7 Foods That Are Actually Better Buys at a Restaurant


Going out to eat is a large expense for many people, especially city dwellers. But sometimes, dining out is justifiable — and in some cases, it's even a better value than eating at home. Here are seven foods that you're actually better off having in a restaurant.

1. Fish

I recently stopped by the fish counter at my local supermarket. I was knocked out by the price of fish, particularly the wild variety which is healthier and tastier. When I went out to eat that night, I found that buying that same fish and then cooking it (including condiments, sides, and other ingredients) at home would have been more expensive than ordering it in the restaurant. Plus, I didn't need to worry about getting that fishy smell out of my kitchen.

2. Ethnic Foods

I'm a huge fan of authentic ethnic food. It's one of my favorite parts of living in a big city. Indian, Thai, and Ethiopian cuisines are three of my go-to choices when I dine out. The dishes I like best are complex with many layers of flavors and ingredients. If I were to make these dishes at home, I would need to invest in spices and ingredients that I would use only sparingly — and very occasionally. In this case, it's more cost effective for me to go to a restaurant that specializes in these cuisines, rather than paying a lot of money for a stock of ingredients I would barely use.

3. Expensive Cuts of Meat

I only eat red meat once or twice a month, and when I do, I want it to be the best of the best: sustainably and responsibly raised, flavorful, and cooked just right. These cuts of meat are expensive (as they should be, given how much it takes to raise them!) and the chances of me ruining them in my home kitchen by overcooking or using the wrong technique are high. In this case, I much prefer to leave the grilling to the experts in a restaurant.

4. Breakfast Specials

Breakfast is my favorite meal of the day. When I'm in the mood for a decadent breakfast complete with pancakes, waffles, omelettes, and/or bagels and lox, I head to any one of a number of local breakfast places and diners. They have great prices, fast service, and all of the right kitchen equipment to create the perfect breakfast for me.

5. Complicated Dishes

I love French food, but it would take me a long time (and an expensive grocery bill!) to learn to make it myself at home. And even then, the technique of a trained French chef is always going to be better than what I can do myself. I leave complex cuisines to the experts and gladly pay them for their expertise. It's money well-spent.

6. Shellfish

Cooking shellfish requires special skill to ensure it both tastes good and is safe to eat. It's also one of the most expensive items in the grocery store. When I'm in the mood for foods such a mussels or clams, or dishes like paella, I head to one of my neighborhood restaurants that serve up this delicious food in style. It's a better use of my time and money, saves me from making a huge mess in my kitchen, and tastes so much better than I could do on my own.

7. Desserts

I have a huge sweet tooth, and sometimes I get a serious hankering for a slice of chocolate cake or a rich pastry like baklava. These dishes are time consuming and as a household of one, it's often not worth it for me to incur the expense to make a whole cake or a whole batch of pastry. (My waistline and wallet would both suffer!) I'm much better off spending a fraction of that money (and zero time) by ordering a dessert like this in a restaurant. It's fresh and cooked by an expert pastry chef, something I certainly am not!

I have some hard and fast rules about things I never order in a restaurant because they aren't a good value. Simple pasta dishes, salads, easy veggie-based dishes, sandwiches, and beverages are generally things that are overpriced and easy to make at home. When I go out, I treat myself to the complicated dishes I can't make at home for less than what a restaurant charges. Bon appetit!

What are your favorite "only in a restaurant" dishes? Please share in comments!

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Guest's picture
Cindy King

Wow can't say that the restaurants are less expensive here in Billings MT. Sure do it yourself food makes a mess but unless a lot of exotic ingredients are required and then not used you will almost always do better at home.

Guest's picture

When you go to a resturant, how do you know that the meat you select is "sustainably and responsibly raised"?
Ask the waiter?
"Uh, of course it is.............."

Guest's picture

Shellfish is hard to cook? And safety? You can't boil water?

I can usually get lobster at about $5.00/pound. boil water throw it in, melt butter. Lobster dinner. Restaurant: 25-35 bucks.

And btw I don't live by the sea.