The Big Deals

Burrito :: El Pelón, $6.50
The burrito, sadly, is the siren song of dining value. It shimmers up there on the menu board like some kind of beacon of thrift at just $4.50…but then leaves you shattered at the register when you discover that the guacamole, sour cream, and house-special salsa have pushed your outlay north of eight bucks. So where do I spend this much on a collection of simple ingredients and still feel like I’m getting a deal? At El Pelón, where it’s always the pescado for me, with its base model price of $6.50. I add the guac for 75 cents and the complimentary homemade hot sauce, and beat it out of there feeling like I’ve taken them for a ride. 2197 Commonwealth Ave., Brighton, 617-779-9090, — John Wolfson

Cocktail :: Rendezvous, $10
“Student budget” doesn’t have to mean cheap vodka. I prefer to spend my precious drinking funds on a cocktail made with care, which is why I save my dimes for a “Nehru” at the dimly lit, relaxed Rendezvous. The house-made lemon-cardamom syrup gets mixed with saffron-infused gin and orange bitters for a stellar tipple, one that’s served with a side of good conversation, courtesy of the charming barkeeps. 502 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, 617-576-1900, — Katherine Brooks 

Cheese :: Von Trapp Farmstead, $10.98 per half pound
My first taste of Oma cheese came early last summer, and the cravings have been constant ever since. I catch myself daydreaming about the potent interior, butter-rich and supple, rendered from raw cow’s milk (Jerseys, mostly, that are all grass-fed) in Vermont’s Mad River Valley. Remove a wedge from your fridge, unwrap it on the kitchen counter, then ignore it for an hour. The funked-up aroma will rise to glory, forcing you to sit up and pay attention. That first bite has the curious essence of sweet-savory ice cream, the texture of silk and velvet stitched together, and a finish that lingers before departing without warning. Your palate feels like it’s been left in the dust of a luxury high-speed train — thrilled to have been a part of the action, but longing for another ride. And the cost of a ticket, if you eat the same as I do per sitting, is about the same as two rides on the T. Also Available at Formaggio Kitchen, 244 Huron Ave., Cambridge, 617-354-4750, — Alexandra Hall

Prix-Fixe Menu :: L’Espalier, $250 per person
Anyone who’s ever laid napkin to lap in L’Espalier’s splendid dining room knows that few gustatory experiences rival chef Frank McClelland’s 10-plus-course prix-fixe dinners. The ever-changing menu is epic beyond reckoning: vintage Taittinger paired with salmon boudin; oat-crusted lamb with 2006 Domaine Giraud Châteauneuf-du-Pape; foie gras with salted caramel sauce and green-almond foam. And the whole thing gets even better when it’s experienced in the restaurant’s kitchen. That’s where the private chef’s table awaits, glowing with votives, smack between the meat and seafood stations. A waiter, dedicated exclusively to your table, is ready to meet every demand. Meanwhile, the kitchen is part well-oiled machine, part intricate ballet — and you’re at the epicenter. The meat chef hollers to the garde manger. The pastry chef chucks a pan so close, you can guess at its contents. Chef McClelland wanders over to show you the eggs, which will arrive minutes later set with blini, béchamel, and a shower of black-truffle shavings. Clearly, this isn’t bargain fare…but for sheer value? Even at $250 per person (and thousands of calories), it’s a worthy splurge. There are special-occasion meals, after all, and then there are meals to remember for decades. $130 additional for vintner pairings; 774 Boylston St., Boston, 617-262-3023, — A. H.