On a budget

Eating out can weigh heavily on your wallet, but it needn’t be that way on the island of Ireland

Want to find the best value food on the island? Just follow the locals. After all, they’re the ones that know all the tips and tricks to hunting down a wallet-friendly dinner, from excellent farm-to-fork feasts in traditional pubs to local cafes to fabulous picnic spots. Here’s a few suggestions to get you started.

George's Market, Belfast
George's Market, Belfast

Picnic picks

Farmers’ markets, a profusion of delis and ever-accessible countryside means sampling on-the-go in Ireland is a natural pastime. And food halls such as Cork’s English Market and George’s Market in Belfast are essential stop-offs.

Grab some top-class artisan cheeses and salamis, fresh bread and homemade apple juice from a local deli or farmers’ market and head for one of the island’s fabulous scenic spots. And it’s not hard to find a scenic place to chill out, from harborside piers, to beautiful urban and national parks and sun-dappled canal banks. 

'Early bird', lunch deals and value eats

The early bird is an institution. Most good restaurants now offer an 'early bird' menu, where you can eat at a fraction of the a la carte price, midweek between certain hours (usually between 6pm and 7pm). What’s more, over the last couple of years most savvy eateries have started to put on “early-bird”-style menus all night from Monday to Thursday, and in some places up until 7pm on Friday, with similarly value menus on offer for lunch.

In the big cities, you’ll find new restaurants that have made affordable eating a cornerstone of their philosophy. Crackbird in Dublin has gone from being a quirky pop-up concept to being a mainstay on the urban eating scene, Rocket and Relish in Belfast is fast food with an gourmet slant thanks to chargrilled Northern Irish beef burgers for under £5, or check out lunch at the Ard Bia café in Galway’s historic Spanish Arch.

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Michelin-starred favorites

Okay, so Michelin-star restaurants are never going to be “budget”, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be good value! The island’s starry favorites offer up some really great lunch deals, as well as early bird or “pre-theatre” menus, and, best of all, local produce!

Make sure to book ahead and make a reservation – the value offered at lunchtime means that these places can book up quite far in advance, especially on Thursdays and Fridays.

Don’t forget the pub

Over the last decade, the island’s pubs have transformed themselves into dens of gourmet delights. You can sip an Irish craft beer or stout while tucking into great local gastropub favorites such as fish and chips (fries), Irish stew, crab claws, cockles and mussls, bacon and cabbage, Dublin Bay prawns, oysters, and beef and Guinness pie. 

Try out Hargadon’s, Sligo; The Exchequer, Dublin; The Munster Bar, Waterford; John Hewitt and McHugh's, Belfast; Harry's Bar and Restaurant, Inishowen; and The Parson's Nose, Hillsborough, County Down.  

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