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Washington/Alexandria tourist areas - quick & cheap eats

I'm supervising a high school bus trip (from Toronto) April 25-28 to Gettysburg, Washington and Alexandria. We will be staying at the Best Inn in Gettysburg and need to find a quick supper nearby before our Ghost walking tour. The next day, we visit Washington Cathedral and Arlington National Cemetary (need to find quick lunch in between). We then check in to the Hawthorn Suites in Alexandria VA, and can explore that area all evening (a more leisurely supper). On the third day, we visit the Holocaust Memorial museum, and have to find quick lunch before visiting the main museums of the Smithsonian (natural history and air&space), followed by the Spy museum. Dinner at either Potomac Mills Outlet Mall or Landmark Mall area (have 3 hours at the mall).

We have 50 students and 5 teachers, but for most of the lunches/dinners, we can leave the students to their own devices and enjoy some time on our own. Please advise!

P.S. I'm a Toronto 'hound and really enjoy trying local/regional cuisine - so if there's anything unique to your area, please highlight. We will not have time for fancy/upscale meals and please don't suggest places that charge over $20 for main courses.

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  1. For a quick student-friendly lunch between the Cathedral & Arlington, if you're going to be taking the Metro, you'll have to transfer at Metro Center or Gallery Place/Chinatown, so you could pop off of the Metro at either of those stops for a quick bite at the myriad fast food places around there. (Chinatown also has a few remanining Chinese restaurants, but none of them are especially fast or (in my book) very good.)

    For your day on the mall, your best bet for lunch might be the cafe under the National Gallery of Art.

    Hawthorn Suites is right next to Landmark Mall, but it's not a place I'd recommend spending 3 hours at--it's definitely a mall on the decline. Potomac Mills is a better choice if your goal is shopping (although it's quite a drive south of Landmark, so budget your time accordingly), but I'd recommend against going there just for dinner.

    With all of that said, there are TONS of good cheap dining options in Landmark. Just south of the Hawthorn Suites on Van Dorn St is Van Dorn Station, with Satay Sarinah (a pretty good Indonesian place), Akasaka (one of the better Japanese places in Alexandria, although their sushi/sashimi isn't as good as it was some years ago), and OK places for Vietnamese, Thai, Afghan, Salvadorean, and Italian; also along that stretch of Van Dorn are Anette's (pretty good BBQ), another Thai place, and a smattering of fast food places.

    Also, just west of Landmark along Duke St. is the Little Korea area of Annadale, with lots of good options. And heading east on Duke St., you'll find Mango Mike's which I suspect might be appealing to a large group of high school students, especially if the weather is nice and they've opened the outside.

    (Whenever anyone asks about "local" DC cuisine, I always suggest Ethiopian food, as that's something that DC has in spades but many other cities don't. I can't think of a good Ethiopian place near any of the locations you mentioned, though.)

    3 Replies
    1. re: sweth

      No problem, we have plenty of Ethiopian in Toronto!

      1. re: sweth

        sweth has given you a good rundown.

        My additions:
        If you are from Toronto, the quality of Chinese food you will find in DC will likely be very disappointing.

        If you go to Landmark Mall, you're not to far from Skyline. There's a strip mall on S. George Mason between Rt 7 and Seminary Road with multiple Ethiopian establishments. I've only been to Fasiledes (sp?) which serves good food, but unfortunately is a bar where lots of people smoke. An entree should run ~ $10. There are other options as well though.

        If you have more leisure around Arlington National Cemetary, the perennial Chowhound favorite Thai restaurants are nearby on Columbia Pike: Thai Square and Bangkok 54. I think entrees ~$12.

        1. re: sweth

          I happily second Satay Sarinah for Indonesian food in the Van Dorn section of Alexandria. The rijstafel is a very good deal.

        2. Getting off the Metro at Metro Center will give your students a choice of a bunch of places that teenagers like - not necessarily the world's finest gourmet delights but they should find happiness.
          Food court at National Place at 13th at F includes a good local burger place called 5 Guys. McDonald's is across the street. Potbelly Sandwich Shop, Subway and High Noon have good quick sandwiches. ESPN Zone is at 12 and E. Ollie's Trolley and Harry's across from that have good burgers and sandwiches. Hard Rock Cafe is at 9th and E, not far from the Spy Museum at 800 F Street. You'll probably have a hard time dragging them out of the Spy Museum if they're like every other kid - and grown-up - I've taken there.

          Sorry your trip is so tight and you won't get much chance to enjoy our local fare. I would recommend a quick detour to Cowgirl Creamery, our local branch of the California cheese specialty shop in the Ferry Building. Fabulous! Top quality artisanal cheeses, breads, wines, other delights. It's at 919 F, only about a block from the Spy Museum so grab treats to take back to the Hotel with you to enjoy.
          If you and the other teachers are willing to splurge, Michel Richard's Central is very close to the Natural History museum. It's at 10th and Penn; the Museum is at 10th and Constitution. Get a great lunch while you wait for the kids to feed themselves and reassemble. Most of the entrees are under $25 - not bad for a 4-star chef! You deserve it!

          8 Replies
          1. re: MakingSense

            FWIW, there are many good places like Central in the Penn Quarter area, but none that I would consider quick.

            (Also, since it occurs to me that non-natives often get confused: when I was talking about a day on the mall, I meant your day on the National Mall where the Smithsonians are, not your evening at a shopping mall.)

            1. re: MakingSense

              Thanks but I don't think I would recommend McDonald's, Subway or Hard Rock Cafe if you visited Toronto! Are any of those fast food places actually chow-worthy?

              I loved Cowgirl when I visited SF. Do I need a reservation at Central?

              1. re: Food Tourist

                I wouldn't exactly "recommend" them either, but I've done enough school field trips to know that when you turn teenagers loose you can't always control what they decide that they'll do. They might grab something quick and cheap and spend their time and money exploring and shopping. Kids!
                And the lines outside Hard Rock are something I'll never understand. Why someone would travel to Paris, Beijing or Johannesburg only to eat at Hard Rock is beyond me.

                You might be best calling ahead at Central but you could take your chances at the couple of tables in the bar area. Lots of good places in Penn Quarter but it's the closest to the Natural History Museum that you'll be visiting. And frankly, Central's a real winner!

                1. re: Food Tourist

                  I'd go w/ a reservation at Central to be safe.

                  If you're looking for less generic options for lunch on Day 2, go the extra stop on the Metro to Gallery Place/Chinatown, as there's a little more variety there. Full Kee and Chinatown Express are probably the best chinese food there; there's also Capitol Q (texas-style barbecue), Tony Cheng's (a mongolian grill place that I'm not a huge fan of but that, again, would probably appeal to high-schoolers), Matchbox (good pizza & mini-burgers), plus California Tortilla (a local burrito chain) and Potbelly on the more-fastfood-but-still-not-Mickey-D's side of things. There are also a fair number of other, better options in that area, but they would probably take longer than you'll have.

                  You can also throw in a (tiny) bit of tourism at the Chinatown stop, with the chinatown friendship gate, a paifang erected to honor DC's sister city of Beijing that was at one point (and maybe still is) the largest such gate in the world, and pointing out the Wok N Roll restaurant, which used to be the Surratt Boarding House where John Wilkes Booth, John Surratt, and a few others planned the Lincoln assasination. And there's also the entertainment value of a "Chinatown" composed mostly of giant national chain stores/restaurants with bilingual signage. (My personal favorite is the Chinese-language sign for Hooters.)

                  1. re: sweth

                    Sorry, should have clarified earlier that we most likely only use our private coach, not the public subway/bus. So, not sure that taking transit is an option unless we have plenty of time and a good map!

                    Where exactly is Capitol Q? I love BBQ and we don't get really good 'cue in Toronto.

                    1. re: Food Tourist

                      Capital Q is in the 600 block of H St, NW but it's small and probably won't fit a group your size.
                      Great to hear you have your own transportation. Keeping a group your size together on the Metro could be a nightmare and gathering everyone back together ain't easy.

                      Between your National Cathedral and Arlington Cemetary visits, you could very conveniently indulge your barbeque desires at Red Hot and Blue, 1600 Wilson Boulevard in Rosslyn, Virginia, very close to the Cemetery. Good Memphis style ribs with non-pork options for others. You might call ahead to make sure they can accommodate your group. 703-276-7427 It's Memphis-style however, not Southern or Texas-style.

                2. re: MakingSense

                  Cowgirl Creamery also has the best cold sandwiches in town -- usually a nice offering of meat and veg options with their great cheese. They are strictly take away but very good for a quick bite.

                3. If you are driving between The National Cathedral to Arlington you probably won't want to go downtown near the cathedral are some good restuarant options like Cactus Cantina (large Mexican place always voted as one of the best mexican places on aol cityguide), 2Amy's (pizza but may not be too quick) which all foodies will tell you is one of the best pizzas in DC, Cafe Deluxe a very good chain and some others on Macomb St. which is right by the cathedral they are all very good and appropriate for teens. You could prob also call these restuarants ahead and make some arrangements.

                  But all the above places at Gallery place/Chinatown are near the spy museum and the mall and holocaust museum aren't too far away so those would be good choices for another day.

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: ktmoomau

                    Cactus Cantina and 2Amy's sound great - do you have the exact addresses/phone numbers and do both hold at least 55 people?

                    1. re: Food Tourist

                      2 Amy's is really good, but it will not be quick and it is not good for large numbers of people - I wouldn't go there with a group larger than 6 people and not expect at least a 45 minute wait.

                      1. re: Food Tourist

                        FWIW, in my experience Cactus Cantina's popularity is more from their margaritas than their food; that might not be such a good fit for a high school trip. (And in my opinion the margaritas aren't even that good.)

                        Also, my suggestions earlier were assuming you were leaving the students to their own devices, so that they would split up and go to different places; 55 of you all together would overwhelm almost all of those places.

                        For everyone together, I'd HIGHLY recommend calling ahead to make a reservation. Places to try that should be in your price range and that MIGHT be able to handle a crowd like that:

                        * Mango Mikes (American/Caribbean) near Landmark
                        * Hee Been (Korean buffet) near Landmark
                        * Tony Cheng's (Mongolian grill) vaguely near the Mall
                        * Red Hot & Blue (barbecue) near Arlington Cemetary
                        * National Gallery of Art Cafeteria (generic American food) on the Mall

                        Since you do have your own transportation, some slightly further-out places like Mark's Duck House (Chinese) or Bamian (Afghan), both in Falls Church (a few miles west of Arlington Cemetary) might be an option, too, and would probably be better able to handle a crowd of that size.

                    2. Not sure how close your hotel is to the King street location, but there's some very good fish and chips to be had at Eamonn's (link below). Definitely worth seeking out.

                      Thanks,

                      Kevin

                      http://www.eamonnsdublinchipper.com/

                      4 Replies
                      1. re: KOK

                        Even a dozen folks would fill Eamonn's up pretty well; 55 would be a disaster.

                        Another possible large-group idea that just occurred to me: Tom Sarri's Orleans House, in Rosslyn (near the cemetary) is supposedly a not-bad steakhouse, and I often see tour companies unloading busloads of people there, so I imagine they could handle a group of your size. I've never been there myself, though.

                        1. re: sweth

                          Been awhile, but I've taken smaller groups there in the past when I had a tight budget, time constraints and had to get something in/near Rosslyn. For a set price that I am pretty sure is still comfortably under $20 (including tax and tip), you get a hunk of passable prime rib (there's non-beef alternatives - one group included Hindus), a huge all-you-can-eat salad bar, baked potato, rolls, and iced tea.
                          The place is pretty funky and may not be in top shape since I hear that it may be sold soon for urban renewal but it's a possibility for a group of hungry teenagers. I would suggest calling ahead to make sure they can accommodate a group of that size all at once.

                          1. re: sweth

                            I'm pretty sure Tom Sarris' Orleans House is closed a few months back. Victim of Rosslyn development.

                            1. re: sweth

                              I presumed it would just be the 5 teachers as the post said "We have 50 students and 5 teachers, but for most of the lunches/dinners, we can leave the students to their own devices and enjoy some time on our own."

                              If it is 55 people, Eamonn's would be out.

                              Kevin

                          2. You could do what many other school groups do...
                            give the kids money and let them pick what they want at Union Station.

                            finding a 'restaurant' for 55 people seems pretty difficult if you aren't breaking up into smaller groups.