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Feb 21, 2012 11:05 PM

DC Weekend - looking for Lebanese & other ethnic; also solid Gourmand option

Former NW residents (20 yrs ago) looking for excellent ethnic eats that we can't get in Seattle. First & foremost is Lebanese; recommendations for other ethnic eats (Vietnamese, Soul Food, etc.) are also most welcome.

We're also looking for a good recommendation for an acclaimed chef, focus on the food and preferably avoiding hipster-trendy-noisy-flavor-of-the-month places.

We'll have a car, so all options are (for now) on the table.

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  1. Bamian is a great Afghani restaurant in the Bailey's Crossroads area of Virginia. Here's the link to the web site:

    The Lebanese Taverna is still around and, at least in the Washington Blvd branch of the mini-chain, still doing an excellent job. The father and founder of the business is at the helm of this branch. Here's the link to their web site: The Washington Blvd branch is referred to as the "Arlington" branch although the Pentagon Row restaurant is also in Arlington.

    Fettoosh is a neighborhood joint on Wilson Blvd that serves excellent Lebanese food, but I like to go there for the Moroccan specials. The WASHINGTON POST's "Going Out Guide" includes a detailed reveiw of the Arlington Fettoosh.

    Incidentally, you may find yourself in the same parking lot another time during your trip. Fettoosh is next door to Pupatella's. This place has the ambiance of a school cafeteria and the food of an award-winning pizzeria in Naples. Here's the link:

    Asian recs next:

    Bangkok Golden serves both Laotian and Thai food. The Thai items are competently prepared but can be found better prepared elsewhere. However, the Laotian food is stellar.

    1. Vietnamese: Eden Center. Check the board for lots of recommendations.

      Soul Food: Oohs and Aahs (lots of recommendations on the board)

      Pakistani: Ravi Kabob in Ballston. I especially love the "special samosa" and the chickpeas.

      There are lots of Salvadorean places around here. I love Irene's Pupusas in Wheaton. El Rinconcito is great for carne deshilada. Tortilla Cafe is good too - it was featured on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives, if that means anything to you. It's near the Eastern Market, which is also a fun place to go. In the center of the market is a meat counter that sells hot half smokes in natural casing (among other types of hot dogs, sausages, etc.). For $2.00 you can sample what I think is the best version of a DC specialty.

      Also in Wheaton, a couple of blocks from the Wheaton Metro and next door to each other are my favorite Thai place (Ruan Thai) and Ren's Ramen.

      There are lots more, but those pop to mind. I hope you have a great visit!

      6 Replies
        1. re: woodleyparkhound

          Woodleyparkhound - we will be staying in the Woodley Park area. Have you tried Mama Ayesha's for Lebanese - 1967 Calvert St. NW?

          1. re: Scott O

            Yes, I've been there once, about 3 years ago. I liked it just fine - more than I thought I would. The food was good and the place is rather charming, but my mind wasn't blown.

            1. re: woodleyparkhound

              Mama Ayesha's is charming, but I do think the food is better at Lebanese Taverna around the corner. I have a Syrian colleague and that's the place he always wants to eat when visiting DC, which is another recommendation in it's favor.

              1. re: emcentar

                Below is my post from 2010 about LebTav. Six restaurants and four cafes, they can't handle what they used to. Only boneless, skinless white chunks of chicken, and the manakish is pale and squishy.


                Mama Ayesha is ok, nothing special. It will do if you are tired or worn out.

                1. re: Steve

                  Thanks for posting, Steve. What do you think about Me Jana's lack of kibbe?

        2. Me Jana in Arlington is the best Lebanese going right now. Finely prepared and pricier than most, but worth it. Easy access form the Courthouse Metro stop. Meze will give you a taste of everything.

          My other highlights, with specific recs

          Three holes-in-the-wall:

          Oohs and Aahs, Soul Food in DC: shrimp and grits, collard greens, lemon pepper wings, broiled (not fried) crabcake.

          Pimento Grill: in extreme SE DC: Jamaican, oxtail brown stew, chicken curry, carrot and lime juice

          Fast Gourmet, Uruguayan in DC, get the chivito and the corn empanadas.


          Myanmar, Burmese in Falls Church: Ginger Salad, tomato tofu, pork with fresh mango

          Bangkok Golden, Lao in Falls Church: Nam kao, Rice paste wrap, kao piak sen, larb (raw fish)

          Sichuan Pavillion in Rockville, MD. Some dishes hard to find elsewhere: Get the pork with fried bead, chicken ya cai, and lotus root salad.

          Nava Thai in Wheaton, MD. Floating Market Noodle Soup. A dangerously potent concoction. You have been warned.

          Luzmilla's, Bolivian in Falls Church, VA (not open for dinner, though) saltenas, humintas, sopa de mani. Mocochincho (spiced peach juice) to drink.

          Cubano's in Silver Spring, MD. go for the bandeja (sampling platter) and ask for both dipping sauces: the mojo and the cilantro aioli

          Jerusalem, Palestinian in Falls, Church, VA: go for the lamb makluba, musakhan, and om ali for dessert.

          My favorite upscale option is the Lounge at Citronelle. No reservations needed, a la carte, informal. Go for the mushroom cigars, tuna napoleon, lamb in jalapeno-cumin sauce, lobster begula pasta. Desserts here are a must, especially the 'cryptic' ones.

          7 Replies
          1. re: Steve

            Great list - thanks for compiling.

            I took a look at the menu at Me Jana and it looks like there isn't any kibbe? Is that correct?

            1. re: Scott O

              The online menu on their website lists 'fried kibbeh' 'potato kibbeh' and 'kibbeh nayee.' They also offer meze platters which don't seem to be listed online.

              The website menu is a bit confusing.

              1. re: Steve

                I did not see the kibbe nayee. That settles it - I'm going!!!

                1. re: Scott O

                  I tried to order the kibbe nayee at Mama Ayesha recently. The waiter frowned and said I wouldn't like it. I insisted I would, and then a manager came around and asked if I was sure I would like it. I said I've had it before, and I am sure I would like it.

                  Then the waiter came back and said they were out of it.

                  I got the impression they REALLY didn't want to serve me the kibbe nayee.

                  I have not had it at Me Jana, but if you have your heart set on it, maybe you should call first.

                  1. re: Steve

                    OK, I googled it to see what you were talking about. What's not to like? According to the first recipe I found:
                    1 Pound Lean Lamb or Beef
                    1 Cup #2 Cracked Wheat
                    1 Large Onion Cut in Chunks
                    1/2 Stick Softened Butter
                    Ice Water
                    Salt and Pepper

                    Maybe they just don't want to serve raw meat to Americans. We eat steak tartare and kitfo. What could be wrong with kibbe nayee? It probably wouldn't be the reason why I'd go to a restaurant, but I'd be willing to try a sample from someone else's order.

                    1. re: MikeR

                      We ordered it at Mount of Lebanon with you. Not sure if you tried it or passed on it.....

                      1. re: Steve

                        I probably did try it then. I guess I don't remember it as a standout.

                        Been back there yet? I haven't. Probably should, just to try a "normal" lunch.

          2. For Vietnamese, you can't go wrong with the Eden Center, we had a nice Chow Lunch at Rice Paper in the back left corner. Minh's and Nam Viet in Arlington are good alternatives if you don't want to go to the eden center.

            I agree on Oohs and Aahs for soul food, I haven't been to Levi's but it gets good marks too.

            I am not sure what my favorite Lebanese is at the moment. I used to love the Lebanese Butcher, now Mount of Lebanon, but I don't love it in the new space. I haven't been to Lalinya in a while, was not horribly thrilled with Me Jana, but it wasn't bad.

            Little Serow while really hot right now, is hot because the food is great, and the chef is great. Palena is also a good choice for a solid place with wonderful chef, as is Fiola, Proof and Eola. Although Fiola can be noisy. Rasika can also be noisy, but has wonderful food, as well.

            2 Replies
            1. re: ktmoomau

              I see that Little Serow is a James Beard semi-finalist for Best New Restaurant. I'm planning to go next week and am dreading the crowds - but looking forward to the experience!

              1. re: ktmoomau

                The Eden Center tip is much appreciated. Used to be Arlington was the key spot back 20 yrs ago. Little Serow will be close to where we're staying, again looks like a great tip.

              2. Lebanese Taverna in my book is still the most consistently good Lebanese food in the area and I think they maintain that consistency in the food across all of their stores - although the ambiance can differ drastically.

                If you are traveling and want to try Persian, Rose Kebab in Vienna is great.

                1 Reply
                1. re: drewpbalzac

                  Persian would definitely be on the list - thanks for adding this.