Best Cheap Eats and Quick Bites in D.C.

DC folks seem to be in a rush all the time, but there’s no excuse to skip a meal. Also, with so many big-name chefs opening up exciting, premium restaurants, it can be tough to find cheap bargain eats. Luckily, there are eateries with deli offerings, pizza, burgers, and even lobster takeout that can help save locals and visitors time and money.

1036 Park Road Northwest
RedRocks is a small eatery in the Columbia Heights neighborhood in Washington, D.C. It’s located just a couple blocks off the main commercial area hugging 14th Street. While there are plenty of chain restaurants peppering 14th Street, it’s worth straying a couple blocks to come to RedRocks. This is a neighborhood bistro that’s all about casual dining—perfect for unwinding from a day of sightseeing or shopping along 14th. Neither the atmosphere nor the food is pretentious. I come for the wood-fired pizza, and nothing satisfies me more than their Neapolitan pizza topped with house-cured sausage and pepperoni. You can come here with friends and just hang out to eat and drink and have a good. Sometimes simple pleasures are the best! Metro stop: Columbia Heights
1309 5th St NE, Washington, DC 20002, USA
Union Market is the perfect D.C. destination if you’re searching for a weekend brunch spot, craving a snack on your way to visit the Capitol, or, you know, hungry. Oyster bar, bakery, taqueria, soda shop, sandwich shop, Korean taco grill—all of the food is here waiting for you. The 47,000-square-foot space is a throwback to the original Union Terminal Market, which opened in 1931 with more than 700 produce, meat, fish, and dairy vendors in airy indoor stalls. The market moved to a warehouse in the 1960s and closed in the 1980s before reopening in 2012. When you’re finished stuffing your face, you can shop for home goods and vintage finds at shops like Little Leaf and Salt & Sundry.
2200 Pennsylvania Ave NW, Washington, DC 20037, USA
When the red-meat craving hits, there’s one place that satisfies the need for a juicy fix: Burger Tap and Shake, otherwise simply known as BTS. BTS offers a great selection of burgers made from locally sourced beef that is freshly ground on premises daily. The meat patties are all gently hand formed so the meat is as loosely held together as possible and the cooked burger is served on housemade buns and with housemade condiments including some mighty fine pickles. I have to admit that my favorite burger is the Southern Comfort. There’s something about the warm fried-green tomato patty against the cool pimento cheese sauce is that is truly addictive! As the name of the restaurant implies, there are beers to be had, both bottled and on tap. For lunch, I usually go with a milkshake; try the flavor of the month for a taste of something unique and different. If you really want to indulge, go for one of the shaketails! BTS is a small joint. There is a small bar for seating, and tables inside. During the warmer months, there’s al fresco seating as well. If you come between noon and 1pm, expect a line. It does move quickly and your patience will pay off with a truly yummy burger. Metro stop: Foggy Bottom
305 Pennsylvania Ave SE, Washington, DC 20003, USA
If you’re looking a place for wood-fired pizza topped with seasonal, artisanal ingredients, then We, The Pizza is not the spot for you. On the other hand, if you want a place to go to for a quick lunch of thick crust pizza, topped with simple, classic Italian American ingredients, then come here. The pizza crust is well made—chewy and slightly salty. Toppings are straightforward. I would recommend going with a simple pizza – sausage and peppers is a good introduction. If you’re not in the mood for a pizza, go for a sandwich—solid and flavorful. Wash it down with one of the housemade sodas; sarsaparilla is my favorite. After you place your order, you’ll be handed a pager. While you wait, you can watch the pizza makers work their magic. WE, THE PIZZA is the latest addition to celebrity chef, Spike Mendelsohn and his family’s roster of restaurants and the family touch shows up both in the food and in the décor. There’s counter and stools downstairs but head on upstairs where there’s a larger dining room and more comfortable banquette style seating. Metro stop: Eastern Market
1400 I St NW
Okay, let me start by saying that I am not trying to ignite a war with fans of In-N-Out Burger or Shake Shack. But, if you come to D.C., Five Guys is your place for burgers—we don’t go in/out or shake a shack for our bite! Yes, the burger patties at the Five Guys chain are hand-formed and cooked atop a flat top griddle. Yes, they come sandwiched between the halves of a sesame seed topped bun. Yes, you can get them in two different sizes and topped with your choice of condiments. Yes, there are some awesome fries to go with it but only fries; there are no onion rings here. You should know that Five Guys prides itself on its fries. If you want to know the type of spud that gave birth to that day’s fries, check the chalkboard for the name of the farm and location. Unless you are really, really hungry and really, really love fries, go with the small order. It’s more than what most people can devour in one sitting! For the full Five Guys experience, order your meal at the counter and while you wait, munch on the free roasted, in-shell peanuts, but don’t eat too many! You need to leave room for that awesome burger that will soon make its way to you! There are various locations around D.C. (The first Five Guys restaurant opened in 1986 here in Arlington County, Virginia.) Check the website for the one nearest you and order online to beat the line.
2453 18th St NW, Washington, DC 20009, USA
I’m both an early bird and a night owl. So in a town with few 24-hour joints, where is a starving girl to go when she needs to eat and the chickens are barely awake and the owls are yet to sleep? Why, the Diner, of course! I was ecstatic when this place opened up in the Adams Morgan neighborhood and I could finally get my favorite meal of the day, breakfast, at dinnertime. There are diners near where I live, but this is the closest to my workplace. After a stressful day, when all I want is a comfort meal, this is where I come. On weekends, you’ll find me here for breakfast enjoying my favorite egg sandwich with sausage, a cup of joe, and the local freebie paper to read. For some reason, this doesn’t feel like a laptop/tablet kind of place. The food here is classic diner fare plus a few upscale options and homemade fruit pies and milkshakes to boot. Built new, this diner is housed in an old building. Thankfully, the owners replaced the entire front entrance with floor-to-ceiling doors that open to let the sun shine in, so it feels very bright and airy inside. On weekend nights, the place can fill up quickly thanks to a live DJ spinning tunes. An inviting atmosphere, good food that’s reasonably priced, a great wait staff— it’s just a fun place to be.
1665 Wisconsin Avenue Northwest
The Bean Counter is a locally owned café in the heart of Georgetown. This small, cozy eatery with chartreuse walls is a neighborhood favorite. Stop by for a quick breakfast or come for lunch, when you’ll find a nice selection of soups, salads, and made-to-order sandwiches and wraps. If you want to do like the locals, try the laudable Cuban sandwich. In the afternoon, the Bean Counter is the perfect place for a cup of freshly brewed organic, fair-trade coffee and a homemade cookie. Order at the counter and then slip out through the narrow side alley to enjoy the secret garden in the back.
746 6th St NW, Washington, DC 20001, USA
I don’t get down to the Penn Quarter/Chinatown neighborhood of Washington, D.C. very often, but the last couple times I’ve been, it’s been well past my regular dinner hour and I was hungry! Being of Chinese descent, I am ordinarily very picky about the quality of Chinese food that I eat, and I’m often leery about restaurants that look like they cater to “Western” diners. So, I was a big doubter on the night I walked into Chinatown Express. It looked and felt like the stereotypical Chinese-American restaurant—the kind that has more a dive atmosphere. I was just about to turn around and head out when the man behind the counter, with the roast ducks and slabs of roast pork hanging on hooks, called out to me Cantonese, “What do you want?” “What’s good?” I replied. He handed me the menu. Yes, it had all the typical Chinese-American dishes—dumplings, noodles, egg-drop soup—but the roast duck hanging on the hooks called out to me. I ordered half a duck and a carryout container of rice. It may not have been the best roast duck I’ve ever had, but it was surprisingly good. You may not get the same quality of food as NYC’s Chinatown or Beijing but, all in all, the food at Chinatown Express is not bad and the prices are very reasonable. If you come in the daytime, a man (whom I call the human pasta machine) will be at the front window churning out handmade noodles. If you see him, be sure to order a bowl of noodle soup.
429 L'Enfant Plaza SW, Washington, DC 20024, USA
It’s best to follow these lunches on wheels on Twitter, but usually you’ll find them lined up near the L’Enfant Plaza Metro Station in southwest D.C., McPherson Square, Franklin Park, and Farragut Square all in northwest D.C. Popular ones include Takorean, Fojol Bros., Red Hook Lobster Pound, CapMac, Big Cheese, Dangerously Delicious Pies, Pepe, Feelin’ Crabby, DC Ballers, and Carnivore BBQ. You can keep track of all their movements on the Washingtonian’s food truck tracker website, Food Truck Fiesta.
210 2nd St SE, Washington, DC 20003, USA
Le Bon Café is a teeny neighborhood cafe located in the shadow of the Capitol and surrounding landmarks like the Library of Congress and the Supreme Court. The café’s menu is short—pastries and breakfast sandwiches in the morning, and soups, salads, and sandwiches for lunch. Le Bon also serves up a cup of decent coffee. Nothing complicated, just simple fare that’s satisfying and you don’t have to wait long to get it or lose your wallet for it—everything on the menu is very reasonably priced by D.C. standards. It’s no wonder that this is a popular place for Capitol Hill staffers to grab a bite for breakfast or lunch. There are just a handful of tables inside and a few more outside. If you want to do some networking, Eat at Le Bon and you’ll likely be rubbing shoulders with someone who works on the Hill! Otherwise, grab something to go, head down to any of the green areas near the Capitol building, and enjoy a picnic meal.
809 12th St NE, Washington, DC 20002, USA
Since 1990, this H Street Corridor seafood shack has served some of the best and freshest fried fish sandwiches in the District. While a standard sandwich holds four filets of whiting, serious eaters go for the “Jumbo” - six pieces of whiting, cole slaw, and tartar sauce stuffed between eight slices of bread. For an added taste of DC, squeeze in some sweet and tangy mumbo sauce.
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