Got tickets for a night of theater, but running a little tight on money and time?
We’ve compiled a list of dining spots near popular venues where the service is quick, the food is good, and the bill can be under $15 per person, before tax and tip.
- José Andres’ venture into fast casual took a very different approach, if you suspect (like I do) he may have been inspired by Danny Meyer’s venture with Shake Shack. A restaurant that highlights veggies as their center piece, they were preparing (frankly, better) versions of the vegetarian patties before the Impossible burger ever made it onto the scene. They’re not completely meatless though, they just make sure to offer it as a side.
- BTS (Burger, Tap & Shake)
- This casual alternative will, frankly, outshine their sister restaurant, District Commons. As a concept, it’s a counter-top burger shop, with options for alcoholic milkshakes and gourmet-quality, flavorful burgers. Vidalia onion rings and thick-cut, flavorful Lea & Perrins mushrooms, or fragrant cheeses are some of the things you can top your burgers with, but their prepared selections are very trustworthy. They’re not the quickest location on this list, but if you take a moment to sit at the counter, you’re enjoying a satisfying, and maybe a little nostalgic, dining experience before the Kennedy.
National Theatre/Lansburgh Theatre/ (Downtown)
- Astro Doughnut & Fried Chicken
- Developed and built up by two former Washington Capitals’ players, owners Jeff Halpern and Elliot Spaisman cite their inspiration to start this comfort food location after recognizing the superiority of doughnuts during the cupcake craze from ten years ago. The doughnut varieties, and the sauces, are prepared from scratch and sold until they’re 86’d for the day. Their contribution to the current fried chicken wars? Their spiced-breaded filets are served on doughnut buns.
- Taco Bamba
- In 2018, Chef Victor Albisu restructured this location from the critically-acclaimed Del Campo to the casual concepts that were finding successes in Virginia. A small plate, counter-ordering spot with stools and picnic-style tables, enjoying two or three items is quick and easy for a night out downtown. The place is flush with color, and an exuberant twist on traditional Mexican fare. Anything with their Bamba sauce highlights this pattern: colorful, flavorful, and exciting to the palate.
- Falafel Inc.
- This company, opening in the Wharf and Georgetown, operates with a socially conscious mission that aims to help refugees. At $3 for a falafel sandwich, this is the best location to find refuge from the limiting expensive nature of the rest of the Wharf. Wonderfully, this place also competes on delivering flavor profiles comparable to anything else you can find in the neighborhood. Perfectly seasoned Zatar fries and spiced falafel bowls, next to the waterfront and a nighttime walk highlight the best experiences of the new Wharf area.
- All About Burger
- Next to the Metro and offering quick service, this location offers a strong variety for vegetarian and burger lovers. They’re a little more simplistic in their preparation than some of the other places listed, but if you’re heading to Arena Stage, and speed and a satisfying meal are the goals, this is a strong option.
- Southwest SodaPop Shop (for desserts)
- Also located on the Wharf, this family-owned soda shop inspires nostalgia with its offerings: rainbow sprinkles, root beer floats, and soft serve. The dad and daughters owned location operates almost as a well-kept secret. You’ll notice they don’t even have a website, but their ice cream is a highlight of the Wharf.
GALA / Columbia Heights
- Gloria’s Pupuseria
- The cash only, bare-bones, spot is a must for anyone living in the District. John and Gloria Gerber, owners behind this and a number of other locations in Virginia, appealed to locals and gentrifiers in the neighborhood for the authentic Salvadoran cuisine. The place embraces its hole-in-the-wall status with carefully prepared pupusas (thick, cornmeal patties) and flavorful Latin fare.
- I may be showing my bias here. Right next to Taqueria Habanero, the 2019 Bib Gourmand winning restaurant, Mezcalero operates at a slightly cheaper rate and with excellent quality, even when both locations are packed (as they are frequently). The giant, and drowned in avocado and salsa, burritos can feed two people. However, make sure you appreciate spicy cuisine, even their ‘mild’ take will have you reaching for the water glass. The cocktails can be a little jarring in appearance, but the pour is typically on the heavier side.
DC Arts Center (Adams Morgan)
- Julia’s Empanadas
- These Chilean-style baked empanadas are quick to enjoy and are filling with just one or two items. The Jamaican and the Chilean, both seasoned with a mildly-spiced ground beef, are the location’s most popular, but the Vegetarian and vegan selections (which updates weekly) are also tasty. It’s the onion in it. No seating available, but this is an excellent quick location before a night out in Adams Morgan.
Atlas Performing Arts Center (H Street)
- Dangerously Delicious
- A classic location on H Street and (ever increasingly) the rest of the District, the DD pies are a favorite location for pick up and quick dining. A whole order of one of their ‘Savory’ pies will feed a family of four for more than one meal (trust me, I’ve tested, specifically with the steak, mushroom, and gruyere). Located next to the Atlas and open late, this is a mainstay for the H Street theater goer.
- Pow Pow
- This plant-based Asian, organic, and kosher restaurant focuses on plant-based protein salads, bowls, and gigantic egg rolls. With painful puns for their menu items, and delectable flavors that linger with the last bite, the place embraced the vegetarian transformation to deliver comfort-food quality items to guests.
Studio Theatre/ Keegan Theatre (Logan Circle)
- Rinconcito Café
- This neighborhood favorite offers an excellent Salvadoran section of their menu. Beige walls, Latin-American beer is prominent on their menu, and a selection of mouth-watering pupusas are the standards for this location. They are open late night, and with steak taco offerings to more complex, yuca or plantain-based selections and leaf-wraps, there’s an option for you.
- Chicken & Whiskey
- This place elevates comfort food. Made from scratch ingredients and Mexican-tradition seasoning for their chicken menu items make this place an easy stop before (or after) a visit to Studio. The location gets crowded in the evenings and weekends. Their ‘secret bar’ that you can access by going through the walk-in is popular with the DC nightlife.
- Amsterdam Falafel
- This is one of three locations in the District, and where the now-franchise first opened before starting a national expansion three years ago. If you haven’t been, it’s likely you know someone who has. Gluten and vegan-friendly, every ingredient is carefully seasoned (from the garlic for the hummus to the citrus in the crema) for a meal that doesn’t overwhelm or fill you up. Their fries are probably some of the better prepared in the area.
Howard Theatre / Lincoln Theatre (U Street)
- Colada Shop
- The place is vibrant and colorful, offering Cuban-inspired coffee, cocktails and cuisine. Their claim of a seasonality in their menu is expressly to work on blending North American cuisine items with Caribbean fare, but it works! Butternut squash with sofrito make excellent empanada fritters, incorporating cauliflower into a Cubano sandwich is inspired (and a reminder that my childhood cuisine could have been much healthier). They are also the best place to try a cortadito café without having to catch the flight out to Miami.
- Mason Dixie Biscuits
- Classic, made-to-order biscuits, Southern-inspired fried chicken and sides, and biscuit sandwiches. The Shaw comfort food location is perfectly located convenient to the two theaters and offering fast and quick menu items. They receive high praise for the breakfast sandwiches, which is offered all day, their platters are equally up to par.
Where’s your go-to spot for cheap eats?