All of the Amazing DC Food You Can Eat for Less Than One $250+ Tasting Menu

Ultra-high-end tasting menus, it seems, are taking over the District. Metier will soon be offering a seven-course tasting menu, as will The Shaw Bijou, joining the ranks of classics like The Inn at Little Washington and newcomers like Pineapple & Pearls. We’re not saying that the food at these places, or any other extra-schmancy tasting menu joint, isn’t good. But we would argue that this fad for exorbitantly priced menus filled with precious little dishes isn’t exactly the best way to get serious bang for your dining buck -- especially in DC, a city that is blessed with a phenomenal array of amazingly delicious, local, inexpensive dining options. So before you drop the equivalent of a car payment (or two) on a dinner for one, consider instead the benefit of ordering freely from some of DC’s tastiest -- and least pretentious -- menus. (To keep things simple, we factored in tax and tip for all of the following comparisons.)

hot dog
Ben's Chili Bowl

The total cost for one person to experience the all-inclusive, 15-course tasting menu at Pineapple & Pearls is $250. For that kind of money, you and your date can eat and drink like kings and queens at some of the city’s best local joints for five days straight.

  • A couple of Ben’s Famous All-Meat Chili Dogs, a side of cheese fries, and a pair of sweet teas at Ben’s Chili Bowl will set you back just $25.15.
  • Or go for a quartet of tacos (pescada, nopal, al pastor, and barbacoa), plus an order of beef tongue huarache, chips, and guacamole... and what the hell, a whole pitcher of margaritas, at Taqueria Habanero for $79.86.
  • Y’all can also try the Greek combo, a gyro, and an extra order of spanakopita for good measure, at Greek Deli, which costs $34.28.
  • And definitely go for a pair of sambusa, the Taste of Habesha combo, lamb tibs, and a large bottle of wine at Habesha, which will run you $75.37.
  • Then finish off the workweek with an order of spring rolls, pho, and a banh mi platter at Pho 14 for a grand total of $34.94.

Total: $249.60

district doughnut
District Doughnut

At Komi, a dozen or so tasting dishes will ultimately run you $297, based on the extremely reasonable assumption that you want the wine pairing (why not?). While these Greek-inspired, seafood-heavy dishes are sure to be lovely, $300 is an awfully hefty price tag for one person for dinner. Plus, these guys don’t even believe in cocktails...

  • ... which means you should probably start off your alternate-reality dining "experience" with a Senor Clusterf*$k! and an El Mezcalerac at El Chucho, where they will serve you delicious, delicious booze like the grown-up you are for $27.72.
  • Then head to El Pollo Rico, where you can get a whole damn chicken, plus sides of slaw, rice, steak fries, a container of extra sauce (trust us), a pair of Inca Kolas, and dessert consisting of both their alfajores and milhojas, all for $45.34.
  • Next, hit up Astor Mediterranean for dolmas, an Egyptian salad, the Astor vegetarian sampler, a mixed kabob, a lamb kabob, a couple of glasses of wine, and an order of the baklava for $79.
  • Feast at Mi Cuba Cafe: you can get a lavish meal of chicken croquetas, ropa vieja, and lechon asado, with sides of congri and tostones, a full liter of sangria, and a pair of post-dinner cafe bombons for $83.75
  • Head to the H St location of &pizza for a trio of personal pizzas (the Farmer’s Daughter, the Maverick, and the Lori Lane Dessert Pizza, natch), plus two cans of DC Brau for $52.80
  • Finally, grab a doughnut each from District Doughnut: one salted dulce de leche, one chocolate creme brulee, $7.59.

Total: $296.20

2Amys pizza
Courtesy of 2Amys

Look, we love José Andrés. But his more-than-20-course meal at Minibar now runs $275 a head, with beverage pairings available at three tiers ($95, $115, and $195), not including tax or gratuities. So if we were to factor in all of this and go for the mid-range wine pairing (what are we, peasants?), that clocks in at a whopping $514.80. Instead, you could...

  • Start off a Friday or Saturday night at Thai X-ing, which offers what is arguably the best multi-course chef’s menus in DC. It’s $40 for five to seven beautiful courses, BYO with no corkage fee, and a deservedly famous pumpkin curry. Bring a nice $20 bottle with you, and your meal will set you back a total of $132.
  • Hit up Bamain for Afghani cuisine. Start with the mantu, then order one Bamain platter and one vegetarian platter to share. Pair with sparkling water (they’re, uh, short a liquor license right now) for $56.48.
  • Go for two all-you-can-eat Option As at Kogiya, and nab two bottles of rice wine for good measure, $92.40.
  • Stop by Aladdin for delicious Bangladeshi fare: start off with some fuchka, then move on to aloo palak, goat biryani, chicken korma -- be sure to order some extra naan for all that sauce -- and wash it all down with a couple of lassis for $56.76.
  • Begin your meal at 2Amys with the deviled eggs, order a salad to share, then enjoy what is perhaps the best pizza in the District (we recommend ordering both the margherita extra and the puttanesca pies). Pair it all with a liter of wine for $105.33.
  • Finish it all up at EatBar, where you can knock back a couple of beers and delight in a spread of five "meat + cheesy" things (including stuff like wild boar pate), an order of ham fries (just go with it), and a Nutella panini for $71.28.

Total: $514.25

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Jess Novak is the editor of Thrillist DC, and she dreamt about Thai X-ing’s pumpkin curry last night. Follow her on Twitter @jesstothenovak and on Instagram @jtothenovak.

Tim Ebner is a food & travel writer based in Washington, DC. For more cheap eats dining, follow him on Twitter @TimEbner.