Cheap Eats Hacks For Pricier Restaurants

Think restaurants like Fiola Mare and Rasika are out of the Cheap Eats budget? Not if you hit them at the right time.

Feast at Fiola Mare for less. Photograph by Scott Suchman

1. Dine Out at Lunch

Many upscale spots offer quickie prix fixe lunch menus. A couple of favorites: The $14.98 “Lickity Split” promotion at Restaurant Eve (110 S. Pitt St., Alexandria; 703-706-0450)—which lets you pick any two items among a lineup of cocktails, entrées, and desserts—and the “Presto!” deal at Fiola Mare’s bar (3050 K St., NW; 202-628-0065), where you can sip a seasonal cocktail alongside an entrée such as pasta with clams for $22. In general, higher-end restaurants in office-heavy neighborhoods like Penn Quarter or Ballston will offer afternoon deals to attract business lunchers.

2. Go Big for Brunch

Think the fare at Ashok Bajaj’s haute-Indian spots is out of your budget? Hit them on a lazy weekend morning, when the Bombay Club (815 Connecticut Ave., NW; 202-659-3727) rolls out a buffet with curries, naan, and live piano for $22 and Rasika West End (1190 New Hampshire Ave., NW; 202-466-2500) offers an à la carte menu with entrées including eggs and chili-cheese toast ($14) and coco-nut-jaggery pancakes ($12). Another option: make a single blowout brunch your meal for the day. Del Campo’s all-you-can-eat-and-drink Sunday brunch is roughly the cost of two cheap meals out ($45 per person), but endless servings of Wagyu skirt steak, cast-iron pancakes, and mimosas will cover dinner, and ensure an early bedtime.

3. Turn Happy Hour Into Dinner

Skip post-work beers and belly up to a restaurant bar such as Mintwood Place (1813 Columbia Rd., NW; 202-234-6732), which discounts much of its menu—$5 escargot hushpuppies, $12 cheeseburgers—Tuesday through Friday from 5:30 to 7. In search of weekend deals? Ghibellina (1610 14th St., NW; 202-803-2389) dishes up $8 pizzas alongside $5 wines daily from 4 to 6:30. Happy hour can also be a prime time to test out a restaurant’s cocktail program—Vidalia (1990 M St., NW; 202-659-1990) pours discount Southern-style cocktails and classic sips like gin martinis and Manhattans from 5 to 7 on weekdays, and serves wallet-friendly snacks such as crawfish hushpuppies.

4. Eat Like a Night Owl

Happy hours aren’t just for after work. Head to Range (5335 Wisconsin Ave., NW; 202-803-8020) any night of the week for half-price pizzas—we’re fans of the sausage-and-smoked-mozzarella pie ($8)—alongside $1 oysters and $5 beers from 9 to closing. Republic (6939 Laurel Ave., Takoma Park; 301-270-3000) also shucks $1 bivalves and serves up drink deals Sunday through Thursday 9:30 to 12:30 and Friday and Saturday 10 pm to 3 am.

5. Dine out on off-peak days, or months

Restaurants often run inexpensive promotions on Mondays and Tuesdays to attract diners on traditionally slow nights. St. Arnold’s Mussel Bar (3433 Connecticut Ave., NW; 1827 Jefferson Pl., NW), for example, steams $11 pots of plump mussels and half-off German beers on Monday. A number of city restaurants also drop their prices for slow summer months, such as 1789 (1226 36th St., NW), which serves a three-course dinner for $48—not cheap, but the cost of certain regular entrees—June through September (Saturday excluded).