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Jul 19, 2010 11:46 AM

Good Food and Unpretentious in DC

We will be travelling to DC in a couple of weeks and meeting family from the Midwest. I'd love to get a few recs on restaurants that serve up good food in an unpretentious setting. Would like to keep prices in the moderate range (less than $25-30/pp for dinner), but if it's worth it we'll spend more. And we're not afraid of super cheap hole-in-the-walls either. Most likely we'll be staying somewhere central near the Mall, museums, etc. Also need ideas for breakfast and lunch. Thanks for the help!

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  1. My favorite place in DC is a hole-in-the-wall. A true one. Oohhs and Aahhs for coastal carolina soul food. I go for the grilled shrimp, the lemon pepper wings and the broiled crabcake. Greens and rice with gravy for sides. Not super cheap. 4 stools in front of a tiny kitchen plus a room upstairs to take your food. Across the street form the U St/Cardozo Metro stop.

    For one of DC's wildest dining experiences, in the same neighborhood is Thai X-ing. Only 2 or so tables in a basement apartment. Must reserve in advance. Everyone goes for the same one item: red curry salmon. I also like the pad kana and the tofu soup. Larb gai is another good order.

    For midweek lunch only go to Breadline, a sandwich shop near the White House. On Fridays, order the bbq on a ciabatta or go for the Italian sausage sandwich, the felafel or the egg salad any day of the week.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Steve

      Also for weekday lunch only, hit CF Folks, on 19th next to the Palm just south of DuPont. If possible, sit at the counter (though outside on a nice day is a winner, too). But the show behind the counter can be a good one.

      Order from the specials only, and don't order the crabcake there anymore (used to be good, but last time I had it under the current chef it wasn't worth the napkin to wipe my mouth).

      If you want a drink after the mall, hit Tune Inn on Cap Hill - it's on Penn Ave beyond the Library of Congress.

      One of my go-to's in this instance would be Nam Viet in either Cleveland Park (near the zoo) or Clarendon (not too long of a metro ride). A cup of Salmon Soup for an app and then the curried squid dish. This isn't a hole in the wall and is well within your price point (my rec here will set you back about $14).

      Amsterdam Falafel on 18th in Adams Morgan is a good place (though if you had time, Max's in Wheaton is better - but is a haul). Also - Pepito's Bakery on Columbia Rd, just East of 18th in Adam's Morgan has decent tacos and great torta's. Lastly for AM - there's a taco truck that is apparently often at 16th and Columbia. It's a big goose egg in my history that I haven't made it there yet.

      For a touch nicer, but I think within your price point is Hank's Oyster Bar near DuPont.

      Tune Inn
      331 Penn SE, Washington, DC

      Nam Viet Restaurant
      3419 Connecticut Avenue, N.W., washington, dc, DC 20008

      Hank's Oyster Bar
      1026 King St Ste 1, Alexandria, VA 22314

      Amsterdam Falafelshop
      2425 18th St NW, Washington, DC 20009

      1. re: Dennis S

        Hey Dennis S, if you want to try another good torta, check out Pico Taco on Florida and 14th. We finally tried this place out last week and though I thought the tacos were only okay (well, the tortillas and accoutrements were GREAT but the meat wasn't anything special) the torta was awesome. Grilled, lots of avocado, super tasty. The tamale I had was also pretty good.

    2. On 14th and P NW there is a great Ethiopian joint called Lalibela. It is completely unpretentious and absolutely delicious.

      Lalibela Restaurant
      1415 14th St NW, Washington, DC 20005

      9 Replies
      1. re: cara.zimbalist

        For a nice casual italian trattoria upstairs and and expanded pub menu downstairs and outside, with very good food and not overly $$; look at this link for Darlington House, I know, what kind of name is that for a Italian restaurant. Bottom line is, the food is good and upstairs, Stephano, the host is great he will have the chef do anything you would like. Very friendly staff.

        Darlington House
        1610 20th St NW, Washington, DC 20009

        1. re: cara.zimbalist

          I'd put Lalibela low on the list of the many Ethiopian restaurant in the area. Have you tried Etete, Queen Makeda, or Zenebech Injera?

          What have you liked there?

          At Etete, I like the fastening food platter (vegetarian), add the fried fish for $2 or so, and get the derek tibs.

          At Queen Makeda, I like the gored gored or the kitfo liightly cooked, the shiro, and the red lentils.

          1942 9th St NW, Washington, DC 20001

          Queen Makeda
          1917 9th St NW, Washington, DC 20001

          1. re: Steve

            Palena- the front dining room

            3529 Connecticut Ave NW, Washington, DC 20008

            1. re: chicken kabob

              and when the wait is too long, hope that you can get into Dino down the street.

            2. re: Steve

              Steve: throw caution to the wind and get the kitfo raw! had it at Dukem once and a companion in her 8+ month of pregnancy inhaled most of mine despite all warnings.

              OP: laid-back around the Mall? lunch at Ollie's serves up great burgers, Elephant and Castle is a chain, but has a nice terrace and decent prices for more or less what you might find in a (commercial) mall. farther (not too far from CF Folks IMO) and only carryout the Greek Deli serves stick to your ribs lunch (I've always walked away thinking for less than $10 this is just too much food, but I finish it).

              Greek Deli
              1120 19th St NW Frnt 1, Washington, DC 20036

              1. re: hill food

                Yeah, I've had kitfo raw. So far, I prefer the lightly cooked version at Queen Makeda, but I am always open to trying raw also.

            3. re: cara.zimbalist

              Is that the same place/ownership as the one of the same name in Arlington (if it still exists)? Or is Lalibela a common enough name or place that there could be two restaurants with the same name?

              1. re: MikeR

                No relation. Lalibela is a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Ethiopia famous for its church hewn out of the rock in the ground. I believe the restaurant in Arlington no longer exists.


                Lalibela Restaurant and Bar
                3111 Columbia Pike, Arlington, VA 22204

                1. re: Steve

                  Are you sure there's no relation? When the one in Arlington was at Glebe and Walter Reed (which is the location I ate at years ago) it was actually called Lalibela II.

                  Last I knew they moved to the white building on the Pike, same side as Thai Square and B54, and I thought they carried the #2 with them there.

                  I haven't been to the other one, and I'm far from any expert in terms of Ethiopian, but I just pipe up b/c of the #2 designation that was at least at the old location.

                  Thai Square
                  3217 Columbia Pike, Arlington, VA 22204

                  Lalibela Restaurant and Bar
                  3111 Columbia Pike, Arlington, VA 22204

            4. I've had lunch at both Ceiba and Jaleo and enjoyed both immensely. Never been for dinner.

              701 14th Street NW, Washington, DC 20005

              4 Replies
              1. re: melpy

                I do not think Ceiba is there anymore.

                  1. re: mnadel

                    Thanks, mnadel- i do not know where I got that wrong information from- I actually just called to see- sorry for doubting you!!! =)

                  2. re: chicken kabob

                    I went on July 16th (2010) so in that case it closed in a hurry!

                1. Second Tune Inn and Greek Deli and add Levi's Port Cafe. Best soul food in DC and awesome mac & cheese. A short walk from Eastern Market. Also, Market Lunch and Tortilla Cafe at Eastern Market: great breakfasts (bluebuck pancakes and "The Brick" breakfast sandwich) and cheap but tasty Salvadorean food.

                  Tune Inn
                  331 Penn SE, Washington, DC

                  Greek Deli
                  1120 19th St NW Frnt 1, Washington, DC 20036

                  Market Lunch
                  225 7th St SE Ste 12, Washington, DC 20003