Cheap eats near the monuments and Smithsonians
I'm staying in Washington for two days (saturday/sunday) in May and was looking for a cheap eats place close the the Mall. Ethnic food preferred, either Asian or Ethiopian.
So near the mall, it is hard to find cheap food, especially at the height of tourist season. Unless you do Mickey D's type of eating. Though I suppose the first question is what do you consider cheap?
And do you mean lunch, dinner, or both?
Also, few ethnic places in that area as rents are very high. Nearest Ethiopian I can think of would be to take the metro over to Union Station or NOMA-Gallaudet and walk. Not sure which one is closer. It isn't the cheapest Ethiopian food but it is really excellent. Most of the well-known Ethiopian restaurants are in "Little Ethiopia" which is the U Street Corridor and you could go to the U St. metro and walk.
Asian you may be able to do within walking distance of the Mall. Teaism is one choice (again, not really cheap in my book but reasonable). There's one in Penn Quarter and another in Lafayette Park.
Non-ethnic - try COSI, on 17th across from the Old Executive Office Bldg. In fact, there are several cheap sandwich type shops along 17th, down Pennsylvania, and around Farragut West.
At lunchtime, tons of food trucks at the Farragut Square up on Connecticut including Asian. Probably your best bet. About eight blocks from the western side of the mall (just up from the White House).
You'll have to walk a bit or take metro:
Daikaya for miso ramen
Nando's Peri-Peri for spicy Mozambiquan grilled chicken
District of Pi for deep dish pizza
Just a little further, Full Kee for Hong Kong shrimp dumpling soup, duck stuffed with shrimp paste, and oyster and ginger casserole.
Sushi Capitol is close to the Capitol Building (obviously). Reasonable prices for that neighborhood. Pete's Diner isn't far from there. Solid diner breakfasts and the sweet potato pancakes are great if you're into sweet potatoes. Cheap.
Closer to the Tidal Basin, my standard rec is the Maine Avenue Fish Market. Cheap raw bar options and good fried stuff at Jimmy's Grill. Although, given the current weather, al fresco dining might not be the most comfortable option.
You might have better luck over in Eastern Market. Tortilla Cafe does good cheap tacqueria staples. Closer to the Marine Barracks and Navy Yard is Cafe Kimchi. Everything's between $5-9 and the portions are generous. Diner fare with a Korean twist: bulgogi burgers, spicy pork tacos, bibimbap. I'm pretty sure they're the only place in town where you can get a kimchi bacon omelette.
Doesn't meet the "cheap" criteria but it truly unique ethnic food: Mitsitam Café in the Native American museum. You could do the museum and have lunch in the café after. It has food stations from all the Americas and it absolutely fantastic; I always get the veggie plate which has choices like smoked squash, quinoa pilaf, and all kinds of yummy salads with creative grains. They have buffalo and other interesting meats, plus s American food, Mexican, etc. Lunch will be around $12-15 PP but you can't get food like this anywhere else. And, there is a dearth of restaurants on the mall and this one being right in a cool museum is a bonus. Try it..you'll like it! :)