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Jul 31, 2006 12:36 AM

Top Ten Bites

I'll be visiting your fair city this week, staying in Dupont. I'm digging through this site (& 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 ( 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!