Pakistani Food on the Hill
At risk of turning one of my hands-down favorite restaurants, a hole in the wall on Cap Hill that looks like someone threw up Pepto Bismol all over the walls, into a crowded and hip new haunt, I recommend Aatish on the Hill. (Penn Ave SE, closer to 6th than 7th on the south side of the ave.)
I've tried many things on the menu but keep coming back to this meal: pappadan with cilantro sauce and vegetable pickles (put on your table like chips and salsa at a Mexican place -- free I think) -- very spicy, crisp thin crackers speckled with HOT cracked black peppercorns...sour and spicy cilantro sauce to smooth it all out.
Order the shrimp tandoor kebab (served on a sizzling bed of onions and peppers, very lightly sauteed, with a squeeze of fresh lemon over the top). They are spicy and meaty and crackley from the tandoor oven and get you in the back corners of your mouth. You'll understand what I mean when you eat them. To cool your mouth order raita (a yogurt cucumber sauce) and na'an (unbearably good flatbread also cooked in their tandoor oven). This is all served with a very fragrant rice -- some of it orange for a reason I do not know but delicious nonetheless. Even more inexplicable is the half maraschino cherry on top of the rice. I haven't ever eaten it and the waiters have yet to explain how it is the maraschino cherry came to be an integral component of Pakistani rice but there you have it. When you finish the shrimp, mix the leftover rice into the onions and peppers with a little raita and welcome to the Clean Plate Club.
Their house wine is good with the food. I recommend a weeknight because its pretty popular on Fridays and Saturdays with Hill residents.
But on Friday night I actually prefer the Turkish place on Penn. closer to 7th street -- the name escapes me at the moment but you'll know it by the little white Christmas lights in the windows and the overturned copper pots that serve as light shades.
Go on Friday, order the mezze platter and the dinner special, drink the house wine out of their big glasses -- colorfully dotted all over with what look like marbles.
The mezze platter will introduce you to the single best plate of baba ghanoush you've ever eaten, a wonderful roasted eggplant, good hummous and a few other things (dolmados, for one, but I don't like them no matter who makes them). The hot pita triangles are WONDERFUL with the baba and hummous.
The special is something like a gyro platter only waaaaay way better. I think it's a mix of minced formed lamb and beef sliced onto hot pita bread, topped with a spicy tomato sauce and yogurt sauce. It sounds weird but it is wonderful, and I don't even like minced and formed meat slices or multiple sauces on a single plate. They make me suspicious (what are you trying to hide by obscuring your offerings thus? I wonder shrewdly) in all other places but this. ANATOLIA is the name. Friday is critical because of the special. Can't get it any other night.
Nothing over 15 bucks on the menu and they are very nice to children (the head waitress gave my god son a "god's eye" to keep him safe from anyone putting the evil eye on him.)
Between Anatolia, Aatish, Talay Thai, White Tiger (on the Senate side), La Lomita (steak burrito mmmmm), Young Chow...its kind of hard to get off the Hill.
Anatolia and Aatish are at Eastern Market metro.
And while I'm at it, if you are into cooking you must hightail it over to Eastern Market on Saturday morning for really good ingredients. Some of the farmers are offering 8 kinds of eggplant and 15 kinds of hot peppers right now, and I think it is the last week for peaches which have been pure heaven this month.
Good reviews and I agree with them only would highlight Talay Thai a bit more. They have incredible fishcakes, maybe better than Thai Square on Columbia Pike in NoVa. Anyway, I tried to go there yesterday, but closed on Sundays at least during the day. Personally I have a thing for Las Placitas, which is an El Salvadorian place on 8th Street and part of the competitive family (cousins? who own La Lomita, La Lomita II and La Loma as well and I think there's another Las Placitas in Adams Morgan).