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Visiting from NYC

My boyfriend and I are coming into D.C. for a weekend in February.

I'm looking for interesting, ecclectic restaurants that serve up good food for less than $20 an entree. Favorite cuisines: Japanese, Mexican, and Indian. A great burger joint would be nice too.

We're not big drinkers or dessert eaters, just want to know of places the locals truly love.
NOT interested in tourist traps.

Lunch and dinner suggestions are best.

Also, we're staying in Arlington, VA and this is our first visit, so we're literally clueless about the area and how to get around. But I'm willing to do the travel research if you can give me the name of the place.


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  1. Skip Mexican, you aren't going to find good Mexican in this town whatsoever. Indian- Rasika may fit into your budget- metro accessable and reviews have been great. For great burgers I do adore the burgers over at Boulevard Woodgrill in the Clarendon region. Try to get to Dino for some great Italian that is certainly not a tourist trap- they are doing a 3 course restaurant week for 30 bucks a person including entree, appetizer and dessert- now that's a steal! Japanese there is Sushi Taro in DC.

    To get around DC avoid driving and get ye a metro card. The metro is cheap, easy to navigate, safe, and clean.

    1. I still call it the subway...and the fare card is zoned, not flat rate like NY. For something a little different, try Teaism, www.teaism.com, all near a met, uh train station, for breakfast, lunch, dinner or in-between.
      Also, one person's tourist trap could be another's local culture, such as Ben's Chili Bowl on U street for half-smokes. Not necessarily recommending Ben's, but if you go there, or near there, you will find lots of local places, such as Cafe Saint Ex, and Cakelove, as formerly seen on Food Network.

      1. Specifically, where are you staying in Arlington? That might help narrow down your choices.

        1 Reply
        1. re: kcm19

          I'll be walking distance from the Rosslyn Metro stop.

        2. Childe Harold in DuPont for burgers.

          Thai Square for Thai - on Columbia Pike near Glebe in Arlington. Fallback is Bangkok 54, just down the street (same side) headed east.

          Metro runs less often than the subway, and closes around 1 or 2 depending on the night.

          1. If you do either of the andres restaurants with the prices you'll pay for the amount of tapas needed to get a similar amount of food you'll be over your budget. Plus you won't be missing all that much but you'll be paying a lot to be trendy.

            4 Replies
            1. re: jpschust

              Then where would you go? The trouble is, there are not so many great cheap ethnic places in DC (esp. when compared to NYC). Why not find a place with good drinks and a fun atmosphere? I maintain that if you get the right things, both places can be quite budget friendly.

              1. re: JAC13

                There are tons of ethnic places with great atmosphere- how about all the ethopian places for example?

                1. re: jpschust

                  Agreed- I love Ethopian but they didn't mention any desire to try it and you have to admit it takes an adventurous person. Again, you fail to mention any options. It is fine to disagree but bring something to the table if you do so. JUust to prove my point- I actually just had a cocktail hour at Jaleo and I got gazpacho, seared salmon and a glass of sangria for until $25.

              2. re: jpschust

                Carlywood, if you're eating in DC, do yourself a favor and go to Jaleo. The tortilla espanol, date and bacon fritters, and the spinach with raisins are more than enough food and will set you back $15. That's what I usually spend on food there.

              3. I think Vietnamese in Northern VA is much better than the NYC version. Go to Eden center or some other NoVA Vietnamese places to try the fare.

                2 Replies
                1. re: dpan

                  A few suggestions for Arlington. All of these, except for Minh's, are very casual.

                  For Vietnamese - Pho 75, Minh's
                  For Mexican - El Charrito Caminante
                  Peruvian chicken - Crisp and Juicy, El Pollo Rico

                  I strongly second the suggestion for Eden Center.

                  1. re: Lori D

                    Pho 75 only has Pho and imo one of the more inferior versions. Either way that argument goes, you should also add Nam Viet in Clarendon to the list for Vietnamese options. I also third Eden Center - it also brings with it more of an experience than just eating, as you can browse the shops, etc.

                2. Used to live in DC, now in NYC. Here are the places within your budget that I suggest:

                  Eden Center - Four Sisters, and their bahn mi joint next door
                  Pho 75
                  Hard Times Cafe - Chili parlor, good wings and nachos, good chili, great beer
                  Meskerem Ethiopian in Adams Morgan - Sit upstairs in the cool little chairs
                  Rays the Steaks - If you can get a reservation - on the high end of your budget, but w/o drinks and desserts you should be fine. Side dishes come with the price of the steak!

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: fudluvr

                    Ray's the Steaks doesn't take reservations- you just show up and put your name in and go elsewehre to have a drink for a bit.

                  2. Some good recommendations above. I'd add Viet Bistro (also at Eden Center) for cheap but good ethnic.

                    Can you get Burmese in NY? You probabIy can, but if you haven't tried it, check out Myanmar on Lee Hwy, just inside the beltway in Fairfax County's Merrifield section (or is Merrifield only west of the beltway?). Burmese cuisine has some good dishes not shared with other Asian cuisines. And Myanmar is very inexpensive. (Just don't sit near the door on a cold night.)

                    I used to like Meskerem for Ethiopian, but it think the places around 9th and U are better, and you don't have to fight the horrendous Adams-Morgan parking situation.

                    1. You may enjoy Rasika for an upscale take on Indian food. Their signature Black Cod is $24 but all the other entrées are much lower. You can eat here within your budget. PennQuarter/Archives Metro.
                      The $10 Indian buffet at White Tiger at 3rd and Massachussetts, NE, is a good value as well, near Union Station.
                      Along the 200 and 300 blocks of Pennsyvania Avenue, SE, there's a bunch of fun bars serving good food. The Tune Inn routinely makes lists of top greasy spoons in America. The Hawk and Dove and Capital Lounge are gathering places for Hill staff and Members of Congress show up pretty regularly. Upscale Sonoma is a wine bar serving good food in a somewhat small plates format that should allow you to stay within your budget and get a lovely meal. Capital South Metro.
                      Eastern Market Metro gives you access to Barracks Row where you can find Belga Café offering reasonably priced Belgian food and beers. There's also Banana Café and a Salvadoran place that has good food.
                      Montmartre on the 200 block of 7th is a little more expensive than what you are looking for but worth it for excellent food. Market Lunch in the old food market at Eastern Market has terrific breakfast and also local specialties such as crab cakes and fish sandwiches at lunch.
                      The market is especially worth a visit on Saturdays for the neighborhood shopping scene that includes street vendors and a flea market.
                      Tunnicliff's Tavern is owned by Stoney's which is located at Logan Circle. Both have good food. Stoney's itself is probably the place to go. Lots of old-timers who should probably just change their mailing addresses. Try the famous grilled cheese.
                      Go to Ben's Chili Bowl. Eat the Half Smoke. People will trash the food on this board. You're not going for the food (although I Iove that half-smoke with chili) but because it's just a part of DC history.
                      Same with AV Ristorante. Sort of DC's Rao's and about to be torn down. Grumpy service. Terribly ordinary food if you don't know what to order but part of a DC that's being lost to "progress." I'll even miss the historic roach or two. - and their white pizza.
                      DC has so many African immigrants that the local government actually has a coordinator for them. Take advantage of the good Ethiopian places in town. Etete has low prices for high quality and a cuisine you don't find easily elsewhere - maybe not even in NYC.
                      If you save money on some cheap eats, splurge on Central, Michel Richard's new "democratized" version of his pricey 4-star Citronelle. Creative, happy blends of French and American food in a beautiful space at 10th and Penn, NW.
                      Metro and the Connector bus service make getting around town easy. Day passes are cheap and the system is safe. I use it all the time and rarely use my car since I'm a city person by nature.

                      1. There are several etnic categories where DC seems, to me,have a comparative advantage wrt NYC.

                        Korean, Vietnamese, Ethiopian, Thai. I have had great foods from these categories far more often at random in DC than NYC.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: deangold

                          I hit post before I completed my thoughts...

                          Bangkok 54
                          Il Mee for cheap and very good Korean
                          Yechon for reasonable and incredible Korean
                          I am not a huge fan of Ethopian cooking so I wouldn't venture to suggest.
                          Kotobuki for value priced sushi better than almost any sushi I have had in NYC without spending a fortune.
                          Lucky 3 for Dim Sum
                          China Town Express for handpulled noodles and incredible roast meats in Chinatown.
                          Not all of these are convenient metro wise, and some may be difficult to get to without a car but your OP was unclear on if you will have one.

                        2. If you're used to NYC or Flushing dim sum, you'll be disappointed at the Chinese recommendations above. I'd suggest you skip Chinese altogether on this visit unless you really feel the need.