Washington DC excels when it comes to the fast casual food scene. Fast casual restaurants offer elevated food and higher quality ingredients than traditional fast food. They operate counter-service where customers order and pay up-front, rather than with a server. Pricing is higher than fast food but less expensive than a sit-down restaurant. If you’ve ever eaten Chipotle you’ve experienced fast casual dining. However it’s not just limited to Mexican food. These are my favorite fast casual Washington DC cheap eats.
Korean food is delicious. Tacos are delicious. Korean food in taco form must therefore be delicious, right? Yes it is. What started as a single food truck has grown into a small local chain. Even if you aren’t initially sold on the concept, give it a try! It wasn’t until I had my first bite that I was hooked.
I love Indian food. Butter chicken, tikka masala, rogan josh – I could eat it all the time. Typically when you order Indian takeout it comes in a bunch of containers that you need to unpack and then plate. It’s kind of a lot of work. Rasa is awesome because each bowl is a self-contained meal with big flavors.
While Chipotle may be the original fast casual Mexican spot, District Taco is the local favorite. A true American success story, District Taco was started by a Mexican immigrant who grew it from a single taco cart to a local restaurant empire. They specialize in Yucatan style Mexican food and the menu has plenty of high-quality vegetarian options (and some vegan too).
Most of the restaurants on this list have solid vegetarian options but this one is a fully vegan, plant-based restaurant with items like burgers, sandwiches, salads and desserts. Items are based on traditional meat-based fast food (think burgers and fried chicken) but even if you enjoy meat you should give HipCityVeg a try because the food really is that good!
You can’t have a list of cheap eats without a staple: burger and fries. The menu at Swizzler isn’t big but what they do they do well. A “swizzler” is actually a hot dog, but the revamped menu at this restaurant is now more sandwich focused. They have a regular burger, veggie burger and fried chicken sandwich. I’ve tasted them all and they are all excellent.
Little Sesame is named for the tahini (ground sesame paste) which is the backbone of hummus. If you’re really into hummus, get a giant bowl with pita and dig in! I’m not ashamed to say it’s so good I’ve eaten an entire bowl of hummus for lunch before. If you want a more rounded meal go for a pita sandwich which is filled with meat, peppers and other vegetables.
You can’t have a list of “cheap eats” without pizza. Unfortunately pizza that’s fast is rarely fresh, and if it’s fresh it’s rarely fast. &Pizza is both. Each unique oval shaped pie is made to order, assembly-line style, right in front of you. Then it goes into the oven and in only a couple minutes you have a delicious hot pizza ready to eat.
Bibimbap is Korean for “mixed rice” but it’s different from a lot of other rice bowls out there. Bibimbap is served in a bowl topped with vegetables, chili paste, soy sauce and fermented soybean paste. I like to get mine with meat and topped with a fried egg. If you’ve never had it before, give it a shot. The combination of ingredients is really delicious.
Cava is now a nation-wide chain but its roots are right here in Washington, DC. Cava’s menu offers a modern American take on Mediterranean fare. Design your bowl with either grains or lettuce, add your protein, Mediterranean-style vegetables, and one of many sauces. The combination of ingredients and sauces makes for some of the best flavors you can get for the price.
Surfside’s claim to fame is that their Dupont Circle location is one of the only restaurants in DC open 24 hours per day. It’s great if you’re hungry after hitting up the nearby nightlife, but even if you visit during the day it’s a quick and delicious Mexican meal. On the menu you’ll find fajitas, quesadillas, and some of the best tacos in town.
This is one of the only true cheap eats in Washington, DC. In 2022 no item on the menu is more than five dollars. Order your falafel in a pita (sandwich form) or over greens (bowl form). The zaatar fries are a unique twist on the standard French fry. Make sure to try some of the signature sauces to take your meal to the next level.
Good Stuff is owned by Spike Mendelsohn, a local celebrity-chef who has appeared on several TV cooking shows. Good Stuff serves burgers, fries and top-notch milkshakes. The price point is low enough that it gives folks a chance to have a “celebrity-chef experience” without shelling out big bucks at a more traditional celebrity-chef restaurant.