The Alfie's Bun — a beef burger topped with Gouda, runny egg, pineapple, pickled beetroot, arugula, "lucky sauce" and grilled red onion — at Lucky Buns. (Dixie D. Vereen for The Washington Post)

Tim Carman, the $20 Diner, travels throughout the area to find cheap eats and hidden gems that might get lost in the influx of new restaurants. Here are some of the best places he's reviewed in D.C. in recent months, including a revitalized Ethiopian standby and a burgeoning taco empire.

(Reviews are excerpted below; restaurant names link to the full review.)

Lucky Buns

Once you set foot in Lucky Buns, you'll be sucked into its greasy vortex, which swallows all willpower just as surely as a black hole traps light. There's not a dud among the burgers, save perhaps for the lentil-and-mushroom patty, which compresses into a squishy paste after a few bites. The Bogan Bun, a homage to Tom Reaney and his legendary Stokey Bears burger joint in London, features a bacon jam jacked up with [chef Alex] McCoy's own shellfish-free XO sauce. In terms of sheer umami, ketchup ain't got a thing on this XO sauce. I'm also drawn to the Alfie's Bun, an Australian-inspired pileup of pineapple, pickled beet and sunny-side-up egg. It's a sloppy mess, but one I fully endorse. 2000 18th St. NW.

The Sid Vicious taco — crispy cod with malt vinegar salsa macha, mint tomatillo slaw and tartar sauce — at the Chinatown branch of Taco Bamba. (Dixie D. Vereen for The Washington Post)

Taco Bamba

The best way to experience the elastic nature of this local chain-let's taquerias is through its Tacos Nuestros menus, where chef Victor Albisu and fellow company chef Tom Hall acknowledge few boundaries. They borrow from cultures near and far, from Washington burger joints to Middle Eastern bazaars, to create a whole new world of tacos. There is some fine noshing on these free-for-all menus, despite the fact that many tacos come wrapped in pre-made tortillas, flavorful enough but frequently firm and woody. Each of the four locations has its own fish taco, which is four times more than most area taco chains have. The Chinatown spot comes on strong with the Sid Vicious, a generous length of fried cod paired with malt vinegar and chile-heavy salsa macha. It’s an Anglo-Latino hybrid that has the kind of umami funk that you’d expect in a Southeast Asian dish. Various locations, including 777 I St. NW. 

A half chicken with black beans, sweet plantains and yucca fries at Chicken + Whiskey, a fast-casual South American restaurant on 14th Street. (Deb Lindsey for The Washington Post)

Chicken + Whiskey

No matter how many times you look under a wing, or investigate the backside of your breast meat, you won’t find them at Chicken + Whiskey: The juicy clumps of herbs and spice that hide in the small joints of birds at most pollo a la brasa outlets are nowhere to be found here. The only blemishes on these specimens are the browned and bronzed sections of skin produced in the kitchen’s charcoal ovens. Your first instinct is to think that Enrique Limardo, the magnificent chef behind Alma Cocina Latina in Baltimore, has gone minimalist with Peruvian chicken. Your first bite won’t immediately change your mind: The breast meat is juicy beyond all expectation, but not flaccid-juicy, the way overbrined chicken can be. There are suggestions of cumin and garlic, practically dreamlike in their fleetingness and formlessness. The bird is fundamentally savory, as if it were engineered that way, like MSG in poultry form. 1738 14th St. NW. 

The vegetarian combo of chickpeas and rice with baingan bharta, kadi pakora and shahi paneer as well as lamb keema and butter chicken, upper left and center, at Masala Story. (Dayna Smith for The Washington Post)

Masala Story

Vegetables play a featured role here, as they do at Indigo. The baingan bhartha is not as smoky as advertised, but it’s silky and sweet, with a subtle tickle of spice. The shahi paneer features firm cubes of fresh cheese in a tomato curry sweet enough to remind you of roasted pumpkin. I say that with respect. The kadi pakora finds large vegetable dumplings submerged in a yellow, yogurt-based curry that provides no clue as to the serious pepper kick that lies within. The palak paneer is a dense mix of spinach and fresh cheese, perfumed with spice but not overpowering. 3301 12th St. NE.

Injera tacos with chicken, ayib farmers cheese, collard greens and pickled peppers at Etete. (Deb Lindsey for The Washington Post)


Trailblazers invite detractors. Etete was not spared when the Ninth Street institution decided to hire a chef with fine-dining credentials to reimagine Ethio­pian cuisine for the young-and-hungry set that has gentrified the neighborhood. At least one critic told me he no longer considers Etete a proper Ethio­pian restaurant. It’s true that chef Christopher Roberson borrows inspiration from other cultures — Japan for the soy-glazed derek tibs, Mexico for the berbere chicken tacos wrapped in injera — but the results have shown that Ethio­pian cuisine is more open to foreign influence than previously suspected. I’m a devoted fan. 1942 Ninth St. NW. 

This post was compiled by Hau Chu. It has been updated.

Read more:

I tried the Big Mac, Whopper and Dave's Single. They share the same major flaw. 

The 10 best Ethiopian restaurants in the Washington area

These are Tom Sietsema's top 10 new restaurants in Washington