While practicing frugal habits, it’s easy to become absorbed in a life of self-denial: “I will not buy this shirt. I will wait for this film to come to DVD. I will not eat at the steak house tonight.” Even so, there’s room to treat yourself once in a while, especially if the treat is cheap!

One treat I allow myself is the Lunch Special.

I am a regular at Imperial Garden, a local Chinese restaurant. I like to eat lunch there once per week. Sometimes I stop on my way home from work on Friday (when I leave work at noon). Sometimes I walk up to the restaurant on my way to the library. Sometimes I invite friends to join me.

Imperial Garden offers a $4.50 lunch special. This $4.50 includes tea, hot-and-sour soup, two wontons, and a spring roll. It also includes rice (steamed or fried) and my choice of entree. The food is good, and the service the best of any restaurant I’ve ever seen. I cannot eat all the food. I always take home a box containing enough food for another meal later in the weekend. I spend $5.50 (after tip) once per week for two meals that I thoroughly enjoy. That’s $2.75 per meal, which is a fine deal in my book.

I’m also fond of Cha!Cha!Cha!, a local Mexican restaurant that offers about ten different tacos at $1.50/each. Each taco order comes with two tortillas. For $3.00 ($4.50 if I’m hungry), I get a delicious, satisfying lunch.

I’m sure there are other Cheap Eats in the Portland area, but these are two of the best five-buck lunch special locations that I’ve found. I enjoy meals out at expensive restaurants just as much as the next person, but I get more satisfaction from meals that are one-tenth the cost.