Find all the best places to eat in D.C. on a budget
When you’re moving to Washington D.C., the first things on your mind are likely getting a job and finding the perfect place to call home in the Nation’s Capital. Once that’s settled, your mind will drift to another important question. “Where can I find some food in D.C.?” And because the D.C. area is known for having a cost of living that’s above the national average, you’ll likely want to know about the best places to eat in D.C. on a budget.
If you think that eating on a budget is bland and boring, Washingtonians are here to prove you wrong. Get ready to hear about all the budget-friendly and delicious eateries, including the best places to eat in D.C. on a budget. Check out our coliving options in D.C. for the best apartments within walking distance of delicious restaurants.
Where can I eat in Washington D.C. on a budget?
Many people have the common misconception that you need to make reservations at a Michelin Star restaurant to eat well. They also think that eating on a budget means you’re going to be chowing down on fast food. While you can find fast food establishments in D.C., these restaurants are far from your only budget-friendly dining options. The city offers countless affordable options for great food.
Being one of the nation’s top cities for ethnic diversity means that Washington D.C. is home to affordable immigrant-owned restaurants. Without leaving the city, you can enjoy communal Ethiopian meals, comforting Japanese ramen, and enticing Venezuelan cuisine. It’s the perfect way to let your tastebuds travel the world, without breaking the bank.
If you love Ethiopian food (or would love to try it for the first time), you should make your way to Chercher. You can find this Ethiopian cuisine eatery in a rowhouse in the Shaw neighborhood of D.C., which makes it feel like you’re enjoying a meal in a comfortable home. Adding to this cozy feeling is the fact that the food comes on large communal plates.
If you haven’t had Ethiopian food before, you might be surprised by the absence of silverware. In keeping with Ethiopian culinary traditions, you’ll eat with your hands using injera (a light, spongy flatbread). As for what you’ll be eating, you can expect lots of well-seasoned meats and veggies. Keep in mind that while Ethiopian cuisine does traditionally have some heat to it, you can order more-mild versions at Chercher. These are a perfect lunch option and come highly recommended by the chef.
In Washington D.C., you can take a trip to South America by enjoying some delicious culinary delights from Arepa Zone. Since April 2014, D.C. residents have been enjoying mouth-watering authentic food from this eatery. It started as the first and only food truck to serve Venezuelan arepas in the region before opening its first brick-and-mortar restaurant in Downtown on 14th Street in December 2017.
Arepa Zone is one of the best places in D.C. to eat on a budget because all of its menu offerings are under $15. Speaking of the menu offerings, this restaurant is famous for its arepas, which are made from ground maize dough and served with meats or cheese. You can think of them as a delicious cross between a tortilla and a pancake.
In keeping with Latin American cuisine, a list of budget-friendly D.C. restaurants wouldn’t be complete without mentioning Colada Shop. Also located on 14th Street, with another location at the Wharf, this restaurant specializes in Caribbean food. Think Cuban (and Veggie Cuban) sandwiches, tres leches cake, and empanadas. Best of all, most of the offerings are under $10. This affordable dish is another great lunch choice in the nation’s capital.
It’s also worth mentioning Colada Shop’s amazing happy hour. Locals know that you can enjoy everything from $6 mojitos to $2 empanadas as well as discounts on house beers and wines. This just further proves that this is one of the best places to eat in D.C. on a budget.
This next D.C. restaurant brings us the flavors of Japan, specifically Sapporo-style ramen noodle bowls. Hatoba, which is the Japanese word for dock, is located in the Navy Yard inside of a century-old boilermaker building. While the setting is visually stunning, it’s not the only thing that keeps locals coming back to the restaurant.
With tons of dishes that are under $15 (and provide enough food for two meals), you’re sure to find something delicious. In addition to offering some ramen classics, the eatery also makes several signature ramen dishes, such as the Red Miso Clam, the Yuzu Shio, and the vegan Tomato Curry. You can also order beer, sake, wine, and cocktails to go with your meal. The craft beer selections here are stellar and the cocktail menu is extensive.
If you love tacos and Asian food, be sure to make your way to TaKorean. This amazing Korean taco grill has locations in Shaw, the Yards, and Union Market, which means you’re sure to find a location that’s convenient for you. The restaurant follows a build-your-own model, so you can choose from ordering a taco, a bowl, or a slaw bowl.
When ordering, you can truly customize everything, including the slaws, the meats, the add-ons, and the toppings. Whether you select a chicken taco with Gordy’s pickled daikon or a steak bowl with Gochu-Pow sauce, you and your wallet are sure to leave happy.
Where do locals eat in Washington D.C.?
In addition to thinking about cost, you might also be considering authenticity when selecting a place to eat. After all, when you move to the D.C. area, you want to eat like a local. It turns out that there are several eateries that allow you to eat what the locals enjoy while still sticking to your budget. If you’re moving to DC, get ready to enjoy great food every day.
“DC is such an amazing place, and U Street is where diversity, entertainment, and culture collide. I truly love it here. Some of the best places to go on U Street are Busboys & Poets, a relaxed and vibrant coffee and bookstore with vegan-friendly menu options and the historic Ben’s Chili Bowl, which is a DC favorite for locals and celebrities.” – Sharon Sherron, DC Leasing Specialist
The first and most-prominent restaurant on the list of authentic local eateries is Ben’s Chili Bowl. Forget the burger, try this delicious chili meal. This beloved institution has a long history in the city and is an important part of African American history. Opened by Ben and Virginia Ali in 1958, this restaurant has survived everything from the race riots to a period of economic decline.
Today, this landmark eatery’s menu offers burgers, fries, salads, hotdogs, smokes, and of course, chili bowls. You can enjoy a half-smoke for about $7, while bowls of Ben’s famous homemade chili con carne will only run you about $6. This place is perfect if you want to save money while enjoying food that’s delicious and comforting.
If you’re looking for a different kind of comfort food that locals love, you’ll want to head over to Amsterdam Falafelshop in Adams Morgan. As you might have guessed from the name, this restaurant takes its inspiration from the falafel culture in Amsterdam. Locals especially love snagging bites from this eatery after a night out.
The menu is easy to navigate, giving the option to select a falafel sandwich or a bowl as your base. From there, you can add on sauces, pickles, and other add-ons to make your own culinary creation. By the time you add the delicious double-fried French fries, or frieten, your meal will still be less than $15, making it one of the best places in D.C. to eat on a budget.
No list of D.C. cuisine is complete without everyone’s favorite food: pizza. Washingtonians love stopping by Union Market to snag a slice from Stellina Pizzeria. Italian immigrants Antonio Matarazzo and Matteo Venini joined forces to bring us an upscale yet affordable modernized take on classic pizza.
The simple menu pays tribute to the street food found in Southern Italy. You can find fried seafood and veggies served in paper cones, light Neapolitan pizza, house-made pasta and even sandwiches that are served on pizza dough. While you eat with other locals, you can enjoy wine, beer and craft cocktails from Stellina’s inviting bar.
Finally, we’ll end our list of the best places to eat in D.C. on a budget with a local favorite: pho, or a delicious type of noodle soup. The area has a sizeable Vietnamese population, so this cuisine has really taken off with locals. One of the best and most affordable places to get your pho fix is Pho Viet Restaurant on 14th Street. Thanks to the amazing flavor, The Washington Post has praised it as the “best bowl of pho in town.”
While the different varieties of beef and chicken pho are incredible, the Spicy Lemongrass Pho is one of the most popular offerings. Also, because the prices on pho are so good, you can add a summer roll with shrimp or an egg roll to complete your meal.
Enjoy eating like a local in D.C.
Your mouth is probably watering by now, and you’re ready to move to the D.C. area and start enjoying these restaurants for yourself.
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