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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!