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TO to DC - new/best for foode tourist? 3 days in summer

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Hi DC Hounds,
I've spent a few days reading the content of the boards here and am not exactly finding what I'm looking for so thought I'd start a new thread to get the best answers.

I am visiting in August (admittedly down the road a bit) and am looking for a few tips.
WHERE: We are staying at the Donovan Hotel which I gather is "downtown", not far from "the Mall" (please tell me if there's a better way to characterize this neighbourhood). We are willing to take public transit far and wide for the best food, especially if there's other things to do (places to drink before/after meals) in the areas we might be travelling to.
WHAT: We have no dietary restrictions but I prefer veggies and seafood and my husband prefers pork or beef. Not too crazy for all-out-offal but we have dined at Incanto in San Francisco and Publican in Chicago and enjoyed them both. We love all varieties of ethnic cuisine but coming from Toronto have had our fill of good pan-Asian. Love traditional Italian but it has to have some non-pasta options. My favourite meals recently have been at ABC Kitchen in NYC, for reference. Husband loves microbrew/craft beers and I love good wine and wines-by-the-glass selections.
WHO: We are in our late 20s/early 30s, and like to dine and hang out all kinds of people. Don't mind trendy spots, love being somewhere that feels busy and buzzing, but don't like to dine among DBsm, of course. Good service is tantamount.
HOW MUCH: In terms of budget, we can do one or two dinners up around $100/pp with tax/tip/1 or 2 drinks, and are also looking for maybe one or two more affordable choices up to $50/pp. Also lunches in that range.

Wanting your tips for:

1. Food Explorations - i am a huge food-explorer-traveller, and love neighbourhoods where I can stroll and explore food shops, small tastes, coffee shops, bars, etc (in the last year, these have included Williamsburg in Brooklyn and Wicker Park in Chicago). Hipster neighbourhoods are okay, clearly, but I'm looking for interesting wandering neighbourhoods, happy to travel off the beaten path.

2. Dinner - as per above, looking for the newest, best food in the area, as well as old standards that are can't-miss.

3. Drinks - places near our hotel or near landmarks or near dinner destinations, where we can have afternoon-happy hour-post-dinner drinks, again the emphasis on local/craft beer and/or great wines-by-the-glass. Snacks optional but welcome as well.

Anything else you'd want us to know, about food culture in DC in general, please let me know.
Thanks in advance, so much!

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  1. I hope you have a nice visit, welcome to DC.

    Don't stress about "hipster neighborhoods" - DC is hipster-less . . . . Politicians are our rock stars . . . our hipsters are nerds.

    If you are here over a weekend you should take the Metro to Easter Market on Capitol Hill on either Saturday or Sunday morning. You should walk North from the station and check out the scene around the Market itself, and then head back south past the station and check out the places along 8th Street down to the Marine Barracks.

    You can grabs stuff from the vendors in and around Eastern Market to nosh on while you check out craft/arts vendors. If you’re up for it you can stand in line with the throngs for a little more substance at Market Lunch inside the main hall at the North end, although you may end up having to eat standing up somewhere.

    If you want a more formal sit down meal you should check out one of the restaurants on 8th St. I like the brunch at Zest way down at the end, but there are many other options ranging from decent pizza (Matchbox) to Greek (Cava). Also along this strip are several bars that you can jump into for a pint or two - if that Nats have a home game some of these joints will be pretty busy.

    For that matter it the Nats are in town and you want to take in a game, you can catch a shuttle from the Ugly Mug down to the ballpark. Tickets are always available and the park is great, but eating and drinking there is really expensive.

    3 Replies
    1. re: drewpbalzac

      We are visiting a Thursday-Saturday, so Eastern Market sounds great. What kind of food/which vendors are best there? (or, feel free to link to another thread)

      1. re: LemonLauren

        The inside stalls at EM are predominantly stuff you would get and then cook at home, butchers, fishmonger, green grocer, poultry. However - there is a cheese monger that will cut to your order, and across the way is Canales Deli where you can get some great cold cuts including Iberico ham.

        The Canales' also have a long case of prepared foods at their stall. There are 3 Canales' with vendor stall in the market; a butcher, a pasta/antipasto/gourmet goods vendor, and the deli. Great family - you should definitely check them out.

        At the very Southern end of the Hall is a bakery shop if you want bread or sweets.

        At the North end of the hall - Market Lunch churns out pretty good breakfasts and fried seafood sandwiches.

        Outside, there are a number of fruit and vegetable vendors, some of them farmer/producers and some of them selling other peoples stuff. I would definitely grab some of the cinnamon pecans from the cinnamon pecan guy. (His other nuts are OK - but the pecans rock) If Ma Brown has her table up I would definitely get a slice of cake or a mini pecan pie if she has any left. (Her Pecan pie is awesome!!!!!)

        I would loop the scene, then decide what to grab. If you want a formal meal there are a couple of restaurants right across the street, a couple of coffee shops, then there is the whole "Barracks Row" strip down 8th Street. Eastern Market and 8th St. SE is the best "scene" in the city during the days on weekends.

        1. re: drewpbalzac

          I'd add that, if you're walking north from the metro, after you pass the Eastern Maket building, take a left. You'll find a few more vendors in the pavilion in front of the public swimming pool, right next to Eastern Market, and these tend to be full-meal type vendors. Options include Indian, Cajun, crepes ... get what you want and take a seat on one of the benches. (I like the Indian best, by the way.)

    2. Absolutely the dinner you need will be at Birch and Barley. Lots of great bars to wander around to before an after, phenomenal food, incredible beers. Upstairs is Churchkey, where your husband will appreciate the cask beers. Please save room for dessert. It's stellar.

      For explorations, get to 9th and U and enjoy Ethiopian, which is fantastic in DC. My favorite is Etete. For drinks after, go to Dodge City, Dickson Wine Bar, or Vinoteca.

      For drinks, you MUST get to The Passenger, at 7th and New York. Their drinks are amazing, they have fun beers, and it's just a great spot.

      1 Reply
      1. re: katecm

        Birch and Barley Googled and it looks perfect! I am a runner, there's always room for dessert and few more k's the next morning :)
        Love the idea of Ethiopian and then various bars. How pricey is Etete?
        Thanks for the tips, I'll definitely add them to my list.

      2. I agree with all the recommendations you've gotten so far.

        Eastern Market is fun on a Sat. morning. Half smokes are a DC thing: I like the hot half smoke in natural casing that you can get at the meat market about half way down. You apply your own condiments and eat standing up for $2. The original Peregrine Espresso is nearby - great coffee. You can also get alcoholic milkshakes on 8th St. at Ted's Bulletin.

        Rasika would be a great place for you to go. It's a very inventive and modern take on Indian food - very unusual. If you go, don't miss the palak chaat. I like uhockey's write-up about it here: http://uhockey.blogspot.com/2010/05/b... You could start at the Passenger for a drink, then walk down 7th St. to Rasika. You will pass lots of places, including TangySweet yogurt, one of my favorite stops.

        Don't miss Churchkey for the best beer selection in town. Going there puts you in a neighborhood with great eats: Birch and Barley, Pearl Dive Oyster Palace, Estadio, Cork Wine Bar (for your wines by the glass), Peregrine Espresso, and others. You could also walk up 14th to U St. and turn right, then walk a few blocks to Etete for dinner.

        For wines by the glass and excellent food, Proof gets a lot of positive comments on this board (I haven't been yet.

        )

        H St. NE is another good neighborhood where there is a lot going on. I like Granville Moore's for moules and frites and a good Belgian beer selection. The Argonaut is a nice bar over there. There is a hole in the wall that sells water ice that I like as well.

        "Newest and best" sandwiches in town would be at Sundevich, near 9th and N NW. A few interesting places have popped up in this area, including Seasonal Pantry and Rogue 24.

        That's about it off the top of my head. You are doing great research and will certainly enjoy your stay!

        1 Reply
        1. re: woodleyparkhound

          research is key. with only four days (and as I'm not a huge fan of museums, unlike my partner) i want to maximize the awesome.

          thanks!

        2. GREAT request. Wish everyone would be so thorough instead of just saying "coming to DC where should I eat?" You deserve all the great responses you have been getting (and I had to laugh - it is SO true that we don't have hipsters).

          My recs (sorry but I don't know anything about beer):

          Central by Michel Richard (great food, great bar, buzzy)
          Hank's Oyster Bar (great food, great bar, great atmosphere)

          Ethiopian is a great suggestion.

          For the pork-loving husband, you might want to try the Green Pig Bistro over in Clarendon, VA. New, getting great reviews, snout-to-tail eating focused on pig.

          http://dc.eater.com/archives/2012/04/...

          5 Replies
          1. re: Just Visiting

            Re: nose-to-tail pork... another place to check out would be the recently opened The Pig on 14th St. I haven't been yet, but it sounds intriguing.

            http://dc.eater.com/places/the-pig

            1. re: woodleyparkhound

              Just took a glance at the pig menu and it looks interesting. It'll be the next place I check out. Thanks for the tip!!

            2. re: Just Visiting

              Thanks! I figure, the more specific my requests, the more on-point the responses will be. Thanks for these recommendations!

              1. re: LemonLauren

                The Standard, a great biergarten on 14th, is now doing pig's heads. Seriously.

                Re: hipsters. I had a friend visiting from NYC and we went to Rustik (I live in Bloomingdale) for brunch. She said, "This neighborhood is so cool. It's so...NPR-y." I thought that captured it.

                1. re: katecm

                  NPR-y is to DC as hipter-y is to everywhere else. love it.

            3. Proof has some really nice fish dishes, but also has other good options and a nice wine selection and a good bar. Fiola has really nice Italian with good pastas and non-pasta options, the bartender makes some great cocktails too.

              The 14th and U St. area and the 14th st area have a lot going on right now: Pearl Dive, Estadio, The Standard, Cork Wine Bar.

              1. Getting closer to our trip and trying to firm up plans. Here's what I'm thinking for meals. I'll be fitting in monuments and the National Portrait Gallery for sure (otherwise, not big on museums myself).

                Thursday Aug 16
                arrive mid-morning
                Lunch?? need somewhere central to monuments or museums, fun, cheap for lunch
                Drinks: Passenger
                Dinner: Rasika
                Dessert: Tangy Sweet

                Friday Aug 17
                Lunch: ?? (same as above)
                Dinner: Birch and Barley
                Bars Nearby: Pearl Dive, Churchkey, Estadio, Cork

                Saturday:
                Eastern Market
                Dinner (Ethopian): Etete
                Drinks: Dodge City, Dickson, Vinoteca

                Sunday:
                need one last great lunch before we leave.

                Would any of these do for lunches?
                Central
                The Pig
                Hank's
                Standard

                Also wondering if you'd endorse doing a day/half-day in Georgetown, and where to eat given my preferences, there.

                Thanks for any continuing feedback!

                29 Replies
                1. re: LemonLauren

                  Teaism is a good spot for lunch near museums.

                  1. re: LemonLauren

                    the only place I enjoy food in Georgetown is Baked and Wired :)
                    The Standard on Sunday lunch if the weather is nice would be fun. They have donuts (don't they?) and their twitter feed mentions specials or weather delays.

                    Estadio is also open for lunch/brunch on the weekend if you don't end up there after dinner.

                    1. re: LemonLauren

                      I wouldn't bother with Georgetown for any reason. At best, it is just annoying. I am in the minority here, but I've tried Baked & Wired three times and never found anything worth the calories. Everything was dry and relatively flavorless and the selection was always quite limited. I certainly wouldn't make a special trip to Georgetown to buy baked goods there. I can't think of any restaurant in Georgetown that I'd bother with if not already in the area for some other reason.

                      There are two places near or on the mall that you might consider for lunch. I am a fan of the Mitsitam Cafe in the National Museum of the American Indian. I know you said you are not a museum person, but this museum is really special. The food in the cafeteria is always interesting - it is a selection of foods of the cultures of the Americas. Not great quality, but always good. Go early to avoid the crush because the key is to wander from station to station to decide what you want.

                      The other is Oyamel, which is Mexican and I recommend it for a hot summer day because you can get many light, refreshing dishes.

                      Oh, another option for something tasty, relatively fast, and inexpensive - Nando's at the southern end of Dupont Circle. South African peri-peri chicken. If you like hot, this is a good option. Peri peri is made with bird's eye pepper.

                      1. re: Just Visiting

                        I've never had anything at Mitsitam that is worth the money or time. The line to get in can be atrocious. Some of it (like the tacos) are downright bad. Other stuff is restaurant prices wirthout the quality.

                      2. re: LemonLauren

                        Just be aware that your dates coincide with Summer Restaurant Week, which may or may not effect some of your plans.

                        http://www.restaurantweekmetrodc.org/

                        Have fun!

                        1. re: VaPaula

                          Yeah, RW is gonna force you to change plans. Rasika and Birch and Barley are both likely not going to happen since they're both completely out of tables on Opentable.

                          1. re: air

                            We live around the corner from B&B and just went - sat at the bar, had no wait around 7PM on a saturday. It was fantastic - I highly recommend trying that if you want to go.

                            1. re: Jeserf

                              Thanks for the tip - but was directly referencing reservations during Restaurant Week! If you check Opentable, all the tables are totally gone for the whole duration.

                              Is there a RW thread yet?

                              1. re: air

                                I know, I was referencing the fact that B&B has a bar in the back and bar seats at the kitchen where you don't need a reservation, restaurant week or not, so it's worth a shot if all the tables are booked.

                                Same with their outside seating, which they have weather permitting. No reservations for them, so you can snag 'em when all others are booked

                                1. re: air

                                  i already booked Birch and Barley when it was suggested a few months ago! phew!

                              2. re: air

                                will i be able to walk-in to Rasika?

                                1. re: LemonLauren

                                  yes, it's probably 10 minutes and a nice walk, too.

                                  1. re: Jeserf

                                    I meant, without reservations, do a walk-in to dine? But yay for walking :)

                                    1. re: LemonLauren

                                      oohhhh duhh! I don't know, I've never done it! There's a second Rasika now, though, so it might be worth checking that location for a reservation if you want to visit Rasika (which I recommend because it rocks)

                                      1. re: LemonLauren

                                        We've never had a problem getting a seat in the bar/lounge area (original loc). In fact, we've never eaten in the main dining area, and have eaten there multiple times, usually Th-Sat nights. Only thing is you end up eating at a table that is coffee-table height. Full menu though.

                              3. re: LemonLauren

                                Estadio is a good idea for lunch on Sunday. Standard is tasty but it can be kind of a frat party-like scene on Sunday afternoons, honestly.
                                For Saturday I would strongly urge you to consider Zenebech Injera over Etete. Etete has been slipping in my experience. I think you would enjoy Vinoteca or Dickson as wine bars. I think Vinoteca is more comfortable. Dodge City has nice beer selections but the seating is minimal and dancing takes over on Saturday nights (late).
                                For your lunches on Thursday and Friday, I would consider: Hill Country (bbq); Proof (bar special on weekdays, one entree and a glass of wine); Central would work if it's open for lunch (you'll have to check); Mitsitam cafeteria (I'm a fan); possibly Paul Bakery (yummy pastries, sandwiches are hit-or-miss). These are all around Archives/Chinatown, which is close to the National Gallery of Art/Archives/National Portrait Gallery. The other three you list (The Pig, Hanks's, Standard) are not close to any museums/monuments at all. Hank's is close to Dupont, while the other 2 are around Logan Circle (where you're headed Friday night).

                                1. re: hamster

                                  thanks for the tips! we'll be playing the bars by ear and judging by the vibe and how we feel.

                                  1. re: hamster

                                    Which would you choose for weekday lunch between Central and Proof? Price not a problem.

                                    1. re: LemonLauren

                                      I would choose Central.

                                  2. re: LemonLauren

                                    I second Teaism for lunch; it's very near the National Gallery. Central is great for lunch on weekdays. That will cost about $20-30 per person though.

                                    http://www.centralmichelrichard.com/p...

                                    I love Hank's, though it's quite busy. Arrive early if possible. Less expensive than Pearl Dive, which I also love. Great oyster po'boy and onion rings. Good cocktails.

                                    I would highly recommend The Standard for your Sun. lunch. It's one of my very favorite spots in town - in good weather. Great brisket sandwich, sausages, beer etc. and the best onion rings I've had in years. They make and serve hot doughnuts on weekends which are fantastic, if you can get them hot. (I have a thing for hot doughnuts - room temp they just aren't the same.) Hamster referred to a "frat party-like scene" on Sundays, and I get that, but to me the food is worth whatever I need to put up with in order to get it. If you arrive within the first 30 minutes or so of opening, you will likely be alone or nearly so. The frat party doesn't get going until later in the afternoon, in my experience. I recently took a couple of well-heeled and well-traveled friends from Dubai there and they LOVED it.

                                    Georgetown is missable. Lots of shopping there though -- the streets are choked with rich college kids and their parents. But if you must go, Il Canale is decent. I like their pizza. There is a recent positive review of it here: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/859053

                                    You've done a lot of good research. I'm sure you will eat well while you are here!

                                    1. re: woodleyparkhound

                                      I usually have luck sitting in at the bar area to avoid the frat-ish/hipster scene, but then you miss out on the weather (if it's nice).

                                      1. re: woodleyparkhound

                                        so funny, i don't know who told me to go to Georgetown - a rich kid, probably.
                                        thanks!

                                        1. re: LemonLauren

                                          Bandolero - Mike Isabella's new place is now open in Georgetown, I haven't been yet but friends have all enjoyed their experiences there.

                                          Most of the Georgetown hate come from jaded residents. Don't write it off just because we hate tourist. If you like window shopping, over priced drinks by the river, and people watching, spend a couple of hours down there - grabs some food at Bandolero and don't stress our biases

                                          1. re: drewpbalzac

                                            The place is worth at least one visit. The tacos are interesting but watch out for the habanero mustard on the suckling pig taco...very very spicy. Nachos were a let down as you couldn't taste the goat meat in the mess of beans. Only complaint would have to be that after spending 18 bucks on two margaritas I barely felt a buzz.

                                            1. re: shake N baik

                                              I had the same complaint about Mike Isabella's Graffiato. $9 for a TINY cocktail - and no buzz afterward, after the waiter told me before ordering that it really "packs a wallop". Uh, no. Really annoying.

                                              1. re: shake N baik

                                                How much were the tacos?

                                              2. re: drewpbalzac

                                                If you like pre-Colombian art or Byzantine art, or there happens to be a special exhibit of interest to you, then Dumbarton Oaks is a valid reason to go to Georgetown. Otherwise, it is just full of overpriced, useless shops, uninteresting food, and massive amounts of traffic. She's here for only a few days, and in August yet - a time when it is really easy to get exhausted from the heat and humidity. Why spend precious time in Georgetown when there are so many other, better things to do?

                                                1. re: Just Visiting

                                                  Or they can cab down to the Georgetown waterfront on a nice day - drink a couple of expensive beers while people watching, do some window shopping in a historic neighborhood and then cab back to mid-town, downtown, Dupont Circle or wherever else they want to go and have a chill time.
                                                  Georgetown may not be “for you” but it doesn’t mean that everyone hates it or finds it offensive. I was walking in the Dupont Circle area a couple of weeks ago when a friendly neighborhood vagrant took time away from his panhandling to walk over to a metro vent and vomit down into it. While this may seem charming to those of us who have lived here our whole lives . . .it may not be exactly what an out-of-town visitor is looking for during their precious 3-day stay.

                                                  1. re: drewpbalzac

                                                    Folks, please try to keep the focus on food, rather than general comments about neighborhoods -- those sorts of conversations get off track and tend to aggravate people.

                                        2. Here is what we have settled on, for now.

                                          Thursday
                                          Lunch: light lunch at airport on arrival? There's Wendy's and Starbucks there.

                                          Transit to downtown. Check-in to hotel and drop bags. Go for a wander to get oriented and see what we can see. From our hotel we can walk south down 14th/15th to the Mall area.

                                          Drinks/Snacks: 5pm at Oyamel - reservation made for Happy Hour!
                                          From there we can walk a bit more on the Mall (east toward Capitol).
                                          More Drinks/Snacks: Fiola ** or other suggestions?

                                          Friday
                                          AM: museums/galleries
                                          Lunch: 1PM at Central (reservation made)

                                          PM: more museums/galleries (OR hotel pool/bar depending on weather!)

                                          Drinks: Pearl Dive/BlackJack *** or other??
                                          Dinner: 8PM at Birch and Barley (reservation made)

                                          Saturday
                                          AM/Lunch: Eastern Market *** specifics to miss/skip??
                                          PM: Folger Shaskespeare Gallery and Library of Congress

                                          Drinks (before or after): Dodge City (beer) Dickson (wine) Vinoteca (wine)
                                          Dinner (Ethopian): Etete or Dukem *** or other???

                                          Sunday
                                          AM: monuments etc
                                          Lunch: **** CHOICE: Standard (outdoor Hipster Beer/BBQ thing) or Estadio

                                          Is there anything I'm missing, given the tight timelines, that's a must-do? Or any of my choices that are misguided?

                                          Last time I'll ask, I promise :)

                                          8 Replies
                                          1. re: LemonLauren

                                            edited - There's a Pavilion Cafe at the Sculpture Garden so you can get some coffee and snacks. Enjoy a free Jazz concert in the Sculpture Garden on Fridays starting at 5 as well.

                                            1. re: shake N baik

                                              The Pavilion Cafe used to be pretty decent. I was there about 3 weeks ago and it was really bad. First, the food was awful. All pre-made and you couldn't even have a choice of bread on your sandwich. If it was made with white bread, that's all you could get. Second, they no longer bring the food to the table. They give you one of those obnoxious buzzers and you have to go pick it up. Well, when it is crowded - and in the summer, it is always crowded, you have to fight your way through the lines of people backed up from the ordering counter to the front door if you picked a table on the left-hand side of the counter (as you are facing the counter) because they only have pick-up on the far end of the counter. Then you have to fight your way back to your table carrying a tray full of food.

                                              The garden is a lovely place to relax and have a bite to eat, but buy your food elsewhere and carry it over.

                                            2. re: LemonLauren

                                              get pickles on a stick at Eastern Market. The mini donuts are also a lovely treat. If you want a breakfast,head down 8th St near the Marine Barracks to Spring Mill Bread and have a breakfast sandwich - I love their bread.

                                              I would skip food at the air port. Get to the hotel and have something at the bar - if you want light, Zenten has a fantastic salad and even vegan sushi. DC doesn't have the food neighborhoods like new york or san fran, but you've done good research. You'll find yourself on 14th st a lot - grab coffee at Peregrine.

                                              1. re: LemonLauren

                                                It all sounds great. Where do we meet up?

                                                OK, this showed up in the wrong place. It was a reply to Lemon Lauren's List.

                                                1. re: LemonLauren

                                                  Eastern Market - You can find great coffee at Peregrine Espresso, very near the market. I love the DC hot half smoke in natural casing that you can get at the meat market about half way down the market. You put on condiments yourself and eat standing up. One of the great snacks/ light meals in town for $2.00. Good choices at Market Lunch also, but a long line starts forming early.

                                                  I like Etete more than Dukem, though both are very good. Someone else commented that Etete has gone down a bit lately. I haven't been in about a year.

                                                  I strongly vote for The Standard over Estadio. The Standard is much more casual, and way cheaper. I'd choose Estadio though if it's raining.

                                                  1. re: LemonLauren

                                                    The changes I would make are to dine at J&G Steakhouse (Do not let name fool you they have great fish) and it's located in the W hotel. After dinner you can head up to the POV rooftop and grab drinks while overlooking one of the best views in the city. Rasika West (the chef from Rasika moved over to their new location)As other posters have recommended the Palak Chaat is a must have! I would take out Oyamel (I would do drinks here and do dinner at Fiola) I would take out Etete and go to Rasika West. Sunday Lunch- The Source which is Wolfgang Pucks restaurant and it's located next to the Newseum.- Get the cheeseburger - It is mind-blowing. The pork belly dumplings are divine also. If you really wanted to do Ethiopian I love Ethiopic and I would swap out Birch and Barley. My itinerary is more expensive then yours but I think you will really enjoy these restaurants. Birch and Barley I would do drinks at, the food is good but not amazing.

                                                    1. re: Jeremy303

                                                      can anyone else comment on these suggestions/changes? i already have many reservations...

                                                      1. re: LemonLauren

                                                        I just went to Ethiopic for the first time and loved it. It's a strong contender for your Ethiopian meal. It's on H St. NE, which gets you into a different neighborhood, if that appeals.

                                                  2. Here's my report! http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/865364