Everyone loves a bargain — especially in a time with rising prices. Our critics scoured Northern Virginia to find more than 50 cheap meals for $14 or less. These are their picks.
By Olga Boikess, Dawn Klavon, Alyssa Langer, Alice Levitt, and Renee Sklarew
Duck Banh Mi | $6.50
This boba shop specializes in fun Asian frozen desserts. From Filipino halo-halo crowned with suitably purple ube ice cream, to Korean green tea bing su, and creamy avocado purée dotted with ice and jellies, there’s a world of flavors bound to entice a sweet tooth. But while you’re dreaming of dessert, don’t sleep on the meals at this cheerful storefront.
Savory offerings are inconsistent, so be ready to be surprised. But there is always banh mi. As soon as you order, a staffer toasts the flaky roll so that it’s warm and just a bit crusty. The secret to one of the best Vietnamese sammies in NoVA, though, is in the filling. Namely, cross your fingers (or call ahead) for duck. The salty, pleasantly greasy meat blooms with a satisfying burst of umami that’s only enhanced by the fresh, crunchy vegetables within, all for $6.50. 24555 Dulles Landing Dr., Dulles — Levitt
Vermicelli Bowl | $12.95
There are boxes of EveryBurger candy and cups of Yan Yan at this shop filled with mostly Japanese treats. There’s marble-sealed Ramuné and a whole variety of bubble teas to drink. Fortunately, there may well be room in your wallet to give in to one of these sweet temptations when the savory fare is so inexpensive.
Our choice is the $12.95 takeout container filled segment-by-segment with the fixings for making a satisfying Vietnamese bún, or vermicelli bowl. Pork or chicken is marinated in a sweet, lemongrass-flavored bath and then grilled and topped with scallions and placed atop a nest of al dente noodles. Another section overflows with pickled carrots and daikon, as well as cilantro, lettuce, and blanched bean sprouts. The crowning glory is tiny containers of peanuts and funky fish sauce. You won’t need something sweet to feel satisfied after that, but it sure would hit the spot. 43670 Greenway Corporate Dr., Ste. 106, Ashburn — Levitt
Alexandria and McLean
Pizza by the Slice | $4.32
Andy’s Pizza Old Town opened in October and is gaining plenty of momentum. This sixth location of the all-in-one New York–style pizzeria uses artisan baking methods and says it sources the best ingredients in the world to make award-winning pies. The pizza joint says a 72-hour cold fermenting process gives their blistered crust its unique flavor and texture.
Any variety of the pie is outstanding, but the cheese pizza won gold in the traditional pizza category at the 2021 International Pizza Challenge, for good reason. The crust is just the right texture — crispy on the outside, chewy on the inside — with flavorful red sauce (jazzed up with a pinch of salt) and gooey, indulgent mozzarella cheese.
Andy’s also offers a simple menu of salads, chicken, and fries. It’s $4.32 for a slice of cheese or pepperoni pizza. For that price, you’re sure to be satisfied. Multiple locations — Klavon
Banh Mi Combination | $6.95
Whether you’re already a banh mi fanatic or new to the world of banh mi, you won’t be disappointed by this family-owned Vietnamese sandwich shop. The menu is huge, so rest assured, there is a sandwich for everyone.
The most popular pick is the “combination.” At just $6.95, this foot-long sandwich consists of cucumber, pickled radish, hot pepper, cilantro, a variety of meat, and pâté, all stuffed into a crisp, housemade baguette. You also can’t go wrong with the barbecue pork sandwich ($6.75); the sweet-savory meat alone is worth the visit. The sandwiches offer generous portions of meat and veggies.
While you wait for your sandwich, shop around the store for plenty of delicious snacks to explore. 3103 Graham Rd., Falls Church — Langer
Cevapcici | $8.90–$12.90
Lepinja is one of the great underrepresented breads in world cuisine. At Balkan Grill, it’s baked fresh daily and served in the small, casual dining room with a full roster of meats from the former Yugoslavia. The fluffy rolls are just a bit chewy, with crisp edges, and are the ideal vessel for one of the Balkans’ other best culinary creations, cevapcici.
The chubby little kebabs feature ground beef speckled with enough garlic to strike fear into the heart of any vampire. Their juices soak into the bread, which diners also stack with fresh onion and tomato, as well as a swipe of a creamy, spreadable cheese called kajmak.
It’s a filling meal at $8.90 for five cevapcici, but for those who are really hungry, $12.90 buys 10 — enough for even the heartiest of Balkan food aficionados. You’ll have enough money left in your budget for the memorable $2.50 pistachio baklava from the Turkish chefs. 5902-A N. Kings Hwy., Alexandria — Levitt
Golden Olive Chicken | $13.95
Fried chicken isn’t exactly known as a healthy food, but this Korean version is fried in olive oil, which makes it a better-for-you version. So if you’re committed to crispy, juicy poultry tonight, we say this could be the way to go.
A half order of the Golden Olive Chicken feeds one hungry diner or two snackers. What do they get for $13.95? A half chicken that’s marinated for optimal moisture and battered and breaded with 30 ingredients for a crunch that reveals just a sharp splinter of heat. Cool it down with a bowl of pickled radishes, on the house. For an extra $3.95, add grilled corn on the cob for a country-style meal that pairs disarmingly well with suds and soju. 14109 St. Germain Dr., Centreville — Levitt
Slice of Pizza | $5–$6
If Virginia is for (pizza) lovers, Benny Vitali’s is the destination your heart desires.
A back-to-basics neighborhood pizza joint, Benny Vitali’s serves 28-inch pies and beyond massive paper-plated slices. In-the-know diners flock for quick, easy, and delicious meals that won’t break the bank. Cheese slices run $5, and pepperoni or Italian sausage slices cost $6. Affordable? Yes. A worthy indulgence? Absolutely. Connoisseurs devour golden brown crust and creamy mozzarella, lightly crisped with bubbles. Grab a cold beer or soda to wash it down, and be on your way.
Benny’s pizza parlors are spread across Virginia and beyond, with different last names for each; Benny Vitali’s is a staple in historic downtown Fredericksburg. Visit for great ’za in a classic shop, decorated with custom-painted pizza peels, old license plates, and antique signage. No bells and whistles here, but for a great slice, look no further. 722 Caroline St., Fredericksburg — Klavon
Anniversary Burger | $13.99
D#!, that’s tasty.
Big Buns D#! Good Burgers are so d#! good, it’s the name of their business. If you try only one menu item at any of six NoVA Big Buns locations, choose the Anniversary Burger — perfectly cooked Angus beef, aged sharp cheddar cheese, applewood-smoked bacon, caramelized onions, shredded lettuce, and a touch of grain mustard aioli — all on a delightfully toasted housemade bun. It’s masterfully messy. It’s satisfyingly savory. It’s d#*! delicious.
Big Buns Reston is conveniently housed at the Wiehle-Reston East Metro station plaza, with a beckoning bonus — outside their door stands a mesmerizing 31-foot-tall digital screen that shows an aquarium filled with sharks. Big Buns offers a backyard party feel: colorful murals, bodacious burgers, an appealing selection of craft beer, boozy shakes, and more. But the Anniversary Burger at $13.99 is the menu’s MVP. Multiple locations — Klavon
Banh Mi Thit Nuong | $9.50
Banh mi fans will applaud the outstanding Vietnamese sandwiches created at friendly Caphe Banh Mi in Old Town Alexandria. Our favorite is the banh mi thit nuong (Vietnamese sandwich with grilled pork), which packs a punch of fresh flavor. The tender grilled pork shoulder displays a delicious char, adding even more reasons to love it. Wrapped in a crispy, just-baked 8-inch baguette, the tasty sandwich includes house garlic mayo, pickled daikon, carrot, cucumber, and generous sprigs of cilantro. We included the spicy jalapeños brought on the side — it was a home run.
Caphe Banh Mi offers a tempting menu of inviting pho soups, vermicelli buns, and banh mi — all of which are clearly popular with locals dining in and ordering takeout. The price is right on these hot-off-the-grill sandwiches, which win high marks in both taste and affordability. 407 Cameron St., Alexandria — Klavon
Jerk Chicken | $11
For years, this takeout-only restaurant was known as much for its inconsistent schedule as its enviable island-style grub. A new co-owner is helping to make visits here more reliable, and more comfortable thanks to a major renovation. Luckily, the cuisine won’t change one whit.
For $11, you can still scoop up a hearty portion of rice topped with sweet strands of braised cabbage. This would almost be enough to satisfy any diner, but then there is the chicken. Smoky and with just a prickle of heat from its Scotch bonnet-based sauce, the bone-in meat goes down almost too easily.
For another $3.50, grab a Jamaican beef patty from the case. It’s a rarity to find them housemade rather than out of a freezer box. Here they are, and the rewards are in the crumbly dough and piquant flavor. Mention it’s your first time at the restaurant, and you may even get one gratis. 4008 University Dr., Fairfax — Levitt
Cubano | $10.75
If the slowly spinning rows of heavily seasoned jerk chicken in the front window don’t lure you in, the smell certainly will. And this unassuming restaurant full of bright colors and tropical décor also boasts platters, burritos, and sandwiches — all at reasonable prices.
One highlight is the Cuban sandwich. For $10.75, you get a generous Cubano made with sliced pork and ham, cheese, mustard, and pickles, layered on a toasted baguette that’s been pressed to perfection, sliced on a steep diagon-al, and served piping hot. It’s all about the ratios with Cubanos, and
Caribbean Grill does it right, keeping the mustard layer modest, using thin pickles judiciously, providing just the right amount of cheese for an Instagrammable cheese pull, and pressing the baguette super thin and crispy.
If you’re feeling ambitious enough to tack on a side of Cuban rice, fries, or plantains, you’re still eating for under $14 — certainly cheaper than a trip to Havana. 5183 Lee Hwy., Arlington — Langer
Barbeque Platter | $11
Two black smokers are positioned by the front porch of Carolina Brothers, in a building that dates back to 1890. If you’ve ever road- tripped through central North Carolina, it might feel like déjà vu, so authentic is the hickory-smoked pulled pork infused with a kicky vinegar at this Ashburn institution.
But unlike at most barbecue joints, you won’t find a lick of fat in the tender pork butt. Sure, the place is popular, thanks in part to hungry bikers from the W&OD Trail, but the lines move and the staff greets you with a smile. Add banana pudding and cornbread? Yes, because nothing is heavy, and everything is a bargain. The platters are the best deal going — a heaping portion of barbecue on a squishy Martin’s potato roll, accompanied by two generous sides for $11. We like the green beans with chunks of bacon and the cheddary macaroni and cheese. 20702 Ashburn Rd., Ashburn — Sklarew
Bar Pizza | $10.50
The beauty of the personal-size bar pies at Colony Grill begins with their $10.50 price tag and ends with a slick of hot oil that leaves the stretchy cheese pockmarked.
This chain debuted in Stamford, Connecticut, in 1935 — an Irish pub with an Italian chef who introduced locals to pizza. And the first Colony Grill to open outside of its home region still has the dark-wood feel of a boozy old-school haunt. There are games on the TVs and regulars at the bar.
But a convivial atmosphere means nothing without a memorable meal. The svelte, lacy-edged pizza crust is ideally chewy — and inimitable. Pepperoni and serrano chiles (referred to as “stingers”) make the best combination, but options also include breakfast pies with egg and cheese and even salad pizza. For the dough-and-cheese explorer, this unusual restaurant is a classic that we’re lucky to have in NoVA. 2800 Clarendon Blvd., Arlington — Levitt
Chicken Taco with Rice and Beans | $9.50
For a no-frills, satisfying taco that draws high ratings from locals, try El Jaripeo. Order the San José chicken taco — simply one soft taco with sliced grilled chicken, lettuce, tomatoes, and cheese, served with significant portions of rice and beans. For $9.50, you’ll be stuffed. Be sure to christen this classic with the restaurant’s mouthwatering salsa, delivered with a bowl of chips.
For pork fans, the carnitas tacos, plated with rice and beans, promise flavorful, thick slices of juicy pork, double-wrapped in your choice of tortilla. The simple meal is done well and brought quickly to your table. Don’t plan on extravagant surroundings at El Jaripeo, but expect a hearty helping of tacos. 623 Frost Ave., Warrenton — Klavon
Alexandria, Springfield, Woodbridge
Street Tacos | $3
El Paso’s authentic street tacos will run you about $3 each, depending on which location you visit, and offer a satisfying way to get your taco fix. Classics like carne asada, pollo asado, carnitas, and al pastor fill your tummy without emptying your wallet. Each provides a distinctive, zesty option, and vegetarian versions are also available. Freshly chopped cilantro, onions, and lime wedges accompany the plentiful double-tortilla tacos, as well as mild, spicy, and verde salsas.
All El Paso Restaurants offer family-friendly dining, welcoming Mexican-themed décor, and efficient service. The well-stocked bar offers fantastic house margaritas and fruity versions as well. Next time you’re dreaming of a fresh, flavorful taco, visit one of El Paso’s locations for a memorable Mexican meal. Multiple locations — Klavon
Arlington, Fairfax, Woodbridge
Half Chicken | $12.55
This place knows how to cook Peruvian chicken. Besides the incredible smell upon entering and the sight of dozens of chickens rotating slowly behind the counter, the line is a pretty good indication that they’re onto something. Luckily, it moves quickly, and within minutes, diners have a charcoal-broiled half chicken in front of them, along with golden fried plantains and a steaming cup of beans for $12.55. (This portion could certainly be enough for two meals, depending on one’s appetite.)
El Pollo Rico offers various sizes; you can order a whole, half, or quarter chicken, and you can specify that the meat be white, dark, or regular (both). Each comes with two sides (plantains, fries, rice, beans, or coleslaw) and sauces. The quality and quantity here cannot be beat. (And if you order to go, a fair warning: You will be salivating from the smell as you drive home … as quickly as possible.) Multiple locations — Langer
Vegetable Chimichanga | $13.73
Eat your vegetables!
We found a fabulous way to get your daily allotment of vitamin-rich veggies: Check out El Tio Tex-Mex Grill’s deliciosa version of the traditional chimichanga. It’s a large flour tortilla that’s hand-rolled, stuffed chock-full of freshly sautéed vegetables and then pan-fried to create a crispy tortilla blanket. This fantastic find is accompanied by hearty servings of Spanish rice, refried beans, lettuce, pico de gallo, sour cream, and glorious guacamole. All that and a basket of chips! Get your daily servings of veggies, skillfully served inside this charming chimichanga, plus all the tantalizing trimmings.
El Tio Grill has four popular NoVA locations, offering memorable Tex-Mex cuisine in a family-friendly atmosphere. The bar is welcoming, with a variety of refreshing margaritas and other cocktails, beers, and wines. El Tio takes the prize for an affordable meal with impressive ingredients for $13.73. Multiple locations — Klavon
Chicken Momos | $9.99
The budget foodie’s secret best friend? Gas station grub. Krishna Shrestha, formerly of Ashburn’s Everest Kitchen, knew this when he took charge of the kitchen at this Liberty gas station. Inside, diners can choose from Hunt Brothers Pizza, Krispy Krunchy Chicken’s Cajun-fried cracklings, and Shrestha’s native Nepalese fare.
Yes, most of the diners lined up at the counter are there for greasy American-style food, but those in the know descend on the gas station for its momos, Himalayan dumplings with puckered tops. They usually sell out by the end of the day, and it’s easy to see why. At $9.99 for 10, their slick skin gives way to juicy, heavily spiced chicken meatballs (or veggies, if you so choose). A duo of sauces doesn’t so much sweeten the deal as heat it up. It’s a meal to remember in the most casual of settings. 43673 John Mosby Hwy., Chantilly — Levitt
F & F Filipino Fusion
Lechon Kawali | $12
Lechon kawali is the Philippines’ answer to the Americas’ chicharrones. Pork belly, fried crisp in a wok-like pan, is always a winning equation, but not everyone does it with the panache of F & F Filipino Fusion’s chef-owner Irene Bautista Cuison. Thanks to a well-seasoned, garlicky marinade, the cubes of pig are so much more than fat stacked on fat.
Most of NoVA’s Filipino restaurants serve their guests from behind a line of steam tables. This isn’t the case at F & F. Though it’s located inside Lotte Plaza’s food court, the restaurant features cuisine that’s cooked to order and brought to the diner’s table on chic metal plates by a server, or sometimes by Cuison herself.
The $12 dish isn’t all meat. A colorful salad of greens and cherry tomatoes provides a respite from the debauchery along with fragrant white rice. A pair of sweet and tangy dipping sauces light up a diner’s taste buds, making it all but impossible not to finish every bite. 13955 Metrotech Dr., Chantilly — Levitt
Blackened Fish Taco | $5.75
Nothing fishy about it — Fish Taco at the trendy Boro in Tysons delivers fresh, flavorful tacos that hit the spot. There are 11 taco types, but go for the blackened fish variation. Diners will be refreshed with this light, healthy option that is wrapped in a soft flour tortilla and served with tangy chile-lime sauce, cabbage, and mango pico de gallo. A single taco runs $5.75, and platters go for $14 and include two tacos with rice and beans or salad.
The casual-dining Fish Taco also features authentic appetizers, greens, bowls, and more — all at a neighborhood taqueria with a homegrown vibe. 1644 Boro Pl., Tysons — Klavon
Chicken Parmigiana | $12.25
Chicken parmigiana has it all. With chicken, tomatoes, cheese, and pasta, it’s a perfect exemplification of the food pyramid — turned upside down and sideways. Let’s put it this way: Nutritionists are unlikely to recommend it.
Yet the version at Giovanni’s NY Pizza makes it all but impossible not to become a regular. The avatar of New York–style perfection starts with a flattened breast of crispy chicken. Tangy tomato sauce bursts from beneath milky, blistered mozzarella. There’s enough cheese to weave its way into the al dente pasta, stretching its chewy body between strands of spaghetti.
Since 1982, the Di Cola family of Monte di Procida near Naples (read: real Italians) has been serving up slices of pizza and plates of parm that are more representative of American eats than their own traditions. The best part? The prices still recall the “greed is good” decade. At lunchtime, the chicken parmigiana is $9.75 and buttery garlic bread is included with the meal. At dinner, it’s only $2.50 more. 520 E. Market St., Leesburg — Levitt
Pho | Prices Vary
Of the dozens of Vietnamese dining rooms in Falls Church’s Eden Center, this mall storefront is worth seeking out for its good- value versions of staples like pho, as well as hard-to-find regional specialties. Pho is breakfast food in Vietnam, so it wasn’t much of a surprise to arrive at 10 a.m. on a weekday to find the long tables in the sunwashed room filled with diners slurping its fortifying soups.
Nestled in a comfortable booth, we ordered pho with well-done flank steak for $13.95. Besides the options for various cuts of beef, tripe, and meatballs, pho can also be ordered with succulent sliced chicken. The deeply flavored broth, supple noodles, crunchy sprouts, herbs, fresh chile, and full-flavored beef come together for a deeply satisfying meal — whatever the time of day. 6795 Wilson Blvd., Ste. 7, Falls Church — Boikess
Fredericksburg and Woodbridge
Chicken Sandwich | $8.99
At any Nashville-style chicken sandwich purveyor, it’s important that the diner chooses their heat level correctly. Not spicy enough and they’re in for a ho-hum experience. Too spicy and, as one counter staffer at the Woodbridge location of this growing chain put it, “It will burn all day.” She said this of the Angry Hot chicken sandwich, dipped in a sauce infused with Trinidad scorpion pepper. Only the bravest souls dare try the Medic with its Carolina reaper-fueled heat.
We humbly recommend the After Burner, which tastes like a spicy General Tso’s chicken thanks to its sticky sweet sauce. For $8.99, diners get their spicy chicken with its crunchy battered jacket along with a topping of crinkle-cut pickles and homemade slaw. It’s not enough to quell the fire, but we like going through our day with lips atingle from a well-crafted slab of hot chicken. Multiple locations — Levitt
Arlington (Lyons Village and Westover)
Italian Sub | $10.99
This gourmet specialty shop will transport you to Italy thanks to the aisles upon aisles of imported Italian pastas, oils, sauces, and more. Beyond the grocery portion of the shop, do not skip over the deli, where Philadelphia-style Italian subs reign supreme.
If you’re in the mood for a cold sub and a true classic, go for The Roma. This sub includes dry-cured prosciutto, lightly smoked mortadella, Genoa salami, provolone, sweet and/or hot peppers, lettuce, onions, oregano, and a special dressing — all generously stuffed into a soft Italian roll.
The small is $9.99, but for just $1 more, we suggest going for the large. (You won’t regret it.) If you’re craving a heated sandwich instead, be sure to check out the chicken parmigiana sub; for $10.99 (or $11.99 for the large), you get a full breaded and fried piece of chicken that’s loaded with marinara and melted cheese, tucked into an Italian roll. Multiple locations — Langer
King’s Koshary | $8.99
With its nautical blue-and-white dining room, King of Koshary looks more “fine dining” than “cheap eats.” It’s modern, welcoming, and does nothing to prepare diners for the hearty home cooking to come.
Owner Ayob Mentry earns the title in his restaurant’s name with an irresistible take on his native Egypt’s national dish. Koshary is a vegan meal so delectable that even the most devoted flesh fanatics will crave it. And at $8.99 for a hulking bowl, it’s affordable enough to become a frequent part of their diets.
Koshary combines ditalini pasta with chickpeas, lentils, and rice in a garlicky, cumin-redolent tomato sauce. The collection of varied textures includes a crown of fried onions. It’s just one more detail that makes the simple dish worthy of a king. 5515 Wilson Blvd., Arlington — Levitt
Wooguhji Tang | $14
Everyone who loves Korean food that goes beyond the barbecue grill knows that it is essentially a meat-and-potatoes cuisine. The best example of this is the beloved gamja tang, a stew of potatoes and tender, bone-in pork neck. But what if you’re looking for something just as comforting, but not as heavy? The answer is hard-to-find wooguhji tang, which replaces the spuds with braised napa cabbage.
Even at an early lunch, the secret is out at Ko Hyang House. The $14 sizzling pot, with its varying tones of chile red and topping of Day Glo green scallions, hits nearly every table in the hidden treasure of a restaurant. Hot tea and cold water are self-serve, but that doesn’t diminish the friendly service of staffers who help diners with choosing their warming soup.
Each bubbling broth comes with a trio of banchan. The highlight of these may seem redundant to those already feasting on spicy cabbage soup, but save room for the effervescent kimchi. 426-C Brookfield Corporate Dr., Chantilly — Levitt
Pasta with Rice and Lamb | $13
Build America Plaza in Falls Church is the ultimate destination for African food, a secret (albeit smaller) equivalent to Eden Center’s Vietnamese community. Among its many riches, Kulan Restaurant & Café offers up the region’s only Somali fare.
A guest’s first meal begins with a bargain: First-time customers are treated to a cup of sweet, milky Somali tea, gratis. They’ll sip it until the food arrives, a bundle of native flavors jumbled with colonial influences.
The best bet is to get both raisin-speckled rice and saucy linguine, along with cubes of lamb that melt with lamb-y ecstasy in each bite, but never step over the line into gaminess. Freshly made hot sauce illuminates palates more than it burns them; the flavor of the green sauce is unforgettable. For $13, a visit to Kulan is an edible education, complete with a ripe banana on the side. 3821 S. George Mason Dr., Falls Church — Levitt
Birria Taco | $4.95
Manassas is best known for its Civil War history, but La China Poblana Taqueria is giving that a run for its money.
Those fortunate enough to dine at this unassuming Mexican restaurant will be drawn to it again and again, seeking the taste of the outstanding birria tacos. Guests devour this shredded beef brisket with cheese, finely chopped cilantro, and onion, and served with a side of rich consommé sauce. Get yours for $4.95 each or as a combo with rice and beans for $12.50. The authentic flavor has hints of savory, sweet, earthy, smoky, and spicy seasonings.
La China Poblana Taqueria is a casual, inexpensive spot serving classic southern Mexican cuisine. Stop in for a historic meal in a historic spot. 9792 Center St., Manassas — Klavon
Dac Biet | $7
A fantastic array of Vietnamese snacks may be an expected luxury in Falls Church’s Eden Center, but for those who can’t make it to the center of it all, there is this Springfield strip mall find.
The bakery portion of the business earns top billing with crisp, airy baguettes that are baked fresh every day. For diners, that day begins at 8 a.m. with breakfast banh mi filled with eggs, cheese, and a selection of meats. But the kitchen really gets rolling at lunchtime, when diners put in their orders for sandwiches filled with a delightful diversity of meats and vegetables. Six of those retail for $7 or less.
Among these, we recommend the dac biet, a standard for a reason thanks to its collection of meats that includes a swipe of pâté and layers of headcheese, ham, and pork roll. It’s a lot of flesh, but the sweet pickled carrots and daikon, along with cilantro and jalapeños, assure that every bite tastes bright and fresh. 6416 Brandon Ave., Springfield — Levitt
TBA: Turkey, Bacon, Avocado | $12.95
Step inside this apple-green cottage owned by Trattoria Villagio in historic Clifton, and you’re transported to an upscale Brooklyn pizza shop. Soaring to the ceiling are cardboard pizza boxes ready for the onslaught of orders beginning from noon until late that evening.
Although the thin-crust pizzas (with sophisticated toppings like pesto and fig) are the main attraction, the unsung “heroes” are the subs. A build-your-own sandwich is just $11, with choices of bread, meats, and toppings, but trust the chef’s creations and try the TBA — short for Turkey, Bacon, Avocado. This gourmet grinder for $12.95 is hefty, with layers of Boar’s Head Ovengold turkey, crisp Nueske bacon, velvety avocado, melted pepper jack cheese, and a slathering of sun-dried tomato pesto aioli. It’s hot, it’s messy, but you won’t soon forget its textures: creamy, crunchy, spicy, and fresh. As part of the Villagio Hospitality Group, the deli sells beer from the company’s own 2 Silos Brewing Company. 7145 Main St., Clifton — Sklarew
Haymarket, Springfield, Sterling
Buffalo Chicken Taco & Outlaw Taco | $5.50
Surprisingly tasty tacos are the name of the game at Locals Tacos & Tequila. The unassuming strip mall location in Haymarket is open and cheerful, and its Day-of-the-Dead décor provides a colorful welcome.
You can’t go wrong by ordering the Buffalo chicken taco — house-prepared fried chicken bites with just-right spicy hot sauce, shredded lettuce, green onion, cheddar jack cheese, and topped with a tangy cilantro-lime ranch dressing. The zesty chicken is crispy on the outside, juicy on the inside, and bathed in a generous portion of mouthwatering Buffalo sauce.
The Outlaw taco is another notable winner — tender skirt steak, chorizo, fresh guacamole, pickled onion, jalapeños, cotija, cilantro, and chicharrones (deep-fried pork rinds) combine to create an inviting flavor.
Tacos are only $5.50 each here, and every variety is exceptional, so zip over to Locals Tacos & Tequila for a consistently delicious meal. Multiple locations — Klavon
The Vegan Wrap | $12
The setting is as genteel as the name “Salamander” suggests. This market actually preceded the debut of Sheila Johnson’s luxury resort, home to one of Northern Virginia Magazine’s 50 Best Restaurants, Harrimans Virginia Piedmont Grill, but it shares its gourmet spin on local ingredients.
Most sandwiches and wraps fall under the $12 mark and all include a choice of either potato salad or crunchy, creamy Commonwealth Coleslaw on the side.
The name of the vegan wrap tells you more about what’s not in it than what is, but it’s worth investigating with bite after bite of its pressed-spinach tortilla. Inside is a spicy, zesty soba noodle salad punctuated with a colorful Asian-style slaw. Licks of sesame seeds, peanut sauce, and sweet chile keep every mouthful novel. For a few more dollars, you can make the wrap less than vegan with the addition of chicken, salmon, or even a crispy crab cake. 200 W. Washington St., Middleburg — Levitt
Mofongo with Queso Frito Dominicano | $14
Dominican and Puerto Rican food aren’t easy to come by in our region. But this high-ceilinged Woodbridge restaurant serves both with flavor to spare. And the mofongo in its name? It’s the most lip-smacking, garlicky version you can get just about anywhere.
For $14, order it with squeaky fried Dominican cheese that’s not unlike Cypriot Halloumi. It’s served with the eponymous mash that features sharp, tangy garlic sauce and crunchy pork cracklings. It’s bathed in the house sauce, a Puerto Rican version of tomato-and-garlic-flavored ranchero sauce.
Owner Luz Oliveras has been perfecting the recipe for her mofongo for most of her adult life. She served it to her family for years before she opened this restaurant in 2019, and it shows. You may not have been birthed by a Dominican mom, but at first bite you’ll realize that you have one now. 14035 Noblewood Plz., Woodbridge — Levitt
Pulled Pork Sandwich | $13
Plan on pigging out at Mookie’s BBQ in Great Falls.
This popular, family-friendly sit-down restaurant and bar offers up a gigantic pulled pork sandwich that will make you squeal with joy. The pork is piled high — a juicy, flavorful, generous portion — with just the right amount of seasoning. Diners have the option of any of 10 side dishes and seven housemade sauces with their sandwich. This fantastic option more than makes a meal, and it’s only $13.
Owner Brian Varani, aka Big Mook, creates all the enticing rubs and sauces, and the entire menu is scratch-made from local ingredients. Enjoy barbecue lovingly crafted in this roomy restaurant, or pick up a family pack to go. Come hungry and go hog wild on Mookie’s pulled pork sandwich. 1141 Walker Rd., Great Falls — Klavon
Irish Meat and Potato Pie | $11
This rustic Irish pub in Old Town has plenty of Gaelic charm. It pours Guinness (of course) along with a serious roster of draft and bottled beers, offers live entertainment, and serves hearty, homestyle Irish-American food.
Order the Irish meat and potato pie for a tasty, filling meal for $11. A hefty bronzed slice covers much of the plate. It is generously (but not overwhelmingly) burnished with meaty gravy. The well-seasoned filling, a mash-up of sausage, beef, minced onions, and mashed potatoes tucked under the rich, old-fashioned pie crust, adds up to quintessential comfort fare. It comes with well-cooked vegetables or cottage fries.
The menu is filled with other well-priced specialties, including an Irish stew chock-full of beef and vegetables and a classic shepherd’s pie made with ground beef and lamb. Keep it simple for dessert with Jameson cake — or go for another Guinness. 713 King St., Alexandria — Boikess
Ashburn and Reston
The Angry Noodle | $14
It’s ironic that MyHome Thai Bistro’s superstar dish is The Angry Noodle — the emotion you’ll display as a result of consumption is nothing but joy.
The stylishly arranged hipster bistro offers the dish — also called drunken noodles — as hot and spicy wok-fried rice noodles with a choice of meat. Add to that a healthy dose of holy basil, tomato, onion, bell pepper, and garlic chile. This Bangkok street food is known as a hangover cure. Legend has it the spicy sauce’s strong fresh chiles and Thai basil make the noodles “angry.”
MyHome’s $14 version is just right, providing ample runway for the amazing sauce on flat, flavorful mega-wide noodles. Hangover or not, come for casual elegance, snappy service, and satisfying dining, as you nimbly nibble on these notable noodles, no anger necessary. Multiple locations — Klavon
Beef on Weck | $14
You won’t need to ask, “Where’s the beef?” at this brewery.
Fill up your glass by pulling one of 12 taps at Ono Brewing Company and find a table. As you grip the handy pager, it’s time to wait for the perfect companion to that frosty beer. Ono Brewing (Hawaiian for “tasty”) is the home of Odd BBQ, a restaurant with heaping sandwiches, chili, and snacks. While the barbecue is first-rate, the 4-inch-tall beef on weck is a beloved sandwich originating in Buffalo, New York, and it is not easily found in these parts.
Odd BBQ’s version is an extremely lean half-pound of rare roast beef round — big enough to satisfy two hungry eaters for $14. As is tradition, beef on weck comes on a caraway seed roll, with fiery horseradish sauce, but Odd adds warm roast beef jus for dipping. If you like heat, ask for extra horseradish. 4520 Daly Dr., Ste. 102, Chantilly — Sklarew
Alpine Chicken Sandwich | $13.50
Fancy phenomenal poultry at a popular pub? Park Lane Tavern offers a massive Alpine chicken sandwich in a charming setting. Enjoy a grilled and flavorfully marinated chicken breast on a fluffy bun, artfully stacked with Swiss and cheddar cheese; lettuce; tomato; a thick-cut, beer-battered onion ring; applewood-smoked bacon; and gloriously topped with signature bourbon barbecue sauce. Plated with crispy steak fries, this comfort-centered sandwich runs $13.50.
Park Lane Tavern evokes visions of a European pub, conveniently located in the new Village at Towne Centre. The bustling bar has stools galore for beer nights with buddies, and there’s a patio fire pit accommodating date nights. Servers are attentive, and the vast number of European and American pub food offerings will satisfy every palate, but the awe-inspiring Alpine chicken sandwich is a must. 1 Towne Centre Blvd., Fredericksburg — Klavon
Pho | Prices vary
It’s a plain Jane setting for sure: whitewashed walls and wooden chairs and tables in an Arlington strip mall storefront. It’s cash-only, and the service is matter-of-fact. Yet, this Vietnamese old-timer lights up food lovers’ radar screens with its soul-satisfying, traditional pho — meal-in-a-bowl beef or chicken noodle soups that cost well under $14. It is hard to imagine a better value.
Diners opting for the beef pho have a choice of meat cuts. Paper-thin slices of flank steak taste deliciously beefy in the most elemental way. Other choices include tendon, brisket, and tripe. Of course, the deeply flavored broth is the centerpiece of the dish. And it doesn’t disappoint. Slippery noodles buried in the bowl add body and texture. Add-ins include bean sprouts, fresh mint leaves, chiles, and lime.
Chicken pho is the other menu option. And if any soup deserves to be called “restorative,” this is a worthy candidate. Balancing the full-bodied broth are tasty coins of white meat chicken, noodles, and the same add-ins. Hot sauce is on the table. 1721 Wilson Blvd., Arlington — Boikess
Pho | Prices vary
Nothing hits the spot on a cold, rainy day like a piping hot bowl of pho — and Pho Duong in Burke checks everything on the list with their version of this fragrant, rich soup. Choose from 10 varieties of the classic dish, with a large bowl costing $11.95. Order the meatball pho for a substantial meal with fresh basil, rice noodles, bean sprouts, onions, cilantro, jalapeños, and a lime wedge. The fun is in creating your own masterpiece with just the right amount of everything to make your soup soar. This popular Vietnamese street food is transported to Northern Virginia at this tiny strip mall outpost.
Table service is speedy, and crowds flock to Pho Duong for sit-down and takeout service. The no-frills décor is fine; you’re there just to inhale your massive bowl of soup.
Try their other authentic Vietnamese dishes, but count on pho as your go-to option at this popular, wallet-friendly spot. 9538 Burke Rd., Burke — Klavon
Banh Mi Chicken | $7.99
Fresh ingredients make this chicken banh mi go to the head of the class. The tiny enclave serves (as the name would imply) ample pho options, but don’t overlook the tasty Vietnamese sandwich samplings as well.
The grilled dark meat chicken is marinated in a life-giving lemongrass sauce that is the X factor for this sandwich. It’s cradled in a warm baguette, and the restaurant’s signature mayonnaise and pâté only enhance the overall experience. Fresh shredded pickled carrot and daikon, cucumber, jalapeño, and tomatoes provide bonus crunch, with a generous finishing touch of cilantro. This impressive meal satisfies hungry diners’ appetites and will only run you $7.99.
Pho-nomenal, with an attentive staff, is located in a prime location at One Loudoun. It fills up with guests ordering authentic Vietnamese fare for a fair price. 20447 Exchange St., Ashburn — Klavon
Goodness Gracious | $12.50
Biscuits have provided sustenance to Virginians since the first settlers at Jamestown. Today’s biscuits are fluffier, flakier, and baked with a brush of butter to give them that crispy top. Fans of the biscuit line up at this tiny bistro in a Falls Church strip mall. And they find satisfaction with the whisper-soft, not overly crumbly, slightly sour buttermilk biscuits at Preservation Biscuit Company.
Chef Jonathan Coombs and his crew have mastered the art of the biscuit, making it compact and easy to eat, a quintessential delivery service for savory sandwiches. While the sausage and gravy biscuits are the chef’s specialty, we pine for the Goodness Gracious with its tender St. Louis–style pulled pork, coleslaw, and pickled red onions for $12.50.
The combination of slightly sweet housemade barbecue sauce, the tart crunch of onions, and tangy, peppery cabbage makes it hard to improve on this Southern comfort food. Open for breakfast and lunch. 102 E. Fairfax St., Falls Church — Sklarew
Tandoori Chicken Breast | $7.99
There are a dozen sandwiches that retail for just less than $8 at this hidden-in-plain-sight gem. The options range from an Italian sub to portobello mushroom with hummus and feta. But the most ecstatic flavor bomb among them is unquestionably this combination centered on a preternaturally tender chicken breast flavored with a cumin-scented Indian marinade.
Served on fluffy ciabatta that’s made from the store’s special recipe, the poultry is paired with little beyond lettuce and tomato, though the counter staffer will ask if you’d like to add any other vegetables or mayonnaise. It’s unnecessary when there’s a layer of the equally tangy and spicy yogurt-cilantro sauce spread on the absorbent bread.
With so many reasonably priced options, it may be tempting to eat one’s way through the menu. But the tandoori chicken is so compelling, it’s almost impossible to pass it up even a single time. Our solution: Order it, plus another sandwich to go. 7020 Old Keene Mill Rd., Springfield — Levitt
Chicken Ciapini | $9.25
This popular deli is tucked beside sister restaurant Tuscarora Mill in Leesburg’s Market Station, and it’s open for breakfast and lunch through 5 p.m. The smell of fresh-baked breads and hand-rolled all-butter-crust pies tickles your nose. A chalkboard describes the sandwich options, but many customers are regulars and come in for their favorites, adding a cup of fresh-brewed coffee.
Choose a warm or cold sandwich — both are stellar, and all contain quality meats and cheeses. The smear of housemade condiments (like horseradish mayo and spicy tomato chutney) add creamy texture to the crusty bread. The top seller, for good reason, is the Chicken Ciapini, which combines slices of chicken, havarti cheese, fresh spinach, and tomato, plus a zesty pepper mayo on toasted ciabatta for $9.25. Dine on the outdoor patio, joining people sipping flights from Wild Hare Cider. 203 Harrison St. SE, Leesburg — Sklarew
Fairfax, Herndon, Leesburg
Hot Sicilian | $12.95
Everyone needs to get their hands on a hot Sicilian.
And yes, we’re talking about The Deli’s bellissimo Italian sandwich. A 12-inch sub from this hole-in-the-wall strip mall spot sets you back $12.95, but the intriguing blend of dry coppa, Sicilian salami, and provolone, adorned with freshly sliced produce and a tangy oil-and-vinegar-based elixir (with a massive pickle bonus) is worth a trip.
The Deli itself is a classic. Opened in 1979 in Herndon, it offers its loyal clientele an impressive array of specialty sandwiches, Italian culinary products, and carnivore party platters. Now with locations in Fairfax, Leesburg, and the swanky Watergate in DC, it’s come a long way from humble beginnings. The Herndon shop’s décor is circa 1985, with an explosion of historic NFL merch from the Washington Commanders proudly displayed.
For a bit of nostalgia, and a fantastico sandwich, visit The Deli for a hot Sicilian sub. Multiple locations — Klavon
Roasted Pork and Broccolini | $12
Cheesesteaks aren’t for everyone. For those not enticed by the more obvious Philly staple sandwich, there is the roast pork popularized by Tommy DiNic’s Reading Terminal Market. Diners line up on Vienna’s restaurant-filled Church Street for a mighty $12 meal.
The sandwich merges chunky roasted pork shoulder with chile-freckled Broccolini that’s softened along with plenty of garlic. Those greens are key — they’re also available as the centerpiece of a $9 vegetarian sandwich that replaces the meat with sundried tomatoes. Melted provolone melds the ingredients into a lightly funky party that’s elevated with a swipe of tangy Dijonnaise.
In the warm months, grab an outdoor table and sip a Dr. Brown’s soda (we especially like the black cherry) while you wait for your sandwich to be prepared. One bite into the hearty roll reveals an essential truth — the best sandwiches can be enjoyed the next day, too. In both scale and delectability, this one is in that pantheon. 132 Church St. NW, Vienna — Levitt
Classic Gyro | $11
The menu boasts that Thelo “is only the second known” purveyor of pure lamb gyro meat in the United States. This speaks to the authenticity on offer, but what’s even louder than words is the fact that the lamb is not the “classic gyro.” As in Greece, that is the pork version. And for just $11, it’s a doozy.
Moments after ordering, expect a server to present you with the wrap, prepared in the open kitchen. The chewy pita bursts with crispy slices of pork. The meat is a bundle of belly and sirloin, so the eater never tires of just one thing. Onions and tomato add to the variety, but the truth is, we would be happy with just the warm pita and the tangy yogurt sauce that’s drizzled inside the sandwich. Yogurt also appears in the butter cake that’s stored in slices placed around the tiny dining room, a delight of its own. 10123 Colvin Run Rd., Unit C, Great Falls — Levitt
Carnitas Platter | $12
Looking for loads of atmosphere and indulgent service? Keep searching. This bustling Mexican destination gets its job done with counter service, a DIY salsa bar, and scorching hot food delivered through a window from the kitchen.
Many of the folks waiting in the snaking line are there for tacos enfolded in slick housemade corn tortillas. Within, they’ll find everything from pork skin or tripe to carne asada or chorizo. Those choices are not wrong, but if they watch the screen at the counter cycle through photos of other dishes, they may be swayed away from their original order.
It turns out that, while the tacos are indeed excellent, the best thing to eat at one of the colorful tables depicting dancing señoritas is a plate heaped with $12 worth of bone-in carnitas. The pork arrives redolent of garlic and crisp from the fryer. The muscle fibers unravel with ease, falling apart as diners place them within a foil-wrapped tortilla. Squeeze the lemon that’s provided to cut through the fatty flavor of the meat, and accompany it with cilantro and fiery tomatillo-filled salsa verde. 8456 Centreville Rd., Manassas Park — Levitt
Tortillería Sol de Dia
Pollo asado | $3.69/kilo
Whether you’ve spent time in Mexico or lived in a vibrant Mexican community in Texas or California, you know the infinite joys of roadside pollo asado. The meaty smoke tickles your nostrils even before you see the sign.
In Manassas, Tortillería Sol de Dia’s chicken, and both beef and pork ribs, are made to be blanketed in tortillas so freshly made that they’re still hot from the comal. A kilo of them costs $3.69. At the counter, buy the grill-crisped flesh and corn wraps alongside stewed pinto beans. The legumes serve as a spread to help the blackened bites of chicken stick inside the tortillas.
If you’re too impatient to make tacos, simply pull the salty skin off the poultry and let it crunch, then melt between your teeth. If you’re still seeking heat, the complimentary (and complementary) salsa roja contributes a bodacious burn. 8909 Centreville Rd., Manassas — Levitt
Vegetarian Platter | $13.95
For those who can’t settle on just one Ethiopian stew, there is always beyaynetu. We Americans know this mouthwatering phenomenon simply as a “veggie combo,” but whatever you call it, there’s no mistaking the tray of tangy sourdough injera flatbread spooned with pools of varied stews. At Vera’s Kitchen Desta in Manassas, there are six specialties in just one dish. At lunchtime, that is $13.95.
The bubbly injera is made from 100 percent teff flour, so it is naturally gluten-free. Its fermented flavor beautifully complements the lightly spicy stews, which are exceptionally fresh-tasting thanks to chef and owner Veronica Mussie. Don’t miss scooping up the earthy mesir wot, dyed red with berbere. Pair it with the atakilt wot, a pile of turmeric-yellow cabbage with a frisson of jalapeño-fueled fire.
Even those who aren’t craving Ethiopian fare will find something to love at this cozy, family-run café. American-style sandwiches include the grilled chicken sub, flavored with pesto, arugula, Swiss cheese, and just a hint of Ethiopian awaze. 9255 Center St., Manassas — Levitt
Taiwan-Style Yen’s Special Rice Noodles | $13.95
The pork belly comes to the kitchen whole, where the chef creates a fatty grind that’s as flavorful as it is fresh. It serves as the star ingredient in one of Yen’s Café’s specialties. Taiwanese fare like three-cup chicken and sha cha beef will cost you more than our cheap eats budget allows. But this portion of slippery noodles for $13.95 is sufficiently sizable to create leftovers, if you can stop eating, that is.
It’s a simple dish — just vermicelli, ground pork, scallions, and crunchy bean sprouts. Add a bit of chile and soy sauce for an impact that goes beyond its comforting grandmother-food profile. But be sure to save room. To encourage dining in, the owners gift guests with a hot, freshly fried custard bun. If that doesn’t make you feel right at home, we don’t know what will. 43490 Yukon Dr., Ste. 113, Ashburn — Levitt
Bacon Double Cheeseburger | $12.49
Craving a thick, handcrafted bacon double cheeseburger with just the right fixings? Zoom over to Z-Burger in McLean for their fresh, made-to-order version of the classic. Add any or all of the 19 free or five premium toppings and seven zesty sauces to the never-frozen, juicy beef masterpiece. It’s custom-tailored to whatever desire you have. The sensational bacon double cheeseburger will run you $12.49.
While you’re there, try the fresh-cut fries or onion rings, kosher hot dogs, and a variety of sandwich options, all of which pair nicely with any of the 75 varieties of hand-spun milkshakes. Even former President Bill Clinton pops into the DC location when he’s in town. This joint isn’t fancy, but its iconic burgers, crispy fries, and outstanding shakes will make you a zealot. 1408 Chain Bridge Rd., McLean — Klavon