HOME > Chowhound > Washington DC & Baltimore >
Are you making a specialty food? Get great advice
TELL US

Help...Heading to Washington DC for one day (tomorrow)...need inexpensive meals around Smithsonian.

m
mom23guys1girl Dec 27, 2010 10:39 AM

I am heading to DC with my 4 kids ages 14-9 and need some cheap, good eats for around the Smithsonian area. It will be dreadfully chilly, so I am hoping to keep it within a short walking distance. Heard Teasim was good, but unsure how the walk would be. Thanks in advance for your help.

  1. h
    hppyheather Dec 29, 2010 06:55 AM

    I agree with what other posters have said - there really are not any great dining options around the Mall and it will take a lot of time to leave the mall, eat at a restaurant, and then return.

    However, I have found that the Potbelly at 13th and E st is an exception. Potbelly's is a sandwich chain. It is not fine dining, and it isn't anything SUPER special. However, they do produce a pretty tasty toasted sandwich, and all sandwiches are $5. It is quick, inexpensive, and satisfying. This Potbelly is a little hidden away -- address is 1299 Pennsylvania -- and is about a 5-10 minute walk from either the Museum of Natural History or the Museum of American History. I usually take my visitors to the Museum of Natural History, then break for lunch at Potbelly's, and return to the Museum of American History.

    3 Replies
    1. re: hppyheather
      fishie Dec 29, 2010 07:01 AM

      I have to say that Breadline is my go-toplace near the American History museum A bit of a walk but delish.

      1. re: hppyheather
        m
        mom23guys1girl Dec 29, 2010 03:52 PM

        I like this idea for the next time we venture into DC. Sounds much better and less costly than some of the other options. Thanks. Plus, within walking distance.

        1. re: hppyheather
          s
          shorty40cdm Dec 30, 2010 09:09 AM

          Another good deli option is West Wing Cafe on 12th St near E. Boar's Head meats and really good salads. They usually have 3 specials with a sandwich (or panini), chips, and can of soda for about $7.50.

          It gets packed right at noon so I'd come early or late to avoid the law firm lunch rush.

        2. l
          laststandchili Dec 29, 2010 04:46 AM

          I haven't been in a number of years, but I always like the Old Post Office to take a break and get a bite: http://oldpostofficedc.com/shop.php

          Convenient to the museums. Kind of a mall style food court with better than average choices. Better value though than most of the museum cafe offererings IMO. I recall passable gyros and dolmades at the Greek/Med place.

          1. g
            Garlic Guy Dec 28, 2010 05:51 AM

            It's also worth noting that the Air and Space Museum has a large eating area with a McDonald's, a Boston Market, and a pizza place. It's obviously not fine dining, and nothing you can't get anywhere else, but if you're already in the museum and don't want to take the time to go somewhere else, or don't want to go out in the cold, it's worth knowing that it's there.

            1. r
              Rick Dec 27, 2010 06:19 PM

              I've visited the museums plenty of times and can tell that if it is your first time or the first time in years, you are much better off just paying a few extra dollars and just eat at one of the museums. If it's cold and snowy you won't want to walk to any of the places mentioned. The Smithosian area is huge, you can easily spend 2 hours going to, eating, and coming back for lunch if you decide to leave the mall. Also keep in mind in can be a bit of a hike from one end of the mall to the other.

              In the basement level of the National Gallery of Art there is a pretty decent cafeteria, the Cascade Cafe. You should be able to get out of there for $10/pp. They have pizza, salads, plus entrees. They seem to make a lot of it there and while it's nothing special, it's also not awful.

              http://www.nga.gov/ginfo/cafes.shtm
              check out the Pavilion Cafe and the Cascade Cafe menus.

              1 Reply
              1. re: Rick
                r
                Rina S Mar 29, 2012 05:35 PM

                More than a year later I followed Rick's advice and I'm grateful for it. Agreed, it's nothing special, but it does save time and energy better spent walking around in those magnificent galleries.

              2. m
                marcf Dec 27, 2010 03:01 PM

                Go online to see if it is still open, but the National Gallery has (for a year or so) a pop-up restaurant from Michel Richard in honor of their Chester Dale Collection show in the old building. We had a great meal there (very reasonably priced) a couple of months ago. A bit further away we love Jose Andres' Mexican place, Oyamel.

                1. j
                  Just Visiting Dec 27, 2010 01:38 PM

                  If it is as cold and windy as it was today, then just give up and eat in the cafeteria at the Natural History Museum. They have a variety of food, not all of it dreadful. There are salads and some decent sandwiches. Otherwise, a big vote for the Mitsitam Cafe in the NM American Indian. Wonderful food, great selection. There is also a small skating rink in the center of the mall, about a block from Natural History, heading in the direction of NM American Indian. Next to the rink you will find the Pavilion Cafe: he Pavilion Café, with a panoramic view of the garden and ice rink, serves freshly made wraps, sandwiches, gourmet pizzas, and salads. Coffee, tea, hot chocolate, wine, and beer are also available. Hours during the skating season are Monday through Saturday, 10am to 9pm and Sunday, 11am to 8pm. For reservations, call 202.289.3360. Quite nice.

                  http://www.pavilioncafe.com/

                  During the evening ice-skating hours, when the National Gallery is closed to the public, the surrounding Sculpture Garden is also closed. Access to the rink and Pavilion Café during these times is restricted to the Constitution Avenue and Madison Drive entrances at Ninth Street.

                  6 Replies
                  1. re: Just Visiting
                    m
                    mom23guys1girl Dec 27, 2010 02:58 PM

                    Thank you so much. These sound like awesome suggestions. It has been so long since I visited DC and I didn't have kids at the time. Now I want them to have fun and for my hubby and I not to spend everything we bring. Thanks again.

                    1. re: mom23guys1girl
                      j
                      Just Visiting Dec 28, 2010 03:15 AM

                      Personally, I wouldn't walk to Teaism in any weather. It is all about the concept and not about the food. Though the museum cafeterias are overpriced, you won't be wasting precious museum time and freezing your buns off for no good reason. And you will spend as much at Teaism as you will at the museums. Meanwhile, at least a small portion of your money spent at the cafeterias will help to support the museums - which are FREE and in desperate need of funding. I agree with the poster who said that Oyamel is worth the walk and if your kids are even slightly adventurous, they will find something to eat there. I wouldn't bother going to Ben's or anywhere on the Metro if you have just the one day. I could easily spend an entire day at either NMNH or NMAI. Particularly the latter - it focuses on the living cultures, and these are shown in small display areas (POOR DESIGN) so you spend a bit of time waiting to get to the display. Be sure to wait in the main lobby for the short introductory lecture. Lots of great info about the building itself. The films are usually quite good, too.

                      -----
                      Teaism
                      2009 R St NW, Washington, DC 20009

                      1. re: Just Visiting
                        m
                        mom23guys1girl Dec 29, 2010 04:11 PM

                        I have to say thank you to all who replied to my initial post. As with all things, the day did not turn out as planned, but we have lots of good ideas for our next visit. We did end up traveling to Oyamel, which I believe is on the corner of 7th and D or 6th and D. We drove there and found parking on the street (luckily). They told us when we made reservations that there was valet parking down the street at their "sister" restaurant, but we decided to try parking on our own.

                        We were a little surprised when we got there and everything was "small plates" or tapas. We had tried a restaurant like that in Harrisburg, and although the food was incredibly good, with 4 kids (2 teen boys and a tween boy and girl), their appetites were much larger than the food served. This was the case with Oyamel also. We were able to try some really neat new dishes; however, for the price we paid with kids, I would not recommend it unless your kids aren't looking to a) eat much and b) break the bank.

                        All food was served to "share". We first tried the Papas al mole, which was José Andrés’ favorite potato fries in a mole poblano sauce of almonds, chilis and
                        a touch of chocolate, topped with Mexican cream and queso fresco cheese for $5.50. We ordered two of these and the fries were very well done, crunchy french fries. I enjoyed the crunchiness of them. The mole, Mexican cream and cheese were very tasty and rich. A bit pricey for a small bowl of fries, but tasty. We also decided to be adventurous with some of our dishes and chose the Nopal asado con salsa molcajete, which was a grilled fresh cactus paddle served with a salsa
                        molcajete of grilled tomatoes, tomatillos, green onions, cilantro and green chiles for $7.50. This was an interesting dish. The cactus was chewy and had a "sap like" quality to it, kind of like eating what you would envision an aloe plant to look like. The salsa molcaiete was chunky and fresh tasting.

                        Both of my teenage sons ordered the Chapulines, which is a legendary Oaxacan specialty of sautéed grasshoppers, shallots, tequila and guacamole ($5.00). They both liked the flavor of the "grasshopper tacos" as they called them, one stating they were salty and one stating they were a bit crunchy. The vote was split on whether they would order them again, but it sure does give a story to tell their friends when they head back to school next week.

                        My daughter who is 9 ordered a "chicken" taco, which she enjoyed but was not happy that it had guacamole on it. I ordered one also and found the flavors to be enjoyable and the guacamole fresh. She also ordered the “Gaspacho” estilo Morelia, which was a salad of seasonal fruit, jicama root, cucumbers, queso fresco and chile piquin. She did not get the chile piquin, but she thought it was really cool that they used a hand-held juicer to put lime juice on her salad. The salad was fresh, with the jicama was crunchy and the queso fresco smooth. The whole salad was a huge hit with everyone.

                        All in all, it was an interesting, but expensive dinner. For those foods above, plus another taco and a pitcher of soft drinks freshly made, the bill came to a little over $75.00. Although it may seem like we had plenty of food, the portions were small, the tacos were small and the kids were asking when dinner was coming after the appetizers.

                        Thanks again everyone for the suggestions. There is so much to do in DC.

                        -----
                        Oyamel DC
                        401 7th St NW, Washington, DC 20004

                        1. re: mom23guys1girl
                          j
                          Just Visiting Dec 30, 2010 03:44 AM

                          Hi, Mom23 - as it happened, I had a meeting at NMNH yesterday and when I was on the Metro, I was wondering where you would end up. I met a woman on the Metro who was visiting from Roanoke and had a gaggle of kids and wanted to know where to eat...I almost asked her if she was the lady on Chowhound! I am glad you had a great experience. I love Oyamel and if your kids loved it, then they are very good eaters, indeed. For six people, $75 is actually not bad at all. The museums were packed yesterday; as a native I am lucky because I can avoid that by visiting on off-days when there are no tourists (my husband calls them tourorists....). I don't know if there is a way to PM from Chowhound, but if there is, feel free to PM me next time you come to DC if you need any info.

                      2. re: mom23guys1girl
                        j
                        Just Visiting Dec 28, 2010 03:18 AM

                        Mitsitam website: fall 2010 menu is posted as a pdf

                        http://www.americanindian.si.edu/subp...

                      3. re: Just Visiting
                        p
                        PollyG Dec 27, 2010 06:43 PM

                        The cafeteria at the Natural History museum serves a fairly decent rotisserie chicken and the broccoli side is passable. Your biggest challenge will be convincing the younger kids that no, they can't have the $5.00 iced sugar cookies. Prices are a big high, especially for drinks. But you can't beat the convenience, and it is a far, far cry from the dark basement cafeteria that the National History Museum had in the 70's.

                        The East Wing of the National Gallery (the one with the modern stuff) has a small restaurant on the top floor with a good view. With our blustery weather, it is worth noting that there is an underground connection via moving sidewalk between the East and West wings. The only downside is that it enters the East wing through the gift shop area.

                      4. s
                        Steve Dec 27, 2010 11:33 AM

                        Teaism is ok, used to be much better, but you could do worse. Any walk in that area could seem long especially if the wind kicks in. Closest museums are National Gallery of Art West Wing or Museum of Natural History.

                        -----
                        Teaism
                        2009 R St NW, Washington, DC 20009

                        10 Replies
                        1. re: Steve
                          m
                          mom23guys1girl Dec 27, 2010 11:38 AM

                          Thanks Steve. Still looking for restaurants or cafes close to the Air and Space Museum and Museum of American History. Any suggestions are appreciated.

                          1. re: mom23guys1girl
                            Dennis S Dec 27, 2010 12:00 PM

                            You can try the American Indian Museum. I haven't been yet, but reviews are generally above average - especially for the "tacos". Unfortunately you're not in a great place for much there. Use the metro to go East to Eastern Market or something to get to another area. Plan in the time to get from one place to another - and add in 15 minutes during rush hour.

                            1. re: Dennis S
                              r
                              reiflame Dec 27, 2010 01:33 PM

                              The American Indian Museum is a great choice but it's sort of expensive. What price range are you looking in?

                              Also: are your kids picky eaters?

                              1. re: reiflame
                                m
                                mom23guys1girl Dec 27, 2010 02:56 PM

                                My kids are not picky eaters at all, but we don't want to break the bank either. Someone also suggested Ben's Chili Bowl. Can you get there easily from the Mall? Thanks for the suggestions.

                                -----
                                Ben's Chili Bowl
                                1213 U St NW, Washington, DC 20009

                                1. re: mom23guys1girl
                                  woodleyparkhound Dec 27, 2010 03:02 PM

                                  From Archives (near the National Gallery of Art), take the green line to U St. Ben's is across the street from the 13th St. exit. From the Smithsonian Metro, take the blue or orange to L'Infant Plaza and change to the green there.

                                  Ben's is an institution, but the food isn't that great ... at all. It is cheap though. If you take the Metro to U St., there are much better food options around there than Ben's.

                                  1. re: woodleyparkhound
                                    m
                                    mom23guys1girl Dec 27, 2010 03:13 PM

                                    @woodleyparkhound...do tell about other options if we are to take the metro. Going to an institution is great for "an experience" but we also want good food. The Mitsitam Cafe sounds pretty good.

                                    1. re: mom23guys1girl
                                      woodleyparkhound Dec 27, 2010 03:34 PM

                                      The best options around there are Oohs and Aahs -- best soul food in the city. Search the board for Steve's many recommendations for the place. I like their broiled whiting and greens, but they have a lot of great choices. One of their "meat and two sides", which cost about $16, will easily feed two adults.

                                      9th and U is the center of Ethiopian food in DC. Etete is my favorite. Queen Makeda and Dukem are also very good. This is a great choice for the adventurous, who want to sample something good that can't be had in other cities.

                                      The second tier would include DC Noodles at 14th and U. (Entrees for about $12-14). There is a new burger place (Desperado's?) at 13th and U that is said to be good (I haven't been). There is a new Chicago hot dog place on 14th at U that I'm dying to try. Chix (11thh just north of U) is good for Peruvian chicken and sides.

                                      U Street has a ton of other places too that I am not remembering right now... and walking south on 14th St from U St. brings another bunch of great places, but none I can think of that are particularly budget-friendly, except a crepe place which seems to be getting mixed reviews.

                              2. re: Dennis S
                                s
                                Steve Dec 27, 2010 02:50 PM

                                The tacos are dreadful, but at least they are less expensive then their other options. The rest of the food food is mostly expensive and disappointing. But not as expensive as going out to a restaurant.

                                1. re: Steve
                                  m
                                  mom23guys1girl Dec 27, 2010 02:56 PM

                                  Thanks Steve.

                                  1. re: Steve
                                    r
                                    reiflame Dec 27, 2010 04:33 PM

                                    I think the food is good but generally not worth what you pay. I was there for the Jon Stewart rally and had a smoked salmon salad, one side dish a drink and a dessert and it was $25. My fiance had a buffalo filet (3 tiny pieces), 2 sides and a beer and his was $33. Everything tasted fine, but over $50 for 2 people?

                                    I've never had the tacos so I can't comment there.

                            Show Hidden Posts