Had DC on the brain lately?
It's been hard not to. With the 2016 presidential election coming to a close this week, we're (hopefully) reaching the end of a long, winding, weird, terrifying road. But no matter who makes it into the White House, let's not forget that Washington, DC is more than just leaked emails and videotapes and ties and pantsuits; it's also home to some seriously killer cuisine.
To kick off the launch of the MUNCHIES Guide to DC this week, we thought we'd start off by naming some of the city's best budget-friendly restaurants. After all, one of the great things about our capitol's food scene is that there's something for everybody—even those of us with holes in our pockets. From pizza to ramen to sushi burritos (yep, you heard that right), here are some of the city's best eats that won't break the bank.
Shouk: Shouk lives in a small brick building underneath a towering glass-fronted office and serves a fast-casual, exclusively vegan menu inspired by the food of Israel and Palestine. In the relatively short time it's been open, owner Ran Nussbacher and executive chef Dennis Friedman have cultivated a strong following powered by their commitment to fresh ingredients and lively flavors. It's kind of hard to go wrong when picking from the menu, but roasted cauliflower served with tomato, scallion, tahina, and jalapeño oil is a favorite, and the pita and dips (particularly the hummus, beet hummus, and cashew labneh) are improbably good, in large part because of tahina which Nussbacher imports from Israel. Don't be dissuaded by the fact that it's vegan: Nussbacher prefers the term "plant-based," and it's one of the least preachy meat-free joints you'll ever visit.
Bantam King: Living in the bones of a failed Burger King (and with a logo and interior designed to elicit memories of the former tenant), Bantam King is the latest project from the Daikaya team, and it serves chicken ramen in one of the funkiest settings you can find in DC. While you're presented with a variety of broth options to choose from, the clear chintan (which is only available in limited quantities) is a remarkable standout, and you'd be nuts not to add on an additional marinated egg (nitamago). Bantam King has also made a name for itself with its southern American-style fried chicken, which, complete with fixings, will run you $26. Unfortunately, it's only available at dinner time. Sorry, lunch hounds—Chef Katsuya Fukushima has said he doesn't plan to change this. Better make your dinner plans now.
Dirty South Deli: As a country, we seem to have moved out of the "food trucks are cool!" dining fad, but that doesn't mean they can't still deliver quality eats. Dirty South Deli, which also has a brick-and-mortar location at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, brings the thunder with a short but frequently changing list of sandwiches and sides that are sure to please. Their perpetual stalwart sandwich is the Mr. Chips, a gigantic pile of chopped pork, bread & butter-style pickled jalapeños, manchego cheese, and cilantro, which is served on a brioche bun slathered with citrusy mayo. These are the kind of sandwiches that will have your office mates looking at their own sad desk lunches with tears in their eyes and a stone in their heart.
Lezo's Taqueria: Lezo's Taqueria is a restaurant that virtually nobody knows about. This is in part due to the fact that it opened with exactly zero fanfare and is a family-run establishment with no restaurant group backing (which in this day and age is almost a minor miracle). Another reason for its under-the-radar status may be because it's past iteration was, quite literally, a secret. Before opening their storefront in Mount Pleasant, Lezo's was more a food speakeasy than a restaurant, and operated illegally out of an apartment in nearby Columbia Heights. Following a death in the family, they have since gone legit, and considerably less subterfuge is now needed to enjoy quesadillas made with squash blossoms and cuitlacoche (corn fungus), tamales, and other Mexican delicacies.
Pizzeria Vetri: A newcomer to DC, Pizzeria Vetri made a name for itself in Philadelphia and Austin with its wide range of wood-fired, Neapolitan-style pizzas; salads; and desserts (including some not-so-traditional options like deep-fried pizza dough with citrus-fennel sugar, as well as a dessert pizza topped with nutella and marshmallow). While you can certainly grab a pie to go, it's also worth noting that both the beer list and the restaurant's radio feature some solid choices, so it might be worth your while to linger for a little bit and have a drink or two.
Donburi: Located in a tiny storefront in Adams Morgan, Donburi (which means "rice bowl" in Japanese) serves up exactly that: delicious, inexpensive bowls of rice, meat, and fish. Virtually everything is made in-house, from their sauces to their panko, and the attention to quality has made them a neighborhood favorite. Katsudon, a bowl topped with a crusty plank of golden-brown pork loin, and sakedon, which comes with caught-that-mornig salmon, are crowd-pleasing favorites. The true menu highlight, though, is the unagidon, which comes with a generous portion of broiled eel that perfectly accents the shop's salty-and-savory "donburi sauce."
Buredo: Picture a sushi roll the size of a burrito and you've already captured the essence of what Buredo is all about. Fish and fillings are fresh and service is fast, which is great considering the line is virtually always going out the door. Sushi rolls are good. Giant sushi rolls, stuffed with everything from slow-cooked pork shoulder and kimchi to spicy tuna and avocado? Even better.
Chaplin's: One of DC's many (many) ramen shops, Chaplin's is the only one themed after Charlie Chaplin. While it's true that it doesn't scream "traditional ramen shop," that's because it isn't. The craft cocktails (also Chaplin-themed) are on point, the Stamina Spicy ramen in particular is worth your attention, and the heated outdoor patio is dog-friendly. Plus, Chaplin's upstairs bar can be a rowdy good time, so if you have trouble finding a seat downstairs, don't forget to head skyward.
Thip Khao: When Laotian-born chef Seng Luangrath took over the Virginia-based Thai restaurant Bangkok Golden, her short menu of Lao specialities quickly became the most in-demand items being offered. Thip Khao was born from that menu and less than two years later, it's one of the best places to eat in the entire city. Luangrath, who co-owns the restaurant with her CIA-trained son chef Bobby Pradachith, serves an unapologetically funky menu laced with house-made fish sauce and mountains of herbs and peppers grown in her home garden. There's also a "jungle" menu for the more adventurous, filled with items just a little too edgy to make it into the regular lineup. Ever have an itch for pork fermented in rice, ground up alligator, or lemony ant larva? Consider this your fix.
There are ten more super-affordable, super-delicious spots that made the cut for our city guide. For the complete list, plus more tips for where to sip cocktails, kick back a few bars, or go fancy, check out the complete MUNCHIES Guide to DC.