1. Don't go to restaurants for great food:
Cook that at home. (Read some of my other posts for inspiration) Go for the exciting atmosphere, maybe a beautiful bar or room, (the round bordello-red room at Ducca in SF) a terrific chef who you can chat with about what he's cooking and is happy to share jokes and tricks with you (Anthony at Sea Salt's grill station counter in Berkeley). Think about restaurants no longer as places to go when you're hungry, but special occasion places to go for energy, entertainment, revivifying, inspiration.
2. Once you're there, order smarter.
I go to Sea Salt and order from the bar snack menu (usually available from 3pm on) wonderful small and eclectic plates of things like Deviled eggs with smoked salmon, Duck Tongues, sauteed Maine shrimp etc... These plates can be as low as 5$ - order four for the price of one entree and you have a diversified feast. (It's just like in the Stock Market baby: Diversify.)
I've gone to Ducca twice in the last week. Yesterday I went at 1:30 in the afternoon and oozed myself onto the red leather circular banquette in the Red Room. Looking up at the glowing red chandelier I totally zoned out. I could watch the big screen TV in the distance over the bar or just enjoy the quiet. The bartender was washing glasses and I ordered an espresso and Cannolli (which came beautifully presented on a porcelain raft with shards of meringue studded with roasted Hazelnuts, chocolate sauce was Jackson Pollacked nicely over the whole deal, the Cannolli itself- well, come on, it's Cannolli, it doesn't get better than that.) An hour later I had figured out what I was going to do with the rest of my life and faced only an anemic 10$ check. Fonda, on Solano Ave. in Albany also has a late night menu where great food and premium cocktails are in the 5$ range from 9 till 1 in the morning. (try the "Que Sera, Sera": British Gin, lime juice and thin slices of Serrano Chile, wicked good.)
3. Portions are way too huge at some places: Take Advantage.
Going to that place that where you always leave food on the plates? Okay big guy if you can't resist the big ticket entrees, order them and take home half in a doggie bag and plan on eating it for lunch the next day. But only if you're actually gonna eat it. That twenty dollar entree just became two meals, nice. Little bits of left over BBQ from T-Rex in Berkeley are great when I shred them and toss them into a salad, I even use the left over sauce for a weird but tasty lil BBQ vinagrette, sounds odd but try it.
I'm sure i'll think of more later. Let me know any I missed that you thought of, thanks..