D.C. Dining on a Dime
You could almost hit the White House with a rock from this bright, tiny restaurant. (Note: Rock throwing is not recommended in D.C.). Breadline's are decorated with old rationing signs that seem campy to modern politicos. One says: "Save a loaf a week, help us win the war!" But you'll definitely want to eat the bread here. It's crusty on the outside, soft inside--perfect to house sweet Italian sausage, peppers, and provolone or prosciutto, Gorgonzola, and fig jam. The curried chicken salad has a fresh, spicy richness and packs a sweet aftertaste, probably accounting for why it's one of Breadline's most popular dishes.
On a special date or want to feel like a Beltway insider? Go to Matchbox and order the salty and savory Prosciutto White pizza, a mix of prosciutto, kalamata olives, garlic, ricotta, mozzarella, and extra-virgin olive oil. For fun, get a plate of three mini burgers and a mixed drink called the Ginger Snap, a concoction of pineapple rum, ginger, lemon juice, and Sprite.
While it resembles an old high school gymnasium on the outside, the inside of Lauriol Plaza is richly appointed and expensive looking. Big margaritas (both frozen and on the rocks) are popular with locals. The chips are the lightest we've tasted, and the mild salsa arrives at your table warm, which enhances its deep tomato flavor. Order the giant Burrito Gordo, a flour tortilla stuffed with chicken or beef, melted cheese, beans, and an ancho chile sauce. Maduros, the fried plantains that are served as an appetizer, will wow any true lover of Mexican food.
Capital Q Texas BBQ
If you're seeking a bona fide Texas roadside barbecue shack, look no further than D.C.'s Chinatown. That's right--Chinatown.
Predictably, the best thing on the menu at Capital Q Texas BBQ is the beef brisket. You can get it on a bun, but to experience the full flavor, order the sliced brisket plate. The spicy red sauce is perfect for dipping.
There are other meats on the menu, with the pork ribs being the best of the rest. Plates come with your choice of two side items, including collard greens and a cold black-eyed pea salad known as Texas Caviar. You can even get an icy Shiner Bock beer to wash it all down.
Ben's Chili Bowl
D.C. may be an expense account kind of town, but where do you eat if you're seeing the sights and don't want to spend a bundle?
President Barack Obama likes to stop at this popular U Street dive. Since it opened in 1958, Ben's Chili Bowl has seen its share of history but has managed to remain much the same. Customers still sit on 1950s red barstools and belly up to the Formica counter.
The jewel on the simple menu is Ben's Original Chili Half-Smoke. A cousin to the hot dog, the plump, slightly spicy smoked sausage is grilled and then cradled in a steamed bun and topped with mustard, onions, and homemade chili sauce. It's messy but delicious and truly worth the trip.
The cops love this Adams Morgan neighborhood diner, complete with red vinyl barstools, a tile floor, pressed tin ceiling, and Ella Fitzgerald crooning from the sound system. Open 24-7, The Diner promises to serve "early birds, night owls, and everyone in between." Portions go beyond huge to gargantuan. The "Croque and Dagger," a mystery of eggs, bacon, béchamel, melted Gruyère, and toasted French bread comes with home fries. For lunch or dinner, the succulent ginger-lime-glazed swordfish accompanied by steamed rice and a side salad is a tangy treat.
Exceptional sushi can really suck the yen out of your wallet. But not at Sushi Aoi. Take the Roll Combo. The perfect choice for newcomers to sushi, the combo features a tuna roll, a cucumber roll, and a California roll. Each delicate roll uses exceptional ingredients that seemed far more luxurious than the $9.50 price tag. Miso soup and a mixed green salad come free of charge with all entrées. Dinner prices are just $2 to $3 higher, on average, than the lunch prices.
Here at 2 Amys, there's an owner connection to the city's esteemed Obelisk restaurant, but this is a casual real Italian pizzeria with affordable pricing and genuine service. And it's just a few blocks from Washington National Cathedral, which will be on many travelers' gotta-see lists. Stroll in here for lunch in your jeans, and start with deviled eggs with a pungent green sauce of parsley, garlic, chives, and anchovies. Pizzas are pillowy on the edges, thin in the middle, and nicely charred on the bottom from the wood-fired oven--nothing like the chain-restaurant pizzas that rule this country. Mine was topped with eggplant, olives, capers, oregano, and grana cheese. Hang in there for dessert, especially if they offer panna cotta drizzled with aged balsamic vinegar and sugared whole almonds. Inexpensive Italian wines are served in tumblers, so get comfy.
The low prices make this restaurant an obvious favorite for The George Washington University students, and it sits in power digs behind The Mall at 2000 Pennsylvania Avenue. Try the fish taco, a masterpiece of spice, onion, corn crunch, lime-cilantro slaw, pico de gallo, and mahi mahi. Fresh produce reigns in the Bean Basic gourmet burrito--low-fat black beans, rice, lettuce, and tomato; add grilled spinach or vegetables for a little extra).
You can stuff yourself like a Christmas goose at Moby Dick for less than $10. The menu is complicated, but don't be put off. Just order a kabob with your favorite meat or veggie. Take the Kabob-E Joojeh: Skinless chunks of tender, juicy chicken with a caramelized crust come with your choice of yogurt-cucumber sauce, salad, rice, or bread. Absolutely order the Mast-o Kheyar (99 cents, small), yogurt mixed with chopped cucumber, which should be used as a dipping sauce for the fresh, warm pita bread.
Sometimes in Washington, D.C., you need to watch your pennies, and on other occasions, it's a big celebration. If you've run away to D.C. for a special occasion, Ritz-Carlton, Tysons Corner, where service purrs. A wall of windows offers a quiet view of twinkling D.C. The menu is complex with many options, but you'll get to taste things here that few other places offer. Settle in for a few hours of culinary adventure and spoiling attention, and ask the waitstaff to define menu items that you don't recognize.
Pace yourself here: The cheese cart, the dessert course, and complimentary sweets after dessert deserve your attention.