DC Metblogs’ Favorites: Quick Lunch Spots

DC’s long-lunch culture is directly tied to that genuinely unique art of Lobbying that is so common in this town. However, there are those days that you just need a quick bite, and Washington has much to offer in that regard, too. Click on for some of our favorite spots to grab a quick bite to eat.

Michael Darpino:
DJ’s Fastbreak
2145 G St NW
Washington, DC 20037

Without a doubt my favorite place for a quick lunch in DC is DJ’s Fastbreak, Foggy Bottom best-kept secret. Sitting on the corner of 21st and G st. amidst the massive buildings of George Washington University, this unassuming little place has been serving State Department wonks and open-minded gee-dub’s for years.

The food is served in a fast, cafeteria-style line, but it is all cooked fresh to order. They specialize in an interesting mix of simple dishes from around the world. This is the one place in DC that I can think of that combed the planet for quick-dishes from every culture and combined them into one menu. From hamburgers to fried dumplings to hummus to to-die-for soaked beans-and-rice dishes, they’ve got almost anything you could want when you are in a hurry.

What got me hooked back in ’93 and keeps me coming back at least once a month is their red-beans and rice with chicken dish. These guys have the best, soaked beans in the city. I have been trying to figure out their soak recipe for years.

The process at DJ’s is quick and easy. You have a choice of black or red beans (go with the red), your choice of toppings (chicken, beef, pork, veggie) and your choice of sauces (a lot of people like the curries, I go for the house sauce). Try it once and you’ll be addicted. I’ve been going there for 12 years and I have never ordered anything else.

The American Café Coffee Shop & Bakery
675 15th Street NW
Washington, DC

I work a hectic life in my McPherson Square office. Doing my good deeds for the world at large while posting like mad on the side. In all that flurry of motion, I don’t get much time for lunch, with 10 minutes being a leisurely meal. In all that movement, there is one place that is my oasis. Across the street from my building, and even visible from my office, it’s The American Café Coffee Shop & Bakery

The ladies there service up hot and tasty sandwiches and soups as well as my Spanish lessons for the day. I always get the soup and sandwich special, which for $6 is a meal deal that none can beat.
Food in hand, I either retire to their comfortable outdoor seating or head over to McPherson Square for the beautiful view.

Julia’s Empanadas
1221 Connecticut Ave. NW
Washington DC

Freshly made tasty food with no waiting and no reservation hassles.and all
for less than a ten-spot*?!?

Sounds too good to be true, but that’s exactly what you’ll find if you venture into one of the four Julia’s Empanadas locations in town. It’s easy to walk past one of these little unassuming storefronts and never even turn your head. They don’t look chic. Heck, they aren’t chic. But what they are is home to a little piece of handmade heaven, my friends.

Julia’s is a walk-in-and-take-out affair, although most locations have a few outdoor tables. Empanadas are the perfect quick lunch – filling, tasty and highly portable. Julia’s are among the best I’ve ever eaten – and I’m not just saying that because they taste particularly good after a night of enjoying the 18th Street/Connecticut Avenue club scene (Julia’s stays open until 4:00 am Fridays and Saturdays) – I’ve eaten there sober plenty of times and can tell you this is some quality food.

The menu offers a great variety of fillings, and you’ll find something to suit even the most discerning taste buds, from the authentic Chilean Beef, featuring ground and chopped beef, raisins, hard-boiled egg, onion and ripe olive, to my personal favorite: the Turkey and Spring Onion, a taste explosion filled with cilantro, onion and jalapeno seasoned with turmeric. There are even a couple of vegetarian options on the menu.

In addition to the empanadas, you can pick up a quick salad, or even some black bean soup or gazpacho. Julia’s also offers ever-changing varieties of fruit and marzipan filled dessert empanadas that are remarkably tasty. Everything is freshly made and tastes great, but don’t take your eyes off the prize: the real attraction here is the empanadas – everything else is just a sideshow.

*Truth be told, I find that all I really need for a quick lunch from Julia’s is an empanada, so that puts you out the door – and happy – at under five bucks.

California Tortilla
728 7th St. NW
Washington DC 20001

When things get hectic, usually I need a short walk to clear my head around lunchtime. That’s when I walk the four or so blocks over to California Tortilla for a delicious burrito and some chips & queso. More than just Chipotle, The Tilla provides unique burrito combinations like a Thai Burrito (with extra peanut sauce! mmmmm), or their amazing Greek burrito (extra feta for me, thanks!) and especially their blackened chicken caesar burrito.

Always speedy, always delicious, Tilla never fails to fill that void when I am craving some quality lunch on a little dime (less than $7!) and a little time. Of course, today is their birthday, which means cupcakes and double burrito card stamps for everyone!

Naan & Beyond
Connecticut & L Sts NW
Washington DC

Upon starting my current job in January, I learned quickly what the default choice for a quick lunch was in the office. Naan & Beyond has several of the most important criteria for the busy staffing agent:

  1. It’s CLOSE! If you go out the back door of our building, you walk less than half a block to get there. Great for both nasty cold in winter and stifling heat in summer.
  2. It’s FRESH! They cook all day, unlike several downtown lunch establishments. So if you’re swamped and don’t get to catch lunch until 3:00 PM, you still get freshly cooked food, instead of stuff that’s been sitting out for hours.
  3. It’s CHEAP! $5.45 for the chicken tikka sandwich (wrapped in naan bread). And filling for the price.
  4. It’s YUMMY! The chicken tikka wrap is tasty, but I have become a convert to the sheesh tikka wrap (sheesh being a sort of spicy beef sausage). I’m told the lamb is also excellent, as are their biryani and samosas.
  5. It’s ENTERTAINING! These guys have it down for the lunch rush. I love watching them rush around to bake the naan and cook the tandoori chicken while the guy at the register calls out, “Half-cheecken! Sheesh tikka, cheecken tikka, chicken tikka, veggie samosa!”

Naan & Beyond has proven so successful that they’ve opened Metro Center and Arlington locations as well, so I can get my tikka fix on the weekends, if need be.

SoHo Cafe
529 14th St. NW
Washington DC

A great place to grab a bite on the run, but without all the fat and calories would be SoHo Cafe! First off, there are tons of them in the area. There are several of these joints located within the District, however, the one that I know best is on 14th St, downtown.

Inside, you’ll find a deli counter, where you can custom order a sandwich to go, or you can take advantage of the vast salad bar. This salad bar is not just any old bar though. It’s filled with all sorts of eats like veggie dumplings, baked salmon, green beans, and enormous egg rolls. There are a
few “cold” stations as well, with Caesar or garden salad, and an array of fruit. Beverage choices are plentiful, but tend to be a little pricey. On a recent hot day, most people seemed to go for the regular water (versus the bottled) from the soda machine, which is free.

The only thing to be mindful of is the weight of what you’re loading into your container/plate. They weigh your food at checkout and the heavier (obviously) your selections, the more you’ll pay. Finally, the best deal around though, is that you can get two scoops (large ones to boot) for $2.

I don’t know about anyone else, but I am ready for lunch!

Desert Island Boy:
4600 East West Highway
Bethesda, MD 20814

Every once in a while, I’ll be in Bethesda for work, and a great place to stop by is Booeymongers. For those of you who are die-hard districters, I do believe there is a Booey’s in Friednship Heights. And I do believe the chow and aura is comparable!

Booey’s has a rather eclectic fare, although I usually grab a rather conservative sandwich and fries. What I enjoy is the decor, which harkens to days of yore. It just adds a hell of an atmosphere for a lunch counter.

I usually almost always end up sitting in front of the cartoon map of Bethesda and try to figure out how much has changed since they published it (which I think was sometime in the early 80’s). Everyone’s wearing bellbottoms.

Jenn B:
Panera Bread
Various Locations

Lately I’ve found myself wandering over to Panera once or twice a week for lunch. Mainly this is because it’s close to my office, but it’s also because they have good deal on a number of different combinations and you can get in and out quickly. Want soup and a salad? Less than $7. Soup and half a sandwich? Same. Half a sandwich and a salad? Same. Tons of choices, and all for the same price.

Panera has perfected the quick lunch process with fast cashiers and even faster packers. You may have to wait in line for a few minutes when you arrive, but once you get to the register and place your order, you’ll get your food in a good amount of time. Usually I’m only there for about 10 to 15 minutes. Panera is starting to pass the point of trendiness, but it’s still my favorite place to grab a quick meal and make it back to work on time.

3 Comments so far

  1. darpino (unregistered) on August 4th, 2005 @ 2:06 pm

    There is a Booeymongers in the heart of Georgetown also. It’s on 3265 Prospect Street, NW

  2. AsianMistress (unregistered) on August 5th, 2005 @ 11:01 pm

    There’s a Booey in G-town and one in Arlington!

  3. Ellie (unregistered) on October 13th, 2005 @ 6:22 pm

    Julia’s Empanadas
    2452 18th St., NW
    Washington, DC

    My friends and I were rudely informed that we weren’t allowed to sit and eat our empanadas at the window counter despite the empty stools. We were boorishly told that they are a “carry-out only” establishment only after paying. The neon sign outside may proclaim their empanadas are “Baked with Love” but should state Served with a Big Side of Rude.

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