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Where in the U.S. Has the Best Affordable Fine Dining?

Fine dining is booming in America. The $11.9bn industry grew by 3.4% in 2023 [1] IBISWorld and a survey of restaurateurs conducted by Nationwide Insurance found that 8 in 10 establishments [2] Forbes are doing better than expected financially, despite challenges faced by businesses during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Celebrity chefs like Gordon Ramsay, Wolfgang Puck and Anthony Bourduain, along with TV shows like Masterchef and The Bear have glamorized the behind-the-scenes hustle and bustle of the kitchen. It has helped to break down the industry’s exclusive and off-limits reputation.

Since 1985, AAA has inspected and rated dining establishments across America, and today they sit as the gold standard for judging a restaurant’s quality. But of more than 3,000 eateries, which offer the best value-for-money, and in which cities does fine dining (and other AAA-rated food) come cheapest? 

To find out, researchers on behalf of Self Financial analyzed AAA’s rated restaurants in 220 U.S. cities, analyzing the cities and locations where a gourmet meal is most affordable and most expensive. 

Key findings

  • Arkansas and Kansas are America’s most affordable states for fine dining, where average dishes cost $21 each.
  • Wichita, KS is the most affordable U.S. city for AAA-rated restaurants, averaging $19 per dish.
  • Herons — the signature restaurant of the Umstead Resort and Spa in Cary, NC is America’s most affordable Five Diamond restaurant ($86 per dish).
  • Las Vegas ($78 average) and Nevada ($74) are the most expensive city and state respectively for luxury food. 
  • San Francisco’s Atelier Crenn is the most expensive restaurant in the U.S. AAA Diamond list, with the average dish costing $475.

Top cities for affordable fine dining in the U.S. 

Two U.S. states are among America’s best value when it comes to fine dining. The average price of an AAA-rated dish in Arkansas and Kansas will cost just $21 each, and both states have plenty of quality options to choose from. 

Arkansas’ state capital Little Rock is home to the state’s only Four Diamond restaurant — One Eleven at the city’s five-star rated Capital hotel. While the city is famed for its barbecue and cheese dip, it now belongs among America’s best-value cities for fine dining. However, Wichita, KS is slightly cheaper overall, with an average dish costing just $19 — less than the state average.

Cities with lowest average fine dining dish price

AAA’s data also shows that the Hampton Roads region of Virginia is one of America’s cheapest for fine dining. A dish in Norfolk, VA and nearby Virginia Beach will set you back just $21 on average. The area is famed for its fresh seafood, with soft shell crab and Lynnhaven oysters among the area’s tastiest delicacies. [3] Visit Virginia Beach

City State No of Restaurants Average price
Wichita KS 10 $19
Little Rock AR 18 $21
Virginia Beach VA 20 $21
Norfolk VA 13 $21
Detroit MI 51 $22
Richmond VA 28 $23
Hampton VA 29 $23
Durham NC 12 $23
Birmingham AL 24 $24
Memphis TN 52 $24

Where is fine dining the most expensive in the U.S.?

If great food on a budget is your aim, where should you avoid in order to avoid paying top dollar? Las Vegas sits alone, according to this research, as America’s most expensive fine foodie capital. 

The average dish in Sin City will cost $78, more than New York City ($67) and Honolulu ($64). Vegas is home to four AAA Five Diamond-rated restaurants, including the city’s only Michelin three-star establishment — Joël Robuchon. 

Cities with the most expensive fine dining in the U.S.

Although Hawaii is the third-priciest U.S. state for food, all of its 21 AAA Diamond restaurants are located in the capital Honolulu. Overlooking Waikiki Beach and the Pacific Ocean, Halekulani Hotel’s La Mer restaurant is the state’s only AAA Five Diamond establishment, serving Provence-style French dishes. 

City State No of Restaurants Average price
Las Vegas NV 96 $78
New York City NY 124 $67
Honolulu HI 21 $64
San Francisco CA 81 $57
Miami FL 29 $53
Chicago IL 111 $52
Scottsdale AZ 24 $52
San Diego CA 12 $50
Madison WI 10 $49
San Antonio TX 55 $45

Tips for fine dining on a budget

The term ‘fine dining’ can intimidate a lot of people. The small plates, the adherence to etiquette, and higher prices are enough to deter people from dining at fancy restaurants. But it is possible to enjoy gourmet dining on a budget and without the snob factor that can be associated with some of America’s elite establishments.

Avoid the big cities

Naturally, America’s priciest restaurants are located in the cities you would expect to find them — New York, San Francisco, and Las Vegas. While it’s certainly possible to dine on a budget in these cities, their reputation for luxury means that you can easily spend more than $200 per head dining out. Michelin's three-star rated Atelier Crenn in San Francisco is the priciest restaurant overall, with the average dish costing $475 per person.

If you’re looking for a foodie destination that won’t break the bank, there are plenty of great options, including Norfolk, VA ($21 average), Charlotte, NC and Kansas City, MO (both $24). For the AAA Five Diamond experience on a budget, Herons restaurant in the luxurious Umstead Resort in Cary, NC is America’s cheapest in the category, but an average dish will still cost $86.

Avoid fusion dining

Small plates define the fine dining experience. While chefs create each dish with the perfect balance of flavors to stimulate the palette, the portion size and price is often a turn-off for diners not au fait with the practice. Unsurprisingly, small plate restaurants are among the priciest on AAA’s list, with the average fusion restaurant costing an eye-watering $430 per dish. 

However, AAA rates restaurants of all shapes and sizes. A humble burger joint or hot dog stand can offer just as much of a culinary experience at a fraction of the cost. America’s cheapest AAA-rated restaurant — Norfolk, VA’s Doumar’s Cones and Barbecue does the basics well, BBQ sandwiches, french fries and milkshakes.

Most expensive cuisine Cheapest cuisine
Fusion Small Plates $430 Barbecue Burgers $4
New Korean Small Plates $295 Natural/Organic Soup $6
New American Vegan $255 Seafood Desserts $7
New European $248 Specialty $7
New French $182 Hot Dogs $8
Specialty Sushi $180 Pizza Breads/Pastries $8
Japanese Sushi Raw Foods $175 Sandwiches Deli $9
New Scandinavian $175 Breads/Pastries $10
New World $122 Mediterranean Deli $11
Regional American Steak $111 Sandwiches $11

Shop around for special deals

Fine dining can get seriously expensive if you order the priciest dish on the menu and pair it with an equally lavish bottle of wine. Throw in cocktails, a starter, dessert, and coffee, and the bill can easily surpass $150 per person. 

But it doesn’t always have to be like that. Many great restaurants offer set menus at a lower price point than their à la carte offering. One example is Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse — America’s largest fine dining chain. They offer a Prix Fixe menu starting at $55, meaning you get three courses for less than a single steak on the entrée menu. [4] Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse

Major chains and smaller establishments alike will often run special promotions and discounts to entice business. Apps like Groupon and OpenTable are typically the best places to find codes and vouchers to help save on your special meal. 


This study analyzed 3,164 restaurants in 220 of the largest cities in the U.S. according to World Population Review. [5] World Population Review It featured all restaurants in the AAA’s Diamond Rating list. This took into account all establishments that were approved by the AAA, as well as all restaurants with Three Diamond, Four Diamond and Five Diamond ratings. [6] AAA AAA highlights a price range per eatery for their dishes, the median average was taken. 


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