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Oct 12, 2010 12:33 PM

First time visitor - please help to make it special!

Hi folks

Husband and i are visiting DC from the UK for just two nights later this month (we visit Boston & NYC first of all).

We will be celebrating our 17th anniversary while we are in town and would like a nice - but not megabucks - dinner that evening (a Thursday). Entrees around the $20 mark.

We don't do fancy schmancy and we like to try and travel light so don't bring dinner suits or dresses.
Looking for a solid neighborhood place that serves good food at good prices where we won't feel out of place in smart jeans. Particularly interested in American food, Steak, Italian, Thai or Chinese.

A colleague who has been to DC recommended Founding Farmers and I agree the menu looks nice - so would appreciate your thoughts on that one and whether there are any other places you would suggest. Concierge at our hotel (Palomar) has been really helpful and has recommended Bistro du Coin but I don't think they take reservations which is essential for this meal.

Also interested to hear of a great breakfast spot for eggs, bacon and pancakes.

Thanks so much in advance :0)


Founding Farmers
1924 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20006

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  1. I cannot recommend Founding Farmers. The menu may look nice, but the food is very disappointing. If you search this board, you will find many negative reviews. Good Thai and Chinese are very hard to find in DC proper. For that, you need to go to the suburbs: Rockville, MD for Chinese, Wheaton, MD for Thai.

    For good Italian where you can wear jeans, I recommend Dino in Cleveland Park -- just 2 metro stops away from your hotel. Locally-sourced, fresh ingredients and very flavorful dishes. Relaxed, fun ambiance. Incredible wine selection, if that's of interest.

    1 Reply
    1. re: foodtrip

      To embellish, for Thai and Chinese, you can go to either VA or MD, but largely foodtrip is correct about what's to be found within DC proper. There is one small Thai place that's supposed to be out of this world in DC, but I block on the name right now - it's up near U and New York IIRC.

      To be more explicit, for Thai:
      Wheaton: Ruan Thai or Nava Thai.
      Arlington: Thai Square or Bangkok 54
      For both pairs above, they are each close to each other and actually metro friendly if using

      You could also dig into Vietnamese which would put you in Arlington/Falls Church most likely for Eden Center (a whole mall of VN places), Nam Viet or Minhs in the Clarendon/Court House stretch on the Orange line. Of any of the places mentioned so far, Eden Center is least metro friendly but probably worth it.

      Chinese: First I'll clarify that I really only know the SIchuan offerings, but we are rich in this department.
      Rockville: Joe's Noodle House. This is a place that generally serves smaller dishes so it gives you more chances to explore. You'll need to walk a block or two of rather unfriendly pedestrian pavement, but you can be safe there.

      Falls Church: Hong Kong Palace (obviously mis-named in English). In my book best in the area, and generally favored on this board. Not metro accessible at all (across an incredibly unfriendly stretch of pavement from Eden Center - seriously - I would catch a cab between the two!).

      The other Sichuan places in VA are probably more metro unfriendly, and there is also good Korean, also metro unfriendly for the most part.

      For American - to throw out an idea: Hamburgers! Ray's Hell Burger would probably be #1. Central would probably be #2. For Ray's, make it so you show up around 2:30 in the afternoon. There's a related steak place that started it all - Ray's the Steaks, further up the Orange line. For steaks - that's it.

      For impressive American seafood - has to be a cab ride and may be slightly over budget, but BlackSalt is an event of a meal if you trust the servers and explore the menu.

      Hong Kong Palace
      6387 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church, VA 22044

      Ruan Thai Restaurant
      11407 Amherst Ave, Silver Spring, MD 20902

      Eden Center
      Falls Church, VA, USA, Falls Church, VA

      2500 Wilson Blvd, Arlington, VA 22201

      Thai Square
      3217 Columbia Pike, Arlington, VA 22204

      Nava Thai Restaurant
      11315 Fern St, Silver Spring, MD 20902

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

      Ray's Hell Burger
      1713 Wilson Blvd, Arlington, VA 22209

      Joe's Noodle House
      1488 Rockville Pike Ste C, Rockville, MD 20852

      Bangkok 54 Restaurant and Bar
      2919 S Columbus St, Arlington, VA 22206

      4883 MacArthur Blvd., Washington, DC 20007

    2. The sticking point is the combination of:

      Special anniversary meal
      Around $20 for entrees
      take reservations

      Most places that hover lower in price don't take reservations.

      I would recommend Jaleo, which is a place for Spanish tapas. Especially keen are most of the vegetable or egg tapas. Grilled asparagus, spinach with raisins, baby wrinkled potatoes, cucumbers stuffed with cheese and tomato, beet salad with citrus, bacon and date fritters, among the excellent dishes.

      My other suggestion is to take Metro to the Clarendon stop and eat at Lyon Hall for Alsatian food.

      Founding Farmers is nothing special.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Steve

        I think Jaleo has jumped the shark.

        Go to Palena. It is beyond your price point if you go to the back of the house (dining room), but the cafe is less expensive (though they do not take ressies for the cafe). You will not be disappointed. And, it is pretty casual -- I go there in sandals, ok pants and a nice hawaiian shirt all the time. Dinner for two in the back room, with an average bottle of wine, tax and tip will run you $200 or so. Cafe will run less but depends on how much you order of course.

        If you want steak, I'd suggest Charlie Palmer, but it is over your budget by a good margin. A cheaper alternative is Ray's the Classics in Silver Spring, which is metro accessible. It pales a good bit, but it is certainly acceptable and I think they take ressies.

        For other Italian, Obelisk and Tosca are good choices, Obelisk being the more laid back and casual. I think my real struggle with suggestions is the price limit you mention - a lot of the lower price places certainly serve up acceptable food, but are not in the same league of some of the places I mention (and the places I have mentioned are not the most expensive in the city by any means).

        3529 Connecticut Ave NW, Washington, DC 20008

        Ray's the Classics
        8606 Colesville Rd, Silver Spring, MD 20910

      2. I'm not sure if it's "special" enough but Masa 14 on the U St corridor is one of my favorite places right now. It's small plates but they're larger than most small plates go, in my opinion. Very lively atmosphere. I believe they take a certain number of reservations (I haven't had a problem).

        I like Jaleo, too, as another poster suggested but I really like Oyamel a bit more. Also small plates.

        Another neighborhoody but nice place is Birch & Barley on 14th, around P St. They specialize in beer pairings. They have a mix of more moderately expensive entrees but you could also get their flatbreads and easily go a less expensive route.

        Masa 14
        1825 14th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20009

        1 Reply
        1. re: DCcook

          I have never been to Founding Farmers, but don't want to go as 90% of what I've heard has been negative.

          The most reasonably-priced steak place is Ray's the Steaks. Unlike FF, I've heard great things and want to go but haven't made it yet.

          I LOVE Ray's Hellburger. What could be more American than a burger, and this one is the best in town - unforgettable. A large, perfectly cooked, high quality beef burger, with lots of choices of high-end toppings. You may encounter a line here as it has a formidable local reputation due to both how wonderful it is and that Obama has been here twice.

          I second Dino for Italian - and I know you can make a reservation there. It's a few steps from the Cleveland Park Metro station (red line). I think this fits your criteria of "a solid neighborhood place that serves good food at good prices where we won't feel out of place in smart jeans."

          I second Jaleo for Spanish tapas; I also recommend Zaytinia for Mediterranean. Those, and Oyamel, are all Jose Andres restaurants.

          If you will be here for breakfast on Sat. morning, check out Market Lunch at Eastern Market for breakfast IF you can get there early, say 8:30 or so. A long line (30 mins. wait or so) forms later in the morning. They have great blueberry pancakes. I like "the brick", a breakfast sandwich. Apart from Market Lunch, Eastern Market is a wonderful indoor market that I feel certain that you will really enjoy. Fabulous produce there as well.

          For Thai I would highly recommend Ruan Thai in Wheaton for a combination of wonderful food and reasonable prices. It has a very casual atmosphere - not really a special occasion celebration kind of place, but if you want great Thai food, this is where to get it. It is about 5-10 mins. walk from the Wheaton Metro station (red line).

          I think Steve hit the nail on the head with what he said about "the sticking point." True that
          most places that are lower in price don't take reservations.

          Have a great visit to DC!

          Ruan Thai Restaurant
          11407 Amherst Ave, Silver Spring, MD 20902

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

        2. Don't go to Founding Farmers. It's only so-so and I wouldn't want to go there for my anniversary.

          Instead of Bistro du Coin (which is good but very loud and boisterous) perhaps try the more romantic Bistro D'Oc, near Metro Center. The prices are reasonable, excellent French bistro cuisine in a cozy, romantic environment.

          For Italian you might consider Dino up in Cleveland Park or for American Cashion's Eat Place (this might be a bit beyond your price point though.) For New England/American style seafood try Hank's Oyster Bar.

          Bistro D'Oc
          518 10th St NW, Washington, DC 20004

          Cashion's Eat Place
          1819 Columbia Road NW, Washington, DC 20009

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

          Founding Farmers
          1924 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20006

          2 Replies
          1. re: Elyssa

            Thanks everyone. Upon reflection i realise I'm probably asking for mission impossible :)

            The least important criteria is the price - don't get me wrong we still don't do $200 tasting menus but we can go higher if we need to for a great meal. The casual ambience/jeans is the most important really.

            Ray's burger, Dino and Ray's the Steaks sound good. Any other higher priced but still casual places to try?

            1. re: kansel

              If you can be a tad bit flexible on price I really like New Heights. From time to time they have price fix menus.

              For Thai in DC Regent Thai or Rice aren't bad. Not extremely special, but not bad. Lots of good recs above. If you can eat early Tosca has a pre-theater menu and is really good Italian. Superb pasta dishes.

              I second Ray's, Cashions, Dino, Palena Cafe. For American, Steak and Italian. And Blacksalt for seafood.

              For breakfast eggs I would look at Blue Duck Tavern and the Tabard Inn. I also love brunch at Hank's Oyster Bar.

              3529 Connecticut Ave NW, Washington, DC 20008

              New Heights Restaurant
              2317 Calvert St. NW, Washington, DC 20008

              Tabard Inn
              1739 N St NW, Washington, DC 20036

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

              Blue Duck Tavern
              1201 24th Street NW, Washington, DC 20037

          2. I second the recommendations for Birch and Barley - the food is outstanding and you can wear jeans (but maybe with a jacket and decent shoes?). Founding Farmers is fine but not special enough to go for my only nice dinner in DC.

            I also like Eatonville a lot - smart casual dress, great food, good booze options. My boyfriend and I like to go there for our anniversary dinners.

            Founding Farmers
            1924 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20006

            Eatonville Restaurant
            2121 14th St NW, Washington, DC 20009

            Birch and Barley
            1337 14th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20005

            6 Replies
            1. re: kathleen440

              I'm leaning towards Ray's, mainly because you just can't get decent steak in the UK.

              Which location would you suggest for us (staying at the Palomar) and how do we get there? And do they take res?


              1. re: kansel

                I think Ray's The Classics in Silver Spring is your best bet, transportation-wise. You take the red line Metro from Dupont Circle headed in the direction of Silver Spring or Glenmont; get off at Silver Spring and walk a few blocks up Colesville Rd. You will pass a McDonald's on your left, which tells you that you are headed in the right direction. They take reservations.

                1. re: kansel

                  If you live in London there's one place that actually does do steaks well. It's called Hawksmoor (on Commercial St. near Spitalfields).

                  1. re: Giggling Gourmand

                    Not London, Nottingham, approx 120 miles away. And I am yet to find a steak in the UK that comes even close to American or Canadian steak.

                  2. re: kansel

                    I like the Arlington location better, but that is probably because I live in Arlington, and I love having Mark Slater pick out heavenly bottles of wine for me at good prices. Either are fairly convenient, although where you are in the city I think it would be faster to get to Arlington (about 10-15 minutes). I would just take a cab to Arlington, it isn't that far, I think it would be about $15 if I remember correctly. You could take metro, it is right across the street from the Courthouse stop if you exit via elevator, less than a block by escalator.

                    Both take reservations. In addition to steak, the key lime pie and crab bisque are really good too.

                  3. re: kathleen440

                    If you Founding Farmers was recommended to you, I might suggest Farmers and Fishers. Farmers and Fishers is the same school of thought and price point as Founding Farmers (same owners). The food there is much better than that of Founding Farmers IMO. Also, it is right on the Georgetown Waterfront. In the early evening (dusk), this provides a nice scene that could be a part of anniversary dinner. I have used it for a few dates and it has proved successful.

                    I always enjoy Palena. Unfortunately, you would be tight to be at $20 per person. That would give you a hamburger, gnocchi, pasta, etc. You may be tempted by the fish or meats but those are between $25-$30. I agree though that if you bump up your budget a little, that would be a nice evening. There are a few red booths in the middle that are quieter than the rest of the cafe.

                    3529 Connecticut Ave NW, Washington, DC 20008

                    Founding Farmers
                    1924 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20006