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Suggestions for restaurant in Penn Quarter/Chinatown/Mt. Vernon Triangle?

Hi, everyone. I have a friend coming into town on Tuesday or Wednesday evening and am trying to find a good restaurant to take her to. She appreciates good food, and loves small plates places or other restaurants where she can sample a variety of food, but she's also fairly low maintenance and wouldn't object to a low-key dinner at a mid-range restaurant with decent food. We'd prefer not to go somewhere very expensive.

Her schedule is in flux and is likely to be slightly tight, which probably prevents us from making reservations. I live in the Mt. Vernon Triangle area northeast of Chinatown, and it probably makes sense to find something either in the Triangle, in Chinatown, or in the Penn Quarter.

I was originally thinking about Kushi, since she likes small plates places and would also enjoy watching them make the food, but I've asked about Kushi on this board before and it tends to get fairly lukewarm reviews. Jaleo might work, but I know the wait can be pretty long, and again her schedule isn't clear enough to make reservations. We once tried to get into Zaytinya, and she was turned off by the volume and the atmosphere.

I'd appreciate any thoughts about the above restaurants, or any other suggestions you might have. Thanks!

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Zaytinya
701 9th St NW, Washington, DC 20001

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  1. Maybe PS7? They do great cocktails, and if you sit in the bar area, you can order a lot of small plates from the lounge menu. Don't neglect to order the tuna sliders! I also really like the salami poppers.

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    PS7 Restaurant
    777 I Street, NW, Washington, DC 20001

    1. My go-to restaurant in the area (my gf lives there) is Matchbox. Consistently good (pizza, sliders, etc...) and not "expensive". I'd suggest Graffiato, but it does tend to be SMALL plates and adds up quick. The food was very good though (although I was not really big on the raved gnocchi) - esp. the White House pizza and agnolotti.

      I've only been once, but last month, and I thought Kushi was actually pretty good. (we only ordered non-fish/seafood items) I recall the fried chicken, steak and stuffed peppers being good.

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      Graffiato
      707 6th Street NW, Washington, DC 20001

      1. Personally I'm not a big fan of Kushi. I had a very mediocre meal there.

        I think Jaleo is the perfect place. Since you are going on a weekday it shouldn't be too busy. Another place to consider is the lounge at PS7....awesome small plates menu (make sure to get the tuna tartar sliders) and cocktails. Finally if your friend likes Asian food you can try Sei. They have awesome sushi rolls but also some great small plates (get the wasabi guacamole).

        1. Thanks, everyone. I've read and thought about the responses so far and discussed with my friend. Here are the updates:

          1) I've never been to PS7, but I've walked by and looked in, and I'm not sure it's the right atmosphere for my friend. She doesn't like anything that could be described as a "scene"--fashionably dressed people looking to see and be seen--and my sense is that PS7 fits the bill. Besides, neither of us really drinks, so their cocktails would be lost on us.

          2) I like Matchbox, but my friend vetoed pizza for reasons I don't fully understand, and that's obviously one of Matchbox's specialties. I'm not sure if it's worth going just for their burgers and other dishes. Besides, the only times I've ever been able to get into that Matchbox without a 45 minute (or longer) wait was during the blizzards last year.

          3) I'd love to try Graffiato. I assume, though, that it's currently very crowded and might require a long wait. Please let me know if that's not the case.

          4) I thought Kushi would be right up my friend's alley, but I was honest with her that the food has gotten generally mediocre reviews. She told me she's not particularly interested.

          5) She vetoed Jaleo. Apparently she was there once and wants to try someplace new.

          6) I don't know much about Sei. I'll take a look. Thanks for the recommendation.

          7) Right now, it looks like her leading contenders are Royal Thai and Mandu. I've never been to Mandu, except for the Taste of the Triangle community restaurant events in which I sampled some of their food and was generally impressed; I go to Royal Thai frequently and like it very much.

          Thanks again, everyone. I'll let you know what happens. Of course, since she's probably not coming until Wednesday, please feel free to leave any further thoughts. Thanks!

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          PS7 Restaurant
          777 I Street, NW, Washington, DC 20001

          Graffiato
          707 6th Street NW, Washington, DC 20001

          7 Replies
          1. re: Garlic Guy

            I've been to Mandu, once. I'd say if she's never had Korean food, or doesn't know much about it, it would probably be fine. If she does know much about Korean food, it will be very disappointing. Annandale is the place to go for good Korean (a car is necessary for that). Mandu isn't in Penn Qtr., Chinatown, Mt. Vernon Triangle, however.

            I've never been to Royal Thai or Sei.

            1. re: woodleyparkhound

              Agree, Mandu is fine and will probaby fit the bill. I heard they're serving Korean fried chicken at that location, which I have put on my list to try.

              You could also consider Hill Country Barbeque or the new Luke's Lobster Shack for a casual vibe.

              1. re: hamster

                I'm not a big seafood fan, but Hill Country looks interesting. I'll put it on the list. Thanks!

                1. re: Garlic Guy

                  If you go to Hill Country, stick with the beef (preferably the brisket).

              2. re: woodleyparkhound

                Thanks, both for this and your message below. I think my friend is pretty familiar with Korean food, so I'll pass along your warning.

                The Mandu I had in mind is in the CityVista complex on K St. between 4th and 5th, at the heart of the Mount Vernon Triangle. I know there's another one near Dupont, but that's probably too hard for us given my friend's schedule.

              3. re: Garlic Guy

                P.S. I haven't been to Graffitato yet, but from what I have read and heard, I would definitely describe it as a "scene"!

                1. re: woodleyparkhound

                  Agree with this. One of the things that was annoying about it.

              4. What about Oyamel? It is small plates in the Penn Quarter neighborhood, and is usually not too crazy on a Tuesday/Wednesday. If you sit in the bar area during happy hour their have $2 tacos, which are amazing. I don't find it to be too much of a scene. I have never been disappointed by the food - skip the guac though - it is overpriced. I recommend the ceviche that has pecans in it, papas al mole, chilaquiles with green salsa, crispy brussel sprouts, and the confit of baby pig taco.... mmmmmm! I'm hungry just thinking about it!

                1. Has anyone been to 901 restaurant yet, on the block north of Cuba Libre? I walked past it yesterday and wondered if it might be a good choice. Their menu looks nice, but I haven't heard any noise about it.

                  1. What about Zengo? It’s asian/latin fusion and not too pricey.

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                    Zengo Restaurant
                    781 7th St NW, Washington, DC 20001

                    1. Garlic guy: The places near Penn quarter verizon center that fit your bill are:
                      1. Jaleo: tapas . Even though your guest has been there, the menu is large and includes cold tapas, hot tapas and the ever changing seasonal tapas. IMHO good choice
                      2. Zaytanya: also like #1, a James Beard award winning Jose Andres restaurant. Small plates Greek-middle east restaurant.
                      3. Oyamel: expensive Latin Asian fusion with interesting Latin as well as Asian rolls
                      4. Cuba Libre: Philadelphia Cuban restaurant. Food is ok bordering on good.. Drinks are good .
                      5. Matchbox: wood burning adult pizza sliders
                      6. PS7: really interesting drinks and sliders of many varieties plus interesting side plates. Not as much of a scene as you make it out as. I took my 17 year old son and ate in the bar before a capitals game and it was fine.

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                      PS7 Restaurant
                      777 I Street, NW, Washington, DC 20001

                      4 Replies
                      1. re: dining with doc

                        hmmm... not sure of the description of oyamel above. No asian fusion or asian rolls there!!

                        1. re: erinnf

                          I guess he meant Zengo.

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                          Zengo Restaurant
                          781 7th St NW, Washington, DC 20001

                          1. re: hamster

                            Or Oya? It's a SCENE so I wouldn't recommend it anyway!

                      2. I just wanted to thank everyone for your thoughts. I was planning on responding individually to each of you, but my friend just threw me a huge curveball. See, she lives in the Midwest and is in Baltimore for a few days, and is planning to visit DC just for an evening. She had her heart set on crab in Baltimore, and for some reason hasn't been able to get it, so now she wants crab here in DC. I told her that DC isn't really known for its crab--and jokingly told her that we'd have to get a half-smoke at Ben's Chili Bowl if she wants something DC is known for--but she wanted to know more about our crab options. I've been looking, and found a few places that have crab cakes, but it turns out that she only wants fresh crab, not in cake form or something similar.

                        She found some seafood market on Maine Ave. SW that she's kind of interested in. That's too remote and desolate for my tastes, particularly since I can't stomach seafood (my father has a lot of seafood allergies and I was raised in a seafood-free environment), so trying to find something at a fish market could be problematic.

                        I think in the end we're probably going to let the crab thing go, but that's what our discussion is currently focused on.

                        Good times.

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                        Ben's Chili Bowl
                        1213 U St NW, Washington, DC 20009

                        4 Replies
                        1. re: Garlic Guy

                          They have plenty of fresh crab at the Maine Ave Market visit Captain Whites stall. Or you can go to Quarterdeck in Arlington

                            1. re: Garlic Guy

                              That's definitely rough. Maybe drag her over to 17th and take her to Hank's Oyster Bar. She can get crabcakes and you can get whatever the day's meat and three is: http://www.hanksdc.com/menu.html

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

                              1. re: Garlic Guy

                                this is VERY late, but this friend still qualifies the descriptor "she's also fairly low maintenance"???

                              2. Discussion today on where to eat crab other than the Maine Ave market:
                                http://www.princeofpetworth.com/2011/...

                                1. I just wanted to thank everyone for all their help in this thread. Tonight ended up being a bit of controlled chaos. My friend unexpectedly caught a ride from Baltimore (as opposed to taking the train), but en route her ride decided to drop her off at Silver Spring instead of bringing her to my place, so I had to hop on the Metro and head up to Silver Spring to meet her and bring her into downtown DC. She had been delayed in leaving Baltimore, so in the interests of time we decided to skip going to my place (as we had originally intended) and just got off at Gallery Place/Chinatown to find something for dinner. We were in a bit of a rush and we ended up eating at Mandu.

                                  We were both pretty happy with it. She knows Korean food but was satisfied with both her dish and mine (I had the dolsot bibim bap; she had some spicy soup dish that caused my throat to burn just by looking at it). We had told our server that we were in a bit of a rush, and we were very pleased with the service under those conditions. We ended up coming back to my place after dinner, just so she could see it, and then we took a quick walk around the Penn Quarter before making it back to Union Station with about three minutes to spare (the lesson I learned tonight: I'm pretty good at estimating how long it takes for me to walk places, but when I'm walking with a girl whose stride length is considerably shorter than mine and who's not wearing sensible shoes, I need to allot extra time).

                                  Thank you all very much for your help. If nothing else, this thread has given me a much better sense of some of the options available in my neighborhood, which I will enjoy exploring.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: Garlic Guy

                                    Thanks for checking in, Garlic Guy - glad it all worked out. And thanks for mentioning Mandu. I've been craving bibimbap since Yee Hwa closed.

                                  2. We were a table of foodies who have eaten our way through most of Penn Quarter. We'll now gladly go a few blocks out of our way for pre-theater or pre-Caps drinks and a dinner at Sixth Engine, a sparkling new establish in Mt. Vernon Triangle, a neighborhood sorely in need of what Sixth Engine offers: great food and great drinks at a great price point in a historic old DC building. Classy downstairs, attractive bar, and cozy upstairs, with a nice Norman Rockwellesque mural on one tall bare brick wall. We ate our way through the spectacular apps, one of which, the "duck confit scrapple," is wholly unique and deliriously delectable: no meal will be complete without that dish. We also enjoyed the pork belly in a Stilton drizzle and Chef Paul's take on fried oysters and spinach risotto. This is that rare joint, however, whose striking appetizers are surpassed by the even more striking entrees, all variations of American comfort food. We enjoyed the Beef Rossini - perfect cuts of finest tenderloin in a black truffle and medeira jus and FOIE GRAS PIEROGIES (the Polish half of me wept hot tears of pleasure), a brilliant Pot Roast that was more like "short ribs ," the chicken pot (pie) waffle , and, for hamburger afficionados, a cheeseburger that rivals the best in town (I won't plug the 3 or 4 consensus best burgers in the National Capital Region by naming them, but you know who they are, and Sixth Engine is in that elite group, differentiated by its garnishes). And of course the fries were perfect - crispy on the outside, melt-in-your-mouth on the inside. (So were the fried onion ring garnishes.) We finished with absolutely SICK apple fritters in a honey/cider cream drizzle and bread pudding in a dulce de leche and ancho chocolate sauce that made us bread pudding devotees swoon. Not just a good meal: memorable. We cannot wait for our next opportunity to dine at Sixth Engine, our new favorite in the neighborhood.

                                    5 Replies
                                    1. re: Paul from No Va

                                      Sixth Engine is a glorified bar. From the frat boys downstairs to the cheesy murals in the upstairs dining area, everything about this place screams mediocrity. It's owned by the same folks that own the Dubliner on Cap Hill, another dump. Avoid Sixth at all costs.

                                        1. re: mdpilam

                                          Ok, so I finally bit the bullet and had dinner and drinks with a friend at Sixth Engine tonight, and I am wishing I would have just gone to Matchbox. The decor/ambience is nice, and they have ample seating in their patio, but the food is severely mediocre. The server brought out some complimentary chips after taking our drink order, but these tasted stale, chewy and overly salted. I didn't notice until I was about half done, but I am pretty sure the server brought out the wrong beer for me. I ordered the cheeseburger w/ mac n cheese. The mac n cheese tasted bland and cool - like it had been sitting around for a while. The burger was ok, but came medium (ordered medium rare) and over-powered by the sauce (mayo/pickle relish - or thousand island dressing). There was also a bit of gristle in it. The one good thing about the burger was the bun; this was pretty good. This burger in no way shape or form belongs in the top tier of DC burgers - I would have preferred a Five Guys over it. I tried one of my friend's onion rings, and this was over-salted and chewy. He was unimpressed with his Mac Rib. Service was ok, if a bit slow.

                                          I would not go here for the food, but it seems like a decent place to grab a drink.

                                          1. re: mdpilam

                                            Add me to the not-a-fan-of-Sixth-Engine club. We dined there following the Caps season opener last night and won't be returning. Details: (1) shared a brussels sprout appetizer with a sweet glaze that overwhelmed everything else; (2) spouse had a fried shrimp sandwich which could have been good if it had more shrimp in it; (3) I had a burger which was mostly fixins, not much meat; and (4) with a glass of wine and a beer (nothin' special) the bill with tip was $65 which is a poor value for what we had. Top it off with a twenty-five-something pottymouth at the table next to us broadcasting her life story and you have a recipe for "do not repeat."

                                        2. re: katecm

                                          I have no idea about PennQ's motivation, but having recently moved to the Mt. Vernon neighborhood and only having walked through Sixth Engine and looked at the menu I do have one quibble about Paul from No Va's description. The beer prices alone (Racer 5 for $8 and nothing below $6) disqualify the "great price point" comment when it comes to drinks. In addition, the Post review had them pricing their cocktails around $12 to be in the same neighborhood as Buddha Bar across the street.

                                          An even worse price point when one can go to the Passenger in the same neighborhood and get many a fine cocktail at $10 (they get up to $12 depending on the type and number of ingredients). Never mind Mandu's happy hour where their interesting (if small) entire draft micro brew selection is $3.