Even Tim Russert Likes a Cheap Eat

by Molly Kenney

After moving my limited summer wardrobe and a few pieces of Ikea furniture into my new apartment, I dragged myself to the nearest CVS pharmacy to buy the most generic brand paper towels and toilet paper I could find. Waiting in line and contemplating the financial limitations of a summer spent as an intern followed by a year studying abroad, I noticed the June 2007 issue of the Washingtonian with "Cheap Eats: 100 Best Bargain Restaurants” splashed across pictures of food that looked far more appetizing than EasyMac. I decided that the magazine’s $3.95 price tag could be managed but only because it would save me money down the road.

Later that night, as I lounged on my futon (the weak middle bar was easily reinforced by two big bricks), I flipped eagerly through the glossy photos with my mouth watering. I only recognized a few restaurants, but I thought most of them were on the pricier side. Then I saw the disclaimer: “What is a Cheap Eat?” It read: “A meal for two under $55 dollars, including tax and tip.” I could barely process the fine print that followed, explaining that this Cheap Eats philosophy means surrendering to the idea of just starters if necessary. By this point, I was empty inside.

Washingtonian, I feel betrayed. I understand that I am not your average reader (and that I don’t even subscribe). I accept that I will only be able to afford the vast homes pictured in the latter pages of your latest issue if I sell out in the biggest way possible and become a lawyer for the tobacco industry or something equally lucrative and grotesque. I will even admit that I’ve been to a few of the places on your list and walked away full and financially stable. But bargain restaurants?! You listed 100 places, and about 15 of them look affordable. Also, not that I have a car in the city (or that I have a car in any state), but did you think of parking fees? Are diners just one year older than myself able to afford a strong drink with these “bargain meals?” What about great spots like Open City in Adams Morgan, Skewers off Dupont Circle, or Murasaki in Tenleytown? All three serve incredible food for an actual bargain; my personal experience proves that dinner for two hungry college students can still ring in under $30 with tax and tip. If you’re going to put an advertisement for Chipotle on the back of your pull-out list of restaurants, dear Washingtonian, try to have what’s inside be something like a bargain for those who actually need one.

Only to validate my $3.95 expenditure (and because fellow frugal students had recommended it), my boyfriend and I walked to 2 Amys in Cleveland Park to splurge on one final dinner before our summer as impoverished interns formally began. I’ll give you this, Washingtonian: the place was damn good and less than $55 with tip for a big meal. But I think it’s an anomaly on a list of over priced joints, and Tim Russert and I would like more bargain restaurants like it on your list. He and his wife, who asked us if she could hover by our table so they could take it when we left, seemed pretty enthusiastic about a real cheap eat. If he had actually spoken to us, I’m sure he and I would have had a long conversation about the Washingtonian’s lies.

(Photo by our favorite photographer Clara Natoli of Rome via morgueFile.)

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