The Worm - This Bird says Cheap! Cheap!

As I walked home yesterday I passed the Dupont Circle CVS; this is, without a shadow of a doubt, the sketchiest CVS in all of creation so I was not surprised when there was a line snaking out the door and around the corner. “Hmm,” I thought to myself “homeless person passed on the floor and the police aren’t letting people in? Spontaneous industrial refrigerator thaw created a flood and they had to close until a giant squeegee can be brought in to clean up?” But no, as I walked by the door and saw a sign that said “one paper per customer” I realized these people were waiting to buy copies of the paper with all of the election-related headlines.

I will not make this a political post; suffice to say I am pleased a Democrat is in office. However, waiting in line for a newspaper? REALLY? I’ll admit, I thought about it briefly but then quickly realized that this newspaper, even with its exciting headline, would still end up relegated to a corner of my apartment fairly quickly, a la old National Geographic issues. Yet as I walked home with my toilet paper and birth control pills (hey, who’s got two thumbs and knows how to party responsibly? This guy), I began to think to myself that people really are very very excited about this whole change in administrations and see it as a change in the focus, goals, and ideals, of this country. And I guess I can’t really say as I blame them. Whether Republican or Democrat, we can all agree that something good needs to happen to this country.

For me, this feeling was crystallized, like many other seminal moments in my life, by going out to dinner. Or rather, the inability to. My girlfriends and I like to go out to a yummy restaurant once a month or so and do it right – order wine, hors d’oeuvres, desserts, etc. We were planning on going to Hook in Georgetown and I was planning on writing about it for The Worm. I was excited not only for all of the fishing puns this dinner would afford my title (“The Worm gets Hooked,” “A Hook this Worm is willing to Bite”– I know, you’re sad too) but also because this place is supposed to be damn good, with several RAMMY winning chefs in their kitchen.

A few days before dinner however, the emails started coming. Apparently no one, not even myself, could actually, in good conscience, spend $100+ on dinner for one. One friend went so far as to say that it came down to paying for treatment for her sick dog or going out to dinner. Ouch. The dog won, understandably, but if I know this friend at all, semi begrudgingly. Unwilling to just not go out to dinner (the horror!) a few friends and I rallied and tried to find somewhere exciting to go that would not cost an arm and a leg. Actually, who am I kidding, we had nary a finger to spend, and basically were looking for a night out on a fingernail’s budget. One friend suggested, in jest, Amsterdam Falafel. I know a good thing when I hear it, and pretty soon a dinner date was set.

Amsterdam Falafel is an experience. An experience that many of us have had while hammered. My friends, I entreat you to try it sober. You will be immensely glad you did. The falafel is served on fresh warm pita and comes in two sizes: small (3 falafel patties) or large (5 patties). Once you are given your sandwich you are able to top it with dozens of fresh sauces and veggie included pickled beets, a tangy tzatziki sauce, cornichons, and silky hummus. Add to the mix crispy French fries offered with the traditional Dutch accompaniment of mayonnaise or, for a change, peanut sauce (!!) and you are in business. The small falafel is, including tax, $4.40. NO, I am not shitting you. $4.40! In case you were wondering, that is less than a grande blended coffee drink at Starbucks. They only take cash but there is an ATM right there in the shop and, if you are particularly pretentious and affected, uh I mean … well-traveled, they even accept Euros. Seriously.

Venturing to Adams Morgan sober – and then staying sober and leaving sober – is definitely an experience in itself. But again, one I recommend; to truly appreciate the seediness, and general funky attitude, Adams Morgan has to offer it helps if you are in your right mind and the area is devoid of drunk assholes. Amsterdam Falafel plays perfectly into this eclectic vibe; it is small, with tables so close together you are forced to befriend your neighbors (I was offered a few fries by mine). The walls are decorated with concert posters from venues in Holland and the place is just clean enough to not gross you out but just dirty enough to feel authentic. It’s important to note that the “Amsterdam” in the name is not some lame attempt to ride the popularity of stoner culture (“Dude, I went to a coffee shop in Amsterdam once and got sooooo baaaaaked. Let’s get some gnarly pot falafel!”) but, in fact, the place where the joint’s owners (couldn’t help myself) first encountered the walk-up falafel shop. Thankfully they recognized the genius of the concept and thought that Adams Morgan – with its high demand for late-night portable meals – was the perfect place to open one.

As you can probably tell, we had a great time, spent less than $5 each, and left incredibly satisfied. Had we gone to Hook we still would have had a great time and left incredibly satisfied BUT we would have spent twice that on one glass of wine. And really, knowing that the next morning I could wake up and not feel absolutely terrible for spending money that was earmarked for bills (or sick pit bulls) on food that wouldn’t stay with me past my morning bowl of fiber rich cereal and cup of tea added to the “great time” we had.

Yeah it totally sucks that people are out of jobs (like me), people’s houses aren’t worth what they paid for them (like mine), and it costs a lot more to maintain the lifestyle that up until recently was affordable (like mine, hang on a sec, I am just gonna jump out this window …) but that is NO REASON to not have fun. To not do stuff that makes you happy. Worrying doesn’t get you anywhere. Worry is the opposite of action. Either do something pro-active, or quit worrying. And in these times, when there often isn’t anything pro-active one can do, the only thing to do is to have fun. So with that in mind, here are a few other inexpensive restaurants for when the dining out bug bites:

Surfside – Glover Park. Approximately $12 gets you an awesome plate of fish tacos with rice and beans. And you’re right next door to Max’s, where $3.50 buys you a delicious cone of homemade ice cream.

Madhatter – Dupont area. Yes this place turns into an underage freak fest on the weekends but during the weekdays it’s simply a bar that turns out some excellent bar food, including a turkey Reuben that is to die for. Go on Tuesdays and enjoy trivia and discounted microbrew bottles.

The Big Hunt – Dupont Circle. Half price burger night is Tuesday. And these are greasy, awesome burgers and thick, cafeteria-style fries. Awesome. Plus they have totally random beers that AND PBR on draft – what??

Fresh Med – Cleveland Park. Counter service = cheaper food. Excellent Middle Eastern and Lebanese food items plus an awesome selection of international foodstuffs to browse and buy while waiting. As far as I am concerned Cleveland Park is one of the most accessible places in NW as it’s a reasonable walk from almost anywhere. Make a night of it and walk home after your cheap and chipper dinner – bonus if you live south on Connecticut Ave. ‘cause its all downhill.

Rhodeside Grill – Courthouse. Tuesday night is half price rib night (apparently no one goes out on Tuesdays) and they are good and the portions are large. Brunch is pretty sweet too since they have a make-your-own Bloody Mary bar. They bring you a ginormous glass of vodka, the rest is up to you.

Peruvian Chicken – anywhere. Have you ever had Peruvian chicken? It’s god-damned delicious. And meals normally consist of a half or whole chicken, rice, and salad, feed two people, and cost around $20. Quick, easy, authentic, and really – so fucking good. A personal favorite is the one off Columbia Pike next to the Arlington Cinema ‘n’ Drafthouse. If you venture out there beware – when they’ve sold all their chicken they just close with no warning. I appreciate their commitment to freshness but when you really want chicken it’s about the most frustrating thing in the whole world. Don’t call to ask if they’re running low unless you’re fluent in Spanish.

Ben’s Chili Bowl – U St. You hear about this place all the time. And again, because its open late it tends to get the reputation as being a 3am hot dog stop. Try it at regular meal time, you will not be disappointed. The dogs, etc. really are good – they wouldn’t have them at Nationals Stadium if they weren’t. Plus the atmosphere is cool, with tons of pics of celebs on the wall. The restaurant’s creation is a great DC story and the Ali family still runs the place, making it a true landmark. And again, counter service = cheaper food.

Julia’s Empanadas – U St, Dupont, Adams Morgan. Delicious homemade Argentine patties filled with meat, veggies and spices. They’re big and filling and sooo tasty. There aren’t really ever seats in these places to grab them to go and watch a movie at home for a true money saver. Bonus is the dessert empanadas and Inca cola available too.

The Diner – Adams Morgan. Sure we all know about this place but man, it really is inexpensive! Beer, wine, comfort food, awesome deserts and a really cool space make this more than a late night eats spot or hung over brunch destination.

There are so many places where one can get cheap food that is still tasty. The ones above are just places that I know and love. If you keep in mind the following principals, it’ll be easy to identify cheap eat and fun night out:

Counter service – It sounds silly but when there are no waiters to tip you automatically save 20%,

Décor – if the area is fun who cares what the restaurant looks like inside? Paper napkins, small tables, whatever. Get your atmosphere from the city and the culture, not the décor, You’ll save tons – those linens aren’t free you know.

Places that are open late night – They know their crowd, and their crowd is drunk and usually just wants to run in and then get on the road home to vomit or hook up or whatever it is you young kids do (hoola hoops, Dan Fogelberg … who’s feeling me?).

In these trying economic times we could all use a free (or really inexpensive) meal - please feel free to share any yummy cheap dining experiences I’ve missed!


Anonymous said...

There is no Peruvian chicken in Baltimore. I get sad at this thought.

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