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Ben's Chili Bowl vs Amsterdam Falafel for group of 12 guys on Jan 4. Or ...Corduroy? :o)

I know what you're thinking... why put Corduroy next to these other 2 potential picks when it's not in the same category? Here's the scoop.

We do a "Guy's Night Out" once a month the first Thursday. It's usually 6-14 guys depending on the pick. Last night did Ray's The Classics in SS, MD and it was fantastic and 11 of us showed up. Everyone was happy and the food and price were great for the type of food. The put us in the party room in the back and it was perfect. In the past we've done Roy's Place (cheap eats), Kinkeads, Vidalia, Pizza Paradiso, Oya, Zengo, Teaism, LaAuberge Francois, Cafe Milano, Cafe LaRouche, Obrycki's & Louisianna (both in Baltimore), Cali's Court in Baltimore, Zatinya, Zola's, Cafe Lepic, Heritage India, Rocklands DC, etc. ad nauseum.

We've been doing these for 10 years now. Some are moderately priced, some are expensive. We've done alot of expensive ones lately and was told to TRY to pick a moderate place if possible, but it's not a requirement. I wanted to pick Corduroy as I've been wanting to try it, but thought I'd try to find a cheap eat that could fit all of us, even if it's 6 to a table and 6 to another.

I've eaten at Ben's Chili Bowl once and thought it was fun, but the food was only fair. It WOULD be cheap though. I've walked past Amsterdam Falefel and I LOVE falafel but heard in reviews here that the pita's aren't that large to fit stuff into and they fall apart quickly. Then there's the "no basket" thing. Did they correct that yet? Has the situation improved there? My wife thought it would be too small to drag in a group of 12 people.

Any other thoughts? Or just say screw it and pick Corduroy. At least with Corduroy it would be a nice sit down meal where we could all chat, relax, and most likely be at the same table. Or, maybe somewhere else moderately priced, so not as cheap as Ben's but not as expensive as say Black's Bar and Grill. It could be anywhere around the Beltway but be fun and different. We've done N. Virginia a few times but we all live in MD or DC so that's preferred. We usually meet at 730pm, 8pm or 830pm at the specific restaurant if that changes anything.

Thanks in advance,
Steve R
Silver Spring, MD

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  1. Amsterdam Falafel is amazing. But you're lucky to get a seat for two people, much less six or twelve. Ben's - better idea, even if the food isn't great.

    But I don't think either has alcohol. Is that important?

    How about Jaleo in Bethesda, Jackie's in Silver Spring, Bob's Shabu-Shabu in Rockville?

    1. If you are willing and able to go to Ben's Chili Bowl, then you should choose Pyramids instead. Wonderful, dirt cheap Moroccan food on the corner of 6th and Florida. Just do a search for recs on this board. For a group of twelve you would have to call ahead as that is near the capacity of the place. The phone number is within a thread entitled "Pyramid Report." I would specifically ask for them to make you a seafood b'stilla to start with.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Steve

        Thanks Steve. I'll look into Pyramids then. I think I've changed my mind and sitting at one table WOULD kind of make the night, so that leaves out Ben's and Amsterdam Falafel.

        Steve R

      2. Put on your list for now or later but SOON - AV Ristorante Italiano (607 NY Ave, NW)
        The old classic red sauce Italian restaurant downtown with the yard full of life-sized statues will close within a year to make space for development. It's been a favorite for years and people either adore it or bash it. But go try the white pizza and some of the house specials.

        I'm not sure you can make an evening of Ben's. It's a great place to hit on the way home from a late night at work or meetings or after a bunch of parties. Or just a meal any time of day. But as the centerpiece of an evening with friends? Maybe not. I always include it in my Classic Washington Tour however because of its history.

        2 Replies
        1. re: MakingSense

          I'll second AV. Just get a bunch of dishes and a couple bottles of the house red.

          1. re: MakingSense

            Making sense: Good suggestion, but we've actually done AV Ristorante twice already in our 10 years of doing this! They don't want to do it again, though.
            Steve R

          2. I would think Ben's is another place that might be tough to get seating for that many people and I'm pretty sure Ben's doesn't sell booze - I say this because many of the places you listed do and that's sometimes a part of guys night out.

            How about doing Chinese or Thai? You could hit Full Kee in DC or maybe check the board for Rockville/SS/Wheaton recs. You could get a nice big table, share a bunch of different items and it would probably be moderately priced.

            1 Reply
            1. re: MarkF

              Thanks for the info on Ben's. I thought that back room could accommodate a bunch of people but maybe not. We can't do a Chinese place as one member hates Chinese food. Whatcha gonna do... no accounting for taste. Thai is a possibility, we did it once in Old Town. No one will go near Ruan Thai after I told them it's supposd to be so good last night. They all said it looks scary from the outside and totally divey. I told them about Chowhounds and that folks here love it (We live 10 min away!) but no one was that adventurous. One gent said he walked by once and it smelled ghastly from the outside.

              We all don't drink by the way, so the whole drinking thing is of no importance.

              Steve R

            2. I think Ben's has really gross food. The last (and only) time I went there, the chili tasted like it had sand in it. Sure, it's historical and an institution, but the food...bad! I really like Ams Falafel. Too small for that many people though. The guy who owns it is opening a hotdog joint, right? When does that open?

              As for Thai, Regent is really good (on 18th and Florida) and what about the Islander on U street?

              1 Reply
              1. re: vb_lady

                Thx vb_lady. I'll check into those Thai places, though it's never been high on anyone's list from our group. All the Thai places in Rockville where we usually eat are mediocre, so I'm guessing that's where they go their negative disposition on it.

                Steve R

              2. I also don't consider Ben's Chili Bowl or Amsterdam Falafel as a place to linger and visit. There are many Ethiopian spots that might work if you're looking to go more casual...

                1 Reply
                1. re: Rosco1

                  Thx Rosco1. We are probably crossing Ben's off the list, then. Amsterdam sounds way too small too. This group hates Ethiopian so that's out also. I ate Ethiopian a few times in Adams Morgan and wasn't into it at all. No offense, but it just wasn't for me.

                  Steve R

                2. I also say don't do Ben's. In addition to some other suggestions, how about some soul food at Ooh's and Aah's or Flavors in Arlington? O&A might be tough seating, but Flavors would have space and they have a <small> bar.

                  6 Replies
                  1. re: Dennis S

                    Dennis - Soul food? I doubt our group would be into that but I'll ask them. They're not too hot on going to Arlington. Us Marylanders just don't like crossing that river. You understand, right? Nothing against Virginia, but I only go when I have to, like hiking in the Shenandoah Mtns or shopping with the wife at Tyson's Corner. :o)

                    Steve R

                    1. re: Dennis S

                      Thx Dennis. I'm not sure how soul food would go over with this group. The whole idea for Ben's simply came from the whole nostalgic DC thing, not for the love of that specific food. Plus, this group hates crossing the river into Virginia too, unless they have too. It would have to be amazing for us to do the Virginia restaurant thing again. I'll still check into Ooh's and Aah's.


                      1. re: stever500

                        Understand about crossing the river, but Flavor's cooks the fried chicken to order, and in terms of soul food, they have quite a lot on the menu that's not too "down home" (though there is enough).

                        Oohs and Aahs would work it seems if you luck out in getting enough tables and putting them together.

                        Another option that just popped to mind - Duffy's in that same area (across from the 9:30). Very good fish n' chips, meat pies, etc. Though if a group of grown men walk into an Irish pub and don't order any beer you might be refused service.

                        Well, and now things are clicking - Hank's Oyster Bar? May be tough to put you all at one table, but they might accomodate.

                        Cashion's (though this gets to the pricier side) or Johny's new location.

                        And then to go back down scale some - Stoney's new location, which is a nice spot for them. Again, putting 10 or so together might be tough there, but on an off night they'd accomodate I'm sure.

                        Last suggestion, but which would fit it seems is the place on 18th in lower Adam's Morgan, on the west side of the street. It's a Peruvian seafood joint that I always forget the name of. Truthfully it isn't what I remember it to be (was last there early this past summer), but it was still good. Creative sauces with the fish.

                        1. re: Dennis S

                          Thx Dennis. Talked to some of the guys and they're saying it's imperative we pick a place that can seat us all at the same table. I guess that means we're back to square one. It has to be a place we can make a reservation then.

                          Steve R

                          1. re: stever500

                            Not understanding - I think most of these last recs can suit your group.

                            1. re: Dennis S

                              Ok, Cashion's Eat Place is starting to rise to the top, then. It seems to accept reservations and gets good reviews here so I'll call them asap!

                              Thx again.

                              Steve R

                    2. Here's a few Rockville ideas. If your group isn't opposed to Chinese, try Joe's Noodle House--moderately priced and (in my opinion) interesting Chinese food. Another alternative--Bob's Shabu Shabu.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: svt

                        Thx svt- The last time I went to Joe's it was god awful, so that's out. My buddy who went with said we'd never go back.

                        Shabu Shabu... I've seen it a million times as I work right up the street but I'm just not that adventurous. We did Sushi before at Kaz Sushi Bistro and the one on Frederick Rd in Gaithersburg/Rockville with our group but that can easily be over $55 p/p. We might as well just do Cordurou in that case.

                        I appreciate the ideas though!

                        Steve R

                      2. January 4 is the first day of the 110th Congress. Lots of supporters from home states, lobbyists, etc. will be in town for swearing in events. Downtown restaurants are likely to be pretty booked. Plan accordingly.
                        Always manages to tie up the city pretty well especially when there is a change of party control...
                        January 2 is DC Mayoral Inauguration.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: MakingSense

                          Thx Making Sense. We will be sure to only go to a place that takes reservations, then. Corduroy is now OUT! They have a weird policy that require a preset menu (we never needed this for ANY of the above restaurants we've ever gone to) AND a $42 p/p cancellation fee is say 4 of our party of 12 don't show! That stinks for us, good for them I guess. You have to cancel 48 hours before or you lose the $42 p/p for the members of the group that just don't show, and we never know till that very night exactly how many are coming.

                          Steve R

                        2. The flavors in shabu shabu are very straightforward: basic meats and vegetables cooked in a simple broth, with dipping sauces you select yourself from a sort of salad bar of choices. The prices are very reasonable; three of us shared two $10 and were stuffed. Don't overlook it!

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: sweetpotater

                            Sweetpotater: Shabu Shabu... sounds like something Mike Myers would say in an Austin Powers movie :o).

                            I will look into this place, then. Thx again for this info.

                            Steve R

                          2. Your group sounds really hard to please. But how about Vit Goel?

                            -It's in Rockville.
                            -It doesn't look "divey", or smell bad.
                            -It's large and can easily accomodate your group at a single table.
                            -It's cheap.

                            It sounds like your group isn't too adventurous, so imagine they might not be too excited about Korean at first glance, but consider the following:

                            -The stews are very simple; not too unlike shabu shabu as sweetpotater describes: meats and vegetables (and tofu) cooked in a flavorful broth. The other main menu item is barbeque ribs. There is just no way to go wrong here.
                            -They can vary the level of spiciness to your taste. In fact, you can get the stew with no spice at all (this level is called -- no kidding -- "white").

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: alopez

                              Vit Goel? Hmmmm - never heard of it and have no idea where it is. I'm not big on Korean food and it's my pick, so I'm not going to pick it for a Guy's Night Out. Maybe I'll just check it out on my own one day for lunch though. I'm mostly vegetarian but I'll eat meat at a fine steakhouse. I don't eat meat pretty much anywhere else - just a personal thing.

                              I appreciate the suggestion though and yes, I guess we'd be considered non-adventurous when it comes to ethnic food.

                              Steve R

                            2. Have you tried Matchbox yet? I love their burgers and their pizzas are pretty good. It's casual and moderately priced.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: kcm19

                                kcm19 - I just checked out a ton of mixed posts on Matchbox so will keep that one in mind. I just called them and they said they doubt we'd be able to sit together at that time on a Thursday night. I'm now feeling like we do need a restaurant where we can all be seated together...

                                Ughhhh. Back to square one, and even Corduroy now won't work due to their cancellation policy. I really wanted to come with someplace special and unique, and moderately priced. And, they'd have to be able to accomodate our sized group in a reservation. We HAVE done Jackie's in Silver Spring once by the way, and it was fantastic. Everyone loved the mini burgers. My fish entree was horrible but it was a fun place. Our waiter was a dingbat but it made it even more fun. He barely spoke a word of English! They gave us the huge table in the very back.

                                Steve R

                              2. Silver Spring - Mi Rancho, Cubano's, Mandalay, Lebanese Taverna (or in Rockville)

                                Bethesda - Jaleo, Matuba, Tako

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: Chocolatechipkt

                                  Thx chocolatechipkt: Believe it or not, we've done ALL of your picks (you have good taste) except for Tako. We've done alot of sushi places lately so we'll have to take a pass on that one for now, but we enjoyed all your other picks in the past.

                                  Steve R

                                2. Rustico in Alexandria for pizza and beer.
                                  2Amys for ...pizza and beer.
                                  Firefly, (ask for the back room) for a meal on par with Corduroy.
                                  Bistrot du Coin for a noisy fun evening of mussels and steak frites.
                                  Montsouris - the new bistro where Johnny's Half Shell used to be.
                                  Caravan Grill, Lebanese in north Dupont. Out of the way, and worth a visit.
                                  Black Salt
                                  Kotubuki for really good, no frills sushi.

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: round hound

                                    round hound: Wow, you've come up with some ideas which may work even better for our group, food wise.

                                    2Amy's I've been to and no reservations and not a chance in hel* of getting a table for 12 or so counts that one out (730pm on a Thursday night)
                                    Firefly - This one looks fantastic, actually!
                                    Bistrot du Coin - no reservation availability I don't think so that's out, though I've seen it many times and stopped in but the waits were too long.
                                    Moutsouris - Don't know enough about it yet and it's very small so not sure they could accomodate us. Once called Johnney's about reservations a year ago and they said they could only take us at 6 or 9. Too late and too early.
                                    Caravan Grille - Have to look into this one. Never heard of it.
                                    Black Salt - Ate there with my whole family once and thought the fish was great, but all the side dishes were iffy and extremely overpriced for what we got. All in all a very bad value is what we thought, plus our table in the corner by the kitchen was so uncomfortably small for our group, and we felt boxed in there.
                                    Kotubuki - never heard of it but we've gotten sushi'd out lately.

                                    Firefly... looking good! I'm thinking of sending my buddies an email saying "ok, here's 3 choices - Firefly, Cashion's Eat Place, and Dino" and just letting it go to the group vote! Then I'm sort of out of it.

                                    Steve R

                                    1. re: round hound

                                      Caravan Grill is Persian not Lebanese. They used to (maybe still do) offer a dinner buffet which was inexpensive, but the food gets tired sitting there.

                                    2. Not sure if you've considered going to Dino's in Cleveland Park. Sunday-Thursday they have a $20 3 course meal that's wonderful, you can make a reservation (and thus all sit at the same table), incredible and reasonably priced wine list, etc. Pasta and meat alike so different tastes can be satisfied.
                                      just a thought!

                                      4 Replies
                                      1. re: Jeserf

                                        We don't drink, and some reviews I've seen here mention that the wine list is great but the food is so so. The meny looks awesome. I'll put it on our short list.

                                        Steve R

                                        1. re: stever500

                                          Every meal I've had at Dinos has been good - and it's very much worth trying, especially considering reservations, metro proximity, and the $20/3 course option.

                                          1. re: Jeserf

                                            Thx Jeserf: I called Dino and yes, they can actually accommodate our group, so that rises to the top of the list. I'll post a full review if we end up going there.

                                            Steve R

                                            1. re: stever500

                                              good! I've only eaten vegetarian there, but the bread pudding is very good (i've had it twice).
                                              the bruschetta was very good as well.

                                      2. I think I'm going to leave it to a group vote amongst my buddies.

                                        1) Dino
                                        2) Cashion's Eat Place
                                        3) Johnny's 1/2 shell
                                        4) I'm tempted to add Ray's the Steaks and just wait outside their location starting at 330pm until they open on Jan 4th to get a 730pm reservation for 12 (maybe 2 tables if need be). :o)

                                        Yes, I know the moderately priced evening has gone out the window at this point. None of the lower priced places you've all generously suggested has really struck me as "oh yeah, that's the one".

                                        Steve R

                                        1. What about Indian? Haandhi in Bethesda is very good, plus there are several great ones in Takoma/Langley Park (Tiffin, Udupi Palace, and Woodlands, the last two of which are veg.)

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: Chocolatechipkt

                                            Chocolatechipkt: Thx. We've actually done all of those places over the past 10 years, including Dehli Dhabab in Bethesda which we thought was awful by the way. Dying to try Passage to India, but I think I'll hit that place for lunch one day to test it out since it's so close.

                                            Steve R

                                          2. Consider Roberto Donna's new place, Bebo Trattoria. (Is Crystal City out of the quesiton?)
                                            I went this weekend and loved it. Very reasonably priced. The average entree was about $15. I don't think there were many about that price.
                                            The risotto -- sausage and butternut squash -- was to die for.

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: zelda68

                                              Thx Zelda68 - Just checked out a ton of reviews here on Chowhounds on Bebo. This one does actually look good, so I'll run it by the guys.

                                              Steve R

                                            2. Let's see if I have this right:
                                              1. Hate crossing the river into Virginia
                                              2. Table for 12
                                              3. Height of dinner hour
                                              4. Must take reservations
                                              5. No Chinese. No Korean.
                                              6. No alcohol
                                              7. Not adventurous enough for shabu shabu
                                              8. Nothing that looks "scary" from the outside.
                                              9. From cheap to "moderate"

                                              Firefly and Montsouris both can accomodate a group of 12 with a reservation. Montsouris has a table for up to 16 in their back area. Firefly likewise.

                                              Cross Kotobuki off your list - it is too small to fit all of you and it sounds like your group would not appreciate it anyway.

                                              I'd avoid Dino for a full meal. They are good at their small plates and Italian wines, but none of you drink wine,much less appreciate the nuances of the various Italian varietals, so what's the point?

                                              Did you bother to call Bistro du Coin? Open table reservation system rarely lists large table availability - you have to call.

                                              Good luck. and if you need more info, try browsing the reviews over at www.donrockwell.com

                                              1. PS - I decided to pick a place. It's not going to make sense to anyone here because of my original criteria, and it will be a royal pain to get in, and I will have to get there VERY early to figure out about getting 8-10 of us in (I doubt more will want to travel this far) but it'll be Ray's the Steaks in Arlington.

                                                We did Ray's the Classics in SS, MD last month with that easy reservation system, but for RTS, I plan to get there at 4pm to put my name in for 2 tables of 5 and see how it goes. It'll be a challenge, but I've been dying to check this place out and this will be my only chance for a long time.

                                                Thx everyone for your ideas. I plan to try out Dino and many of the others listed in this thread.

                                                Peace out,
                                                Steve R
                                                Silver Spring MD

                                                7 Replies
                                                1. re: stever500

                                                  Ray's is a fine place but here are a couple of warnings for your crew who doesn't like to cross over into Virginia. It's a pretty good hike from the Rosslyn and Court House Metro stations (about midway between them, but the walk is flatter to Court House). There's a parking lot, but there are several restaurants in that strip, so the lot is almost always full at dinner time, and street parking can get kind of tight. Just be prepared, and tell your friends to wear comfortable shoes.

                                                  I don't know how they'll react to one person asking for two tables. It might be worth a phone call first. Tell them of your plan and ask if you can do it. You might need a buddy to come with you.

                                                  I went to Ray's several times when they first opened, but once they got known, I haven't been back. It's just too much trouble for me.

                                                  1. re: MikeR

                                                    Thanks Mike. Don't laugh but the guys shot down my planned night out to Rays the Steaks. Exactly because of that no reservations rule and the no large tables for our group dealkiller, they don't want to risk a bad experience there of not all being together, or flat out not being able to get it, period. That was alot of work for nothing I'm afraid.

                                                    So... I've defaulted the night out to "Passage to India" in Bethesda. This is very close to our homes AND it gets great reviews on the net on here on Chowhounds. I'll post a review afterwards. I was almost going to pick Corduroy, but I think I want to try it out on my own with my wife first before taking a group there. I keep reading reviews about the semi dismal room environment that I'd rather just see it for myself before I invite a large group for a grand dinner. I know Passage to India is really nice inside and walked by it lustingly in the past but never eaten there.

                                                    Steve R

                                                    1. re: stever500

                                                      I took the recommendation to go there when my mom was visiting, and while the service was great, I thought the food was "eh" and mild. I was not impressed, and have had better indian before. It lacked the richness and depth of flavor of other places I'd been. That's my opinion, and I look forward to seeing what you think about the place. Oh yeah - park at the lot around the corner - way more spaces than the one across the street! Stupid Valet ruins Cordell Ave!

                                                      1. re: Jeserf

                                                        Thanks Jeserf. That's depressing hearing that you didn't think it was that great. Ughhh... I hope it's ok the night we're there. I will post a report.

                                                        Steve R

                                                        1. re: stever500

                                                          I'm pretty picky with Indian - I like things spicy.

                                                          good point about that place, though, was that it was not greasy at all, which is a common issue I have with Indian places. It wasn't bad by any means, I was just expecting that with all the glowing reviews, it would have been wonderful.

                                                    2. re: MikeR

                                                      But Rays does have a big group table! It's right along the back next to the open kitchen.

                                                      Passage to India is a great choice though - excellent Indian food from many different regions. In my opinion, the best in the region. Take a look a dinner some people had there recently: http://www.donrockwell.com/index.php?...

                                                      I have to disagree about the atmosphere at Corduroy. It is upscale, classy, and comfortable. Even Tom Sietsema remarked recently that the decor has been improved and he no longer bashes it like he used to. Once you dive into those scallops or lamb steak with raviolini, you won't notice much else anyway. I don't know how on earth a legit description of Corduroy could ever be "semi dismal."

                                                      1. re: galleycat

                                                        Good to know for future purposes about Corduroy having a nice interior now. I think I'll save it for my birthday dinner in Feb with the wife. I'll save Ray's the Steaks for the future. Honestly, Ray's would have been a pain in retrospect as it's a really long way to go in rush hour traffic and it's not a sure thing with getting in with a large group.

                                                        I'm glad now I picked Passage to India. It seems there are problem reviews and reviewers with ANY restaurant so you have to take a chance sometimes. People here didn't like Oya, Rasika and Zengo and we loved all 3.

                                                        Steve R

                                                  2. excellent choice. if you'd said you were willing to cross the river, have separate tables, and not needed reservations, maybe some of us could have actually recommended this place.