Unique Eats in DC
My bf and I will be traveling to DC for Thanksgiving and will be there through the holiday weekend. We would like recommendations for unique and good eats in the DC area that is hard to find anywhere else or just damn GOOD eats. We are thinking of doing Ethiopian one of the nights and something else another. We will be staying in Fairfax, VA. Any input will be welcome. I am a chef and he is a foodie so nothing is off limits for us. Thx guys.
Since you're staying in Fairfax, I'll limit my recommendations to that part of the area. All of the above recommendations are good.
I'm partial to Tong Thai in Fairfax, located in University Mall. They do drunken noodles, pad thai, green curry, country style curry, and the cilantro beef salad appetizer well.
If you're interested in Korean fried chicken, check out Bonchon Chicken in Annandale.
If you want Ethiopian but don't want to drive into DC, there's a shopping center next to Skyline Mall on George Mason Drive. The food is comparable to what you will find in DC, but the atmosphere will not be - smoking is still permitted in restaurants in VA but not in DC.
We'll agree to disagree on Tong Thai, in particular on their drunken noodles. We ordered these Friday night and what was served was a glutinous mass of noodles with little taste. If you like a chili-laced version of green papaya salad, Tong Thai's version matches that description. Their lab gai was also good, although less incendiary than versions I've had elsewhere. The filling in their spring rolls was soggy.
Bottom line: Tong Thai is a place to grab a bite to eat if you need some sustenance before an event on the George Mason campus. Nothing more.
For Ethiopian in VA, I've heard good reports in the newspapers about Meaza (Columbia Pike, sort of across from Malibu Grill) but haven't heard a peep out of a chowhound about it. It's supposed to be excellent. Since my only friends who like Ethiopian now live on Cape Cod, it's hard to find company to try it out.
On the Ethiopian front: I recommend either Queen Makeda or Etete across the street from each other in Little Ethiopia on 9th St just below U St, NW Etete more the professional restaurant and Queen Makeda the friendly mom n pop. Go for the shiro, cabbage, red lentils, yebeg alicha, and, if you go for tartare, the gored gored at Queen Makeda. (they will lightly cook this for you if you prefer). At Etete, go for the fastening food platter (vegetarian) and add the fish on the side. Also order the derek tibs.
Oohs and Aahs for soul food: a true hole-in-the-wall with four stools in front of the kitchen plus you can take your styrofoam containers upstairs and eat at a table. Grilled shrimp, lemon pepper wings, broiled crabcakes, turkey chop, short ribs all good choices (in that order). Make sure you get the ricewith gravy and the greens as sides.
Even tinier is Thai X-ing where the red curry salmon, tofu soup, and padkana make for anawesome meal. You will not believe this place, but please keep to those recs.
In Virginia, Myanmar is a must stop for Burmese. Ginger Salad is so simple and so good. Also tomato tofu, goat curry, pork with fresh mango. Shrimp and bean sprout salad, gram fritter salad. Order the homemade condiment Ngapi Gyaw (called balanchung on the menu) and sprinkle it as you like. An essential Burmese component.
Next, visit the Lounge at Citronelle. Citronelle is one of the most expensive places in town, but the lounge is informal, a la carte, and has a limited menu. Start off with the soup and see where you'd like to go from there. No reservations taken or necessary.
Other options: in Eden Center, I recommend the Bay Lo "7" special at Bay Lo restaurant. It's shrimp, pork,and meatballs in a spicy concoction. Very wild menu here, worth exploring. Hard to find, but worth it.
In Annandale, VA, a community with~30 Korean restaurants, my favorite dish is the soon doo boo at Vit Goel (AKA Lighthouse Tofu) my favorite is the seafood/pork combination ordered at the spiciest level. But all of the tofu stew here are exceptional. Very limited menu that does not reach much beyond their specialty. For a bit more elaborate menu, then go to Gom Ba Woo which is good overall but has excellent kim chee ji-gae.
Both Annandale and Eden Center are tremendous places to look around and go into the stores.
Senegalese: Chez Auntie Libe in DC. I love the cassava leaf stew (you'll find a large piece of oxtail somewhere in there), the whole fish, the yassa chicken, the lamb tibs, and the maffe. Some of this is very rich, so a little goes a long way.
Bolivian is one of the oddest cuisines we have plenty of in Northern Virginia. Think peanut soup with macaroni, french fries and a few other starches floating around. Llajtaymanta is for the more daring, where the platters of food look more like arts and crafts projects. More delicious, though, is Luzmilla's in Falls Church, where orders tongue, steak, and ham/pork roulade will produc eenormous platters from the kitchen to feed an army. Don't forget the soup.
And if you do want Sichuan, then you can't do better than ordering the lamb in sizzling wok, eggplant in garlic sauce, and the dried tofu at China Star in Fairfax. The lamb is generally one of the most searing dishes served in the area. Specials here can be very creative, so please check them out.
Steve's top Five Things to eat:
Red curry Salmon, Thai X-ing
Grilled Shrimp, Oohs and Aahs
Ginger Salad. Myanmar
Shredded Radish, Joe's Noodle House (Sichuan) Rockville, MD
Polori (fritters) with Pickled Tamarind Sauce, (Trinidadian) Rita's in DC
I love your description of Llajtaymanta platters as "arts and crafts projects"! I've eaten there a couple of times and your description is apt. The atmosphere is amazing. I think it's one of the most interesting places to eat in the entire DC area. They have a wonderfully flavorful hot sauce available which helps with some of the blander parts of their platters.
I tend to agree with Steve on his unique recommendations above. Of course, this all depends on what is available where you are coming from. Food follows the ethnic populations, and we have significant populations of Thai, Koreans, Ethiopians, Vietnamese, Bolivians, and Salvadorans. In particular, a chef and a foodie should enjoy nosing around the Korean and Vietnamese places in Annandale and Eden Center. It would be the closest thing to visiting the food markets when traveling abroad.
In my experience, Burmese isn't all that common around the country, and it's hard to get a bad dish at Myanmar.
If you go to Myanmar or Chez Auntie Libe, please be patient. Service is very slow; it isn't incompetence, though. Chances are there is one person in the kitchen cooking your order.
One observation about Llajtaymanta vs Luzmilla's, though, is that the former has a few more uncommon dishes such as rabbit, duck, and head cheese, all of which are very good there.
have you heard of or otherwise aware of Eden Center in Falls Church? This is essentially a Vietnamese community center in the form of a small strip mall. Many food options ranging from nice sitdown restaurants to excellent takeout shops. Stop in to one of the locations of Teaism, Dupont Circle for example, for great Chai or other teas but also interesting food. Both of these are on line. By all means schedule good time for Eastern Market and look for outdoor crepe stand.