A bowl of pho at Pho 75.
During discussions of the high cost of eating out in DC, people compare it to cities like New York and San Francisco where the cost of living is even higher. And often DC does not fare well in these comparisons.
But in reality it’s not a fair comparison. In DC, competition for diners is not as intense as other cities, and it’s basic knowledge that competition drives down prices. In a recent survey by the NPD Group, DC didn’t even rank in the top 10 of cities with the highest number of restaurants per capita. With less intense competition for diners compared to other cities, there is less pressure for DC restaurants to have similarly low prices.
Another reason DC lags behind on cheap eats is that international restaurants and communities, which are typically a major source of inexpensive food options, are in the suburbs. New York, San Francisco and LA have much more sprawl — 468, 231, and 503 square miles, respectively — compared to DC’s paltry 68 square miles — making for many more restaurants from which to draw comparison.
Fortunately we’ve got you covered for the DC suburbs. Last week, UrbanTurf listed our top five cheap eat destinations in DC. This week, we’ll be looking at the nearby suburbs of Virginia, and next week, we’ll tackle 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.)
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 across the Potomac.
A&J — 4316 Markham Street, Annandale, VA (map)
As you venture out into the suburbs, restaurant options become more international and more inexpensive. The northern Chinese and Taiwanese “small eats” at A&J are particularly popular for people looking to assemble a meal with a lot of variety. However, these “small eats” are much larger than tapas servings, and average around $5 for hearty bowls of noodles and noodle soups, meat-stuffed buns, and dumplings.
The fish and chips at Eamonn’s.
Banh Mi Sandwich DC — 3103 Graham Road, Falls Church, VA
Banh mi (Vietnamese sandwiches) are a study in contrasts — fatty meats accented with pickled vegetables and refreshing cucumbers, tucked inside crisp crusted ficelles. Banh Mi Sandwich DC is one of the more favored banh mi shops in the area for its slightly caramelized ficelles, but it faces heavy competition from the numerous options in nearby Eden Center. Along with the most traditional “combination” of ham, head cheese, and pate, they have 21 other options all for less than $4 each. Want to stock up? Buy five, and get one of equal or lesser value free.
Fish n’ chips have been the go to takeaway food in the United Kingdom and Ireland for decades because the dish is inexpensive but filling. Irish chef Cathal Armstrong decided that it was an idea worth replicating in Alexandria and Arlington. A large portion of freshly fried cod and other seafood at Eamonn’s runs between $7-8.50, and a single order of chips costs $3. If you’re not a fan of seafood, head to the Arlington location, which features a menu of burgers and a variety of traditional chippie food for $10 or less.
Simple menus are one way that restaurants keep food prices low. El Pollo Rico’s main business is selling Peruvian rotisserie chicken. Loaded with flavorful spices, and broiled over charcoal, El Pollo Rico is known as the destination for these moist birds, that sell for $9 for half a chicken. Tack on a variety of sides like fries, and coleslaw for a few bucks more. If the lines are too long at El Pollo Rico, you can head to Crisp & Juicy where a half chicken with two sides costs you $10.
A full table at A&J. Courtesy of Foodspotting.
Pho 75 — 1721 Wilson Boulevard, Arlington, VA (map)
Pho has become very popular as a cheap meal in the DC area, and one establishment stands out from its competition. Pho 75, the local, cash-only chain with locations in Maryland and Virginia, is known for having the best broth in the region. A regular size bowl of pho with any variety of beef cuts is $6.75, while a larger bowl will run you a dollar more.
Some argue that Pupatella serves the best Neapolitan pizza in the area, even better than the much-lauded 2Amys. This little restaurant, that used to be a cart near the Ballston Metro, sells pizzas that average $11 a pie. And for those who aren’t pizza lovers, paninis are $8 or less.
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 http://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/virginias_top_5_cheap_eats/7197
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