Some folks cater to the notion that a candlelit restaurant dinner--as belly-churningly expensive as a private lingerie modeling session at Aja's--is the only ticket to the tunnel of love. But a sumptuous Valentine isn't always in our budget or in our hearts. In the interests of tightwad lovebirds, Bite Club scouted out a candy box-full of cheap, sexy, saucy ways to charm your Bit-O-Honey.

A bag of hot nuts from HelenFey Maze at the Roasted Nut Cart on the corner of Southwest 10th Avenue and Morrison Street (open 11:30 am-5:30 pm weekdays) can make a downtown stroll all the sweeter. Smoky almonds, thyme-roasted cashews,

cinnamon sugar-glazed hazelnuts--Maze toasts them all. Load up on cups of steaming hot cider or one of her spicy riffs on those darling Russian dumplings, piroshky. Everything on the menu is $2.

The dears behind the lunch counter at Half and Half (923 SW Oak St., 222- 4495) have read our dirty little minds. All this week and next, the downtown crew is pushing heartfelt sentiments atop their buttery, heart-shaped cookies. There's the simple and direct approach, "Do Me," and then there's that masterpiece of genteel courtship, "Moustache rides, 10 cents." Owner Robin Rosenberg assures us that no personal greeting is too corny or too explicit for her intrepid Halfers to scrawl upon your vanilla fondant-iced treats ($1.75 each). Special orders--15 letters or fewer--accepted through Feb. 11.

Bite Club was already smitten with Sellwood catering operation White Hat (1405 SE Tacoma St., 238-2143) before we ever set foot in owner/chef Laura Flintoff's house-turned-restaurant. That's thanks to spicy chicken burritos we tasted in her backyard garden cafe last summer. Flintoff took her casually elegant lunch-only service indoors in the fall, serving spunky, downhome classics like an herb-spiked turkey pot pie in her sage-green bungalow's raucously charming warren of rooms. Try an intimate and inexpensive noontime rendezvous in front of a log fire in Flintoff's sherbet-and-crimson-striped dining room. Or try White Hat's special Valentine's Dinner--

a four-courser featuring bacon-wrapped scallops and "chocolate, chocolate and more chocolate." A steal of a deal at $25 per person.

If you're flying solo--or with friends--this V-Day, the ladies at Tucci's Q (325 NE Russell St., 528-8224) would be happy to hook you up with some finger-licking loving. Native Texan Sharon Senter and chef Diane Santucci opened up their all-American barbecue joint last month with a fresh pile of organic applewood chips and a load of Carlton Farm proteins. True, the bright red, white 'n' blue dining room doesn't buzz with the bibbed throngs of sauce-smeared patrons that the space's former tenant Doris' Cafe enjoyed just yet. But our substantial plate of fall-off-the-bone pork ribs and moist Texas-style beef brisket was sassy enough to convince Bite Club that Tucci's is worth a second date.

Portland-area seniors will receive a sticky-sweet Valentine next week when the Loaves and Fishes' Meals-On-Wheels program delivers its


, packed with

Cinnabons, Seattle's Best Coffee and other goodies. For $19.95, you can spread the love yourself. Order by Feb. 10 by calling 736-6325.

White Hat serves dinner only every last Thursday of the month. Call 238-2143 for reservations and menu details.