HOME > Chowhound > Washington DC & Baltimore >


Aussie traveling for authentic american cuisine on a budget

Coming to America and travelling to NYC and Wash DC. What is required dining in these cities? I like casual, comfortable and not fussy or expensive eating. That said, I like lighter foods, seafood and such, but not heavy on the meat. Suggestions?

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. required? every day or two I suppose.

    there's really no signature DC region thing but oysters or blue crab - outside the supermarket or the occasional crabcake those aren't often casual/budget friendly. ok half smokes are affordable, but not what you're looking for. DC is getting better, but it's still a hybrid (and in some ways a bit schizo) town. budget-wise - go ethnic. or go grease.

    in NYC: pizza slices folded into a scoop on a floppy paper plate, lox and bagel w/ cream cheese - no other US city does them quite like they can. but for light avoid a classic deli unless you plan on splitting the sandwich with a friend (and maybe still have leftovers)

    google Calvin Trillin for columns about street food and small joints in Queens/Brooklyn.

    authentic American cuisine? what is authentic American - outside of Post-WWII fare that's (thankfully) settled into the permafrost of the fridge or the great contributions of successive waves of immigrants? regional things, sure, but authentic? I don't know what that means and refuse to respond (for fear of sounding snobbish mostly)

    how universally "authentic" do you wanna go? great food at a low price-point is easier to find in NYC, LA or SF. DC skews mostly high or low and little in between. IMHO. but there are exceptions.

    I've heard Australia has a fantastic selection of cuisines to choose from and I hope we won't disappoint.

    2 Replies
    1. re: hill food

      For really authentic food on a budget, try the kind of lunch time places that are all over downtown areas. Try some of the sandwiches. The food will rarely be gourmet, but it will truly reflect what American's eat. Near my office there are many of these places. The best one near me is run by Koreans and offers sushi, cold sandwiches, grilled sandwiches and bulgogi. There is often little connection between the ethnic group owning the place and the food they sell.

      Unfortunately for you, Americans do heavy food. In the DC area try crabcakes (but as they are fried - or sometimes broiled - they are not really light.).

      1. re: hill food

        Here are my thoughts for DC seafood -- Hanks Oyster Bar, Johnny's Half Shell, Pesce, and Hook are where I'd go for excellent seafood at reasonable prices. All are likely to have local fish and seasonal preparations.

        For general American, casual but nice restaurants -- Cashion's Eat Place for dinner, brunch or lunch at the Tabard Inn, a meal at Two Amy's (pizza), or the bar at Palena (Palena itself is very expensive but the bar menu is not--best roast brined chicken in town).

      2. I would try some down-home confort food. It's not light or healthy, but very typical American. Ooohs and Aaahs or, my favorite, Levi's Port Cafe on 8th St. SE (Barracks Row... get the fried chicken and mac and cheese).

        1. Get a crabcake at Market Lunch at the Eastern Market. Perhaps go eat at the bar at Palena, they have great homemade pastas.

          Tacklebox in Georgetown has good seafood at good prices. Their grilled fish is very good.

          It is hard to eat cheap in DC... and a lot of the "DC" institutions have heavier food. What areas will you be in? Some items like Ethiopian are very much DC, but some of DC's cheaper places are ethnic, I am not sure what cuisines you wouldn't have in Australia? Perhaps Guajillo in Rosslyn or Oyamel for Mexican?

          8 Replies
          1. re: ktmoomau

            I think it is easy to eat cheap in DC. I do it most every time I go out to lunch. The split is between going to a sit down restaurant and going to other types of places. By the way, I recommend Oyamel for Mexican. It is unlike most other Mexican places in the U.S. in that it serves fairly authentic food that is not covered in a ton of cheese next to a side of dry rice and gloppy beans. It is moderately priced. I also recommend the Market Lunch at Eastern Market, as well as Peregrine Espress nearby. Another place on the Hill with cheap but decent food is the Tune Inn (a dive bar).

            1. re: ChewFun

              Oyamel is not cheap. They serve tapas and you need to order quite a few to fill up (and that gets pricey), and I don't think the food here is even that good.

              If you want "American" food for cheap, hit up one of the happy hours in town for good deals. Definitely not all the choices are "healthy," but "American" food usually isn't.

              1. re: Jacey

                I don't know. Three tacos is usually what I order (or a sandwich). It's definitely something you can't get in Australia. Are they brave enough to try the Tacos de Chapulines (fried crickets)?

                1. re: ChewFun

                  Australia has great and very diverse cuisines.

                  1. re: Jacey

                    Last I heard, there hasn't been a large influx of Mexican immigrants in Australia. Lots of Asians though.

                    1. re: Ericandblueboy

                      When I ived there I went to quite a few--and good-mexican restaurants.

                      1. re: Jacey

                        There were a whole series of posts last year bemoaning the lack of Mexican food in Australia. I imagine that there are very few Mexicans in Australia. Without Mexicans, you really don't get good Mexican food, not that there are enough around the DC area for my Southern Californian taste.

                  2. re: ChewFun

                    $5 for over salty crickets. The crickets themselves weren't even large enough to have any flavor. For $5, I want large, juicy crickets oozing entrails.

            2. Sandwiches are very American. Like the Brits, we like eating them--a lot. Unlike the Brits, We tend not to go the pre-packaged route a al Mark & Spencer's or Pret. Try Breadline (only open for lunch M-F), the deli Morty's or a number of other restaurants that serve sandwiches. This time of year you might be able to find a "Thanksgiving" sandwich at some places.

              1 Reply
              1. re: Jacey

                I know you Aussies have good Japanese food, but consider Sushi Ko in Glover Park - best in town. Also, consider Bistro D'Oc near Gallery Place, right across from Ford's Theater (where Lincoln was shot). Japanese, French? You asked for American - we are a nation of immigrants!

              2. Jaleo for tapas. Chef Jose Andres is famous for a reason. And despite what others say on this board, two tapas can make a meal for me. Essentials are the tortilla espanol, apple and manchego salad, spinach with raisins, grilled asparagus,patatas bravas. The olives set out on the table alone make Jaleo a worth while stop.

                1. I think the Tacklebox in Georgetown is an excellent idea.
                  Try the Mitsitam cafe in the American Indian museum on the Mall. Lots of variety and certainly authentic American!
                  I would go to Ben's Chili Bowl just to check out the scene, but maybe just get a shake or something.

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: hamster

                    I love the tacklebox....the fried clams were good, and the grilled portobello mushrooms and beets were amazing. georgetown cupcake (around the corner) is great....

                    1. re: chicken kabob

                      For other DC Chowhounders to come up with suggestions for traveling Aussie: I'm not American and when I think of American food, I think of bbq, burgers, hot dogs, fries, pizza (the cheesy kind), Southern Comfort food, chili, Tex Mex, etc., etc.

                      I'm dismissing the request for "lighter food" as I don't think of "Authentic American" and "light" in the same category. I think it would be a shame to leave DC without experiencing the following:
                      1) Ray's Hell Burgers in Arlington, VA for burgers
                      2) Ben's Chili Bowl for chili dogs
                      3) Krispy Kreme doughnuts (I know I've seen them at the Sydney Airport, but if you've never had them HOT off the fry-o-later, it's not really the same thing!)
                      4) Al's Steakhouse in Del Ray, VA for steak sandwich


                      1. re: pleen

                        well if yer gonna do Krispy, you have to hit a location that bakes on premise and lights the sign when a batch comes out - the one that springs to mind is Dupont Circle South entrance at CT.

                      2. re: chicken kabob

                        One more thought:
                        The Well-Dressed Burrito for burritos, American-style

                    2. I have never thought of the food in this country as being 'American', but rather as being a vast array of cuisines from other cultures that have settled here and often been 'Americanized' (e.g. red sauce Italian). Food in this country veries wildly by location (e.g. Texas BBQ, vs. North Carolina BBQ vs. Memphis BBQ and a million other examples.) But there is great food of almost unlimited varieties in both cities (I'm from the DC area and live in the NY area now), so hopefully you'll get some great recs and enjoy your meals.

                      1. Despite your "not heavy on the meat" statement, you might want to try a 5 Guys burger-it's very within your budget .
                        Don't try ordering it with the lot. They will not understand. Specify the toppings you want-they are all free. Order quickly or they will call you a Yobbo and you will get the wrong order. Bacon or Cheese are at an extra price. These are your free toppings.

                        Mayo , Relish, Onions, Lettuce, Pickles, Tomatoes, Fried Onions ,Sauteed Mushrooms ,Ketchup, Mustard, Jalapeno Peppers, Green Peppers ,A-1 Sauce,Bar-B-Q Sauce, Hot Sauce.

                        4 Replies
                        1. re: ditsyquoin

                          And to keep it not heavy don't get the fries (you only ever need small anyway) and order a little burger which is one patty - the regular is two.

                          1. re: Dennis S

                            I second that, though I always go for the fries as they are quite good.

                            Other American items are sandwiches like Reubens, Patty Melts, Tuna Salad, Pastrami on Rye.

                              1. re: hill food

                                The small is way too much for me too, but I always make my way through all of them (with guilty feelings).

                          2. Foods I miss when visiting my in-laws down under:

                            -Good mac & cheese
                            -Huge fresh salads with tons of stuff in them

                            1. I agree that typically "American" food is rather boring (sandwiches/burgers) or not our own (sushi/pizza/Mexican), but there are a lot of places in DC where you can get good, cheap food that is representative of our cuisine. Some top choices:

                              - Ben's Chili Bowl. Forget taking it easy, order a half-smoke and chili-cheese fries. Great bars nearby for before and after your meal. Go for lunch, dinner or late-night eats.
                              - New Orleans-style cajun food in a good option. There's a decent place in Adams Morgan right on 18th Street (forgetting the name). Brunch is good and different.
                              - Georgia Browns. A splurge, but the Southern cuisine is uniquely American: collard greens, fried catfish, mac and cheese, etc. Amazing biscuits and cornbread. For a cheaper and greasier version try Oohs and Aahs on U Street.
                              - You need to have bbq. DC's offerings aren't great, but Old Glory in Georgetown is ok and offers a variety of regionally inspired sauces (Kansas, Memphis, North Carolina, Texas).
                              - I concur that Tacklebox is a good seafood choice, also in Georgetown.
                              - The Diner in Adams Morgan is nothing special but they do have a Thanksgiving-style dinner platter: turkey, stuffing, potatoes, cranberry sauce, and basic American breakfasts, which you need to try (no beans here!).
                              - Ethiopian food at Dukem. This is uniquely DC and something you won't get anywhere else. Lots of vegetarian options and a good story for your friends back home.
                              - Cactus Cantina for Mexican. Say what you will about the authenticity of their food, but strong margaritas, good fajitas and a festive atmosphere are worth the trip for someone unfamiliar with Mexican food. Oyamel is great, but only if you're looking for a twist on Mexican. I say go classic tex-mex. If Cactus isn't convenient, others to try are Lauriol Plaza (Adams Morgan - not good but very busy and popular), Guapos (Tenleytown) and Rio Grande (Bethesda).

                              1. Let us know where you go. Oh also where are you in Australia? If it is Sydney or Melbourne would you wanna give a DCer some good recs for her honeymoon?

                                1. Tackle Box is a great idea. Lots of lighter options there (the grilled calamari is awesome) and interesting sides. The homemade pies are also super tasty.