Food

The (Ranked!) Top 15 New Places to Eat Great Cheap in Washington

The spicy fried-chicken sandwich at Lucky Buns.
Eat Great Cheap 2019

About Eat Great Cheap 2019

This article is a part of Washingtonian’s Eat Great Cheap feature, our annual list of where to eat (and not break the bank) right now. Our food editors put together the best new restaurants around DC where you can find Detroit-style pizza, Japanese egg-salad sandwiches, chicken-nugget-filled tacos, and more—for $25 or less per person.

These are the top 15 restaurants from our 2019 Eat Great Cheap list. See the full list of the 62 best new restaurants around DC recommended by our editors here.

1. Lucky Buns

2000 18th St., NW

We know, we know: Who doesn’t serve a snazzy burger these days? Still, chef Alex McCoy crafts our ideal—a juice-dripping, jaw-stretching burger—at his spirited Adams Morgan pub. Single or double beef patties are tricked out with cheffy ingredients like bacon XO jam and spicy ’nduja, but we’re partial to the “Alfie’s bun” with grilled pineapple, pickled beetroot, and a runny egg. It was inspired by the Australian-run burger shacks McCoy encountered in Thailand. Fabulous fried-chicken sandwiches get their own world tour. They range from Japanese katsu to Indian tandoori and are ideally enjoyed from the patio on a sunny day.

2. Fava Pot

7393 Lee Hwy., Falls Church

This cheery cafe, with its chalkboards touting lattes and Virginia rosé, doesn’t appear to be much more than a leisurely lunch spot. But wait . . . is that kunafa, the honeyed Egyptian pastry, on the counter? And what’s with the wall painted with portraits of Egyptian athletes and intellectuals? Turns out some of the area’s most satisfying food—and some of our only Egyptian cooking—comes out of this kitchen. Go for anything lamb (shanks stewed with okra, chops spritzed with lime) plus comfort plates such as za’atar-spiced feta pie, or koshary, a tomatoey mix of rice, lentils, and macaroni. The milky bread pudding is a glorious ending even if you’re stuffed.

A trio of dips and appetizers at Fava Pot.
A trio of dips and appetizers at Fava Pot.

3. Chiko

423 Eighth St., SE; 2029 P St., NW

Chefs Scott Drewno and Danny Lee recently expanded their Chinese-Korean fast-casual beyond its Capitol Hill flagship to Dupont Circle (and San Diego). High energy and bold flavors, along with cold beer and booze, make both counter-service restaurants worthy dinner destinations. The new shop has longer hours, with lunchtime rice bowls, a mean bulgogi hoagie (think Korean steak-and-cheese), and, at brunch, XO shrimp-and-grits and bloodies. Great any time: fiery lamb noodles and that now-famous chopped brisket with furikake-buttered rice.

Digging into a Korean stew at Chiko.
Digging into a Korean stew at Chiko.

4. Bistro 1521

900 N. Glebe Rd., Arlington

Don’t let the glassy, sprawling dining room fool you—chef Amy Genayas’s Filipino cooking is as homey as we’ve tasted around here. The all-day menu delivers delicious classics: ukoy fritters, crunchy tangles of shaved vegetables and shrimp; lechon kawali, or crispy pork belly; barbecue chicken with pickled papaya; and the shaved-ice dessert called halo-halo. Still, the dish we couldn’t stop eating was the most delicate of all: sinigang na hipon, a shrimp-and-tamarind soup heaped with peppery watercress.

5. Philly Wing Fry

1309 Fifth St., NE (Union Market)

Kwame Onwuachi—the Kith and Kin chef and memoirist—has had quite a year. (Perhaps you recently caught him on The Daily Show.) Our question: Why aren’t more people talking about his cheesesteaks? The seven-to-ten-inchers, which he sells out of a stand at Union Market, are some of the city’s top sandwiches. Don’t come expecting anything resembling the ones at Philly stalwarts like Geno’s or Jim’s. Onwuachi’s tightly rolled steak version holds juicy dry-aged rib eye, smoked provolone, and both caramelized and pickled onions. Chicken and spicy-mushroom renditions are nearly as wonderful, as are the berbere-dusted fries.

Philly Wing Fry’s cheese­steak, made with dry-aged rib eye Food styled by Nichole Bryant at The Artist Agency.
Philly Wing Fry’s cheese­steak, made with dry-aged rib eye. Food styled by Nichole Bryant at The Artist Agency.

6. Tsehay Ethiopian Restaurant

3630 Georgia Ave., NW

Selam Gossa grew up around her mother Tsehay’s Addis Ababa cafe, where she dutifully studied her mom’s care for both customers and ingredients. Now Gossa—who also owns a neighboring salon and spa—is honoring her late mother’s recipes and sense of hospitality with this Ethiopian newcomer. Beef tibs and a turmeric-tinted yellow lamb stew are popular orders, and the veggie combo stands out for vibrant red lentils, garlicky green beans, and a gravy-rich shiro made of chickpea flour, tomato, and garlic. A spacious patio out back makes the Park View destination even more inviting.

7. Dolan Uyghur

3518 Connecticut Ave., NW

Noodles are likely what will get you hooked on Uyghur cuisine, a crossroads of Middle Eastern and Chinese flavors from China’s Muslim minority. Chewy hand-pulled laghman noodles with stir-fried beef and vegetables are the signature attraction at this Cleveland Park dining room, while wider ribbons star in the “big plate chicken,” smothered in a spiced gravy with potatoes and peppers. Other doughy delights include dumplings filled with pumpkin and a Uyghur-style pizza stuffed with ground beef.

8. Call Your Mother

3301 Georgia Ave., NW

Sorry, Rose’s Luxury and Bad Saint, but the line-of-the-year award goes to this turquoise-and-pink-painted sorta-Jewish deli, where hourlong waits on weekends are the norm. Here’s why you should go anyway: The wood-fired bagels are better than anybody else’s in town—just chewy enough but a little soft, slightly sweet, and heavily sprinkled with za’atar or “everything” spice. Order a pizza bagel or one of the excellent sandwiches—say, the smoked-salmon-laden Rihanna-Flex—and get a dozen to freeze at home. When you pop one into the toaster, you can laugh at all those fools in line.

Wood-fired bagels at Call Your Mother.
Wood-fired bagels at Call Your Mother.

9. Little Sesame

1828 L St., NW; 736 Sixth St., NW

There’s hummus, and then there’s the luscious, never-eating-Sabra-again version at Nick and David Wiseman’s bright shops near Dupont Circle and Chinatown. Chef Ronen Tenne pays homage to the flavors of his native Israel with accessories such as airy pita and seasonal toppings including summer greens with mint pesto and almond gremolata. Offerings are largely vegetarian, though we love the chicken shawarma with smashed cucumbers. Round out a meal with salatim (little salads) and a swirl of vanilla-tahini-chocolate soft-serve.

Little Sesame’s hummus topped with chicken and pickled onion.

10. Fish in the Neighborhood

3601 Georgia Ave., NW

Bill White’s Park View institution shut down after a fire in April 2017, but the cash-only seafood shop/carryout returned better than ever a year and a half later. You need only glimpse the ice-packed display case to see the freshness of each specimen. Catfish and whiting filets are the staples, but the kitchen expertly fries more than a dozen types of fish, plus juicy shrimp and oysters, in a flavorful cornmeal crust. Regulars know to ask for extra mango sauce on the side.

Petworth resident Pilar Henderson grabs takeout from Fish in the Neighborhood.

11. Meokja Meokja

9619 Fairfax Blvd., Fairfax

It’s a good sign that there’s already a wait by 6:30 pm on a Tuesday at millennial owner Christopher Kim’s Korean barbecue joint. (Take advantage of a new call-ahead policy for parties of four or more.) Once you’re seated at the tabletop grills, surrounded by sizzling meats, it’s easy to see why. Generous portions of pork and beef—and not just their marinades—shine. Top of our list: thick-cut pork belly, marinated galbi (short ribs), and the whole 16-ounce rib eye for those who can splurge with a group.

Meokja Meokja server Paul Ahn.

12. Pit Stop

46230 Cranston St., Sterling

The smartest marketing move the Cascades shopping complex could have made was landing this barbecue spot, which sends tantalizing hickory smoke far into the air. Cops, teens, and lunch-breakers cram into the joint, a spinoff of a popular roadside stand in Aldie, for near-perfect ribs, smoked-chicken-salad sandwiches, and the famed brisket, which runs out as fast as you can say “More, please.” The menu doesn’t bother with lots of sauces or tons of sides. (The slaw and potato salad are winners.)

13. Taqueria Los Compadres*

*The restaurant is now closed. 3213 Mount Pleasant St., NW 

Mexico City native Juan Carlos and wife Nelly Romero, who hails from Puebla, specialize in overflowing tacos at this colorful spot in Mount Pleasant. Handmade tortillas wrap a bounty of meats, including lengua (tongue) and lamb barbacoa, but don’t ignore the many vegetarian options, especially squash blossoms and huitlacoche (a corn fungus also known as “Mexican truffle”). Not feeling tacos? Zero in on chicken with mole poblano, creamy poblano-and-cheese tamales, and pulpy cucumber-mint aguas frescas.

14. Sonny’s

3120 Georgia Ave., NW

We love ubiquitous Neapolitan pies as much as the next pizza fanatic, but the grandma-style rectangles at this Park View joint are a welcome break. Pan-crisped slices come with thick crusts and minimalist toppings such as salami and arugula. Other highlights include eggplant parm and Italian cold-cut sandwiches on focaccia, as well as beef-and-pork meatballs with ricotta. Grab a bench—salvaged from a bowling alley—in the retro dining room or head to the back patio for beer, wine, and cocktails served out of a vintage milk truck.

Pizza options at Sonny’s.

15. Amber Spice

13524 Baltimore Ave., Laurel

The daytime buffet at this gray-toned dining room—lined with chicken tikka masala, palak paneer, and the other usuals—has legions of fans. We’re here for a taste of chef Saravan Krishnan’s home region of Southern India. Greaseless dosas stuffed with spiced potatoes; roasted lamb or goat sukka; a lemon rice that pops with chilies and mustard seeds; and kotthu paratha, a mess of chopped flatbread, egg, and onions. His most famous dish is his tomatoey egg curry, lush and searing at once and sided with warm, flaky paratha. Don’t skip the desserts—they’re little and lovely and made in-house.

Crab malabar with lemon rice at Amber Spice.

This article appears in the August 2019 issue of Washingtonian.

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Ann Limpert
Executive Food Editor/Critic

Ann Limpert joined Washingtonian in late 2003. She was previously an editorial assistant at Entertainment Weekly and a cook in New York restaurant kitchens, and she is a graduate of the Institute of Culinary Education. She lives in Logan Circle.

Food Editor

Anna Spiegel covers the dining and drinking scene in her native DC. Prior to joining Washingtonian in 2010, she attended the French Culinary Institute and Columbia University’s MFA program in New York, and held various cooking and writing positions in NYC and in St. John, US Virgin Islands.

Jessica Sidman
Food Editor

Jessica Sidman covers the people and trends behind D.C.’s food and drink scene. Before joining Washingtonian in July 2016, she was Food Editor and Young & Hungry columnist at Washington City Paper. She is a Colorado native and University of Pennsylvania grad.