Lelit combi is a very good machine to start on.
Its only failing is that when you upgrade you need to purchase both a grinder and espresso machine at the same time.
You can purchase the grinder that is inside the combi for about $300 (Im a little out of touch so I could be wrong, the lelit pl053 is about $275 and is the same internals).
If you can stretch your budget a GEE would be a good machine but you would be over budget by a couple of hundred dollars. It would be worth it for an investment that will last you for years.
I had a Rancilio Lucy for 6+ years and it was a good machine but I got frustrated waiting for the boiler to get to steam temp so I upgraded to a Hx machine which is way out of your budget.
I think Im rambling :-[