Multi-course menus can be more of an event than a meal, especially when you’re saving up for the likes of a $3,000 José’s Table. But you don’t have to wait until restaurant week to sample three or more courses from some of Washington’s top chefs. Plenty of restaurants offer regular tasting menus at $50 and below. Granted, you may be dining in the bar area, or at an earlier hour than usual—but we’ve often found it’s not where or what time you’re eating, but what and who you’re with.
Dinner (Regular Hours)
Chef Roberto Donna, once the master of the over-the-top laboratorio at Galileo, offers toned-down tastings fit for his more casual Fox Hall eatery (unless, of course, you’re one of “Roberto’s 4”). Two menus offer multiple courses per person or in a family-style lineup.
Go: Sunday through Thursday 4 to 10, Friday and Saturday 4 to 11.
You can dine on the cheap during both lunch and dinner at this swanky Penn Quarter Italian spot. Daytime brings a three-course “business lunch” deal, while dinner offers more of a tasting-menu experience with a four-course lineup of vegetarian dishes such as slow-roasted stuffed eggplant and risotto with chanterelles.
Go: Monday through Thursday 5:30 to 10:30, Friday and Saturday 5:30 to 11.
You don’t necessarily have to save one of Washington’s go-to special-occasion spots for an anniversary. Belly up to the bar for a more casual evening with chef Eric Ziebold’s three-course sampling, which is similarly elegant, with dishes like sea trout tournedos and monkfish bourguignon.
Price: $50 for a three-course menu
Go: Tuesday through Thursday 6 to 9:30, Friday and Saturday 5:30 to 9:30.
Though it’s not highly promoted by the restaurant, food and wine editor Todd Kliman likes dropping by chef Tom Power’s Shaw restaurant for the under-the-radar three-course special at the bar. The menu includes seafood, meat, and pasta options.
Price: $30 for a three-course menu
Go: Anytime during regular hours.
Chef Todd and Ellen Gray celebrate the 14th anniversary of their downtown restaurant with a special four-course menu through late September. Summery options include cucumber-green tomato gazpacho and barbecued salmon.
Price: $40 for the four-course menu
Go: Monday through Thursday 5:30 to 10, Friday and Saturday 5:30 to 10:30, Sunday 5:30 to 9. Available through September 21 (excluding restaurant week).
Chef Mike Isabella is a fan of tasting menus—each of his three restaurants offers one—but you’ll find the gentlest pricing at his new sandwich spot/supper club. Daytime chicken Parms give way to two tasting menus: a modern-leaning lineup with dishes such as dry-aged duck over beet panzanella, and a Sunday family-style feast of Italian-American classics, which starts August 11.
Go: Wednesday and Thursday 5:30 to 10, Friday and Saturday 5:30 to 11. Sunday gravy: 5 to 10.
Chances are you’ve heard of Johnny Monis’s northern Thai spot below his nationally renowned Komi. Prices at the latter have climbed to $135 per person before drinks, tax, and tip, so it feels like a steal to get the chef’s expert-level cooking for less than half the price.
Price: $45 for a seven-course family-style meal, with menus changing weekly
Go: A line often forms before the restaurant opens for a seat at this walk-in-only spot. Open Tuesday through Thursday 5:30 to 10, Friday and Saturday 5:30 to 10:30.
Price: $30 for the six-course family-style dinner
Go: Monday through Saturday starting at 5.
Perhaps prices are lower in Baltimore—even at the Four Seasons!—because Pabu’s “satori” tasting is one of the most diverse tasting menus for the cost, and it’s offered nightly during dinner. Courses hit all areas of the menu, from robata meats to raw fish.
Price: $49.88 per person for the six-course menu
Go: Tuesday through Thursday 6 to 10, Friday and Saturday 5:30 to 10:30.
Georgetown’s classic fine-dining spot gets into the relaxed summer spirit with a limited-run seasonal special. You’ll have more choice than at many places; guests pick four courses from the regular dinner menu.
Price: $50 for your choice of two starters (including soups, salads, and pastas), an entrée, and dessert from the regular menu
Go: Fill out this form for the deal Monday through Friday until September 13.
A communal Thai feast emerges from Taw Vigsittaboot’s Shaw townhouse kitchen, which is made even better by the fact it’s a) affordable, and b) one of the few BYO places in town, meaning you won’t hike up the tab with booze. Grab friends and a few bottles of wine for a fun night.
Price: $30 to $50 per person, depending on which menu and night you choose
Go: Tuesday through Sunday.
The early menu lasts later than most of its kind at Frederik de Pue’s nautically themed seafood spot. You can even indulge your boardwalk cravings with crispy calamari, fish and chips, and a cotton candy bowl for dessert.
Price: $35 for the three-course menu
Go: Daily 5 to 7.
Entrées generally run $30 and up at Fabio Trabocchi’s elegant Italian, so the $38 prix-fixe feels like a steal. Seasonal plates include burrata with roasted tomatoes and basil and fish of the day with rosemary zabaglione.
Price: $38 for a three-course menu
Go: Monday to Thursday 5:30 to 6:30, in the lounge area only.
Eat a light lunch, then head to this stately dining room by the White House just after work for the pre-theater lineup. The seasonal dishes vary, with options like soft-shell crab with pickled watermelon and ricotta ravioli.
Price: $39 for the three-course pre-theater menu
Go: Daily 5:30 to 6:30.
Given how hard it can be to snag a prime-time reservation at Rasika Penn Quarter or West End, it may make sense to dine early with the pre-theater menu for both ease and cost. Note that the “grand menu” tasting is available for $58 if you’re in the mood to semi-splurge during regular hours.
Price: $35 for three-course pre-theater menu
Go: Monday through Saturday for dinner until 6:30.
The pre-theater menu at Ashok Bajaj’s downtown dining room isn’t just for early birds; head over any time on Sunday evening and dine on dishes like beef carpaccio with black garlic and burrata agnolotti for barely over $30.
Price: $32 per person for the three-course menu
Go: Monday through Saturday, open until 6:45. Sunday all evening.
The gran degustazione at this Obama-approved white tablecloth Italian will run up to $95, but you can beat the system two ways: Order à-la-carte dishes from the tasting menus—Tosca is one of the few restaurants that allows this—or go early. You can still order the standout carrot pappardelle with rabbit ragu either way.
Price: $38 for a three-course menu
Go: Monday through Saturday 5:30 to 6:30.
Wolfgang Puck’s Newseum restaurant already mixes high-end and casual with its sidewalk-level izakaya and formal restaurant. Get the best of both worlds with the set lunch menu, which includes perks such as a glass of wine with your meal and discounted museum entry.
Price: $45 for a three-course menu
Go: Monday through Friday 11:30 to 3:30.
Not only does Jeffrey Buben’s Southern spot boast one of the best happy hour deals in town—$7 Manhattans! Crawfish hushpuppies!—it also provides an inexpensive white-tablecloth lunch with dishes like fried green tomatoes and rabbit pot pie.
Price: $19.90 for the three-course menu
Go: Monday through Friday 11:30 to 2:30.
The parade of Mediterranean small plates at Zaytinya can already feel a bit like a tasting menu, but at lunch you can pick your choice of four hot and cold mezze for a more structured experience.
Price: $25 for four small plates from a coursed menu
Go: Daily 11:30 to 2:30.
Though it’s not super-expensive, it’ll feel like a special occasion driving out to Virginia wine country for brunch at the Ashby Inn. Old-world charm meets an ambitious menu with dishes such as crab-stuffed squash blossoms with pickled yuzu and bacon-caramel fried chicken and waffles.
Price: $45 for a three-course brunch menu
Go: Sunday noon to 2.
Sunday “luncheon” can be quite the Francophile affair at Jacques Haeringer’s classic Great Falls restaurant. You can also get a set four-course meal on weekdays, but why not relax over six on the weekend?
Price: $38 to $50 for a six-course menu, depending on the price of the entrée
Go: Sunday noon to 3.
Post up on Table’s pretty deck for the new five-course “degustation” Sunday brunch (launching August 18th). Dishes include savory smoked salmon waffles, Boursin-and-prosciutto mille-feuille, and caramelized-pear crepes with goat cheese. Make a day of it and tack on bottomless mimosas.
Price: $35 for the five-course menu; $48 with bottomless mimosas.
Go: Sunday 11 to 2.
Chef Bryan Voltaggio’s dinner tasting runs $95—before wine and Frederick-area accommodations should you wish to avoid driving back to Washington—so we love heading out to the airy restaurant for the generously priced brunch (with plenty of time to walk off mimosas after). Crossover between the two menus means you won’t be denied that calamari Bolognese just for dining in the daytime.
Price: $35 for a three-course menu.
Go: Saturday and Sunday 11:30 to 2.