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Washington/Alexandria tourist areas - quick & cheap eats

Food Tourist Apr 19, 2007 11:01 AM

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. s
    sweth RE: Food Tourist Apr 19, 2007 02:25 PM

    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
      Food Tourist RE: sweth Apr 19, 2007 07:54 PM

      No problem, we have plenty of Ethiopian in Toronto!

      1. re: sweth
        m
        mattm RE: sweth Apr 19, 2007 07:56 PM

        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
          s
          Steve RE: sweth Apr 25, 2007 06:58 PM

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

        2. m
          MakingSense RE: Food Tourist Apr 19, 2007 03:22 PM

          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
            s
            sweth RE: MakingSense Apr 19, 2007 07:31 PM

            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: sweth
              Food Tourist RE: sweth Apr 19, 2007 07:47 PM

              No problem, I figured that!

            2. re: MakingSense
              Food Tourist RE: MakingSense Apr 19, 2007 07:51 PM

              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
                m
                MakingSense RE: Food Tourist Apr 19, 2007 08:13 PM

                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
                  s
                  sweth RE: Food Tourist Apr 19, 2007 10:29 PM

                  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
                    Food Tourist RE: sweth Apr 20, 2007 01:23 PM

                    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
                      m
                      MakingSense RE: Food Tourist Apr 20, 2007 02:38 PM

                      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
                  r
                  repete RE: MakingSense Apr 20, 2007 04:54 PM

                  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. ktmoomau RE: Food Tourist Apr 20, 2007 02:33 PM

                  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
                    Food Tourist RE: ktmoomau Apr 24, 2007 05:40 AM

                    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
                      r
                      redsoxbd RE: Food Tourist Apr 24, 2007 07:33 AM

                      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
                        s
                        sweth RE: Food Tourist Apr 24, 2007 10:24 AM

                        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. k
                      KOK RE: Food Tourist Apr 24, 2007 12:18 PM

                      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
                        s
                        sweth RE: KOK Apr 24, 2007 04:12 PM

                        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
                          m
                          MakingSense RE: sweth Apr 24, 2007 08:51 PM

                          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
                            monkeyrotica RE: sweth Apr 25, 2007 06:30 AM

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

                            1. re: sweth
                              k
                              KOK RE: sweth Apr 26, 2007 09:28 AM

                              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. j
                            Jeserf RE: Food Tourist Apr 24, 2007 04:59 PM

                            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.

                            1. k
                              KCinNoVa RE: Food Tourist Apr 25, 2007 07:21 AM

                              Another option for the whole group is Dragon Sea Buffet in Springfield. It's a large Chinese buffet with over a hundred items, including Mongolian barbecue, a salad bar and some American dishes (I recall seeing pizza, fried chicken, mac n cheese), so there should be something for everyone's tastes. The quality is very good for buffet food, and being a buffet, you won't have to wait on the kitchen to prepare all the entrees. Not to mention it's that being all-you-can eat, it should be good for those large teenage appetites.

                              The price is reasonable, under $15 for dinner, and it's a fairly large space that should be able to accomodate the number you have, though it would be prudent to call and confirm. It's fairly close to your hotel, a straight shot down I-395, about 7 or 8 miles south of Landmark.

                              1. Food Tourist RE: Food Tourist Apr 30, 2007 07:51 AM

                                Thank you, everyone! Unfortunately, I couldn't be too bossy since I wasn't the primary supervisor on the trip, so Thursday was a food disaster. We had lunch at Union Station (the lobster bisque at Soup in the City was quite tasty, and the Indian food looked really good - another teacher ate it and proclaimed it very good). We had dinner at American Cafe in Landmark Mall where my non-food-obsessed companions really enjoyed their uber-thin pizza with goat cheese. The "buffalo" wings were a bit too fatty/oily and not spicy enough for another teacher, and my buffalo salad -- a huge amount -- was exactly what I expected! (I have low expectations for chains.)

                                On Friday, I enjoyed a solo lunch at the bar at Central, where I devoured the lobster burger ($28) with so-so frites. I like Michel's obsession with crunch and found the potato wafer in the burger quite an interesting addition. I'd still prefer my lobster un-burgered, however. A refreshing flute of Vouvray ($10) and the unique Kit Kat dessert ($8) rounded out the pleasant experience. Kit Kat reminded me of the "pop rock" gianduia chocolates that Toronto chocolatier Soma makes. (My colleagues, meanwhile, ate an overpriced lunch at the Natural History cafeteria.)

                                Then I walked to Capital Q and got a pulled pork sandwich ($6) and full rack of ribs ($24!) along with greens and beans ($3 for 2 sides) for take-out. I was thrilled by the strong smoky aroma emanating from the tiny restaurant, since our Toronto BBQ joints don't smell! Pork was quite peppery and a bit dry, and ribs were really fatty and rich though tasty. We don't get greens at BBQ places up here, so that was a thrill. Overall, though, Capital Q wasn't my favourite in the northern States. I skipped dinner at Potomac Mills (the others went to Ruby Tuesday) and enjoyed my take-out later!

                                Then walked into Cowgirl Creamery and got some Vermont Shepherd's cheese and half a round of Mt. Tam. Yum! Very expensive, though. The liquor store next door was also too pricy and luckily we stopped at Duty Free at the Peace bridge.

                                On the way home, I discovered that the U.S. Starbucks' chicken pesto baguette, though a tad dry, was a better alternative to BK or McD's!

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