Less Than $10
When the recession forced Sergio Espana out of the construction business two years ago, he figured it was time to fill what he saw as a gap in the market and start serving the kind of tacos he enjoyed when he lived in Los Angeles. It took Espana longer than he thought, but Tortacos finally opened in a little shopping strip about a year ago. Its palette is cheerful in tangerine and lime; a tidy open kitchen lets diners in on the action of a hot grill. Tongue, steak, chicken and pork (sweet from its pineapple marinade) are served on two-ply corn tortillas that can be accessorized with a bonanza of fresh toppings from the help-yourself condiment cart. A combination of three tacos, plus house-made chips and a soda, goes for $7.50. Tortacos is a hybrid shop; there are tortas, or sandwiches, on the menu, too.
Less Than $20
Inaugurated two winters ago at the tony Quill in the Jefferson Hotel, the Founding Father’s Eggnog ($15) is a tip of the broad-brimmed hat to the nation’s third president and an elegant twist on the usual cloying liquid custard. The cocktail’s base, creamy with the Dutch egg liqueur called advocaat, is bold with 10-year-old Madeira. A cap of nutmeg-dusted vanilla whipped cream helps fill the tall, see-through glass. Each sip starts cold and ends hot, sensations interspersed with hints of butterscotch and port. The colder the weather, “the more popular it gets,” says bartender Chris Cohen of the drink that goes down like dessert and a hot toddy combined.
Want to impress someone with your good taste? Invite her to lunch at Fiola, take a seat at the elegant bar and let her order anything she wants - off the new Presto menu. There are six or so dreamy entrees (all $15) on the daily-changing sheet, and if you’re torn between the open-face lump crab sandwich on bruschetta or the juicy roast chicken framed with cheese-filled pillows of pasta, join the club. For what you might pay for popcorn and a movie, you get the careful cooking of a top chef, Fabio Trabocchi, plus a glass of something interesting from bar maven Jeff Faile. Make mine La Pera, a refresher of prosecco swirled with ginger and pear liqueurs.
Less than $30
Savoring a single small plate at Taberna del Alabardero is an affordable luxury, like buying a key chain at Tiffany. The majestic Spanish restaurant recently introduced a new tapas menu, and among the 20 or so pick-me-ups are two fat piquillo peppers stuffed with hot seafood mousse and displayed on a pool of squid ink ($13.50). The red-on-black tableau is dramatic; the pepper’s slight bite is countered by the subtle sweetness of the filling, its creaminess punctuated by a tender shrimp. Enjoy the treat at the marble bar, with a glass of albarino ($12) or a blend of tempranillo and cabernet sauvignon ($9.75). Psst: Visit during happy hour, weekdays from 3:30 to 6:30 p.m., and the same plate goes for half the cost.