Web Original: Critic’s Notebook: Inexpensive Taste

Splurge vs. Steal recommendations for Philadelphia restaurants.

As a teenager, I obsessed over those magazine spreads that compared luxury cosmetics to their drug store counterparts. I loved the idea that a cheap nail polish could pass off as Mac, or a discount handbag might be mistaken for Louis Vuitton. My passions have since changed, and these days, I find myself wishing that Gourmet would borrow that Glamour rubric and offer budget-friendly suggestions for gourmets who don’t have the cash for The French Laundry or Le Bec-Fin. So, here, Philly foodies (on a budget), is my restaurant-themed Splurge vs. Steal.

If Amada is out, try Cafe Apamate: both offer delicious tapas. A small-plates feast at Amada runs about $47 per person, while Cafe Apamate costs about $25 per person.

Still saving your pennies for a trip to Osteria? Even a tight budget can handle a meal at Modo Mio. Each place dishes up authentic, rustic Italian complete with house-made pastas. Osteria for around $75 a person, while Modo Mio offers a four-course meal for just $32.

Los Catrines and Tequila’s Bar has long set the standard for Mexican fine dining in Philadelphia, but that restaurant’s longtime chef has now set up shop on South Street at the affordable Las Bugambilias. Tequila’s costs about $40. That’s about twice as much dough as you’ll dole out at Las Bugambilias.