Bougie on a budget: How to eat dinner for $50 or less at Altius in Mount Washington

#Goals: Try out Pittsburgh’s finest restaurants without spending a day’s worth of pay.

A feast for $50.

A feast for $50.

Rossilynne Culgan / The Incline
Rossilynne Culgan

Want to be bougie on a budget?

Pittsburgh is home to a bustling and acclaimed restaurant scene, but that can make dining on a dime tough. In this occasional series, we endeavor to provide tips on eating at Pittsburgh’s finest dining establishments for $50 or less. So we set out in search of white tablecloths with three goals:

  • Try out that fancy-schmancy place without spending a day’s worth of pay.
  • Eat enough to leave feeling full.
  • Spend $50 or less, not including tip. (PSA: Always remember to tip and tip well.)

Our strategy

For the first entry in this series, I headed to Mount Washington’s famed Altius, 1230 Grandview Ave., known for its exquisite view and even better food.

Let’s get something on the table before we go any further: This is not to say that its prices are not justified. These are clearly top-notch dishes from an extraordinary chef. The wait staff is attentive without hovering. The views alone are worth the $$$. For a special occasion, I would definitely save up and shell out the cash for a three-figure meal. But for a regular date night or dinner with friends, you might not want to make such a big dent in your wallet.

It’s listed as $$$$ on TripAdvisor, so I expected this to be a challenge. Then I noticed meat entrees ranged between $30 and $44. Despite the budget restrictions, I tried to eat a somewhat food pyramid-friendly meal. A little meat, fruits, some greens, a few starches and probably more cheese than anyone should consume in an entire week (¯\_(ツ)_/¯). Ordering off the entree menu wasn’t going to happen on this budget, so I reached for starters and sides.

Having eaten only some oatmeal and a bagel that day, I showed up ravenous.

What we ordered

Rossilynne Culgan / The Incline

Popcorn: Free

The staff at Altius swooped in immediately greeting the table with a complimentary wasabi-flavored popcorn snack, effectively ensuring that I didn’t end up on a fainting couch.

Rossilynne Culgan / The Incline

The winter sangria cocktail (and water): $12

The cocktail menu is a nice mix of classics and Altius-specific creations. I tried the winter sangria, a tall glass of boozy, fruity flavors. I figured it would pair decently well with whatever I ordered.

If you decide to skip a cocktail, spend a few extra bucks and order one of the restaurants decadent desserts. They come in at $15, but they’re sharable enough to split with a friend.

While we’re on the subject of beverages, I realized after leaving the restaurant that there was a fee for water. It was apparently levied at $3 per bottle, and I didn’t realize that I had to ask for the free water. Learn from my mistakes and specifically ask for tap water.

Amuse-bouche: Free

Then, after ordering food, the staff brought out another free treat: An amuse-bouche, a light, tiny appetizer.

Two for two on delicious free food.

This butter: Sweet nectar of the gods.

This butter: Sweet nectar of the gods.

Rossilynne Culgan / The Incline

Bread: Free

And then, a waiter appeared with a heaping tray of breads so beautiful that I wondered in my famished state, is this a mirage? Turns out, nope, it was real complimentary bread — still warm with butter so creamy and salty I would have considered eating it with a spoon if I weren’t in this fine dining establishment. So many restaurants charge for bread nowadays, so choosing among a variety of fresh breads was truly a treat.

Rossilynne Culgan / The Incline

Port Poached Seckel Pear: $13

A grilled baguette served as the foundation for this cheesy dish, topped with raclette brûlée, a pear, ham and pickled onion among other accoutrements. When deciding what order at a restaurant, I often ask myself: Is this something I’d make at home? If so, I try to find something else. Am I ever going to make raclette brûlée? Lol no. Plus at $13, it’s a good value for fancy fare.

Rossilynne Culgan / The Incline

Grass Fed Steak Tartare: $16

To balance out the sweetness of the pear, I ordered the steak tartare as well, an impressive take on the classic dish featuring a gooey egg yolk on top, some greens on the side and crispy baguette slices. It’s a great way to sample the restaurant’s grass-fed steak without committing to a 14-ounce, $44 strip steak.

Bacon Apple Risotto: $9

Risotto is always comfort food side, but add in a little bacon and some apples, and this budget-friendly belly filler does not disappoint and ended up being my favorite dish of the night.

Dessert bites: Free

I left feeling full and even needed a to-go box for the tartare. On the way out, the staff presented a sweet treat in a petite paper bag — a small slice of thick, decadent cookie cake tempting enough to eat in the car on the way home.

Grand total: $50

Other tips

  • Remember to make a reservation well in advance, as tables fill up fast.
  • If you’re looking for a more laidback vibe, ask for a seat at the bar where you can still peek at the stunning view and order from a bar-specific menu.

What people are saying

Now that you’ve heard what we’re saying, here’s what other diners think:

Yelp: 4.5 stars from 408 reviews

TripAdvisor: 4.5 stars from 596 reviews (78% of which are 5-star)

Google: 4.6 stars from 266 reviews

Facebook: 4.6 stars from 396 reviews (88% of which are 5-star)