Whenever I grab a quick lunch with friends, it's usually at a local Chipotle or Panera. After countless lunch dates and an empty wallet later, I realized I needed to find some cheap gourmet restaurants in Northern NJ.

I have a multitude of family-owned, local restaurants at my fingertips. Why not give them a try?

So, here's some shocking news about your usual go-to chain restaurants and a cheaper, tastier, non-commercialized alternative:

1) Burgers

Obviously, I had to start this list off with a diner. After all, it's New Jersey we're talking about, here! Not only does the Whippany Diner's deluxe hamburger come with a pickle and coleslaw as well as the fries, but it is also made with certified angus beef. Other diners in the area do not have meat of such quality.

Price Comparison:

Smashburger Regular "Classic Smash" with Regular "Smash Fries": $7.68

Whippany Diner's Deluxe Hamburger with Fries in Whippany, NJ: $6.90

2) Salad

The Reservoir in South Orange is one of my favorite Italian eateries ever. The Tony Salad For One is huge and can definitely serve at least 2-3 people. The Tony Salad has romaine lettuce, tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, parmesan cheese, pepperoni, salami, and homemade dressing - a true antipasto salad.

Price Comparison:

Panera Bread BBQ Chicken Salad (Whole): $11.17

The Reservoir's "Tony Salad For One" in South Orange, NJ: $9.0

3) Burrito

burrito, black beans, beans, rice
Victoria Berger

Picture a big, fat, rolled burrito smothered with melted cheese on the outside too and drenched in sauce. The meal is also served with your choice of rice and beans or jambalaya. And, as per Jose Tejas tradition, there is free, unlimited chips and salsa served table side.

Price Comparison:

Chipotle Steak Burrito with Chips & Salsa: $9.45

Jose Tejas's "Beef Burro" with Chips & Salsa in Fairfield, NJ: $7.9

4) Italian

Marie's was featured on Diners, Dive-Ins & Dives and is known for its traditional Italian cuisine. Why pay more for processed chicken and jarred sauce when you can get a hefty serving of chicken cutlets smothered in tomato gravy, parmesan and melted mozzarella? Never fear, it's served over a bed of pasta, as well.

Price Comparison:

Carrabba's Italian Grill's Chicken Parmesan: $15.59

Marie's Italian Specialties' Chicken Parmigiana in Chatham, NJ: $14.95

Even though some of the alternative restaurants are only a dollar or so cheaper, it's the taste, size, and quality of the entrees that really is unbeatable from the local eateries. The ambiance and vibe is better in every family-owned restaurant, as well. 

So next time you're craving something basic, try one of these not-so-basic locations near you instead.