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SAVORY EXPLORES: Washington D.C. on a Budget

JR Denson headshot

JR Denson

Nov 29 2022
Eating out is something that most people find joy doing, whether that be to visit a restaurant they grew up going to, to eat their favorite cuisine, or simply to enjoy the aesthetic pleasure of the interior of a restaurant. However, the bills add up if you find yourself eating out all the time. Here are a few of my favorite spots to dine at with a friend in Washington D.C. on a budget of $50 (including tax and tip) between the two of us:

Hard Times Cafe

Washington D.C. on a Budget
Address: 1404 King St, Alexandria, VA 22314
Price: $$
Attire: Casual
One of the great things about this location of Hard Times Cafe, in particular, is that there’s quite a bit to do nearby. There are plenty of places to go shopping for unique DC-theme gifts in addition to other common stores that might be elsewhere around the country. If you’re in this area to hang out, there’re also lots of bars, seasonal festivals, and a walkway beside the river. Hard Times Cafe has a laid-back atmosphere. It feels like it’s got an early 1900s vibe (in a good way). There are also pictures and articles on the walls that display the history of the Old Town neighborhood. This is fairly common in this area having maintained its old colonial style. If you like to dine outside, you’re in luck. Since the pandemic, they’ve added outdoor seating.  I went around lunchtime. Considering how hot out it was when I went, I sat inside and ordered a sweet tea. Adding to the “old-timey” charm of the aesthetics, much of Hard Times’ menu has what a lot of people would call, “comfort food.” Tacos, burgers, and chili are just a few things you can choose from. If you’re looking for vegetarian options, there are meatless alternatives as well. They have salads, veggie burgers, and even vegan chili.  Hard Times also has barbeque ribs. The fact that barbeque isn’t as ubiquitous here as it is south of Richmond, VA, is one of those things that makes DC a bit northern. That said, a rack of ribs —especially at this price— is hard to come by in this area. So, when I saw them on the menu, it was impossible for me to choose anything else. I was not disappointed. Last, and equally important, the customer service was great. I didn’t have to wait long at all to be greeted and seated. The server was attentive and the food came out quickly. And my water glass and sweet tea were always full. If you’re in Old Town Alexandria and looking for a place with a chill atmosphere, good food, and great service, stop by Hard Times Cafe. 

The total for the meal was about $20.00.

Kruba DC

Washington D.C. on a Budget
Address: 301 Tingey St SE Ste 2, Washington, DC 20003
Price: $$
Attire: Casual
Kruba DC is a Thai restaurant in the Navy Yard neighborhood. The restaurant is on the corner end of a block that has a slew of other places like bars, an ice cream shop, and a park. It feels spacious inside Kruba DC, which is atypical of a lot of places in the city, especially in bustling neighborhoods like Navy Yard. This is something I really appreciate when I want to talk to my dining partners without having to compete with other voices and ambient noise. Finding a restaurant that doesn’t feel somewhat cramped is always appreciated. I was surprised at how quickly I was able to get seated. After sitting, the server came right over to make sure I had water and took my drink order. I asked for an interesting-looking cocktail to give me time to peruse the relatively expansive menu and decide what I wanted to eat. I think I made the right choice with the drink because it was good. And by “good,” I mean it was flavorful and had an ample amount of rum. After a decent length of time to enjoy my new drink and consider what I wanted for a meal, the server was back to take my order. Per my usual as of late, I opted to choose a dish different from what I might typically get. I went with a stir fry I hadn’t had before. I felt like I was two-for-two on that night. First the drink, then the stir fry. This food was fantastic. Two bites in and I knew I would be back to order this again. Finding the perfect balance in a dish that is fried and sautéed with a generous amount of sauce while avoiding being drenched or soggy is undoubtedly an art. Overall, this was an excellent experience. The restaurant is easy to get to, the wait to be seated was short, and the food was delicious. The next time I go, I’ll have to try something from their sushi menu before I order my new favorite dish again.

The total for the meal was about $24.00.

MacIntyre’s

Washington D.C. on a Budget
Address: 2621 Connecticut Ave NW, Washington, DC 20008
Price: $$
Attire: Casual
MacIntyre’s is a restaurant and bar in the Woodley Park neighborhood in DC, which is only a block and a half from the National Zoo. If you’re in that area, this is a great place to eat. It’s also fairly close to the popular night life scene of Adams Morgan. I showed up just in time for brunch so decided to order the French toast. Between the entrée and the mimosas, I think I made a wise choice. They don’t serve all-day breakfast, so be sure to check what time you’re going if your heart is set on waffles. If you are going there later in the day or simply don’t want brunch, there are lots of other things to choose from including wings, quesadillas, salads, and wraps. MacIntyre’s is directly across the street from a Metro station. Street parking can be hit or miss especially if there are any special events happening at the Zoo or if it’s later in the evening.

The total for the meal was about $22.00.

San Antonio’s Bar & Grill

Washington D.C. on a Budget
Address: 3908 12th St NE, Washington, DC 20017
Price: $$
Attire: Casual
San Antonio’s Bar & Grill offers a mix of Latin American cuisine including Mexican, El Salvadorian, and Cuban. In fact, they have one of my favorite Cuban dishes, masa de Puerco –tangy sautéed pork with a side of white rice, black beans, and plantains. While DC has a wide variety of food options, Cuban is not nearly as available inside the Beltway as it is in other parts of the country. One of the other things I love at restaurants like San Antonio’s is the frozen margarita. Never have I ever been to San Antonio’s and missed an opportunity to get one (or a couple) of these drinks. Last, though certainly not least, they also serve one of my favorite desserts: sopapillas, a fried pastry with honey, cinnamon, and sugar. San Antonio’s has multiple locations across the Metro DC area including near Catholic University in DC proper and at the Pentagon City Mall in Arlington, VA. If you’re driving, parking is relatively easy to find at all of their locations. The Pentagon City restaurant is one block from the Metro.

The total for the meal was about $28.00.