Spend or Save? Pricey Burgers, Affordable Steaks

By Rina Rapuano  |  February 17, 2014
Credit: Tony Brown/Imijination Photography

This town is full of excellent go-to spots where you can eat very well at middle-of-the-road prices. But for those days when you're feeling either slightly broke or extra flush, we've rounded up some high-dollar and low-cost ways to eat and drink deliciously. Because of course you need to know where you can spend $1,776 on a tasting menu - and the ultracheap places where you may be forced to dine after spending that amount of money on one dinner. 

  • Wine Flights

    Spendy: Sure, Eno Wine Bar also offers a $15 wine flight - but if you're in the mood to throw caution to the wind, try the $150 Epic Exploration flight, which includes tastes of Spottswoode Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley; Château de Beaucastel Châteauneuf-du-Pape from the Rhône Valley; and Château Montrose's Saint-Estephe from Bordeaux. 2810 Pennsylvania Ave. NW; 202-295-2826

    Budget: You may need to elbow your way through its tight dining room, but at Screwtop Wine Bar, you'll be rewarded with flights that hover in the $17 price range and change monthly to feature a new region. This month's flights feature Tuscan wines, and oenophiles can also craft their own flights with any wine offered by the glass. 1025 N. Fillmore St., Arlington; 703-888-0845

  • Crab Cakes

    Spendy: Blue Duck Tavern's jumbo-lump crab cakes have been on the menu since opening in 2006 - and for good reason. The locally sourced crab is served as a single ($16) or double ($32) cake paired with seasonal sides like frisée with lemon-caper vinaigrette in winter and perched atop corn succotash in summer. 1201 24th St. NW; 202-419-6755

    Budget: Fish in the Neighborhood, an exceptional seafood take-out spot in Park View, sells unbelievably large broiled, jumbo-lump crab cakes with very little filler for $11.99 apiece. (While you're there, pick up some fried shrimp, candied yams and collards.) The downside? It can get crowded in the tiny shop around dinnertime, leaving few places to sit while you enjoy the banter of owner Bill White. 3601 Georgia Ave. NW; 202-545-6974

  • Burgers

    Spendy: Sure, 2941 scaled back to a bistro a while back - but chef Bertrand Chemel has fine dining in the blood, and we're more than okay with that. His decadent Daffy burger is legendary, a patty of freshly ground duck topped with seared foie gras and served with frites and housemade onion agrodolce ($19). 2941 Fairview Park Dr., West Falls Church; 703-270-1515

    Budget: With so many amazing choices, it's like picking a favorite child. Five Guys, Shake Shack, BGR - we love 'em all. But as we consider all of the outstanding burgers on the DC landscape, we suddenly find ourselves craving a $7 sloppy Spike's Sunnyside topped with cheese, bacon and egg from Good Stuff Eatery. The only downsides here can be the waits on weekends and the inconsistent fries. Multiple locations listed here

  • Credit: Tony Brown/Imijination Photography

    Tasting Menu

    SpendyPlume at The Jefferson Hotel offers a 1776 tasting that pairs ever-changing dishes inspired by Thomas Jefferson with vintage wines sourced from regions where he traveled. The seven-course dinner will put you out a mere $1,776, which includes a glass of 20-year-old champagne, a grand cru white Burgundy, a Bordeaux from one of the five first growths and a taste of the oldest Madeira in-house (currently from 1720). Only about a dozen people - including a couple of celebrities - have experienced this dinner. 1200 16th St. NW; 202-448-2300

    Budget: Little Serow may be one of our favorite tasting menu experiences in the city - despite it also being one of the best values. Chef-owner Johnny Monis, who also runs the kitchen at Komi upstairs, sends out seven or so often-spicy Northern Thai dishes for $45. Some people may dislike the no-reservations policy (which equals long lines) and the no-substitutions policy (sorry, diners with allergies), but we'd stand in line for this dinner any day of the week. 1511 17th St. NW

  • Fried Chicken

    Spendy: Michel Richard is almost as well-known for his love of junk food as he is for his abilities to wow folks with stunning fine-dining dishes. At Central, he often fuses the two - as with his decadent, elevated version of fried chicken ($24 at dinner). It's a must-try dish in the city - although, sadly, you can no longer order it by the bucket. 1001 Pennsylvania Ave. NW; 202-626-0015

    Budget: Oohh's & Aahh's is a U Street go-to for soul food, offering its beloved fried chicken wings packed in Styrofoam at a variety of reasonably priced options, like the eight-wing dinner with two sides for $15.35. The kitchen stays open till 4 PM Fridays and Saturdays, and the restaurant's website rightly brags about serving the likes of Jay-Z and LeBron James. 1005 U St. NW; 202-667-7142

  • Oysters

    Spendy: As we mentioned not so long ago, BLT Steak's new chef Jeremy Shelton has created the most intriguingly delicious oyster toppers we can ever recall tasting. His luxe preparation starts with a Wianno oyster gilded with a tiny dice of cucumber, chile oil, mignonette sauce and balsamic gelée topped with dashi espuma. They run $5 apiece or four for $18. 1625 I St. NW; 202-689-8999

    Budget: It's not quite the same as sitting at their waterfront oyster house in Topping, VA, but eating freshly shucked oysters at Rappahannock Oyster Bar in Union Market is the next best thing. That's because you're getting it straight from the source, since cousins Travis and Ryan Croxton own the family-run company that harvests the bivalves. (True, they cost $2 apiece - but there aren't many places selling bargain oysters outside of happy hours around these parts.) 1309 Fifth St. NE; 202-544-4702

  • Prime Steak

    Spendy: Bourbon Steak is not messing around with its A5 Wagyu steak program, which boasts Miyazaki New York strip loin at $35 an ounce - with a minimum of 3 ozs. per order. It's hand-cut to order and served with A5 butter, seaweed salsa verde and mushroom ketchup. Oh, and the menu kindly suggests you pair it with a trio of Hanyu Ichiro "Card Series" Japanese whiskey for another $175. 2800 Pennsylvania Ave. NW; 202-944-2026

    Budget: Ray's the Steaks has consistently maintained its reputation for excellent cuts with a no-frills, no-fuss dining attitude. Entree prices at this steak lover's mainstay hover between $15 and $35, and steaks automatically come with creamed spinach and mashed potatoes. Budget-friendly wines can also be found here, leaving enough coin to order the Key lime pie. 2300 Wilson Blvd., Arlington; 703-841-7297