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Best Places in DC/Arlington for a Poor College Student!

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My brother, who recently turned 21, will be visiting me in DC from Texas for the first time. Now, I’m not as concerned about the bars to take him to, I’ve got that covered, I’m more concerned with what we’re going to eat!

The only criteria are:

- Nothing too fancy. Even the $20 entrée will be expensive for a broke college
student. I plan on treating him to one nice dinner, but I’m really interested in your
picks for honest food and cheap (but delicious) eats.

- Keep the recommendations to DC/Arlington. I live in Arlington, but work in DC. I
have a car so I can drive, but would rather we not spend too much time driving

- No BBQ, Mexican, or steak houses. He can get all of that in spades in Texas!

- Ethnic recommendations are very welcome! He can’t get Indian, Ethiopian,
Greek, Thai, etc. in his college town, so I want to expose him to some
interesting cuisine in mom and pop shops…so, no chains!

Thanks so much for your advice! I look forward to reading about your inexpensive restaurant gems!

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  1. Eden Center. It's just that simple. Share everything and you will be stuffed for $40 without booze.

    I believe that Viet Bistro is probably your best choice--it's a little more hip and geared to a younger crowd and the food is excellent. They have a menu with pictures of all their best sellers, which should be helpful. We're particularly fond of the caramel fish and the baby clam with onion on rice cracker. Their grilled lemongrass pork dishes are also winners.

    4 Replies
    1. re: PollyG

      -Layalina for Middle Eastern fare (you can do it either tapas style or just get entrees)
      -Ravi Kabob is better as take-out Middle Eastern fare but delicious
      -Dehli Club for Indian
      -Taste of Morocco (make sure you try the bastilla)
      -Thai Square
      -Eden center is wonderful (try Four Sisters of Huong Viet) but I also love Nam Viet in Clarendon
      -do try and take him for Ethiopian: there are several great places in the U Street neighborhood but I like Etete and Dukem


      1. re: JAC13

        It's always amazing to me how cheap Ethiopian is, and for such amazingly delicious food. At Queen Makeda the other day, for example, we spent under $25 for two people and were stuffed. Maybe you can try a couple Ethiopian places while he's here!

        1. re: JAC13

          Unfortunately Four Sisters has moved to Merrfield, but there's many more at Eden Center which are great.

          1. re: JAC13

            Oh, the bastilla at Taste of Morocco is wonderful! I also like Chez Manelle, East-West Grill, Pho 75 and Ray's Hell Burgers (of course) in Arlington, and any of the various Julia's Empanadas outlets in DC makes a great delicious and filling but cheap meal.

            Ray's Hell Burger
            1713 Wilson Blvd, Arlington, VA 22209

            Taste of Morocco
            8661 Colesville Rd, Silver Spring, MD 20910

        2. Heritage in Dupont Circle has a great Happy Hour menu, and if you order off of their street food menu (I believe it's called Hawkers something or other) can you save quite a bit of cash.

          Amsterdam Falafal is an old stand by in Adams Morgan. Same as The Diner or Tryst.

          Tapas is always a good affordable choice since it's shared. Jaleo, while not super cheap, is good tapas. If your brother is here during the week check out Taberna del Alberdero's 1/2 price tapas and Sangria happy hour. M-F, until 7pm.

          For cheap yet delicious sushi check out Sakana in Dupont Circle. Also near Sakana is Mark and Orlandos. If you sit upstairs, no entree is over $13-$15. Yummy food at an affordable price.

          And while they are both chains, they are local chains. Burgers at Five Guys and burritos and tacos at California Tortilla.

          2 Replies
          1. re: Elyssa

            I love Ravi Kabob too! That's definitely on the list. Delhi Club is a great suggestion too.

            I will definitely have to go to Amsterdam Falafal as well. Fantastic suggestion! Plus, we can eat and then I can turn him loose in Adams Morgan.

            I've actually *never* been to Eden Center. You've all convinced me to make that part of the itinerary as well.

            Thanks for the suggestions so far! Keep 'em coming!

            1. re: dckw

              Oh yes Ravi Kabob! Great chickpeas.

          2. Lebanese: Lebanese Butcher in Falls Church is the best Lebanese around us hands down.
            Eleventh St. Lounge on Thursday night has drink specials and half price small plates, other times still cheap.
            Eat Bar- awesome burgers and small plates.
            Caribbean Grill or El Pollo Rico
            Italian Store (take out but soo good for subs)
            Luna Cafe and Grill in Shrilington, especially good for breakfast.
            Also Tallula has good, cheap brunch.
            Southside 815 (Alexandria not Arlington)
            The Pita House (Again Alexandria, but thats still close to us a little fancier inside than Lebanese Butcher, but still good)
            Lickety Split lunch at Eve or Majestic if he is around for that.
            Eammons for fish and chips and fried candy bars (sooo good).
            House of Briyani on Columbia Pike. There is another Indian/Pakastani place right there that gets crowded.
            Aroma in Shirlington has good cheap Indian.
            For thai if not Thai Square, Dangarats.

            For a nicer place still with good prices check out Argia's in Falls Church.
            So many more...

            1 Reply
            1. re: ktmoomau

              I've been wanting to try Eammons. Love me some fish and chips! El Pollo Rico is another great idea. That's something I know he would really dig.

            2. To add to what others have already mentioned:

              Greek Deli near dupont is really good cheap greek fare... its takeout and weekdays only though.

              I also love Pho 75 in rosslyn for Pho, Moby Dick house of Kabob in gtown and clarendon has good Persian, Breadline by the white house have good takeout sandwiches as well.

              9 Replies
              1. re: chaojareon

                Forgot to add 2 Amy's. Fan-freaking-tastic pizza. A must.

                1. re: chaojareon

                  Good call on 2 Amy's but I like the creative small plates more than the pizza- the deviled eggs are a must-try as are the zeppolis (sp?). They have daily specials so do try whatever is fresh.

                  Also, Amsterdam Falafel is heavenly. The best frites as well as falafel.

                  One more option to consider: the cafe at Palena for the best burgers and fries from one of DC's master chefs at a reasonable price.

                  1. re: JAC13

                    Oh, yes. 2 Amy's is a good call! I know he would love a great pizza after many nights of Pizza Hut.

                2. re: chaojareon

                  For the love of all things good please do not goto Moby Dick. They have spread like a virus around this area and serve soom of the worst persian food these last few years (hard unseasonsed meat with rice that doesn't even get a kiss of butter).

                  As a persian I recommend you goto Kabob Bazar in Clarendon. The Monday/Friday special is damn good.

                  Also El Pollo Rico has some great chicken.

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

                  Kabob Bazaar
                  3133 Wilson Blvd, Arlington, VA 22201

                  1. re: Ramine

                    I 2nd, 3rd, and 4th El Pollo Rico. Best chicken around. You might also want to check out Chix on U St. I haven't been yet but I've been hearing good things. Maybe dinner at Chix and then drinks or dessert at Busboys and Poets or St. Ex. U St. is a fun area.

                    1. re: Elyssa

                      We'll definitely be in the U Street area. I actually love a little place called The Greek Spot. Really great chicken pitas!

                        1. re: Elyssa

                          It's just a few doors down from Chix. It's really good! It's just a little hole in the wall. It has a few tables outside during the warmer months, but it's just a little family run take-away shop. Excellent gyros and vegetarian options too.

                    2. re: Ramine

                      Wow, considering I really like Moby Dick's, maybe that means I don't know anything about kabobs. I mean it isn't the most amazing food of my life, but for a quick meal it always got the job done. I never got hard unseasoned meat either, maybe I was just lucky.

                      Next time I am in town I'll definately have to try Kabob Bazaar. Since it is better than Moby's, I'll probably be blown away.

                  2. Really, really good authentic Indian at terrific prices. The White Tiger on Capital Hill. There's a lunchtime buffet at $9.95 on weekdays and a Sunday brunch for $12.95. Great atmosphere and super nice people.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: MakingSense

                      I've driven by The White Tiger so many times and I've always wondered what the food was like. I am definitely going to have to check them out!

                      1. re: dckw

                        Same. I'm inspired to check it out.

                    2. He can get Texas chili in Texas, but how about Cincinnati chili (perhaps four-way, with spaghetti, cheese and onions) at Hard Times Cafe? It's cheap, and there's one in Arlington (at the Clarendon Metro).

                      7 Replies
                      1. re: Bill on Capitol Hill

                        Have you ever mentioned Cincinnati "chili" to a Texan? Cost isn't the issue here. You couldn't PAY most of them to eat it. It ain't chili. It's spaghetti sauce.
                        Not that you or I might agree, but Texans are Texans and chili is almost as sacred as the Alamo. Just sayin'.

                        1. re: MakingSense

                          This is great! When I moved to Ohio and I saw all those Skyline chili parlors serving chili on spaghetti...well...I was CONFUSED. And what's with the cinnamon flavor in Cincy chili? It takes some getting used to, I tell you.

                          1. re: dcandohio

                            I couldn't agree more — that Cincinnati "chili" is some nasty crap! Texas-style all the way for this guy ...

                            1. re: DonaldGately

                              yeah, take it from this texas girl -- i doubt he'll be pleased with the cincinnati-style. good idea, though...maybe he would like hard times, still, for some good wings and they do serve shiner bock! :)

                              speaking of which, these are the places i've found that have shiner on draft: ugly mug (eastern market), rhodeside grill (arlington), first down (arlington), stetsons (u street.) just FYI, in case your bro gets a craving for one :)

                              1. re: littlew1ng

                                Ah, the Little Wing — we meet again. Sounds like you and I are on the same page. Cincinnati chili hardly even merits the name.

                                1. re: DonaldGately

                                  I agree mostly - but the guilty pleasure nacho dish by skyline is good. I stopped at a skyline earlier this year (first time) and wasn't plussed - but I'll still stand behind that one guilty pleasure dish.

                                  1. re: DonaldGately

                                    I think the only thing that Cincinnati chile shares with Texas chili is what it looks like from about 10 feet away, and only then if you're wearing sunglasses. They come from different cultures and are spiced and cooked differently.

                                    I'll have to admit that when Skyline Chili had a restaurant in the Yorktowne Center (Gallows Rd & Arlington Blvd) I occasionally enjoyed a bowl of Cincinnati chili. I have never purchased any of their frozen product.

                                    Hard Times does a pretty good implementation of Cincinnati chili. You don't have to like it. It's OK.

                        2. If you have wheels, while he is out here don't miss Roy's Place in Gaithersburg, the most amazing gourmet sandwich place I have ever seen. Fortunately, they have a website that will give you an idea of what the adventure is like. www.roysplacerestaurant.com. Have a look at it. The menu is huge and hugely entertaining. Everything is made fresh. And there is plenty of fine beer.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: Father Kitchen

                            One more: for Afghan food, Bamiyan Restaurant, at two locations in Arlington, is excellent.

                            1. re: Father Kitchen

                              How have I never seen a posting about this place? It's on my short list next time I'm visiting the mom-in-law.

                              And about the Skyline chili - I was given a can from a friend last year, and made the dip for the S.Bowl. It turned out okay, but I thought it had gone bad in the can and had to call him!

                            2. In my opinion, the best food bargains in Northern Virginia are the Vietnamese restaurants that specialize exclusively in pho [Hanoi noodle soup] and the Vietnamese bakeries that specialize in banh mi [Vietnamese baguette sandwiches]. Even in the Vietnamese community, there is no agreement on where to get the best pho and banh mi. My personal favorite for pho is the Pho 75 location in Falls Church, and my personal favorite for banh mi is the Bale Friends Bakery location in Falls Church. (I don't recommend, however, the Pho 75 location on Wilson Blvd. in Arlington.)

                              Pho 75
                              3103 Graham Rd, Falls Church, VA 22042

                              Bale Friends Bakery
                              2822 Graham Rd, Falls Church, VA

                              1. Old City Cafe in Adams Morgan for falafels/kebabs. It's good when you're sober, and especially good when drunk (located right near the Adams Morgan bar strip). Bistro Francais on M Street in Gtown has an early/late special...$20 includes an appetizer, entree, dessert and glass of house wine.

                                1. Lebanese Taverna in Woodley park or Skewers in Dupont (the 2nd one is cheaper and less atmospher-y) but both have wonderful Leb food. L.T. is right next to the woodley park stop and Skewers is a short stroll from dupont metro. i know you said you have the bar scene covered but if you haven't already thought of the Brickskeller you might add that to your list if you are in dupont anyway. i've taken out of towners there and they are blown away by the 1000 beers (never mind that they never have nearly that many at any one time...). There are lots of inexpensive decent chinese options in chinatown and there is a 5 Guys in dupont if you guys want to chow a burger after drinking. If you find yourself in Cleveland Park there is really nothing better when drunk than a good slice and Vace has good ones. We were in there friday night and there were lots of other intoxicated folk in line, all waiting for a slice o pie to go.

                                  1. For the nice dinner, if you can pay just a little bit more, take him to Ray's the Steaks. My suggestions for good cheap food are as follows:

                                    (1) Juice Joint - Vermont St downtown - this is a counter sandwich shop, but they have a chef on staff. Everything is amazing. I take everyone who visits me here for lunch or breakfast.

                                    (2) Great Wall Szechuan - Logan Circle, 14th St - order the ma la kung pao chicken, ma la dumplings, or ma la chow mein (but not all three) for great authentic Chinese food. This is a take out place. The interior of the restaurant is kind of depressing.

                                    (3) Regent Thai - Dupont Circle. Frankly, I wouldn't bother because in my experience they have much, much better Thai food where your brother is from, but if not, the cashew chicken here is great, and so is the tom kha gai soup.

                                    (4) Pizzeria Paradiso - they also have one of the best beer lists in town. They're in Dupont and Georgetown.

                                    (5) Commissary - Logan Circle, P St. This place is great. Typical American food, done well, and for about $10-12/plate. It's like a cheaper version of all those $20/plate bistro places with quality decor and ingredients. Breakfast is also great.

                                    One last thing - I don't have one, but I wouldn't skip any BBQ recommendations. What we call BBQ out here is not the same brisket your brother is eating in Texas.

                                    1. How about Amsterdam Falafel in Adams Morgan? You can easily spend under $10 per person. It's very tasty and it would probably be something different for your brother to try. This would be especially perfect if you are planning to do some drinking in that neighborhood.

                                      Zorba's Cafe is good, inexpensive Greek food in Dupont Circle.

                                      I think Etete would be good to take him for Ethiopian. It's inexpensive, but has a bit of a nice-restaurant feel. I would describe the Cafe Divan (Turkish) in Georgetown in the same way.

                                      Oops.... just noticed I was responding to a very old post. Sorry!

                                      1942 9th St NW, Washington, DC 20001

                                      Cafe Divan
                                      1834 Wisconsin Ave NW, Washington, DC 20007

                                      4710 Eastern Ave, Baltimore, MD 21224

                                      Amsterdam Falafelshop
                                      2425 18th St NW, Washington, DC 20009