updated 11/19/2010 11:45:12 AM ET 2010-11-19T16:45:12

New Orleans diners got more than good food last year. They also got a price break.

According to the latest Zagat Survey, the average cost of a meal in New Orleans has dropped for the first time in a decade, from $28.52 in the last survey to $28.36 this year.

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Not a huge drop, but enough to rank the Crescent City as the nation's most affordable dining out locale, well below cities like New York at $42, Chicago at $37, and Los Angeles at $35.

New Orleans is also below the national average of $35.37.

Zagat surveys customers and rates restaurants on a 30-point scale, on food, decor, service, and cost.

The survey found, however, that diners were not happy with the service at many of the city's restaurants, with 75 percent complaining about it. Despite that, New Orleans diners ranked as the most generous, leaving an average tip of 19.7 percent, compared to the 19.2 percent national average.

"New Orleans is one of the nations most culturally and gastronomically diverse cities with strong traditions and cuisines that are unique to the area," said Tim Zagat, chief executive and co-founder of Zagat Survey. "According to surveyors, it is not only rich culturally, but with affordability as well — something we hope local diners and interested travelers will take advantage of this year."

The latest survey cited several restaurants for the first time, including Eiffel Society, Sylvain and the new Bouligny Tavern, which provide comfortable cuisine for diners, while upscale arrivals include Creole-French eats at the latest location of Dominique's and Feast.

Chef Susan Spicer presented inexpensive fare at Mondo, echoing the affordable-offshoot trend started by Scott Boswell with the unique variety of po'boys at Stanley.

Spicer's restaurant, Bayona, won for Top Food, followed by Stella! and Brigtsen's, which also won for Top Service.

As ever, Commander's Palace took top honors for decor and overall popularity.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Photos: Big Easy returns

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