Tom Sietsema's cheap eats photo
(Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post)

Tom Sietsema's cheap eats

By Going Out Guide staff  |  Updated 06/21/2012

On the prowl for the city's best budget-friendly fare? Food critic Tom Sietsema makes a point of dining at restaurants at every price point. Here is a collection of some of his favorite cheap eats along with excerpts from his reviews.

 

Shake Shack

Washington, DC

"I'm partial to burgers that taste as if they came off the griddle of a diner, and by that measure, Shake Shack's sandwiches deliver. The nicely pink, sufficiently juicy patty tucked into the lightly crisped bun is (fairly) fast food that pays a compliment to the genre."

 

Ethiopic

Washington, DC

"Ethiopic is noteworthy for its layering of flavors. Sample the buticha, chickpeas pureed to look like scrambled eggs and served chilled. Appearances are deceiving. The salad's sunny yellow color comes from curry, and the green bits are jalapeno, which adds crunch and bite to the appetizer."

 

Taqueria la Placita

Hyattsville, MD

"The specialty of the house is the kind of meal that brings purists across state lines: tacos in nearly two dozen flavors and available as early as 5 a.m. daily."

 

Fishnet

College Park, MD

"A sandwich of strong-flavored bluefish treated to a Turkish-inspired spread of pureed walnuts, garlic and sumac made me wish I had a Fishnet closer to home."

 

Bamian

Falls Church, VA

"The strapping Bamian platter is deeply satisfying: three different kebabs arranged with a mound of rice sweetened with carrot strips and raisins. Those kebabs -- chicken rubbed with turmeric, crusty lamb, soft ground beef seasoned with garlic and onion -- are equally succulent, by the way."

 

Bangkok Golden Thai Restaurant

Falls Church, VA

"The julienned green mango salad is searing with red Thai chilies, but it's not such a torch-bearer that you can't taste the shrimp, tomato and garlic in the mix."

 

Michael's Noodles

Rockville, MD

"To navigate a menu that runs from pumpkin cakes to pork blood soup, and from tea-smoked duck to fish head casserole -- more than 250 dishes altogether -- even an experienced Chinese hand could use some guidance. At Michael's Noodles in Rockville, the expert in the house is Wai Wang, the restaurant's general manager. Tell her your preferences, and she's likely to suggest plates heaped with pleasure: peppery sauteed pork and bean curd, perhaps, or a robust beef noodle soup elevated by wheat noodles that are made right there."

 

Burma Road

Gaithersburg, MD

"The left side of the menu is Chinese food, the right side is Burmese," coaches the waitress at one of the most personable restaurants I know. Veer to the right, and you can't go wrong, not when the dishes include a zesty salad of julienned ginger and carrot that pops with fried lentils, and tender pork with pickled mango.

 

Fast Gourmet

Washington, DC

"A large chalkboard mounted above the exposed kitchen lists the chow; you order at a counter, then wait to hear your name shouted above the blasting music. Go for sticky roast chicken with golden yucca, the gently spicy meatball sandwich, maybe some herbed falafel in pita or that porky, pickly Cuban number."

 

R&R Taqueria

Elkridge, MD

"If there's an upside to a sour economy, it's this pint-size eatery with a mere eight stools, which offers the chance to eat tacos every bit as swell as those in Mexico City, the owner's birthplace. The chicken taco, with bits of crisped meat scattered with chopped onions and fresh cilantro on a warm corn tortilla is good; tender beef tongue, shredded lamb and red-with-chili pork are even finer."

 

Garden District

Washington, DC

"A booster of North Carolina barbecue, grill master Tad Curtz infuses his pork with apple cider vinegar, red chili flakes, black peppercorns and some of the state's hot sauce for a sting to remember. Just as transporting is bratwurst cradled with winy sauerkraut in a pillowy bun."

 

Ren's Ramen

Wheaton, MD

"This slurper's vote goes to the piping-hot miso-flavored feast wrought from wiry yellow noodles imported from Sapporo, Japan; a crumble of ground pork; bean sprouts; and scallions."

 

Shophouse Southeast Asian Kitchen

Washington, DC

"The best fast-food idea in years channels Vietnam, Singapore and Thailand. That's my chain reaction as I dig into a bowl of steamed jasmine rice strewn with grill-fragrant bites of chicken, green papaya slaw and a pulsing green curry at the fledgling ShopHouse Southeast Asian Kitchen."

 

Kao Thai

Silver Spring, MD

"Slow down and smell the mango curry. With its sweet chunks of tropical fruit in a warm bath of coconut milk shot through with fire, the seasonal dish tap-dances on the palate and tickles the throat."

 

Carbon Peruvian Chicken & Grille

Rockville, MD

"'Carbon' is Spanish for 'charcoal,' the fuel over which the restaurant's chickens are broiled to juiciness. The skin is supple rather than crisp, but the birds burst with flavor from their 24-hour soak in a marinade of vinegar, herbs, wine, cumin, oregano and 'a lot of garlic,' owner Lilian Clary says."

 

C.F. Folks

Washington, DC

"The sheet of daily specials lets chef George Vetsch, a veteran of a Zagat's worth of local kitchens, strut his stuff. In one week alone, a regular could experience the American Southwest, with pork tacos jump-started with jalapeno-cilantro sauce; India, with chicken korma on basmati rice and sassy chutneys; and Maine, with a lobster roll slicked with basil mayonnaise and served with fries the Swiss-born chef cuts himself."

 

Island Hut

Wheaton, MD

"There are good things to be found in this small package, including that signature chicken, seasoned with a blend of thyme, onions and Scotch bonnet peppers. The entree's equal is goat, neatly trimmed of its fatty flaps and zesty with garlic, pepper, curry powder and more."

 

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