Fixed-price meals

 (Photo © Reid Bramblett)

Prix-fisse, tourist menu, lunch menu—a fixed-price or set tourist menu may not be the best meal you could have at that restaurant, but it's certainly often the best budget option

Fixed-price menus are a budget traveler's ticket to full restaurant meals that won't break the bank. They usually include at least two courses, wine and/or water, sometimes even fruit or dessert, plus tax and tip all for one low price—which might be anywhere from $10 to $40. Usually a prix-fixe meal includes a selection from amongst the medium-priced dishes on the main, a la carte menu.

Some people will tell you that a "fixed-price menu" is more expensive with more options than a stripped-down "tourist menu." Whatever the restaurant calls them, meals at a set price are always cheaper (up to 30%) than ordering the same dishes à la carte. 

The tradeoff? Your options are usually far more limited than if you ordered from the main menu. Shop around. Is your only choice four different pasta shapes in tomato sauce, or are there more inventive dishes available? Is beer or wine included, and how much—a glass or a half-liter? Is dessert or coffee included? 

If it's called a "tourist menu" or "menu of the day," each course is likely to offer a small selection from among the cheapest dishes the menu—a savings, sure, but not always a memorable meal (often pasta with tomato sauce followed by a veal or chicken cutlet).

However, as sampling the food is every bit as important as the museums and monuments you visit when traveling, I'd say splurge on what hits your fancy or seems to be the local specialty, and leave the spaghetti and chicken cutlet until you get home.

Another option, typically offered at nicer restaurants, is the tasting menu, a multi-course sampling of some of the restaurant's specialties (or perhaps chef's specials not on the regular menu).

Though usually far pricier than a tourist menu, these tasting menus can be an excellent value, especially as they often cost at least slightly less than were you to order an item off of each course a la carte. They include fancier dishes and far more courses, and are a splurge of $30 to $70, but are usually well worth it (especially as you'll be too stuffed to eat for the next few meals so you save that way). 

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