The Interns' Guide: Free and Cheap Food

By Fritz Hahn and Erin Hartigan Staff Writers
Tuesday, May 31, 2005 2:18 PM

Hungry after a long day at the office? There are many places that offer discounted wings, nachos and tacos, but sometimes you want something above and beyond bar snacks.

At Hotel Helix's retro lounge, for example, a gourmet angus burger with smoked cheddar cheese is $5 between 5 and 7, seven days a week. Add a half-price beer, and you're getting a meal for $6.50. Tonic, located near many Mount Pleasant group houses, offers a similar deal, with half-price burgers, draft beers and mixed drinks between 5 and 7 Monday through Friday. (A bonus: There are veggie burgers on the menu as well as beef.)

A number of restaurants offer half-price burgers at various times; we're partial to those at Whitlow's on Wilson (all day Monday), Clyde's ($4 from 4 to 7 Monday through Friday), Tommy Joe's (4 to close Monday) and Sign of the Whale (Sunday and Monday).

McCormick and Schmick's on K Street has a great happy hour menu, featuring half-pound burgers with fries, bowls of mussels, fresh salads and sandwiches for just $1.95, although you do have to purchase two drinks. The minimum may sound steep, but if you're drinking beer or the delicious house lemonade, it's still less than $10 for dinner.

Baseball fans don't have to trek to RFK for a foot-long dog and a beer -- they can hit Wonderland's happy hour (from 5 to 8) for $1 hot dogs, $2 ales and $3 rail drinks.

If you're really broke -- er, thrifty, there's free food that goes beyond iffy salad and mystery "chicken" tenders. At the downtown and Georgetown branches of Morton's of Chicago, a clubby wood-and-brass steakhouse, Monday brings free (small) steak sandwiches and deeply discounted $4 martinis, which is an excellent deal. Free gourmet pizza is offered at Ella's Wood Fired Pizza, a Penn Quarter restaurant, weekdays between 5 and 7. Pies arrive a few at a time at a table near the bar and are quickly devoured; don't assume you're really going to fill up, but the selection usually includes three different varieties. (Cheap beer and sangria is also available.)

Spice things up at the Argentinian Divino Lounge in Bethesda. From 5:30 to 7:30 Wednesday through Friday, you can munch on free tapas like grilled calamari and spicy chorizo and wash the snacks down with half-priced beer and rail drinks. You'll also find a buffet of Mexican treats at Guapo's Restaurant weekdays from 4 to 7; the quesadillas are our pick, so make sure you looking in all the chafing dishes.

While no longer exotic, sushi is still a delicious happy hour meal. Cafe Asia and Uni: A Sushi Place feature $1 nigiri as well as discounted rolls and beer. (Uni now requires you to buy two pieces for $2, which is still a deal.) More seafood at happy hour? Ocean Grill and Grillfish offer half-priced food and cocktails -- plates of buffalo shrimp, mussels and the like -- for less than $5.

When you have a hankering for Chinese food at dirt cheap prices, try Chu's Cafe. The family-run restaurant offers dozens of palatable options ranging from vegetable dumplings to a Mongolian wrap for under $6.

The Arlington branch of California Tortilla sells burritos for $1 with the purchase of a margarita on Wednesdays after 5.

David Greggory offers discounted $5 appetizer plates that rise above the crowd, including DG Pizza (applewood smoked bacon, onions, oven-dried tomatoes and spinach pesto) and smoked chicken empanadas. Glasses of wine and beer are also among the discounts, which run from 4:30 to 7 every weekday except Tuesday, when the deals last until 10.

Mr. Smith's of Georgetown is a bastion of delicious deals with a special offer every weekday. For example, you'll find half-priced appetizers such as steak skewers and nachos on Mondays, half-priced burgers Tuesdays and, come Sunday, two-for-one entrees for college students with valid IDs.

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