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General feedback on DC food experiences

I have a general question for everyone. What has been your overall impressions of restaurants & food quality in the DC area? What if anything would you improve upon? What are your biggest gripes/dissapointments? Who are the tops on your list & why?

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  1. I've lived in DC for 10 years, and I've been really impressed with how good the eating scene has become.

    I love the fact that there are so many different types of excellent Asian food, as well as fantastic Ethiopian around here. And the Mexico-Mexican places have become terrific. But I really wish for:

    -- better restaurants on Capitol Hill.
    -- better pizza, specifically cheap parlors.
    -- better barbecue joints, and a couple of good Polish places.

    And having lived in New Mexico before moving here, I would kill for a place with great green chile, carne adovada and sopapaillas.

    1. Anyway...I'm from NYC...and have had better Ethiopian, Burmese, and Vietnamese food in the DC area. I've had some great tacos here too.

      I would love a good metro rail accessible bubble tea chain in Dc or VA. I would like bakeries on the level of Magnolia or Butter cup here (Southern style, and good, including cupcakes). I would love an Argentine bakery....like those in Queens.

      While I like the italian store (not metro access, and doesnt really have seating) and Roma (Ballston)...more good by the slice pizzarias with seating would be nice. Better bbq and kosher-style places would be nice, metro accessible.

      1. Biggest disappointment is the trendiness factor, but I don't know if that's exclusive to DC. At one point, there seemed to be a new steakhouse opening every week. Yet none of them are able to get everything right (food, service, sides, ambience). I lost track of how many tapas places and boutique pizza parlors there are in DC. Expense account dining seems to be the coin of the realm, at least in downtown DC. I'm getting really tired of seeing $9 hamburgers where you pay extra for fries, and are there any restaurants that DON'T serve caesar salads?

        After that, we could use a real authentic NY deli like Katz or The Stage, more decent cheap greasy spoons like Waffle Shop or the Tastee Diner, as well as good BBQ. Local BBQ seems to combine the worst elements of Texas/KC/Carolina: sickly sweet sauces, improperly cooked meat (Tony Romas pressure cooks their ribs), and weak service.

        And decent bakeries that make bread that doesn't shred your mouth.

        1 Reply
        1. re: monkeyrotica

          I know what you mean about the lack of good BBQ joints...I went to school in the south...so I miss good BBQ...but if you want some AWESOME ribs, go to the Boulevard Woodgrill in Clarendon and get the WOODGRILLED MOLASSES & RUM BRUSHED BABY-BACK RIBS...they are the absolute best I have ever had!

        2. I don't think that this is a problem just to the DC area. In fact, I know it's worse in the hinterlands, and I have NO right complaining, but I wish we had fewer chain restaurants, and more mom-n-pop's.

          I don't really expect there to be NY delis in DC, because we're not NY. I don't expect there to be good BBQ here, either, because we're not in BBQ country. It would be nice, though, if the area were known for something other than corrupt politicians.

          2 Replies
          1. re: davefaris

            But DC WAS known for having great huge fish sandwiches deepfried in lard. Now, Horace & Dickies is probably the last of the old fish sandwich places. DC also used to have lots of great cafeterias like Scholls. Now it's just contractor-run factory swill. And even though we're less than an hour from Baltimore, nobody sells pit beef or coddies in DC. Yet you can get foods from the other side of the planet.

            1. re: monkeyrotica

              We ate all the fish...and we ruined the most productive estuary in the world, so the local seafood thing in DC (and Baltimore, for that matter) is over. Fortunately, we have a galaxy of great Asian choices in the area. You want pizza, go to New Haven. Barbecue--head south. Mostly, you just won't find those here. A decent hot dog wouldn't hurt, though.

          2. Another good thing about the scene here is the bargain Happy Hours and daily specials. Some examples: Cafe Asia's $1 a piece sushi happy hour m-f until 730pm, Whitlows 1/2 price burgers mondays, wingnight (30c a wing) at Hard Times Cafe Wedesdays, wing night (25c a wing) and $2.50 beers Mondays at Rockbottom. I've written about the Arlington options: http://dcfud.smorgasblog.com/archives...

            1. Word to DC: "You're not New York! Quit it with the pretentious restaurants, already!"

              I just shake my head in dismay when I see posts here, or comments on Sietsema's Wednesday live chats, that say "we went and spent $350 on a dinner for two at this highly-praised joint, and the food was terrible and the service was worse! My pate of some endangered species was frozen inside! Do you think I should have said something to the manager?"

              I may be exaggerating a little, but not much, and you know it.

              I know, it's easy to poke fun when I'm the sort of guy who wouldn't spend $350 for any meal (where do people get that kind of money?) - but it seems that every place with a high pricetag and a gimmick gets our attention far too easily.

              1. DC is getting better all the time (at least its restaurants are). But I also lament the decline of the neighborhood joints. I have a particular gripe with Sietsema's continually harping that 17th Street "deserves" better restaurants. You mean like Komi or Hanks, where you can't escape for less than $50-$100 per person? No thanks... I'll stick with the "old school" chicken Francaise at the Dupont Italian Kitchen - its not great necessarily, but sometimes you just want a nice glass of wine and a friendly waiter.

                What I'd like to see: more reasonably priced fish restaurants; any restaurant opening East of 10th Street NW. Lots of neighborhoods with expensive real estate and nowhere to eat!

                1. I'm in Northern Virginia and there are so many chains and not enough good mom and pop restaurants where I am (a little farther south). There are some chains that also bring a pretentiousness with them, like PF Changs or Cheesecake Factory. The food isn't great but it's trendy and the lines are long. There isn't enough fresh, local produce that's easily accessible. There are farmers markets but small and not easy to get to. We've recently moved back to this area from California so I was spoiled by the agriculture there. But, this area has changed since we were here last. I used to only be able to find organic produce at Fresh Fields (now Whole Foods) but it's more common everywhere now. Oh, another thing I can't find is good seafood monger or butcher. I'll keep looking.

                  There is also a stuffiness to the nicer restaurants here. I dressed up to go to Chez Panisse in California but there were also people in jeans, and no one cared. Here, people seem to mind what their neighbors wear so if their whole restaurant experience is ruined because their neighbors didn't dress up.

                  5 Replies
                  1. re: chowser

                    I seem to have the hardest time finding places that are inventive with consistent quality, but relaxed and mid-priced. Around here Del Merie Grill and at least some of the Great American line fit this bill I'm trying to describe. Most mid priced restos seem to be chains or just not that good.

                    There are many that are close, but just a few dollars too high per plate to me for what you get - which makes them a cheap special meal rather than a solid standard.

                    1. re: Dennis S

                      Weird, I thought I replied before. I find the same thing and we end up at one of the Great American Restaurants as default. Aladdin's is good--I was surprised to find out it was a chain.

                    2. re: chowser

                      Unfortunately it seems the farther out you go from DC...the more chain restaurants there are. Unless you go all the way to Charlottesville where there are some great non-chain restaurants. I have lived in the Arlington area most of my life and I love the large selection of non-chain restaurants...so if you can make a trip to Arlington...there are a lot of great choices.

                      1. re: AlliantK

                        A few years back, my brother lived down near Richmond. We were laughing because according to a reader's survey, some local publication declared that the best seafood restaurant in the area was Red Lobster.

                        1. re: AlliantK

                          Definitely. It seems like there are good places in the "city of" cities, like the city of Arlington, city of Alexandria, cit of Fairfax but not as you get out of the city proper. I don't know if this is a "grass is always greener" situation but it seems like Maryland has better selections. My friend in Takoma Park has a lot of good ethnic places to choose from (including vegetarian ones).

                      2. I wish the concept of the diner and the deli was more prevalent in the DC Metro area. A nice non-boutique NY style pizza place would be wonderful too. I have hopes for Z Pizza, having tried a couple of different slices (finally, a place where I can get a quick slice!) at one of their outlets and they seem to be onto something. The silly and self important dress code mentioned earlier is a turn off.

                        1. Overall I think DC is a great dining town. Strong points, ethnic foods (the great variety that comes from being a truly international city) and high end restaurants (expense accounts for all those folks who come to try to get something from the politicians). I think this is the best area in the US to get Thai or Ethiopian food, and you can find ethnic restaurants here that you just won't find most anywhere else.

                          Of course there are just too many chains, especially in the burbs, but let's be honest folks, they are the only ones who can afford the rents and investment. However, if you look, there are lots of great "Mom and Pop" types, even if they have grown some. The Bombay Bistro's (now a mini chain what with Indique and their new place), some of the great Vietnamese and Korean restaurants in Northern VA, Le Mannequin Pis in Olney, Ruan Thai in Wheaton, Bamian in Falls Church, etc. And there are some great and inovative chefs here in DC, in fact too many to list.

                          While we might not be NYC (but in a city that huge there should be lots of great restaurants) or SF (what can you say) I think that the DC dining scene is as exciting as any city in the country. I love restaurants like Dino (what a great wine list), Corduroy (I don't care if it is in a hotel), Palena (in front or my favorite, in back), MP (what great mussels and frites), Cashion's Eat Place (so what if it is crowded and cramped, the food is great), Joe's Noolde House (it may take me 300 trips, but I'm going to eat my way thru tha menu someday), just to name a few.