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First Time Visit to DC- What's Essential?

We'll be there for 3 days over MLK weekend. So far we have dinner booked at Firefly (close to hotel - Beacon - and the menu looked okay - we'll be getting in late afternoon after a long drive and just want something nearby, decently reviewed, not too expensive, reservation available, and semi-romantic as it's the only night my husband and I will be dining alone. That said, please feel free to steer me elsewhere given those criteria).

How is that Russian place around Dupont? Looks like it could be kitschy good or just awful.

I love Ethiopian food and understand DC is probably the best place in the US for it, so any recs in that direction are welsome.

Other than that, must-try, don't miss, any suggestions welcome. Our group likes ethnic and affordable.

We also have that Ben's Chilli place on the list, which I keep reading about.

I'm going up mainly to see the Netherlandish Diptychs at the national Gallery, so any recs in that are are extra welcome, especially lunch.

I live in Atlanta so prefer to avoid stuff we can get here, eg bbq, soul food.

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  1. As far as ethnic food in DC goes a prof at GMU has put together an exhaustive list with reviews at http://www.tylercowensethnicdininggui...

    1. Go to Ben's Chili Bowl when it's very late at night and nothing else is open or you absolutely have to get fast food. From a Chowhound perspective, it would be a crime to go to that area and not visit either Pyramid for Moroccan or Etete for Ethiopian. Or both! Please do a Chowhound search for specific recs.

      If you know you're going to Pyramid in advance, call them up and ask them to make a seafood b'stilla (or two). This is a small, family run dive.

      3 Replies
      1. re: Steve

        Steve, Oohs and Aahs has a late night menu now and is open till 4! Including chicken and waffles! Steering the OP past O&A to Ben's?

        1. re: Dennis S

          Wow, I didn't know that. Chicken and waffles sounds like it's worth waking up for.

          1. re: Steve

            Found out about 2 or 3 months ago. Meant to post about it but somehow never did. At the time it was a new thing for them.

      2. If your group likes affordable ethnic that you can't get in Atlanta, you might try Domku, which serves Polish/Scandanavian dishes. I haven't been there since the original chef left, but I hear it's still pretty good, and the atmosphere is very comfortable. It is in a neighborhood that hasn't completely gentrified yet.


        You might also try Belga Cafe, a Belgian restaurant about a mile from the Capitol in an area that has gentrified. It's small and noisy but they have a great brunch.


        1 Reply
        1. re: CMACDC

          Before venturing off to Domku, I recommend a search on Chowhound to find out what others have said.

        2. This place is great,maybe a little steep, but truly worth the cost, yes, it's that good - http://www.johnnyshalfshell.net/ If you're at the National Gallery, you can walk to Johnny's Half Shell.

          Also, off the topic of food, since this is your first visit to our lovely city, be sure to visit the Vietnam Wall at night. When it's dark, it is, without a doubt, the most moving memorial you will ever see, in Washington, or elsewhere.

          Have a great time.

          1. Definitely for Ethiopian go to Etete on 9th and U in NW. It is small and really good. Stay away from Russia house...

            1. Etete is probably the best of the Ethiopian restaurants, but you might not want to be in that area if you are not from DC, but it is not a bad area. If you want to be in the Adams-Morgan area, Meskeerm is OK, not as authentic as some of the authenticity nazis like, but it has been in DC for almost 30 years and still going strong. Try to sit upstairs if you go.

              If you like Italian, go to Dino in Cleveland Park (one block from the METRO stop) for good food and a great and well priced wine list. More expensive but great food is Palena, one block the other way from the METRO stop. There is the more casual Cafe in front, and a very nice formal restaurant where the chef prepares 3, 4, or 5 course meals in back. Easily one of the best restaurants in DC from a food point of view.

              There is good Indian food in DC, Heritage India in Clover Park (Wiac. Ave.), Indique in Cleveland Park, or my favorite Rasika in the PennQuarter/Chinatown area.

              You should consider the Tabard Inn for a romantic dinner, on the patio if the weather is good, near the fireplace otherwise. It gets mixed reviews, but I've always enjoyed it. It is a great place for a nice brunch if you can get reservations.

              In Chinatown, you might like Tony Cheng's Mongolian Restaurant. There are only two dishes offered,Mongolian barbecue, where you select the ingredients from a large selection of things, then pass them to chefs who quickly cook it on a massive grill, and the Mongolian hot pot, where you cook your meal by dipping components in a bowl of boiling stock. Actually it is quite a lot of fun. It is above Tony Cheng's Seafood restaurant and easy to find. If you want chinese instead, the downstairs restaurant isn't bad.

              2 Replies
              1. re: dinwiddie

                If I recall correctly, Tony Cheng's Seafood Restaurant is on the second floor and the Mongolian on the first.

                1. re: Hal Laurent

                  You might be right, it has been a while since I've been there.

              2. Instead of Firefly, you could try out the restaurant 21P or Floriana Mercury Grill (very cute and romantic inside--very reasonable too)

                1. I had a meal on Monday night at a restaurant called Charlie Palmer Steak and I had a fabulous meal. The surf & turf was as good as I can remember having. It had a fabuous view of the Capital building and was a very fun/hip environment.

                  Beware though it was not cheap.

                  1. Very cool Ethiopian spot to check--Abiti Restaurant at 9th and T, NW. The neighborhood is in transition but the place is so cute! The owner, Abonesh Baku, is an internationally known Ethiopian singer and often she performs later at night on the small stage. www.abitirestaurant.com