Junior Staffer Date-Night Options – Updated for Summer Interns

Picture:  Gary Cooper and Claudette Colbert in His Woman (1931).

 A few months back we published this guide for those in D.C. looking for a nice dinner on a budget.  Today we update it with new additions and for the benefit of all the interns who have come to town.

This site tends to focus on fine dining that often comes in at more than $50 per person, but there are some good-to-great spots that are well below that mark.  We will leave you to your own resources to find Hill receptions and Happy Hour taco deals.  For those who went from commencement to constituent calls and are trying to sustain a little romance on the side, (or are part of the intern horde seasonal migration looking to make the most of the summer!) here is a list for you.  These are places for when you are ready for a proper sit-down meal not just happy hour deals.  They will run about $50 to $60 for food and a drink for two.  If you split the check, you can get dessert or move on to a post-dinner drink. Here are some suggestions in no particular order:

  • Keren (or any good Ethiopian) – Keren is the Eritrean spot at 18th and Florida. It looks a little dingy from the outside, but is always busy. Wait in line to get inside where it is charming. Eritrean, like Ethiopian, centers on a shared meal, which can be cute.  For Ethiopian, Zenebech is probably the most date-worthy spot.
  • Room 11 – If Amelie (look it up, totally worth watching) worked in DC, it would be at this corner spot. Delicious smallish plates and great cocktails. Plus, outside seating.
  • DC Noodles – Come here for giant bowls of goodness. They say never eat salad or spaghetti if you are trying to impress someone, because you can’t avoid looking silly. But if you are both slurping up noodles then the risk is shared.
  • Haikan (Daikaya is a little too bustling, but any good Ramen place works) – This bright, bustling spot has indoor and outdoor seating.  Movie theater and 9:30 Club are nearby if you are going big.
  • Etto (Pizzeria Paradiso, Timber Pizza, and Menomale are also good choices) – Split a salad and a pizza.  There is outdoor seating for people-watching the crowd at LeDiplomate.  Paradiso has a great beer list.
  • St. Arnold’s – A perfect meal to be adventurous. Like oysters, mussels can be off-putting for some so make sure your friends are on board. Also, it is a chance to graduate from PBR to Belgian beer. Granville Moore’s also works.
  • The Diner – As long as no one gets steak, it comes in on budget. This funky neighborhood spot will let you hang out and talk and talk until you are ready to admit how desperate you are to be an L.A. for a Progressive Western Senator.
  • Bul – If you stick with the rice bowls you might be able to get a second round of drinks. The place hops, and some of the dishes have kick.
  • Da Hong Pao – Like Keren, this is one of those places you may have asked, “what’s going on there?” Only instead of looking a little dive-y, it looks like a big suburban Chinese emporium wedged into 14th.  Here is what you need to know:  the food is very good and affordable, and the servings so large that you can get an extra dinner or two out of leftovers.  Added bonus is the exotic choices (intestines, hearts, heads and feet) that are excellent conversation starters you bypass on the way to fried rice and beef noodles.
  • Little Havana – For tapas prices (mid-teens) you get full-on entrees.  The drinks are strong, so it should last you through the meal.

Did grandma slip you a few extra dollars? Here are three more places if you want to spend a few dollars more.

  • Bar Pilar – The upstairs dining area is a little-known gem and the food is way better than what you think of as bar food.
  • Medium Rare – $23 for prix-fixe (salad, steak, frites). A tip: Corkage is only $12.  Buy a good red for under $20 at a shop (think Argentina or Chile over California cliché) and bring it.  There is a risk you look douchey bringing your own wine, but it can also look sophisticated.
  • El Sol – The Mexican gem is gaining fans, and you might hit a line. It is worth the wait.  El Rinconcito also fits the bill.
  • Kafe Leopold – down a chi-chi alley of high-end interior design shops sits this sunny cafe.  Desserts are the main focus, but the savory courses aren’t bad.  Most would come in under budget, but you’d need to split the schnitzel.

Finally, a couple ideas for “let’s start with a drink and then see if we want get food” scenario:

  • Colada Shop – Outdoor seating and some hidden seats in the back.  It is order-at-the-counter, but less bar-y than say Lucky Buns.
  • El Chucho – Good Mexican up the street from Room 11.