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Five Affordable Alternatives to DC's Hottest Restaurants

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Don't have the cash flow right now to try any of the cool new restaurants you read about? Or simply can't get into any of them on a busy night? Here are a few recommendations for inexpensive, accessible alternatives to five of the hottest new places in town.

little-serow-thai-xing.jpg1) Little Serow/Thai X-ing: If you're hoping to grab a coveted seat at Little Serow on a Friday or Saturday you might want to gear up for a possible 2-3 hour wait. And with their much-deserved James Beard semifinalist nod for Best New Restaurant, you can expect the lines and wait times to get even longer. Diners looking for bold Thai flavors, but with a guaranteed seating time might want to try Thai X-ing. Like Little Serow, the menu and price are set, but you can secure a spot by calling the reservation line with your request and waiting for a call back to confirm the date and time. Thai X-ing's chef and owner Taw Vigsittaboot grew up in Southern Thailand, so expect to find recognizable dishes such as spicy papaya salad, curries, drunken noodles and steamed fish. Weeknights will run you $30 a head, while weekends will set you back $40. To sweeten the deal further it's BYOB.
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pearl-dive-hanks.jpg2) Pearl Dive Oyster Palace/Hank's Oyster Bar: Perhaps the most bustling restaurant on 14th street these days is Pearl Dive Oyster Palace. It's been a hit with critics and diners alike who are crazy for the fresh seafood and non-seafood dishes like the fried chicken. But on the nights when you really need that oyster fix, but can't take the wait you may want to try your luck at the Dupont staple, Hank's Oyster Bar. The menu is somewhat limited in comparison, but they have a decent daily listing of raw oysters, plus the go-to fried shellfish staples along with several fish and meat specials that will satisfy. Although Hank's operates on the first-come-first-serve basis, it's been around long enough to make competition for tables a little less fierce.
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graffiato-palena.jpg3) Graffiato/Palena Cafe: Ever since chef Mike Isabella opened Graffiato down in Chinatown, the crowds have been clamoring for tables. Isabella continues to garner attention and gain fans with his Italian-American fare—fried calamari topped pizza, crispy potato gnocchi, and chicken thighs in pepperoni sauce. Unfortunately, if you want a table during peak dining hours you may have to make reservations a few weeks in advance. But if silky pasta, luscious sauce and moist roast chicken is what you seek, perhaps you should consider the somewhat quieter but always impressive Palena Cafe in Cleveland Park. Chef Frank Ruta is a rock star in his own right, executing his dishes with impressive precision and finesse. Although a three-course dinner (plus dessert) in the back dining room will set you back $75, the a la carte menu in the cafe offers quality food at more manageable prices—most of the pasta dishes hover around the $15 mark, while the roast chicken is a steal at $17. You'd be hard-pressed to find food this good at such reasonable prices elsewhere.
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proof-cork.jpg4) Proof/Cork: The excellent wine program and fabulous modern American food at Mark Kuller's Penn Quarter restaurant Proof ensure that people keep going back for more. Which means that tables aren't always available for weekend dinners at times a little more reasonable than 5:30 or 9:30 pm. Although chef Haidar Karoum's creations at Proof are certainly not to be missed, Cork Wine Bar on 14th street will satisfy anyone with an interest in good wine, charcuterie and cheese. Chef Rob Weland continues in the vibe set by previous chef, Rob Tanaka, and his comforting, elegant and well-composed small plates impress. Cork's small plates are on average a couple bucks less, which means the overall bill will be about $10-$15 bucks lighter. Cork doesn't take reservations, but the policy of calling 30 minutes in advance to put a name on a waitlist seems to keep things running smoothly.
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fiola-bibiana.jpg5) Fiola/Bibiana: Washington diners rejoiced when Fabio Trabocchi returned to DC after a brief stint in New York and opened Fiola. DC's biggest food critics and everyday diners can't seem to get enough of his satisfying Italian food. Unfortunately, it's not very often that you have an extra $110 to burn on a five-course dinner or even $95 for four courses. The argument can definitely be made that you should schedule a time to splurge and treat yourself to the full Fiola experience, but while you're squirreling away those pennies, Bibiana may be able to quell the cravings. Chef Nicholas Stefanelli spent many years cooking under Trabocchi both at Maestro and then at Fiamma in New York, and no doubt owes much of his talent to Trabocchi's mentorship. Stefanelli's modern and elegant culinary style comes through in the hay smoked veal sweetbreads ($14), black spaghetti with crab ($21) and poached branzino ($26).
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Little Serow

1511 17th Street Northwest, , DC 20036 Visit Website

Cork

3636 Mckinney Ave., , TX 75204 (214) 780-0373 Visit Website

Fiola

601 Pennsylvania Avenue Northwest, , DC 20004 (202) 525-1402 Visit Website

Hank's Oyster Bar

701 Wharf Street Southwest, , DC 20024 (202) 817-3055 Visit Website

Graffiato

707 6th Street Northwest, , DC 20001 (202) 289-3600 Visit Website

Pearl Dive Oyster Palace

1612 14th Street Northwest, , DC 20009 (202) 319-1612 Visit Website

Proof

437 King Street, , SC 29403 (843) 793-1422 Visit Website

Modena

12th Street Northwest, , DC 20005 (202) 216-9550 Visit Website

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