Selecting the best cheap eats in the Washington area is not a process designed to create a permanent hierarchy of bargain restaurants, an impervious list that’s impossible to crack from year to year. It’s more akin to picking an annual all-star team, based on my dining experiences in the past 12 months. Here are my all-star selections for 2017:
10. Melt Gourmet Cheeseburgers (525 E. Market St., Leesburg, Va. 703-443-2105. meltgourmetcheeseburgers.com). Half-pound burgers formed from a custom blend of aged Angus beef cuts. House-made buns. These are a rare thing: destination hamburgers.
9. Nha Trang (6757 Wilson Blvd., Saigon East building, Falls Church, Va. 703-534-1657). The Vietnamese restaurant has assumed new ownership since Nguyen Lee unexpectedly, and sadly, passed in 2013, just weeks after my review. The owners are carrying on Lee’s traditions well — and have even given the space a much-needed facelift.
8. Chettinadu Indian Cuisine (15124 N. Frederick Rd., Rockville, Md. 301-251-8991. chettinadurocks.com). In yet another faceless strip center on the Route 355 corridor, this mango-and-eggplant-colored dining room takes you on an extraordinary journey to Chettinad, a region in Tamil Nadu that has developed its own cuisine, distinct from all others in South India.
7. Mezcalero Cocina Mexicana (3714 14th St. NW. 202-803-2114. mezcalerodc.com). The second project from siblings Alfredo and Jessica Solis is more expansive than their El Sol Restaurante: It’s a fully realized vision of their chef-driven Mexican fare.
6. Bete Ethiopian Cuisine (811 Roeder Road, Silver Spring, Md. 301-588-2225. beteethiopia.com). In a region awash with good Ethiopian restaurants, Bete continues to impress with its concise, well-executed menu, full of lusty dishes best eaten on the leafy patio out back.
5. Federalist Pig (1654 Columbia Rd. NW. 202-827-4400. federalistpig.com). There may be better barbecue around, but no place serves up Federalist Pig’s inventive range of smoked meats in such a funky, distinctive space.
4. Baan Thai (1326 14th St. NW. 202-588-5889. baanthaidc.com). Washington’s craving for authenticity gave chef Jeeraporn Poksupthong all the permission she needed to explore the cooking of her native Thailand. The city is the better for P’Boom’s craft-conscious dishes.
3. Northwest Chinese Food (7313 Baltimore Ave., College Park, Md. 240-714-4473). This college-town storefront specializes in the dishes of Liaoning province, a region that rivals Sichuan for its aggressive flavors. The place is a full-frontal assault on your senses.
2. Menomale (2711 12th St. NE. 202-248-3946. menomale.us). When it comes down to it, chef and co-owner Ettore Rusciano is really an artisan bread maker, who happens to bake some of the finest Italian pizza anywhere.
1. Hollywood East Cafe (11160 Veirs Mill Rd., Silver Spring, Md. 240-290-9988. hollywoodeastcafe.com). The more you know about dim sum, the more you will marvel at this Wheaton operation, which continues to invest in the staff and ingredients necessary to produce its dizzying array of handmade delicacies.