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Non-tourist eats

Headed to DC this weekend with hubby for his first visit in a long time. This means we will be taking in the sights on and around the mall. Staying on F St. NW. Looking for suggestions (that are not tourist traps) for quick lunches while touring and nice dinners in the evening. Considering Old Town Alexandria & Georgetown for dinner.

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  1. Grab a sandwich (to go) at Cowgirl Creamery cheese store, 919 F St NW. Mmmmmm.

    Cowgirl Creamery East
    919 F St NW, Washington, DC 20004

    1. Cowgirl Creamery Sandwiches are wonderful. Also, a good spot for lunch near the National Gallery is Teasim. Don't miss their salty oat cookies - both the regular and the chocolate versions are phenomenal.

      Teaism Penn Quarter
      400 8th St NW, Washington, DC 20004

      1. Try the White House (couldn't resist).

        1 Reply
        1. If you're on F St., then Penn Quarter has plenty of great options ... in general, a better dining scene than Georgetown, especially if you're trying to avoid the touristy.

          I'll third the Cowgirl Creamery sandwiches. One of my favorite quick lunches downtown.

          1. In Old Town for a nice dinner you could check out Vermillion, The Majestic or Restaurant Eve.

            Sorry I am not sure where to eat in Georgetown, I like Farenheit in the Ritz, the lounge at Citronelle and Citronelle of course.

            1. The weekend is almost over and I hope the OP is having a wonderful visit to DC.

              This query -- and others like it -- got me thinking. Perhaps I'm naive, but I don't think of DC restaurants has having the kind of tourist traps I've seen in other cities. I'll use Rome as an example of the point I'm making.

              Tourists visiting the Pantheon or the Trevi Fountain, or the Piazza Navona find themselves in an area ringed by shops and restaurants. The menus of those restaurants are printed in five or six different languages and hawkers are standing outside the restaurant shouting to attract diners to their establishments. I can't think of an equivalent situation/location in DC. For a tourist to grab some food, he/she has to leave the tourist area. Now, we could get into a debate whether the Smithsonian cafes qualify as tourist traps. Certainly the food is mediocre enough! However, I'd put the in-house museum cafes/restaurants in a different category from the privately -owned trattorias and cafes around the Piazza Rotonda, Piazza Navona, etc.

              I know there is plenty of mediocre food served at restaurants in DC. In particular, I'm thinking of the many chains surrounding the Verizon Center. I'm even willing to say those restaurants behave like tourists traps in the sense that they can get away with serving indifferent food to patrons who need to eat before an event at the Verzon Center rather than tourists who need to eat before/after visiting the Pantheon. But true tourist traps? I can't think of restaurants whose business relies on one-time tourist traffic near the premier tourist destinations.

              Any thoughts?

              9 Replies
              1. re: Indy 67

                I think Elephant and Castle is a bit of a tourist trap... and the places in Union Station and the Old Post Office. But you need a certain amount of that because some people want that or school bus trips and etc.

                I think Boco de Beppo is a bit of a tourist trap. La Tasca in Gallery Place, ESPN Zone (although if you want to watch a game out it isn't that bad).

                1. re: ktmoomau

                  I guess we're using the term tourist trap somewhat differently. I think of a tourist trap as any restaurant close enough to a tourist destination that location, location, location is the only reason folks end up eating there. Elephant and Castle probably comes closest to my definition of a tourist trap because of its location. However, I don't think Washington's premiere tourist sites are particularly convenient to the other restaurants you've mentioned. They involve a long-enough walk that visitors can just as well walk to better-quality food. And in the food department, we're in total agreement. You've mentioned some of the more spectacularly mediocre places in DC.

                  Incidentally, I put the restaurants/food court at Union Station in a special category. After all, the people who buy food at Union Station are saving themselves from a worse fate buying food on the trains!

                  1. re: Indy 67

                    Actually, I just thought of another interpretation of the phrase tourist trap: a restaurant that once had a good reputation but has since gone down in quality. Nevertheless, that restaurant is still included in tourist guidebooks.

                    Curious to see what the guidebooks were saying about DC restaurants, I went to Fodor's.com. Not good.

                    For Vietnamese cuisine, they were recommending Cafe Dalat (Saigon) and Miss Saigon (Georgetown). That's it!

                    For American cuisine, the list wasn't as bad. Chow favorites like Restaurant Eve and Market Lunch made the cut. Washington institutions like Old Ebbitt Grill and Occidental are listed, but, the write ups focus on the decor and tradition more than the food so, at least, a diner knows what he/she is in for by choosing that restaurant.

                    The Contemporary category seems anything but! It's a hodge-podge of restaurants that seem to belong to ethnic categories (e.g. Heritage India) or restaurants that once were cutting edge (e.g. Nora) At least one of the restaurants seems like a good recommendation and a good fit in the category: New Heights. The irony is that when the guide book was published, the recommendation probably wasn't warranted; only recently has the food regained its former glory. Still, using my definition of "living on former glory" I can't say that these recommendations are awful. The food at these places isn't touist-bad, but the category seems a useless jumble for a visitor.

                    And that's why Chowhound flourishes!

                    1. re: Indy 67

                      my interpretation of a dc tourist trap is one where you see people in those silly CIA or FBI hats or sweat shirts.

                      Perhaps another interpretation of a dc tourist trap is the places that have been visited by the Obamas (i.e. Bens Chili bowl, Rays HB, Marvin's). Geez, there's an article on CNN right now about where the DC people eat ("The DC power lunch: Where Washington's elite go to eat").

                      1. re: iatethesandbox

                        Defining a tourist trap by the mere presence of tourists seems a little too easy. They have the right to visit a good/iconic/historic place. It's when those places "sell out" the values that had made them special that should earn them the "trap" label.

                2. re: Indy 67

                  I think Old Ebbitt Grill (except for what I've heard of the raw bar happy hour) is the definition of a tourist trap. The place is crawling with tour groups to eat at a historic restaurant.

                  I had never been to Anna Maria's on Connecticut Ave until I met up with a friend staying at the Washington Hilton. Apparently, the Hilton was sending many visitors to this place for a nearby 'safe' meal.

                  Georgetown and Old Town are filled with restaurants that most of us hear little about.

                  1. re: Steve

                    To me, a tourist trap is a place where the locals don't go, and where they charge higher prices because of a perceived buzz or a lack of competition. So I wouldn't consider Old Ebbitt a tourist trap, because even though tourists do go there, so do a lot of people who work in the area--it's still a moderately popular place for business meetings--and also (as noted) those of us who like oysters. Ditto for most of the places in Georgetown and Old Town--there are, sadly, a lot of locals who frequent even the most mediocre of those places.

                    I think a better example of a tourist trap is something like the Hard Rock Cafe, or places like Tony Chen's or the old Tom Sarris in Arlington that seem to survive almost exclusively by being welcoming to buses full of visitors who get dropped off right in front of them.

                    1. re: Steve

                      Disagree, Old Ebbitt has some good dishes and clubby atmosphere.