The crispy eggplant and mozzarella sandwich at All-Purpose. (Becky Krystal/The Washington Post)

You can savor sit-down service at these downtown destinations, expense account not required.


Pizzas are the main attraction at this buzzy spot, and all of the pies during the laid-back lunch will set you back less than $20. So will almost everything else on the menu. You’d be wise to set your sights on a mid-day-only sandwich, such as the crispy eggplant-and-mozzarella ($14), a riff on the restaurant’s Jersey-style eggplant parm. House-made tomato sauce coats thin planks of eggplant that have been marinated in buttermilk, breaded and fried. Add gooey cheese, a Sicilian tartar sauce (with capers, herbs and more) and a house-baked roll, and this is one sandwich to be reckoned with. The thin, almost translucent potato chips on the side are worth the price of admission, too. 1250 Ninth St. NW. 202-849-6174. — Becky Krystal

El Sol

Here’s everything you need to know about El Sol: It’s the best Mexican restaurant downtown, and you can easily eat there for less than $15. Informal and unhurried, lunches start with a zippy red salsa and a basket of chips. Follow that with the chicken enchiladas, smothered in a mole ($10.95) or vibrant green sauce ($10.50), or any combination of the excellent tacos. Really hungry? The giant burrito ($9), meant to be eaten with a knife and fork, is loaded with rice, beans, salsa, lettuce, sour cream and your choice of protein. You might need a post-burrito coffee. Then again, diners at El Sol aren’t shy about washing down their weekday lunches with beer. 1227 11th St. NW. 202-815-4789. — Emily Codik

The tom yum noodle soup with roasted pork and ground chicken at Baan Thai. (Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post)
Baan Thai

Diners willing to venture north of Thomas Circle will be rewarded at Baan Thai, where the scent of lime juice and fish sauce hovers at the top of the stairs and many menu items are under $10. The salads — substantial, refreshing and stubbornly spicy — include a green mango variety ($8) with peanuts, scallions and roasted coconut. A grilled oyster mushroom salad ($8), meanwhile, is livened up by lots of cilantro and red onion. For something more substantial, try the angel-hair noodles ($15). Rice vermicelli are stir-fried with tomato sauce, creating a pink base that’s topped with tofu, ground chicken and shrimp in a coconut milk sauce. 1326 14th St. NW, second floor. 202-588-5889. — Gabe Hiatt

CherCher Ethio­pian Cuisine

The meat looks as if someone brought it straight from the butcher without bothering to stop at a stove: Kurt ($13.99) is a raw beef dish, popular among Ethiopian men who seem to enjoy brandishing a steak knife — that rare utensil in Ethio­pian restaurants — and slicing into the closest thing to a freshly hunted animal. CherCher knows how to handle raw meat, whether the glistening slabs of garnet-colored rib-eye for the kurt or the finely chopped sirloin for the “special” kitfo ($13.95), a dish radiant with cardamom. If you prefer your proteins browned, try the yebeg wat ($13.99), a lamb stew with a red-pepper sauce as complex as mole, or the doro wat ($13.99), a dark-meat chicken stew that runs sweet and hot. 1334 Ninth St. NW. 202-299-9703. — Tim Carman

The pupusas at El Rinconcito are served with a kicky curtido slaw with fresh tomato sauce. (Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)
El Rinconcito

This tiny Shaw restaurant is close to downtown, but because it’s relaxed, it feels miles away. With a huge menu that spans Mexican and Salvadoran favorites, you’ll find fajitas and tacos and such traditional dishes as sopa de res. Most offerings are under $13, making it easy to find a bargain that leaves you with enough cash for an appetizer or a drink. Combination plates of tamales and pupusas, which come with a kicky curtido slaw, are a great deal, priced at under $8.50, and every dish comes on a plate the size of a serving platter. It’s easy to forget about your work here. 1129 11th St. NW. 202-789-4110. — Maura Judkis

Kaz Sushi Bistro

Bargain sushi is the realm of all-you-can-eat buffets with imitation crab sticks and last week’s leftovers from the fish wholesaler. But the venerable Kaz Sushi Bistro knows how to make the economics of a cheap lunch work: Its weekday bento box specials ($16.50 each) keep the high-grade fish to a minimum, pairing a few pieces of nigiri and maki sushi with a meatier main, like delicate ribbons of beef teriyaki, their sweet-and-savory marinade offset with micro-eruptions of ginger. But if you desire only fish, Kaz has you covered: Its $20 sushi bar special comes with an array of expertly seasoned and formed nigiri, including tuna, salmon, white fish, shrimp and surf clam. A California roll is included, too, no doubt to help fill you up. 1915 I St. NW. 202-530-5500. — T.C.

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