Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Our budget-friendly date ideas for the nation's capital.

Date night shouldn't break the bank. Here's where to go that's high on experience, and doesn't skimp on taste.

The recent restaurant explosion in Washington, DC, has created dozens of new spots—and old favorites—that everyone's itching to try. Even if you're on a budget, some of the city's finest date spots are still fully within your reach, with insider deals and specials that can give you the ultimate night out for the optimal value. You just have to think strategically. To get you started, here are seven excellent restaurants where two people can dine for $50 or less, without skimping on the experience.

Compass Rose

The menu at Compass Rose spans the globe with street food-inspired snacks from locales such as India, Greece, and Georgia (the country, not the state). On any visit, though, it's crucial to order the khachapuri. This Georgian bread topped with melted cheese, egg, and butter is both filling and delicious—and at $14 it's perfect for a table of two. There will be plenty of room to spare for a couple of cocktails, as well as your choice of a small plate like currywurst, kogi ribs, arepas, or calamari.

Cork Wine Bar

This cozy neighborhood wine bar specializes in small dishes perfect for sharing. Diners love Cork's grilled avocado bread ($12), which comes topped with pistachios and sea salt, so definitely start with that, then add a three-cheese platter that'll run you $16. If you're opting against the cheese, you'll have plenty of room for the restaurant's pan-roasted chicken with spaghetti squash, porcini mushrooms, and chestnuts ($15), or the brioche sandwich with prosciutto, fontina, and a sunny-side-up egg ($11). Whatever you do, make sure to order from the excellent wine list, where glasses start at $8.


One of many great things about Daikaya is the abundance of choice when it comes to your meal. Stay on the ground level to slurp bowls of ramen, or head upstairs for Japanese small plates like skewers, grilled avocado, Japanese fried chicken, and rice balls. Of course, if you're looking to spend about half your money on drinks, Daikaya's ramenya is the way to go. Here, you can spend $25 on two bowls of ramen and spend the rest on a bottle of sake, cocktails, or beer.


Mike Isabella has launched an entire empire in DC since appearing on Top Chef, but it all started with Graffiato. Here, you can sample Isabella's menu of Jersey-Italian favorites in an industrial-chic setting that still packs in the diners. Share a pizza like the Jersey Shore ($16), topped with fried calamari, tomato, provolone, and cherry pepper aioli. If you stick to one boozy drink apiece—beers hover around $7, while cocktails cost about $12—you can also split a small plate, like butternut squash agnolotti or Isabella's crispy chicken with pepperoni sauce (both $14).


Maketto, the stylish Southeast Asian wonder on H Street, offers several large-format meals to share, including an incredible Taiwanese fried chicken platter for $25. Pair that with a variety of appetizers like pork steam bao, scallion pancakes, and American Wagyu tartare. Save room for coffee and dessert if you like, or take some time to browse the designer menswear located in the retail section of the restaurant-boutique-coffee shop hybrid.

Room 11

Room 11 has been a go-to spot for years, thanks to its well-chosen wine list, excellent drinks, and dinner menu that excels at keeping you warm. Start off with a glass of wine or beer (both starting at $7), and take your pick of mains like a grilled cheese made with cheddar, mozzarella, caciocavallo, and spicy marinara sauce ($11); a Four Barrel coffee burger topped with barbecue sauce, bacon, cheddar, and ranch salad ($14); or risotto with kabocha squash and mushroom ($15).

Thip Khao

Washingtonians have fallen hard for Laotian food, thanks to Thip Khao. The menu at this top-notch Columbia Heights restaurant is perfect for food-lovers watching their wallets, with mains running from $10 to $15. Sample some classics from the regular dinner menu, such as naem khao (crispy coconut rice, sour pork, and peanuts served with lettuce wraps), laab (minced meat with toasted rice powder, scallions, cilantro, and mint), fish grilled in banana leaves, or fried rice with Chinese sausage. There's also a "jungle menu" filled with offal, unusual meats like alligator, and extra spice. Order liberally and complement it all with beer for $7 or $8 each.

Amy McKeever is on the D.C. beat for Travel + Leisure. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

Our budget-friendly date ideas for the nation's capital.

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