Lunch Spots in Washington, DC
If you've never had falafel with a toppings bar, you've never really had falafel. Amsterdam Falafel may be best known as a stop for the Adams Morgan after-bar crowd, but its signature sandwiches more than hold up to the light of day. The menu includes only four offerings: falafels, fries, brownies and beverages. Trust us, that's all you need. Line up to order your falafel (white or wheat, two balls or four), wait for a piping hot sandwich, squash the balls as flat as possible to make room for toppings and then go to work on the toppings bar. Choices include creamy and garlic-y sauces, spicy options, pickled vegetables and more. The falafel itself is good, but adding toppings creates a combination of flavors and textures that's nothing short of divine. In keeping with the Dutch theme, try mayo on your coneful of fries. The ambiance is basic, with little seating and no plates or cutlery, but it's quite possibly the best meal you'll ever have for under $10.
Sometimes amazing places pass beneath your radar for a surprisingly long time. When we first learned of Bayou Bakery, the charming Arlington restaurant with the celebrity chef (David Guas, former pasty chef at big names like Acadiana and author of his own James Beard Award nominated cookbook), decadent Southern baked goods and tasty Cajun cuisine -- and all of it affordable -- our first thought was "Why haven't we heard about this?" Our second thought: "Why aren't we eating there right now??!?" While the order-at-the-counter setup and daily sandwich specials are ideal for a takeaway lunch, the Louisiana-casual coffeehouse-meets-restaurant vibe will make you want to settle in and stay a while. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Fast-food comfort food that's actually good for you? Yes, please! Chicken Out serves up traditional rotisserie chicken, chicken sandwiches and salads, plenty of sides, and desserts from healthy to decadent, all made fresh daily. The chicken is all-natural and certified by the American Humane Society as humanely raised. You can't go wrong with the sides, especially the whipped sweet potatoes and apple cornbread stuffing. The affordable kids' menu is also a hit. If you're watching calories, try the you'll-never-believe-it's-healthy "banana ice cream" made purely from frozen whipped bananas. And if not, try the enormous tower of decadent chocolate cake -- some of the best we've ever tasted. Your turn to host Thanksgiving and you just don't feel like cooking? Chicken Out also does take-out meals and catering.
Market Lunch, inside Capitol Hill's Eastern Market, is both a DC institution and a darn tasty place to pick up lunch. Though most famous for its Saturday pancakes, Market Lunch offers good reasons to stick around past breakfast. Go straight to the seafood: you can't go wrong with their crabcakes, fried fish and fried oyster sandwiches or seasonal soft-shell crabs. Sides are basics like french fries and potato salad, plus fried green tomatoes for the Southern crowd. If you visit on the weekend, be prepared for a serious line. The line moves quickly and the mood is convivial, but hem and haw at the order counter or pull out a credit card and be prepared to face the wrath of everyone behind you. Seating is at one long shared table (for those lucky enough to snag a spot), or check the market's often-empty North Hall. Open for breakfast and lunch. Closed Mondays.
Can't stomach the long wait for a dinnertime table at Matchbox Pizza? Stop by at lunch! Same menu, but with no lines and a more relaxed atmosphere. Matchbox is known for its thin-crust wood-fired pizza and for introducing the mini-burger craze to DC. There's also a small selection of salads, sandwiches and entrees. Watch out for the spicier pizza options, which carry a kick. The original Penn Quarter location proved so popular that owners opened a second spot on Capitol Hill's Barracks Row and a new addition in Rockville; of course, the new locations were immediately just as swamped as the original. Trust us -- lunch is the way to go. All locations also serve weekend brunch.