dinner for two under $25

by erin thursby
Luxury is often best in small doses. You don’t always have to head to TGI Friday’s if your dinner budget is under $30. Just because a place looks expensive, doesn’t mean it has to be!
When pondering where two diners can eat in Jacksonville for $25, I realized that you don’t have to be limited to casual dining. This does include some casual places (like the ever-fabulous West Inn and barbecue goodness of Mojos) but we also wanted to give our readers options at restaurants they wouldn’t normally expect to make a list like this. By no means is this an exhaustive list, but it can get you started if you have a small budget for dining out.

abe’s pizza
This Jacksonville favorite serves delicious gourmet pizzas as well as Italian-inspired fare including calzones, pastas, parmigianas, subs, salads, desserts and more. A little eclectic and totally hip, each restaurant is the place to enjoy a friendly atmosphere. Every item on Abe’s menu is reasonably priced and can easily feed a couple for well under $25. abespizza.com – 4372 Southside Blvd. – 645-0460 – 12192 Beach Blvd. – 996-8858

Biscottis has become a Jacksonville classic, and for good reason. There are plenty of entrées to be had for under $10. Their specials are often more, but if you stick to the menu, you’ll be fine. Only one entrée on their regular menu, the Skirt Steak Salad ($10.50) comes in at over $10. Order two of their personal gourmet pizzas for a great date meal. Duck Confit Pizza ($9) with carmelized onions and djion topped with parm and field greens and the Sauteed Shrimp Pizza ($9.50), topped with rock shrimp, goat cheese, baby spinach and sun dried tomatoes are my two picks. 3558 St. Johns Ave. – 387-2060

bistro aix
You wouldn’t expect to walk away full for under $25 at Bistro Aix, but it is possible. I’ve made a meal of a cocktail and their outstanding French Onion Soup ($7), which you can also order in a smaller size at just $4.50. If you stay away from the bottom half of the menu and stick to the salads, wood-fired pizzas and pastas, you’ll be able to come at $25 for the two of you. Order one personal pizza to split and a small sized French Onion for each of you, and you’ll squeak in just under budget. Wood-fired pizzas under $16 include the scampi shrimp pesto pizza, sausage pizza, prosciutto goat cheese pizza, mushroom and truffle oil and three cheese with your choice of tomatoes, goat cheese or pepperoni. It’s a tight fit budget-wise, but if you stick to water you’ll do fine! Otherwise just add a little more to your budget for alcohol. 1440 San Marco Blvd. – 398-1949

blue bamboo
This white tablecloth fusion experience doesn’t have to come with a white tablecloth price. They actually have some of the best sushi in town. If you don’t get the sushi menu, be sure to ask for it. Rolls range from $5.50- 8.95. I love the ginger carrot personally. Most of the regular menu doesn’t fall into the $25 for two price range, but there are other options besides sushi on the menu. Noodles are also a cheap but scrumptious choice at Blue Bamboo. The Thai Basil Risotto goes for $11.95. You can also cut down on price even more by getting a half portion where it’s offered. Adding meat is a little extra (about $3). Yummy salads and soups range from about $5- 10. Get one of their salads or soups and finish up with their Dessert Mini Tastings, wherein you choose three mini-desserts for only $6. Thai Tea Crème Brulee, Vietnamese Coffee Tiramisu and the various sherbets they offer make for a stunning end to your repast. 3820 Southside Blvd. – 646-1478

european street
There’s a sandwhich for you somewhere on the menu at European Street. There has to be, because they offer over 100 sandwhiches in one form or another, as wraps, pitas and croissant sandwiches and just plain sandwhiches. Where else can I order a liverwurst sandwhich? If you aren’t into the sandwhich, there’s always their humongous salads and, of course, their famous beer cheese soup. They also serve Middle Eastern foods along with a hearty selection of German fare. A visit to E-Street would not be complete without a stroll by the baked goods department (you have to, it’s right by the cash register), past their alluring and extensive selection of cakes and pies, ice cream treats and their irresistible, giant-sized, one-third of a pound cookies. Each of their four locations boasts twenty draft beer taps and over 150 imported bottled beers.

Riverside: 2753 Park St. – 384-9999
San Marco: 1704 San Marco Blvd. – 398-9500
Beach and University: 5500 Beach Blvd. – 398-1717
Jacksonville Beach: 992 Beach Blvd. – 249-3001

famous amos
If the idea of grits swimming in butter, salted country ham with red-eye gravy and buttermilk biscuits that would make Betty Crocker blush appeals to you, their six Jacksonville locations are open 24/7/365. Where else can you go at 2 am? Taco Hell or Krystal bombs? I think not. And they serve breakfast anytime – that’s hospitality. Entrees are the usual country fare: fried chicken, country-fried steak, fish, pork chops and sides like smothered cabbage, deep fried okra and black-eyes peas with fatback.

1111 Cesery Blvd. – 744-1453
10339 San Jose Blvd. – 268-6159
3911 University Blvd. W. – 731-2322
6315 San Juan Ave. – 786-4940
8265 Normandy Blvd. – 786-2244
342 Blanding Blvd., Orange Park – 272-7025

la nopalera
La Nopalera offers the most popular Mexican cuisine in town. Authentic, mildly flavored Mexican dishes can be complimented with a variety of hot sauces available, including their own special sauce (for sale online soon).  It’s cheap and it’s a Jacksonville favorite. The usual combo dinners of fajitas, tacos, quesadillas and even vegetarian options can fill your plate and your belly. Also available is a Child’s Plate (all under $4) for kids under 12. And don’t leave without dessert. The flan at La Nopalera transports you back to Miami, to custard memories at small Cuban cafés. Save room for dessert, and savor the moment.

8818 Atlantic Blvd. – 720-0106
14333 Beach Blvd. – 992-1666
1631 Hendricks Ave. – 399-1768
8206 Phillips Hwy. – 732-9433
11700 San Jose Blvd. – 288-0175

mojo bar-b-que
Like your “que” with some blues on the side? Mojo’s serves gigantic portions of tender pulled pork, fork tender turkey, smokehouse chicken, ribs, catfish and shrimp. It couldn’t get any fresher with all their sides, from collard greens and hand-cut French fries to their garlic cheddar grits and sweet potato mash made daily from scratch right in their kitchen. For dessert there’s the homemade banana pudding and peanut butter pie. The Beaches location showcases live performances from some of the nation’s top name traveling blues artists.

Mojo BAR-B-QUE – “A Southern Blues Kitchen”: 1607 University Blvd. W. – 732-7292
Mojo Kitchen – “BBQ Pit and Blues Bar”: 1500 Beach Blvd. – 247- 6636
Mojo Smokehouse – BBQ & Blues: 1810 Town Center Blvd., Fleming Island – 264-0636

Orsay is swanky to be sure, but it is possible for two to eat there for under $25 by selecting your menu items carefully. If you’re looking for a little luxury and you’re willing to share, Orsay could be right for you and your budget. Some of the appetizers are hearty enough that you could order two and get out for under $25. As to the entrées, most are in the $20 range, but there’s no split plate charge at Orsay (they proudly state that they are “anti-split plate charge”). Order up the generous Prince Edward Island Mussels, with a side of upscale fries and share it at just $17. There’s a hearty Shepard’s Pie for the same price, or you can split the Coq Au Vin ($20), a red wine braised chicken served with wild mushrooms, bacon and buttered pasta. There are wines available for $5 a glass if you want to spend a little extra on vino. 3630 Park St. – 381-0909?

primi piatti
While there is a small split plate charge at Primi Piatti, the portions are large and hearty enough to split. Check out our review on page 14.

west inn
Casual neighborhood dining and gargantuan portions typify this mex-mix Southwestern-style restaurant. They’re not afraid to experiment with cheeses and cross-cultural flavors either. The best value on the menu is the Five Treasure Chicken ($13.50). You’ll never be able to finish it in one sitting, at least no one I know who’s tried it has. Split this entrée and you’ll even have money left over to buy an appetizer and a beer! Most entrée items range from about $8- 15. 3644 St. Johns Ave. – 389-1131