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100 Free & Almost Free Things to Do: Restaurants, Food & Wine

bens chili bowl

Eat up everything Washington, DC has to offer, including amazing happy hours, local fast-casual spots and affordable food.

Although you won't find anything completely free on this list, you will discover that DC's dining scene offers lots of affordable options. Check out this list which features some local food upstarts, happy hour heroes and other edible options, including DC's signature sausage, the half-smoke.

1 Down a chili-smothered half-smoke at Ben's Chili Bowl
Down a chili-smothered half-smoke at Ben's Chili Bowl

Ben’s Chili Bowl is a DC institution. Its iconic storefront is a symbol of the U Street neighborhood and DC at-large. No trip to the District is complete without dining on one of Ben's famous half-smokes, which you can purchase for just $5.95.

2 Savor both of Old Ebbitt's oyster happy hours
Savor both of Old Ebbitt's oyster happy hours gautsch. via Flickr

Have a delicious meal for less at Old Ebbitt Grill, the oldest restaurant in DC. There, guests can enjoy raw-bar items for 50 percent off during Oyster Happy Hour, everyday from 3-6 p.m. and 11 p.m.–1 a.m. (goes until 2 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays).

3 Sip Belgian suds at a discount
Sip Belgian suds at a discount Brasserie Beck

Enjoy $2 off select draft beers from 4-7 p.m. daily at Brasserie Beck. The Belgian hot spot also boasts a seafood happy hour featuring oysters on the half shell for just $1.50 each.

4 Find an affordable sandwich
Find an affordable sandwich

Potbelly Sandwich Shop has locations all over the District, and its flavorful sandwiches, milkshakes, soups and salads make it the perfect fast-casual pit stop as you explore the nation’s capital. The shop also caters, in case you need lunch for a large group.

5 Eat at local, fast-casual spot Cava Grill
Eat at local, fast-casual spot Cava Grill Cava Grill

Cava Grill offers a Mediterranean mix customized just for your taste buds – and at an affordable price, too. Three friends started the company in the DC metro area, and made putting a delicious bowl together easy: you begin with a base, throw in a few delicious dips and spreads, stack it with a protein like braised beef or lamb, then top it off with crumbled feta, pita crisps, cucumber salad ... there's more, but we're too hungry to keep going.

6 Get your greens from to-go salad chain Sweetgreen
Get your greens from to-go salad chain Sweetgreen sweetgreen

Yes, these current salad masters hail from DC. Sweetgreen led the locavore revolution, sourcing all ingredients from nearby farmers for a fresh, unforgettable taste (you’ll get it super fast, too). You can build your own salad or try one of Sweetgreen's signature salads;  our faves include the Avocobbo and the Guacamole Greens. You'll have no problem finding one: the salad specialists have locations all over the District.

7 Taco Tuesday every day
Taco Tuesday every day District Taco

Another homegrown gem is District Taco, where taste buds are dazzled on a daily basis. What began as a food truck is now a DC sensation, with multiple locations serving up its high-quality, Yucatan-style Mexican food. Scoop three tacos for $8, and don’t forget chips and salsa! Brave spice lovers beware: you have to ask for the habanero salsa for a reason.

8 Heed a burger craving
Heed a burger craving @therealtmilkovitz

Yearning for classic American flavor? DC can take care of your burger fix with aplomb. Burger Tap & Shake, prominently located in Foggy Bottom and Tenleytown, features the popular Six Buck Chuck. Shake Shack boasts numerous locations in the District, so your craving for one of their delicious burgers coated in Shack Sauce can be satisfied.

9 Fuel up before the game
Fuel up before the game City Tap House

Before you catch a game or concert at Verizon Center in Chinatown, stop by the City Tap House for happy hour, occurring every day from 5-7 p.m. (and late night from 10 p.m.–1 a.m. on Friday and Saturday). The menu includes $5 select craft beers, $6 house wines and a righteous $7 beer-shot combo.

10 Feed a sweet tooth
Feed a sweet tooth Ice Cream Jubilee

District Doughnut is waiting for you with its freshly crafted gourmet doughnuts (you will be wowed by the flavor variety) and Ice Cream Jubilee is Capitol Riverfront’s home for tasty treats, and makes for a great summertime stop before or after a Washington Nationals game.

If you’re looking for more fun and free things to do, there are plenty of other options. Check out the full list of 100 Free & Almost Free Things to Do.