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How to celebrate good, and affordable, food: The Best New Cheap Eats on newsstands now

The May cover story features smoothie bowls, rib tips and $3 egg-and-chorizo on a bun.

The cheap eats issue is a standby. Though this magazine hasn’t printed an official cheap eats list since 2012, we’ve covered sandwiches, barbecue, ramen and the all-consuming world of fast-casual meals-in-a-bowl.

The list celebrates new restaurants, opened within the last two years, selling delicious dishes with origins from Jamaica to China. There’s a mashup of Greek cuisine with bro-food culture, a killer meatball sub and a hot chicken sandwich duel. We also checked out the new food hall (Hawaiian garlic shrimp!) inside of Chefscape in Leesburg. We (thanks Warren Rojas!) spent hours and hours in Manassas to find five spots worthy of a taco crawl. And we even enjoyed a $3 box of kale and a single jammy egg blurring the line between health food and something truly tasty.

That’s not to say we didn’t consider what branding this issue as “cheap eats” means in 2019.

In those half-dozen years or so since we published this type of list, the phrase “cheap eats” has been admonished by the food media cognoscenti and from within the restaurant community. It reinforces the idea that certain foods and cuisines should be cheap, and is often code for food made by immigrants.

“This view of people of color as sources of ‘cheap’ labor bleeds into our restaurant culture: Immigrant food is often expected to be cheap, because, implicitly, the labor that produces it is expected to be cheap, because that labor has historically been cheap,” writes Diep Tran, a native of Vietnam and a former restaurateur, on NPR’s The Salt. “And so pulling together a ‘cheap eats’ list rather than, say, an ‘affordable eats’ list both invokes that history and reinforces it by prioritizing price at the expense of labor.

This year, The Washington Post’s Tim Carman abolished the name of his column “$20 Diner.”

“By writing about immigrant cuisines under a cheap-eats rubric, I have perpetuated the narrative that they should always be thought of as budget-priced.”

Soleil Ho, the new restaurant critic at San Francisco Chronicle, outlined a slate of words she won’t be using in reviews, including cheap eats: “Affordability does matter to me, especially as a millennial who can see moths flying out of her savings account. But I think there is a way to talk about restaurants that are more affordable without encouraging readers to think of them as cheap first and interesting second.” 

All of this cerebral discussion on price doesn’t mean we still can’t enjoy good food. While Northern Virginia Magazine’s May issue—on newsstands now—uses “cheap eats” on the cover, the focus isn’t only on how much things cost. The focus is on mixian, another noodle soup to love, and Peruvian chicken, because there’s one more place you’ve got to compare to your current favorite. It’s a tribute to Egyptian breakfast, take-out Indian, Malaysian dessert and millennial-approved smoothie bowls. The focus is on scoring delicious eats, as always. 

We’ll be rolling out stories from the issue in the coming weeks, but to start, here are 15 places worth your time and money.

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