Cheap Eats in D.C.: The 10 Best Meals Under $12
If you're trying to impress a Washington power broker, you might take them for a fancy lunch at Charlie Palmer Steak. If you're trying to impress someone with a little more sense, you should take them to one of these great places for cheap eats in D.C. From chili dogs to Caribbean food to legendary blueberry pancakes, these spots prove that you don't need an expense account to enjoy some of the best restaurants in D.C.
1. The Halfsmoke Sausage at HalfSmoke
651 Florida Ave. NW | LeDroit Park
This mildly spicy, extra smoky sausage arrives on a toasted bun and topped with tasty extras such as mustard slaw, smothered onions, bacon, and beer cheese. For a splurge, go for a "super shake," a creamy behemoth that's the milkshake equivalent of those preposterously overstuffed bloody marys. $9.
Click to see deals at HalfSmoke starting at $12.
2. Jerk Chicken at Jam Doung Style
1726 N. Capitol St. NW | Bloomingdale
It may not look like much from outside (or inside), but this Caribbean eatery is as authentic as they come, a fact confirmed by customers who flock there just to get a taste of jerk chicken and rice the way it's made in Jamaica. $10.95 for a medium order.
3. Mombo Wings at Wingos
3207 O St. NW | Georgetown
On the sliding scale of Wingos' 24 flavors, the mombo sauce is about three-quarters up, putting it right in the sweet spot for people who like heat but don't want to wipe away tears all meal. Slathered on Wingos' extra-crispy wings, it's a delight. $11.99 for 10 wings.
Click to claim a 25% cash-back at Wingos.
4. Chilean Empanada at Julia's Empanadas
For just five bucks, these hearty empanadas pack quite a punch. All seven varieties have their charms, but the highlight may be the Chilean empanada, a mixture of ground beef, onions, and raisins that complicates its flavor with hard-boiled egg. $5.
5. House Pizza at Joe's Place Pizza & Pasta
5555 Lee Hwy. | Arlington, VA
Joe's Place was founded by a Sicilian immigrant in the '70s, so you know the Sicilian pizza is legit (that's the rectangular kind with the thick crust). The House specialty pie comes topped with a just-right proportion of pepperoni, sausage, mushrooms, and black olives. Starting at $9.
Click to see deals at Joe's Place Pizza & Pasta starting at $12.50.
6. Hot Tiger Bun at Lucky Buns
2000 18th St. NW | Adams Morgan
Lucky Buns is officially pitched as a gourmet burger spot, but no one told this beloved fried chicken thigh sandwich, whose heat comes courtesy of sichuan peppercorn spice paste. Cut the heat with a side of thick hand-cut chips served with malt vinegar mayo. $10.
7. Steak Tacos at Taqueria Distrito Federal
Set aside your fancy toppings—these tacos are as simple as they are delicious. Drinks such as horchata and tamarindo complete the meal, and the free delivery is a plus. $9.80 for 3 tacos, drink, and dessert of the day.
Click to see deals at Taqueria Distrito Federal starting at $11.50.
8. Chili Dog at Ben's Chili Bowl
1213 U St. NW | Shaw
As one of the most storied of all D.C. restaurants, Ben's has welcomed plenty of famous faces since it opened in 1958—President Obama once ate lunch there just 10 days before his first inauguration. But that's not why you go. You go for the unbeatable cheap meals, like this all-beef frank topped with mustard, onions, and spicy homemade chili. $5.95 for a jumbo beef dog.
9. Tropical-Flavored Ice Creams at Islands Tropical Ice Cream
9324 Georgia Ave. | Silver Spring, MD
Fruity tropical flavors are the star at this ice cream shop, whose more unusual options include the likes of papaya, soursop, and lychee. There's also a popular and decidedly untropical Guinness flavor, plus more substantive bites like coco bread and jerk wings. Cones and cups starting at $4.70.
Click to see deals at Islands Tropical Ice Cream starting at $12.
10. Blueberry Buckwheat Pancakes at Market Lunch
225 7th St. SE | Capitol Hill
You might think a humble stack of hotcakes would have trouble living up to a reputation as sparkling as that of the buckwheat pancakes at Market Lunch. You would be wrong. Customers agree it's not just hype—these pancakes are as fluffy and flavorful as advertised. Don't be scared away by the line; it moves quickly, and it's worth it even if it didn't. $7.25 for a full stack of three.
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Sean is a senior editor and a gradually improving cook. He once asked a man at an airport if he was Kevin Sorbo, and the man said no, but it was totally Kevin Sorbo.