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What Is a Cheap Eat?

Chilean-style sirloin sandwich at La Caraquena.
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Think finding a great cheap meal is hard? Try finding 100 of them.

We crisscrossed the region for a year to come up with this list. Our two criteria: Two people should be able to eat for $50 or less (including tax and tip), and the restaurants should wow us with their cooking. In uncertain economic times, value matters more than ever.

For this edition of 100 best bargain restaurants we found a fascinating—and rewarding—mix of styles. You can chow down on pit-smoked pulled pork at a backwoods shack or woo a date at a lounge that dishes up stellar small plates. We turned up good curries in a sumptuously appointed Indian restaurant in Chantilly and in a two-table English-basement cafe in DC. We found a great bagel shop—you can take friends from New York without apologizing—and a good wine bar.

Six pizzerias made the cut, ranging from a wood-paneled dining room that opened during the Eisenhower administration to a food cart that turns out terrific Neapolitan pizzas with the help of a propane tank.

Speaking of range: A Bosnian restaurant and a Kazakh cafe both earned spots on the list (a first for either cuisine in this magazine); kebab houses are as prevalent as burger joints; and Little Korea in Annandale, Little Ethiopia in DC, Little Mexico in Bladensburg, and the new Chinatown of northern Rockville are all well represented.

So go ahead—mind the Dow and the S&P. But trust us: With so many options to choose from, you won’t have to make a lot of sacrifices to eat well and affordably this next year.

>> Washingtonian's 2009 Cheap Eats Guide

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