Food

The Best New Restaurants Where You Can Eat for Under $25 in Maryland

Crab malabar with lemon rice at Amber Spice.
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.

Akira Ramen & Izakaya

1800-H Rockville Pike, Rockville

Fragrant broths and hand-pulled noodles elevate the bowls at this ramen parlor. Heat junkies will want to go for the Volcano, a robust broth riddled with hot pepper and torch-singed pork. (The miso ramen is a gentler alternative.) The izakaya side of the menu offers small plates such as a fabulous yellowtail collar; crunchy karaage chicken; and okonomiyaki, the egg-and-cabbage pancake with shrimp and bacon.

Alatri Bros. 

4926 Cordell Ave., Bethesda 

It’s easy to eat your veggies at this high-energy pizza place. They get star billing on a shareable board showcasing spicy carrots and roasted beets and on wood-oven pies such as the eggplant-and-mushroom-laden Verdura. Still, it’s hard to pass up ’njuda-topped deviled eggs (who knew?), meatball sliders on brioche buns, and the Multi Carni pizza (pepperoni, sausage, and pancetta). Smart cocktails, sangrías (we like the white), a deep list of beers, and a killer happy hour are as much of a draw as the food.

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.

Brew Belly

18065 Georgia Ave., Olney

This cavernous market/bar offers an eclectic selection of under-the-radar Maryland brews on tap (go for the Chuck Brown ale from Odenton’s Crooked Crab Brewing Co.). To pair with your pints or tasting pours, a bar menu is packed with stomach-padding delights. Front and center are the cheese­steaks—eight styles, including Korean-accented and Greek. But for Philly die-hards, we haven’t found a closer “wiz wit” clone. Fighting words, we know (and yes, it’s okay to order yours with mushrooms and rosemary gravy).

Cielo Rojo 

7056 Carroll Ave., Takoma Park

Co-owners Carolina McCandless (director of operations) and David Perez (chef) met while working at a vegan restaurant in San Francisco. And while cashew cream, farmers-market greens, and meatless posole make appearances on their cozy taqueria’s menu, they don’t shun animal products entirely. You can dig into heirloom-masa rounds (they’re a thing) filled with some of the area’s best carnitas, braised in oranges and Negra Modelo, or stewed chicken cloaked in a complex mole. Still, don’t miss the potato-and-poblano or grilled-cactus tacos or the lime-heavy guacamole.

Dokiya Ramen

785 Rockville Pike, Rockville

Brimming ramen bowls are the stars at Rockville’s latest noodle shop. We devoured spicy miso-pork bone broth crowned with charred pork belly, bamboo, and a jammy egg; ditto the BG ramen, a tonkatsu version with black-garlic oil, red ginger, and fishcakes. Don’t be afraid to experiment—crispy chicken katsu with yellow curry broth or a vegetarian miso-mushroom ramen is just as delicious.

Hot Pot Legend

595 Hungerford Dr., Rockville

This offshoot of a Chinese chain does hot pot—in which you dip an all-you-can-eat spread of raw ingredients into a roiling broth at the table—a little differently than its competition in these parts. Once you order your broth (we liked a split of Szechuan spiced and mellow tomato bases), you take a tray and peruse a grocery-store-like display of ingredients: three kinds of tofu, myriad mushrooms and leafy greens, quail eggs, even Spam. Then you hit a fixings bar and concoct a dipping sauce. There are recipes for staff favorites, but you can’t go wrong with a fragrant blend of sesame oil, garlic, and heaps of scallion and cilantro.

Katsu Go

12238 Rockville Pike, Rockville

You may have seen suddenly trendy katsu sandos in food mags or on New York restaurant menus. In Washington, they haven’t been so easy to find—until this fast-casual counter/Japanese grocery arrived in May. Here’s what we’ve been missing out on: thin slabs of toasted milk bread holding panko-crusted cutlets of pork or chicken and a sheen of tangy-sweet sauce. Japanese egg-salad sandwiches—yes, the ones that are all over Instagram—make an appearance, too. The less photogenic fare offers plenty of satisfaction, whether shrimp tempura and rice in a sweet dashi broth or fried pork with curry sauce.

Egg Salad Sandwich at Katsu Go.

Kuya Ja’s Lechon Belly

5268 Nicholson Ln., Rockville

As its name suggests, it’s all about the lechon belly at this fast-casual Filipino spot. Javier Fernandez rolls his lemongrass-scented boneless pork belly, then slow-roasts it until the skin crackles. Still, don’t overlook the sisig, a heap of sautéed pig ears and head cheese stoked with garlic and Thai chilies. Or the chicken adobo flavored with soy sauce and vinegar—on Thursdays there’s a deliciously crispy version tucked into a bao.

Lanzhou Hand Pulled Noodle

3 Grand Corner Ave., Gaithersburg

Few culinary sights are as transfixing as a chef pulling, flipping, and slapping a small mound of dough into what looks like a thousand strands of noodle—in less than a minute. At this counter-service spot, you choose your noodle thickness and protein, then take a place by the counter and watch. Chewy knife-cut noodles paired well with roast duck, while thick noodles were bolstered by a fortifying broth floating with rounds of oxtail, daikon-radish crescents, and bok choy.

The Girl and the Vine

7071 Carroll Ave., Takoma Park

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Two Elle alums are behind this pretty wine shop/deli/cafe, open breakfast through dinner. We like it best during the day, when you can snag a table on the patio and laze over snacks such as spiced labneh, fennel with Green Goddess dressing, or the surprisingly great nachos. Sandwiches are no slouches, especially a medley of vegetables perked up with chimichurri, a potato-chip-laden pork sandwich, or a play on an Italian sub slathered with roasted-garlic aïoli.

Urban Hot Pot

1800 Rockville Pike, Rockville

Snag a booth by the conveyer belt at this mod all-you-can-eat hot-pot restaurant and watch ingredients such as dumplings, lotus, and bok choy parade by. Cook it all in personal pots of bubbling broth—we like spicy chicken-and-pork—and pick from a plethora of dipping sauces. If you want to maximize your two-hour limit, home in on proteins such as lamb, head-on shrimp, and tofu before loading up on starches like dumplings and noodles. Deal-seekers, the best time to visit is lunch, when a feast is $18.99.

This article appears in the August 2019 issue of Washingtonian.

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.