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5 days in DC at Christmas, need ideas

I'll be in town for five days at Christmas with my husband and two late-teen sons. We'll be staying at a hotel at 400 New Jersey NW, and we're looking for restaurants-- not necessarily right in that area, but in the city, cab or Metro distance. We tend to like great neighborhood places, ethnic places, not high end, not enormously crowded and noisy. We're from Chicago, and we'd like at least a few ideas of food we wouldn't get in Chicago-- southern cuisine, seafood, whatever.

I'm especially looking for a recommendation for Christmas dinner. We probably don't want to spend more than about $50 per person, including one (not high end) bottle of wine and probably two desserts among the four of us. A friend recommended the Tabard Inn, which looks like the kind of place I have in mind-- good food, character, seafood for my husband and me and non-seafood for the kids-- probably at the upper end of our budget, but worth it, it looks like. Yes? Does anyone have other suggestions?

We also like Italian food-- my husband associates DC with Italian food, but I think perhaps only because his old boss was Italian and when they were in DC for meetings used to take him to great Italian places, though of course he can't remember where. Suggestions?

I read a good thread on Ethiopian-- a big favorite in Chicago which I understand is also a DC specialty, and I think we will try Queen Makeda or Etete.

I want to go to a bistro-- D'Oc sounds good. This is maybe just foolishness because our last great family vacation was in Montreal and I am dying to go to a bistro and a vacation is when I can persuade my family to do that... Perhaps it's not the thing to do in DC?

What about southern food? Creme sounds a little trendy and busy? any authentic neighborhood southern food places? Or am I wrong about Creme? Great southern fried chicken anywhere?

Lunch or brunch at the Eastern Market-- I take it from a thread I saw that it is open again after the fire? Pyramids for Moroccan? Also, one last question (way to many questions in this thread, sorry) best place for cheap lunch near the Mall?

Many thanks for any ideas, or referrals to threads I may have missed!

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  1. Anne,

    It's your vacation! Do what you want! Hit a bistro and have a good time. I can't speak for D'Oc, only Francais and Coin, both good...maybe someone else can chime in? For Italian, I can recommend Notti Bianche and Tosca. Unless something has changed, stay away from I Ricchi. Can't talk Moroccan as my favorite, Taste of Morocco, is in Arlington. Actually, it is a hop, skip, and jump from the Orange line. Same goes for southern. I head to Flavors Soul Food in NoVA for my fried chicken. I do like Acadiana when I need an upscale cajun/creole fix. My cheap lunch rec near the mall is Teaism tucked behind the Navy memorial. Hope this helps.

    3 Replies
    1. re: rHairing

      Thanks! Is Flavors Soul Food in NoVA accessible by Metro? Tosca is too pricey, but Notti Bianche looks great.

      1. re: Anne H

        For southern food, try Georgia Browns or Vidalia. The gospel brunch at GB's is pretty cool. For Italian, Filomena in Georgetown is great. On Capital Hill, try Monmatre for a great French Bistro feel (my personal fave: the rabbit), and Hank's Oyster Bar in Dupont for a little taste of New England. Make sure that at some point you get a Maryland crab cake

        For an unbeatable DC experience, go to the bar Off the Record in the Hay Adams hotel across the street from Lafayette Park. Tip the concierge to have him show you the view from the roof deck...simply stunning. They'll first have to call "next door" to let the secret service know that there is nothing dangerous going on, but the wait is worth it.

        Best cheap lunch near the mall is Cafe du Park in the Willard Hotel. It's not extremely close to the mall, but certainly close enough. There aren't a lot of good options on the Mall, and if you like French food you'll like Cafe du Park. Was there yesterday and had an amazing braised beef. My buddy's chicken looked great too. Be sure to get the fries.

        1. re: Anne H

          No, I don't think you can get to Flavors by metro, I agree with Jaleo, Belga. Have not been to Oohs and Ahhs but I am not a big fan of GBrowns. Also, check out the gelato at the museums. yum.

      2. We had Thanksgiving at Tabard, and the atmosphere definitely conjures up the holidays. It was sort of hectic in there, though I imagine Christmas will not be as slammed as Thanksgiving. You can do it for $50 a person by choosing carefully. The wine list will have some reasonably priced options.

        I also recommend that you visit Rasika, on D near 6th. It's modern Indian. The flavors are huge, the place is very pretty and it's definitely one of the most popular offerings in downtown DC. It's close enough to the mall (north side) that you can walk from the National Gallery or Archives. Also right near there (just north of the Mall) are Oyamel (for modern interpretations of Latin Food - small plates at good prices), Jaleo for tapas and Cafe Atlantico. Most people don't think of these as "on the mall" but they are really close on the north side. On the South side (near Air and Space or the Hirshorn) you don't have as many options. There's a popular cafe in the Museum of the American Indian which showcases Native American foods, but it can get pricey. There's also a self-serve cafe, with coffee, ice cream, snacks, beer and wine in the atrium of the Portrait Gallery/Reynolds Gallery of Modern American art. Even if you don't want to see the collection (but do! Kids might especially like the modern sculptures and the featured portraits of sports stars) the atrium is a lovely place to get out of the cold, have a snack and relax.

        3 Replies
        1. re: dcandohio

          I've been trying all afternoon to get into the Rasika website, but can't get past the first (entrance) page. Very frustrating. We love Indian food, but live very near the prime Indian neighborhood in Chicago, and thus have a wide range of options at our fingertips. However, I scored big points with the family by finding Vij's in Vancouver (through Chowhound, of course), which is perhaps fusion Indian, or maybe what you mean by modern Indian? So-- since I can't get into the website-- can someone tell me more? I've searched here and what I've found leaves me unsure-- one person says it is Indian for people who don't like Indian (but we love Indian) and another says it is Europeanized Indian-- but others rave about it. Also, could someone give me a price range, please. Many thanks.

          1. re: Anne H

            I guess Rasika is fusian Indian. I love Indian, and I have eaten Indian food with Indian friends, so I've had what I guess is "authentic" Indian. I love Rasika. The only "miss" there is the biriyani (SP?) which comes topped with a puff pastry (the fusion thing). The fried spinach appetizer (chaat) is amazing. Prices are reasonable for DC and for upscale dining, but perhaps on the high side for Indian if you live near lots of family Indian restaurants. Appetizers run from $7 to about $12, and entrees are in the $12-$22 range. Many plates can be shared. I believe you will really like it, and they are very good with kids.

            1. re: dcandohio

              If Rasika is too expensive, and you really want Indian, I'll pass along a tip I got here on CH (I'm not at all an expert on Indian in DC), which is the Hawkers Menu at Heritage India, just south of DuPont Circle. The dishes are Indian street food and they're sized and priced like tapas -- so you can get a pretty good affordable meal from them. One of my favorite meals lately. The menu is online.

        2. I'll take stab at it...

          Cheap lunch near mall: Any food in a hotel is not going to be reasonable. I recommend Teaism and also the food options at the Portrait Gallery/Reynolds Gallery of Modern American. There are also a couple of Au Bon Pains and sandwiches places for you and the family to grab a quick sandwich and decent soup.

          I personally would avoide Hank's Oyster Bar. The service is sometimes not the kindest there, and they can be snotty with children (seen this with my own eyes). Plus a little overpriced. However, I feel your kids would really like Old Ebbitt Grill and Clyde's for classic American fare. They have wonderful chili at OEB and it's close to the White House.

          For Southern food check out Ohhh and Ahhs or walk down U St. for whatever looks interesting. B. Smith's and Georgia Brown's for more upscale Southern fare. For a bistro, check out Montamare, Bistro Bis, Bistrot Lepic or Belga Cafe. Belga is in Eastern Market so you could have lunch/brunch here. Avoid going to Bread & Chocolate in EM, which people tend to fall back on because it's right off the Metro.

          Italian: Bistro Italiano or Matchbox if you want a fun "pizza bistro." Dino's is another option for Italian, but it might be a little pricey for the whole family, and I'm not sure if the kids would like it. Sorriso in Cleveland Park has good pizza or Al Crostino on U St. for pretty reasonable Italian.

          For some nice neighborhood restaurants, Dupont is a good areas to check out. Here are some options: Raku, Dupont Grill (nice brunch), Circa, Rosemary Thyme's Bisto, Thai Chef and Banana Leaves.

          I'm not sure what's open on Christmas, but Tabard Inn would be a great setting for it. These other places would be nice too, but check if they are open and see what they are serving...Iron Gate, Firefly and J. Paul's.

          1. It seems like you've done a fabulous job researching this! You don't really seem to need much advice.

            But for what it's worth, adding to an already long thread:

            I actually think you should really try to go to the Museum of the American Indian for lunch -- it's a special place, the food is very good, and you'll be able to find something that everybody would like. It can get very crowded, so slightly off peak lunch hour might make sense.

            I second (or third or whatever) Teaism on the other side of the mall, 8th and D -- I think it's better for breakfast or afternoon snack than lunch, personally, though. Salty oat cookies are famous, ginger scones are really good, I love their chai. There are many good restaurants around there, but Teaism is low-key and inexpensive (not table service, for example).

            When you go up to U St for Ethiopian, you might check out Busboys and Poets for dessert or a drink.

            I'm surprised no one has mentioned Dino for Italian, since usually people on here go crazy for it -- just fyi.

            Market Lunch at Eastern Market actually is southern food.

            Have fun!

            4 Replies
            1. re: mselectra

              I agree...Dino is great. And reasonable. Wonderful wine list too w/ many options...they even have half priced bottles one day during the week, maybe Weds? It's in cleveland park literally a stone's throw from the metro there (you can catch the red line at union station). For French i would recommend Montmartre over any other french place...and it's pretty close to you, in eastern market. Wonderful bistro atmosphere, reasonable prices, good service & food. The American indian museum sounds good for lunch plus Teasim. Also i think the lunch place in Eastern market is open right? i haven't been there since the fire.
              If you walk around at night near your hotel be extra cautious...it's in an ok area but parts of capitol hill are a little "fringy".
              Tabard Inn is fun; kind of old & rickety but lots of character & good food & atmosphere esp this time of year. Another place like that is Morrison Clark Inn. For southern food, Vidalia is great; Georgia Brown's is ok too but for a really fun experience you might try Bardia New Orleans Cafe -- it would get you to Adams Morgan which is a fun, funky very unique DC neighborhood and the food is very authentic there. There are many places to party in that area too. If the mood strikes you. There is a metro stop called "Woodley park/zoo/adams morgan" but it's a little deceiving...it's a good 15 min walk from the metro. You could cab it from the metro station or just cab it from your hotel...the entire city is really not all that big. If you have a nice day you could even do the zoo one day (it's free and really quite fun & small enough to do the highlights in a few hours); this time of year there aren't very many people there which makes it extra nice. You could do either Dino after the zoo or Adams Morgan after the zoo; both are pretty accessible to that locale. If you want a very unique, DC kind of walk, make sure you go up Mass Ave (northwest) from dupont circle and see all the embassies and mansions. It's a gorgeous neighborhood and very unique to DC!

              1. re: DCDOLL

                Dino's 33% off wine nights are Sunday and Monday. Wines over $50 on the list are 33% off. Wednesday is the wine tasting night- 3 wines + antipasto trio.

                1. re: deangold

                  Will that schedule hold next week, with Christmas and New Years on Tuesdays? (I'm thinking about taking out-of-town guests on Wed the 26th, perhaps.) I know I could check the webpage myself -- but thanks!

                  1. re: mselectra

                    No 33% off on Xmas or New Year's eve. We will have Wine Wednesday on 12/26.
                    Dean, Owner Dino

            2. Hello Anne H- On the Southern food thing. I haven't been to Oohs and Ahhs or Creme, but they are in the right area for good Southern there is a little take out place we always got Southern from in Dupont instead. I don't really like Georgia Brown's as much it is ok but very pricey for what you get. Vidalia is definately new age southern not classic Southern. My favorite Southern is in Alexandria if you are planning to go down that way you could check it out it is Southside 815. Their low country shortcake, and other things are very authentic and good and they have huge servings. But if not I would head to the places on U St above Vidalia or Georgia Brown's for the real deal.

              The Eastern Market has a temporary building which has Market Lunch- I read through the above threads and can't remember anyone posting about it. They have great blueberry pancakes, crabcakes, and etc. If you are over there very good stuff.

              I am not a huge Teaism fan I like The Native American Museum Cafeteria (not your average cafeteria) better if I am eating in that area. Or sometimes I grab a sandwich at the sculpture garden so I can watch the ice skaters. Not the best chow pick, but it has good sandwiches and a fun view during this season.

              And I think if you can get into the Tabard Inn that would be a lovely Christmas dinner spot, as well.

              I also really enjoy Matchbox pizza and miniburgers if you are in the mood for that.