Thrifty District: Dine Like a Congressman on an Aide’s Budget

Originally uploaded by brownpau

Welcome to the first post of our new feature, Thrifty District. Inspired by the New York Magazine “Cheap Living” feature, we’ll post ideas designed to help save you money, while still living large. Bad economy + already steep DC prices = OUCH! We’re here to act as your band-aid (ahem, generic-priced bandage, that is…) for otherwise painful prices.

We’ll explore where to get a great yet cheap haircut, how to dress up for less, the best place to find an affordable drink, among many more localized money saving ideas and tips. The first installment though, is how to eat great for less. I’ll do head-to-head (or is it fork-to-fork) comparisons of some of the cities most delicious yet expensive restaurant dishes and suggest you try their cheaper (and equally delectable) brethren.

NY strip, Originally uploaded by emilygoodstein

Congressman: Charlie Palmer Steak – Filet Mignon “European Cut” at $37
Charlie Palmer dishes up a famous slab of USDA Angus Beef, with additional sides to share ranging from $7 to $14. Dessert will set you back an average of $8. Map
Aide: Rays the Steaks – Sunday’s “A Place at the Table” Prix Fixe Menu (3 courses for $35 or less)
Michael Landrum’s flagship “Rays” serves three wonderfully savory courses (including the Filet) for $35 or less depending on the menu you choose. My pick for best steak in the city, it leaves nothing to be desired. With the cashews, sides, and dessert included, you’ll walk away satisfied, with Metro money left over. Map

Originally uploaded by Samer Farha

Congressman: Guarapo – Pollo Apanado at $14
The breaded chicken paired with fried yucca and yellow hunacayna sauce sure is tasty, but you can get it for less. Map
Aide: Crisp & Juicy – Chicken Platter at $5.75
The no-frills (yet Zagat rated every year) Crisp & Juicy Peruvian chicken chain gives you 1/4 a chicken, fried yucca, house salad and a roll for under $6. The delicious and famous sauce is available in hot, mild and garlic, and if you get the large size, can be packed up and taken home to be served with other dishes. (Multiple locations… click the Crisp & Juicy link)

Originally uploaded by AlissaS24

Congressman: PalenaThree Courses for $58
Palena’s main dining room in Cleveland Park allows diners to choose a first course, second and dessert for under $60. Map
Aide: Palena’s Cafeentrees ala carte for $10 to $18
The savvy diner would instead visit Palena’s cafe, housed in the same building as the main dining room, and get the same dishes at face price. Add in dessert at $9 a pop, you can eat almost the same meal for half the price. Map

Matchbox Sliders (c) Stacey Viera, used with permission

Congressman: Co. Co. SalaSliders (Beef and Chicken) at $7 each, $21 for three.
Co Co Sala offers one (albeit delicious) mini burger alone on a square dish, with a bit of greens on the side for $7 each. Order a trio and you’ve spent $21. Map
Aide: Matchbox DC3.6.9. Mini Burgers at $8 for three.
A metrocurean Five Bites All Star, the Matchbox mini burgers are a steal. Three delicious beef burgers arrive piled high with onion straws, and at $8 for the plate, could serve as anyone’s main dish for the meal. Map

TenPenh, originally uploaded by Heather F

Congressman: TenPenhFive Spice Chili Tea Rubbed Beef Tenderloin at $29
TenPenh serves up an asian entree of beef tenderloin over kim-chee noodles at almost $30 a plate. Map
Aide: Minh’s Restaurant Grilled Beef with Thin Noodle at $11.75
Get it for less at Arlington’s humble Vietnamese restaurant, Minh’s. Minh’s regularly ranks in the Washingtonian‘s 100 Very Best, as well as Cheap Eats. This grilled beef dish is a steal at only $12. Map

Eat Bar, originally uploaded by voteprime

Congressman: Central by Michel Richard – Tartare of Filet Mignon & French Fries at $24
Michel Richard’s everyday cuisine eat place satisfies appetites with a Tartare and fries. Map
Aide: Tallula’s Eat BarSteak Tartare ($6)+ Fries w/homemade Ketchup ($4) total $10
Eat Bar’s creative gastropub food is a great night out for any budget. Pair the tartare with the house fries, and you’ve got yourself Central’s meal on a budget. Map

Apple Tart, originally uploaded by clada74

Congressman: 2941Fuji Apple Tatin at $18
Let it be known that I adore 2841, the service is impeccable, the food is delicious and the setting is gorgeous. But no one can really afford an $18 dessert, let’s be real. Map
Aide: Bistro Bis – Tarte Normande at $9.75
Pastry with warm apples and goats milk ice cream at Bistro Bis will set you back half of what 2941 charges, but still maintaining the french-cooking clout. Map

Originally uploaded by angela n.

Congressman: RasikaChicken Biryani at $16
This traditional, simple yet flavorful Indian dish will cost you sixteen dollars at arguably the area’s fanciest Indian eat place. Map
Aide: Naan & BeyondChicken Biryani at $6
Although Naan & Beyond is a simple to-go shop, my co-workers swear by the Biryani. Get a generous portion for only $6. (Multiple locations… click the Naan and Beyond link to find out.)

Sushi, originally uploaded by roboppy

Congressman: Sushi-KoShrimp Tempura Roll ($7.50) + Edamame ($4.50) + Miso ($5.50) = $17.50
My sushi-snob roommate lives and dies by Sushi-Ko, but as sushi goes, it’s pricier. Map
Aide: Wasabi Shrimp Tempura Roll ($4.25) + Edamame ($3) + Miso (2.50) = $9.75
Wasabi serves up sushi on the traditional sushi conveyor belt, snaking its way around the restaurant. Plates are color coded by price ($2.50 to $5.00) so you are able to watch what you spend, literally. Map

Bebo Trattoria, originally uploaded by Samer Farha

Congressman: Ristorante Tosca – Lunch pre-set menu $35
Chef Lanfranconi’s three-course lunch  consists of traditional ravioli, pan-seared cod, and a dessert cannoli will set you back more than thirty dollars. Map
Aide: Bebo Trattoria – Lunch pre-set menu $15
Chef Donna prepares a four-course “Piatto Unico” lunch menu featuring mozzarella and tomato salad, cannelloni, meatballs and panna cota. This express lunch is a steal at fifteen dollars.

Total Savings? Well, if you substituted each of my Aide suggestions for the Congressman priced dish just once per year, you’d wind up with a savings of $148.50, not too shabby!

Stay tuned to We Love DC for more “Thrifty District” features, coming soon. If you’ve got a suggestion of a theme you want us to “cheap-ify” please let us know in the comments! But for now, happy eating.

(PS – Thanks to all my flickr friends who I asked to submit photos of relevant food/restaurant fronts to the We Love DC pool. I wound up not being able to use them all, but I loved every one! Thanks again!)

Katie moved to DC in 2007, and has since embarked upon a love affair with the city. She’s an education reform advocate and communications professional during the day; at night and on the weekends, she’s an owner here at We Love DC. Katie has high goals to eat herself through the entire city, with only her running shoes to save her from herself. For up-to-the-minute news and reviews (among other musings), follow her on Twitter!

16 thoughts on “Thrifty District: Dine Like a Congressman on an Aide’s Budget

  1. This is an interesting read. It’s definitely going to inspire me to eat out a little more this winter. I haven’t been to Charlie Palmer, but I wonder how Ray’s compares to Bobby Van’s or Ruth Chris’; from what I remember both had similar prices to Charlie Palmer. I’m now really looking forward to trying out Ray’s soon. And I think that you could also have gone with Eat Bar when talking about cheap desserts. Every dessert I have tried there has been absolutely amazing, and well under $10.

  2. brilliant new feature! perfect for those of us who love good food but also happen to be on a budget/broke as a joke.

  3. I loooooove Naan & Beyond. I go to the L Street location when I don’t get a chance to have lunch until 3PM; they cook all day so the food is still fresh even at that time of the afternoon.

  4. Matt, I’ve been to the Ruth’s Chris around here, and I’d say Ray’s compares very, very favorably. It’s lighter on the décor, for sure, but it’s definitely one of the best steaks I’ve had, ever, and I can’t say the same for Ruth’s Chris.

  5. Fixed, Stacey! Our mistake. Your photo is great, and yummy, and we appreciate you letting us use it! :)

  6. @Dan Miller, oooh good suggestions! That could be fun, head-to-head neighborhood comparisons? Very controversial, I bet, people feel strongly about their neighborhoods, so it could definitley get the conversation started. I’ll toss it to the group.

    @Matt, Ruth Chris’ plate cooked my medium rare steak to well-done. My boyfriend and I were dismayed. Rays, all the way.

  7. It’s hard being a sushi lover (read “snob”) in DC. There are a lot of sushi restaurants out there. The problem is that most of them are only so-so.

    So I feel compelled to point out that – with regards to real sushi – Wasabi has decent sushi (but it can be touch and go sometimes) but Sushi-Ko never fails to disappoint.

    If you are starting someone out for the first time, go with the more expensive Sushi-Ko. The subtle flavors in the better sushi are worth the extra price. Then you can start to compare restaurants based on your tastes.

  8. …and then there are people like me who think that sushi as an entire class of cuisine is highly, highly overrated and wonder why their friends would want them to spend twice as much on food they just can’t get excited about. :D

  9. A six dollar steak tartare probably comes with card giving instructions for treating salmonella poisoning. Seriously, if there’s one thing you should probably spend a little more money on, it’s raw beef.

  10. I have what I call “food fear” after I had a bad stomach virus or food poisoning this winter, and I actually would really trust Eat Bar’s raw beef. Eat Bar is in Tallula, which is much more upscale and pricier, and has a great “foodie” reputation.

    Then again, Noah, I’d say better safe than sorry, and stay away from totally raw beef in general. ;0)

  11. Tiffany, do you go to a seafood restaurant for the steak dinners? Or to Indian for the burgers?

    If you do, do you tell the people who like seafood that they should tolerate so-so food because you don’t want to pay a lot for your steak?

    Wow. That was lame. ;-)