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Dinner Deals: Cheap-eats restaurants for date night, game night and everything in between

Louisiana Kitchen & Bayou Bar
Saturday and Sunday.
4907 Cordell Ave., Bethesda. 301-652-6945.

It's easy to fall in love with Louisiana Kitchen. The service is great. The food is simple and satisfying. And the biscuits will make you forget any low-carb resolution you've made. Bethesdans -- high-school athletes to senior citizens -- take up the tables here, much the way they did at the restaurant's much-loved forefather, Louisiana Express. There's a family-friendly feel as soon as you walk in the door.

For brunch, the restaurant ladles its thick creole sauce onto poached eggs and fried grits. Fried oysters also get the "Benedict" treatment with runny egg yolks and hollandaise moistening the seafood's crispy exterior. Andouille sausage and red beans give an everyday omelet a Southern accent. In keeping with N'awlins traditions, chickory coffee is available with or without milk. End on a sweet note with the airy beignets.

Date night

Fontaine Caffe & Creperie
119 S. Royal St., Alexandria. 703-535-8151.

Few restaurants glow with the kind of warmth one finds at Fontaine. At night, mini-lamps hanging overhead cast a golden light over the cozy dining room (and your dinner partner). Conversation is easy over the clink of wine glasses. It's a pleasant space.

The temptation is to order dessert first. Simple, street cart-style crepes pair lemon cream with powdered sugar or Nutella with strawberries. The more indulgent ones include caramelized fruits, chocolate and/or ice cream. But don't write off a full dinner here just because it'll be wrapped in a pastry shell. Some of the savory crepes prove to be very filling, such as a hearty veggie-friendly number with eggplant, mozzarella and tomato sauce, which is an occasional special. My favorite dish is perhaps the most simple: a fold of ham, cheese and sauteed mushrooms.

Taj of India
2809 M St. NW. 202-965-4266.

In the evening, votive lights on the tables lend a cozy glow to this Georgetown eatery, which has been operating on M Street since 2002. There are a few paintings on the walls and some plants here and there, but the real draw is the low-cost, high-spice Indian fare, with plenty of options for vegetarians.

Tomato soup is a far cry from the Campbell's sort. Cumin and lime add a surprising tingle to the appetizer. Chicken kebabs are perfectly juicy, tinted with the aroma of the clay oven. A subtly sweet cream sauce dresses the tender meat in the lamb chops masala dish. Once the meat is gone, we're tempted to take home the leftover dressing and an order of garlic nan. The servers seem too eager at times to push a second glass of wine, but ask for their advice and they'll lead you to dishes that suit your spice tolerance.

To watch the game

Thirsty Bernie
2163 N. Glebe Rd., Arlington. 703-248-9300.

Hunter-green walls and 14 televisions signal that this strip-mall watering hole is a sports-lover's kind of place. So the menu comes as a shock. Sure, there are wings, burgers and other sports-bar fare, but mussels? Wiener schnitzel? Goulash?! The European accents have been among the restaurant's selling points since it launched in June 2008 under chef Jamie Stachowski. He's no longer in the kitchen, but chef Andy Cieslowski continues to smoke meats in-house and make his own gnocchi.

A hot pastrami sandwich benefits from the sour tang of pickled red onions and the house-made pumpernickel. Mussels warm us up on a cold night; we sop up garlicky broth with crusty bread. That goulash combines rich braised beef and veal with spatzle (tiny dumplings). Get something beyond a Miller Lite; the menu suggests pairings from the long list of European brews.

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