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'Hound-worthy chow recs for a 4-day trip to DC, near Mt Vernon Square?

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Greetings from a fellow Dallas- and Chicago-based hound!

I will be flying to DC next week for a conference and staying at the Renaissance Downtown right beside Mount Vernon Square. Looking for advice on chow-worthy spots that are within walking distance/Metro. I love all cuisines, all meats, offal, but for this trip I'm probably looking for more moderately priced restaurants (<30 an entree) and less destination restaurants due to the company I'll be with. Also excellent/innovative cocktails are a big plus, and I'm a huge craft beer fan with a palate leaning towards the hoppy (IPA's e.g. Ballast Point Sculpin, Stone Maharajah, etc) and imperial stouts (Deschutes Abyss, Old Rasputin, Great Divide Yeti, etc etc) though any place with a nice beer selection will do. Having gone to undergrad in Baltimore, I used to enjoy running down to DC for a nice meal and drink (Kaz Sushi Bistro comes to mind), but that was so long ago that I've since forgotten all the other places I used to love.

Some examples but all suggestions welcome, from the most casual to the most delicious, I'm game for anything!

-SUSHI - really would love one dinner to be some amazing sushi, for these the price limit is less applicable as I know sometimes I can spend 3x as much as a more reasonable dining companion if the uni or other specialties are just that good/interesting
-Moules frites
-Pho or Banh Mi
-Korean (I remember I used to go to Annandale for fantastic Korean staples, I love all Korean food such as taengjangjigae, ssamgyupsal bossam, nakji bokkum, soondoobu, etc)
-Mediterranean - gyro, shwarma, taramosalata, fried cauliflower, I know this unfairly groups several distinct ethnic palates but trying to get to get too carried away here
-anything with pate/rilettes/etc
-Japanese/Ramen (like Maruichi in Mountain View, CA or Ippudo or anything with amazing tonkatsu ramen)
-Ethiopian (I remember several good restaurants, heard ethiopic was good)
-Oysters/Crabs (anything like Faidleys in Baltimore? drool the memories)
-Best Sandwich - whether Cuban or a Uni-Mini chicken parm, anything reasonably close to my hotel? Or something like Xoco by Rick Bayless in Chicago
-Menudo or any authentic Mexican restaurant (any region) especially those with various moles
-Beer-oriented places - like the Brickhouse in Atlanta, Flying Saucer, Common Table, Meddlesome Moth in Dallas, etc
-Cocktail oriented places - like the Violet Hour or the Aviary in Chicago, Cedars Social in Dallas, etc
-Neapolitan pizza from a wood-fired oven (like Il Cane Rosso in Dallas)
-Chinese - especially Taiwanese or Cantonese style cuisine

Anyway, I know that's an expansive list, but I'm really game for anything and the more authentic, delicious, or unique, the better. For the most part, I think I'll only have time to venture out for dinner, doubt I'll have time for any hound-worthy lunch. Thanks all for your help and happy chowing!

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  1. Mileage may vary on all my suggestions. Others may have had different experiences with the some of the restaurants.

    Kushi will be close by and I've found their sushi pretty good. Stop in for a bento box at lunch and see if you like it.

    Mandu is right next door, but I've never had the chance to eat there so I don't know if it's good or bad Korean.

    Bistro d'Oc is probably your best chance for moules frites in the area, and is a favorite of mine. Mostly because I love watching the tourists at Ford's. But I think there are probably better restaurants for moules in the area.

    Chinese is harder. You could try Chinatown Express, but a trip out of the city to the Wheaton Metro stop and New Kam Fong would get you a better meal.

    Ren's Ramen is in the same general area, but again I think the board would have better ideas for ramen in the city then I would.

    While you're in the city I'd like to suggest you try some of Jose Andres restaurants. You'll be incredibly close to 4 of them. (America Eats, Jaleo, Oyamel and Zaytinya.) Zaytinya is Mediterranean, but I don't think they do gryos. America Eats has a great oyster po' boy and they have a $1 oyster happy hour.

    1. For oysters, Clyde's Gallery Place for their raw bar happy hour. Old Ebbitt Grill has the same deal, but Clyde's is a little bit closer to you.

      1. Thanks for all the specific info you put in your request!

        Sushi - Kushi is near you. I don't know that I would call their sushi "amazing", but it's reasonably good. I usually order izakaya when I go.

        Craft beer - the best place is Churchkey on 14th St. - arrive early to get a place to sit. However, very close to you is The Passenger - a great bar with better-than-average bar food. In the back of The Passenger is The Columbia Room (reservation required). I haven't been to the CR yet, but I'm dying to go. It has a great reputation for excellent cocktails.


        Moules frites - I love Brasserie Beck for this, which you could walk to. Granville Moore's on H St. is also very good.

        Pho / bahn mi - I like Pho Viet on 14th St. for pho. It's about 6 blocks north of the Columbia Heights Metro. It's a neat-as-a-pin, small neighborhood place run by a very nice family. There is better pho in the suburbs, but this is my favorite in DC proper. I have never had a decent bahn mi in DC so there's nowhere I'd recommend.

        Korean - Annandale is the place to go. I went to Mandu once and was unimpressed. I wouldn't bother with Korean if you can't get to Annandale.

        Mediterranean - Zaytinia, which is walkable.

        Ramen- Ren's Ramen, two blocks from the Wheaton Metro

        Ethiopian - I've also heard that Ethiopic is good, but I haven't been. My favorite is Etete, very near the 10th St. exit of the U St. Metro.

        Oysters - Pearl Dive on 14th St. Love the place, but no reservations. 1-2 hour waits are common, so arrive early!

        Best sandwich. Best Cuban sandwich is definitely at Fast Gourmet on 14th and W - in a gas station, just north of the U St. Metro (13th St. exit). This is the best Cuban I've ever had - including the ones I've had in Miami and in Cuba. They have another great sandwich there - the civito. I have heard great things about Sundevich, but haven't been; I think it's very near you.

        Authentic Mexican - I think you are out of luck here. There is a great Mexican place in Alexandria, but it isn't Metro-able.

        Beer-oriented restaurant - Birch and Barley, below Churchkey in the same building.

        Cocktail-oriented restaurant - PS7 Oh, another great place for cocktails is The Gibson, a speakeasy at 14th and U. Love the place - no signage of any kind out front - you have to know where it is. Reservations recommended.

        Neapolitan pizza - lots of people love 2Amy's. I'm not a huge fan. Also, it's nowhere near you. There is also Il Canale in Georgetown. There nowhere I'm superexcited about recommending for this.

        Moroccan - Marrakesh, but I have never been, so I can't vouch for it.

        Chinese - you are pretty much out of luck. The good places are all in the suburbs.

        1 Reply
        1. re: woodleyparkhound

          For oysters, I'd also recommend Hank's Oyster Bar - no reservations taken here either, but we only had to wait about 10-15 mins., despite being told we had a 1 - 1 1/2 hr. wait.. Hank's has been around longer than Pear Dive and isn't in as high of a demand at the moment, but we all thoroughly enjoyed our dinner at Hank's. I went Sat. night and had a fantastic oyster po-boy, served with a large helping of a slaw I really liked. I thought this plate of food was a bargain at $15. A friend also ordered onion rings, which were excellent.

        2. Of places mentioned above, I think you should definitely go to The Passenger and Fast Gourmet, At FG get the Chivito, a Uruguayan sandwich which is wildly delicious, but also get the corn empanadas. The chivito is very, very large. I'm not sure what's on the menu right now at The Passenger, but it is inexpensive bar food done with a lot of care. I was impressed with their muffaleta and also the half-smoke, a purely 'local specialty' sausage. Cocktail-oriented place.

          I also think you should consider Thai X-ing which is more like eating in someone's apartment than going to a restaurant. They offer a $40 tasting menu. Funky, not refined.

          Etete for Ethiopian.

          Very close to you is Againn, an Irish gastropub. Definitely not cheap. Very high attention to detail.

          And if you want to go with what this area does best (rather than any pre-conceived laundry list), the I recommend Oohhs and Ahhs, which is a tiny kitchen with four stools serving Coastal Carolina Soul Food. I go for the shrimp and grits, the lemon pepper wings, and the broiled (not fried) crabcake. A first-rate hole-in-the-wall. More expensive than it looks.

          Kushi gets great reviews, but I found nothing special about the 'chef's assorted sashimi platter.' I did not try the grilled items.

          1. I was just asking VaPaula today about Louisiana cuisine in the metro area and now I see Acadiana is located right across from your hotel. Has anyone been there? Pretty good marks from yelpers and they are open for lunch.

            1. Thank you all for your informative recs and I will be sure to give a post-trip report next week!

              1. You're not far from H Street NE, where you will find excellent moules frites at Granville Moore's, as well as excellent ramen at Toki Underground. If you can go early on a weekday, you will be more likely to get a seat.
                For pate/rillettes, etc, you should check out Againn, which is close to you. It's a high-end gastropub. I really was impressed by the pork belly entree. They also have a ton of beers, though Birch & Barley is probably the best combination for you (amazing beer selection, strong on the pates).
                I definitely second the Ethiopian rec. Queen of Sheba isn't far from you. I feel like Etete has taken a downturn lately (2 disappointing visits over the last several months), so maybe consider Queen Makeda instead if you want to head to Little Ethiopia, on 9th Street between U and T NW.
                At Fast Gourmet, get the cuban. It blows the chivito out of the water. You can also get a very good sandwich - good for a quick lunch at Mount Vernon Square - at Taylor Gourmet. Philly Italian hoagies, homemade roasted meats, really good.

                1. Thank you all for the great recs. As it was primarily a working trip, I didn't get to hit all the spots I had planned:

                  -drinks at the Passenger were good, nice vibe although we couldn't get into the Columbia Room (of course). had some delicious regional craft beers whose names currently escape me at American Ice to round out the night - nice neighborhood place, sure wish it had existed when I used to go to the 9:30 club for shows back in the day.

                  -had a mediocre Korean dinner at Mandu but it was the most convenient Korean fix that we could find, had dolsot bibimbbap (mixed rice in hot stone bowl with beef, fried egg, red pepper paste) which was decent but a bit bland, bulgogi which was terrible (terrible cut of meat, oversweet marinade, stringy and startingly low quality for the price), soondooboo jigae which was decent but again nothing to write home about.

                  -had a very enjoyable dinner at Hank's Oyster Bar with excellent soft-shell crabs and many delicious oysters (actually returned to the bar after dinner for more happy-hour $1 oysters), service was excellent, food was quite good, and drinks were pretty good too (had a very well-made old fashioned in between several craft beers including a nice regional black IPA). I would return again, though I'm sure there are oysters just as good at the other restaurants mentioned as well

                  -had some great eats at Ohh's and Ahh's, by dumb luck arrived right at 12:00 as she opened the restaurant, but was too slow (and still incapacitated from late night escapades) to grab a seat at the kitchen bar, the greens were excellent, mac and cheese were very rich and quite good, blackened whitefish were well-cooked and had a nice spicy/blackened burn without being overpowering. house-made hot sauce was fantastic, i see why she doesn't fill those bottles up - they would probably all be stolen with each dinner service! also had lemon pepper wings which unfortunately were soaked in grease by the time they were sent up, fried catfish was excellent, and beef short ribs were very tasty too. the only criticism was of the service - but i think it was due to a single employee's oversight. after taking a very long time to add up our tabs with multiple egregious mistakes (e.g. asking for $52 when the check was really 18), we were never given our food while several patrons arriving after us had already begun eating. when we went back downstairs to see what was going on, they quickly assembled our plates and sent them up (as most of the food is premade or constantly being made anyway). however, after tasting the food we quickly forgave and left full and happy.

                  -had a baguette and onion soup at Paul which was quite forgettable

                  regrets: not making it to Zaytinya or Fast Gourmet as planned, would have also liked to go to Againn and one of the Moroccan places. Taylor Gourmet looked great and I probably would have enjoyed my meal there more than at Mandu. One of my friends did go to Thai X-ing on this trip (had been there before) and I wish I could have joined.

                  All said and done, I had a blast given my tight schedule and have you all to thank so keep it up and I will definitely be back for more soon!


                  8 Replies
                  1. re: ploo

                    It's true that you absolutely cannot wait upstairs at O & A for the food to be sent up. It's not going to happen. This is a counter service place, no matter what they say, you need to stay downstairs or constantly check in with them.

                    Mandu is too sweet or boring, I agree. Typical for DC, made for those who don't know any better.

                    Thanks so much for the thoughtful write-up. It's great hearing back from people.

                    1. re: Steve

                      the update is always appreciated.

                      is the recommended Marrakech that place on NY Ave? if so it's good for a birthday party and if a little public humiliation is on the agenda it works. but while the food's not bad - it's not the point. (I can make a better tajine at home and, umm I don't belly dance and well you just don't want to see my attempt anyway). trust me.

                      1. re: hill food

                        I missed the Marrakech rec, but if it is the place on Columbia Rd in AdMo, stay away! Awful food and awful service (site of my "worst meal in DC").

                        1. re: mdpilam

                          that kinda works for the place on NY too. the food is quite beside the point.

                          1. re: hill food

                            There wasn't any "entertainment" at the AdMo one (not belly dancers or anyone dressed up in regional garb) FYI.

                            1. re: mdpilam

                              I may have the name wrong or maybe it closed (oh big surprise)

                    2. re: ploo

                      Had written my last post in haste and thought of a few other things to report:

                      After many drinks one of the nights, we decided to do a walking tour from the U Street area back to the hotel. We happened upon Ben's Chili Bowl purely by chance and I was reluctantly convinced to have a spicy chili dog. I figured it would make a fun story to have been somewhere that has gotten so much national attention - I correctly assumed that would be the best part of the experience. Nothing memorable about the food whatsoever (though the memory is a bit hazy), I'm sure any chowhounder would agree. I don't even like hot dogs, in general!

                      Also remembered some of the beers that I enjoyed: DC Brau's Corruption which was a very solid IPA, and their Public ale, which while a decent example of an American Pale Ale, was unfortunately marketed to me by an uninformed bartender at the Passenger as an IPA. This was mildly irritating but I suppose they don't claim to be any authority on beer, so I let it pass and we still had some great cocktails. 21st Amendment Back in Black was a nice black IPA, though not as good as my standard - Stone's Sublimely Self Righteous, I do have to give kudos to the bartender girl at Hank's who was much more passionate about beer and erroneously assumed 21st Amendment was another local brewery when it's actually from SF. Their Brew Free or Die! IPA was quite good as well and in retrospect I should have realized the West Coast flair from the grassiness and citrus in the nose. I love that all these were canned beers!

                      Some good drinks were had including Old Rasputin on nitrogen tap at Bar Pilar as well, which had a nice quiet vibe on the weekday evening I was there.

                      Also had remarkably good catered hor d'oeuvres at La Tasca, judging from the fried calamar which were outstanding and the empanadas among other finger food, I'd be more than willing to try a normal dinner there next time I'm in town. Estrella Damm on tap is always a plus for nostalgic reasons (once spent a summer in Barcelona), though certainly not a beer on par with other mentioned above.

                      Anyway, hope this helps someone visiting the city one day and look forward to more culinary adventure next time I'm in town. Thanks again for all your excellent recommendations.

                      1. re: ploo

                        Thanks so much for reporting back - it's always great to hear how people's trips went!

                        Re: your assessment of Ben's Chili Bowl - I couldn't agree more!