Good Cheap Eats in DC

By Tiffany Mast

Trying dishes and restaurants is a great way to explore a new city, but it can also rack up your bill. The TravelBank budget bases your daily allowances at $16 for breakfast, $17 for lunch and $31 for dinner based on current DC prices. The good news is you don’t have to dine at chain eateries for every meal to beat your budget. The District offers a great variety of affordable options for every taste. Here are just a few you should try on your next visit.

Coffee Shops

La Colombe
La Colombe’s Blagden Alley location offers a unique spot to enjoy craft coffee. You could grab a cup to go or settle in at one of the tables for the better part of the morning if you need a place to work. While it feels like this brewhouse is located a little off the beaten path, it’s just a few blocks from the Mt. Vernon metro station on the green and yellow lines. The coffee starts brewing at 7 AM.

Kramerbooks & Afterwords Cafe
Imagine a bookshop that serves up drool-worthy breakfast dishes and you’ve got Kramerbooks. It’s perfect for meeting a friend or perusing their book collection quietly with a cup of coffee. If you stop in later in the day, the kale, blue cheese & quinoa caesar salad is my favorite. You can find the cafe just a few blocks above Dupont Circle.

Tryst
Tryst is a great spot to grab a cup of coffee, a smoothie, baked goods or sweets in the Adams Morgan neighborhood. Or you could go for their decadent Mexican hot chocolate. They also offer a menu full of brunch favorites ranging from $5-10.

Tryst is about a 10 minute walk from the Woodley Park metro station on the red line, or you could also walk north from Dupont. Definitely stop in if you find yourself in Adams Morgan in the morning or want a place to work on your laptop for an hour.

Brunch and Lunch

GW Deli
The GW Delicatessen serves up sandwiches all day long but they are most popular for their huge breakfast sandwiches. The line can get long on the weekends but it tends to move along pretty quickly. The deli is closest to the Foggy Bottom-GWU station on the blue, orange and silver lines.

Glens Garden Market
In an effort to offer the best tasting foods and support the local economy, Glens Garden Market sells popular food, beer and wine products from local farms – meaning farms within the DC watershed. Promise me you’ll grab one of their ice cream cookie sandwiches, they’re just too good. They also make sandwiches and salads fresh daily, all sold from their deli for $10 or less. If you’re around on the weekend stop by Saturday or Sunday between 9AM-2PM for one of their brunch plates, also $10.

You can find Glens in DuPont, a short walk from the DuPont Circle metro station on the red line.

Tortilla Cafe
The menu at Tortilla Cafe offers a selection of Mexican and Salvadoran dishes. Their breakfast options include a breakfast burrito for under $4 and a wide variety of plates full of eggs, plantains, fried beans and bacon ranging from $4-6.

Tortilla Cafe is located in Capitol Hill, not far from the Eastern Market metro stop on the blue, orange and silver lines. They open at 9 AM every day for breakfast and close early, at 7 PM.

A Baked Joint
The new sister store to the popular bakery, Baked and Wired, A Baked Joint serves up breakfast classics (think: quiche, toast and biscuits) all day long and some substantial sandwiches for lunch. While they all sound enticing, the veggie #1 filled with roasted sweet potato and smoked eggplant puree is just too good to pass up.

A Baked Joint is a short walk from the Gallery Place Chinatown stop on the red, green and yellow lines. Stop by after 11:30 AM if you want to grab one of their speciality sandwiches.

Beefsteak
This new eatery lead by chef José Andrés is actually named after the tomato not a steak of beef. So as you may expect, at Beefsteak it’s all about the vegetables. The goal is to throw out the idea of a traditional salad bar and offer hearty veggie and grain bowls instead. You can build your own creation or select one of the menu suggestions (all less than $9). And don’t worry, if you’re in need of some animal protein you can add chicken, salt-cured salmon or a poached egg to your bowl (an extra $2-4).

Fill up on your veggies in Dupont Circle or Foggy Bottom near George Washington University. If you head to the Foggy Bottom location and happen to have a car, they offer a convenient parking reservation system online here.

White Apron
White Apron is the perfect spot to grab cheap and delicious sandwiches for lunch after a visit to the National Mall. The menu offers a diverse selection of sandwiches from tuna to roast beef to veggie. Find this sandwich shop near the Federal Triangle stop on the orange, blue and silver lines or Metro Center on the red line.

The Well Dressed Burrito
The Well Dressed Burrito has been a hidden gem frequented by professionals on lunch since the 1980’s. They serve up all the favorites you’d expect from a Mexican restaurant, but for around $7 and under. While they do have a few tables on site, most order carryout and take it back to the office.

The door to the Well Dressed Burrito is tucked away in an alley off 19th Street NW in DuPont. Make sure to time your visit because they are only open from 11:45 AM to 2:15 PM, Monday through Friday. The closest metro station is the DuPont Circle stop on the red line.

Dinner

BLT Steak 5@5 Happy Hour
A great trick for saving some money on dinner is to go early and take advantage of happy hour deals. One place you won’t want to pass up is BLT Steak. Stop by for their 5@5 happy hour and enjoy a selection of bar bites and drinks for just $5 each at, you guessed it, 5PM. Make sure to order the braised short rib grilled cheddar sandwich.

You can find BLT Steak in the heart of Downtown a few blocks from the Farragut North metro station on the red line or the Farragut West metro station on the blue, orange and silver lines. A great place to stop after viewing the White House.

Wiseguy NY Pizza
If you ask a local where you can grab a good slice of pizza they will likely point you in the direction of Wiseguy NY Pizza. As the name suggests, they serve up New York-style pizza by the pie or by the slice, and the selection of slices changes each day. You can walk away with two slices and a drink for around $10, and the garlic knots (and extra $2.49) are a local favorite.

Wiseguy is a couple of blocks north of the Judiciary Square metro station on the red line and they’re open until 1 AM or later in case you’re in need of a midnight snack.

Thai X-ing
Enjoy traditional Thai food with one of Thai X-ing‘s pre-fixed dinner menus. The dinner consists of 5-7 courses and features a rotating selection of home-style dishes. But don’t worry, the chef tends to include popular favorites like their famous Pumpkin Curry. Dinner will set you back just $30 per person if you dine on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday or Sunday.

Try to make reservations in advance, but if that’s not possible you can sometimes call in the day of if you have a small group. There are two locations, both a few blocks from the Shaw-Howard metro station on the green and yellow lines. While you can bring your own wine bottle to the newer 9th Street location for a $5 corkage fee, try to grab a table at the Florida Avenue location for a more authentic experience (it feels like dining in the chef’s home!).

Keren
Washington, DC is home to the largest Ethiopian population in the country, so if you are interested in trying an authentic meal short of a 13-hour flight this is the place to do it. Keren offers a special for $13.99 includes enjera bread with cabbage, chickpeas, lentils, salad, potatoes, spinach and your selection of beef or chicken.

Ethiopian cuisine is served on a large platter over injera, the traditional style of bread used as the base of the dish and the eating utensil. The portions are generally large enough to share amongst the table. Keren is about a ten-minute walk from the DuPont Circle metro station on the red line.

Chicken Rico
This counter service restaurant serves up rotisserie-style Peruvian chicken. You can get a half chicken with two medium sides and two sauces for $10. A great option when you need a quick place to stop for lunch. Chicken Rico is a few blocks from Union Station on the red line.

Brookland Pint
This environmentally-conscious restaurant pairs its season menus with speciality beers, a wide variety of them hailing from the greater Washington, DC region. When the weather is nice grab a seat on Brookland Pint‘s outdoor patio and take in the whimsical atmosphere of the Brookland Arts walk.

The sweet potato fries are out of this world and the pimento cheese taste like it’s made in the South. They offer some great vegetarian and gluten-free options and can be found just a few steps from the Brookland-CUA metro station on the red line.

Red White and Basil
If you’re in the mood for Italian, visit Red White and Basil where they whip up house-made pasta served with fresh sauces in a flash. The best part is you can get a three course pre-fixe menu for just $16 including salad, pasta and a dessert.

You can find Red White and Basil in Adams Morgan (the closest metro station is DuPont on the red line) between 5 and 10 PM for dinner.

Tacos El Chilango
This little taco spot may look like a dive but they are making some of the best authentic tacos – both meat and veggie served on fresh corn tortillas – in the area. You can order three for around $10. They also offer fresh guacamole, homemade fruit drinks, margaritas and a selection of Mexican beers.

Tacos El Chilango is just a few blocks from the U Street metro station on the green and yellow lines. They don’t open until 4 PM though so don’t try to stop in for lunch. They are closed on Sunday.

Banana Cafe
The Banana Cafe and Piano Bar is a popular spot for happy hour in Capitol Hill and serves Cuban and Puerto Rican dishes like ropa vieja, stuffed plantains and mofongos. The food comes in large portions and the entrees cost around $13-20.

You can find Banana Cafe just one block from the Eastern Market metro stop on the blue, orange and silver lines. If you want to catch the piano bar in action, stop by after 4 PM. They also host karaoke Sunday and Monday night from 7 PM to close.

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