These restaurants come from our 2017 Cheap Eats list, our guide to inexpensive ethnic dining in the region.
6271 Old Dominion Dr., McLean
The orchid-strewn kebab plates at this McMansion-country Persian spot are some of the prettiest around. And thanks to the care of father/son owners Masoud and Sebastian Oveysi, some of the most delicious, too. One of the combo plates—say, Cornish hen and savory ground-beef kubideh—makes an easy share. It’s worth paying a few extra bucks for a rice upgrade. The plain basmati is good, but the elaborate polos—accented with orange peel and carrot or with lima beans, lime, and dill—are stellar.
Also good: Lamb chimichurri kebab; eggplant dip.
1326 14th St., NW
You’ll find one of the city’s great noodle dishes—an electric mix of vermicelli with peanuts, coconut milk, and lots of lime—inside this restaurant. We’d be happy calling that dinner, but it’d be a shame to miss the rest of the cooking, which runs hotter and tangier than at the competition. A green-mango salad laced with scallions and roasted coconut singes the tongue, an oyster-mushroom salad almost elicits tears, and chicken is bathed in a hurts-so-good papaya curry.
Also good: Khao soi, a chicken curry with egg noodles and pickled cabbage; northern Thai pork curry.
multiple locations in Frederick and Ijamsville
Our favorite ribs in the area can be found at this trio of cheery barbecue houses. The St. Louis–cut racks are available two ways—dry (rubbed in brown sugar and spices) or wet (mopped in thick, sweet sauce). We can never decide, so spring for a half rack of each. Brisket is best shown off in a Baltimore-style sandwich with horseradish sauce and raw onion, or doused in zesty crimson sauce for the destination-worthy dish known as Arkansas beef.
Also good: Baked beans; potato salad.
1515 N. Courthouse Rd., Arlington
Pastry chef David Guas celebrates his native New Orleans at this quirky-cool cafe in Arlington’s Courthouse neighborhood. No matter the time, we start with a round of tender buttermilk biscuits, slathered with cream cheese and pepper jelly. If it’s lunch, we dig into a classic two-fister muffuletta, filled with Italian cold cuts and chopped-olive salad, a smoky andouille sausage cradled in a split-top bun, or a BLT elevated with thick, smoky Benton’s bacon and oven-cured tomatoes. But we might like the place best on weekend mornings, when you can pair some of the area’s truest and tastiest grits with a Creole-spiced Bloody Mary. Don’t forget the bakery cases, which hold pralines and cookies such as the Dat-O, a super-sized riff on an Oreo that itself makes this seven-year-old standby a destination.
Also good: Arm Drip sandwich (a roast-beef po’ boy); deviled eggs.
1815 M St., NW
Hoagies at this mom-and-son joint always pose a conundrum: How the heck do you eat this thing? Even the half portions are so gargantuan you’ll be tempted to fork-and-knife it. But there’s nothing wrong with going for a double-handed grip and letting the juices run down your arm. Particularly worth the mess are Pop’s beef brisket with apple-horseradish cream, five-year-aged Gouda, and veal jus (spring for the optional fried egg), as well as the Bolognese Parmesan. Although it might seem as if you can’t eat anything more, the house-made French onion dip with chips is worth it.
Also good: Hong Kong Connection with char siu-style pork; seasonal pickles.
3207 Grace St.
Little has changed since this taco business went from a farmers-market stand to a full-fledged vegetarian taqueria—except, of course, its airy surroundings and sparkling Lambrusco on tap. The kitchen still makes toothsome corn tortillas, griddled to order and stuffed with winning local/seasoning combinations such as asparagus, spring garlic, preserved lemon, and chèvre. Make a meal with velvety black beans or brown rice tossed in herb pesto. We especially love the place on weekends, when you can add fried or soft-scrambled Maryland eggs.
Also good: Mushroom-and-feta tacos; kale-and-potato tacos.
21430 Epicerie Plaza, Sterling
1405 T St., NW
A trio of José Andrés alums is behind these mood-lifting Cuban/Caribbean cafes. In the morning, we swing by for pastelitos—tender pastries filled with guava or cream cheese that pair beautifully with a cafe con leche. When lunchtime rolls around, it’s all about the media noche—a pressed sandwich of ham, pork, Swiss, pickles, and mustard on a sweet roll. After work, quickie snacks include expertly fried croquetas and chicken-filled empanadas. If you’re at the 14th Street corridor location, you can choose from a raft of fabulous cocktails such as the Hotel Nacional (gold rum, apricot liqueur and purée, and pineapple juice), all for $8. Bar whiz Juan Coronado used to be the brains behind the cocktails at Andrés’s Barmini.
Also good: Picadillo-filled pastelito; pina colada.
2438 18th St., NW
Most of the menu at this quick-serve Adams Morgan spot—hardly wider than a foyer, with just 14 stools around the open kitchen—is devoted to the donburi rice bowls that make a robust meal (or two). They’re terrific, whether topped with shavings of brisket, caramelized onion, and an onsen egg or a lighter, brighter array of salmon sashimi, ginger, and wasabi. The quality of frying is just as much of a draw. Nuggets of chicken kara-age, marinated in miso and soy, pop with flavor and crunch. And you’ll dig into some of the city’s best fried shrimp, coated in panko and served with a tangy pink riff on tartar sauce.
1654 Columbia Rd.
Rob Sonderman, an alum of upscale kitchens including Bistro Bis, made his name running the show at DCity Smokehouse. In 2016, he left to open this box-sized Adams Morgan spot. If you were a DCity fan, you’ll recognize some of his all-star sandwiches (now with different names)—such as a pile-up of brisket, fried onions, and house-made pickles on buttery Texas toast. Sides (chipotle-scented green beans, mac and cheese with smoked cheddar) are another clue that a pedigreed chef is in the kitchen.
Also good: Chicken wings; Carolina on My Mind sandwich, with pulled pork and slaw.
410 Seventh St., NW
You might think of this Texas-style hall as big-box barbecue, complete with hokey menu names (Cool as a Cucumber Salad), a zillion staffers (who sometimes seem on autopilot), and a sprawling, multi-counter setup. What it lacks in personality, it makes up for with its stellar moist brisket, which is wondrously fatty, and its superb sausages, imported from Texas’s legendary Kreuz Market. Sides are feast-worthy—especially fluffy corn pudding and baked beans dotted with burnt ends.
Also good: Smoked chicken; ribs.
243 K St., NE
At Dinesh and Nidhi Tandon’s NoMa hangout, graffiti lines the walls, and there’s a tiny pour-your-own bar—plus a spacious outdoor one—as well as an ever-changing chalkboard menu of true home-style cooking (the owners and their daughter live upstairs). Punjabi-style curries are as stimulating as the atmosphere; when they’re available, we love the cardamom-spiked butter chicken, fragrant keema lamb, and fire-breathing vindaloos. There are more than 25 vegan/vegetarian offerings—try a sampling on a thali platter, and don’t forget the smoky eggplant or gingery cauliflower.
Also good: Chicken do piazza; paneer-stuffed paratha.
6795 Wilson Blvd., Falls Church
At first glance, the menu at Arin Lapakulchai’s tiny Eden Center storefront isn’t terribly exciting. It looks like the usual shortlist of satay, spring rolls, and drunked noodles—standards you’ll find in any old Thai restaurant. Andrew Zimmern might pass it by, but you shouldn’t. Few places turn out these staples as deftly, and when you ask for something “Thai spicy,” the kitchen doesn’t hold back. Lapakulchai’s khao soi, the coconutty curry soup with crisp egg noodles, pickles, and shallots, is a straight-up masterpiece.
Also good: Boat Noodle Soup; pork belly with string beans.
191 Somervelle St., Alexandria
It’s easy to get distracted by the curry-colored walls, chandeliers
and neon lights, and images of Indian and British celebrities (wait, is that Kate Winslet?). But when the food arrives, there’s plenty to keep your focus on the table. Goan fish curry with silky bass or vinegar-tinged chicken vindaloo are richly spiced and not too greasy. Meanwhile, lamb biryani comes with a bit of flair: The dish is served in a copper pot with a layer of naan sealing the top. A server carves it open tableside, releasing the aromatics from the rice and meat within.
Also good: Dahi poori, lentil puffs stuffed with yogurt, tamarind, and chickpeas; malai kofta, a creamy onion curry with cheese-and-vegetable dumplings.
8130 Sudley Rd., Manassas
The beef broth at this pho destination is pure and deep, with a waft of ginger. You can’t go wrong with a combination of brisket, tripe, and meatballs, but the real draw is the oxtail noodle soup swimming with a fistful of scallions and slivered onion. The restaurant offers all the usual accompaniments (bean sprouts, lime, jalapeño, and basil so fresh it tastes plucked from a garden), but it sets itself apart with house-made chili and lemongrass-garlic sauces. The latter condiment is so addictive you’ll want to put it on everything.
Also good: Fried-shrimp rolls; combination vermicelli bowl (grilled pork, beef, and chicken).