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How to Eat Cheap(er) at San Francisco's Finest Restaurants

No need to splurge an entire paycheck on one meal.

Saison
Saison
Molly DeCoudreaux

San Francisco is indisputably the nation's top destination for fine dining. Saison, Benu, Atelier Crenn, Coi ... the list goes on and on. So it can be tempting to want to try them all out, but not all of us are raking in that techie money. Or even if you are, it can still be hard to part with so much of a paycheck for one meal. Instead, consider trying these five fine dining restaurants, which all offer ways to experience the magic for less. (And if the allure of fine dining on the cheap doesn't appeal, here are some of San Francisco's Essential Cheap Eats that won't drain the ol' bank account.)

Chez Panisse Café

The restaurant that inspired them all, Chez Panisse is a Berkeley classic that should be experienced by everyone. The downstairs of Alice Waters' restaurant is tasting menu only, starting at $75 on Mondays and working progressively up to $125 on Fridays and Saturdays. Upstairs, however, the café portion offers a la carte ordering of similar dishes, and there is even a daily three-course menu for $31. Meaning there's something for everyone, and if that's not fully embodying the egalitarian spirit of Berkeley, then we don't know what is.

1517 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley

Image credit: Bill Addison

Okane

Okane

The Omakase team recently opened Okane, a neighborhood izakaya, in the style of Japan's casual dining and drinking dens. There are shareable plates like tempura, noodles, karaage and sushi. Here's the important part: For the sushi portion, sister restaurant Omakase trained Okane's chefs, and the two restaurants share fish purveyors and product. It's a good deal for essentially the same food — Omakase's omakase starts at $150, whereas Okane's starts at $80 for 10 pieces of nigiri, a sashimi course and housemade sesame ice cream.

669 Townsend St., San Francisco

Image credit: Randall U./Yelp

Quince

Quince

Quince's normal menu costs $220, but the salon, which is just as richly-appointed and sumptuous, offers a la carte dishes like guinea hen, swiss chard and wild mushroom lasagne and prawn, black truffle and artichoke risotto. The salon is also catered to champagne and caviar, so if you still want to ball out a bit, there are plenty of ways to roll high. And if it's those exquisite pastas you're after, consider heading to Cotogna just next door.

470 Pacific Ave., San Francisco

Image credit: Quince

Saison Salon

The Saison salon offers a way to experience the state's most expensive restaurant for way, way less. The area, which has six bar seats and a few tables, has its own menu with a la carte options that are often pulled straight from the tasting menu and range between $18 and $50. (The regular $398 tasting menu is available there, too, should you want to go all the way.) You can make a reservation specifically for that area, noting online that you'd like to sit in the salon, after which the restaurant will call to confirm there's space, or you can just bite the bullet and (gasp!) call to make a reservation yourself.

178 Townsend St., San Francisco

Image credit: Bill Addison

The Restaurant at Meadowood Bar

In a little known secret, The Restaurant at Meadowood has a snacks menu in its bar and outer rotunda areas with eight to ten small bites for $40 per person. Just walk on in to experience the menu, though be forewarned that sometimes the area can be full. The snacks, which are always changing as they're reflective of the tasting menu, typically start with lighter seafood options, moving into heartier dishes. Keep in mind, though, that these are snacks, and often just one bite, so you may not be full when it's all eaten and done.

900 Meadowood Ln., St. Helena

Image credit: Bill Addison

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