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100 Best Bargain Restaurants: Gourmet Dining on a Budget

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Here’s how you can enjoy the cooking of some of the region’s most celebrated chefs without busting the budget.

At Restaurant Eve in Old Town, chef Cathal Armstrong offers a Lickity Split weekday menu that lets diners choose any two items for $13.50—including, say, a bowl of mussels and a glass of Petit Chenin Blanc or maybe an Irish BLT with chips and a miniature birthday cake for dessert.

Around the corner at Armstrong’s Majestic, the Royal Pick menu presents a similar deal—any item on the weekday lunch menu, plus a drink, for $12. That includes the Cod Niçoise, which normally goes for $21. Nana’s Sunday Dinner, which includes a meat, three sides, and dessert served family style, is $78 for four.

Palena chef Frank Ruta started the upscale downscale trend, and his front-room café menu is a Valentine to the penny-pinching gastronome, with most items around $10. Burgers are gilded with truffle-infused cheese; the fry plate, generous enough to share, includes fried sliced lemons; pasta dishes, with minimal saucing, are elegant and robust.

The glorious panini—stuffed with grilled chicken or pork shoulder and slathered with salsa verde—offered weekdays for lunch at Roberto Donna’s Bebo Trattoria in Crystal City reprise the spirit of his old Galileo. It may be the only chance you’ll get to sample an Iron Chef winner’s food for $6 to $9 a pop.

Deals are plentiful at José Andrés’s peppy small-plate emporiums: At Oyamel, skip the tiny tacos and zero in on such soups as the inky black bean with cotija cheese, ancho chili, avocado, and tortilla strips.

The mezzeteria Zaytinya offers bang for the buck with a handful of dishes: A fluffy taramosalata—mop it up with a wedge of the house-made pita—makes a fine starter; the hunkar begendi, braised lamb shank over a mound of eggplant purée, could pass for an entrée; and spanakopita, Greek sausage, and zucchini fritters all come in sharable portions.

Jaleo inaugurates every meal with a complementary bowl of assorted olives and good, crusty bread with Spanish olive oil. Enjoy these before moving on to patatas bravas—a sort of rustic potato hash—the light and eggy tortilla, and a plate of sausage and white beans, all filling and comforting.   

This article appeared as part of the 100 Best Bargain Restaurants section of the June, 2008 issue of The Washingtonian.  

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