Eating well in DC can be crazy expensive. But it doesn’t have to be! These 16 spots will wow you on the cheap. If you don’t see something you like (and if you don’t, what’s wrong with you?), you can always slurp down five tiny $1 oysters and still feel hangry or pound pizza by the slice.
Note: a few of these check in at a few pennies over $5, but if you’re worried about that just go scrounging in your couch and you should be good to go.
What you’re getting: Burger & fries, $5.49
It’s Thursday. That means all you have to do in the office tomorrow is remember to close your cat video window when you boss gets within 10ft of your cubicle. Celebrate making it through at The Black Squirrel’s burger night when you can get a classic or veggie burger plus boardwalk fries or a salad for $5.49. Lettuce and tomatoes are included because the bar cares about you growing big and strong, but bacon is extra (but worth it!).
What you’re getting: Pit Smoked Wings, $5
You can get five of DCity Smokehouse’s habit-forming, Pit Smoked Wings for an even $5. They’re dry-rubbed with what we can only imagine is pixie dust or something equally magical before being smoked with two kinds of wood. The only decision you have to make is whether you want to drench them in cilantro ranch or chipotle aioli. Note: they’re a dollar off on Wednesdays.
What you’re getting: Nigiri sushi and sashimi, $1 each
Single pieces of nigiri sushi and sashimi are only $1 during Baan's sushi happy hour from 5-7pm during the week. Translation: if you live and die by the sushi roll, this deal will not help you. Plunk down at the sushi bar and start ordering the usual suspects: tuna, eel, octopus, salmon, shrimp, squid, yellowtail, and more. We suspect it launched this sweet deal because the special Baan Thai menu served in the same space is blowing up.
What you’re getting: Tacos (like, always), $2.50-$3.50
You don’t have to wait until Tuesday to eat cheap just because it’s the first day of the week to form an alliteration with the word taco. El Camino serves $2.50 and $3.50 tacos seven days a week, including carnitas (you jealous Chipotle?), chicken tinga, and Baja fish. The only thing that would make El Camino better (cough cheaper) is if the chips & house-made salsas were free.
What you’re getting: Grilled haloumi, $5
Kapnos champions the idea that happy hour shouldn’t just be for discounted drinks. It makes its food menu more affordable from 5-7pm seven days a week in the bar area. Nine different bites are available for a five spot including the star of the show -- grilled haloumi cheese drizzled with black pepper honey. The generous portion will do more than tide you over. Other $5 options: dolmades (grape leaves), roasted duck phyllo pie, falafel, blistered shishito peppers, and Greek fries.
What you’re getting: Savory or sweet balls, $5
Decide whether you’re in the mood for something salty or something so sugary, your teeth will twinge because DC9 has two types of balls for $5. Savory fans will dig the hush puppies served with a three-pepper jam. They’re fried golden brown, but don’t feel guilty about eating fried food -- the nightclub uses a company to convert spent fryer oil into bio-diesel! Dessert freaks will dig the $5 Bourbon Balls made from Maker’s Mark, pecans, vanilla wafers, and chocolate.
H Street NE
What you’re getting: Potstickers, bao & skewers, $1.50-$4
There’s not a damn thing on Copycat’s food menu for more than $4. Food that cheap in a slick bar setting is worth almost getting clipped by the streetcar forever stuck in test mode. Four kinds of potstickers are two for $1.50; bao buns are $1.25 each; and skewers of chicken, skirt steak, or lamb shoulder are $4 each. The drink prices aren’t as generous, but that’s because they come with a sidecar of education (check out the informative drink menu that cites its sources).
What you’re getting: Meat or vegetarian burrito, $5.25-$5.75
Follow signage depicting a penguin butler wearing mariachi band gear to find this somewhat secret burrito joint down a side alley off 19th St NW. It serves four burritos that won’t burn a hole in your pocket: marinated beef ($5.75), marinated chicken ($5.50), and bean & cheese/sautéed veggie ($5.25). They all come stuffed with black or refried beans, lettuce, Mexican rice, shredded cheese, sour cream, and tomatoes.
What you’re getting: Duck neck and fried cheese sammys, $5 each
The happy hour at Dino’s Grotto is already long enough for you to get your hands on discounted eats (5-7pm Tues-Sat), but where it really slays it is by offering happy hour all day on Sunday and Monday. Try a “fried cheese sammy” that sounds way better in Italian: Mozzarella in Carrozza. It’s $5. So too is duck neck. Deviled eggs, duck fat potatoes (pictured), fried tomatoes, house-pickled ramps & long green beans are all $4.
What you’re getting: Platters or pupusas, $2-$5.45
Don’t confuse Tortilla Café with Tortilla Coast, the Republican stomping ground up the street. After all, Tortilla Café was the one that landed itself on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives. You’re ordering either the tamale platter or empanada platter for $5.45, both of which come with two sides (we dig the yucca and plantains). Not hungry enough to take that on? Order a couple of $2 pupusas filled with just cheese or pork and cheese.
What you’re getting: Chicago-style or Detroit-style dogs, $4 each
A bar that’s still a little too tidy to be called a dive bar is still willing to serve dive bar-priced food. And thank God for that if you happen to be both starving and swinging past Ivy & Coney on your way home from blowing serious cash on $14 cocktails. Just don’t expect a big menu. Chicago-style or Detroit coney-style hot dogs are available for $4 each along with baseball game snacks like Cracker Jacks. The dogs are especially meaningful for Chicago and Detroit folk who miss home.
What you’re getting: Latke Poutine, $5
Mazel tov to the lad at DGS who thought to put Canadian-Jewish fusion food on the happy hour menu. You’ll never want boring fries or even slightly more exciting tots to form the base of your poutine again after trying the dish with latkes. And that’s not the only $5 option on the happy hour menu. Reuben egg rolls, brisket sliders, pastrami chili fries, and more are also available Mon-Fri from 4-7pm.
What you’re getting: Ful, $5.99
Squeaking in at $5.99 is a big, satisfying bowl of ful at Keren Restaurant. The dish of mashed fava beans topped with tomato, onion, jalapeño, yogurt, olive oil, and berbere is typically eaten for breakfast, but that’s okay since Keren serves breakfast all day. Without the distinct berbere flavor, a bowl of ful might remind you of a seven-layer dip or vegetarian chili. The bowl carries the weight of a football, so expect to be ful (!) all day.
What you’re getting: Taco Tuesday deal, $5
Few free associate tacos when they think of Smoke & Barrel. The Adams Morgan BBQ beast is better known for its brisket and wings. But something magical happens every Tuesday. It busts out a special menu that allows diners to order three tacos and a side for $5 until 11pm. Choose from pulled pork, pulled chicken, smoked tofu, or veggie chili, then decide if you want them BBQ style (hint: you do) or traditional style. Sides include cheddar grits, coleslaw, and mashed potatoes.
What you’re getting: Arancini & fritti misti, $5 each
The underground lair of Urbana has been a happy hour champ for years because it's never stingy. We all held our breath when the restaurant went through a snazzy redesign, hoping the same awesome deals would emerge on the flip side and they sure did. From 3-7pm you can snack on $5 bites including the basics like nuts and olives in addition to big fat arancini and a bowl of a fritti misti. If you’re with a bud also willing to throw in a fiver, you can split a margherita, garden, or sausage pizza.
What you’re getting: Adobo chicken steamed buns, $5
During Zengo’s lengthy happy hour (3-8pm on Mon-Fri) adobo chicken steamed buns (served with cucumber kimchee and cilantro) are $5. They make the perfect pre-movie snack. Edamame and a zippy green papaya salad are also $5 during happy hour. Cervezas cost the same in case you’re looking to drink your dinner.
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1. The Black Squirrel2427 18th St NW , Washington, DC
2. DCity Smokehouse8 Florida Ave NW, Washington
3. Baan Thai1326 14th St NW, Washington
4. El Camino108 Rhode Island Ave NW, Washington
5. Kapnos2201 14th St NW, Washington
6. DC9 Nightclub1940 9th St NW, Washington
7. Copycat Co.1110 H St NE, Washington
8. Well-Dressed Burrito1220 19th St NW, Washington
9. Dino's Grotto1914 9th St NW, Washington
10. Tortilla Cafe210 7th St SE, Washington
11. Ivy and Coney1523 7th St NW, Washington
12. DGS Delicatessen1317 Connecticut Ave NW, Washington
13. Keren Restaurant & Coffee Shop1780 Florida Ave NW, Washington
14. Smoke & Barrel2471 18th St NW, Washington
15. Urbana2121 P St NW , Washington, DC
16. Latin Lounge at Zengo781 7th Street Northwest , Washington DC
This massive, Adams Morgan beer hall pours 'em tall, dark, and handsome. Black Squirrel offers a plethora of domestic and imported draft and bottled beers in all ales and stripes. Feeling peckish? The in-house kitchen serves up some seriously insane burgers, and the topping list is just as varied as the beer menu-- goat cheese jalapenos on your bacon burger? Yes please.
DCity Smokehouse hosts a four-seat BBQ joint led by pitmaster Rob Sonderman. You’ll find menu items like the chicken and red velvet waffles and Sondermans’ smoked meats, and you can get a protein grand tour with a smokehouse meat platter. As far as we are concerned, DCity is one of the best places to get BBQ in Washington DC.
Baan Thai dares to go where other DC Thai places don't, in terms of heat and tang. The concept, housed inside Tsunami Sushi, evolved out of staff meal where more authentic dishes were devoured by Thai employees. Leading the charge is a chef whose name is as awesome as her food: P’Boom. You need to try her crispy rice cakes with chicken and shrimp, chicken stuffed in tapioca skin, stir-fried pork picnic, and coconut griddle snacks for dessert.
The hot spot comes from the team behind 1905. Order like a boss on your first visit by requesting one of every kind of taco, and tack on the chilaquiles — a cast iron skillet filled with chips, salsa verde, and gobs of smoked Gouda. Nothing vegetarian and gluten-free ever tasted so good.
Chef Mike Isabella's 14th Street Corridor restaurant is a go-to for upscale but reasonably priced Greek food. Open for dinner nightly and brunch on the weekends, Kapnos serves a small-plates menu of spreads, mezze, phyllo pies, and whole roasted meats like lamb, goat, duck, chicken, and suckling pig. There's plenty of seafood as well, given that wood-fire grilled octopus is the house signature. The wine list is stacked with red and whites from Greece and kegged lemonades.
DC9 is a club with great live music and a nice rooftop bar, but it also has fantastic food, including some of DC's best burgers.
From Barmini graduate Devin Gong, hip restaurant/bar Copycat Co. combines craft cocktails with Northern Chinese bites like pot stickers, skewers, and bao buns. In addition to a permanent cocktail menu loaded with the classics, bartenders rotate through weekly (hand-drawn!) specialty menus featuring toddys, daiquiris, juleps, and more. Copycat is spread out across two floors: the first is for a quick beer and bao, while the upstairs is a relaxed lounge where you can unwind for hours.
Good thing this joint is down an alley near Dupont Circle, because you won't want anyone to see your face as you chow down on the Well Dressed Burrito's Nacho Supreme, which can come with grilled steak or chicken. Maybe if you ask super nicely, you'll get both. We're not making any promises.
Dino's Grotto is the kind of cozy Italian restaurant that breeds regulars. Its first location in Cleveland Park ran for nine years before closing in 2014. Shortly thereafter, the owners reopened Dino's 2.0 in Shaw. The menu is full of original crowd favorites like wild boar papparadelle, duck bolognese lasagna, and lump crab fettuccine. Though there are protein-based mains like duck breast and Tuscan pan-fried chicken, pasta is definitely Dino's speciality, so if you aren't avoiding carbs, the pasta-centric prix fixe dinner should be on your radar.
You may know Tortilla Cafe from its spot on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, but in any case make sure to get yourself an order of the tamale or empanada platter for $5.45, both of which come with two sides (we dig the yucca and plantains).
Ivy and Coney is a homey dive bar in Shaw that delivers a relaxed neighborhood vibe, delicious hotdogs, and a menu that includes nothing over $6.
DGS Delicatessen takes the idea from your old Jewish grandmother's kitchen and elevates it with a modern and creative spin that gives this authentic deli-bar new flavor and energy with a homestyle base. Styled after the turn-of-the-century grocery stores, DGS Delicatessen house cures and smokes their all meats and fish as well as crafts their own duck fat matzo balls.
This family-run Eritrean spot, located at the foot of Adams Morgan, might just be the happiest restaurant in DC -- everyone is smiling, even those eagerly awaiting a table so they can chow down on the soft and sour injera, or a piping-hot, fan-favorite bowl of ful (a garlic-laced fava bean mash topped with garnishes reminiscent of American chili). The warm and welcoming staff will make you feel right at home while they serve it to you. A bonus? You'll find some of the cheapest beers in town here.
Smoke & Barrel has meat that is smoked with reclaimed bourbon barrels. In fact, not only do they have great smoked meats but they also have a great beer selection (25 cans and another 25 drafts) as well as 45 bourbons and whiskeys (not to mention their beer/shot combo "boiler crafters").
With a swanky lounge vibe, Urbana offers a classic Italian menu from Chef Ethan McKee that features artisan pastas, fresh-caught seafood, and locally grown vegetables. You can't go wrong with the bucatini with jumbo lump crab or the diver scallops. The cocktail program as Urbana is just as classic and quality, brimming with Italian liqueurs and house-made ingredients, plus a happy hour that never disappoints.
Antonio Sabato, Jr. reclining on pillows: move over, because you are no longer the sexiest Latin Lounge. That title now goes to one just built out below Zengo, which pays (... sexily pays!) "tribute to Latin American culture and cocktails" with a mingle-facilitating design (high-top communals with pincushion leather stools, a long 'n sleek concrete bar), and, for those who opt into the "Owner's Club", personal "liquor lockers", which ironically, the cool high school jocks would want to stuff themselves into.