Fine Dining on the Cheap: Restaurants on Sale Coast to Coast

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It’s easy to see why the start of the year is a slow time for restaurants. Diners tend to stay home and cook not only because the weather’s cold, but because they probably have yet to pay off the credit card debt accrued via holiday season splurges. To spur on business during the early year doldrums, restaurants resort to specially priced deals. These can be seen at the market’s low end, with cheap fast food promotions popping up every January, and at the high end as well—with cities all over North America hosting annual Restaurant Weeks.

Or, in one case, it’s a full Restaurant Month. California is in the middle of its statewide Restaurant Month, with special prices on farm-to-table dinners and three-course gourmet meals for just $20.12 per person. Hundreds of restaurants are participating, and some extend the deals past January: Santa Barbara, for instance, is hosting a “Film Feast” that includes three-course tasting menus at dozens of area restaurants, as well as movie-themed vacation packages, from January 26 to February 5.

New York City’s Restaurant Week, meanwhile, lasts a lot longer than a week. Monday to Friday from January 16 through February 10, hundreds of restaurants offer three-course prix-fixe dining priced at $24.07 for lunch and $35 for dinner. While the menus differ depending on time of day, lunch is the obvious bargain in NYC and most other cities. Among the many, many participants in Manhattan is Angelo & Maxie’s Steakhouse, where the main difference between the lunch and dinner specials is that the filet mignon is 6 oz. at mid-day, 8 oz. during the evening.

(MORE: Would You Pay $2 Extra to Have a Whopper Delivered to Your Door?)

A special offer from American Express helps bring down the average per-meal cost too. Register with AmEx, and when you dine three or more times at restaurants participating in New York City‘s Restaurant Week—and pay for the meals with your AmEx card—you’ll get a $20 statement credit. That’ll nearly pay for one person’s lunch.

Over in Chicago, Restaurant Week takes place from February 17 to 26, and prix fixe menus start at $22 for lunch, and $33 or $44 for dinner. American Express has a similar bonus program for Chicago, only the $20 credit comes after you spend $100 or more at two participating restaurants.

The powers that be in Beantown wait until the weather warms up a bit before Boston’s Restaurant Week occurs, from March 18 to 23 and March 25 to 30. (Yes, that’s two weeks, technically, but “Boston Restaurant Two Weeks” or “Boston Restaurant Fortnight” don’t really roll off the tongue.) While the list of participating Boston restaurants hasn’t been announced, pricing info has been released, with two-course lunches for $15.12, ranging up to three-course dinners for $33.12.

(MORE: Why January Is the Best Month for Cheap Fast Food)

Baltimore, Kansas City, and Toronto are among the other cities hosting metropolitan-area-wide lunch and dinner specials in early 2012. To scope out Restaurant Weeks around North America, check out the handy lineup of options gathered at

Brad Tuttle is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @bradrtuttle. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.