Sometimes, when you approach a cuisine that's new to you, it's hard to know where to start, especially when you're faced with a 150-item menu. And sometimes, you might eat a certain type of food all the time, but get mired in the rut of ordering the same thing (tom kha kai soup, pad Thai, repeat). If either of those scenarios sound familiar—or you just feel like trying a few new dishes—check out this guide to the iconic dishes that anchor the many ethnic cuisines featured in our 2013 Cheap Eats package. We've got something for every palate, from tame to adventurous to extreme thrill-seeker. And of course, we'll also tell you where to find our favorite versions. Happy eating.
The soothing soup bobbing with ethereal shrimp dumplings at Full Key (2227 University Blvd. W., Wheaton; 301-933-8388).
Chinese-style hot-and-sour soup—thickened with duck blood—at Michael’s Noodles (10038 Darnestown Rd., Rockville; 301-738-0370).
Duck tongues tossed with basil at Joe’s Noodle House (1488-C Rockville Pike, Rockville; 301-881-5518).
Delicate fritters of sweet potato and shrimp, wrapped in lettuce and dipped in nuac mam, at Minh’s (2500 Wilson Blvd., Arlington; 703-525-2828).
Crunchy lotus-root salad topped with pork and shrimp at Four Sisters (8190 Strawberry La., Suite 1, Falls Church; 703-539-8566).
Bubble tea made with durian—the infamously stinky tropical fruit—at Song Que (6769 Wilson Blvd., Falls Church; 703-536-7900).
Chicken with basil and bamboo shoots in spicy, coconutty red curry at Sisters Thai (4004 University Blvd., Fairfax; 703-267-9619).
Fried beef jerky with chili sauce at Elephant Jumps (8110-A Arlington Blvd., Falls Church; 703-942-6600).
Floating market soup, with rice noodles, pork rinds, and pig’s blood, at Nava Thai (11301 Fern St., Wheaton; 240-430-0495).
Gingery, double-fried wings at DaMoim (7106 Columbia Pike, Annandale; 703-354-3211).
Soondubu jigae—a roiling-hot, chili-spiked stew with tofu and shellfish—at Lighthouse Tofu (Vit Goel)(Annandale, Centreville, and Rockville).
Sul leung tang, an intensely meaty, milky soup made by slow-cooking beef bones, at Gamasot (6963 Hechinger Dr., Springfield; 703-256-0780).
Yogurt-marinated, bone-in tandoori chicken at Turmeric (405 Maple Ave. E., Vienna; 703-938-0100).
Poblano chilies stuffed with spiced lamb at Malgudi (2400 Wisconsin Ave., NW; 202-333-3120).
Extra-fiery goat vindaloo at Curry Mantra (9984 Main St., Fairfax, 703-218-8128; 1077 W. Broad St., Falls Church, 703-992-0077).
Thinly pounded, fried-pork tonkatsu with a sweet, Worcestershire-like sauce at Mikaku (3065 Centreville Rd., Herndon; 703-467-0220).
Ikura, a sushi-bar staple of salmon roe (sometimes topped with a quail egg), at Sushiko (2309 Wisconsin Ave., NW, 202-333-4187; 5455 Wisconsin Ave., Chevy Chase, 301-961-1644).
Ankimo, custardy, rich monkfish liver, at Kotobuki (4822 MacArthur Blvd., NW; 202-281-6679).
Ceviche mixto, with scallops, octopus, and squid, at Asi Es Mi Tierra (2559 Ennalls Ave., Wheaton; 301-942-2842).
Aguadito, a Peruvian chicken soup with gizzards, at the Chicken Place (2418 University Blvd. W., Silver Spring; 301-946-1212).
Enrollado mixto, a massive Bolivian pork terrine with pickled vegetables, at Llajtaymanta (7236 Arlington Blvd., Falls Church; 703-204-0593).
Carne asada tacos with onion, cilantro, and tomatillo salsa at Xitomate (5850 Waterloo Rd., Columbia; 410-750-8787).
Braised-pork tacos with onion, cilantro, radish, and lime at Tortacos (9629 Lost Knife Rd., Gaithersburg; 240-632-9423).
Pork-cheek-and-pork-lip tacos at Taqueria la Placita (5020 Edmonston Rd., Hyattsville; 301-277-4477).
Jerk-chicken sandwich at Just Jerk (9005 Lanham-Severn Rd., Lanham; 301-459-5375).
“Buss up shut”—a torn roti with goat curry—at Teddy’s Roti Shop (7304 Georgia Ave., NW; 202-882-6488).
Jamaican sauté of salt cod with ackee, a tropical fruit, at Jerk Hill Cafe (6543 Ager Rd., Hyattsville; 301-422-6351).
Doro wat, chicken and egg in a rich berbere-spiced gravy, at Shagga Coffee & Restaurant (6040 Baltimore Ave., Hyattsville; 240-296-3030).
Dulet—simmered lamb liver and tripe—at Meaza (5700 Columbia Pike, Falls Church; 703-820-2870).
Slices of raw beef with whiskey at Abay Market and Restaurant (3811 S. George Mason Dr., Falls Church; 703-998-5322).
Chicken-breast kebabs with saffron rice and salad at Rose Kabob (126 Maple Ave. W., Vienna; 703-255-2557).
Qabili palow—spiced basmati rice with carrots and raisins covering hunks of marinated lamb—at Kabul Kabob House (514 S. Van Dorn St., Alexandria; 703-751-1833).
Mughaz Karahi, a hearty tomato-and-green-chili stew with lamb brains at Ravi Kabob House I and II (305 N. Glebe Rd., Arlington, 703-522-6666; 250 N. Glebe Rd., Arlington, 703-816-0222).
Online Production: Mario Starks