On the Cheap in D.C.
R. Dennis Pool, December 2003
There is a lot to see and eat in Washington, even if your budget is a little thin. Explore the Nation's Capital by Metro or on foot; the combination can get you almost everywhere in the city. Remember that most of Washington's top sights are free, including the 14 museums that make up the Smithsonian Institution, the National Gallery of Art, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Arlington National Cemetery, and, of course, the city's many memorials and monuments. If you are planning an afternoon on the Mall, you can grab a bite at the sixth floor cafeteria in the Madison Building at the Library of Congress or the expansive food court at Union Station. You might also try the food court in the Old Post Office Tower and Pavilion at 12th and Pennsylvania. After lunch, ride the elevator to the top of the tower for the "second best" view in the city. You can also catch a free six o'clock performance at the Kennedy Center (http://www.kennedy-center.org).
Face it, you have to eat and springing for room service is not always an option. There are few choices for the meager salaried on the blocks next to the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel and Omni Shoreham Hotel, other than the McDonald's and Chipotlé on Connecticut Avenue. Washington does have its share of low priced restaurants, but the trick is knowing where to look for them.
Consider exploring a little before you decide where to eat. Adams Morgan, U Street, Dupont Circle, Georgetown, and Bethesda each offer enough variety that you can easily stumble across something that fits your taste and budget. Across the Duke Ellington Bridge in Adams Morgan, consider lunching at the Well Dressed Burrito (1220 19th St. NW). Bring cash and savor the best burritos in D.C. at this hidden cocina. The contemporary Duplex Diner (2004 18th St. NW) offers everything you might expect from a traditional greasy spoon, sans the grease. Pizza Mart (2435 18th St. NW) sells huge, tasty slices and stays open late. Julia's Empanadas (2452 18th St. NW) supplies great tasting, hand-made empanadas. A local favorite, Mixtec (1792 Columbia Rd. NW) serves authentic Mexican cuisine and killer margaritas at the lowest of prices. Also try Burrito Brothers (2418 18th St. NW) for savory, over-stuffed, and inexpensive burritos. The Common Share (2003 18th St. NW) is the cheapest place in D.C. to get drink ($2.00) and looks it.
South on Connecticut in Dupont Circle, Wrapworks (1601 Connecticut Ave. NW), sells wraps and delicious smoothies. Order traditional Greek fare at the counter at Zorba's Café (1612 20th St. NW), the staff will serve you quickly, despite the crowds. Next door, the Child Harold (1610 20th St. NW) offers a dark pub atmosphere and good food. Cosi (1647 20th St. NW) is a great coffee shop and bar for the Starbucks-phobic. Bring a friend and try the s'mores, complete with graham crackers, chocolate, marshmallows, and of course, fire. Teaism (2009 R St. NW) is a vegetarian-friendly teahouse serving Asian fusion cuisine and unique, tasty breakfasts. You might also consider Baja Fresh (1333 New Hampshire Ave. NW), a chain that offers great Mexican food. Their fish tacos are the best in town. A couple of blocks east of Connecticut, you will find the Dupont Italian Kitchen (1637 17th St. NW), a casual dining restaurant with reasonable prices. Trio's Restaurant (1537 17th St. NW) has a relaxed atmosphere and a bar that stays open late.
North of the meeting hotels, you will find Greek food at Byblos Deli (3414 Connecticut Ave. NW) and the best bagels in a town that seriously needs good bagels at Whatsa Bagel (3513 Connecticut Ave. NW). Yes! Natural Foods (3425 Connecticut Ave. NW) sells pre-made sandwiches and other organic, whole foods. Ireland's Four Provinces and Nanny O'Brien's (3412 Connecticut Ave. NW; 202-244-0860 and 3319 Connecticut Ave NW; 202-686-9189; respectively) are two great Irish neighborhood pubs with live (and loud) music. Atomic Billiards (3427 Connecticut Ave. NW; 202-363-7665), Buffalo Billiards (1330 19th St. NW; 202-331-7665), or Bedrock Billiards (1841 Columbia Rd. NW; 202-667-7665), are all great places to unwind and play some pool.
If you are feeling adventurous, travel to U Street to eat at Ben's Chili Bowl (1213 U St. NW). No trip to Washington is complete without a visit to this institution, which recently marked its 45th year. Ben's serves great hot dogs and burgers, and, despite the name, only so-so chili. Brace yourself for the crowd at the counter, and speak confidently when ordering. For dinner, drinks, and cult and independent films, try Visions, near the Hilton Washington (1927 Florida Ave. NW). Other movie theaters include the Loews Cineplex Dupont 5 (1350 19th St. NW), and the more mainstream new Loews Georgetown (3111 K St. NW). Join the often-rowdy evening crowds at the AMC Union Station, where you can also enjoy the largest food court in the area. D.C.'s last grand theater, the Uptown (3426 Connecticut Ave. NW), is a few blocks north of the Marriott in Cleveland Park. To find out what's playing, or which bands are in town, grab a free City Paper from the newspaper boxes on local street corners. It hits the street a day before the entertainment section of the Washington Post and you won't have to pay to read it.
—R. Dennis Pool is a doctoral student at American University.