Dine on a Dime

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The diners at Los Panchos Mexican Restaurant in Downtown Fresno definitely know a good deal when they see one. "Two tacos, rice and beans for $5. A lot of businesses around here are having it. We've been really busy today. I think that this has really been a hit," says Los Panchos' Lupe Padilla.

Every Friday, through August, 16 participating downtown restaurants will offer $5 lunch specials ( www.downtownfresno.org ). It's an effort to boost business for restaurants and help out cash-strapped customers. Padilla: "We're doing a lot more marketing, advertising direct word of mouth, we're coming out to the businesses and letting them know, calls them on the phone, we're having to work a little harder"

When restaurants have to work harder to get your attention, it's that much easier to find deals. Be on the lookout for special coupons, especially in your mailbox. In the past week, I got ones from Deli Delicious, Round Table Pizza and Pick Up Stix. Who says there's no such thing as a free lunch?

You can go online for coupons too. This website www.restaurant.com has $25 gift certificates for only $10. Just enter your zip code and participating restaurants in your neighborhood pop up. But make sure you check the restrictions, there's usually a minimum food purchase.

At the upscale Max's Bistro (www.maxsbistro.com ) in Northwest Fresno, both new and regular customers still pack the place. But General Manager J.J. Wettstead says their menu has changed with the times and customer demand, to include a lighter and less expensive option: "Large sized 10-ounced filet mignon can run you $36. So we bring you a 6-ounce filet at a $25 price point. A reduced portion at a very affordable price. It allows more and more people to dine out more often."

Wettstead offers these other tips for dining on a dime: share, whether it's what you eat or drink, "Bring a friend, bring two friends. You can share a bottle of wine that way, and everybody splits the ticket and you're all getting a great glass of wine at a very reduced price when you're splitting it four ways." And on Sundays, any bottle of wine at Max's is 50% off.

You can also opt to go out for lunch instead of dinner. There's often a price difference for the same menu item. For example Max's signature burger is $13 at lunch, $16 at dinner.

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