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Top Ten Bites

I'll be visiting your fair city this week, staying in Dupont. I'm digging through this site (& washingtonpost.com) and finding lots of interesting options. But I'm having a hard time figuring out what is unique to Washington DC or is just so damn good I shouldn't miss it.

What are the 10 things you think it would be absolutely criminal to leave without tasting?

For example, I'm from San Francisco and among my top ten SF bites are (in no particular order): champagne float from Citizen Cake, tofu banh mi from Saigon Sandwiches, pain epi from Acme, gougere from Tartine, hankerchief pasta/pork ragu from Incanto, Tommy's margaritas, fruit at the Ferry Bldg Market.

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  1. Here are some of the cheap must dos:

    - Ben's Chili Bowl (http://www.benschilibowl.com/) is a must. I know lots of people say it has gone down hill, but it is truly a local gem in a sea of chain restaurants.

    - Picking crabs down at the Maine Avenue Fish Market. Blue Crabs are a surprise for many west coasters. I have family in SF and they are always amazed at how much tastier our crabs are than the west coast varieties (don't worry, I still love west coast seafood). Old Bay Seasoning is also new for many who are not from the east coast.

    - Any authentic BBQ joint, meaning Pulled Pork BBQ. BBQ is noun down here, not a verb refering to food grilled over an open flame. Geographically, DC is probably the first city of the South (meaning Baltimore is the last city of the North). I know the current trend is to call us Mid-
    Atlantic, but that always seems like cop out trying to addressing a little dispute that occurred sometime in the 1860s. Here you will find more of a southern influence in our local foods.

    - I don't know about the rest of the hounds out there, but I always feel like I am a part of the DC political scene when I am at Old Ebbets Grill or the Fox and Hound.

    4 Replies
    1. re: cimabue

      Agree on Ben's.

      Save BBQ for a trip somewhere that actually has good BBQ. The "southerness" of DC is, in my opinion, of a geographic nature only (and in that sense both baltimore and DC are below the mason-dixon line and - at least originally - on Maryland land), you can get very good traditional southern "soul" food at Oohs and Aahs. I would replace BBQ with an Ooh's and Aah's trip on your itinerary.
      [Aside - there are any number of opinions as to where the South starts. My friends in new england and canada think of Baltimore as the first city in the South. Growing up in Baltimore, I couldn't tell you which. When I lived in NC Richmond was the common answer. My friend in Montgomery, Alabama says its Birmingham. All I know is that the good pork barbecue is either in or south of NC, or has emigrated with great effort and attention to detail from those points.]

      Crabs yes but skip any of the DC options and make a trip to Baltimore or Annapolis for this to do it right. You will not regret it.

      actually i will post an entire list of 10 recs separately

      1. re: Lowbar

        Where the South starts is definitely up for debate, but by the time you are in Richmond, you've been there for awhile. Likewise, once you make it to Philly, you have been in the North for a while. So that leaves DC and Baltimore.

        I agree,crabs are better in Annapolis or Baltimore. But then again, the best place for crabs may well be Tangier Island or a buddy's back porch after a day on the water.

        I would argue that natives to Virginia and DC do have a long tradition with Pork BBQ.

        1. re: cimabue

          My rule: if you order a Dr. Pepper and they ask you if Mr. Pibb is ok, you are not in the south.

          1. re: cimabue

            DC is DC and has a dearth of good food at a reasonable price, except for the ethnic joints in the suburbs. Wasn't always that way, though. On the whole, I'd rather eat in Baltimore.

      2. As an ex-DC-ite and current San Franciscan, I think that you would really enjoy going to Eastern Market. It is a big room (not as big as the Ferry Building) with various different vendors selling everything from sausage to bacon to hummentashen. It is really fun and a treat! It is sort of like the Ferry Building but less pretentious and more down to earth.


        1. Top Ten Bites in no particular order (this should hit almost all of DC's major food groups):

          Galileo - approx. two days a week, the chef here grills meat for sandwiches. (midweek lunch only) Uneven schedule, you have to call. I suggest the sausage with broccoli raabe.

          Rita's - West Indian dive. Polori with pickled tamarind sauce. Get the sorrel to drink.

          Breadline - Midweek lunch only. Order the bbq (specifically ask for this on a ciabatta) served only on Fridays.

          cf folks - midweek lunch only. Crabcake.

          Citronelle - eat in the lounge - not formal. Get the mushroom cigars and the begula pasta. Not open for lunch.

          Etete - Ethiopian. Fastening food platter (vegetarian selection).

          Ercilia's - Salvadoran. Loroco Papusas. Handmade to order. Expect slow service, but these are set apart from others because the loroco flowers are pressed into the dough.

          Jaleo - queso de tupi. An unusual alcohol-fermented cheese.

          Oyamel - in Virginia. You'll have to walk three long blocks south from the Crystal City Metro. Wild mushroom soup.

          Than Son Tofu - Eden Center in Virginia. You'll have to take Metro to East Falls Church and hop into one of the waiting cabs (very short ride). A Vietnamese Shopping Center with over 23 restaurants, bakeries, etc. Get the vegetable cake (they often run out) or the mushroom and lemon pepper tofus or try the sticky rice dishes. Mostly take out with about 4 tables. This is a strip mall with some hidden interior corridors. Worth exploring.

          1. Here are 10 recs that are sure to be ripped apart. Problem is, just about any category of foodstuff you'd get in DC, you can get generally better renditions of the same elsewhere. Exceptions here are Ethiopian and Vietnamese, though coming from SF you aren't exactly isolated from good Vietnamese food. Also, most of our good authentic ethnic food is in the suburbs, where excellent Korean, Indian, Chinese, Vietnamese, Salvadorean, Bolivian, and Peruvian food can be found. What is nice about DC is that we at least have good to very good renditions of a very wide range of things. With that in mind I give you my top 10 in no particular order, with metro info to help you navigate a bit:

            1) chili half smoke - Ben's Chili Bowl (U St Cardozo, Green line)

            2) whatever tickles your fancy at one of the excellent Ethiopian places in the 9th and U NW general area (NOT adams morgan, georgetown, etc) Dukem and Etete are good options - (U St Cardozo, Green line)

            3) Whatever tickles your fancy at Oohs and Aahs (U St Cardozo, Green line)

            4) half a chicken, fries, and slaw at El Pollo Rico, Arlington...peruvian rotiserrie chicken is a staple here (for me at least) and this is the best chicken (sides a bit uninspired) (Virginia Square, Orange Line)

            5) Crabs in Baltimore. Search this board to find rec's. For the uninitiated, I usually recommend Bo Brooks which, though it is a bit more touristy and expensive than some other good options, still has very good, well-prepared crabs and they are happy to show you how to properly eat them. If you can't go to Baltimore, try the Quartereck in arlington or Maine Ave waterfront (though you will be much more on your own at those places, and they just aren't as good as getting them in an actual crab town...probably my imagination)

            6) Goat Tacos, laroco papusa....El Charrito Caminante, arlington (Clarendon Metro, orange line)

            7) Galileo grill as suggested in Steve's post, though i don't recall seeing anything scheduled for this week.

            8) 5-way chili mac or Frito Pie at hard times cafe (multiple locations). Good wings too. All of my friends from SF love this place and always ask to go when they come visit. I love it too.

            9) A trip to Eden Center. (East Falls Church metro, orange line, take a right coming out of the station entrance and walk 3/4 of a mile down sycamore/roosevelt, entrance is on your right just past olympus gym). Wealth of awesome Vietnamese options. I like Viet Royale. Huong Que also good. Don't sleep on the little places either for a nice banh mi, bubble tea, etc etc. The Tofu place is also pretty good. Worth exploring the whole mall as steve notes.

            10) I love the Oyster Happy Hour at Old Ebbitt. Truly excellent oysters half price monday to thursday from 3-6pm and 11-1 a.m.

            that's my week and i'm sticking to it, unless i forgot something in which case i'll edit the post and nobody will ever notice my error.

            1. Ethiopian is the city's claim to fame -- don't miss that. Eden Center and a Baltimore or Annapolis crab feast also loom large but require a car.

              Ben's Chili Bowl is notable more for atmosphere and authenticity than food, but it's as good a spot as any to sample a half-smoke -- which, it can be argued, is the most authentically native foodstuff.

              I was glad to see Eastern Market and Hard Times Cafe listed. At the former, try to have breakfast at Market Lunch -- blueberry buckwheat pancakes, homemade-bread french toast, or an egg-and-whatever sandwich. Lunch would also work (some great fried-seafood sandwiches, esp. the crabcake). Hard Times is a suburban phenomenon (but Metro-accessible) and a bit of an out-of-place one, with Texas atmosphere and Cincinnati and Texas food far from their places of origin, but it's an exclusively local chain and, in my opinion, the best bargain around.

              I would add to the list a steak dinner in a power spot. Capital Grille is a chain, but a good one, and the location between Capitol Hill and the White House makes political-celebrity sightings quite possible. Great clubby atmosphere, too. On Capitol Hill proper, the Monocle offers a similar vibe in a non-chain establishment with lower prices.

              Old Ebbitt is perhaps the quintessential D.C. restaurant in all its clubbiness, and the oyster happy hour is a great deal (though it's not the best season right now, of course). A late-night beer at the Hawk and Dove or the Tune Inn would also provide some nice old D.C. flavor.

              3 Replies
              1. re: Bill on Capitol Hill

                Two comments:

                1) I had to laugh after reading back over this thread and seeing that I poo-pooed the idea of DC pork barbecue but then heartily recommended DC chili.

                2) Oysters in summer...true you are more likely to get a spawning oyster in the summer from a random sample for many varieties, but as long as you stick to NE (some say MD, I say MA or further), Pac NW, and canadian sources, you aren't that likely to encounter an issue. The "R month" rule is one born in the south where that holds true for local oysters. Old Ebbitt would not serve oysters that were likely to be spawning at that time.

                In the event a spawning oyster is encountered, any reputable place will take it back and give you another. Just look for a noticeably milky appearance. Good shuckers will detect this while shucking and they won't end up on your plate. Which might explain why I've never had one at Old Ebbitt for the thousand+ oysters I've eaten there.

                1. re: Bill on Capitol Hill

                  What's the scoop now on Market Lunch? I heard a while back they were cutting hours and that maybe they were getting rid of breakfasts? Maybe this was just weekends...

                  1. re: Bill on Capitol Hill

                    Actually, Hard Times is not exclusive to the DC area. It is as far south as Raleigh NC!

                  2. Holy crap, I couldn't disagree more with some of these. Ben's!??! It has been around for 50 years, that is the ONLY reason it is anything. It is a greasy junk pit. Do I eat there? HELL YES. But not because it's good... it isn't. It's just open late, and in a neat part of town. It's a McDonald's that happens to be owned by some neighborhood folks and not a giant corporation... nothing more.

                    And common. Eden Center? Vienna Square? You are gonna send people out on half hour car or train rides to the middle of nowhere... just for some vietnamese food? Be realistic, folks. Would you really drive a half hour away from presidio on your one-week visit - just to eat a sandwich?

                    DC recs:
                    - The guy who suggested the Maine Ave waterfront fish market. Absolutely do that. You can eat all kinds of good stuff there, and it's very down-home and kinda neat.

                    - Citronelle: great food; very expensive. Do it if you have the $ (and yeah, don't sit in the actual dining room unless you are ready to spend $200+ per person).

                    - Galileo's - DO go there for lunch if you are nearby and can when the grill is open. If not, Restaurant Kolumbia is nearby and does a good and surprisingly cheap bar lunch as well.

                    - Bistrot Du Coin - most interesting place in Dupont.

                    - Pizzeria Paradisio: Second-most interesting place in Dupont. Often packed... there's one in G'town too.

                    Those would be my 5 must-do's. I would also recommend, depending on when you are gonna go down by the white house:

                    -Old Ebbitt's (very DC; Oyster happy hour from 3-6 and 10-12)

                    -Rooftop at Hotel Washington (great for night time ice cream above the white house).

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: EricDC

                      I think if you're from the midwest out here for a week, then Eden Center is a must visit. If you're coming from SF, then it could be skipped due to your choices there.

                      I would also say that you must have a blue crab feast, but you don't NEED to drive to the bay for it. Sure, it's better ambience and to experience palates, better crab, but if you've not had one, Steamers in Bethesda, or Quarterdeck in Arlington will get you what you want.

                      The tacos, etc are good at some places mentioned, but you have better in SF, ditto for any falalel/schwarma type item (Truly Mediteranean is all you need to know there).

                      And OP, you're killing me with the reference to Tommy's.

                      Outside of those tweaks (imo), most all other recs are worth following.

                      1. re: Dennis S

                        Thanks for the advice.

                        Regarding Tommy's, I tend to go with what's local but if y'all got some killer margaritas (100% agave, fresh persian lime juice) or even bar with an good tequila selection in town (extra points for Dupont area), let me know.

                      2. re: EricDC

                        I don't understand your disparagement of traveling to Eden Center. Are you saying you have been to Than Son Tofu and didn't like it? Or that you can find the same tofu shop in DC? To say nothing of the sheer variety of other offerings. I doubt the OP will agree with your put down of "just for some vietnamese food." I included some Virginia places in my response because I believe it is easier and faster to get there than some parts of DC.

                        Anyway, some of my other favorites in Eden Center are the ground pork wrapped in rice paper at Na Trang and the sweet and sour seafood soup at Huong Viet. I do not know of an equivalent ot these dished in DC.

                        Ultimately, I recommed that the OP do a search by restaurant name on Chowhound - do not trust washingtonpost.com unless the review in question is by Tom Sietsema, the main restaurant critic. Otherwise, you are just grasping at straws.

                        1. re: EricDC

                          "Eden Center? Vienna Square? You are gonna send people out on half hour car or train rides to the middle of nowhere... just for some vietnamese food?"

                          True story: when I visited Ann Arbor MI last year, I drove all the way to the Lebanese neighborhood in Dearborn just for a single meal.

                          And it was worth it.

                          Eden Center is worth the trip from DC, if you're really willing to go out of the way for it. I live in the PG County and I go there whenever I get the chance. Personally, I would have been disappointed if someone withheld info about Dearborn because it was "too far". I think the poster can make up their own mind about whether it's worth the trip.

                        2. I would add Masitas de Puerco (pork cooked slowly with bitter Seville oranges) from Lauriol Plaza, rockfish from Thaiphoon, lamb from Afterwords, and Murgh Makhani (a particularly good version of this staple) from Heritage India.

                          Naturally, you will avoid any place that was recommended without specific ordering advice, as you requested.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: Lettuce Eat

                            Well don't let my lack of specific ordering advice steer you away from Ooh's and Aah's. Really, just order whatever there looks best to you...my recommendation would be chicken (wings) and a side of collard greens but I am worried the image that would come to mind of your typical crappy "buffalo wing" might be a turnoff. If you like chicken at all, order it at Oohs and Aahs. If you don't, or are in the mood for soemthing else, order whatever jumps out at you. If you're looking for health food, omit from list.

                          2. Thanks to everyone for all your advice/recommendations. I've sorted it all out and hope make the final cuts on the plane tomorrow morning. Jaleo, crabs, oysters, Old Ebbitt's, oohs and aaahs (before SF, I came from the South) and the lure of excellent Ethopian are already making me very happy -- I may have to sneak out of some of my meetings/receptions or relocate the action!

                            And I'll let you know where I end up.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: larochelle

                              India Abbott Wilson who cooks at Oohs and Aahs is from Coastal South Carolina, so you will definitely want to try her shrimp. There are much better places for catfish, though. Sit at one of the stools, don't get lost upstairs.

                            2. GALILEO GRILL UPDATE (a few of us suggested this earlier but we weren't sure if it was open this week...well...)

                              The Galileo Grill will be open this Wednesday, August 2nd and Thursday, August 3rd from 11:45 a.m. - 1:00 p.m.

                              Pre-orders (accepted by phone only) – To pre-order your lunch, call 202-293-7191 from 9:30 - 11:30 a.m. Pre-orders are to be picked up at the bar.

                              In person pick up – To place your order with Chef Donna personally, come by the grill counter between 11:45 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. Kindly note, limited seating will be available outside on our back terrace, weather permitting.

                              Galileo Grill Menu
                              * Sandwiches - Chicken, Pork Shoulder, or Pork Sausage - $5
                              Meatball Sandwich with Provolone - $6
                              Add to your sandwich: Provolone - $1 and/or Broccoli Rabe - $2

                              Homemade Hot Dogs - $4
                              Broccoli Rabe Pizza - $3.50/slice
                              Cold Carrot and Tomato Soup - $3
                              Vegetable Soup - $3
                              Onion, Pancetta and Cheese "Quiche" - $3
                              Grilled Romaine Caesar Salad - $5
                              Sweet Ricotta Cannoli - $2.50
                              Italian Bread - $3/loaf
                              Sodas & Bottled Water - $1

                              * All sandwiches come with green sauce, green peppers & onions, and lettuce. Other condiments available upon request include: Mustard, Homemade Ketchup, Barbecue Sauce, or Sauerkraut.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: Lowbar

                                Thanks LB for the great post!

                                Last week I was able to order up a nice meatball sub and grilled salad. I have to say that I was a little pleasantly surprised by the salad. Opening the box, I saw a few stacks of grilled romaine lettuce and thought, "how lame". But the parmesan and dressing go a long way.

                                The meatball sub was a little cold/soggy by the time I got home, but that's my fault. The price is great for a quality sandwich, and I just wish I couldve tried more their menu.

                                Other places I tried from the above recommedations:
                                -Song Que (East Eden) - ok bubble tea (boba)
                                -El Puerto Rico - great great pollo de brasa! the fries actually weren't anything special... but mmm that hotsauce!
                                -Eastern Market - cheap eats diner food
                                -Ethiopian - Langano seemed on par (or lower) than a few LA places
                                -Maryland Blue Crabs - Captain Pell's all you can eat was an experience that can't be missed.. piles of shells and bay spice.