Per Diem Eats in D.C.
Here’s a great guide for U.S. military personnel, guvvies and tourists traveling to Washington, D.C., and trying to keep costs within per diem rates or just want to eat well for a reasonable price in the Capitol. Mike Goldschmidt has been publishing his famous list for years and you can spot it on desks around Washington.
MikeG’s D. C. Restaurant Value Picks
Updated November 2015
* = one of my absolute favorites. If one of these closes, a prolonged period of mourning will follow.
Ted’s Montana Grill (VA: locations in Crystal City on Crystal Drive and on Eisenhower Avenue in Alexandria)—bison steaks and burgers and other tasty comfort food.
Carlyle (VA: S. 28th Street in Shirlington area of Arlington).
Founding Farmers (DC: 20th and Pennsylvania Ave NW; VA: Tyson’s Blvd. in Tyson’s Coerner; also in Potomac, MD, and Georgetown, DC)–American comfort food with a flair from a farmers’ coop in the Dakotas. Pricy but never disappoints.
Buck’s Fishing and Camping (DC: Connecticut Ave., NW)—Good food but more expensive than most of the restaurants on this list.
Nage (DC: Rhode Island Ave)—Similar to Buck’s.
The Bracket Room (VA: Garfield St. in Clarendon).
Mike’s American Grill (VA: Backlick Rd. in Springfield)–Usually very crowded.
Jackson 20 (VA: King St. in Old Town Alexandria).
Silverado (VA: John Marr Dr., Annandale).
Barrel and Crow (MD: Cordell Av., Bethesda).
Ted’s Bulletin (VA: Strawberry Ln. in Merrifield and 14th St. NW in DC, plus another location in DC on 8th St. SE and in Gaithersburg, MD).
C.F. Folks (DC: 19th St. nr “N” St. in DC)–C.F. Folks has one of the better and more affordable crab cake sandwiches in the downtown area, plus daily specials representing different cuisines.
Breadline (DC: 1700 blk of Pennsylvania Ave. NW)–gourmet sandwiches, salads, etc.
Bub and Pop’s (DC: M St. NW)—Award-winning sandwiches, especially the beef brisket, plus exceptional soups and salads.
The Melt Shop (DC: L St. NW)–Emphasis on sandwiches with melted cheese. They also offer a Nutella shake.
The Original Pancake House (VA: Lee Hwy., Falls Church)–This place offers a large selection of pancakes, waffles, and crepes.
*Louisiana Kitchen (MD: Cordell Ave., Bethesda)—varieties of gumbo, jambalaya, beignets, etc.
RT’s Restaurant (VA: Mt. Vernon Ave., Alexandria)—a bit pricier than most restaurants on this list.
The Cajun Experience (VA: Loudoun St., Leesburg).
Bayou (DC: Pennsylvania Ave., NW)—various authentic po’boy sandwiches (using New Orleans’ Leidenheimer rolls), gumbo, etc.
*Bayou Bakery (VA: Clarendon Blvd, Arlington)—mostly sandwiches and pastries, including my favorite beignets in the DC area. Owner-chef David Guas currently hosts “American Grilled” on the Travel Channel.
American-Diners, Drive-ins and Dives (and Delis)
*Ben’s Chili Bowl (DC: U Street nr. 12th NW; Wilson Blvd. in Rosslyn, VA, and also Reagan National Airport)—probably DC’s most iconic and historic eating establishment, with famous customers like POTUS, Bono, Denzel Washington, etc. I always get the chili half-smoke.
Florida Avenue Grill (DC: Florida Avenue NW)—for breakfast and lunch. It could also be listed under Soul Food.
Metro 29 Diner (VA: Lee Hwy, Arlington)—French toast made from challah bread baked on the premises, all part of a huge menu.
Tune Inn (DC: Pennsylvania Ave. SE nr Capitol Hill)—better than average pub food.
DC-3 (DC: 8th St. SE on Barracks Row)—regional hot dog specialties from around the country, such as the Tucson Sonoran Dog, the Chicago Dog, Red Hot Razorback, etc.
Haute Dogs (VA: Montgomery St. in Alexandria).
DGS Delicatessen (DC: Connecticut Ave. nr Dupont Circle; also in Merrifield VA).
Stachowski’s (DC: P and 28th Sts. NW). Huge, thick-cut pastrami sandwiches.
Meats and Foods (DC: Florida Av. NW)–Mostly carry-out; the specialty is sausages. Their half-smoke is believed by some to be the most authentic available in DC.
Olivia’s Diner (DC: 19th St. NW)–I am a fan of the turkey pot pie.
*Oohs and Aahs (DC: U St. NW corridor)—not a pretty restaurant but great food.
Flavors (VA: just off Columbia Pike near Bailey’s Crossroads).
Henry’s Soul Café (DC: U St. NW; also on K St. NW, and in Oxon Hill, MD). The U St. location is tiny and unattractive but the food is good and the portions huge. I believe the other locations offer more seating.
*Carolina Kitchen (DC: Washington Pl. NE, just off Rhode Island Av.; also in Largo and Hyattsville, MD). With a large, mouth-watering menu, the main problem is narrowing down your choices.
Rocklands (DC: Wisconsin Ave. in Glover Park; VA: South Quaker Lane, Alexandria).
Dixie Bones (VA: Occaquan St., Woodbridge). I usually get fried catfish here but the BBQ is good too. The pecan pie is killer.
Hill Country (DC: 7th St. in the Penn Quarter)—about as close to Texas as you can get in these parts. They even import Texas-made Kreuz sausage and Blue Bell ice cream. More expensive than other BBQ eateries on this list.
*Carolina Brothers (VA: Ashburn Road, Ashburn). You get the most BBQ for the money here and the ribs I ordered recently had an amazing amount of meat on them. Too bad it’s way out in Ashburn.
*DCity Smokehouse (DC: Florida Av. NW nr N. Capitol St.) Outstanding BBQ mostly for carryout as there is almost no seating except at a small counter.
KBQ Real Barbeque (MD: Woodmore Centre Dr., Lanham).
Fat Pete’s (DC: Connecticut Ave., NW). Crazy good brisket, smoked 18 hours.
Smoke and Barrel (DC: 18th St. NW in Adams Morgan). I recommend the ribs with chipotle honey butter BBQ sauce. The fried pickles were also nice and crunchy.
Smoke BBQ (MD: Cordell Ave. in Bethesda).
Texas Jack’s BBQ (VA: Washington Blvd in Arlington). Brisket stars here.
Pitmasters Back Alley BBQ (DC: Yuma St. in NW). Carryout only.
*Ray’s Hell Burger (VA: Wilson Blvd. in Rosslyn; also now in DC)—Formerly Ray’s to the Third, which continually changed its menu, this location has reclaimed the “Hell Burger” name and seems to now have gone back to focusing on hamburgers. However, part of the restaurant is devoted to dishes from the country of Georgia.
Good Stuff Eatery (DC: Pennsylvania Ave, SE nr Capitol Hill; VA: Crystal Drive in Crystal City, and other locations)—I recommend the “toasted marshmallow” shake.
Holy Cow (VA: Mt. Vernon Ave. in Del Ray area of Alexandria)—One of the better burger places around now with Ray’s Hell Burger closed.
*Ray’s the Steaks (VA: Clarendon Blvd at Court House, Arlington)—the best gourmet steak value in the DC area.
Surfside (DC: Wisconsin Ave. in Glover Park; also downtown nr Connecticut Ave.)—It is sort of a fusion California-TexMex place, offering several kinds of fish tacos.
(What separates true Philly cheesesteak sandwiches from those offered elsewhere in the country is the bread, namely Amoroso rolls.)
South Street Steaks (MD: Cordell Ave., Bethesda.; also in Gaithersburg)—South Street Steaks imports Amoroso rolls from Philly, used by South Philly icons like Pat’s, Geno’s, Jim’s, and Tony Luke’s.
JJ’s Cheesesteaks (DC: 14th St. NW).
Taylor Charles Steak and Ice (DC: H. St. NE).
American-Donuts and Fried Chicken
(I know it’s a weird combination)
Astro Doughnuts and Fried Chicken (DC: G St. NW nr 13th; VA: Leesburg Pike in Falls Church)—I recommend the crème brulee donut.
Sugar Shack (VA: N. Henry St. in Alexandria)—No chicken, only specialty donuts here.
Cheesetique (VA: Mt. Vernon Ave. in Alexandria; also in the Shirlington area of Arlington). One can purchase to take home from a large selection of cheeses or eat in and select from a cheese-centric menu.
Coastal Flats (VA: Grand Commons Avenue, Fairfax; also in Tyson’s Corner).
Crisfields (MD: Georgia Ave., Silver Spring)—a bit pricy but outstanding nonetheless. It is one of the older restaurants in the DC area.
*Horace and Dickie’s (DC: 12th St. nr “H” St. NE; 4th St. NW in Tacoma Park area)—The “H” St. outlet is a carryout only fish shop. The servings of fried fish are generous; I always get two meals out of one serving. Visited by Adam Richman in “Man vs. Food.”.
Red Hook Lobster Pound (truck) (DC: various locations throughout the week. Food Truck Fiesta website has location of most of DC’s food trucks each day)—a NYC import, these lobster rolls (especially the Connecticut-style [butter] ones) are as delicious as any I have had in a restaurant.
Tackle Box (DC: “M” St. in Georgetown). I have had very satisfying meals at this location but I was disappointed on my first and only visit to the Connecticut Ave. location, which has since closed. Even in the Georgetown location I do not recommend the clam chowder.
Luke’s Lobster (DC: 7th St, NW in the Penn Quarter, and elsewhere in DC; also in Bethesda, MD.).
Fish in the Hood (DC: Georgia Ave. NW)—Limited seating, primarily carryout.
Fishnet (MD: Berwyn Rd. in College Park; also on 7th St. NW in DC in the Shaw area).
*Ford’s Fish Shack (VA: Ice Rink Plaza, Ashburn; also Riding Plaza in Chantilly)—The fish and chips was named by the Washington Post as one of the top 40 dishes in the DC area. Try also the deviled eggs with spicy pecans and praline bacon as an appetizer. A Zagat “26”!
Eamonn’s—A Dublin Chipper (VA: King Street, (Old Town) Alexandria).
Catch 15 (DC: 15th St. NW)—They offer several styles of ceviche.
East Pearl (MD: Rockville Pike in Rockville).
Bob’s Shanghai 66 (MD: N. Washington St., Rockville)—has the “soupy pork dumplings” (broth inside the dumpling) similar to Joe’s Shanghai Restaurant in NYC.
Big Bowl (VA: Democracy Blvd., Reston)—has both Chinese and Thai dishes. “Americanized” but still worth a try if you are in the area.
Tony Cheng’s Mongolian Restaurant (DC: H Street in Chinatown).
Chinese-Hong Kong Noodle Soup
Full Kee (VA: Columbia Pike at Bailey’s Crossroads).
(usually served between 11:00-3:00)
Fortune (VA: Arlington Blvd at Seven Corners Center, Falls Church)—served daily.
China Garden (VA: in the heart of Rosslyn)—served weekends only.
Ping Pong Dim Sum (DC: 6th St. NW in Chinatown; also in Dupont Circle)—part of a chain based in London. It serves dim sum every day all day long. It is perhaps not for dim sum traditionalists but if you want dim sum at 8 pm, this is it.
Hollywood East Café (MD: in Wheaton Mall)—It offers some dim sum items beyond the ones most frequently encountered.
*Mark’s Duck House (VA: Arlington Blvd at Patrick Henry Drive, Falls Church)—A friend of mine who grew up in Asia claims this is the best Peking Duck he has ever had. Mark’s also has good dim sum daily.
Peking Gourmet Inn (VA: Leesburg Pike nr. Bailey’s Crossroads).
Hong Kong Palace (VA: Leesburg Pike at Seven Corners nr Shoppers Food Warehouse)—Its name notwithstanding, the focus here is on spicy Szechuan dishes, although there are also milder choices available.
*Rabieng (VA: Leesburg Pike at Bailey’s Crossroads)—I like everything I have tried here but I have trouble getting past their signature dishes Bhram and Catfish Basil. I usually alternate between the two. On Saturdays and Sundays, Thai dim sum is offered.
Bangkok 54 (VA: Columbia Pike near Walter Reed Drive, Arlington).
Thai Square (VA: Columbia Pike, Arlington, a couple blocks west of Bangkok 54)—For those who do not want the heat of Thai dishes toned down, this modest restaurant may be just what you need.
*Elephant Jumps (VA: Arlington Blvd nr Gallows Road)—a Tom Seitsma favorite.
Ruan Thai (MD: Amherst Ave. in Wheaton).
Bangkok Golden (VA: Seven Corners nr Shoppers Food Warehouse)—Hard-to-find Laotian cooking, even spicier than Thai, is offered here.
Akasaka (VA: S. Van Dorn Street, Alexandria).
Huong Viet, Rice Paper, and Viet Royale (VA: all are located in the Eden Center at Seven Corners, Falls Church).
Four Sisters (VA: Strawberry Ln, just outside the Beltway, Falls Church; also a smaller outlet in Clarendon)—great food but a bit pricier than the Eden Center Vietnamese restaurants.
Pho 75 (VA: Wilson Blvd nr Rosslyn, and other locations)—focuses solely on traditional Vietnamese beef and noodle soup.
Present (VA: Arlington Blvd nr Annandale Rd)—The duck breast in black peppercorn sauce is one of the best duck dishes I have ever had.
Gamasot (VA: Hechinger Drive, Springfield).
Gooldaegee aka The Honey Pig (VA: Columbia Pike, Annandale, and other locations)–Korean street food in a funky setting. Open 24/7.
Nooshi (DC: 19th Street NW between L and M Streets).
Spices (DC: Connecticut Ave., NW)—Sushi is taken very seriously here although I have ordered other Pan-Asian fare on my visits.
Maketto (DC: H St. NE)—The small restaurant is in the back of a clothing store but it is getting great reviews for its Taiwanese fried chicken, Cambodian sandwiches, and soups.
Shamshiry (VA: Westwood Center Drive, Tyson’s Corner)—great Persian food.
Rose Restaurant (VA: Maple St., Vienna)—kebobs, chicken, and other fine Persian dishes.
Woodlands (MD: New Hampshire Avenue, Langley Park)–South Indian Cuisine.
*Passage to India (MD: Cordell Ave., Bethesda)—Different regions of Indian cuisine are represented on the menu.
Haandi (VA: Leesburg Pike in Falls Church; also in Bethesda, MD).
Indique (DC: Connecticut Ave. in Cleveland Park).
Heritage India (DC: Wisconsin Ave. in Glover Park; also near Dupont Circle).
Minerva (VA: 14300 blk of Lee-Jackson Hwy [Rt. 50]; also in Herndon and Gaithersburg, MD)—This does not include the Minerva in Fairfax.
Spice Xing (MD: Gibbs St., Rockville).
Masala Art (DC: Wisconsin Ave in Tenleytown area).
*Rasika (DC: D St. NW in the Penn Quarter; also Rasika II on New Hampshire Ave. and M Sts.)—More expensive than most restaurants on this list, it is still a bargain given the company it keeps. Several national food critics have called it the best Indian restaurant in the country. Expect to pay around $40-60 per person. The bills in most restaurants of this class would charge in the triple digits. Famous for the spinach fried in yoghurt, but everything else I have tried was exceptional.
Saathi (VA: Arlington Blvd. nr Seven Corners)—nice variety of delicious naan.
Zaika (VA: Clarendon Blvd. in Arlington)—More than a dozen different kinds of naan.
Himalayan Heritage (DC: 18th St. in Adams Morgan; MD: Bethesda Ave. in Bethesda)—Offers several Nepalese dishes, with a good selection of Indian items as well.
Burma Restaurant (DC: 6th St. in Chinatown).
Mount of Lebanon (VA: Annandale Rd. nr Arlington Blvd. in Falls Church)—This is the successor to the Lebanese Butcher which closed due to fire. The lamb, raised by the owner, is especially good.
Neyla (DC: “N”. Street just off Wisconsin Ave., Georgetown).
Bacchus of Lebanon (MD: Norfolk Ave., Bethesda).
Bistro Lazeez (MD: Norfolk Ave., Bethesda).
Jerusalem Restaurant (VA: Payne St. near Leesburg Pike, Bailey’s Crossroads)—Under new management and better than ever.
Layalina (VA: 5200 blk of Wilson Blvd, Arlington)—Lebanese and Syrian.
Little Sesame (DC: Connecticut Ave. nr Dupont Circle, located in the basement of DGS Delicatessen)—a small hummus restaurant with a variety of toppings.
Kebab Palace (VA: Eads nr. 23rd Street, Crystal City).—Open 24/7, this is where the Middle Eastern cab drivers eat at 2:30 am.
*Amsterdam Falafelshop (DC: 18th St. in Adams Morgan: VA: Wilson Blvd. in Clarendon, and elsewhere in DC and Arlington, VA)—Open very late, it serves only falafel and fries.
Turcuisine (VA: Worldgate Center, Herndon).
Café Divan (DC: Wisconsin Ave, Glover Park).
*Faryab Afghan (DC: Cordell Ave., Bethesda).—my favorite Afghan restaurant, open only in the evenings. (It was closed for remodeling but seems to have reopend.)
Panjshir (VA: Broad St., Falls Church)—an old reliable.
Bamian (VA: Leesburg Pike nr Colombia Pike, Bailey’s Crossroads)—a spacious and elegant Afghan restaurant.
*Guajillo (VA: Wilson Blvd, Rosslyn)—This is not Tex-Mex food. It offers dishes like Mole Poblano or Mariscos Borrachos. The shrimp ceviche, though pricy, is outstanding.
Taqueria Distrito Federal (DC: 14th St. in Columbia Heights).
Cuba de Ayer (MD: Old Columbia Pike, Burtonsville)—too bad it is way up in Burtonsville but, if you want authentic Cuban food, go for it.
La Limena (MD: Rockville Pike in Rockville)—the best Peruvian restaurant in the DC area. It also offers several Cuban dishes.
Latin American-Peruvian-Style Chicken
*Edy’s Chicken and Steak (VA: Leesburg Pike at Bailey’s Crossroads)—succulent chicken, crunchy yucca, sweet, fried plantains, etc.
Pollo Rico (VA: N. Kenmore nr Wilson Blvd, Arlington).
Sardi’s (MD: Baltimore Ave. in Beltsville; also in Gaithersburg). Sardi’s also has many other non-chicken dishes, including several varieties of ceviche.
Pan American Bakery/El Pike (Pike Pizza) ((VA: Colombia Pike, Arlington)—no pizza here. It is especially good for saltenas, humintas, sopa de mani, and other Bolivian fare.
Luzmilla’s (VA: Broad Street, Falls Church)—saltenas and other Bolivian staples.
Cinthia’s Bakery (VA: Columbia Pike nr Bailey’s Crossroads and a second location further east on Columbia Pike)
Don Churro Café (VA: Metrotech Dr., Chantilly)—dishes from throughout Latin America and Spain.
Panas (DC: P St. nr Dupont Circle)—I wish the empanadas were bigger but they are very tasty. They make for a nice, light lunch.
Roger Miller Restaurant (MD: Bonifant St., Silver Spring)—spicy West African stews.
Meaza (VA: Columbia Pike nr Leesburg Pike in Bailey’s Crossroads)—I found the staff exceptionally friendly and helpful here.
Meskerem (DC: 18th St. in Adams Morgan).
Etete (DC: 9th St. NW nr “U”)—The Doro Wat chicken dish is recommended.
*Nando’s Peri-Peri Chicken (DC: 18th St. just above “M”; 7th St. in Chinatown, and now in many other locations in the DC area, including Old Town Alexandria, Pentagon City, and Bethesda)–chicken marinated in the famous South African peri-peri hot sauce. This is a South African chain present in 30+ countries but DC is the only U.S. city.
Teddy’s Roti Shop (DC: 7300 blk of Georgia Ave)—roti, buss-up, callaloo and a variety of unique drinks like ginger-pineapple. This is a tiny place with about 3-4 tables.
*Trattoria da Franco (VA: Washington St., (Old Town) Alexandria)—Franco, after a brief retirement, has resumed management.
A La Lucia (VA: Madison St. just north of Old Town Alexandria).
Bastille (VA: N. Fayette St., Alexandria [new address])—probably the best of these French restaurants.
Bistrot Lafayette (VA: King St., (Old Town) Alexandria)—I thought the cassoulet was well prepared here.
Bistro La Bonne (DC: U St. NW)—in the heart of the U St/14th St. dining district.
Petit Plats (DC: Connecticut Ave. in Woodley Park).
*Vaso’s Kitchen (VA: Powhatan St., Alexandria)—a great little neighborhood restaurant with atmosphere and good food, with quite a few Italian dishes too. Now there is a Vaso’s Mediterranean Bistro on Alexandria’s King St. getting very positive reviews.
Zorba’s Café (DC: 20th St. at Dupont Circle)—Zorba’s has been around a long time.
Greek Deli (DC: 19th bet “L” and “M” Sts. NW)—carry-out only. It has some of the longest lunch lines in downtown DC.
Plaka Grill (VA: Lawyers Rd. at Maple Ave.; also in Falls Church)—The pork gyro gets rave reviews.
Biergarten Haus (DC: H St. corridor in NE)—many of the German favorites available.
German Gourmet (VA: Columbia Pike in Bailey’s Crossroads)—Mostly a little grocery store for German food, including packaged products. The main prepared food is a variety of authentic bratwursts. There are also many tempting European pastries and other sweets.
*Pizzeria Paradiso (DC: “P” St. at Dupont Circle, and “M” St. in Georgetown; and in VA: King St. in Old Town Alexandria)–my personal favorite pizza.
2 Amys (DC: Macomb St. just off Wisconsin)—the favorite pizza of most food critics.
Pete’s New Haven Style Apizza (DC: 14th St. in Columbia Heights, and Wisconsin Ave. in Tenleytown; and in VA: Clarendon Blvd, Arlington).
Comet Ping Pong (DC: Connecticut Ave.)—The menu offers much more than just pizza.
District of Pi (DC: “F” St. NW)—The Obama family’s favorite pizza—from St. Louis—has now arrived in DC (although their food truck has been making the rounds in DC since February 2011). This pizzeria offers both thin and deep dish pizzas. With so many excellent thin crust pizzas in DC, I focus on the deep dish here.
Pupatella (VA: Wilson Blvd. nr George Mason Dr.).
We the Pizza (DC: Pennsylvania Ave. SE in Capitol Hill area; and in Crystal City area of Arlington, VA).
*(Italian ices, custard, etc.) Rita’s (numerous locations throughout the area).
(Frozen custard) Frozen Dairy Bar and Boardwalk Pizza (VA: Arlington Blvd nr Annandale Rd, Falls Church)—Don’t bother with the pizza, just stick with the cold stuff.
The Dairy Godmother (VA: Mt. Vernon Ave. in Alexandria).
Thomas Sweet (DC: Wisconsin Ave. in Georgetown)—a huge selection flavors, plus a large choice of chocolates.
(Argentine Gelato) Dolcezza—Argentine Gelato Cafe (DC: Wisconsin Ave in Georgetown and in Bethesda, MD and other locations.)–Dolcezza also has churros filled with dulce de leche.
(gelato) Pitango Gelato (DC: 7th St. NW in the Penn Quarter, and other locations).
*(Belgian chocolates with fresh butter-cream centers) Leonidas inside the Chocolate Moose (DC: “L” nr Connecticut Ave.)—the chocolates with the fresh cream centers have to be refrigerated or eaten within 8 days.
(pies) Pie Shop (DC: H St. corridor in NE)—They also operate the Dangerously Delicious Pie truck.
(cupcakes) Buzz (VA: Slater’s Lane, Alexandria; also now in Arlington and in DC in the Navy Yards area).
BGR—The Burger Joint (VA: Washington St., (Old Town) Alexandria; DC: Connecticut Ave. in Dupont Circle; also in Bethesda, MD and other area locations.
Bardia’s New Orleans Café (DC: 18th St. in Adams Morgan).
Black Jack (DC: 14th St. nr “U” St. corridor)—Their BLT, called “The Earl”, is the best BLT I know of in the DC area and named one of the top 25 sandwiches by The Washingtonian.
See you around town!
R.I.P.—Ray’s Hell Burger (the original), Famous Luigi’s, New Orleans Po’Boy Shop, Dixie Pig (long gone but not forgotten), Morty’s, Orleans House, Malaysia Kopitiam, Taste of Morocco, (the original) Red Hot and Blue (in Rosslyn), Freddy’s Lobster and Clams, Chez Aunty Libe, Casa Oaxaca, Indique Heights, Kabob-ji, Eatonville, GBD, Public House #7, and Sophie’s Cuban Cuisine.