DC’s Top 5 Cheap Eats

by Jamie Liu

DC's Top 5 Cheap Eats: Figure 1
The ramen at Toki Underground.

It’s an acknowledged fact that DC’s inexpensive, high quality food options become more limited by the week. You can scarcely throw a rock these days without hitting a restaurant where you need to drop $100 for a decent dinner for two. Much of the issue has been attributed to high property values, high food costs, and the increased expense of operating in a city. This is even evidenced by fast food/casual chains, which charge higher prices than their suburban counterparts.

In an effort to offer up alternatives to the increasing number of fancy, high-priced eateries in the city, UrbanTurf will spend the next three weeks selecting our top five cheap eat destinations in DC, Virginia, and Maryland. The five choices, in alphabetical order, represent some of the best value at eateries where entrees average $15 or less. (For the purposes of our short list, we excluded alcohol costs, as depending on where you go and who you’re with, these can add up quickly.)

Lastly, we realize that limiting our list to just five spots opens up the possibility that we left your favorite spot off. So, let us know your suggestions for other great cheap eats inside the District’s borders.

Amsterdam Falafelshop – 2425 18th St NW Washington, DC 20009 (map)

Amsterdam Falafel has been a favorite cheap eat option in DC for years. The fried balls of chickpeas are the slightly healthier alternative to a late night jumbo slice after an evening in Adams Morgan. Veggies can can be layered on white or whole wheat falafel and hummus can be added as well. Even with the addition of Belgian-style fries, your total bill will remain under $10.

DC's Top 5 Cheap Eats: Figure 2
Inside El Chucho.

El Chucho – 3313 11th St NW Washington, DC 20010 (map)

While it’s not the dollar taco trucks of L.A., El Chucho offers a sit down meal of tacos and tortas at a reasonable price. An order of two moist, meaty tacos averages around $6, while the heartier torta sandwiches max out at $12. And you don’t have to sweat too much with a menu of frozen margaritas that are $7 and under. For more on the 11th Street restaurant scene, click here.

Ercilia’s – 3070 Mount Pleasant Street NW, Washington, DC 20010 (map)

The metro area has the second largest population of Salvadorans in the U.S. And it’s why you’re often better served ordering pupusas instead of tacos at most local “taco” joints. At Ercilia’s in Mount Pleasant, you can get a variety of thick, cheese-filled tortillas topped with a fat-cutting vinegared slaw for $3 or less per pupusa. For those with a bigger appetite, a combination plate of meat and sides is available for $11 or less.

DC's Top 5 Cheap Eats: Figure 3
A slice at Pete’s.

Toki Underground – 1234 H Street NE, Washington, DC 20002 (map)

For Japanese salarymen, ramen is an inexpensive and quick way to fill up. Enjoying H Street’s Toki Underground requires a significant wait compared to a Tokyo ramen stand, but it’s still inexpensive to enjoy the rich meaty broth and noodles. Bowls start at $11 with chashu pulled pork and soft boiled egg with the option to add noodles, extra meat, or egg for a few bucks extra. And if you’re truly hungry, you can add a side order of crisped pork, beef, chicken, seafood or vegetarian dumplings. For those unwilling to wait it out at Toki (where waits can approach 3-4 hours), Daikaya in Chinatown is a great alternative.

Standard — 1801 14th Street NW, Washington, DC 20009 (map)

Typically if you want a meat-heavy meal you need to shell out the bucks. But Standard, the 14th Street beer garden, offers a large selection of moist, tender barbecue sandwiches and hearty sausages for under $10, meaning you’ll still be able to fork out for some sides or a beer. The more adventurous can spend just a little more than the $15 limit for seasonal items like a pig’s head, or crabs. Occasional, but sought-after menu items, include homemade pie for dessert and freshly fried donuts sold at the entrance. The downside to Standard are the crowds. From Thursday through Sunday, it can be quite difficult to find seating for two.

Honorable Mention

Pete’s Apizza – 1400 Irving Street NW, #103, Washington, DC 20010 (map)

Pizza has a reputation as a quick, cheap food. But most of the cheap pizzas in town are palatable only after several cocktails. Pete’s Apizza is the opposite with high quality ingredients like slow roasted pork, meatballs, fried eggplant and fresh mozzarella. Order by the slice to get a piece with a perfectly crisped crust or get a pizza big enough for more than two people will run you less than $20. It leaves you with enough money to order the superlative antipasti plate with a variety of seasonal salads.

Jamie R. Liu is a freelance writer, food nerd, and former DCist food and drink editor. She has contributed to Eater, Washington City Paper, the Express, and AskMen.com.

This article originally published at https://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/dcs_top_5_cheap_eats/7165


  1. Lowet said at 7:29 pm on Thursday June 6, 2013:
    Agree with these, but would also add A. Litteri, C.F. Folks and Rocklands.
  1. Caroline said at 7:34 pm on Thursday June 6, 2013:
    On board with Amsterdam, Toki and El Chucho. Rounding out my top five would be Fast Gourmet and Dukem.
  1. Anna said at 8:27 pm on Thursday June 6, 2013:
    Add Chinatown Express (in Chinatown) to that list! Gigantic bowl of delicious noodles for 5.95
  1. Janson said at 9:08 pm on Thursday June 6, 2013:
    Dickson's Banh Mi is $13 and is wicked tasty. Astor Mediterranean has a delicious $12 whole lamb shank with two sides - an incredible deal.
  1. David said at 10:07 pm on Thursday June 6, 2013:
    This is the problem with DC. These are not cheap by any means. $11 for ramen is more than you would pay in Tokyo, and the ramen in Tokyo would be much better. Likewise, $12 for tortas is obscene. In most other major cities you can get a torta for $5, or even less, and even in DC you can get one for around $7. And Pete's Pizza while very good, is also a very expensive option for pizza. I find it to be one of the more expensive pizza places in DC. This is a list of where to pay a premium on what should be cheap foods, but hey, it's still cheaper than City Zen.
  1. Jason said at 5:06 pm on Friday June 7, 2013:
    What David said. Only in pretentious DC is a $20 pie for 2 a "cheap eats".
  1. James said at 9:24 am on Saturday June 8, 2013:
    David is exactly right--these are exceptionally poor values that are being held up as bargains. I am reminded why we think ahead to pack our own meals with us. Has the value of a dollar really become that abstract?
  1. Tom A. said at 11:54 pm on Thursday June 20, 2013:
    Mike's questions makes me wonder. is "cheap" relative? a 50k salary is the same in DC or Santa Fe, but in Santa Fe, you would have a much lower cost of living. I guess that's why we have so many adults living in group houses as compared to other cities. It does bug me to see happy hour beer specials saying a Corona is "only $5!" the bar probably pays the distributor the same for the one 12 oz bottle of corona in DC as the bars in Santa Fe. An I know the bartender is still getting the same food service minimum wage in DC and Santa Fe.
  1. Mike said at 9:00 pm on Thursday June 20, 2013:
    David, Jason, and James.....the three of you are standing on a soapbox that holds little meaning in the context of this conversation. If you were buying a torta in Santa Fe, you are correct it would be considerably less....however, you would also be paying considerably less for a one bedroom apartment. You live in DC....you don't live in Amarillo, TX.....you can choose to live there if you want, but if you choose to stay here, you also choose to maintain a higher cost of living.

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