BEST DINNER UNDER $25 - 2006
Rioja is not a cheap restaurant, by any means, but it offers two of the best meals in the city for under twenty bucks each. The first is the Rioja picnic. Just $14.50 buys you a big plate filled with everything necessary to make an antipasto freak smile: Spanish chorizo; shaved, dried duck breast; speck; a little goat cheese; a little gorgonzola; olives and nuts; a bit of truffled fennel salad -- as well as really good bread (you can choose from three kinds, and if you ask nicely, the server will let you try them all). That leaves enough cash for the cheapest glass of wine on the menu, a 2004 Louis Latour Chardonnay d'Ardeche, and a well-deserved tip. The second meal is more complicated: Start with a small plate of the bar's garlic- and citrus-marinated olives, then move on to the baked, housemade mozzarella, wrapped in prosciutto and served on toasted bread with oven-dried tomatoes and olive spread. Finally, ask for a half portion of the artichoke tortelloni, one of the best pasta dishes in the city. Now, hope that you have a little change left from parking, because your tab actually comes out to $21 before tax and tip -- and you'll want to be generous there, because a meal this good is worth much, more more.