Want to find the best budget 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 upscale burger joints to fabulous picnic spots. Here’s a few suggestions to get you started.
Farmers’ markets, a profusion of delis and ever-accessible countryside means picnicking 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 harbour side piers, to beautiful urban parks and sun-dappled canal banks.
Early bird, lunch deals and cheap 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 lunch.
In the big cities, you'll find new restaurants have made affordable eating a cornerstone of their philosophy. Tang Café in Dublin is a quirky little hub mixing Middle Eastern food with fresh local produce, Build a Burger in Belfast is fast food with a difference. Build your own meal, and experiment with choosing unique flavour combinations, or check out lunch at the Ard Bia café in Galway's historic Spanish Arch.
Okay, so Michelin restaurants are never going to be “budget”, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be good value! As well as being more affordable than Michelin restaurants in continental Europe, the island’s starry favourites offer up some really great lunch deals, as well as early bird or “pre-theatre” menus.
Make sure to book ahead and make a reservation for a Michelin spot – 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
Back in 1950s Ireland, a pub lunch consisted of a packet of Tayto crisps and a bag of salted peanuts thrown in for desert. But over the last decade, the island’s pubs have transformed themselves into dens of gourmet delights. These days, you can sip an Irish craft beer or stout while tucking into great local gastropub favourites such as fish and chips, 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; and The Parson's Nose, Hillsborough, County Down.