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Obama as Restaurant Compass?

Now five months into the new administration, there's been a fair amount of coverage of the Obama's ventures out to local restaurants. As the first family checks off more of the local spots, I'm wondering what the rest of us might learn from this.

Just today, saw on the news that Obama and Biden went over to Ray's Hellburger in Arlington for lunch. Great choice in my view. Probably the area's best burger in the "non gourmet" category (lots of strings on that debate I know). Other video/news bits have reported on them going to Art & Soul, Ben's Chili Bowl and Obelisk (or Equinox...can't recall which). IMHO, this is great stuff. Great obviously for the local food scene but also to highlight some of the better spots at different pricing levels. Of course, the flip side of the coin is that they'll go to a lesser known place and ruin it for those who were already "in the know."

What do others think about this? Are there other places they've gone that I've neglected to mention? Would others agree their choices seem to pretty well align with chowhound faves? And, is it a good or bad thing when the President is on the 6:00 news at a local restaurant?

Link below to the Hellburger story writeup:


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  1. Mr. and Mrs. Obama ate at Citronelle recently that was on Washintonian. I think you mean Equinox, that was one of their first meals after entering the White House.

    I think Ray's Hellburger was a good choice, with a burger that big Joe Bidden couldn't tell people to stay indoors and isolated from swine flu. Although I think if you can get Foie Gras on it then it's a gourmet burger.

    1. I think it's pretty cool, but I told my fiance (living overseas) and he googled it and found a TON of stories, so he thought it was a bit absurd. But I think it's great he's supporting local businesses and just generally getting out and about. And it's definitely a great choice, hands down, the best burger I've ever had. Although, sadly, it'll probably be awhile before I have it again, as the lines were already out the door.

      All I know is, I made my reservations at Ray's the Steaks (for fiance's Welcome Home dinner next week) asap after reading about this.

      1. I am actually quite interested in which "ethnic restaurant" he will chose to dine in the area...

        2 Replies
        1. re: foreverfoodie79

          Missed the Citronelle news. Polarizing place I think. To many, DC's best. To many others, overpriced and underwhelming. So be it--again, separate strings on that. mjhals: how did you book a table at Ray's the Steaks? Thought they didn't do reservations. Someone needs to compile a first-year summary of the restaurants they hit.

          1. re: nwdchound

            They didn't take reservations when they were in the old locale. Now they do, which is so much better! The number's on the thread about Ray's the Steaks Opening (on page 2 of this board), I'd post it here but...don't really want the google searches to match up too well!

        2. Out of curiosity, do they shut these places down when he goes out? Or is his Secret Service detail just all over the place?

          3 Replies
          1. re: reiflame

            I don't know about Obama, but with the Clintons they just have a lot of secret service around, because we saw them a couple times when we were at Central when it was relatively new and trendy.

            1. re: ktmoomau

              One of the news reports indicated that yellow traffic control tape was wrapped around the parking lot. I'm not sure what that means exactly and it did seem like there were regular people inside around them with the SS. Maybe someone can comment who was there?

              1. re: nwdchound

                Before a recent visit, I had speculated that if you sit next to the President, they take away your knife and he has to cut your meat for you...
                I think the focus on good food, and the garden at the White House, etc, are all great - CIC, indeed.

          2. Ben's Chili Bowl has gotten a lot of business after the visit. In December, you could waltz in their during the day, grab a halfsmoke and be gone in 20 minutes. Now, they have lines when they shouldn't.

            Good thing Ray's is set up to serve a bunch of people very quickly...oh wait...

            If this Administration keeps going to "cheap eats" places, i'll be forced to spend real money.

            1. The presidential lunch at Ray's even got a quick mention on NPR's Marketplace program this evening. But their article was really about In-and-Out Burger, a place that I really don't get. I guess you gotta live there (and not have 5 Guys to compare it to).

              13 Replies
              1. re: MikeR

                New title for POTUS: Chowhound-In-Chief. While I would support a monk in the White House if he would solve all our problems, it's so freshing to have a first family that (a) doesn't detest DC (nor its suburbs) and (b) likes food of all types. I went out of my way (as a Maryland suburbanite) to visit Rays' Hell's Burger (Chowhound definitely pointed the way), and it's great that the guy is connected enough to the real world and real people that he went out of his way for an under $10 burger (and best ever, IMHO). Yeah, it'll be even more impossible to get into Ray's -- but as Chowhounders know, you can also get a hell burger (though with fewer choices) at the bar at Ray's the Classics in Silver Spring.

                1. re: Marissa

                  Great idea on the new CIC definition. Love it. Actually went to Ray's the Classics tonight (ah, the ribeye...ah, the value). Was a bit worried that it'd be packed but, while busy, wasn't insane. They had web printouts on the bar of the hellburger visit. It'll be interesting to watch the trend as it evolves more. I'm on board with the CIC label being deserved but not sure if he'll continue the value focus. That's near and dear to my heart. Ben's could have been (and was probably) about visiting a DC institution with historical context hugely relevant to the election. Most of the other places they've been have been higher end--great spots generally but higher end. Ray's is many people's best burger and we know from other coverage, he loves burgers. There was a spot just before inauguration (I'm sure it's on youtube) about his first Air Force 1 ride. In that piece, they have a bit on him ordering what was ostensibly his first AF1 meal: cheeseburger (with some fries; like he asked for at Ray's). Maybe watch for him at FiveGuys or SaintEx soon.

                  1. re: Marissa

                    I've found that the trick to enjoying Ray's without overwhelming crowds is to go on the late side - after 9:00.

                    Of course, that was before the Obama visit.

                    I've seen tons of coverage of the trip, but no reports as to what he or Biden had to say about how they enjoyed their burgers - has anyone heard that?

                    1. re: Lori D

                      One report:
                      And video of visit:

                      To answer another poster, from the video it would seem that place was open for business as there where people both in front and behind them. Doors may have been closed afterwards (crowd-control???
                      ) From one report I read this morning, people in front were unaware of who were behind them.

                      1. re: Jon1856

                        I would highly doubt the people in front of them of the line didn't know who they were given all the media, photographers, and Secret Service guys all over the place around them. It's more probably they were playing cool and not trying to disturb their space, kinda like what you see in LA when celebs are out shopping. I was once in line at a Crate and Barrel in Century City in front of Steve Martin but played it cool and ignored him, as did everybody else in the store.

                        1. re: dpan

                          Actually the news report put out by the affiliated press said the person in front offered to let the President in line in front of him, the President declined, so I think they knew. If you wantch the video it is pretty apparent they knew.

                          1. re: ktmoomau

                            dpan & ktmoomau;
                            I do agree with you both-I too have been there, seen it et al. Full disclosure: Along with situations brought up, I have a relative who is a working Actor.
                            However, I did say that I read it in a report:
                            "The president and vice president stood in line with other customers at Ray’s Hell Burger, which prides itself on premium aged 10-ounce burgers. Some patrons gawked and took pictures with cell phones, but two men ahead of the president and vice president studied their menus, oblivious."
                            Perhaps just different POV's among the reporters there on site?????

                            1. re: Jon1856

                              So is this the best or worst thing ever to happen to Rays Hell Burger?

                              1. re: jaydreb

                                I don't think "Ray" was hurting for business at all. Same with "Ben".

                                I hope that Barry and Chelle do a date night @ a place that could use the boost.

                                1. re: WestIndianArchie

                                  Ah ,no. With all due respect, the whole point of Obama's dining sojourns that I most respect is that he/they seem to target quality at different pricing levels. Places that put out great product don't need a "boost." Unless it was a new place that hadn't yet gone viral. Tough to happen with so many hounds online though.

                                    1. re: nwdchound

                                      Let's see if the duo takes a walk to Founding Farmers, or one of the new DC food carts to promote sustainable ag, or entrepreneurship.

                                      1. re: nwdchound

                                        This is all very nice but the finding of socio/political importance in it all seems to me to be getting out of hand. Maybe they just wanted to go out for a good burger. They weren't the first--even W's guys did it. See the following threads I posted 6 years ago:



                    2. POTUS is out on the burger trail again today:
                      Obama has gone out for lunch - to Five Guys, part of a burger chain with a place near Nats Stadium in southeast D.C.

                      4 Replies
                        1. re: Jon1856

                          Burger Stimulus
                          "A source at the Five Guys Restaurant tells Politics Daily that President Obama's visit last week "has resulted in a more-than-doubling of business" and "everybody wants the 'Obama Burger.'"

                          The "Obama Burger" is the unofficial designation for a cheeseburger with lettuce, tomato, mustard, and jalapenos."

                          1. re: Jon1856

                            Hey, my kind of guy with the jalapenos.

                        2. re: Jon1856

                          6 years and 3 weeks from the day (May 8, 2003) that AG John Ashcroft and several of his staffers had burgers at the (original?) King Street location of 5 Guys; that was before 5G became a national chain.

                        3. I don't know if this is still fallout from the Obama/Biden visit, but I was driving along Wilson Boulevard yesterday (Saturday) about 2:30 PM and noticed that the line at Ray's Hell Burger was well out the door. That's usually a pretty safe time to eat there, so maybe it's time to move on to another burger.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: MikeR

                            Could be-look at my June 1st posting.