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Best Cheap Eats in DC

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Washington, DC is an expensive city, and can be tough to do on a tight budget. Even though there are amazing world-class museums and stunningly beautiful monuments to visit for free, finding cheap eats in DC that aren’t your run-of-the-mill national fast food chain can be very tough.

Read about our all time favorite places to eat in Washington DC (including some of the below, too) 

We thought we would highlight some of our favorite local “cheap eats in DC” and arrange them by neighborhood. You should be able to find something filling and delicious at each of these spots for no more than $10-$15.

Check out our DC Tourism Guide, with budget advice, travel guides, and information about local Washington DC attractions

Cheap Eats in DC Near the National Mall

District Taco (Fast-casual Mexican)

  • F Street between 13th and 14th St. NW, very close to the White House, Metro Center, Ford’s Theater, the Spy Museum and Chinatown/Gallery place
  • www.districttaco.com

District Taco actually has multiple locations in DC, so stop by any of them, but this one is close to several standard tourist spots.

It is basically a lot like Chipotle, but much more authentic, and with more options on the menu, including a whole breakfast menu that is available all day. Another highlight is their “Salsa Bar” with four different types of salsa running the gambit on heat and intensity.

Actually, there is a fifth salsa, the super hot “Habanero” salsa, which is only available by request. Pretty much everything on the menu is $8 or less, including their tacos (3 for $8), which you can top with up to 10 different toppings inspired by the flavors of the Yucatan peninsula.

Try to hit this at off-peak meal times, as this is a favorite of locals and office workers right around noon.


&pizza (Made-to-order flatbread pizzas with gourmet toppings) 

  • E Street between 10th and 11th St. NW, around the corner from Ford’s Theater, and close to the American History Museum, the Natural History Museum, the Spy Museum, and the White House.
  • www.andpizza.com

This rapidly growing DC-based chain is an exceptionally fresh take on pizza. Opened in 2012, &pizza has 6 locations in DC and more coming to the area.

They have three different kinds of dough; your traditional pizza dough, an “ancient grains” dough, and even a gluten-free option (though if you have severe gluten allergies, they recommend not trying the gluten-free dough as they can’t guarantee no cross-contamination).

They have 5 different kinds of sauces, including your classic tomato and a spicy version, as well as a garlic ricotta and a basil pesto spread.

You can top it with any of their 18 (9 veggie, 9 protein) toppings, or opt for one of their popular named pizzas, like The OG (classic tomato, mozzarella, tomato, olive oil, and basil), the Farmer’s Daughter (spicy tomato, spinach, mozzarella, Italian sausage, fresh sunny-side up egg, parmesan, and hot sauce), the Moonstruck (mushroom truffle, garlic ricotta, mozzarella, mushroom, grilled onion, goat cheese, fig balsalmic) or even, and no I’m not kidding about this, the Elvis (chocolate-hazelnut peanut butter, banana, bacon, and grape jam…...seriously.)

All pizzas start around $7, and go up as you add toppings.


Merzi (Fast-casual Indian) 

  • 7th Street between E and D St. NW, very close to the Navy Memorial, the National Archives, and Chinatown/Gallery Place.
  • www.merzi.com

This opened in 2010, at the beginning of the “Chipotle fast-casual” craze, and basically seeks to be the Chipotle of Indian food. “Merzi” itself is an Urdu word meaning “choice”, and you have plenty of that here.

First you choose your base, a standard rice bowl, a naan bread bowl, an aromatic blend of veggies bowl, or a salad bowl. Then choose your protein. They have your standard chicken, beef, shrimp, or lamb, but they also have their patented “Tandisserie” chicken, which is tandoori-seasoned chicken cooked on a rotisserie (see what they did there?).

Complete your bowl with toppings, and a choice of curries, sauces, and chutneys. Very tasty and pretty cheap, with all bowls starting around $8.

If you feel like splurging here, the “Mango Fantango”, a house-made drink of fresh mangoes and milk, is quite popular.


Amsterdam Falafel (Falafel shop) 

  • Inside the L’Enfant Plaza food court. Close to the Holocaust Museum & Memorial, the Smithsonian Castle, and the Air & Space Museum. The easiest way to find the food court is to walk south down the L’Enfant Plaza Promenade, accessible off Independence Ave between 9th St. and 12th St. SW, right behind the Smithsonian Castle. The Promenade goes under the Dept. of Energy building, and you will walk about 2 blocks before seeing a large glass cube on your left. This is the entrance to the food court.
  • www.falafelshop.com

The original Amsterdam Falafel shop opened in the Adams Morgan neighborhood and became an instant hit with the late night crowd.

This is the more tourist friendly option, located in the L’Enfant Food court which has many other, national chain “cheap eat” spots including Five Guys Burgers, Panda Express, Church’s Chicken, and California Tortilla, among about 15 other eateries, so this is a great option for large groups or families with picky eaters.

Amsterdam Falafel is the only truly DC dining option here, and if you like falafel or want to try it for the first time, this is your spot. Falafel is typically a deep-fried ball of ground chickpeas, served wrapped in a kind of pita bread, and then topped with all sorts of tasty pickled veggies, slaws, etc, and topped with flavorful sauces, typically tahini or something hotter.

They have an entire bar of toppings you can load on yourself, but be careful, though, as they will weigh your meal and charge you for the weight of your toppings.

There is a standard option, around $8 if you let them top it for you, which we highly recommend, at least your first time through.

 


Eastern Market & Capitol Hill

Eastern Market is the perfect place to go when you’re not quite sure what you’d like to eat.

The endless options ensure that every member of the family will find something of their liking.Weekends are the best time to visit as the market also plays host to an outdoor flea market.

Interested in learning about the history of the neighbor surrounding Eastern Market?

We offer an Eastern Market History & Desserts tour to check out some of the great local sweets and explore the neighborhood.

 


U Street / Adams Morgan

A bit off the touristy track, you can find some great food in Northwest DC.

Oohs and Aahs (soul food)

No one does soul food quite like Oohs and Aahs.

Located on U Street, this tiny hole-in-the-wall restaurant boasts the best mac and cheese, collard greens, and fried catfish in the city. Oohs and Aahs is so well renowned that it was even featured on the Food Network’s hit show Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives.

Go during lunch to enjoy one of their many afternoon specials.

We love this place so much that it’s a stop on our self-guided U Street Food Tour.


Ben's Chili Bowl (half smokes and chili dogs)

  • 1213 U St NW
  • http://benschilibowl.com/

Opened in 1958 by Ben Ali and his wife, Ben’s Chili Bowl is the most famous restaurant in all of Washington, D.C. During the 1968 riots, Ben’s would write “soul brother” in their window to ward off violence and welcome peaceful guests.

The restaurant garnered a lot of publicity after Bill Cosby spoke outside of it in 1985 during The Cosby Show’s peak in popularity.

Today, there are now multiple Ben’s Chili Bowl locations, though the original remains on U Street. Things to try: Ben’s half-smoke, chili-cheese fries, and chili-cheese burger.

Amsterdam Falafel (Falafel shop) 

The original Amsterdam Falafel shop opened in the Adams Morgan neighborhood and became an instant hit with the late night crowd.

Falafel is typically a deep-fried ball of ground chickpeas, served wrapped in a kind of pita bread, and then topped with all sorts of tasty pickled veggies, slaws, etc, and topped with flavorful sauces, typically tahini or something hotter. They have an entire bar of toppings you can load on yourself, but be careful, though, as they will weigh your meal and charge you for the weight of your toppings.

There is a standard option, around $8 if you let them top it for you, which we highly recommend, at least your first time through.

 

About The Author

Canden Arciniega

Canden is a historian and tour guide in Washington DC with 4 published books about the city. She has written for HuffPost Travel and has been featured in the Washington Post, WTOP, and numerous other DC papers. She's also been interviewed by the BBC, NPR, Travel Channel and Discovery Family Channel. Canden is the producer of our podcast, Tour Guide Tell All With a M.A. in History from University College London and a B.A. in History from Elon University, she is an authority on D.C. history, and has led tours in the city for over 10 years. She currently resides in DC, but has also lived in London and South Korea, and has travelled to 28 countries. Her two children (both under the age of 4) have their passports and own frequent flier accounts.
Updated: December 16th, 2021
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