By Shaina Mishkin
April 16, 2019

Trying new foods is an essential part of going on vacation — but, if you’re not careful, it can also be a big money drain.

Luckily for hungry travelers, the U.S. is full of destinations where an excellent meal doesn’t need to take a bite out of their budget.

MONEY is shining a spotlight on the best destinations to eat out affordably, using the same data that informed our list of the 20 best places to go in 2019. To name our winners, we returned to our universe of more than 300 U.S. destinations. Using data from Numbeo, Yelp and WitLytic, we evaluated locations based on the quality of restaurants, number of places to eat, and the average cost of food and drinks in the area.

So where does beer cost only $3? Which cities have the most highly-rated Yelp restaurants? And where can two people indulge in a three-course meal for $35?

Read on to find the top 10 destinations in the U.S. where you can eat out all you want — and still have enough money to travel home.

1. San Antonio, Tex.

Restaurants with four or more stars, Yelp: 794
Average price of a three-course meal at a mid-range restaurant for two people, Numbeo: $35
Average price of a domestic beer, Numbeo: $3.50

There’s a lot to do in San Antonio, but the UNESCO-designated Creative City of Gastronomy is worth a visit for the food alone. Not only are there plenty of restaurants, but they’re relatively affordable, according to Numbeo, with one of the lowest average costs for a three-course meal among all the cities we considered. San Antonio’s visitors can scope out a meal along the River Walk, or venture off the beaten path for authentic Texas barbecue at Smoke Shack. Dubbed “one of the most sought-after BBQ joints around” by Time Out San Antonio, the restaurant offers mac and cheese for $5 and a pulled pork sandwich for $8.

2. Oklahoma City, Okla.

Restaurants with four or more stars, Yelp: 519
Average price of a three-course meal at a mid-range restaurant for two people, Numbeo: $40
Average price of a domestic beer, Numbeo: $3.75

With a legacy firmly grounded in the cattle industry, it should come as no surprise that Oklahoma City’s best-known restaurants are renowned for their red meat. The quality, quantity, and affordability of meals at the Old West-themed Cattlemen’s Steakhouse impressed one visiting writer, while Nic’s Grill, a roadside burger shack illuminated by a nostalgic neon sign, serves what’s been called the best hamburger in Oklahoma. It’ll only set you back $7.45, or $11.42 for a combo.

3. Knoxville, Tenn.

Restaurants with four or more stars, Yelp: 190
Average price of a three-course meal at a mid-range restaurant for two people, Numbeo: $40
Average price of a domestic beer, Numbeo: $3

Frequently overlooked in favor of Nashville, Knoxville is also a worthwhile stop for money-minded diners visiting Tennessee. The average cost of a meal at an inexpensive restaurant is only $10, according to Numbeo, which is well below most other destinations we considered. While Knoxville excels in affordable eats — like the $6.55 9-inch cheese pizza at The Tomato Head or the $6.95 s’mores crepe at French Market Creperie — don’t sleep on its fine dining. Start your day with a Tennessee Benedict at OliBea, named one of the best breakfasts in the state by Food & Wine, or stop for a date night at J.C. Holdway, the latest venture by Knoxville native Joseph Lenn, Tennessee’s first James Beard Award-winning chef.

4. Des Moines, Iowa

Restaurants with four or more stars, Yelp: 200
Average price of a three-course meal at a mid-range restaurant for two people, Numbeo: $40
Average price of a domestic beer, Numbeo: $3

Traveling through Des Moines? You’re in luck. The city’s Eatery A — and, specifically, the Mediterranean restaurant’s $11 cioppino — was named the “best cheap eats” in Iowa by Travel + Leisure. The fish stew dish isn’t the only affordable meal you’ll find in the state capital. The average meal at an inexpensive restaurant costs $12, according to Numbeo, while, at just $3, the average price of a domestic beer is among the cheapest on this list.

5. Detroit, Mich.

Restaurants with four or more stars, Yelp: 435
Average price of a three-course meal at a mid-range restaurant for two people, Numbeo: $37.50
Average price of a domestic beer, Numbeo: $4

With 4,455 restaurants within a 10-mile radius, according to WitLytic — more than 400 of which hold a four-star rating or higher on Yelp — Detroit visitors have their pick of places to eat. The average cost of a three-course meal for two comes in under $40, and at sports bar Sweetwater Tavern, the chicken wings were dubbed best in state by Michigan news outlet MLive ($11.25 per order). If you’re looking for a higher-end meal, check out Lady of the House, a James Beard Award semifinalist in 2018 with an ever-changing New American-style menu.

6. Huntsville, Ala.

Restaurants with four or more stars, Yelp: 158
Average price of a three-course meal at a mid-range restaurant for two people, Numbeo: $40
Average price of a domestic beer, Numbeo: $3

Two people can get a three-course meal in Huntsville for an affordable $40, according to Numbeo, but you don’t only have to visit the city’s pricier restaurants. Visitors can try southern fried chicken with two sides from Walton’s Southern Table (for $9.95) or chicken tacos ($5 for four) from Taqueria el Cazador #2, both spots recommended by Alabama news outlet AL.com.

7. Lexington, Ky.

BabyCakes
Courtesy of BabyCakes

Restaurants with four or more stars, Yelp: 302
Average price of a three-course meal at a mid-range restaurant for two people, Numbeo: $35
Average price of a domestic beer, Numbeo: $4

Lexington might be best known for its horses, but the Kentucky city about 80 miles from Louisville has, in recent years, been recognized for its food scene, too. No matter your taste — or budget— you can find something that appeals at The Barn, a market at The Summit at Fritz Farm, whose local lineup of Lexington staples was recognized by Southern Living as one of the south’s best food halls. And sweets lovers shouldn’t leave town without a stop at BabyCakes Cupcakes, which offers the best cupcakes in Kentucky, according to The Daily Meal, for $2 per cake or $22 per dozen.

8. Cincinnati, Ohio

Findlay Market
Courtesy of Cincinnati CVB

Restaurants with four or more stars, Yelp: 352
Average price of a three-course meal at a mid-range restaurant for two people, Numbeo: $40
Average price of a domestic beer, Numbeo: $4

Cincinnati boasts 18 Chipotle restaurants, the most per capita of any other city the U.S., according to a recent study. Craving more than a quick burrito? You’re in luck: the number of restaurants in Cincinnati and its surrounding area tops 2,300, according to Witlytic. And, at an average $40 for a three-course meal for two and $12 for a meal at an inexpensive restaurant, according to Numbeo, eating out in Cincy won’t break the bank. Get Cincinnati-style chili — plain for $4.80 or loaded with toppings for $6.65 — at Camp Washington, recognized as a local legend by The Food Network, or grab a snack at Findlay Market, a Downtown Cincinnati staple featuring everything from pierogies to French fare.

9. Reno, Nev.

Great Full Gardens
Chris Holloman—Katipo Creative

Restaurants with four or more stars, Yelp: 350
Average price of a three-course meal at a mid-range restaurant for two people, Numbeo: $47
Average price of a domestic beer, Numbeo: $3.50

Reno might not be well-known for its food scene, but in “The Biggest Little City in the World” visitors can dine on Basque food — a storied cuisine in northern Nevada — at Louis Basque Corner, take their pick of sandwiches and soup at Süp or grab lunch at Great Full Gardens, whose healthy meals are “some of the most delectable dishes around,” according to Movoto. Looking for after-dinner drinks? Reno has more than 120 top-rated bars on Yelp — and many offer relatively affordable pours of domestic beer, according to Numbeo.

10. Portland, Ore.

Restaurants with four or more stars, Yelp: 1,622
Average price of a three-course meal at a mid-range restaurant for two people, Numbeo: $50
Average price of a domestic beer, Numbeo: $5

Something sets Portland apart from other big foodie cities: the price of its meals. While Portland is on par with cities like New York and San Francisco in terms of number of restaurants rated four stars or higher on Yelp, visitors to Portland pay $30 less on average for a three-course meal, according to Numbeo. But with so many good restaurants to choose from, don’t let analysis paralysis set in. Budget-conscious travelers can find quality eats at restaurants like Basilisk, lauded for its towering $9 fried chicken sandwich, or Checkerboard Pizza, where a plain slice will run you $3, according to OregonLive’s list of the best inexpensive restaurants around the Portland.

Methodology

MONEY’s list of the most affordable cities for dining out was informed by data derived from its annual Best Places to Travel ranking. Cost — informed by Numbeo’s database of meal and drink prices — was 50% of the equation, while number of restaurants — contributed by WitLytic — and quality of restaurants — based on Yelp and WitLytic data — each carried 25% of the weight. To ensure reliable pricing data, we eliminated any place with fewer than 40 Numbeo contributors. After MONEY ran the numbers, we researched the food scene in each spot, looking for local favorites and hidden gems.

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