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Jan 18, 2011 05:10 PM

Ella's, Oyamel, Central

We're headed up to DC on Friday for a long weekend with our well-behaved 8-year-old son. Staying at Embassy Suites in Penn Quarter. Since this is last minute, I could only get a reservation for Central on Sunday (we've eaten there every trip and love it). We'll have to do walk-in on Saturday night and are thinking about Oyamel. Will there be a crazy wait? I'm OK with 45 minutes to an hour, assuming we can get a cocktail or glass of wine. We're also thinking about Ella's for dinner on Friday since we'll be late getting in. Will we be OK without reservations at both of these places?

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  1. Ella's definitely. Does Oyamel do Restaurant Week? If so maybe not... all the RW participating restaurants are normally crazy on the Friday night of it, but since Oyamel does more tapas style you might have better luck than at other places.

    Are you aiming to stay in the Penn Quarter area? Or would you travel for other Mexican?

    1 Reply
    1. re: ktmoomau

      We're hoping to stay in PQ, so we can just walk. We're not tied to Mexican, just looking for a balance between casual and good food. We liked Jaleo a lot but wanted to try something different.

    2. With all the great choices in Penn Quarter, Ella's would be dead last in my book.

      10 Replies
      1. re: Steve

        Where would you recommend for a relatively quick low key dinner? We'll get to the hotel at around 8:15 earliest. Tried to do Matchbox last time but wait was about 2 hours.

        1. re: Lunarmodule

          Nando's Peri Peri. Counter service. Per Peri chicken. Order the quarter dark spicy.

          Full Kee, Cantonese. Get the duck stuffed with shrimp paste and the oyster and ginger casserole.

          Full Kee Restaurant
          509 H St NW, Washington, DC 20001

          1. re: Steve

            Disagree about Nando"s. You'll be disappointed, Luna. Stick with Ella's (or Matchbox) if you can get in. Steve tends to have very strong views on places, so I'm sure wherever you go you'll be just fine.

            1. re: spinachandchocolate

              Agree that if you are looking for the greatest meal in town and you go to Nando's looking for that you will be disappointed. However, if you are looking for a reasonably priced, perfectly decent meal in your neighborhood that is likely to be equally enjoyed by a child, Nando's is one of your best choices.

              Matchbox is an excellent kid-friendly option in that same general area, however, you are likely to encounter a "crazy wait" there. I think Ella's pizza is perfectly ordinary. Edible, but are many, many better pizzas in DC, so I rarely go there. Also, the place is deafening at busy times.

              You might also consider Amorini Panini on 9th St. I think they do quite good panini for reasonable prices in that neighborhood.

              Zaytinia does excellent Mediterranean food and is also a Jose Andres restaurant (like Oyamel and Jaleo). I prefer it to Oyamel, but both are very good.

              On the dirt cheap side, and open late is Chinatown Express on 6th, which does excellent noodle soups and dumplings for very little money using noodles you can see them making in their window, which is entertaining to watch.

              For a "balance beween casual and good food" where you probably will not "encounter a crazy wait", your top picks are probably Chinatown Express, Amorini Panini and Nando's. These places are much cheaper and more casual than the Jose Andres places mentioned above.

              Oh, and I find Steve's recommendations to be consistently reliable.

              1. re: woodleyparkhound

                I'm really not commenting on Steve, but Ella's wouldn't be at the top of my list either (and mostly because I'm a design snob) all of Penn Quarter is slammed on Friday night with HH and pre/post event folks. BUT there's so much around and usually it's just the bar that's packed so if one gives you a ridiculous wait, slide on down the street to the next. and even with an odd number and no reservation, I've never had to wait a long time at Zaytinya.

                1. re: hill food

                  Thanks for all the suggestions. Matchbox would probably be our first choice, looking for something casual and inexpensive but fun. After a 4-5 hour drive, would like something a bit nicer than counter-service. And somewhere for a drink. ;-)

                  Haven't thought about Zaytinya...ate there two years ago and received poor service—waitress wasn't knowledgeable about the wine list, when asked about certain dishes, she said she didn't eat that, etc. It probably tainted our experience towards the food and the place. Maybe we'll take another look.

                  1. re: Lunarmodule


                    You might try to stop by Matchbox, since it is RW (which everyone here seems to be forgetting) the swarms may be at participating places so it might not be so bad. And it doesn't look like there is a caps game.

                    If you can't get in, it isn't too far from Ella's. It looks like all the Jose Andres places are participating, so they are all probably going to be pretty busy, but you could always call places and see and get your name on a list before walking there, Matchbox included.

                    Nando's is a good option if Matchbox or Jose Andres places are packed. I absolutely love their chicken wings, they are double wings, so they are big, but good. I also love their pea and mint side dish. They have a lot of seating and it is order at the counter (with all you can eat frozen yogurt, which my cousins loved when in downtown) so it might be low key after a tiring day, they also have alcohol if you want to get a drink, beer and wine.

                    I haven't been to Ella's in ages, so I can't comment on the food. I also think Gordon Biersch has really good tex mex eggrolls and meatloaf, just to give you another option. Why don't you just ask the conceirge to call Oyamel, Matchbox, Ella's and see what the wait would be while you check in and make you a reservation. That way you don't have to make all the calls.

                    1. re: ktmoomau

                      Great idea. I'll ask to concierge to check Matchbox/Oyamel when we get in. Maybe they'll let us put our name on the list!

                      1. re: ktmoomau

                        kt: ahh, but Biersch is so insanely loud I don't think I'd want to go there after a long road trip (I know everywhere is deafening these days but for some they seem to be worse, the SF original location too,, at least they're consistent I guess)

                2. re: spinachandchocolate

                  "wherever you go you'll be just fine"

                  What's the point of this board, then? I thought it was to get tips to find something really delicious. Of course this is not a life-altering decision; it is a question of getting the most satisfaction out of a simple situation.

                  If the OP has never had peri-peri chicken (its origin is Mozambique, popularized in Portugal, Nando's is from South Africa), then this is an opportunity to try it. The quarter dark ordered at the spiciest level (really not THAT spicy) is finger-lickin' good.

                  Anyway, you don't have to take my word for it; it made the 2008 Post Dining Guide when it opened, which is a VERY limited list. Also, I'm pretty big in spending as little as possible for excellent food, so Nando's does well on that front.

                  Review Link:
                  Unique Video Review:

          2. I just want to throw out that you may need to check the schedule at Verizon Center. If there's a game or big concert on one of those nights, walk-in may be harder just before and just after the event, so you'll want to plan accordingly. For example, on Caps nights, Ella's is CRAZY until after the game starts.

            1 Reply
            1. re: katecm

              No home Caps games this weekend.

            2. Just so you know, today's Living Social deal is $15 for $30 to spend at Ella's!