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First visit to DC -

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I will be in DC for five days in mid-September. The first 2.5 days I'm on my own so low budget and hole-in-the-wall recs are appreciated. The second 2.5 days I'm on the company dime so my budget is much higher :-) .

I'll be staying near Capital Hill at first, then Dupont Circle, but I'll go anywhere as long as I can get there from the metro.

I'm looking for:
Budget under $15 - Mexican, Central American, Indonesian, Korean, Deli, Southern/Soul, American (how good is Ben's Chili Bowl???)...anything really except Chinese (I'm spoiled from LA!)

Fine dining $30-50 - Seafood, steak, French, Italian, anything regional.

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  1. Here's some resources: http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/be...
    & http://www.dcfoodies.com/index.html

    Cactus Cantina & 2 Amys Pizza are side by side and both good options. If you have the time and up for an adventure you could explore Eden Center: http://edencenter.com/index.php I always enjoy Teaism in Dupont Circle but also in Penn Quarter.

    1. you're in luck as most places on the Hill are fairly budget friendly. Asian is scant and the only Hill sushi leans towards Korean sushi (which I like but some don't) except that lunchy place by the Post Office on Penn - I always blank on the name, in the 600 block. looks stupid but decent eel with a sushi chef on staff. (and yes, avoid most Chinese in DC - I love it, but after CA, nothing has ever really lived up (not a strong point).

      Korean proper is hard to find in DC itself, in the Dupont area on, what 18 and S? is Mandu and I've heard good about Yee Hwa on 21 below K (all NW)

      for Indonesian, a small (for me) geo shift would be Malaysia Kopitiem on M near 19 - looks like a dump. looking forward to my next visit. tried last week but was too late in the evening.

      You're from LA? Ben's beats the pants off of Pink's in WEHO. although IMHO that's not hard. granted you won't be standing in line with plastered former soap stars, but we have lots of former elected officials who do act out on occasion..

      FIne dining - too many choices these days. it's the dumpy dive treats that are the scarce commodity.

      if you're really craving good Asian it's sad but as 42d points out, the 'burbs are where you need to head. and for Latin American up into Maryland.

      there are exceptions.

      3 Replies
      1. re: hill food

        Alright, now I'll HAVE to try Ben's! Pink's is okay, but it's gotten way too popular for it's own good.

        1. re: caje

          No, you don't have try Ben's. You can get the same thing at a number of hotdog carts around town. Not really worth the trip. In the same nabe is Oohs and Aahs, a true hole-in-the-wall soul food joint. The grilled shrimp is a revelation. But you will top out on your budget. The lemon pepper wings are also wonderful and a bit cheaper. Get the greens and rice with gravy .

          1. re: Steve

            Ben's is sort of obvious. but not a mistake. My only caution for the hot dog carts are about the ones by the Mall that offer a variety of things. Limited menu - Limited risk.

            f'rinstance anyone ever tried the pizza/dog/t-shirt wagon by the Ag. Dep't Metro entrance? why oh why do I keep thinking... (I'll shut up now).

            I think soul food and East Coast recommendations are prob. the most valuable for someone in from CA.

            sorry caje, in the District most Latino and Asian food will disappoint. there are exceptions, but with a limited schedule...

      2. You're coming in from L.A. and you have Korean on your list?!? :-)

        At any rate, be sure to nab some Ethiopian while you're in town. Others can be more helpful with specific places (I had a fantastic meal at Queen Makeda), but that's a strength that'd be a shame to miss.

        3 Replies
        1. re: Dmnkly

          I was born and raised in LA but have lived in Denver for the last few years. I heard about the bulgogi cart at 14th and L so I thought there might be a Korean community in DC. Denver actually has a sizable Ethiopian community and I have tried it but wasn't wowed.

          1. re: caje

            Almost all of the Korean restaurants in the DC area are in the (not very accessible with public transportation) suburbs. Annandale has the largest concentration.

            Vietnamese is a bit more accessible. Again, most of the restaurants are in the suburbs, but you can get to many of them via public transportation. If you have time, the aforementioned Eden Center is about a mile from the East Falls Church metro stop.

            If you're a red meat eater, you might want to try Ray's Hell Burger in Arlington (Metro accessible - search for info).

            1. re: caje

              "Denver actually has a sizable Ethiopian community and I have tried it but wasn't wowed."

              Neither was I until I had it in DC, though I can't compare it to Denver. I CAN say that after having a good deal of Ethiopian in Chicago, my first try in DC was like having it for the first time -- I finally got it. In any case, it's worth considering.

          2. One suggestion is to score a ticket for a Nats game, which will be no problem in September, and cruise the food places. Ben's Chili Bowl and few other local holes in the wall are represented. It will also be a good "local" experience for a first-timer.

            You might also consider a stroll through Eastern Market for some quality grazing. Not far from Capitol Hill.

            You can grab an issue of Washingtonian Magazine's annual Cheap Eats listing, and it may also be on line. You'll find that a lot of good and inexpensive ethnic places are generally in the suburbs....

            1. This isn't anything exotic, but if you're hungry while wandering around Capitol Hill on a Saturday, I recommend the crepe cart at Eastern Market. He has a tomato-basil-mozzarella crepe for $6 that I'm addicted to.

              1. Adams Morgan is a good cheap restaurant hood; it's not too far from Dupont and also Woodley park metros (about 10-15 min from each). And it's very ethnic. If you just walk up 18th street you'll find munchies to your heart's content, and all are relatively inexpensive. The Hill also has some of those too; on 8th Street SE there are a number of budget friendly locales.
                For the fine dining, my fave is Obelisk, right in dupont. It's got a 5 course prix fixe northern italian feast, at 65 PP that;s worth every penny. 1789 in Georgetown is wonderful too - very old world, DC eaterie where lots of company bigwigs and congress celebrate whatever they have to celebrate. They have a summer special that is wonderful at 37 for 3 courses ( i think that's the price...it's either 37 or 39). Cleveland Park is another great restaurant neighborhood (with its own metro stop) that has everything from irish bars to Vace's (great pizza slices) to Dino's italian to Palena fine dining.
                enjoy your trip and be sure to post us back! Also, if you DO go to a Nats game and want to try Ben's chili bowl, get in line when you aren't hungry as it always has the longest lines of anyplace in the entire ballpark...

                1. Thanks everyone for your recommendations so far. What do you think of Market Lunch and Jimmy T's Place for breakfast?

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: caje

                    Jimmy's is a Classic (capitol or rather capital C) try to go with fewer than 4 - tight space. last time we were 4 with a toddler and gave up ( a 2-year old can be just so unreasonable) - the turnover is generally quick and always a pile of newspapers to pick from. Late August can be an unpredictable time around here. call if you can to confirm they're open. ignore any comments about smoke, there's no indoor smoking anywhere in DC. (and I'm a smoker)

                    Tune Inn scrapple or a Brick at the market are always a good diet-busting stand in.



                    yeah back in the day Pink's was fun in a scrummy kind of way after the Plaza.

                    and I'd give Ethiopian a 2nd chance. we have the largest ex-pat community and the area around U and 14 has the best - I've heard good about Makeda and Etete and I've been to Dukem. better than some others in G-town and A-M back when they were getting national press (I don't want to speak ill of what is perfectly fine so won't name them).

                    1. re: caje

                      Breakfast at Market Lunch is great. I think it's a must. If it's a Saturday morning, there can be a long wait (worth it), but probably not on weekdays.

                      I agree that you might give Ethiopian another try. I'd go to Queen Makeda (near U St metro stop). Very casual and inexpensive and sometimes hesitant service, but then they bring out this amazing food (well, I think so). If you don't like it, you can go to Ben's or Oohs & Aahs afterward (for your southern/soul request), they're nearby.

                      I've also had visitors from LA go a little crazy over Ben's and how much better it is than Pinks ;)

                      ETA: There are some good central american (etc) places, too, but not necessarily near where you'll be and not necessarily better than LA. Do you still want more for your list, and how important are each of your categories?

                    2. On the Hill, you're definitely going to want to check out the crab cake sandwich at the Market Lunch. It's perfect and indigenous to the area, just like Ben's. If it's the weekend, there will be a line but it's worth it. Other consistent bets in the neighborhood are a burger and beer at Tunnicliff's (opposite the market) and the mezze at Cafe 8, an authentic Turkish place on 8th street that looks ultra-swank but is quite reasonable. I echo the sentiments of others that good Asian food is found in the burbs, not DC. In Adams Morgan, I like New Orleans Cafe. It's value for money and has a nice view from the picture window.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: mmmbacon

                        mmmb: tell me more about 8 - the menu looks great. I just don't get out too often anymore. special occasion or work sure, casual or solo, not so much.

                      2. I would agree with the chowhounds who recommended crabcakes at the Market Lunch @ Eastern Market. This is a must do and you can walk around Eastern Market, which is a nice weekend activity.

                        Do not eat mexican here. You'll be disappointed.
                        Korean too.
                        I'm not a huge fan of the food at Ben's Chili Bowl; it's an experience, though.

                        Fine dining - Hook (it's a sustainable seafood place in Georgetown).

                        1. I'm back from my trip to DC. Unfortunately, I got hit with food poisoning from a hotel sandwich (I know, why was I eating a hotel sandwich....long story short, I had just arrived back at my hotel from being out all day and it was very late). So I didn't get to try a couple of places on my list (Market Lunch, Etete). Anyhow here's my report:

                          Jimmy T's - Breakfast. Just okay I thought. I was staying at the Penn House that day so it was literally on the same block.
                          Ben's Chili Bowl - Lunch. Meh. Poster Steve was right, not really worth the trip.
                          Westend Bistro (Dupont) - Dinner. Good. The pork belly app was fantastic. The halibut entree was just average.
                          Nora's (Dupont) - Dinner. Good. The beet salad was good. The duck breast was very good. The peach and blueberry pie was very good. I also had to try their organic shade grown harvested by virgins at moonlight coffee....was not impressed.

                          I post pictures eventually (read by 12/31) on my blog, the happy sumo. Now researching places for my trip to Chicago in December. Thanks everyone for your comments and recommendations!

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: caje

                            About Ben's Chili Bowl: it's one of those historic crap food restaurants. I was in L.A. recently, and they have tons of them there. Most of them fun to look at but not worth eating at.

                            I mean, when I'm in the mood for it, I go there upon occassion, and Ben's was even my latest Father's Day dinner.

                            But honestly it is better to take a peek inside to absorb the scene late at night and then head on over to a dive with really good food.