Dining out these days can really put a big dent in your wallet. Thankfully, there are several restaurants scattered throughout D.C.’s neighborhoods that don’t sacrifice quality or freshness of ingredients when it comes to offering an affordable price tag.
So for your next rent week, check out these nine Michelin-recommended restaurants. They are not to be missed.
What Our Inspectors Say: Nothing replaces a good diner. Where else can you tuck into a plate of bacon-wrapped meatloaf at 2:00 A.M.? The Diner is open 24/7 and its frenetic kitchen is always abuzz. Start off with a really good cup of Counter Culture coffee or if you’re feeling more hair of the dog, a Bloody Mary. It's not just standard diner fare here, where breakfast specials like bread pudding-French toast or tofu scramble with housemade salsa lean gourmet. Nursing a hangover? Straight-up comfort food is what they do best. Order the biscuit and gravy, highlighting a flaky housemade biscuit slathered in creamy sauce with sweet Italian sausage—it's a decadent way to start the day. Finally, sip on a cookies-and-cream milkshake, best enjoyed atop a red vinyl stool at the counter.
What Our Inspectors Say: It’s yellow, not the telltale blue of its name, that defines this sunny Indian restaurant. Located in a cheerful house with a patio full of colorful picnic tables, Indigo is far from fancy (it’s largely self-service and food is served in disposable containers). But, how can you not adore a place where love notes from customers cover the walls? Indian expats and residents line up for such classic comfort cooking from the sub-continent as as spicy chicken masala and tender, melt-in-your-mouth goat curry. Even side dishes are elevated here-for instance, daal is packed with smoky flavor and doused in a cardamom-scented sauce, while paneer paratha (flatbread stuffed with cheese, onion, chopped red chiles and cilantro) is especially fluffy and addictive.
What Our Inspectors Say: Sometimes all you really want is a delicious meal in a comfortable setting. No fuss, no hipper-than-thou patrons, just good food. Sakuramen, in the basement of a row house in Adams Morgan, is on hand to soothe your soul with its wide variety of that steaming bowl of love—ramen. In fact, it's all about these toothsome noodles here. Goji ramen is a traditional shoyu ramen, while chosun shows off a Korean influence with Angus bulgogi and kimchi. Gyoza and steamed buns are available for good measure. Sakuramen is naturally the house special and the kitchen changes things up with a vegetable broth made from mushrooms and seaweed. Braised bamboo shoots, portobello caps and other vegetables bob amid the curly noodles for a perfectly satisfying meal.
What Our Inspectors Say: How do you pay tribute to the classics while simultaneously bumping them up ever so much? Just ask the Purple Patch. This restaurant delivers note-perfect Filipino food with just the right amount of playfulness. Case in point? The adobo-radicchio wraps, which take the familiar flavors of chicken in adobo, top it with pickled papaya, then surround it with the crunch of radicchio. Pork sinigang is considered a typical (read staple) dish, but is truly worthy of exaltation. Here, tender chunks of pork are bathed in a lemon broth that is so generously sized it seems indecent, and with potatoes, vegetables and fluffy jasmine rice, it’s plain sinful. Even dessert is a thing of wonder. Purple yam ice cream? Who knew a tuber could be this magically delicious?
What Our Inspectors Say: You’ll go up the stairs, not down to Toki Underground, which shares the same front door as The Pug Bar. Once inside, notice raw wood beams, walls plastered with stickers and scribble, as well as dangling Christmas lights that exude a sense of childlike angst. That angst may grow into full-blown annoyance though as the waits are staggeringly long (there are just 30 counter seats and no tables), but come for lunch to steer clear of all lines. Fried chicken steamed buns; lightly battered and delicately fried enoki mushrooms; or pork dumplings are a good way to start things off. The Toki classic with chasu pork and a soft egg is a signature dish, where the broth is slurp-worthy. Its stick-to-your-bones porky intensity is especially memorable.
What Our Inspectors Say: It may be the signature cry for falling objects, but Timber Pizza Co is only on its way up. This popular neighborhood hangout is on a mounting spiral after transitioning from a farmer’s market fave to a brick-and-mortar crowd magnet that also boasts a booming takeout business. So what's all the fuss about? It's the flavorful cooking, of course. A few bites into the Griffin salad and it's clear this kitchen knows how to handle itself. Those in the know order a half and half to explore the wide variety of pizzas. The D&D's mix of za'atar, finely diced sweet peppers and garlic chips is inventively delicious; while The Hughes piles bacon, cherry tomatoes, jalapeños and basil atop a white cheese pie slathered with a subtle and sweet tomato sauce.
What Our Inspectors Say: There are some restaurants that feed more than just an appetite and Chercher is one of them. Set on the second floor of a townhouse just outside Little Ethiopia, this tidy jewel may have the bright walls and exposed brick so often seen in mom-and-pop spots, but rest assured that it delivers more than just a spicy stew with a home-kitchen feel. Expect authentic items native to the culturally rich region of the namesake mountains. Rip off a piece of the cool and lacy injera and then dig into the lamb wat, a tender stew fueled by the fiery notes of berbere. Simmered vegetables add a welcome dose of earthy flavor on the side, but wait, what's that over there? It's the under-the-radar and off-the-menu dishes that lure expats with bated breath.
What Our Inspectors Say: There are restaurants where soaking in the atmosphere is part of the experience, and then there’s Daikaya. This no-reservations ramen shop is bursting at the seams (though the izakaya upstairs is an acceptable consolation prize if the wait downstairs is interminable). The unfussy space is filled with communal tables and booths, but the counter offers an unbeatable view of the hustle and bustle. Loud pop and rap music set the tone here, where you’re expected to order, slurp and move on. Daikaya is famous for its Sapporo-style ramen. Here, the white miso tare is kicked up a notch with chili spice. It's the most popular bowl, but try the special mugi-miso (barley miso) ramen with a side of citrusy yuzu kosho chile sauce for a change of pace.
What Our Inspectors Say: Go ahead and order breakfast all day long, since Keren keeps the morning meal front and center. However, before you show up expecting bacon and eggs, take a second look as this is a showpiece of Eritrean cuisine. The East African nation was once occupied by Italy, and this history continues to be an influential force on its cuisine—with many pasta-centric dishes popping up on the menu. A loyal crowd alternates between watching soccer, debating Eritrean politics and filling up on the sizable portions. Ful, a staple breakfast dish of favas, jalapeño, tomato and onion, is a good place to start (there are six variations). Then go for the "five Eritrean" items for a well-rounded, veg-focused combo that's so good it will render you unable to pick a favorite.
Hero image courtesy of Indigo restaurant.