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Sep 11, 2012 11:31 AM

Foods not to miss in D.C. area.

We will be going to Washington D.C. on vacation in a few weeks. Every area has its specialties, What are some of the dishes that are special to the D.C. area and where are the best restaurants to try them at?

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  1. DC has some of the best Ethiopian in the U.S. I like Dukem, Ethiopic and Keren.

    For fine dining, I recommend Rogue24, Komi and Rasika.

    Also, check out Fast Gourmet for some sandwiches to go when you go visit the monuments. And when you're there pick up a bucket or two of their lemon grass coleslaw.

    20 Replies
    1. re: ipsedixit

      Definitely Ethiopian and Rasika. If you give us more of your tastes we could probably recommend more, but these are two of the most special. And if you enjoy cocktails, fit in two hours at Columbia Room, or at least The Passenger (which is the same place, but without the private room and prepared menu)

      1. re: katecm

        I'm sorry that I wasn't more clear in what I was asking. Different regions of the country have foods that they are famous for. In Chicago you would want to try the deep dish pizza, in Boston the clam chowder, in Maine the lobster and etc. Since I've never been to the D.C. area (actually we will be staying in Arlington, VA) I wanted to try foods that are regional specialties in that area but I don't know what the specialties of the region are. We also like trying some of the more unusual ethnic cuisines (not the ubiquitous Chinese, Mexican and Italian). However, I was mostly hoping to try whatever regional cuisine the area is famous for.

        1. re: MargV208

          Soul food. Go to Oohhs and Aahhs. A hole in the wall conveniently located across the street for a metro stop. Get the shrimp with grits, lemon pepper wings, and the broiled crabcake. Broiled takes much , much longer than the fried, but is so worth it.

          For the upscale version, go to Vidalia. Excellent, very expensive.

          1. re: MargV208

            So where in Arlington will you be staying? Will you have a car or depend on metro? We have fabulous Vietnamese and Korean in NoVA but we need to know your constraints:)

            1. re: rHairing

              We will be staying near the Iwo Jima monument but we will have a car.We plan on taking the metro in to D.C. every day.But we are very willing to drive to nearby suburbs in the evening for dinner. I've never been too fond of Vietnames food but like most other cuisines. My favorite cuisine is middle eastern. I would like to try a Moroccan restaurant if there is a good one in the area. We tend to prefer a casual atmosphere rather than one that is more fancy and upscale.

              1. re: MargV208

                There is a lot of middle eastern cuisine in the DC area, and several Moroccan restaurants. The best of the later are probably Marrakesh Restaurant, 617 New York Ave. NW, Washington, DC (closest METRO stops are probably Gallery Place or Mt. Vernon Sq.) and Taste of Morocco 3211 N. Washington Blvd., Arlington, VA (Clarendon Metro stop)

                For middle eastern food, I think that the best is Zaytinya 701 Ninth St. NW, Washington, DC (Gallery Place Metro stop)

                1. re: dinwiddie

                  Just make sure you don't go to Marrakech in AdMo. That place sucks.

                  1. re: dinwiddie

                    Have you ever tried Persian food? Very hard to find nation wide. I've only been to Shamshiry in Tyson's Corner. Looks like a dive but is full of Persian people. My best friend's mother's best friend's childhood chef is the chef there. Get soltani or kubideh kabobs if you have never had it and Drink doogh. They serve the tahdig with their rice too!

                    1. re: melpy

                      Thanks for the recommendation. Persian is our favorite cuisine. Here in Chicago we go to a persian restaurant (Reza's) at least once a month. It will be great to try a different Persian place for comparison.

                      1. re: MargV208

                        I love it too. I've been to five restaurants nation wide and I've never had a bad meal.

                      2. re: melpy

                        The problem with a place that serves everyone the tahdig is that it means they are cheating. It is no longer the bottom of the rice pot (which is in limited supply), but they are making it separately from the rice in order to assure that everyone gets some. It's not as tasty as the real thing.

                        Shamshirry is pretty much a kabob-only place, so it's a limited idea of Persian cuisine. And I wish I could say the kabobs were good.

                        Rose Kabob in Vienna is nearby and much better, plus they have some really terrific stews such as gheymeh (excellent), fessenjoun, gormeh sabzi, and also lamb shank. Order the garlic torshi. Call to reserve the tahdig in advance.

                    2. re: MargV208

                      You are within a mile of four of the Ray's family of restaurants:

                      Not a unique type of cuisine, but very well done - and one of the Hell Burger outposts (which is now another concept) is where Obama took Premier Medvedev for a burger - "not quite healthy, but it is very tasty."

                      1. re: MargV208

                        If you like Middle Eastern, then the top spot is Jerusalem, a Palestinian restaurant in Falls Church. Definitley get the makluba with lamb, and the the masukhan. Add baba ganouj, felafel, it's all good.


                        1. re: Steve

                          If makluba is the upside down rice and lamb dish, I second the reco for Jerusalem! Palestinian friend took me and that was his favorite dish there.

                    3. re: MargV208

                      In Northern Virginia, Bolivian is probably the most unique cuisine that sets apart this area.

                      For dinner, I recommend getting the silpancho at Sibarita in Arlington. Silpancho is a thin layer of beef into which breadcrumbs are pounded until the beef becomes translucent. They also have a lamb version which I have yet to try.

                      My favorite place, Luzmilla's, is open for lunch only. Order a saltena, humintas, sopa de mani, and a mocochincho to drink. It is located in Falls Church, VA.

                      1. re: Steve

                        +1 on Bolivian. I wanted to suggest that the OP seeks out saltenas.

                        1. re: Steve

                          I definitely have to second Luzmilla's. It's a tiny hole in the wall so much so that you should prepared to share a table, but the food is without question amazing, and ridiculously cheap on top of it. I also third the seeking out Saltenas, especially at Luzmilla's.

                        2. re: MargV208

                          You've gotten what you've asked for in spades throughout this thread. However, I do want to speak up about Chinese in that we do have a strong showing of Sichuan fare.

                          If you want to try, there's one in Ballston (metro stop), site below. It's a sister shop to my favorite place, Hong Kong Palace (mis-named due to not wanting to pay for a new sign).


                          1. re: MargV208

                            DC has no real regional specialties - except half-smokes. It is a town of outsiders and transients. Until 25 years ago we didn't even do fine dining well. Do not bother trying to find our regional specialties and go ahead and explore the suggestion you find here and eat well. Ethiopian, Peruvian chicken, the scene around Eastern Market, Ben's Chili Bowl,
                            Dupont Circle farmers market, the Jose Andres empire . . . all make up the DC regional scene.

                            Come visit - explore - and have fun.

                        3. re: ipsedixit

                          Fast Gourmet is so good, it should be illegal. Can't recommend highly enough. Do not miss.

                          Another sandwich spot to check out is Taylor Gourmet. Really good pork/broccoli rabe, among others. I need to get back there soon.

                        4. If you are willing to travel to the suburbs, we also have outstanding Vietnamese food (I suggest Huong Viet (cash only)) in the Eden Center and some very good Chengdu (modern Szechuan) at Hong Kong Palace. We also have an extensive Korean community in the 'burbs.

                          28 Replies
                          1. re: PollyG

                            I am not sure that anything is more 'Iconic' then Ben's Chili bowl, not the best by any means but it has been here since the early 60s, one of the few places on U to survive the riots. Very much worth experiencing at least once. If you want something more Ethnic, try Pho' 75 by west fall's church, been told by a couple of Vietnamese friends that it is the best Pho they have had outside their own country.

                            1. re: Always_Eating_Ramen

                              Going to Ben's Chili Bowl is so sad when other great places are so close. The half smokes are not nearly as good as what you could easily fry up at home. If you really want try a half smoke with little effort, they are sold at all the hot dog carts in the city. For an upgrade, The Passenger serves much better food all around.

                                1. re: Steve

                                  The dog carts in DC don't sell Manger's natural casing halfsmokes. They're just big bloated bologna style hotdogs masquerading as halfsmokes.

                                  1. re: monkeyrotica

                                    Agreed. Those carts must all be owned by the same outfit. They're nasty. You pretty much have to go to Baltimore to get a decent hot dog.

                                    1. re: flavrmeistr

                                      G&A is a decent dive, but I can't see driving to Baltimore for a hotdog. Pit beef, maybe, but not a hotdog. I'll do it for Pollock Jonnys, but that's not really a hotdog. DC3 can be hit or miss, but their Jersey Ripper is pretty decent. Bonus points for carrying Moxie.

                                      There's a new Chicago dog place in Falls Church that seems legit. Looking forward to giving their Italian beef a try.





                                      1. re: flavrmeistr

                                        They're not owned by the same outfit, but I believe they have the same meat supplier.

                                        1. re: pgm123

                                          We stopped at a hot dog stand near GW the other night after something at Lisner. The guy actually grilled the hot dogs and had some kind of good topping he was keeping hot on the grill, too, maybe just an onion mix. Sign on back of the cart said "Manoush will satisfy your ego, super ego, and id" (I probably have his name wrong, actually), and he did wax philosophical and poetic while grilling. Same hot dog as other stands, I'm sure (per pgm123), but tasted better (well, I only had a bite). I was wondering if he's a known character around campus there, anybody know?

                                          1. re: mselectra

                                            Manouch has been peddling hotdogs in Foggy Bottom for a very long time. I believe he predates the food truck trend by several years. Grilled not boiled. Legit.


                                  2. re: Always_Eating_Ramen

                                    Bens Chili Bowl is a joke and the food is terrible! If you want a great Chili Dog go to the Vienna Inn in Vienna, VA

                                    1. re: tallvagal

                                      They're terrible, and always have been. Suitable only for drunk fuel.

                                      1. re: tallvagal

                                        Oh good grief...they're both cheap chili dogs. I actually like Ben's better because I think the chili has a bit more depth and I prefer the half-smoke, plus, when it comes to topping to a dog, I don't mind if it's a bit watery. However, at the end of the day, the two chili dogs are far more similar than you suggest. It's a chili dog. It's best eaten drunk with little care to how it's going to make you feel five hours later, nor much in the way of over-analyzing or critical thought. To some extent, they both suck, and suck about equally because, well, it's a chili dog. I honestly am not THAT into hot dogs, but if I have one I'd prefer it be a Hebrew National topped with mustard, onions, and relish...nothing else. I like chili, but I tend to like it by itself, topped with some onion and cheese. I generally don't like chili on hot dogs, omelets, hash browns, man 'n name it. HOwever, in the interest of trying some iconic cheap eats, I've downed number of chili dogs. I will say this about Ben's and The Vienna Inn: They both make better chili dogs than Sonic, or that venerable Atlanta chili dog shrine, The Varsity.

                                        1. re: The Big Crunch

                                          I'm speaking of the chili dogs at the Vienna Inn. They've served the same mealy, watery, nasty hot dogs for at least the last forty years.

                                          1. re: flavrmeistr

                                            I'd only go to the Vienna Inn if I was standing right in front and was drunk and hungry.

                                            1. re: monavano

                                              The hot brisket sandwich isn't bad. Mostly, Vienna Inn is a beer joint that's been around for a very long time.

                                              1. re: flavrmeistr

                                                It may just be a beer joint, but the beer selection is pretty weak.

                                                1. re: The Big Crunch

                                                  It's always been about volume. For decades, the Vienna Inn sold more beer than any other retail outlet in the State of Virginia, specifically Budweiser. When you wanted a few kegs for a party, Vienna Inn is where you went.

                                                  "I may be slow, but I'm not very good."---Jimmy Rulapaugh

                                                  1. re: flavrmeistr

                                                    Not all beer joints serve skunky, hoppy, seasonal micro-brews. Some places are shot and a beer joints where you go to catch a little buzz - tell lies - and flirt with the staff. Vienna Inn is great for that.

                                                    1. re: drewpbalzac

                                                      I get a chili halfsmoke at Ben's when I want some nostalgia. I get a halfsmoke at Union Meats when I want a cheap lunch. I get a chilidog and Shiner Bock at Hard Times when I want to relax. It's all about what you're in the mood for and how much you're willing to pay. In that way, chilidogs are a lot like brothels.

                                                      1. re: drewpbalzac

                                                        Agreed. Vienna Inn is one of the last of the breed. Gone are Frank's, Whitey's, Wilson Tavern, Keyhole Inn, Shamrock, P&P and countless others. Vienna Inn, the JV and the Quarterdeck are about it.

                                                        1. re: flavrmeistr

                                                          I miss Franks... What a wonderful dive in every essence of the term. It had a very real edgy Bar Fly feel to it that was genuine and not at all artificial hipster chic. And the beer was ridiculously cheap.

                                                            1. re: flavrmeistr

                                                              The Tune Inn on the Hill is still pretty true to form

                                                              1. re: drewpbalzac

                                                                The Tune is indeed just about the last one... my biggest fear when the reno'd after the fire was it would get 'cleaned up'

                                                                  1. re: Dennis S

                                                                    I miss Sherril's Bakery - great for picking up donuts for the office before work and cheap lunches with proper thin and runny milkshakes

                                          2. re: tallvagal

                                            Not sure how Vienna Inn can be recommended for food at all. It's an experience, certainly, but not sure we'd want to steer someone from out of town there for food.

                                      2. DC doesn't really have any "regional food" except maybe the half smoke. For that you should go to Ben's Chili Bowl. As others have said, not the best, but definitely the most famous. Anybody who is anybody has eaten there while in DC. (The only folks who get to eat free are Pres. Obama and Bill Cosby).

                                        What DC is know for is the wide variety of ethnic food available. You name it, you can find it somewhere. Best place in the country to get Ethiopian food. Wonderful Thai, Vietnamese, and Korean restaurants are easy to find. Indian food, both fancy and family are here., etc.

                                        If you are looking for "regional food" and not necessarily DC food, blue crabs are always a great bet.

                                        4 Replies
                                        1. re: dinwiddie

                                          Pickin' crabs is definitely a regional specialty, though nowhere nearly as serious as Baltimore. In the DC area, The Quarterdeck in Arlington is the place to be. Also get their mesquite shrimp.

                                          1. re: Steve

                                            DC used to be equally as famous for crabs as Baltimore. Back when we still had any crabs, that is. The crabs are gone, along with much of the native population, culture and character that Baltimore still enjoys

                                            1. re: flavrmeistr

                                              yeah, given how transient DC is, there really never was a 'regional' food outside of blue crab, oysters and half-smokes. and even the shellfish often come from somewhere else anymore.

                                              roll with the punches. look for these things but accept the other suggestions as well.

                                            2. re: Steve

                                              Steve has it right. You will be in Arlington already, the Quarterdeck is the place to go. And the crabs are starting to come in nice and heavy here in the bay. (although I'm not sure where the Quaterdeck gets their crabs) It amazes me how many people don't really think about crabs after Labor Day, when Sept & October are the best times for crabs.....This is the time of year we eat crabs at least once a week....

                                          2. Yum watercress at Ruan Thai in Wheaton.

                                            1. If you're going to be here during the weekend of October 6, there is a Russian Bazaar.

                                              As previously mentioned, DC doesn't really have any specialties (except for "pork" ;)


                                              Maryland's specialties would be steamed crabs, crab cakes, oysters, Southern Maryland Stuffed Ham, Maryland Fried Chicken, Smithfield Island Cake.

                                              Virginia is known for its country hams, Smithfield and Edwards. Also, Virginia has been producing some very good quality wines.

                                              Except for the stuffed ham and Maryland fried chicken, you can find the other specialties at restaurants in DC.

                                              11 Replies
                                              1. re: Vidute

                                                to clarify - MD fried chicken is very good, but it's not breaded like KFC. just dredged in a flour/rub mix. it is good. but it is its own creation. (just heading off disappointment if Popeye's was expected)

                                                  1. re: Vidute

                                                    I never want to put words in the mouths of others, but had to speak up. I was surprised (but happily) the first time.

                                                    1. re: hill food

                                                      We're here to help each other, especially on the local boards. Sometimes I don't even think to provide an description because I see the food, or whatever, as being a given.

                                                  2. re: hill food

                                                    Thank you so much for explaining what Maryland fried chicken is. I assumed it was just fried chicken like Popeye's or KFC. Many people have mentioned the half smokes and I had to look that up on the internet since I had no idea what it was. Its easy for locals to forget that what is obviious to them can be a mystery to out of towners. :)

                                                    1. re: MargV208

                                                      Can someone recommend a good place for MD fried chicken?? I've lived in Maryland for years and I'm sorry to say I've never had it!!!! Ouch!

                                                      1. re: piafoodie

                                                        sorry, there are plenty, but my favorite (Reeve's) closed years ago.

                                                        1. re: piafoodie

                                                          Gertrude's inside the Baltimore Museum of Art has Maryland Fried Chicken on Tuesday evenings as part of their Tuesdays with Gertie. I last had it about 3 years ago, but I remember it as being very tasty.


                                                          Friendly Farms in Upperco, Md serves Maryland fried chicken, although it's named as such. The chicken just has a light dusting of flour, no batter. You order your entree and the multiple sides (think Korean banchan) are brought to the table family style. They also have a pond where you can take a walk around and feed the ducks and geese.


                                                          1. re: piafoodie

                                                            Some folks swear by Royal Farms fried chicken, but I'm a fan of Roy Rogers because it's the same recipe Hot Shoppes used in their Pappy Parker Brand fried chicken in the 1970s. Your best bet is to find a good amish market that fries in lard.


                                                      2. re: Vidute

                                                        Sorry to be picky but it is "Smith Island Cake" not "Smithfield Island"

                                                        1. re: drewpbalzac

                                                          You're not being picky, you're being correct. I guess I had smithfield ham on the brain! Thank you for picking up on my mistake so that anyone who might be interested will know what to ask/look for. :)