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Bites on a Budget: Great Affordable Eats in Washington, DC

bens chili bowl

The District's dining excellence extends to its wealth of fast-casual spots and classic locales.

You don’t have to drop a pretty penny in order to enjoy an unforgettable meal in the nation’s capital. DC has spawned a host of successful fast-casual eateries, and also serves as home to affordable restaurants that have practically become institutions in the city. Read up on some of our favorites below!

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 staple of the DC experience. Its iconic storefront is a symbol of the U Street neighborhood and the nation’s capital 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 @iamnotworried

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, every day from 3 – 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. – 1 a.m. (goes until 2 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays).

3 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.

4 Cherish chili, cheeseburgers and wings at Clyde’s
Cherish chili, cheeseburgers and wings at Clyde’s Clyde's

The first Clyde’s location opened in Georgetown in 1963 (and is still buzzing today), and since then, the restaurant group has expanded its reach well into Virginia and Maryland. You can always expect delicious cheeseburgers, wings and crabcakes to be on the menu. Each location’s decor has its own theme as well, with the two-floor Gallery Place space showing off sports (fittingly, since it’s right next to Verizon Center).

5 Go to Le Pain Quotidien for bread and baked goods
Go to Le Pain Quotidien for bread and baked goods Le Pain Quotidien

Le Pain Quotidien literally translates to “The Daily Bread,” so expect fresh open-faced sandwiches, healthy helpings of organic bread and pastries prepared with flair (you can order a salad, too). The restaurant’s communal table concept makes sitting down and devouring with friends a must. Numerous locations in DC makes finding a place to do so easy.

6 Try Southeast Asian cuisine in a bowl at ShopHouse
Try Southeast Asian cuisine in a bowl at ShopHouse ShopHouse Southeast Asian Kitchen

ShopHouse was founded in DC, with its first location opening in Dupont Circle in 2011. Since then, the Southeast Asian spot, which lets you build a ShopHouse bowl like you would at Chipotle or Cava, has only expanded in reach. Start with rice, noodles or a salad, tack on meat or tofu, then add a vegetable, spicy sauce and a garnish. Combo possibilities are plentiful!

7 Enjoy the taste of Philly at Taylor Gourmet
Enjoy the taste of Philly at Taylor Gourmet Taylor Gourmet

Taylor Gourmet has used fresh ingredients and an everything-made-in-house philosophy to become masters of the hoagie game in the nation’s capital. Locations abound in the District, so you won’t need to travel far to grab one of their expertly crafted sandwiches. The menu changes seasonally, but Taylor’s incredibly tasty bread does not.

8 Witness the wonder of Spike Mendelsohn at Good Stuff Eatery
Witness the wonder of Spike Mendelsohn at Good Stuff Eatery Good Stuff Eatery

DC-based chef Spike Mendelsohn rose to prominence on Top Chef and operates this burger-heavy eatery along with his family. Using only fresh and seasonal components, as well as farm-raised beef, Good Stuff builds delicious burgers and shakes that will have you coming back for more. Visit Capitol Hill or Georgetown for the Good Stuff.

9 Grab healthy eats at José Andrés' Beefsteak

José Andrés' Beefsteak - Affordable Dining in Washington, DC

José Andrés’ ThinkFoodGroup got into the fast-casual game with this vegetable-based eatery that has three locations in the District. Put together a colorful bowl full of tasty veggies that will fill you up, too. You can also throw in grains, greens, fresh sauces and slices of meat or protein. As with Andrés’ many other restaurants, Beefsteak features outstanding seasonal ingredients and a comfortable dine-in experience.

10 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.

11 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. You'll have no problem finding one: the salad specialists have locations all over the District.

12 Taco Tuesday every day at District Taco
Taco Tuesday every day at District Taco 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.

13 Find out why everyone loves the buckwheat pancakes at Market Lunch

A photo posted by Terrance Blowe (@_blowe_) on

One of DC’s favorite breakfasts can be found at Eastern Market’s Market Lunch. The blueberry buckwheat pancakes have been brightening up mornings for years, so order up your own and find out what all the fuss is about. Market Lunch is closed on Mondays and shuts down at 3 p.m. or earlier every other day, so make room in your schedule for this treat.

14 Heed a burger craving
Heed a burger craving Burger Tap & Shake

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.

15 Build the pie of your dreams at &pizza

A photo posted by &pizza (@andpizza) on

Founded in the District, &pizza is a pizza lover’s dream. You can pick your sauce, cheese types and an array of toppings (Over-easy egg! Beef meatball! Garlic sauce!) that go on the shop’s organic dough, leading to a personal pie that comes out fresh for a maximum “wow” factor. Of course, you can also opt for one of Their Hits, also sure to satisfy your craving.

16 Feed a sweet tooth


District Doughnut - Freshly crafted gourmet doughnuts in Washington, DC

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.

Want to discover more about DC’s dining scene? Read up on some of the city’s signature dishes.