“Budget-friendly eats” usually means $10/person and under, but in DC in 2019, it’s more like $25/person and under. But eating “cheap” doesn’t have to mean ordering off the dollar menu. Many affordable eateries use fresh, high-quality ingredients. From pizza to half-smokes with chili, with falafel and burgers in between, here are the best places to eat on a budget in DC.
Opened in 2012, Wiseguy Pizza has three convenient area locations in Chinatown, Navy Yard, and Foggy Bottom, so you’re never too far from the best pizza in DC. This local counter chain uses all-natural ingredients in its authentic, old-world-style pies. The pinnacle of pizza starts with a great crust—freshly made dough is hand-tossed and stretched, then baked to perfection in a stone deck oven. Add Californian tomato sauce, Wisconsin whole milk mozzarella, imported extra virgin olive oil, real Italian Parmigiano-Reggiano, and imaginative toppings, and you’ve got yourself a superb pizza pie. The meatballs and dressings are all made in-house as well. At lunch, save some money on a full pie and order an oversized slice with a soda for under $5. You might just have enough dough for an order of garlic knots and some Junior's cheesecake!
First-time restaurateurs Sahil Rahman and Rahul Vinod watched their immigrant fathers run Bombay Bistro + Indique while they were growing up. Now the two are bringing the Capitol Riverfront neighborhood the authentic flavors and bright colors of their youth at RASA. Choose one of their signature creations, like the Goa Your Own Way ($11.82), made with spiced beef, coconut ginger sauce, basmati rice, green beans, pickled onions, tomato chutney, mint cilantro chutney, and roasted lentils; or design your own bowl of locally sourced ingredients for just under $10. There are plenty of vegetarian-friendly options that use sweet potatoes, tofu, or cauliflower as a base. If you’ve got an extra few bucks, treat yourself to a homemade juice for $2.50. Try this fast-casual Indian joint next time you go to a Nationals game, it’s located right by the ballpark.
The first thing to know about this DC institution is that the old-style food counter only accepts cash. The second thing is, they’ve been serving hearty comfort food inside Capitol Hil’s Historic Eastern Market since 1978. While lunch is in the name, breakfast is pretty darn popular here. The famous “Brick" breakfast sandwich, that includes eggs, fried potatoes, sausage, and cheese on a house-made toasted roll will run you $6.50. A short-stack of two Blueberry Buckwheat Pancakes is $6.25, or add one more and get the full-stack for just under eight bucks. Crab cakes steal the show at lunch. A platter with two sides and fresh bread is $16.95, which is a pretty good deal considering the location.
The late-night joint is known for its juicy $15 burgers. Lucky Buns topped Washingtonian
Magazine’s “Top 15 New Places to Eat Great Cheap in Washington” in 2019. Food Network Star finalist Alex McCoy is the man behind the Adams Morgan pub, which he opened in 2016. Hand-formed Creekstone beef patties serve as the perfect base for globally-inspired renditions of the American classic. A single patty Lucky Bun with gouda, Lucky sauce, pickles, arugula, and grilled red onion costs 10 bucks, which isn’t too much considering all of the pickles, sauces, and spreads are made in in-house; produce is locally sourced (when in season), and the bread is baked daily.
Now with locations at the airport, in the Georgetown neighborhood, in Arlington, VA, and even in Egypt, you don’t have to go to Capitol Hill to get the Good Stuff. Chef Spike Mendelsohn of Top Chef fame opened the original Pennsylvania Ave location over a decade ago, back in 2008. Good Stuff Eatery has an all-American menu of award-winning burgers (served on freshly baked Pennsylvania dutch buns), fries, shakes, salads, and sauces—all of which are handmade in-house, using high-quality, farm-fresh ingredients. During lunch, 11am-2:30pm M-F, you can get a cheeseburger, fries, and a fountain drink for just $13.25.
Started as a shop in Adams Morgan, this late-night DC institution serves up moderately-priced Middle Eastern food, like freshly fried falafel and shawarma. This homegrown fast-casual chain now has three area locations, which are popular with the bar-going crowd since they’re open until 4am on Fridays and Saturdays. For under 10 bucks, a Falafel Sandwich comes with three or five golden-fried falafel balls in a wheat or white pita (or not if you’re gluten-free) and unlimited toppings, salads, and sauces. There are 22 to choose from, including chickpea salad, hummus, and baba ganoush. Get it with a side of double-fried frieten (fries), served with curried ketchup, fritesaus, or peanutsaus, for less than five dollars.
As the original U Street location’s storefront boasts, Ben’s Chili Bowl is a DC landmark. The Ali family has been cooking up Washington's signature dish, the half-smoke, and original secret-recipe chili since 1958. The mouth-watering local sausage delicacy is grilled, then served on a warm steamed bun and topped with mustard, onions, and Ben’s spicy homemade chili sauce. People who know what they’re doing, like Obama and Anthony Bourdain, order their’s split. All of this deliciousness is under six dollars, so you should have enough for fries and a thick, creamy, hand-spun milkshake. Ben’s Chili Bowl now boasts six area locations, including Reagan National Airport, FedEx Field, Nats Park, and in Arlington, VA.