For native and local Washingtonians, it comes as no surprise that the Nation’s Capitol ranks among the country’s priciest dining cities. Neighborhood boroughs are stuffed with Michelin Star restaurants, fine-dining coastal tapas bars, and wood-fire pizza picked right from the streets of Italy and dropped in a city that brightly captures the soul of diverse cookery.
But true locals know, you don’t need to spend a ton to enjoy a noteworthy meal. The real secret? An unfussy and budget-friendly lunch may be key to discovering the heart of this amazing culinary city.
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Nearly every local food write-up mentions Colada Shop’s groovy atmosphere and fashionable Cuban delicacies. At both DC locations (The Wharf and 14th Street), midday snackers can indulge in a $10 empanada trio or an all-day ‘breakfast sandwich’ for under that. Other sandwich and bowl mains are just a few dollars more.
P.S. Colada Shop has one of the best hot chocolates in D.C.
Chais is Georgetown’s ‘unconventional taco shop’, ditching the al pastor pork and beef carne asada and serving up 100% vegetarian and gluten-free tacos. Enjoy ‘sweet potato nachos’, ‘farm tostadas’, and cheesy quesadillas all for under $10. The Chaia taco trio and enchiladas come in at $13 an order.
More tacos in DC we love!
The Market Lunch
Eastern Market is a Capitol Hill institution, withstanding over a century of consumable history. The north end of the famed building began seating locals in 1978 and has since become a weekend destination for casual comfort food.
Reasonably priced breakfast items are served until 1pm on weekends and lunch classics like fried chicken sandwiches and hamburgers grace the full-time assortment.
Red, white, and green signal Italian pride, gracing the front of this Union Market pantry. Not only can you grab bulk olive oil bottles, but the Italian delicatessen in the back sells $6 sandwiches with Italian meats and cheeses, meatballs, and chicken parmesan.
The outside is unassuming, but Mangialardos does stick-to-your-ribs subs the right way… on a hard or soft roll and with an optional oil and vinegar drizzle. The ‘“G” Man Sub’ was written up as one of Washington DC’s top 25 sandwiches, so the Italian ham, salami, and mortadella taste even better with a sub-ten dollar price tag.
La Casita Pupuseria
La Casita Pupuseria is part of Union Market’s sister food hall La Cosecha. Communal outdoor tables gesture to $4 pupusas and well-priced steak sandwiches from La Casita’s stall inside the colorful food atrium.
Revolutionizing the mighty bagel with a sourdough starter twist, Pearl’s Bagel’s sandwiches do not shortcut flavor even though all are $10 or less. Classic egg and cheese, a Thanksgiving creation referred to as ‘The Tom’, and the ham, egg, and gruyere ‘Frenchie’ are justifiable proof.
Falafel Inc. is turning heads all over The District with $4 falafel sandwiches that are nearly impossible to beat. But informed by an “Eat for Good” cause, Falafel Inc. just might push the stellar fried vegetarian chickpea balls over the top. All falafel orders support The World Food Program to feed refugees in need around the world. They won’t break the lunch budget either.
Slip into DC’s Columbia Heights corner for an epic Dominican luncheon spread at Los Hermanos. Two dollar empanadas and $10 Banderas (platters of rice, protein, and side) merge Spanish, African, and indigenous Taino flavors into one very satisfying and easygoing meal.
Snag two slices of Wiseguy pizza for under $10, even for specialty slices. Three DC locations— spread out around the city—ensure a convenient pizza pit-stop, no matter where the midday hunger pangs strike.
Roaming Rooster takes fried chicken city-wide with three brick and mortar locations and a ‘roaming rooster’ food truck. All fried chicken sandwiches and combos are under $10 and come with a customizable heat barometer.
Good Stuff Eatery
Top Chef contestant Spike Mendelson introduced this ritzy fast-casual burger joint to Capitol Hill years ago, and the persisting long lines are a strong indicator of local burger-obsession. Nearly all burger options are under $10 and French fries or their infamous milkshakes can be added for just a bit more.
Early morning sidewalk strollers can smell wafting bacon from GW Delicatessen blocks away. But by around 11:30, local high schoolers and GW students pack into the small store for hot and cold sandwiches and thrillingly refreshing drinks. The prices keep broke college students in mind, so an extra order of bacon won’t break the bank.
Mezcalero Cocina Mexicana
Mezcalero takes inspiration from road-side Mexican kitchens and native Mexico City flavors to the streets of northwest’s Columbia Heights. Most quesadillas, tortas, and huaraches come in around $10 and three chicken Tinga tacos or two Gorditas add up to about the same.
Family run and Black owned, Anacostia’s Open Crumb is introducing this DC corner to familiar interpretations of stellar West African flavors. All sandwiches clock in under $10 and traditional West African sides star jollof rice, fried plantains, and wakye (Ghanaian rice and black eyed peas).
The Well Dressed Burrito
Inexpensive burritos are hard to come by in this Metropolitan city, but The Well Dressed Burrito is breaking tradition with three options that barely push $8. Quesadillas, Chimichangas, taco duos, and enchiladas reinforce the Tex-Mex menu, all with exceptionally reasonable prices.
Bub and Pop’s
The Italian Hoagie from Bub and Pop’s garnered Washington Post sandwich praise earlier this year, but almost all of the South Philly-born sandwich menu can be made affordable with a $10 half sub…which is a plenty hearty lunch for most of us.
The Neopol Smokery
The Neopol Smokery at Union Market pays tribute to all things smoked fish. All deli-style sandwiches, gravlax crostini, and smoked salmon crepes come in at $10 or less—which is a rare deal for prime salmon and seafood products.
With an excellent and wallet friendly lunch deli menu, Salumeria is dishing out Italian-American classics like Chicken Parm, Eggplant Parm, and lasagna by the pound. Every pound serving is $10 each and can feed up to two people, so it’s either an extraordinary deal or will leave you with an exceptionally full belly.
I Egg You
Limited availability only makes I Egg You’s well-priced breakfast and brunch items more irresistible. A weekend-only extension of CHIKO’s daily grub, the breakfast sandwiches (available until 1pm on Saturday and Sunday) feature bacon, sausage, Nutella, and of course, eggs.
Pay a Little Extra… (Just above $10)
Barbecue gets a sandwich make-over steeped with crispy pork, melted cheese, and barbecue sauce.
Vegan pitas and bowls highlight beautifully manipulated veggie creations (like mushroom shawarma) for just over $10.
Yellow The Cafe
Arrive just before noon to snag the ‘breakfast pita sandwich’ or ‘Za’atar croissant sandwich for under $10. But Yellow’s lunch items are worth a few extra dollars.