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Help escaping a conference for non-touristy eats (or attractions, if you've got any)

Hi, I'm new to posting at chowhound but I've been reading it forever. I need some help finding places to go this week. You see, I'm going to a conference in DC at the Wardman Park Marriott (also where I'm staying), which is kinda near the Naval Observatory and National Zoological park. I'll be that tomorrow (Saturday, the 2nd) until Thursday (the 7th). I'm free every night after 5 or so, all lunches, and most of Sunday. I need to find some places to go.

Limitations:
Budget - I don't have unlimited funds, so moderate prices.
Transportation - Walking, Metro, or the rare cab

Things I need but don't know how to look for:
Lunch - I need quick lunches near the conference area. Any non-touristy or interesting places?
Dinners/nighttime - I'd need some suggestions for where to go get some dinners, and also for any interesting things to do at night. Bonus for anyone who can tell me somewhere to get a classic cocktail or two, the kind you can't get at most bars.
Any neat things to see otherwise.

I don't want touristy places. Just good food, worth eating, and worth going out of my way a little bit for. I really appreciate any help you guys can provide!

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  1. Generally you'll want to look towards Cleveland Park, which is North, on the other side of the zoo. Dino gets a lot of good attention here (it's one of the next stops on my list - non red-sauced Italian), and Nam Viet is there, but there are more options (been awhile for me since I've been there).

    You'll also want to know about Adams-Morgan, DuPont circle area, and the nether-regions in between. Hanks Oyster Bar might be a good stop for you if you like seafood. Cashion's Eat Place used to be very good - they have changed ownership hands since I've been, but the reports are still good.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Dennis S

      It's been many years since I've walked through the doors of Nam Viet, because the first (and last) time I was there, it was the worst Vietnamese cuisine I'd ever been served including during the 9+ months I've lived in Saigon and elsewhere in VN. My wife who is Vietnamese also thought it was fairly heinous. The manager (owner?) was pretty darned rude and basically said "I don't care if you don't like your food, you paid for it, now you may leave if you don't like it." Unbelievable.

      Has the ownership or management changed since 1999/2000?

      I sure wouldn't recommend it to anyone.

      1. re: Geeyore

        The one in Cleveland Park seems to be a bit downscale than Clarendon. No management change except for the owner having passed away a few years ago. The sauces took a hit for about a year after that, but they seem to be back on par with where they were. I'd urge another visit - and maybe plan to nit the Clarendon location.

        What did you order, btw?

    2. Go to Palena in Cleveland Park (about a 10 minute walk from where you are), sit in the front of the restaurant (A.K.A. the bar), and order a burger from their bar menu for $10. In my opinion, it's one of the best burgers in the city. Be forewarned that there may be a wait depending on what time you get there. www.palenarestaurant.com

      If you like middle eastern food, there is a great place called Mama Ayesha's on Calvert street, also a short walk from where you're staying. www.mamaayeshas.com/ Their food is delicious, and atmosphere is great.

      3 Replies
      1. re: AmyMarie1

        I second the Palena recommendation. Go for the burger and fry plate (they will make a smaller size for one, it's not on the menu but if you ask they will happily comply) if that's what you are in the mood for but the rest of the menu is not to be over looked. The gnocchi is some of the best you will ever eat, Ruta's soups are divine, and anything charcuterie related are gifts from above.

        If you like wine, antipasto and small plates Dino's bar is a great place to spend an evening.

        There are a bunch of restaurants right near your hotel. New Heights doesn't get enough attention on CH but is worth a look. If you are in the mood for good diner-esque food, Open Table is a good spot. Open late, serves alcohol and does a high class job with greasy food. Avoid all the others, except Tono Sushi, near your hotel.

        1. re: AmyMarie1

          Egads, Mama Ayesha's is still there? Glad to hear it. It was great when I used to eat there, 40 years ago.

          1. re: pikawicca

            There was mention of MA's on NPR the other day while talking about Helen Thomas - apparently a dish is named after her and she was friends with the owner upon opening the restaurant.

        2. Right by the hotel, there's Lebanese Taverna (Lebanese), Open City (diner), and Ipoh (Asian fusion); none are great, but they are probably the best options right in that area. A little further away (walkable) I'd recommend Mama Ayesha's; a short walk up Connecticut Ave is also Pesto, a serviceable red-sauce Italian place. If you have more time for lunch, hop on the Metro to Cleveland Park and, as others have suggested, try Dino or a burger at Palena's bar. Also in C.P. is Vace, an Italian deli with good sandwiches and a pretty good slice of pizza.

          For dinner, your options are MUCH wider, as most of the good food in DC proper is relatively accessible by Metro. In particular, DC is renowned for its Ethiopian food; you can catch the Metro to U St, where there are dozens of Ethiopian places (search this board for recs).

          2 Replies
          1. re: sweth

            Better yet, take a direct bus from Cleveland Park to U Street (the 90s, or the U Street Connector if it still exists.) Check out Etete or Dukem for Ethiopian.
            For cocktails, I am no expert, but there's some speakeasy type place called the Gibson at 14th and U St., and I think Bar Pilar may also have good cocktails. 14th and T St.
            The U Street area is pretty hopping these days, so it's a fun area to walk around in the evening.

            For dinner, you could also take a bus directly from Cleveland Park up to Wisconsin Ave and check out 2 Amy's, which is a much loved yuppie pizza place. There are many posts on it.

            For lunch, I would recommend Open City. I've enjoyed my food there on a couple of occasions. Nothing fancy, but affordable and pretty tasty. There's also a Chipotle there for a *really* quick lunch. I also really liked Lebanese Taverna on my one visit. If you're up for a 10-15 minute walk at lunchtime, I recommend you take the bridge (Calvert St.) over to Adams Morgan, take a left on Columbia Rd., and have some falafel or schawarma at Old City Cafe. You could also grab some alright tacos at Tacos Pepito Bakery (also Columbia Rd.). It's a fun spot with lots of Latin American pastries. The tacos are serviceable, but it's more about the atmosphere for me.

            1. re: hamster

              Ooh, at Pepitos you gotta go for the tortas - they rock!

              I might have to try Old City, but another option is Amsterdam Falafel on 18th just a bit North of U.

          2. You are in an excellent location to enjoy DC!

            Of the plethora of places in that Woodley Park strip near your hotel, I think the Lebanese Taverna is the only one worth checking out.

            I want to cast another vote for Cleveland Park. Burger/fry plate at Palena is wonderful. I also love Dino's. I adore pizza by the slice at Vace - Vace pizza consistently comes up in "best pizza of DC" conversations. If you like Indian food, check out Indique. All are very near the Cleveland Park Metro - or a 10 minute walk up CT Ave. from your hotel. You'll pass the zoo on the way.

            I love Amsterdam Falafel on 18th St. / Adams Morgan (about a 15 minute walk from your hotel). Dirt cheap (about $5.00) and really good.

            Transportation: you can catch the little red Circulator bus headed toward McPherson Square (get it right in front of your hotel - board it at the back door of the McDonald's where it terminates - it comes every 10 minutes in theory - I take it daily and find it pretty reliable; it costs $1.00). There are a LOT of great places that you will pass on this bus route as it goes to Adams Morgan, Columbia Heights, and down 14th St., stopping at U St. and P St. Discovering this bus made my life a whole lot more convenient. You'll see more of DC on this bus than you will underground on the Metro. If you catch this bus back for the return trip, it will say "Woodley Park" on the front of it.

            On the Circulator route:

            Pete's Apizza - really good pizza right at the Columbia Heights Metro stop. There are lots of places in this neighborhood, which provides good people watching. Tacqueria Distrito Federale - up 14th St. a few blocks from there - this is like a little trip to Mexico. There is a pho place near there too. Pho 14 I think it's called. It's decent but not great.

            Etete - great Eithiopian at 9th and U (get off the bus at 14th and U and walk a few blocks). Dukem is also very good and I hear Queen Makeda is excellent as well. Oohhs & Aahhs - great soul food in that same neighborhood. These places serve foods that you aren't likely to get in most other cities.

            Marvin - fun bar scene at 14th and U.

            14th and P bus stop: On P. St. is Stoney's (grilled cheese, good burger), Whole Foods, excellent and expensive gelato across from WF. There is a high concentration of good places to eat on 14th St. between U and P: Cork, Masa 14, Rice, ACKC Chocolate, etc. - not all of them budget friendly, but still... This is a good area to stroll around in the evening.

            Enjoy our city!

            1. My "Chowhound-only" rec is Oohhs and Aahhs for soul food, located across the street from the U St./Cardozo Metro Stop at 10th and U Sts., NW Maybe the kind of place you wouldn't go in to if you didn't follow Chowhound. DO a search on this board for specific items.

              1. Thanks for the help so far! I've only had one meal out so far, since the opening reception for the conference provided food today. But last night I went to Palenas. I have a mixed review of the place, but you guys are on the right track if that's anything to go by. Wasn't touristy at all, talked to some locals about the area, and had a good time.

                I sat in the cafe as suggested, and had the burger, fries and a salad, as well as a glass of wine and a Bronx cocktail. I was very pleasantly surprised by their cocktail menu - its rare to see a bronx with bitters at a restaurant these days, much less one made well! The meal, I felt, was a bit overpriced for what it was. The fry plate was good, but I was a little disappointed by the burger. I routinely get better burgers (better in all aspects) for half the price (if you're ever in Gainesville FL, try New Deal Cafe!), and mine was a little over-done, too. The salad was pretty standard - not sure why it was $10 rather than $4. I had cookies and caramel for dessert, and it was a fun dish. Wine selection was also good.

                I hope to check out a couple more places tomorrow, for both lunch and dinner. Hopefully I'll check out some Ethiopian stuff, and some more places you guys suggested. Thanks for the help!

                3 Replies
                1. re: emtilt

                  Just wanted to add that Indique Hieghts in Cleaveland Park has good Indian food and isn't too pricey normally.

                  1. re: ktmoomau

                    A minor correction: Indique -- not Indique Heights -- is in Cleveland Park.

                2. I know that this is waaaay late, but I forgot to post a final reply here. I ended up having less time to go eat than expected (missed out on Ethiopian, unfortunately), but I did go to a couple places. I already commented on Palena. I also went to Oohhs and Ahhs, and it was amazing. Perfect food. I talked to the owner the whole time I ate, and he let me sample several of the dishes. In addition to the sampler, I ordered blackened catfish with grilled peppers and onions, mac and cheese, and collard greens. All delicious. And all of it for a great price with huge portions. By far my favorite meal of the trip. Thanks so much for the recommendation.

                  I ended up having to stay near the hotel the rest of the time. Lots of Chipotle lunches. Went to Open City a couple times. It wasn't anything special, but it was solid food for decent prices. It was handy having a close place like that open late that I could get snacks, drinks, and late night breakfast. I also tried Tono Sushi. It was passable, but not great.

                  Overall, I'm sorry I didn't get to try more places you guys recommended. Nonetheless, you helped me get a couple great meals, and I'll try others next time I'm in town. Thanks for the help!

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: emtilt

                    Very intrepid of you to go to Oohhs and Aahhs. Not too many out-of-towners take me up on the suggestion. I'm glad you liked it. Koji is a very nice fellow; he's almost always there.