches
779 N. Front St., (414) 271-2007
Like most things about the espionage-themed restaurant, this inexpensive dinner or lunch option is a well-kept secret. Found under the title of "Clock & Dagger" in the pun-filled menu, these dishes include a grilled portobello sandwich, a Reuben sandwich with Caribbean dressing, a mesquite smoked turkey wrap and more.
Water Buffalo’s black bean burger
249 N. Water St., (414) 431-1133
Water Buffalo, another riverside gem, offers this healthy option consisting of a seared black bean patty with peppers mixed in, topped with cilantro, avocado spread and crispy onions. Black beans are loaded with antioxidants, fiber and protein. Get fries, house slaw, fresh fruit or a cup of soup on the side.
Zarletti sandwiches (lunch)
741 N. Milwaukee St., (414) 225-0000
Zarletti is known for setting the standard in Milwaukee's Italian cuisine. But their lunch menu’s sandwiches offer the same high quality at a lower price. Enjoy choices like pollo con avocado (with chicken, avocado, tomato, onion and sun-dried tomato mayonnaise) or a bruschetta burger with fresh tomato relish, mozzarella and pesto oil.
Colleen Jurkiewicz is a Milwaukee native with a degree in English from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and she loves having a job where she learns something new about the Cream City every day. Her previous incarnations have included stints as a waitress, a barista, a writing tutor, a medical transcriptionist, a freelance journalist, and now this lovely gig at the best online magazine in Milwaukee.