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Best of DC area chow for first timer?

Hi all!

I am excited to be visiting the metro DC area from Los Angeles for 4 days during restaurant week. I want to focus my food tour to restaurants that are classically "DC" or surrounding area. LA has alot of excellent ethnic eats such as Japanese, Chinese and Mexican so no need to recommend on that. What's DC known for in terms of food and any ethnic gems? I hear ethiopian is very good.

Are there any must-try restaurants that are participating in restaurant week?

Also looking for one statement restaurant for one of the nights. All suggestions are so appreciated! Thanks for your response in advance and look forward to your city!

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  1. There is other info about RW on this board. You can find the list of participating restaurants here: http://washington.org/restaurantwk/

    In scanning that list, I noted the ones that jump off the page at me -- either because I've been and would recommend it, or because they have good reputations and are on my "must go someday" list.

    First and foremost: RASIKA. If you can get in here, GO!!

    The others on my list are:

    Art and Soul
    Bistro Bis
    Black Salt (you need a car or be willing to take a bus
    )DC Coast
    Jaleo DC
    Taberna del Alabardero
    Vermillion (Alexandria)
    Volt (Frederick, MD)
    Willow (Arlington)

    I'm not sure what you mean by a "statement restaurant", but for me, Rasika makes a statement. It's very unusual and inventive Indian-based cuisine - Indian food like you've never experienced Indian food before. Order the palak chaat - it's one of the best dishes in this city.

    Yes, Ethiopian is very good here and is something you aren't likely to get in other cities. My favorite is Etete, but Dukem is also very good. I hear Queen Makeda is excellent as well.

    Have a great time in DC!

    1. I am kind of done with Restaurant Week, but Bistro Bis is really a great French Restaurant. I think DC does French, Ethiopian and New American Cuisine quite well.

      I would go to Palena (not in RW) to eat food prepared by a former White House Chef, get the gnocchi. There are reservations for the back room which is more formal, the cafe is first come first serve and you can order off either menu.

      I really like Cafe Atlantico for brunch, Charlie Palmer or Ray's for steak, Dino for Italian (normally a huge amount of food for a great deal),

      1. Of things you can't get very easily where you live, the DC area is known for Ethiopian, Lebanese, Bolivian and Vietnamese food. Also half-smokes (a medium spicy sausage), crabcakes and steamed blue crabs. Probably some better Thai as well. Ethiopian is in DC, but for some of the others you mostly need to venture into the burbs.

        DC is also known as the home of Jose Andres, the now-celebrated chef with Jaleo (Spanish tapas), Zaytinya (pan- Hellenic tapas), Oyamel (Mexican tapas) and Cafe Atlantico and Minibar. Jaleo and Zaytinya are both very worthwhile.

        Ben's Chili Bowl, a historic food venue, is DC's most famous eatery. But you are better off going to several other places in the nabe that are better. Oohhs and Aahhs for soul food, Thai X-ing for Thai, and Ethiopian restaurants Queen Makeda and Etete.

        My favorite 'statement' restaurant is going to the Lounge at Citronelle. There is a main dining room as well, but I'm not usually in the market for a long, drawn-out meal.

        Do a search on this board and I'm sure you'll find some great, detailed info for much of the above.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Steve

          I know LA is strong in general in Chinese (had a dim sum breakfast there when I was 15 or so). Do you have strong Sichuan fare out there? To Steve's general direction, if not, then that's an area that shines in the metro region (though a car or metro ride is needed for much of it).

          If so, search the board ahead for Joe's Noodle House, Hong Kong Palace (yes, the name is a misnomer), or China Star - there are others but those are probably the easiest to get to, and imo, the best within easy striking distance (especially the first two with HKP really topping the list).

          I'd also be sure to hit Tune Inn on Cap Hill for a couple of drinks. Cap Hill Congressional hole in the wall dive bar.

        2. Random thoughts:
          So do you want classically DC restaurants or good ones? This is an oxymoron. For example, Ben' Chili Bowl is a famous DC ethnic hole in the wall - go if you want to see a famous spot (Obama and Cosby have been there), not for the food. DC has a relatively high concentration of Ethiopian restaurants, but many will not like that style of dining, or the food itself. Maybe worth a try if you haven't ever had it. DC is just not an ethnic town, even though it is an international one. DC's specialty seems to be power lunch and expense account spots. Chinese and Mexican would probably be particular disappointments to a west coaster (though there seem to be a lot of pretty good Indian places). DC does seem to have a lot of good Indian restaurants, particularly at the higher price points. You probably need to go to northern Virginian for good bargain Thai and Vietnamese, perhaps the closest thing we have to really good, cheap and ethnic. There is also some decent reasonably-priced Lebanese and Peruvian around, particularly in the burbs, as well as upper end soul food. Take-out Peruvian chicken joints are also popular.
          For some reason, tapas and small plates seem to be all the rage. (My theory is diners and dieters get a variety and the restaurants save money, so its win-win.) I personally do not care all that much for the Jose Andres' restaurants I have tried. I think they are overrated, while many others and all the critics appear to love them. Maybe sample one, such as Jaleo, to decide whether others are worth trying.
          You might also seek out places with local seafood, such as rockfish, crab and oysters. That's really Eastern shore and the season may be wrong, but maybe Kincaid's is the best local - though a bit pricey - bet. I have heard lunch there can be a bargain.
          For a "statement restaurant", maybe look at the top 5 of the Washingtonian Magazine list. They are all expensive. For example, Komi or Citzen, considered by critic consensus as the best in DC, or the innovative special tasting menu at the Minibar, if you are into that sort of thing. You can even drive an hour and a half (or more at rush hour) to the Inn At Little Washington, for a unique ultra-plush rustic experience - the ambience is uniquely Virginia and the food very good and local - and pricey. I don't know how to do any of it on a budget, but perhaps others know of good fixed price deals at some of the top spots, an interesting topic in itself, or else Restaurant Week deals.

          1 Reply
          1. re: a1234

            Actually the two best Thai places in the region are in the Md. burbs, about two blocks apart in Wheaton -- Nava and Ruan. While not dirt cheap, the value makes them both a bargain.

          2. If you don't go to Two Amy's for pizza, we'll sick Dick Cheney on you...

            1 Reply
            1. re: kriscolby

              Pizzaria Mozza is FAR superior to Two Amy's. Mozza may have the best crust I've had anywhere including New Haven and Naples.

            2. I'm certainly no expert on the DC eating scene. But this is my impression from someone from the SF Bay Area. Stay clear away from Thai and Vietnamese restaurants. Yes, they're good here, compared to say the US midwest or the south, but Thai and Vietnamese (and Korean) restaurants in the LA and the Bay Area are significantly better. The only Asian Chinese place I would even recommend (w/ reservation, due to the semi schlockish factor) is Peking Duck Inn in Falls Church. Excellent peking duck and and the bullet proof table for the Bushes certainly adds points to the comedy level.

              Except for Ethiopian which I still not have fully explored, DC is really great for continental/french and east coast style seafood. My favorites so far have been Hank's Oyster Bar, Marcel's, Proof and Central. I'm still trying to get into the Minibar now, for the last 3 years...

              I would not bother looking to Japanese, Chinese or Mexican either if you're coming from LA. Although I hear Oyamel (sp?) is worth looking into?

              3 Replies
              1. re: KathyM

                That would be Peking Gourmet Inn. It's pretty far from DC proper and not really accessible without a car unless you have a lot of patience with the bus. The peking duck there is good, but probably not any better than what you can get at home if you even bother to get it at home.

                What we have here that makes Peking duck a little special is some history. Duck Chang's in Annandale developed a modern method of preparing the duck that brought the disk from strictly "order 24 hours in advance" to "order off the menu any time" and still keep all the important characteristics of the dish. Peking Gourmet Inn came along a little later with the same "duck any time, with a show" schtick, and got their share of visits from politicians and other dignitaries. The food is pretty good (as it still is at Duck Chang's, now run by his son).

                You have a long enough list of restaurants to try that it's probably not worth going after the history. Restaurant Week does have some bargains, but some restaurants have been reported as not giving their full dining experience during that promotion, not that they cut corners with their food - they want to show off - but that they tend to be more crowded than normal, many offer only a limited choice at the promo price (or "up-charge" for variations) and it can be almost like you're going for a tryout rather than a great meal. Not all are like that, however, so when you narrow down your list, ask about Restaurant Week experience with those particular restaurants.

                Or just go to restaurants that aren't participating in the promotion. They'll be happier to have your business.

                1. re: KathyM

                  In Annandale, VA, there are at least 30 Korean restaurants. That's where many go to eat Korean food. Eden Center (Falls Church) is a Vietnamese shopping center with 23 or so Vietnamese restaurants in one location. Many of the more sophisticated Chinese restaurants are located in Rockville, MD. Rockville and Falls Chruch have metro service, Annandale doesn't.

                  I'm guessing your post is written from the perspective of someone who is stuck downtown or is not willing to move around..

                  1. re: KathyM

                    KathyM, respectfully, but I could not disagree with you more passionately about Vietnamese restaurants. I have eaten my way through both the Bay Area and Southern CA Vietnamese and believe that Present is, at an absolute minimum, the equal of any of them. As for Thai, Vegas' Lotus of Siam is better than what you will find in northern or southern CA.

                    Agree with you about East Coast seafood, Marcel and Proof adding Black Salt to the list along with Et Voila both on MacArthur blvd. Also, MiniBar is a superior experience to L. A.'s Bazaar. The two best dining experiences in D. C. right now are Komi and Enzo's Chef's Table at Teatro Goldoni, both of which I will measure against anything on the West Coast along with Table 21 at Volt. Note that these last two are "tables" that must be separately reserved.

                    El Pollo Rico is also worth a visit in Arlington for Peruvian chicken. Also Ray's HellBurger although Palena is worth consideration for both its dining room and its own hamburger. Vidalia is excellent, too, and receives far less recognition on here than it should. Rasika is perhaps as good as the best in the Bay Area for Indian although I believe the U. S. falls short of the best of the UK (i.e. Vineet Bhatia in London, Akbar's and EastzEast in Manchester at a dfferent level).

                    I would ignore restaurant week if you are indeed looking for the best. Perhaps you'll save money but you may not be able to taste what the restaurant is best at.

                    If you can rent a car cross the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and go to the Narrows restaurant on Kent Narrows for absolutely definitive cream of crab soup and the best "traditional" crab cake in the state of Maryland. You may also want to consider driving north to Charleston in Baltimore which is superb.