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Frustrated with DC

Hi all,

I moved to DC from New York two months ago. I am getting frustrated, and I thought maybe 'hounds could advise. I am looking for restaurants that are nice, with atmosphere, that aren't excessively expensive (I'm thinking entrees anywhere in the $15-30 range), and with solidly good food.

In New York it seemed like such restaurants were everywhere. In DC, I am getting the sense that the really high-end restaurants can be great, but below that, people start recommending Ben's Chili Bowl. I guess Central sort of falls in this price range, and that was AMAZING, but other than that, everywhere I've tried has been really... mediocre.

Am I just not looking in the right places? I just want good places I can go for a nice dinner (but not a special occasion or anything) and really enjoy the food. I have not tried all that many places, but this is my first impression... please help me change my mind!

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  1. There's a Zagat for DC. There's also Washingtonian (free online). There certainly aren't as many good restaurants in DC as NYC (I lived in the Village for 4 years) but there are enough.

    1. Well, what places have you tried? The first few places that jump to mind for me based on your description are Hank's Oyster Bar, Johnny's Half Shell, Cashion's, Zengo, Rasika, and Ceiba. Have you hit any of these places and found them lacking in terms of food, price or atmosphere? Do you want a lively bistro atmosphere like Bistrot du Coin or a more laid-back one like Bisto d'oc, or are you really seeking solid American food with flair, like a Tabard Inn? There's a lot to choose from, i think, but it's little harder to find than in New York... and let's be honest, New York has 8 million people to our 650,000, so there's just a whole lot more going on there.

      I think it would be easier to pinpoint if we knew what you had tried that didn't fit the bill.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Ootek1

        A place like Dino makes up for lack of atmosphere by having really good food at really good prices. Besides, it's the people you're dining with that make atmosphere, IMO.


      2. One of the things this area does well and happens to fit your bill is Vietnamese. Do you have a car? Eden Center in Falls Church is a def area to try out.

        1. Brasserie Beck, Jaleo, and to some extent two other Jose Andres places - Zaytinya and Oyamel - Mendocino Grille in Georgetown, 2 Amys near the Cathedral, Colorado Kitchen, Nam Viet, Etete, and Pesce in Dupont Circle are all reliably very good/interest to great. That only touches some of DC. Branch out further and you will be rewarded with some pretty fantastic eating, but you'll have to brave the scary suburbs or the real holes-in-the-wall that get to the heart of Chowhound-dom.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Steve

            I second the restaurants mentioned above, but please do try the Vietnamese in Virginia. Try to make your way out to Rosslyn for some Pho 75 (the food makes up for the lack of atmoshphere), It is a short walk from the Rosslym metro but note it closes at 8 pm. We often go for weekend brunch. Rasika is pretty good for Indian fusion.

            On a different note- is Four Sisters still in Eden Center? (That area is also great for bubble tea).

          2. well of course you're frustrated, even McD''s delivers in NYC and anything is in fingertips.

            that's what makes the hunt here more fun.

            adjacent, convenient? no.

            1. If you take the whole metro area there are tons of such places, many good ones already rec'd. I'm guessing though, coming from NY that you might not have a car?

              At any rate, here's my additions to the building list:
              - Bangkok 54, or Thai Square, Arlington (and Ruan Thai, Wheaton) - all metro accessible (Arlington using a bit of the bus)

              - The Black's group of restaurants - some metro accessible

              - The Great American Food local chain

              - Tallulah's and Eat Bar

              - Ray's the Steaks

              - Del Merei Grille

              - Any of the numerous Korean places, Hee Been being my fave

              - Any of the crop of good Sichuan places; Hong Kong Palace currently battling with Joe's as my fave

              - Jaleo

              1. A good place to look is Tom Sietsema's Column in the Washington Post Sunday Magazine. While he tends to review pricier joints, once in a while he'll go to a more affordable location, and his annual cheap+good eats section is a must.

                Penang, up in Bethesda, MD is a classy Malaysian food restaurant that I find has a nice atmosphere with good food to back it up. Old Europe, in the heart of D.C., serves good German food with a side of good service. Agreeing with other readers, give the Vietnamese and Korean in Northern Virginia a shot, there are some very good, authentic places in the area that you won't be able to find on the East Coast outside of this region. DIxie Bones, in Dale City, has the best Southern barbecue in the area.

                Don't give up yet! The Washington Region has plenty of good food, it just takes a bit of looking. Good luck!

                6 Replies
                1. re: moki

                  I'm assuming that is part of the Penang chain, from ny? I do really like it; the location in Dupont is one of the nicer looking locales. There is another Malaysian restaurant on the same block (Malaysia Kopitiam), haven't checked that out, yet.

                  1. re: aaronsinger

                    For the OP: do not bother with Penang, there is far superior Malaysian (not to mention Thai) food at MK. Penang is blah, overly sweet and not worth your time.

                    1. re: lawhound

                      I second your opinion. Everything tastes premade. Penang is a no go.

                      1. re: xena1441

                        Just a note that a lot of hounds have said the Dupont location is nothing special, but the Bethesda one is supposedly much better.

                        1. re: kallisti

                          In my opinion dinner is good, lunch is awful. Lawhound where else do you think has better Malaysian food? On anther thread many people were saying there were better places but no one said names of those places?

                          1. re: ktmoomau

                            Sorry, I can't help you on Malaysian/DC [other than Malaysia Kopitiam]. My Malaysian experience is limited to NYC (a bit far to go for lunch, or even dinner). I only know about Penang bc I was taking depositions near the Georgetown location and the other (nearby) lunch options were worse, as inc lose to inedible.

                2. Check out metrocurean.com. Good, solid recommendations for mid-and-upper-range dining options downtown.

                  1. Hi katie,

                    Thanks for posting this! I actually moved to DC from New York a few weeks ago, so we're both in the same boat. Unlike you, however, I haven't had a partiuclar problem finding places to eat (though I have mostly been cooking at home!) I agree with the posters answers and would like to include Pizza Paradisio. It isn't New York pizza, but it's fun and pretty decent. My boyfriend and I like to sit up at the bar, overlooking the ovens and prep stations - very entertaining!

                    1. I also really enjoy Central and have had excellent meals Brasserie Beck, PS7s, Bistro Bis, Oya, and Tallulah (in Arlington) which are also in that price range.

                      1. That's funny, I thought that DC's strengths lie in it's mid-priced restaurants, and that we're lacking in the very upper tier. Now, you didn't give us any indication of places that you've been except Central, so it's hard to judge what you like and don't like. Maybe supplying that information would be helpful. Here are some of my picks:

                        Blue Duck Tavern
                        Notti Bianchi
                        Ray's the Classics
                        Bistro Bis

                        Honestly, for a small city with a huge, sprawling metro area, DC has a pretty high concentration of good restaurants. It really sounds like you haven't looked too far.

                        1. Have you been to Rustico?

                          Great atmosphere, local/sustainable/organic, good selection (not just wood fired pizza), nice wine/micro-brewed beer selection, and on and on...


                          One more! Decently priced!

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: Smiles2008

                            I second Rustico. My fiance and I, who moved here from Brooklyn NY, just happened upon it on the way home from the train station. We stopped in and were hoping for the experience the OP described, and we were happy. Surprisingly vast beer list (including brooklyn lager on tap and brooklyn brown in bottles - yea!) for a place we thought would be the wine-dominated type. We had the mixed green salad with blood oranges - solid, not overdressed with the champagne vinagrette. Entrees were the sausage pizza - good, not great, and the duck-brie-cracklin pizza (which was so park slope we we could barely get over it) but was also fantastic! I also tried the north coast scrimshaw pilsner which was pleasant. nifty atmosphere too, though the waiter was a little... spacey.

                            1. re: smatczak

                              FYI - the fries at Rustico are outstanding; twice fried, crisp, tasting like potatoes instead of fryer grease. Perfect accompanyment for a nice cold beer.

                          2. Thanks! I will try some of these. Some don't work for me as I don't have a car... others (Vidalia?) sound a little out of the price range of a not-a-special-occasion dinner out, at least by the standards of my wallet. I didn't mean to be confrontational in my original post--I just hadn't found a dining niche yet in DC. I am really looking forward to trying many of these suggestions!

                            7 Replies
                            1. re: katie570

                              no worries, in DC we just get a tad defensive sometimes. Witness SF vs. LA rivalries and Chicago vs. STL - apples and oranges in my book. It is indeed harder to find things here. and there are some things we have to admit will never compare (note the pizza recs).

                              H+H bagels does have a few distributors around (granted they're a few hours less fresh).

                              what general area are you in? fellow carless person here.

                              when I lived in SF I always recommended ethnic whatever to visitors for good food at decent prices. But then I love a hole that looks like crap but is actually excellent and will endure odd meals to find such a place.(and I agree it is frustrating that the best Asian and Central/South American appears to be out in the 'burbs no matter the price-point).

                              1. re: hill food

                                I thought H and H bagels were baked fresh in the store they are sold in.... I am pretty sure that's the case with Arrowine in Arlington.

                                In answer to the OP, there is a great deal of mediocrity in DC. I can hardly name a restaurant that I think is worth a blanket recommendation. Even at the places I recommend, you can eat poorly. But if you eat like a Chowhound, following specific recs on menu items, then you can learn how to eat like royalty while other are dining on dreck. Take a little bit of time to find out what is done well at a place, and start off with that. It is this depth of information that makes a site like Chowhound worth following.

                                1. re: Steve

                                  H+H: in NYC they are, but have you seen a H+H location around here? some places do carry them, but they're trucked down in the wee hours. and I did say a few hours less fresh (still the best, but next time up there check out the location on B'Way by Zabar's on the UWE - Z for lox, H for bagels).

                                  Aaron: inter-city rivalries? visit a rustbelt city that is trying to recover from a faded past to answer that and for a hint, troll the Midwest board, really amazing how my gradeschool friends get touchy.

                                  1. re: hill food

                                    the difference is that chicago is one of the great culinary cities in the country, and also does not fit the mold of the 'midwestern rust belt' city.

                                    1. re: aaronsinger

                                      I absolutely agree, it's apples to oranges and ought to be avoided, and yet people try, not so much that they think there is a real comparison, but rather a defensive "what's so wrong about here?" justification people have actually said in a passive aggressive "joke" way "oh I guess you think of us as flyover country. It's silly and a desperate waste of time. Chicago is the one city in the region that is not rust-belt and that's why all the others are just a bit jealous.

                                      Anyway the whole point (to bring this back on topic) with all due respect to the OP, evaluating DC with NYC as your standard is to set yourself up for frustration. DC is its own beast.

                                      insert smiley-face emoticon here - sorry just can't bring myself to actually use those things.

                                      Firefly is a nice place. Manages to be lively and relaxing at the same time.

                                2. re: hill food

                                  what kind of argument is chicago vs st louis? who actually argues that? just wondering.

                                  also, I'll suggest firefly on 20th near dupont circle. I've only been there twice, however, and not since last august, so I'll add a caveat there.

                                  1. re: aaronsinger

                                    i'm a big firefly fan. good suggestion.

                              2. Please. For about $35, you can get full meal pre-theater specials at 1789 and Tosca, both very good restaurants. You can get an outstanding Italian meal in Maryland at Il Pizzico for less than $30. Dino's has a $30 deal, though I haven't been. if that's too much, try joints like Pizza Paradiso and 2 Amy's. And there is always LUNCH.
                                I'm sure I'm just skimming the surface.

                                1. Hi Katie,
                                  I was born in DC and my parents were born in DC. We have shared your frustration re: city dining. For a long time the dining scene in DC consisted of uber expensive fine dining for expense account lobbyists or mediocre fare for tourists. For most of the 70s, 80s, and 90s crime and bad schools forced the majority of middle and upper middle class families to live in either Montgomery County, MD or Fairfax County,VA and the restaurants followed. DC's population shrunk while the counties grew causing the restaurant scene in the City and places like Old Town Alexandria tp suffer. We, who stayed in DC, had to travel mostly to Bethesa for the best non-special occaision dining
                                  (that you seem to be looking for) and to Arlington for the best ethnic food. Fortunately, DC is having a rennaisance and more and more restaurant patrons are moving back to the city and so are the dining choices. Give DC time, you are experiencing a rebirth. In the price range you stated please try: Beck, Jaleo, Locanda, Bucks, TwoAmys, Zatinya, Dino, Hanks, Matchbox, PS7, Kemble Park Tavern, Mercado, Logan Tavern...

                                  4 Replies
                                  1. re: keithdcil

                                    I don't honestly think you could eat well on a budget in D.C. without appreciating ethnic cuisine (really from any country you can think of). As a long time resident I can't really imagine D.C. without the excellent sushi, korean food, indian food (especially the vegetarian southern Indian) and Ethiopian food. It may not be as flashy as NYC but it isn't as crowded and the food is usually well worth it. I personally have never really had an issue with the large tourist crowd in D.C. making the restaurant scene unpalatable. I find its easy to get great food, but you do have to know where to look (and Zagat, and local newspapers and magazines) tend to be quite informative for me.

                                    1. re: feltlikealifetime

                                      feltlikealifetime -> I concur with much of your post. Also, I think there's a STRONG percentage of ethnic holes in the wall that just don't get reported here, probably because they haven't been tried.

                                      Try driving down any where in funky parts of DC, Arlington, Wheaton or elsewhere. Heck, Reston has a taco truck and 3 other super authentic mexican places to boot (at least). However, we keep talking about the same handful of places.

                                      There's a soul food place at U and 17th. I need to try, I know, but it never comes up on the board, for bad or good.

                                      So, OP, there's a ton here, please add to the convo.

                                      1. re: feltlikealifetime

                                        totally agree re: ethnic, however the OP doesn't have a car and wanted a "nice restaurant with atmosphere" in DC . For the most part, in the DC area the best everyday places for ethnic food are in the burbs (except ethiopian) while in NYC the best ethnic everyday places are in the city.

                                        1. re: feltlikealifetime

                                          Just a question, which places do you consider have "excellent" sushi? I am always on the lookout!

                                      2. There are a lot of great recs, I would add Eleventh St. Lounge in Arlington you can get off at the Clarendon metro. Guajillo in Rosslyn is good too. Regent Thai in Dupont/Adams Morgan, Rice and Simply Home are good thai in the district, they may have been mentioned above I forget what was mentioned. Also if you can get to Taberna Del Aberdero for happy hour they have great tapas at half price. Hook is great, but may be a little over the price range, and I am excited to check out Tackle Box but haven't done it yet. Also has anyone mentioned Mark and Orlando's? I also like Sette Bello I forget what the Dupont one is called perhaps just Sette.

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: ktmoomau

                                          Yup, just Sette. Went there just recently, and while it was by no means outstanding, I just love woodfire brick oven pizza. Why are such places so hard to find?
                                          The crust makes all the difference, and Sette does it well.

                                        2. I agree with so many of the recommendations here, but also want to speak up for Zola. It's a lovely restaurant, but even better, they now have a very cool bar menu with lower prices, like their "TV dinners," where you pick a protein (like short ribs) out of four options, and they come with a side and the kitchen's choice of dessert.

                                          3 Replies
                                          1. re: katecm

                                            Bit off topic, but does the 570 mean anything in your name?

                                            1. re: hotel

                                              No, it doesn't.

                                              @ keithdcil--thank you for your post--I really feel like that explanation helps me understand the dining scene here more. I keep wondering why people I know here are often going to the suburbs to eat, and what you said makes lots of sense--I think I was just in the mindset of a more compact urban center. I will definitely try your recommendations!

                                              1. re: katie570

                                                Keithdcil does make a LOT of sense and it took me a while after moving here that DC is in very many ways Upside-down Town (geo-econo-socio-politico-whatever).

                                          2. Cafe Saint Ex, Rice, Coppi's organic, 2 Amys, Red Rock's Pizza, Hank's, Creme (though avoid wine here they store it right under the lights), Bistro Doc, Bistro du Coin, Oyamel, La Forchette.

                                            1. I feel your pain, although I tend to look at a lower price point. In terms of truly delicious food experiences, I have had few in DC proper since I moved here 3 years ago.
                                              In your area of interest, I have had a couple very satisfying experiences at: Coppi's, 2 Amy's, Pain Quotidien, Montmartre, and Zaytinya. Also try Etete, supposedly the atmosphere there is a step up from the other Ethiopian places, but I haven't tried it yet.
                                              For holes in the wall with yummy food, check out Taqueria Distrito Federale, Old City Cafe, Breadline (not a hole in the wall), and Kebob Palace (it's in Crystal City but metro accessible).

                                              4 Replies
                                                1. re: hamster

                                                  I used to be a big Breadline fan - but my last few visits haven't been happy ones. Last week I tried the chicken, goat cheese, tomato jam sandwich and the time before that a steak and cheese - neither were good. It's not that they weren't spectacular, they weren't even good. Dry and lacked flavor. The tomato jam added nothing interesting to the sandwich and the chicken seemed like it was cooked until every ounce of moisture was extracted. The tuna sandwich has always been good and still is - but now I'm gun shy about straying from my typical order.

                                                  1. re: dacwdc

                                                    I love breadline, but i would agree with you that you have to be careful. The cheesesteak is not good and neither are the chicken sandwiches, but aside from those two exceptions this place is outstanding

                                                  2. re: hamster

                                                    I liked Queen Makeda even better than Etete for the atmosphere, but give the edge to Etete for the food.

                                                  3. I visited last fall and found some excellent places thanks to Chowhounders. Jaleo, Zaytina, Taberna del Alabardero's happy hour in the bar, Pizzeria Paradisio, Teaism were some favorites. Mark and Orlando's, although I didnt' get to try it, is at the upper end of the range and I think it has been given the Chow thumbs up.

                                                    1. I guess I don't know what the prevailing board wisdom is on Poste, but I am surprised to not see it mentioned here. The steak with truffle frites is yummy, and I like the decor and atmosphere.

                                                      1 Reply
                                                      1. re: kallisti

                                                        Poste terrace twilight.

                                                        snag a couch.

                                                      2. Unless I missed it, I haven't seen Proof mentioned here - you can make a reasonably priced, leisurely meal of the cheese and charcuterie and the atmosphere is as close to NYC as you can find here.

                                                        1 Reply
                                                        1. re: ser23

                                                          Proof has a nice vibe without being too brassy/noisy I agree. It's hard to keep it cheap there, especially considering their winelist prices, but it is possible if you exercise a good bit of restraint.


                                                        2. I've lived in both DC and Manhattan; each have their own to offer, but DC cannot match NYC's sheer excess. My favorites in DC: Marcel's and Restaurant Eve top Citronelle. Sushi Taro is as good as any mid-range NYC sushi place. Try Eammon's for out of this world fish and chips. Wander through Gallery Place - all kinds of good stuff happening there mid-range, many have been noted (Zengo, Proof, Zaytinya, Zola); in the cheaper range I'd even add Matchbox and Thai Chili (a delivery standby). Georgetown too: Clydes, Nathan's, Old Glory. All of these are good (I'd say 20-22ish on the Zagat scale), nice atmosphere and reasonably priced.