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Want Lowbar's top list for DC

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Lowbar, I saw your previous posts. I think Helmand in Baltimore is one of the best restaurants anywhere. And I agree with you about Asia Nora. When we ate there a few yrs ago everything from the appetizers to the dessert had ginger in it. Sickening!

I would really appreciate it if you could post your favorites- especially any near the West End where we'll be staying but we're willing to travel for good food.

Also, are there any excellent and aesthetically pleasing Asian restaurants like NYC's Shun Lee Palace? My husband and I don't mind hole in the walls but on this trip I'm traveling with a picky teen. Thank you!

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  1. Well, I'm flattered, but I'm completley the wrong person to ask about this. I have an extremely unsophisticated pallette, couldn't tell you what teens like, and I almost never eat in DC now that I don't live there any more (moved away in late 90s and came back to N.VA in 2003), preferring to eat in the low-end holes in the wall in the suburbs unless I am forced to by a date situation or business requirement.

    The good news is with a West End location you are centrally located to take advantage of all of NW DC's restaurants. I never ate at a real restaurant until I was well into my 20s (i.e. anything other than fast food or "casual american dining" a la chili's or bennigan's, or all you can eat chinese buffets) so I am at a loss for your picky teen, but a small plates place like Zaytinya or Jaleo would offer the variety and dining experience that's likely to please. I don't particularly like either place, but I do not hesitate to recommend Zaytinya because everyone I know or have sent there loves it. It is a little on the "hip" side for a dork of the people like me.

    I would have loved ethiopian food if I had the opportunity to try it as a youth. I like Dukem for that, most like Etete. Same area.

    My favorites in the metro area, none of which are particularly pleasing to the eye:

    Lebanese Butcher in Falls Church
    Just about any vietnamese place in eden center (falls church), Four Sisters (Huong Que) is probably most accessible.
    El Pollo Rico in Arlington.
    Sichuan Village in Chantilly.
    Ruan Thai (Wheaton MD)

    or you can just try searching by my name and seeing some places i recommend, I assume that's possible.

    Other people should be able to offer better advice, I'd suggest posting with specific requests for types of places you're looking for.

    6 Replies
    1. re: Lowbar

      Thanks so much for your reply Lowbar. I didn't realize you are no longer living in DC. I spent about an hr browsing through postings and figured anyone who loves Helmand and dislikes Asia Nora might have similar taste.

      My teen is actually a good sport and likes a lot of unusual foods but we've dragged her around to so many marginal sanitation spots in our hometown and hit and miss food (sometimes fresh shrimp, sometimes not etc) that she's been traumatized and says now the only Chinese she'll eat is PF Changs (or a place like Shun Lee Palace in NYC).

      We might head over to Georgetown for pizza and an Americanized Thai. I also thought Kinkeads was good for lunch. How do you like the Mendocino Grill?

      I'll look up the other places you suggested. Thanks so much. If anyone else who loves Helmand cares to respond, I'd very much appreciate it.

      1. re: anonj

        I've not been to Helmand, but if it's Afghan cuisine you want with a nice upscale ambiance then Bamian might be the place. However, it's out in Falls Church near Bailey's Crossroads, not accessible by metro in any reasonable sense of the word, but not hard to reach by car.

        1. re: johnb

          Bamian is quite good, but it is not on the level of Helmand which is really in a class by itself for Afghan throughout this region. I don't hesitate to recommend Bamian to others, but for myself I usually save my Afghan fix for when I'm in Baltimore. When forced to stay local, Bamian is my choice.

        2. re: anonj

          I'm all for hygiene and ambience, but to say the only Chinese one can eat is at the decidedly mediocre P.F. Chang's is kind of sad. I'm not a huge fan of Shun Lee Palace either by the way. Overpriced, watered down Chinese in NYC, when Chinatown is so much better (try Ping's Seafood). I do agree though that DC area Chinese joints aren't the best I've had, although infinitely better than P.F. Chang's. And yes, the Helmand is terrific.

          That being said, maybe Taste of Saigon in Rockville (I think another branch is in Tysons Corner) would be up your alley. It's a relatively clean posh place with dishes adapted to a more Americanized palate. For me too much so, but it's very popular among the rest.

          1. re: anonj

            Hi anonj,

            You might try Full Kee in Chinatown, one of the best Chinese restaurants in this area. If you hit Kinkead's, the crab cake with mustard creme fraiche is yummy.

            -Helmand's fanatic

            1. re: Ell Gee

              Ell Gee, thanks for the crab cake recommendation. We have eaten at Full Kee in DC in the past. I agree it's quite good but it's too funky for my teen.
              I'm glad to hear there are other "Helmand fanatics" out there :)

        3. If the picky teen is swayed by ambience, and you're after top notch thai, then Bangkok 54 in Arlington would be a good choice. They, along with Ruan Thai and Thai Square (just down the street) are generally the top three offerings in the whole area. Only B-54 does something with the ambience, and they do a good job of it. It's on Columbia Pike near Walter Reed. Not the most metro friendly, but not bad by using the Pentagon Mall stop and catching a bus going that far up Columbia Pike.

          A couple places downtown would also fit the bill, such as Thai Tanic on 14th near P. It's good, but not to the level of those other three.

          2 Replies
          1. re: Dennis S

            Thanks so much lowbar, Johnb and Dennis for the suggestions.

            I got out my old 1999-2000 Wash Post Dining Guide by Phyllis Richman and remembered that we did try Afghan on Jefferson Davis Hwy in Alexandria (tasty but a dive). I also tried another Afghan- not sure if it was in her book- it was about a 10 min drive from Tysons Corner and there was a Thai restaurant next door.
            I have to agree with Lowbar that Helmand seems to be in a class by itself although I will keep Bemian in mind. Even less than stellar Afghan is still good and something we can't get locally.

            I've revered Phyllis Richman ever since she turned us onto the C & O in Charlottesville. Usually I like to cross reference Zagat or some book with chowhound opinions. Do any of you have a current Wash DC restaurant guide that you like?

            Great Thai in Arlington might be worth getting lost driving to. I remember one yr staying with my sister at a West End hotel and driving all the way out to Duangrats after dark, getting lost coming and going and being disappointed in the food but it was still a fun adventure.

            Last yr we ate at a Thai restaurant next to Cafe Milano and thought it was quite good- I don't recall the name.

            Whatever happened to the 5 Senses in Georgetown? I thought they had a very yummy brunch.

            Thanks again Chowhounds.

            1. re: anonj

              If that's the case re: Afghan food, then definitely give Bamian a try. It may not be Helmand's equal, but it is still very good and definitely a worthwhile jaunt if you can't get Afghan food at home.

          2. "it was about a 10 min drive from Tysons Corner and there was a Thai restaurant next door."

            That's Panjshir. I liked the food but wasn't wowed by it, but found the service/attention very good.

            1. Thanks so much Lowbar and thanks to Weezycom for clarifying Afghan name which I'd forgotten.

              Does anyone happen to know the name of the Thai on Prospect St next to Cafe Milano? I wanted to look it up in Zagat but couldn't find it. I see Thai Tanic only gets a 19 but the ambiance might appeal to my teen.

              The more I think about it, we're going to have stick to Americanized cuisine- perhaps one meal will be at Meiwah- compared to what we can get locally it's pretty good.
              The last straw for my teen was when my son stopped in Full Kee in Richmond, Va and brought home to us in NC some congee with pork- daughter claimed the pork was fatty and grossed her out.
              I told her she should've stuck to fish congee as I do. I think we inquired once and Full Kee Richmond and DC have the same owners- the food seems to be similar.

              Lowbar I'm saving your recommendations for future trips without the teen. My husband would adore El Pollo Rico I'm sure-maybe we'll bring him home some.

              Speaking of being grossed out, I've sworn off "authentic" Mexican since I saw jugs of lard for frying in a kitchen recently. Now I know why those tortilla chips have a unique flavor- I'd been in denial. Of course I love butter which is also a satured fat. I guess either lard or butter are slightly better for you than hydrogenated fats.
              I also wish the Chinese would stop using so much pork fat in their dim sum.
              Thanks again chowhounds.

              6 Replies
              1. re: anonj

                Thai on Prospect: Bangkok Bistro.

                1. re: Katherine H

                  Thank you Katherine. I'm surprised- Bangkok Bistro must be considered so mediocre it didn't even get listed in Zagat 2007- we thought it was good.
                  I can't wait to try some really good Thai.

                  I really like Washingtonian Magazine but have often been disappointed in their "best" recommendations- although we just stumbled on Bangkok Bistro- not listed anywhere.

                  Do DC natives have a favorite, reliable source other than chowhound?

                2. re: anonj

                  Asking the Chinese to stop using pork fat in dim sum is like asking the French to stop using butter in their food. Granted it should be used in moderation, but it is what it is.

                  1. re: jeanki

                    Jean, I disagree with you. As popular as dim sum has become, I think there might be a demand for it without the pork fat.

                    Isn't there some NYC restaurant that is making it without? The owner is not Asian if I remember correctly but he hired away top dim sum chefs from NYC traditional Chinese restaurants. I'm sure chowhounds know the restaurant I'm referring to-it sounded very pricey, high end- I haven't eaten there.

                    I don't see why shrimp balls, eggplant or peppers in black bean sauce need to be made with pork fat. It gives a too slick mouth feel/sensation in my opinion.

                    A few days ago there was an article in the Wall St J comparing fried chicken fried in hydrogenated oil vs liquid oil- the author did a blind taste taste and was surprised the liquid oil chicken tasted better.

                    1. re: anonj

                      Maybe you're referring to Chinatown Brasserie? Haven't eaten there.

                      Hydrogenated oil doesn't taste like much (i.e. Crisco or margarine) so it's not surprising that liquid oil tasted better. Pork fat is another matter. Why else does bacon, pancetta et al taste so good?

                      1. re: jeanki

                        Jean, you might have a point but I thought lard and pork fat was supposed to be neutral in flavor. Years ago when I was still eating meat, I confess I loved BLTs.
                        One of the worst smells I can think of now is something they call "streak of lean" here in the South- the smell of it being cooked first thing in the morning at breakfast truly nauseates me and I have a hearty morning appetite.
                        There are so many vegetarians and non pork eaters, I do think an alternative might be popular and might even have a superior flavor and texture.

                        I'm not sure if the restaurant I read about is Chinatown Brasserie.

                3. We returned from our trip- thanks to everyone who gave suggestions- I hope to follow up on more of them during future trips.
                  Juniper- inside the Fairmont Hotel located in DC’s West End. This is a very nice hotel that we’ve stayed at on numerous occasions. We always manage to get a bargain room rate (this time $108) and were also offered a $50 coupon for food or beverages as AAA members. Because of the coupon, we decided to have breakfast. It was very mediocre and expensive ($66) roughly the same price as our dinners at Meiwah and Bangkok 54.
                  My daughter and I ordered the crabcake eggs benedict- I’m certain the waiter heard me correctly since he repeated it back to me. Instead, we each received a trio of 3 different egg benedicts (salmon, crab and Canadian bacon) at $25 each-about $5 more than the crabcake eggs benedict. Tasty but definitely not worth the expense. The orange juice was mediocre-neither fresh nor a high quality brand. The espresso drinks and home fries also mediocre. The bar is nice- next time I would spend my coupon money on drinks.

                  Bread and Chocolate- one block away and a good breakfast alternative for guests of the hotel but tends to be hit and miss. There’s also a Starbucks in the new bldg across from the Fairmont but of course their pastries are dreadful. Has anyone tried the café in the new bldg? I see there’s also a Trader Joes now.

                  Blue Duck Tavern-inside the Park Hyatt across from the Fairmont. My daughter remembered every course each of us ate almost 4 yrs ago when it was the Melrose so I decided we’d splurge on a meal here. This is a pretentious, silly and mediocre restaurant.
                  Décor- Thos Moser (?) chairs and benches but the wood floor is still torn up in spots (patched) and there are scrapes on the new walls. Lay out is also unfortunate. I waited tables years ago and seeing the wait staff in jackets made me nervous- I hope they are washable microfiber and that they don’t have astronomical dry cleaning bills. I was surprised when the guy I assumed to be the mgr turned out to be the waiter and took our order. Service was pretty good but not on par with the stellar experience at the former Melrose.
                  Cauliflower soup was delicious but could’ve been hotter.
                  The vegetarian plate was very odd- the first few bites were delicious but then it got kind of sickening. It consisted of a casserole dish with gobs of warm cheese sauce at the bottom, topped with collard greens, some mushrooms and two squares of wild rice cake. Very strange.
                  Our first course was bread that might have been made fresh that day but had been sliced in the morning and was kind of dried out. A big slab of cold butter was also brought to the table- at first I thought it was a cheese wedge. We were also given about 4 fresh figs which were awful and tasteless.
                  The crabcakes were the same Melrose recipe- tasty but not fabulous- we’ve made better at home.
                  Desserts- these were enjoyable- I thought the apple pie and vanilla ice cream were excellent and not overly sweet. All the food is brought out to the tables in bizarre dishes which apparently are supposed to be evocative of a homey, earthy, back to nature feel. I thought they were ridiculous. Who needs a foot long old wooden cooking spoon stuck upright in their scoop of ice cream?
                  I was very surprised that this restaurant was packed on Tues night before Thanksgiving- most of the other patrons did not appear to be hotel guests. One nice thing I’ll say about the Blue Duck is that with the plainer décor getting dressed up is no longer required although most of the patrons were very well dressed. Nice jeans would be OK.

                  Meiwah-this was the highlight of our trip. The Cantonese style lobster with ginger and scallions was fabulous and rivaled similar dishes at Yuet Lee in San Francisco. The Singapore noodles w/ shrimp was also wonderful- very fresh shrimp, delicately seasoned and not too greasy. The Szechuan string beans were good but next time I would ask if they had any Chinese greens or get American broccoli Cantonese style-garlic, white sauce. The crabmeat asparagus soup was poor. Stir fried spinach was also on the menu.
                  Full Kee is tasty but the lobster at Yuet Lee was great! Also, the décor was attractive and the service was good.

                  1. Bangkok 54 was excellent and worth getting lost on the way back to our hotel. The green papaya salad was the best I’ve ever had. The whole rockfish also wonderful but we didn’t realize it was going to be topped with a cold condiment very similar to the green papaya salad we’d already had as a first course. I didn’t really care for the curry puff balls or whatever you call them. I would definitely eat here again although I might try Thai Square first.

                    Pizza Paradiso- excellent as always but not as amazing as I had remembered it being- I think our local pizza options have improved tremendously.

                    Legal Seafoods -the lobster salad roll was superior to anything we had at the Blue Duck Tavern. I’m looking forward to trying Taste of Saigon on a future visit to Tysons Corner or driving to Falls Church for Huong Que. Thanks again chowhounds!