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Dining Prices Fit for a Queen

London's restaurants have become the most expensive in the world, outdoing Tokyo and Paris—and blowing past New York and L.A.

London has laid claim to the world's most expensive sandwich—Japanese Wagyu beef on sourdough for $172 at Selfridges—and the costliest single-ticket subway fare ($8), so perhaps it comes as no surprise that the British capital has now overtaken Tokyo as the world's most expensive city for dining out.

According to Zagat Survey, the revered guidebook publisher that ranks restaurants in 79 cities around the world based on diners' input, the average price of an evening meal in London has risen nearly 3% in the past year, topping $78 per person. Just behind the front-runner are Tokyo and Paris, where a meal will set you back $73 and $72, respectively.

"I always thought of Tokyo as being more expensive than anything in Europe," says Tim Zagat, publisher of the guides. Indeed, the Japanese capital ranked No.?1 last year, followed by London. And Tokyo still lays claim to one dubious distinction: The average price per person at its 20 most expensive restaurants handily outpaces London's, clocking in at an eye-popping $215, vs. $177 in the British capital. Paris' 20 most expensive restaurants fall in the middle, with an average tab of $205.

What about other European capitals, such as Rome, Stockholm, and notoriously expensive Moscow, which boasts the world's highest cost of living, according to Mercer Consulting (MMC)? Other than for London and Paris, Zagat does not calculate numerical averages for meal prices. Instead, it classifies restaurants on a four-point scale: inexpensive, moderate, expensive, and very expensive. By these rankings, London and Paris aren't the only places where you can drop serious cash for a good meal.

The Political Elite

By comparison, dining out in the U.S. seems cheap. New York averages more than $39 per person, up nearly $2 from last year, followed by Palm Beach ($38.56), Las Vegas, ($38.38) and the San Francisco Bay Area ($37.07).

Apparently, the political elite fork over $1.40 more per meal on average in the nation's capital than A-listers in Tinseltown: Washington ($34.69) sits proudly at No.?6 in the U.S. between Fort Lauderdale ($34.85) and Miami ($34.41). Chicago ($33.75) and Dallas ($33.36) come next in line, while Los Angeles rounds out the top 10 with an average tab of $33.29, some 10 cents less than the national average.

Americans thinking of crossing the northern border for a bargain might think twice. The average cost of a meal in Vancouver ($39) is just 3 cents less than the going rate in all of Long Island, and diners shell out more in Montreal ($35) than they do in Miami.

Zagat determines the rankings by asking restaurant-goers to estimate how much they pay for a meal with one drink. For the London figures, more than 5,300 Londoners shared their experiences of 705,000 restaurant meals they had in the past year at 1,119 establishments. The survey found that Londoners eat out on average 2.5 times per week, less often than residents of Tokyo (3.6), Paris (2.9), and New York (3.4).

For a look at some of the restaurants that can break the bank, click here.

Fishbein is a reporter for BusinessWeek in New York.

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