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Post-holiday suggestions for saving

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In January, credit card bills start to fill the mailbox, reminders of holiday extravagance. If your wallet is looking for some relief, here are a few places around town that won't melt your plastic.Mondays are good days at Lupie's Cafe (Elizabeth location). The price of $5.35 buys a hearty plate filled with meatloaf and mashed potatoes. Thursdays may be even better with the offer of Chicken and Dumplings at the same price. Lupie's Cafe is known for its kitschy interior and brilliant, inexpensive comfort foods such as Texas, vegetarian or Cincinnati chilis; burgers; and layered nachos. You can buy a lot of food here for under ten bucks.Lupie's Cafe, 2718 Monroe Road. 704-374-1232.

Do you miss the kind of inexpensive Italian restaurants which litter the northern Jersey landscape? The family owned and operated restaurant where typically at least one member of the family is a native of southern Italy? Not Greeks making Italian food. Not Middle Easterners making Italian food. Actual Italians making Italian food. Amalfi, Italian Cuisine is such a place. Owner Olympia Basso, a native from Naples, makes a zesty Margherita Napolitana thin-crusted pizza (16-inch for $13.95) that has a simplicity unmarred by excess or exaggeration. Slices of tomatoes, mozzarella and fresh basil will bookmark this restaurant into any pie lover's memory. Or try her Linguine alle Vongole (baby clams): precisely cooked al dente linguine dripping with olive oil, white wine, garlic and sweet clam nectar. The $9.95 price includes a small salad.Amalfi, Italian Cuisine, 8542 University City Blvd. 704-547-8651.

If you live closer to Matthews, try the Brucia family's Fontanella Italian Ristorante. The Brucias came to Charlotte from Alcamo, Sicily, via northern Jersey. Here you'll find platters filled with red and white food and welcoming hosts. This is a family restaurant, run by a family and meant for families. The menu is long and tempting. For $9.45, patrons can buy a baked ziti entree and a salad.Fontanella Italian Ristorante, 10412 E. Independence Blvd, Matthews. 704-844-0103.

Cabo Fish Taco is about fun in a kind of low country meets Baja way. One of the Margaritas, the El Cheapo ($4), proclaims, "Low on funds? Not to worry... drink "em like the Baja locals do: fresh, tasty and super easy on the pockets." Other prices at Cabo are also easy on the battered wallet. Meal-sized tacos range from $6.95 to $8.50, while wraps and burritos vary from $5.95 for a veggie wrap to $9.50 for a scallop and cactus burrito.Cabo Fish Taco Baja Seagrill, 3201 North Davidson Street. 704-332-8868.

Burgers, barbecue, onion rings, sweet potato fries and fried pickles are headliners at The Penguin, the revamped 1950s comfort station in the heart of Plaza Midwood. The trick is resisting the temptation to stay with friends and drink away the money you saved on eats.The Penguin, 1921 Commonwealth Ave. 704-375-6959.

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