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).