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Authentic Asian Food and Asian Markets

Hello there!

I am new to DC, having recently relocated from San Francisco. I was wondering if I could ask for some help in finding some really good Asian food--Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Thai--I love it all. Unfortunately, I don't have a car, I've been trying to find metro-accessible places. Yesterday I went to Chinatown and was pretty discouraged by its small size.

In addition to the search for great restaurant, I'm on the hunt for an Asian grocery store I can access. Does anyone have any tips here?

Thanks so much, and I'm looking forward to contributing more to this board!

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  1. As you found out, Chinatown is a misnomer. The migration of the Chinese population to the suburbs and gentrification has transformed it into a yuppified neighborhood. If you want Chinese groceries and food, you can take the Red Line to Rockville. Look up Kam Sam and Maxim markets, they are a few blocks from the station. There are a few restaurants, notably Bob's 66 which is between the 2 markets. For Korean, you have H-Mart and Super-H in both Maryland and Virginia. I believe there is one near the Wheaton metro station. For Vietnamese, Eden Center in VA (East Falls Church on Orange Line) is about a mile south of the station. That is the ground zero of Vietnamese food and shopping in the DC area.

    1 Reply
    1. re: dpan

      The H Mart in Wheaton is not that close to the Wheaton metro. Asian Foods is. It's a much smaller market and is Thai owned, so the focus is different than the Korean-owned stores. They also serve good prepared food. There is another small market (Hung Phat) across the street.

      The H Mart in Merrifield is, I think, closer to the Dunn Loring Metro than the one in Wheaton is to the Metro. It's, IMHO, a nicer store than the Wheaton one.

      If you do go to Rockville, Joe's Noodle House is a favorite for Sichuan (not noodles!) food.

      Without a car, it will be difficult for you to get to most of the Korean food in the area - Annandale has the greatest concentration. The newest, biggest, and nicest Korean store in the area now is the new Lotte in Chantilly - out of range for public transportation, but worth a trip if you find yourself with a Zipcar or such.

      I second the recommendation for Eden Center. There are also some decent Vietnamese restaurants in Arlington within walking distance of the metro - Pho 75 in Rosslyn/Courthouse for pho, Minh's and Nam Viet in Clarendon.

      I think that, if you are coming from San Francisco, you will be disappointed in most of the Japanese food in this area.

    2. I haven't lived in DC for a few years now but must agree: I was so dismayed when I went to a store in Chinatown and made a beeline towards the refrigerator cases at the back, only to discover them full of flip flops. Ack!

      Second dpan: you have to go to the burbs to find good ingredients, unfortunately, and it can be quite a public transportation commute! For good Thai ingredients, I used to go to a market next to Duangrat and Rabieng:


      Great selection, including freshly made rice noodles if you hit them up on the right day.

      Oddly, I found it fairly easy to locate Indian ingredients in DC, if that interests you at all. I took a hiatus from Thai cooking and broadened my horizons to Indian while I lived there, and it was great fun.

      1. Daruma is a Japanese grocery that's probably about a 10+ minute walk from Bethesda metro, and it has a ramen noodle shop (Ren's) next door.

        1. Yes, I also don't have a car and it is such a schlep to get to the suburbs. It is definitely worth it to go to Rockville (Joe's Noodle House), Wheaton (Nava Thai), and Falls Church (Saigon Cafe across from Eden Center) once in a while.

          But I have even better news for you: There is a pho place, Pho 14, that opened recently on Park Rd. next to the Columbia Heights metro station (green line). I tried it for the first time this weekend and thought it was great. Though the prices are a bit high ($9 for a large pho), it is worth it and I am so happy there's now something good in the District! They also serve bun, a couple rice dishes, and some interesting-looking banh mi. Definitely worth it, definitely better than all other District options I've had.

          The other good District place is Shanghai Tea House in Glover Park (that is north of Georgetown on Wisconsin Ave, you have to take a bus to get there from Dupont or downtown). I just revisited this place last week and they do have some very interesting and authentic menu items, definitely not the standard americanized Chinese food. They also have the best bubble tea I've found in the District - try milk green jasmine tea. They make their own dumplings there as well. This place is a real find.

          In terms of edible Asian food that is not revelatory but is not disgustingly bad, and will do when you're in a pinch:
          Thai Tanic (14th St., south of P)
          Malaysia Kopitiam (south of Dupont, on 19th St. and M I think)
          Kotobuki (cheap good sushi, in the Palisade neighborhood in western Georgetown, have to take a bus there from Dupont)
          Mandu (Korean food, the bibimbap is fine, it's between Dupont and Adams Morgan on 18th St.)

          There is a small Japanese grocery called Hana Market between Dupont/Adams Morgan and U Street, at the corner of U St and 15th St. It's the real thing. There's also a Filipino market south of the Tenleytown metro station (red line), at least a half-mile walk down Wisconsin Ave from the metro station.

          2 Replies
          1. re: hamster

            Hana Market is actually on the corner of U and 17th Sts NW.

            1. re: Hungry Panda

              Oops! I feared I was getting that wrong as I typed it...

          2. Nam Viet, both in Cleveland Park and Clarendon should be on your list. Spicy Salmon Soup as an app and the curried squid dish - winning combination.

            1. Dear ymmyyy:
              Welcome to the area. I have been introducing all my friends who like to cook to my favorite Asian groceries in NOVA and I would be happy to pick you up at the subway and give you my tour. One stop on the tour is lunch at Pho 75 or the bahn mi place next to it on Route 50. I go there so I can go across the street to a tiny place where I get my Thai basil. It's not a permanent solution to your regular access to these groceries but would let you know what's here. Perhaps you'll do Zipcar in future or something. I am retired and have lots of time to devote to cooking etc these days.

              4 Replies
              1. re: SusieKPort

                hi, i'm new to the DC board, seeing as I'm from new orleans, but how far is Eden area from georgetown law school center? I always love to visit the asian places whenever I go to a new area. Is chinatown even worth a visit?

                1. re: Troika

                  If you want to visit Chinatown expecting good Asian shops and restaurants, forget it. There are a few restaurants there that may be okay, but you need to be in the suburbs (Rockville for Chinese, Fairfax Co. for Viet) for the real thing.

                  1. re: Troika

                    Georgetown Law to Eden is 10 miles by car. (you could take the orange line to East Falls Church and then walk/bike 1.5 miles to eden center via Sycamore)

                    Chinatown? Is like 10 blocks from the school. You'll see it sooner or later.

                  2. re: SusieKPort

                    Hello Susie,

                    I would like to get more information about your tour and possibly take advantage of it. Please email me some details and costs.

                  3. I, too, am a SF transplant and while you will try, you will not find really good Asian food here, and if you do, expect to pay more $$ than you would in SF. I never eat dim sum anymore because the places that people say are "the best" (as in Mark's Duck House) are actually crap. I have stopped eating Chinese food because the Chinese restaurants here are just not that good. I have found one pretty good Thai restaurant (Bangkok 54 in Arlington) but it's no Thai House Express as in, it's more expensive. The one bright spot that I think is better here than in SF is the Korean food, but since you don't have a car, it's going to be pretty difficult for you to get to Annandale, VA. And if you ever make it to Eden Center, you might find it laughably small. I spent a lot of time in Orange County growing up, so when I moved here and everyone told me, "you've got to go to Eden Center!," my reaction was "this is it? this is what people drive for miles for? but it's so small..."

                    As for grocery stores, I go to Grand Mart here in NOVA but again, it's not metro accessible.

                    We were spoiled in SF. We could find plentiful places serving tasty and inexpensive food. Give up on finding the same quality at the same prices here. Get used to disappointment and spending twice as much for food here that is half as good as what you'd find in the city. Ditto for the produce.

                    And don't even get me started on the burrito/Mexican food situation.

                    14 Replies
                    1. re: lesan

                      What's your take on the Sichuan offerings around here?

                      1. re: Dennis S

                        I haven't had much Sichuan here. I stopped eating out for Chinese food once I hit Mark's Duck House, China Garden, Bob's Noodle 66, Peking Gourmet Inn, Fortune, Hong Kong Palace, Chinatown Express and they've all been so-so. Life's too short to eat mediocre food and I avoid driving long distances. It's just not practical for me to drive from Arlington to Rockville to eat.

                        1. re: lesan

                          Sichuan is one of the few things that DC tends to do better than many places in CA, actually, and much of the good stuff is in/near Arlington. Go back to Hong Kong Palace, and ignore their name (a holdover from the previous owners) and order Sichuan food; you'll be pleasantly surprised.

                          1. re: sweth

                            And peruse the menu on the wall! Go with a few folks, since it's family style. I'm trying (again - but this time with better luck) to round up a group from work to go - expose them to some real Chinese.

                            1. re: sweth

                              I was also lucky enough to try Hong Kong Palace! I find it amusing that the Chinese name is Little Chengdu Restaurant. Ha! Anyway, my friends and I were pleasantly surprised by the food. I'm not sure it's the most authentically Sichuan food you'll find, but it's definitely Chinese. The staff is really nice, too.

                            2. re: lesan

                              If you do find yourself in Rockville, though, you might want to try Joe's Noodle House - for Sichuan. The English name is a carryover from the previous owner. And I do drive there from Arlington (albeit not that often).

                              Another good place in (in Rockville and Annandale) is A&J - Northern Chinese.

                              Of the restaurants that you list that I have been to, I can understand why you would give up on Chinese food in the area. And, if you want to stick to what is close to Arlington, you may need to do so, as what is right there and really good is limited, if not nonexistent.

                              I know you found Eden Center to be small, but what did you think of the food there?

                              1. re: Lori D

                                OK I'll definitely have to check out Joe's Noodle House. Sadly, I don't have a car, so I can't check out Eden's Center without an extended walk (and I have definitely thought about it!), so I'm not sure how the food is there. Maybe I need to invest in a bike...

                                1. re: yummyyy

                                  I waited a long time before trying to do the metro and walking to Eden Center, but when I finally did it I was pleasantly surprised by how easy it was - though the weather could be key here. It's really only a 15-20 minute walk from the metro station, and it's not on a huge highway but a medium-sized streets with spot lights. It is definitely worth it.

                                2. re: Lori D

                                  I've found the food at Eden Center to be just ok and more than I want to pay for Vietnamese food (I'm just used to eating in OC, which cannot be topped with quality or price). Let's just say that after moving here, I've become much better at cooking Vietnamese food. When I go to Eden Center, I mostly get food to go (fresh tofu, cha lua or banh mi). I rarely go to sit down at their restaurants. There's a pretty decent pho place practically across the street from my house (Golden Cow in Falls Church) so convenience ultimately wins. My favorite pho place is Pho 50 on route 50, but why drive out of the way when I can walk across the street?

                            3. re: lesan

                              You might want to try some of the places in Rockville for Chinese; that's where the best Chinese restaurants in the area are. Although I certainly won't argue that things are comparable to the SF area, you can do better than Mark's Duck House (which has seen better days) - even in NOVA.

                              Eden Center is small compared to what you can find in Orange County, but it is the largest center of its kind on the East Coast.

                              And you might want to try H Mart instead of Grand Mart (depending upon which Grand Mart you are close to), or even the new Lotte in Chantilly.

                              1. re: lesan

                                so dissapointing hearing that, especially coming from a food place like new orleans. i guess i'll just have to eat bar food and french fries....jk

                                1. re: lesan

                                  It does you no good to compare where you used to live to where you currently live. We moved here from LA a decade ago, before the big Asian markets made it to DC. Believe me, it's 1000% better now than what it used to be when we had to go to Giant or Safeway to buy veggies, and Shoppers was considered a good deal. You can eat well, sometimes very well, in DC, if you know where to go. Just spend some time scouting around for your own finds and you'll be happy, just give it time.

                                  1. re: lesan

                                    I can't disagree with most of what you say, but you're sorely mistaken about DC-area Thai food; you can get just as good Thai food here as anywhere else in the US. In addition to BKK54, check out Sakulthai, Thai Square, and Nava Thai to start.

                                    1. re: lesan

                                      It's so nice to read about another SF transplant and know I am not alone in my disappointment! Although at the same time, the fact that there isn't much comfort food is sad. I have definitely been surprised at the prices here--food AND real estate! When I negotiated for this job, they said the cost of living would be less...it's been sad to see it not the case. :-(

                                    2. As others have said, the Asian food in DC proper isn't the best the area has to offer. Of what's there, though, you should check out Kanlaya (good Thai, especially if you can convince them that you want it authentic), Chinatown Express (for good cheap noodles), and Full Kee (pretty good Cantonese) in Chinablock. (Calling it Chinatown is an affront to towns.) Metro-accessible Japanese in DC is lacking, unfortunately, and Korean food in DC in general is also lacking.

                                      2 Replies
                                      1. re: sweth

                                        Have you tried that newish Korean place below Glover Park, Arisu? I haven't tried it yet, but Sietsema reviewed it this summer

                                        Also, I must respectfully disagree about Chinatown Express. My one visit there was dreadful.

                                        1. re: hamster

                                          There are only two dishes at C.E. that are good: the fried noodles, and the noodles in soup. The dumplings are also OK. And part of the appeal of all three of those is that they are cheap.

                                          (If a legit pho place opened up in Chinablock, though, then it would blow Chinatown Express out of the water in terms of noodle and soup.)

                                      2. Great Wall Szechuan Restaurant is a carryout that has a pretty good, if small, Sichuan menu - I took a friend who had lived in China, and he approved. It's on 14th between Columbia Heights and U Street, so it's definitely bus accessible.

                                        As far as pho in the city goes, as a Vietnamese person, I do not care very much for Pho 14. Nam Viet has a larger menu, better soda chanh and ca phe sua da, and my favorite soup, canh chua. But you probably should head out to Eden Center for more of what you're used to.

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: missh

                                          I recently tried Pho 75 in Rosslyn. Have you been there before? If so, what do you think of it? I thought it was alright, but at 6 bucks, I can't argue with the price, especially since it's near my office.

                                        2. Been living car-less in NoVa for five years and am Chinese and grew up with NYC's Chinatown...To be completely honest, just get a Zipcar membership or befriend someone with a car who will want to go to these places with you to eat/shop.

                                          Renting a regular car for a day or a full weekend (with the good deals they have nowadays) will also be a good thing sometimes, though parking can be iffy depending on where you live in the area. Maybe a bi-monthly trip to the Asian grocery store(s) and restaurants of your choice...

                                          I've found good dim sum at Oriental East in Silver Spring, right near the Silver Spring metro, but you've probably figured out by now that the Red Line in that area is iffy now after that accident a couple months back. If you're looking for cheap dumplings and noodles (handmade), Chinatown Express in "Chinatown"/Gallery Place will do in a pinch (especially their lunch specials on weekdays), but make sure you go HUNGRY. Heh.

                                          And if you find any good finds, definitely let us know! I've yet to go to the new Japanese market on U Street, but it sounds good and I really should put it on my list one of these weekends.

                                          1. A brand new Chinese grocery store is coming to University Blvd in Hyattsville! There's no food on the shelves yet, but it's got to be close to opening.