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Cheap ethnic food in the DC area?

  • c

Hi everyone. I'm a recent transplant from NY and I'm trying to find out where the best cheap ethnic deliciousness can be had. I'm in the district but don't mind traveling a bit. Just would love to know where I can get unusual, authentic, and cheap, be it Cambodian, Vietnamese, Peruvian, Uzbeki, or what have you. In other words, where do I go to find Baltimore/Washington's Sainted Arepa Lady??

Many thanks, fellow hounds.

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  1. For AMAZING Peruvian chicken head to El Pollo Ricco. There is a location in VA and MD. This is seriously the best cheap eats in the area...you will become addicted quickly.

    22 Replies
    1. re: Elyssa

      Seconded. I am incredibly addicted to this place. A meal will put you back about $4.10 Try mixing the sauces!

      1. re: thefallinggirl

        They don't call it "Crack Chicken" for nothing! :)

      2. re: Elyssa

        "Crack Chicken"? where can I get it in Arlington?

        1. re: alkapal

          EPR is on Kenmore near Clarendon. Go there first, then expand from there.

          El Pollo Rico
          932 N Kenmore St, Arlington, VA 22201

          1. re: Dennis S

            are there different types of crack chicken? which one is best?

            1. re: alkapal

              They only serve one type of chicken at El Pollo Ricco I believe. It's a very limited menu. It usually comes with steak fries and possibly coleslaw or something like that although its been awhile since I've been. It also somes with a tangy mayo cause and a spicy green sauce. They are small containers though so get extras.

              The last time I went we got a whole chicken I believe (cut into pieces of course) with all the sides and it couldn't have cost more then $12.

              I should mention that that whole chicken was shared just between me and my friend. We ate the whole thing our self...and fought over the last piece. :)

              1. re: alkapal

                Same basic recipe, which is mainly garlic, italian seasoning and cumin (salt and pepper, too). However, of course, each place tastes a bit different and they also serve at times different side options, such as yucca, slaw, rice and beans, etc. The mustard and chile sauces differ slightly as well. Generally, no one has ever claimed - to my knowledge - that any one place had it all together. One place will have great sides but not quite the best chicken, etc.

                1. re: Dennis S

                  OK, time for a posting of the crack chicken recipe clone. Here. Now. ((Isn't that the "crack" theme?)

                  1. re: alkapal

                    A FFX County food inspector helped the community out a few years ago and basically posted the recipe Edy's uses. I tried it at home and got close enough to count. I didn't do rotisserie and I think that was my only gap.

                    I'm pretty sure that health inspection is now removed from the county's site.

                  2. re: Dennis S

                    El Pollo Ricco I think also serves theirs with steak fries as well as options of the others. It's not really about the sides though...trust me! lol

                    1. re: Elyssa

                      The focus is on the chicken, but man I so prefer well done yucca over fries. As much as don't like it otherwise, the Guapo's "express" in Herndon does the best fried yucca I've ever had.

            2. re: Elyssa

              I finally decided to try El Pollo Rico for lunch today. Chicken was great. French fries were great. For some reason, perhaps the location, reputation for busy, and skimpy parking (people were doing all sorts of crazy things waiting for a space in the lot - I parked at a meter on Fairfax Drive tha had 35 minutes still on it) I had it in mind that it was strictly a takeout place. I was pleasantly surprised that they had tables, and plenty of 'em. It was about 1:30 when I was there and it wasn't very crowded.

              I'll be back.

              1. re: MikeR

                The one I went to in Wheaton I believe is more or less take out only correct? I think there are like 4-5 tables but everyone is standing over you waiting for their very own delicious crack chicken so it's better to take out.

                I think I've been to the VA location (can't remember if it was El Pollo Ricco or another place) but there were tons of seating and lots of families. Is this were you were MikeR? Like a counter where you order and then a big room with tables?

                1. re: Elyssa

                  Yes, that's a reasonable description - order at the counter, take it to a table, and it's quite a large room. There's an auto parts store or something like that next door, and it's on Kenmore street, just a parking lot away from the corner of Fairfax Drive.

                  1. re: MikeR

                    Would you guys happen to know the time of day when this place is at its absolute busiest (on a weekday, I mean)? I've lived in Arlington for over a year now and am ashamed to say I've never been to this place. But I loathe lines and have to drive to get there, which makes me a bit leery of the parking situation. Any help would be greatly appreciated.

                    1. re: DonaldGately

                      Even if the parking is full, there is always a lot of turnover here; I've never had to wait for a parking spot more than briefly.

                      In some case, a line is a very good thing. If you are at a Thai food festival with a lot of Thai people, you want to stand on the longest line. A line at El Pollo Rice means that people have been waiting for the chicken. That's a good thing! If you see a line, you are in luck. The line moves quickly. But even when there is no line, the chicken is still pretty darn great anyway.

                      1. re: Steve

                        Yep - there's really only one decision customers make (quarter, half or whole) and so it goes very quickly.

                        1. re: Dennis S

                          Thanks, guys. I actually decided to finally just go — took a late lunch and just drove over from work. There was a parking spot just opening up when I got there, and the line wasn't too long. I probably spent ten minutes total inside.

                          The verdict? I kind of don't see the big deal. I mean, yeah, the chicken is juicy and moist, and the skin has a decent flavor, but I wouldn't rave about it to people I know. I'll definitely go back if I'm famished late at night or in the late afternoon or other times not during peak hours, as I think it's good, reasonably priced fast food, but as far as the superlatives this place seems to get, I just can't quite see why. (Apologies in advance if you love this place!)

                          1. re: DonaldGately

                            FWIW, I love the chicken, but I rarely go to EPR anymore b/c of the uninspiring sides. Gotta have yucca and a good portion of it, with a good spicy green sauce - bare minimum. The fries just don't cut it.

                            1. re: DonaldGately

                              At least you gave it a try.

                              Sorry, rotisserie chicken, he's just not that into you.

                              1. re: DonaldGately

                                Well, it's a pretty straightforward way to cook chicken. Nothing fancy, but a good version of what it is. Juicy and moist is good. Maybe you'd prefer good southern fried chicken (Flavors in Arlington), or Chengdou kung pao chicken (Hong Kong Palace at 7 Corners)?

                                Based just on the chicken, I find that El Pollo Rico is more consistent in the juicy and tender category than the rest of the similar places. Sometimes I'll get an exceptional piece of chicken at Super Pollo (multiple locations) but I also get more dry ones. One of these times I should try taking it back to the counter and asking for a piece from a bird that's more recently off the grill. Some people rate these places if the chicken is good-to-excellent but they have more choice of sides than El Pollo Rico's French fries (which I think are excellent) and so-so cole slaw. I've never had yuca that impressed me anywhere but at a now gone place that had chicken that I didn't like enough to go for the yuca.

                                As far as the El Pollo Rico hype here, well, on-line forums are just like that. You'll see the same question about hype asked about Ray's and Five Guys burgers, or 2 Amy's and just about any other pizza. Group dynamics tends to produce a "most often recommended" that's pretty consistent whether it's really best or not.

                                1. re: DonaldGately

                                  donald, i agree that the chicken is just fine, but not anything that i would rave over.

                                  steve, i love your line! ""Sorry, rotisserie chicken, he's just not that into you.""

                  2. Nothing is terribly cheap around here, but you want it, we got it. (excpet NY pizza and Texas BBQ, according to some Chowhunds). Vietnamese sandwiches (Bahn Le) are cheap, tasty, and filling, and there are lots of Latin American (Peruvian, I think, nostly) chicken places that are worth exploring. If there's one thing we have more of than most cities, it's Ethiopian. It used to be cheap, but they discovered that Americans like their food too.

                    1. First, search for any of Steve's posts. He's posted some magnificent lists plenty of times.

                      Second, do know that there's a higher tax on food in the District - used to be about 10% but I'm not sure what it is now. Rents are also higher, of course.

                      A couple of quick hits:
                      - Tacos at:
                      - El Charrito Caminante - Arlington
                      - Pepito's in Adams Morgan and Gaithersburg
                      - A number of taco trucks scattered through the area

                      - Eden Center for Vietnamese

                      - Dogs at Vienna Inn in Vienna

                      - Salvadoran, such as El Pulgarcito in Wheaton, and Aclacatl in Arlington

                      - Certain Thai, such as Ruan Thai in Wheaton and Thai Square in Arlington

                      - Kabobs at places like Kabob Palace in Crystal City (many kabob places will give you tons of food for $10 where you'd prefer half of that for $5 - all in all counts as cheap).

                      - Joe's Noodle House - Rockville (except you can't stop at ordering 1 or 2 things).

                      - Really any of the peruvian chicken joints - EPR (rec from Elyssa) is sort of the grandaddy in the area.

                      1. Ah, a newbie who doesn't know the *gasp* sacriledge that is crossing the Potomac!!. Stand to the right, but don't be jaded by those hard core Washingtonians who wouldn't dream of crossing into Md. or taking a bridge to Va.!!! ;-)
                        There is fantastic ethnic food in Va. In Falls Church you have the Eden Center aka: Little Vietnam. A bit further out is Annandale aka: Little Korea.
                        Of course DC corners the market for Ethiopian.


                        1. You will find a lot of cheap ethnic foods if you look around. Check out treads on this board and also tyler cowen's website.

                          If I had to recommend 3, I'd do the following:
                          Viet Gol
                          TECC (an abbreviation but I never can remember the name. Mexican taquria in Arlington on Wash. blvd.)

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: Soup

                            I second A&J in Rockville... Northern style Chinese dim sum (but not carts--you order off of a menu). Fast, cheap and delicious!

                          2. I grew up in NoVa and whenever I visit, I must have the kabobs and rice at Moby Dicks. Definately my favorite Persian kabobs in the DC metro area... There are several locations in the MD/VA/DC area -- I remember the original one was in Bethesda...

                            1. Also awhile back I posted a thread on the "Best Meals under $10" or something along those lines.

                              There was a huge response with various cheap eats food items on the cheap. (It might have even been under $5 but I'm not sure). You should search for this thread because there were a bunch of ethnic food recommendations for all over the DC area.

                              1. Falls Church and Arlington:

                                Falls Church (Worth the trip, you'll see)

                                Raaga on Rte. 7 near Bailey's Crossroads heading toward Seven Corners on the right. (5872 Leesburg Pike? -- just beside the now-closed Joe's Pizza and Pasta building) EXCELLENT food and FANTASTIC lunch buffet all week. Under $10! Esp. Friday is my favorite, with Chicken Tikka Masala that is the best I have had, and usually a Saag dish. Typically about three veg dishes, two meat dishes, salad and dessert. Every day is good, but Friday is the best (oops, my secret is out!)


                                Ghin Na Ree on Harrison Street (next to Baskin Robbins, at the end of the Harris Teeter shopping center strip). Quality seafood, excellent pad thai. kee mao (yum!) oooh, and the Som Tum (green papaya salad -- the best around!!) nice and friendly service. GREAT prices! Unassuming from the outside (actually, not very inviting outside), but you will be happy you ate there.

                                Pizza and Pasta: Pie-Tanza in same shopping center. FRESH FRESH FRESH! They roast their own tomatoes to make the sauces. Yum! Wood fired oven. Good pizzas, calzones, pasta. Take out is busy too. Dined-in last night in fact. My husband's choice on just returning from 3 weeks in London!

                                Report back, please, on your adventures in eating.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: alkapal

                                  Ravi Kebab's chicken curry and chicked kebabs are excellent! They are on Glebe near Pershing, one in the strip mall on the NE corner, and also a "family" restaurant on the SW corner (next to CVS). The original in the strip mall is busier. I think the menus are really similar.

                                  At Raaga, mentioned above, there is also always Tandoori Chicken on the buffet.

                                2. Other suggestions:

                                  Myanmar on Lee Hwy in Falls Church for Burmese
                                  Ravi Kebab on Glebe Rd in Arlington for Pakistani kebabs and stews.
                                  Many Korean places at a range of prices in Annandale
                                  Punjab Dhaba in Loehman's Plaza on rte 50 in Falls Church
                                  Lebanese Butcher on Annandale Rd in Falls Church for all types of Lebanese food (yes, it is a restaurant AND a butcher)

                                  1. Ethiopian is wonderful in the DC area, but it has gotten too expensive in Adams Morgan DC anymore. I would highly recommend a new place in Crystal City on 23rd between Eads and Fern Sts. It is called Messoub (not sure of exact name but that's close) and it is on the south side of the block - you have to walk up some wooden stairs to get to the restaurant. Two or two and a kid can eat a sampler of veg, chicken and beef for 25 bucks or so.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: JLAW

                                      Agreed, JLAW; Ethiopian is great in DC. So much choice! I would not go to Adams Morgan for Ethiopian; try Dukem on 11th (?) and U Street NW or go to 9th Street NW between U and T streets... There is a block that has at least 7-8 restaurants (or more). My favorite is Etete, but it is small and there is usually a wait... You can pretty much drive down U Street from 15th street down and you'll see a bunch of new Ethiopian places.

                                      I also liked our local place at 14th and P Street (near Whole Foods) called Lalibela. Not as "popular" as Dukem but I thought it was great and they also have outdoor seating for when the weather is nice...

                                    2. Pho 75 on Wilson Blvd (10 minute walk from either Courthouse or Rosslyn metro or limited parking lot available) is great and cheap. I don't think I'll ever be able to live far from a Pho place now that I've discovered Pho 75. They have raised their prices about a dollar in the last year, but still pretty cheap.

                                      Nam-viet Pho 79 near Clarendon metro and also near Cleveland Park metro: More than just pho at this place. Love the vietnamese crepe and their summer rolls. Dinner, beer, tax and tip for 2 is routinely under $30 which makes for a cheap night out.

                                      Lebanese butcher (as recommended elsewhere) on a Little Annandale Rd: consistently fantastic. I've tried at least half of their menu and can't decide on a favorite.

                                      German Gourmet on Columbia Pike: A half dozen sausage sandwiches (all at $5ish dollars) with free toppings of Sauerkraut, peppers and onions, etc. And for $1.50 you can add a choice of two sides like german potato salad, spaetzle, etc. Now if they would only add a couple of tables so you don't have to eat in your car before the sauerkraut gets the bread too soggy!

                                      Chinatown Express in Chinatown: They make their own noodles in the front window at this place. Noodles are featured in the soups and noodle dishes. Good, super cheap (esp. in the district!) , but the overabundance of deodorizer trees icks me out.

                                      Does southern food count as ethnic? Not sure I've found a better $6 plate of food than at HR-57. Fried Chicken wings, collard greens and red beans and rice. Admittedly there's a cover to get in the place, but that's for the entertainment portion of the evening.

                                      1. Zed's isn't bad for Ehiopian food (Foggy Bottom).

                                        1. Just wanted to thank everyone for the excellent and numerous suggestions. You've given me a lot to work with here! Always good to be welcomed into a new chow community in style.

                                          1. Go to Wheaton! There are a ton of places within just a couple of minutes walk from the Metro. In May, you can attend the Taste of Wheaton and discover even more places. Two of my favorites:

                                            Sergio's Place- Fantastic Pan Latin food, 11324 Fern St.
                                            Sabang-Indonesian, a little more expensive, get the resistaffel, 2504 Ennalls Ave

                                            And then in Silver Spring, less than a 10 minute walk from the Metro is Mandalay. It's Burmese food at a very good price. My husband describes Burmese food as the bastard child of Chinese, Indian, and Thai food. Everything I have had there is excellent.

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: nikaplan

                                              Also in Wheaton:

                                              Ruan Thai and El Pulgarcito for good Thai and Salvadoran.

                                            2. Tyler Cowen's guide is a great staring place. I love Kabob Bazaar on Wilson in Clarendon and also Restaurant Rose in Vienna for Persian food followed by saffron and pistachio ice cream. http://www.gmu.edu/jbc/Tyler/tyler_co...

                                              1. I second Nam Viet in Cleveland Park. Get the Special Hue Spicy Beef Soup. Such a great meal for under $8!

                                                1. You should checkout Tyler Cowen's guide to ehnic food. He has a new book out where he advocates for ethnic food served in strip malls with no major anchr store to increase rents. I think he has a point.


                                                  here is the link to a story aboout his book:


                                                  Personally, I do not see ANY point in listing the different Peruvian or central american chicken joints in this post. Inexplicably DC seems to have lifted rotisserie chicken to a different level. There is a reason this food was only available to a certain public that is not looking for gourmet food.

                                                  1 Reply
                                                  1. re: dc_girl84

                                                    you should try Luzmila's off route 7 (in falls church) for good Bolivian Food.

                                                  2. Here's my top snacks in the DC area:

                                                    Arlington, VA:
                                                    Taqueria El Charrito Caminante - Goat Taco, Mexican
                                                    La Union Carry Out - Veggie Enchilada, Salvadoran

                                                    Falls Church, VA:
                                                    El Pike - Saltenas and Humintas, Bolivian
                                                    Than Son Tofu - Tofu, also try the vegtable cake, Vietnamese
                                                    Lebanese Butcher: Mini- Sausages
                                                    Punjab Dhaba - Dahi vada

                                                    Annandale: Shiney's - Long pepper pokori, Pakistani

                                                    Bombay Curry House - Bhel Puri
                                                    Guadalajara - Huaraches con birria

                                                    Rita's: Polori (Trini fritters with pickled tamarind sauce)

                                                    Rockville, Maryland:
                                                    Shredded radish, Joe's Noodle House
                                                    Langley Park, MD:
                                                    Paper dhosa, Woodlands - Indian
                                                    Silver Spring, MD:
                                                    Fried Watercress, Ruan Thai

                                                    1. I haven't been there in a while, but Full Kee in Chinatown had sensational Hong Kong style noodle soup and great vegetables (leek flowers, watercress, etc.) sauteed in garlic

                                                      1. Oh my god guys, it is spelled "El Pollo RICO' not Ricco or Rice, learn some spanish!!!

                                                        Second, crossing the potomac is a very rewarding experience for ethnic food. If you can measure an ethnic food's quality and authenticity by the make-up of its clientele then NOVA and the MD suburbs are where the action is. If you want chinese frequented by chinese then chinatown may not be the best bet. If you want indian eaten by indians go to fairfax or moco. the list goes on. don't be afraid to get in a car leave DC and explore!

                                                        6 Replies
                                                        1. re: hambre

                                                          I was saddened when I moved 25 miles from El Pollo Rico years ago. I still hit there once in a while when I'm in the area. I found a little place out in Sterling run by a Peruvian family that not only has the rotissarie chicken, but a fairly robust menu. My son loves the chicken with ff and yucca, but I'm rather partial to the Chupe de Cameron, the Lomo Saltado and the Ceviche. I've had nearly everything on the menu, and I am always quite impressed.

                                                          156 Enterprise St
                                                          Sterling, VA 20164

                                                          Pollo Rico
                                                          7643 New Hampshire Ave, Takoma Park, MD 20912

                                                          1. re: SunTzuTech

                                                            Can you give the name of the place? I've wondered about places in that area.

                                                            Also - note that there is at least one place in the Clock Tower parking lot - across from the clock. I haven't been but PollyG said (I think) that it's worthwhile. Next door to Pho Vietnam.

                                                            And then in Herndon is Pollos Inka. Full Peruvian menu done incredibly well, but also the chicken. And then lastly, Guapo's in Herndon. Best made yucca, though they scrimp on portion size.

                                                            Guapo's Restaurant
                                                            4515 Wisconsin Ave NW, Washington, DC 20016

                                                            1. re: Dennis S

                                                              It's called the Pollo Factory. It's in a small strip mall with a subway, a NY pizza place, chinese, and a few other things, including a new spanish bakery. I've had Pollo Inka and I have to go back to the Pollo Factory.

                                                              1. re: SunTzuTech

                                                                Thanks. For Pollos Inka, the chicken isn't the star. Order from the rest of the menu.

                                                          2. re: hambre

                                                            "hambre": hombre, maybe your hunger made you snappish. people can make spelling errors, you know.

                                                          3. Seconding Chinatown Express - great hand-pulled noodles, two meals' worth for about $6 plus tip. Also:

                                                            Ghana Cafe (Logan Circle): Great stews and sides - I especially like the plantains. Enormous portions, good for splitting or taking home. Have some of the ginger drink if you're feeling adventurous.

                                                            Zenebech Injera (U St/LeDroit Park): No-frills Ethiopian. Delicious and cheap.

                                                            Pollo Sabroso (Columbia Heights/Mt. Pleasant): Great roasted chicken, plantains, rice and beans, etc. The chicken sandwich is addictive. Eat the green sauce, it's great.

                                                            Chinatown Express
                                                            126 Carroll Island Rd, Baltimore, MD 21220

                                                            1. Having just moved back to Baltimore, I can vouch for two places in the midtown/lower Mt. Vernon area: Lumbini, which is Nepalese, and Mekong Delta Cafe, which is Vietnamese.

                                                              Both are very reasonably priced, though Mekong more so; the way I think of it is Mekong as a lunch spot and Lumbini as a dinner destination.

                                                              Mekong Delta Cafe
                                                              105 W Saratoga St, Baltimore, MD 21201

                                                              Lumbini Restaurant
                                                              322 N Charles St, Baltimore, MD 21201