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Can't-Miss Cheap Chow?

I know this is a lot like threads which have come up from time to time, but none are really recent. I'm updating a cheap-living guide for the DC area (for summer interns on small budgets), and I was hoping I could get recommendations for places that are very inexpensive, or just very good values. I'm especially looking for "can't-miss" cheap places, or places that are new since last year.


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    1. re: BritInDC

      Any taquerias, lunch places, etc. where you could get something filling for lunch for $5-$10, or $15-$20 for a meal range would be terrific. Places that are a little more but worth it would be great to list too. And obviously if there's anything cheaper than that, that would be fabulous. I'm not from DC, so I don't know how realistic those prices are - if I'm being hopelessly naive I apologize.

      1. re: viking

        Try Taqueria Distrito Federal in Columbia Heights, the Greek Deli on 19th between L and M and pretty much any Ethiopian or Vietnamese place (my favorites being Etete at 9th and U and Nam Viet on Connecticut in Cleveland Park).

        Tortilla Cafe across from Eastern Market has excellent breakfast burritos and pupusas that will only set you back a couple of bucks.

        And don't forget embassy events. Some of the best ethnic food I've ever had was at a free reception at the Turkish embassy.

    2. Zorba's in Dupont Circle is my favorite

      1. Naan and Beyond- simply awesome.

        Reston Kabob in Reston- about 10 bucks will get you a Chicken Kobeeda + coke and it's more food than you can eat :)

        6 Replies
        1. re: jpschust

          Reston Kabob is a good one. Charcoal Kebab in Herndon is also good, with extremely good spinach. Any of the tacquerias in Reston are good, along with the ones in Arlington (TECC and the one on Columbia Pike in the parking lot of the CVS) and Pepito's. For more on these, search the board as it comes up often.

          Any of the Peruvian chicken places, which one depends on who you ask.

          Any pho place for the most part, as well.

          And then of course the half price burger night rotation. WashPost used to have an annual list of these as well as cheap eats and drinks for interns.

          1. re: Dennis S

            hmm. I'll have to visit those kabob houses. So far for beef/meatball kabobs, it's Kabob Bazaar but anything chicken at Shamshiry (I found their meatball kabob kinda greasy and slightly underflavored). Both priced lower than most kabob houses in the area.

            1. re: hungryT

              "Kabob Bazaar" is getting to be a little generic. There's one by that name that just opened in the shopping center across Wilson Blvd from the Eden Center in Arlington. I ate there last week and it was so-so. There's at least one more in Arlington that gets mentioned around here now and the. I can't recall if it's the one in Clarendon or on Columbia Pike just east of Bailey's Crossroads.

              The Columbia Pike one has had an unpleasant smell to it a couple of times when I popped in to give it a try, unpleasant enough so that I didn't want to be smelling that while trying to eat what I hoped tasted better. ;) Others have confirmed the odor.

              My pick for a good buy for lunch along those lines is Mirage (Rt. 7 between Bailey's Crossroads and 7 Corners). For $5, you get a small chicken or beef kabob, rice, and a salad. I like it because it isn't too much food. I think Bread and Kabob (same area, a bit closer to Bailey's Xrds) has a couple of 1-skewer lunch kabobs.

              1. re: MikeR

                You know, I think I have my Kabob Bazaars and Kabob Expresses confused. I'm getting too old for this.

            2. re: Dennis S

              Tuesdays are half priced bison burgers at the Reef. Best thing ever.

              1. re: Dennis S

                I second Charcoal Kabob. Great Stuff

            3. I often see young intern-looking people lined up for Pasta Mia on the weekends. I'm certain it has to do with getting a nice meal for a very good price and having leftovers for the next day. Pasta Mia is in Adam's Morgan.

              I'd also include the Market Lunch Counter in Eastern Market for their awesome pancakes on the weekends.

              The Well Dressed Burrito in the alley off 19th St. is really top quality Tex Mex (better than any of the big chains) and the portions are immense. They're only open for lunch during the week.

              1. Eden Center is a great weekend trip for students on a budget. There is a plethora of cheap, good Vietnamese food to be had there and it is a longish walk from the East Falls Church metro stop.

                1. Where will they be working? Will most of them be living near there too? The Metro gets expensive - roundtrip can easily equal the cost of a cheap meal.
                  Also, can they go to bars? Some of the Happy Hour deals have kept many an intern from starving. Including my own kids who ate there instead of depending on Mom. Lots around Dupont, Capital Hill, Georgetown where there are lots of other interns.
                  Check nightly specials at Tunnicliff's, My Brother's Place, 1/2 price burger nights at places like Bullfeathers.
                  There's still cheap Chinese in Chinatown. Quizno's, Popeye's, Potbelly's, Subway all have specials and coupons. Not great cuisine but it gets them fed. A couple of good farmers' markets - Penn Quarket, Foggy Bottom - during the week are near office buildings.

                  Make sure to include the location of a nearby CVS, grocery or convenience store. Amazing how much they can save buying drinks and snacks there instead of at kiosks or vendors. A 12-pack of soft drinks on sale for the cost of 3 at a vendor. Bring in your own bottled water. One of our interns even bought a small coffee pot instead of buying those Fourbucks coffees. A lot of us just took pity and brought in home-cooked food once a week or so. They hoovered it.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: MakingSense

                    It varies. It's actually a guide for everyone from our grad school who interns in DC, so they'll be all over in terms of both working and living, and they'll be able to go to bars. Thanks for all the suggestions!

                  2. amsterdam falafel in adams morgan has the most delicious falafel, with this great toppings bar (grilled veggies, hummus, baba ghanoush, roasted eggplant, etc), and fries with a delectable garlic mayonnaise. the falafel runs like 4-6$ (dep which size) and its a total bargain.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: elnora

                      I love Amsterdam Falafel; they are still great and cheap. I HATE how they USED to be better and cheaper.

                      When they opened, small fries were $2 and large were $3; a small sandwich was $3 and a large was $5. This was AFTER TAX.

                      Now everything is 50% more expensive. Why? Because they can!!

                      Also, they started out giving you plates and a fork - I understand why they nixed that, since people can basically just make a "salad o' toppings" and eat them out of house and home... still, it was nice to have a fork to eat your fries with.

                      All that being said, I do still love the damn place.

                    2. El Pollo Rico in Arlington and Wheaton- can't miss Peruvian chicken. To me, it's by far the best.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: sixfive

                        i second the recc for peruvian chicken...

                      2. Aladdin's is good--Burke and Shirlington, and most things on the menu are under $10, some around $5.

                        1. I'm an intern in DC, so I'm enjoying reading all the suggestions as well! If they are working on the Hill they are likely to eat in the cafeterias, which are not too expensive. Alternatively, a walk East down Penn gives a lot of options. Starbucks and Cosi are down there, as are several independent places, like Firestone Bakery.
                          Then there are the bars, which generally ID in the evening, but can be good for lunch/weekend brunch, and have great happy hour specials. Hawk and Dove doesn't ID for entry until about 10 on week nights, and is good for dinner, and does specials like 12 wings for $1 on a Tuesday.

                          Tortilla Coast on South Capitol St is good, and there is a Thai place there too which is meant to be good. There's another Thai on Penn, around 3rd, which does a $15 menu with 2 egg rolls, a main, rice and a drink, also good. Over on Massachusetts, La Loma is good for Mexican, better food than Tortilla coast, with great Martguerita's, Armands has great pizza and pasta, White Tiger does a week day and Sunday lunch special (it's Indian food), the Union Pub often has food specials.

                          Eastern Market is great for buying food, and there are lots of cafes and restaurants around that area.

                          It all depends where they are living/working.

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: BritInDC

                            No! Eating at work is SUCH a rip off! Not to mention terrible for you and tasting!
                            The best place to eat out of office and nearby is Le Bon Cafe. I've never had a bad sandwhich/salad/soup there, friendly staff, and when I go late in the day for an office pick up, they sometimes thrown in goodies for the office.

                            And, if they are on the Hill, I suggest finding an email distribution list that tells them where/when all the receptions are...free food/drinks.

                            1. re: Jeserf

                              It's not that bad, I tend to just eat a salad, and it's less than $5.
                              Where abouts is Le Bon Cafe?
                              The Receptions are good, and most offices will provide you with a list of what's on. The difficulty is that there are less now because of the new ethics rules.

                              1. re: BritInDC

                                there are still a lot of them.
                                Le Bon Cafe is on 2nd street right across from the LOC before pennsylvania ave (next to Fed Ex/Kinkos).

                                Eating at work is such a rip off, I've taken to bringing it 99% of the time and it saves me so much money (and calories).

                          2. The Post Pub (1422 L St.) right around the corner from the Wash. Post, has terrific inexpensive grub. They still have the best onion rings I've ever had (soft, thin rings with light flaky batter). Mmmmm, now I'm seriously craving them...