Updated: Jul 9
Visiting DC for the first time can be overwhelming! There are tons of things to do, places to eat, and neighborhoods to explore. Even with so many free things to do, the price of food can add up on a DC trip. After living here and exploring all the best food around the city for the last 12 years, I'm happy to share eleven of my favorite cheap eats in Washington, DC.
PS For the purpose of this post, cheap eats are spots where you can eat a complete meal for $15 or less. I'll start with the cheapest spots and then move on to move expensive ones (still will be under $15), and I also stuck to local spots for you in this list and shared their stories for an authentic experience when visiting DC.
1. Falafel, Inc. (the cheapest of the Cheap Eats in Washington, DC)
Falafel, Inc. is a delicious spot all over DC and Northern Virginia. You can get a Falafel sandwich here for less than $5 and fries for just $3, meaning you're all set for under $10 with a meal, and stopping in for a quick and delicious bite here while out and about in DC is easy. I highly recommend the Zatar fries, which are an extra $1 but worth it!
Plus, they have partnered with the World Food Programme, the leading humanitarian food organization, to deliver aid to refugees across the globe. Every time you visit one of their restaurants, you help to feed a refugee in need.
2. Ben's Chili Bowl
Ben's Chili Bowl has been a DC staple since 1958. The counter, booths, and stools are all original at the U Street location; the fresh homemade chili, half-smokes, and banana pudding are still made with love, using the same recipes, and service and quality are guiding principles. Everything on their menu is less than $10, making it a perfect spot for cheap eat in DC. You'll also find Ben's on H Street and at National Airport.
A little bit about the history of Ben's and why you'll probably hear people talk about it all over the city and on every website listing places to eat in DC is below.
When Ben's first began in the late '50s, U Street, where Ben's is located, was known as "Black Broadway." Top performers could be found playing sets in clubs along the corridor, eating, and just hanging out at Ben's. It was common to see such luminaries as Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, Ella Fitzgerald, Cab Calloway, Nat King Cole, Redd Foxx, Dick Gregory, or Martin Luther King Jr. at "The Bowl."
In 1968, the assassination of Dr. King lit a fuse of rage. Riots ensued. Most of the city closed down, but Ben's remained open. The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), located across the street, obtained special police permission to allow Ben's to stay open after curfew to provide food and shelter for activists, firefighters, and public servants desperately trying to restore order.
After the riots, the area was in shambles. Ben's continued to serve food, and people saw Ben's as a place where the community could be rebuilt. Ben's continues to be a celebration of DC's African American history, culture, and character. From politicians to comedians and actors to famous singers, you'll recognize the photos on the walls at their original location! It's a celebration of DC, and U Street's resilience.
Ben's Chili Bowl's half-smoke was voted DC's signature dish and is the most popular item on their menu. It pairs perfectly with their chili, which you can get for just $8. Highly recommend the spicy half-smoke if you like a little bit of a kick!
3. Andy's Pizza
Andy's Pizza is my absolute favorite pizza spot in the DMV! They have four locations in DC and several around Northern Virginia in Alexandria, Tyson's, and Arlington. A slice costs between $4-$5, and one or two is always enough for me and my husband to devour, meaning less than $10 a person for a meal, less than $15 if you do a slice + a beer or drink.
They won the Worldwide Pizza Championships in 2021, and honestly, I can't disagree. Their NY-style Pizza is the closest we've found to an authentic NY slice, but it really is a great vibe all around. Our favorites are the buffalo chicken and house pepperoni.
4. Gloria's Restaurant
Gloria's is a local spot that we love for the Papusas located in the Columbia Heights neighborhood of DC, and it's the perfect spot to stop in for an authentic Salvadoran meal.
Papusas are just $2 a piece here, and I'm full after just two! Consider starting with a Ceviche here for $10 and getting a pupusa or two to leave REALLY full.
If you've never tried Salvadoran food, DC is a great place to try it for the first time! The D.C. area is home to over 260,000 Salvadorans, representing the largest group of people of Hispanic origin in the area. In DC, Salvadorans settled in the neighborhoods of Mount Pleasant, Adams Morgan, and Columbia Heights. You'll find several Salvadoran spots in the neighborhood, but Gloria's Restaurant is our favorite.
My favorite spot for a bagel around DC is Bullfrog Bagels. They do incredible smoked meats that taste delicious on top of your bagel! They've been serving up my favorite bagels in DC since 2014 and offer a NY-style bagel that is so good on a Saturday or Sunday, perfect for breakfast before hitting the National Mall or any other fun things you might have going on for the day.
My favorite is the TBA bagel with smoked turkey, bacon, avocado, and siracha mayo for $9. Their bagels with a schmear will cost you about $5, and sandwiches are all $10 or under. They have locations all across DC, and you can expect to wait a long time in line, so I recommend ordering online before you arrive!
6. Arepa Zone
Arepas are a Venezuelan dish and stuffed cornmeal cakes that are crispy and fluffy inside. Arepas are eaten at all times of the day, often as a snack or side dish to a main meal. Just one Arepa tends to fill me up for lunch!
Arepa Zone started off as a pop-up in Union Market and now has several locations across DC and one in Northern Virginia. I still remember when they first opened back in 2017 and trying an arepa for the first time. They are so so good!
You can get their arepas with cheese, meats, and/or veggies for $10 or under. I'd recommend getting an empanada or two on the side ($4 each) + an arepa for even more deliciousness if that's in your budget!
Eastern Market is one of the few historic public market buildings left in Washington, DC, and the only one that has retained its original public market function. The Eastern Market building is designated as a National Historic Landmark. The market has been in continuous operation since 1873.
This food hall is open daily and has affordable options inside, but on weekends, tons of spots pop up outside Eastern Market as part of the farmer's market and flea market. You'll find various types of food here for less than $15. It's a great place to start your day since it's close to the Capitol and many museums in DC.
Roaming Rooster started as a food truck in 2015 in Washington, DC. Within months, they went viral on social media, and for good reason - their chicken sandwiches are incredible! Since then, the popularity of the only food truck in DC serving tasty free-range chicken has grown massively, and they now have several different restaurant locations around DC, Maryland, and Virginia.
My absolute favorite thing from here is the Nashville Hot Chicken Sandwich. It's so tasty, and they let you choose your spicy level; for me, that's medium to mild (HA!). A sandwich will be about $10-$12, depending on which one you choose, and the fries are big enough to share. So you can do fries and a fried chicken sandwich for less than $15 here!
9. Union Market
While Union Market started as Centre Market, once the largest market in Washington, DC, and opened to the public in 1871. By 1900, it was the center of a vibrant commercial life in Washington, D. C. Close to a railroad station and streetcar lines, sitting between the White House and the Capitol Building, the market was a crossroads for all of Washington, D. C.
After years of success, it was torn down in 1931 to make way for the National Archives. Undaunted, many of the businesses relocated and created a new venue, Union Terminal Market.
Nowadays, you can find 35 different vendors serving up a wide variety of types of food at different price points, but there are many different places you can get a whole meal for less than $15. My favorites are Takorean which has an excellent bulgogi bowl for $14, or Cucina Al Volo, where you can get handmade pasta with your choice of sauce for $10-15.
This market also does a ton of events, has a rooftop, and does drive-in Friday night movies. Check out their website for more details on special events!
My favorite ramen spot in DC by far is Daikaya. Daikaya serves Sapporo-style ramen, easily recognized by its rich pork base, seasoned with clear broths, curly noodles, and wok-roasted toppings. Sapporo-style ramen has the most variations among Japan's three most well-known types of ramen, both in terms of ingredients and taste. Taikaya's noodles are imported directly from Sapporo and made by Nishiyama Seimen Company to ensure authenticity. A bowl will cost $13-15; you'll want to tip if you decide to eat in.
Their ramen is delicious, and their restaurant's small/chill atmosphere will make you fall in love with it! They are located in Chinatown in downtown DC making it easy to stop in after a long day. They do not take reservations, and lines can be long, so I recommend going early to get a spot in line. They're almost always busy.
Looking for a good taco around DC? My favorite spot is Taqueria Habanero. You can get a trio of tacos for $15, which are truly delicious. They also have sandwiches, enchiladas, burritos, quesadillas, and more for under $15 on their menu. If you choose to eat in, this will cost you more than $15 as they offer table service. A Michelin Bib Gourmand recipient for just $15 is not a bad deal!
There's a location in Columbia Heights as well as College Park. Plus, President Biden and VP Kamala Harris visited in spring 2023, which brought even more buzz to the restaurant. I also love this place and find it unique because it's where my husband and I went on our first date!
There's so much fantastic food, and this is just a sampling of my favorite places to eat in Washington, DC, but I hope you find this helpful as you look for the best cheap eats in Washington, DC.
Have other suggestions? Leave them in the comments below!
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