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Sep 9, 2000 02:46 AM

Washington D.C.: One Helluva Chowhound Town!

  • j

[In case some of you haven't noticed, there's a gigunda monster thread on our General Topics board where some people have accused Washington DC of being the worst chowhound city in America. I'm trying to draw the DC portion of the discussion over here, so please address your thoughts to this thread rather than over there, where the discussion's mushrooming out of control]

I'm just amazed that anyone can say DC's a bad chowhound city. It's chock full of little nabes nobody much explores (perfect!), it's got awesome southeast Asian in Northern Virginia (including one of my fave Thai places in the country), there's Full Kee (defying conventional wisdom that only NY, SF, and maybe LA have serious Cantonese), there's a whole lot of soulfood, there's unusual (i.e. not just Senegalese or Ethipian) African in the northern part of the city, there are some good tapas places (both authentic ones and noveau ones). There are a ton of Ethipian places (quality has declined, yes, but they're still better than what we've got in NY), and a full range of Latino options.

Seems like a GREAT city to me! And a truly chowhoundish city, in any case, doesn't wear its best chow on its sleeve. My idea of a great chowhound city is one where you can ride around for a couple of hours and find all sorts of secret places nobody's ever heard of, a few of which might very well be really good. And in that respect, DC is top-notch! Nobody's even DRIVEN BY the Hitching Post! There are no such out-of-the-blue "finds" in Manhattan, and scant few even in the Outer Boroughs! But DC hold surprises nearly all over.

Set me loose in DC for six months, and I'd discover all sorts of awesome stuff. It's crawling with potential discoveries!

A bad chowhound city is Silver City, NM, a town with literally NOTHING GOOD TO EAT, even if you look in the corners, and nobody caring much about this lack of chow. A town where you might as well eat at Denny's because try as you might, you just cannot find better.

(not to be overly directive, but if you want to ask/talk about individual eateries I've mentioned...or that others mention in this thread, please do so by starting new's always good to start new threads!! thanks)


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  1. Great to see lots of folks sticking up for DC. The DC metropolitan area is a great place for food. Maybe not NY or Chicago but definitely top ten in the nation.I respectfully submit that anyone who says otherwise is deficient in the creative, exploratory interests and instincts that define chowhounds everywhere.Sure Scholls wasn't everything Phyllis Richman made it out to be but every town needs a cafeteria for the people like that. It will be missed.I'm sorry I never made it to the Hitching Post while I lived there but I will be back. How is the Florida Street Grill these days? I'm glad to hear that Loebs continues to please (though swiss and pastrami strike me as an odd combination).Keep those reports coming about restaurant happenings in and around our nation's capital. It whets my appetite!.

    9 Replies
    1. re: TBOO

      I guess I'm partly responsible for the bash-DC crusade, so let me clarify. Warshington is not at all a culinary Siberia, but it's deadly in ways that make it a strong candidate for Chowhound Hell. (I leave aside the crossroads-towns where the only decent entree is at the local Mickey D's and assume the context here is cities with populations above 50,000 at least. After all, metro DC has upwards of 4 million residents, and it can't hold a candle to towns like Cleveland or Providence.)
      First, the good news. DC has by the far the widest variety of Vietnamese restaurants, ranging from insipid to spectacular, from northern (Hanoi) style to southern (Saigon, but also the provinces); Pho 75 comes to mind immediately, as does the Seven Sisters; even Queen Bee in Clarendon, the overhyped (see ya, Phillys Richman!) and microwave dependent old reliable is better than most any Viet place in NY. DC also has a nice variety of Ethiopian and Eritrean restaurants -- don't mix 'em up, at your peril, even if the mainstays (Red Sea, Meskerem) have slid lately; Zed's is in a new spot at 28 and M, and the food is as nice as the decor. DC also has some decent crab shacks: the Quarterdeck in Arlington; Eddie's, out by Glebe Road; even Bethesda Crab House. (Do *not* bother with Crisfield's for crabs, though the original on Georgia Ave can still be counted on for fresh shellfish, though not for the entirely rubbery shad roe.)

      But then, there's the bad news.

      Okay, I've got to run. To be continued.

      1. re: John

        Great message...I love tips disguised as narrative!

        But, again, it's the latent potential for great discoveries that makes a town a great CHOWHOUND town (as opposed to a great Foodie town). Foodies would stack a city's Zagat choices against another city's Zagat choices, like a game of rotisserie league baseball. Chowhounds wonder where that garlic smell is coming from around the corner of whatever anonymous block they're on. And DC has LOTS of anonymous corners where there are great people doing great things with food. Don't wait for Authorities or The Media to find them for you, and don't despair about having nothing to eat. Be chowhounds!

        It is indeed all about how rewarded one might be for one's chowhoundish "creative, exploratory interests and instincts" (as TBOO put it) in a given city. And on that basis, I assure you: DC rules!.

        It's NOT about looking at the Known Quantities and ruing the gaps. The notion that the best eateries--the ones worth representing a city--are the usual suspects often written up (and therefore widely talked about) is ridiculous! Heck, I know many of the writers and critics in this biz, and believe me, precious few have any chowhound chops at all! They scout even worse than they write!!

        So, DC hounds, let's stop acting like passive foodies--eating where we're directed to--and start rustling up some great food! Let's do it ourselves (cuz nobody else will do a better job of it for us): drive around, try stuff, take chances, ask around, use these boards to network and compare notes (that's what they're here for...there's NEVER before been a place for us to shmooze, and that makes all the difference)! Don't be satisfied with the same darned places everybody talks about all the time!


        1. re: Jim Leff

          Sorry if this reply is more in the "General Topics" area, but I think your post raises several issues:

          I think some people think of eating out in terms of batting average. If discovering a place on your own and having a fabulous meal is a home run, and eating at a popular place and having a terrific meal is a single, than they are content to go for the higher batting average and allow someone else to go for the power stats.
          I think where you live has a huge impact upon your philosophy. I know that in New York, I've become much lazier, more of a singles hitter. There are so many options, and so many restaurants recommended here (and in other sources) that I'm unlikely to randomly comb neighborhoods for chowhound treasures unless I stumble onto them, they are in my neighborhood, or ??? The fear of a mediocre meal outweighs the excitement of garnering a new discovery myself.
          When I lived in less promising areas (northwestern Ohio, Hyattsville, Maryland), I'd visit any restaurant I could find on the offchance I could find even one great dish.

          1. re: Dave Feldman

            I would agree with you wholeheartedly. To be honest, I eat out a lot, but I tend to eat repeatedly at places which are nearby where I work or live (don't have a car) and where I know that I can get a good meal.

            I'll try to change it up a bit and report back here more than I have been. Maybe if we had more reports the DC thread (and Balto) would be a bit livelier as well.

            1. re: CapHill

              "Maybe if we had more reports the DC thread (and Balto) would be a bit livelier as well. "

              you bet it would! critical mass must be achieved to make a board ignite. work you put in now to make that happen will pay back hugely later when there are thousands of ardent DC/Balt chowhounds comparing notes and lavishing tips. It just requires getting word around, and stirring up some posting action.

              Chowhounding is not a passive activity...

              1. re: Jim Leff

                Jim Leff has offered to visit Dee Cee every once in a while to 'hound, and I enthusiastically welcome his arrival! (DC Hounds: where shall we take him?) But before Jim buys his Amtrak roundtrip (warning!!! *Last* place in America (is it America, or is it the waning Soviet Union in Birobizhdan?) anyone would order anything from other than a diet Coke), consider that you're flirting with disaster. Better dinner at any jernt in the 4 block radius of B'way and 34 in NYC than . . . even kimchee at Hee Been (right off 395 at the Beltway exit in Arlington; make a right if coming from DC and it's on the left about 50 yards) (and how 'bout that sushi! I know the occupation (1905-1945) had an effect, but why not a serious Korean bbq?

                On the brighter front, had Sunday brunch at a newish place in Alex'ria, on the water: Cafe Marianna; not the touristy King Street Water, where (aside from Union Street) nothing is simple, all is foolish; but north of Old Town, barely an exit from the GW, with stunning views of the power plant and warehouses. With all fairness, Cafe Marianna is a nice little affair, with 5 or so outdoor table com/umpbrellae. Sunday brunch is a date-y affair, lots of couples doing the dance over the day's WashPost and (me, me, and one other NYer) the Times Mag. I enjoyed a seafood omelette: 3 eggs (some milk, but buttermilk would've worked better), with crab meat (backfin) and crawfish, topped (in the fold) with shredded cheddar. Fantastically fishy aura, a wonderful counterpoint to the eggy-ness. My beefs (figuratively, that is; no beef served): (1) the accompanying "roasted home potatoes wedges" were soggy, microwaved, and . . . three in number, which amounted to about a quarter of a potato if that; (2) "hot sauce" turned out to be tabasco (Argghh!), and nothing else (and this from a place that claims to serve Cajun!!!???) (see my next "bash-DC posting); and (3) my iced coffee, which was decent (from fresh brewed), needed more ice, and . . . HELP! Service was indiffernt. But if you're doin' the Times c'word on a lazy Sunday and feel like sittin' by the Potomac, not a bad place to be. (Bring hot sauce!)

                1. re: John

                  I believe Hee Been is in Alexandria, Duke St, correct?

                  Is Cafe Marianna the place way up where the road curves, I think on Royal St? Is there a body shop around the corner to the west?

                  1. re: Jim Dorsch

                    The cafe is in fact near the body shop, right by the curve. As an added attraction for the lefties among us, the menu reports that 1% of profits are donated to local charities.

            2. re: Dave Feldman

              This site was built to provide a resource (the only one anywhere/ever, actually) for active chowhounds. Passive eaters, on-and-off active hounds, and others who care about food to some extent are most welcome to come and be a part of the community, too.

              But bear in mind that when your complacent faves go out of business or decline in quality (as they surely will), you'll need new places to eat. And it's the active hounds who are out there finding 'em. I built this site so that we could all, for the first time, share these treasures (and shmooze).

              Everyone's invited to hit this trail when they can, as much as they can. It's fun, it's rewarding, it's a lifestyle. But Washingtonians whining about their food scene strike me as very silly. You've got to take out your pan and do some shaking to find the gold. Waiting for good places to get famous or written up is ineffectual, because there is no mechanism to ensure that this happens. The extant mechanisms are not quality-oriented, they're money/hype/lazy oriented.

              We've got to find the Good Places ourselves, and this site makes the quest much easier. We can help each other avoid dead ends, compare notes, etc.

              If DC hounds want to really make an effort, I'll commit to coming down there myself every couple of months and helping out with some investigation of my own.


      2. g
        George Kappus

        What's the story (name, location, strengths etc.) of the Thai place you mention? Is it accessible by metro? How does it compare with Sripraphai? (I.e. should I be seeking something else that I can't find as easily in New York, if I go to Northern Va. for S. E. Asian?) (I had great Vietnamese in Falls Church about a month ago, about which I will try to post belatedly when I get back.) Help with this decision will be most appreciated.