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What great ethnic chow in DC won't I find in NYC?

I'll be visiting for a long weekend, doing most of my eating in the District proper though I'll be staying part of the time in Silver Spring. More-casual fare preferred; atmosphere not so important; any neighborhood OK, at least while I'm walking about solo.

I've explored New York's multinational foodways in depth, but I'm sure that Washington has much to offer that's less familiar to me. Burmese, Ethiopian (for breakfast), and American Southern are three possible avenues of chow. What else would you suggest? Thanks in advance.

Dave Cook

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  1. Senegalese? Chez Aunty Libe is in DC toward Silver Spring. I adore it, though best with a few friends. Yassa chicken, maffe, manioc, whole fish, and if you call in advance thiackry for dessert.

    For Coastal Carolina Soul Food in DC, go to Oohs and Aahs for the shrimp and grits with peppers and onions, lemon pepper wings, and broiled (do not get the fried) crabcake. Four stools in front of a tiny kitchen plus a place upstairs to eat.

    Those are my top two choices given your location. Others:

    In DC, there is a secret Ghanaian restaurant, Akosombo, with a buffet that has a few good items (whole fish in red pepper sauce, plantains, black eyed peas), and a bunch of other stuff. YMMV.

    Also in DC, Sumah's is Sierra Leonean. You can try about seven different types of greens there. Show some interest and he will give you a sampler.

    There is a Cameroonian place in Silver Spring which just reopened, Roger Miller. Not nearly as good as Chez Aunty Libe, but with some unique dishes.

    In Northern Virginia there is a huge Bolivian community with several very good places, also a Yemeni restaurant with some good dishes. Plus a Lao place with a fiull-on Lao menu, a separate menu for their Lao customers, and the proprietress can prepare other dishes off-menu. This place is fantastic.

    I have long admired your website and have used it when visiting NYC. If you give me a shout, I could possibly get a few people together......

    2 Replies
    1. re: Steve

      Ghana Cafe is also tasty - I love their fish stew.

      1. re: Steve

        Thanks, Steve! As it happens, the long weekend in question is this weekend, and I'll be slotting in my dining adventures in between family time, so a get-together isn't in the cards. Another weekend when I can give more notice, perhaps!

        Dave Cook

      2. I think the obvious choice in DC for ethnic food that is not in NYC is the abundant choices of Ethiopian Restaurants. You can easily search dc page since this topic has been repeated multiple times.

        3 Replies
        1. re: dining with doc

          Mandalay Cafe in Silver Spring for Burmese. Southern- try Levi Port Cafe

          1. re: agarnett100

            Second Levi's. Deep fried pork chops, collards, Mac and cheese at a fraction of the price at Oohs & Aaahs. Easier to get a seat, too.

            1. re: agarnett100

              I'm surprised Steve didn't mention Myanmar in Falls Chuch and Bangkok Golden 3 (for Lao food) in Vienna. Myanmar in particular has a far more diverse menu as well as better flavors than Mandalay.

              (Grace Garden and to some degree Hunan Taste both have things I've never found elsewhere, even at much lower quality, but they're pretty far afield.)

            1. For Southern I would highly recommend Sou'Wester in the Mandarin Oriental. Make sure to get the hushpuppies. Although I had a fairly southern meal at the lounge in CityZen right next door the other week that was phenomenal.

              1. Not ethnic per se, but definitely regional, is the local take on barbecue: the pit beef sandwich. Not something you'll find in NYC. If you have access to a car, a trip to Chaps or Pioneer Pit Beef is in order, although the A&W Pit Beef truck in Jessup or Expressway Pit Beef in Odenton are closer to Silver Spring.


                1. Shrimp and grits with peppers and onions at Oohh's and Aahh's was the single best dish of my weekend. The grits were almost soupy, deeply flavored by the fried peppers and onions and a dozen or so spicy grilled shrimp. I wished I'd had a bigger spoon.

                  Levi's Port Cafe is solid, and a great value.

                  The Laotian food at Bangkok Golden in Falls Church wasn't the equal of the Isan chow at Zabb Elee in Manhattan, though I'm sure the seasoning was tamed for our table. (I'm happy that my relatives, who have a car, were game to venture this at all.) To my surprise the orm beef, an eggplant stew, was one of the favorites, though I understand Steve's observation about the nam khao, a pork-riddled rice dish, from another thread: "I dare anyone not to love it."

                  At Sumah's a sampler was indeed offered purely because I asked a question about the krain krain -- which I'd order on its own, on a day when I wasn't eating several meals in succession. I'm glad to have sampled the mustard yellow puddle of peanut sauce, too. Many West African kitchens make one, but few such sauces taste so much like liquified peanut butter.

                  In Silver Spring, I enjoyed the sopa de kaq ik at Guatemalan-owned La Escudilla. I'd never tried this cordovan-colored soup/stew before, so I have no grounds for comparison. It was made with chicken and not the traditional turkey, but to be sure the chicken broth was put to good use; it also flavored a side dish of rice.

                  This was near the southern border of the Little El Salvador neighborhood. I didn't make time to try any of the trucks; pupusas have never thrilled me. I did note that Sabor Latino, parked behind the W Express service station, was consistently the busiest. From a bus, headed back to base camp, I also saw some Sunday late-morning activity in the Mega Latino Market parking lot. A truck called Vanessa's was parked close to the street, as always, but near the back of the lot was another truck accompanied by canopies and a couple of outdoor cookers. Worth looking into.

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: DaveCook

                    Glad you avoided Roger Miller. I just saw this thread or I would have warned you earlier. They're usually out of about half the stuff on the menu and it is without a doubt the worst service you will ever receive. You can easily wait two hours for one dinner entree, and good luck getting them to bring you drinks. Even if you ask half a dozen times, you may only get a water refill once or twice in a couple of hours.

                    Surprised you didn't try any Ethiopian. DC has the largest Ethiopian population in the US and the plethora of Ethiopian restaurants in the area definitely reflects that. My recommendation would be Ettete, where you must order some kitfo.

                    1. re: The Big Crunch

                      I would have loved to try Ethiopian, which we have in fair supply in New York, but not with the breadth and depth of the D.C. menus. Outside of a private home, there's no chechebsa, or breakfast of any such sort, to be found in the five boroughs; I'm glad I tried some at Bete, in Silver Spring, on my previous visit. Another time, when I have more time, I could probably build an entire itinerary around Ethiopian. And I might.

                      Dave Cook

                    2. re: DaveCook

                      You did very well for yourself. There is no doubt that, in general, the cooked dishes at Bangkok Golden are tamed. Not so much the salads. If you were to order the liver and pork skin larb, then believe me you would get a snoot full of spiciness. Same with their som pa, which can be ordered off-menu. Then of course you can always crush the charred peppers over a dish like the their rice paste wrap and make it as hot as you wish. I guess it's a place where you can truly benefit by talking up the chef.

                      The guy at Sumah's is as nice as can be. When I went for lunch but didn't have any quarters for the parking meter, he advanced me the change before I even ordered anything.

                    3. Checkout the Longworth Office where the House of Reps eat at the Longworth Cafe.
                      Open only weekdays, and it's open to the public, you won't see that in NY. 7.30 am to 2.30pm
                      Now that would be a hoot to hob nob with our elected officials.