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May 13, 2008 11:34 AM

Lunch near (but not at) the Mandarin Oriental

I'll be attending a conference next week at the Mandarin Oriental hotel, which seems to be in the middle of nowhere. Are there any decent places for lunch not far (walking distance) from there so I don't get stuck paying outrageous sums for pretentious food at the hotel?

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  1. There isn't much close by. If you're not afraid of grungy you can walk to the Maine Avenue Fish Market, which is 5 minutes from the Hotel, and get really good fried seafood from one of the vendors. There's no place to sit and it can be crowded and hectic, but for $10 or less you can have some good food (skip the deviled crab, have the fried catfish, shrimp or oysters).

    If it's a pretty day, you can continue walking along Maine (heading Southeast) along the water to Cantina Marina, a little yellow and blue structure set out on a pier on the water. The view is better than the food, but the food is fine for bar food. The walk along the marina is very interesting - some of the boats are stunning.

    Phillips, the ginormous seafood buffet near your hotel on the water is a tourist trap to be avoided unless you like tour bus crowds.

    You are not far at all from the L'Enfant Plaza metro, which gives you quite a bit of flexibility in getting to other, more culinarily-blessed areas of the city. If you take the Green Line just two stops, requiring just a few minutes, you are in Penn Quarter/Chinatown which gives you dozens of choices at many price points.

    3 Replies
    1. re: dcandohio

      The Fish Market sounds perfect. I'm not afraid of grungy, and fried food is one of the 5 major food groups! I presume I just walk south on 12th Street, pass under the freeway onto Maine Ave. and I'll be there? Is there at least a stand-up counter to eat at? At your suggestion, I'll skip deviled crab, but what about crabcakes? Thanks for the response (and to sliu also). -R

      1. re: ClevelandRandy

        You're about right for directions. I've never had crab cakes at Maine avenue (I'm not a huge crabcake fan). I assume the booths do sell them, though, since there are tons of steamed and live crabs for sale. Just a note of caution, however. If the deviled crabs are an indication, plan on more filler than crab. We like the place in the interior north corner of the market. I am particularly enamored of the fried oysters and the fried fish there. There isn't really a "counter," but if you walk a little further past the last stands toward the marina, there is an open space along the water with a railing that serves as the counter for most folks. My DC place is on the SW Waterfront and I eat at Maine Avenue all the time, and I think it's one of the best dining values in DC. Are you really in Cleveland? I spend 1/2 of my time in Columbus!

        1. re: dcandohio

          I am indeed in Cleveland (and I get to Columbus frequently as well). Both C-cities are suprisingly blessed with good food at reasonable prices. Thanks again for the great suggestion!

    2. There isn't lots of good eats in that area. There is a Potbelly sandwich shop and a Starbucks by the hotel, the SW Maine Avenue Fish Market if you walk further down (about 10 min) w/ vendors selling crab cakes, fried fish, shrimp sandwiches, etc., and, there is the Dept of Agriculture's Cafeteria that is open to the public.

      3 Replies
      1. re: sliu

        Aren't there restaurants in the L'Enfant Plaza Mall. I haven't worked over there for years, but the pizza place at the 7th Street side had decent sandwiches.

        1. re: skipper

          If you are referring to "Romas" it was closed a couple of years ago for tax problems. There is nothing to speak of in the Mall-several food by the pound places, McDonalds, Frank and Stein, and Au Bon Pan.

          OP-depends how long you have for a lunch break. Quick would be the hotel Cafe Mozu or a walk to the warf as mentioned above. In the medium time frame is walking to Department of Energy cafeteria (not sure if still open to public), must have photo ID. Longer would be walking to L'Enfant Plaza metro station and hitting other parts of town or hopping over to Penn Qtr on the other side of the Smithsonians. This part of SW is a culinary wasteland.

          1. re: MrsWheatie

            Yes, that was it, thanks. Too bad it closed. I still think about the subs on "pizza bread."

      2. Is Jenny's Asian Fusion down on the waterfront no good? I always see it and wondered how the food was?

        2 Replies
        1. re: krenee


          It depends on your definition of "good", if you're comparing it to CityZen then no it's not good; but relative to McDonald's and the other drab offerings at L'Enfant plaza it's pretty good.

          1. re: hillrat

            Thanks again for the suggestion of Maine Ave. Fish Market. I was suffering from a nasty cold so I was thrilled to be able to have some Maryland crab soup. It was so good, I actually bought a second bowl. I must get the recipe! After that I had some wonderful strawberry shortcake from Jimmy's Grill (one of the vendors, which had offerings of at least 15 different cakes and pies). Althogether, a nice break from the posh digs of the Madarin Oriental!

        2. A very unfortunate part of the city for food. But take heart, breakfast at Cafe MoZu in the Mandarin Oriental is one of the best in town, and dinner at CityZen in the Mandarin Oriental is probably the best in the DC metropolitan area.

          Your challenge is lunch. I agree with the Fish Market. But there may be a few better options. Believe it or not, the Federal cafeterias in the aea, like Dept. of Energy and Dept. of Agriculture, are pretty darned good (for cafeterias) and allow non-badged people to eat at them.

          About six blocks down Independence is the American Indian Museum of the Smithsonian. The cafeteria there is not-to-be-missed at lunch. Each station has a regional Indian set of dishes -- northeast has maple syrup turkey, northwest has salmon on cedar plank, plains has buffalo burger, etc. It's a great meal for not too much money. And you can graze all the regions. It's about $5 by cab if you're in a rush.

          You're two blocks from the Smithsonian Metro stop at the Dept. of Agriculture, which puts the city at your disposal. Keep it simple and stay on the Blue/Orange line, which requires no changes from your stop. McPherson Square and Farragut West are chock full of options, like DC Coast, Olives, Bombay Club, Kaz Sushi Bistro....endless possibilities....