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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. http://www.fast-gourmet.com/index.htm

    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: http://raysthesteaks.com/

                      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.

                          30 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

                                Boundary Stone has a KILLER half smoke they get from 13th Street Meats.

                                1. re: katecm

                                  Thanks for the rec. Must check them out.

                                  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 cheese...you 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. :)

                                                        3. Actually, there is a DC food specialty. Senate Bean Soup.
                                                          If you can, get a reservation at the Senate Dining Room. If you're unable, The Southside Buffet in Dirksen Basement Southside has the bean soup along with Senate Fried Chicken. Here's the link to the current buffet menu.


                                                          Here's the link to Senate Dining Services.


                                                          3 Replies
                                                          1. re: Vidute

                                                            and it's always fascinating how many corners and places you as a wanderer can stumble into. want to find a roomful of broken furniture waiting repair? want to see the private subway (but they won't let you ride that) signage shops, oddball committee meeting rooms you just know are only assigned to junior members?

                                                            and the House side may very well have the best $11 men's haircut in DC while one eavesdrops on lobbyists discussing current policy and admires photos of every major public figure of the last 40 years, photographed in the room you're in.

                                                            1. re: hill food

                                                              Once upon a time, the Rayburn Cafeteria had one of the best short order grill cooks to ever run a flat top. Watching the morning crew work the breakfast line was a thing of beauty . . . now it is just a drab food station based grab and grub.

                                                              1. re: drewpbalzac

                                                                I've heard that too. the places I've seen look more appropriate for the really cheesy visitor's center at Mount Vernon.

                                                          2. As others have said, the transient nature of the town may have left it lacking in a distinct specialty. Sadly, the half-smoke may be our most iconic food. Try it, but don't expect much. FWIW, I think Ben's really does have wonderful chili, at least as far as topping chili dogs and half-smokes.

                                                            I guess the other thing that you see everywhere are crab cakes, which are really more of a MD thing, but given how intertwined the whole region is, are ubiquitous in DC as well. However, they differ wildly, with some being broiled and some fried, some having almost no filler and some having more veggies and breadcrumbs than crab, etc... I've had some wonderful crab cakes at Kinkeads and the last time i was at Pearl Dive I ate some terrific crab cakes. It's worth noting however that a good crab cake is usually not cheap :(

                                                            17 Replies
                                                            1. re: The Big Crunch

                                                              Thank you to everyone for giving me such great information.

                                                              1. re: The Big Crunch

                                                                After spending years on Chowhound, this is the first time I've heard anyone say something good about the chili at Ben's.

                                                                1. re: Steve

                                                                  It's become such a tired trend to bash Ben's. I'm not exactly a connoisseur of chili dogs, but given what a Ben's half-smoke is (basically a big chili dog) I really don't see why folks hate the chili. Would it be good in a bowl by itself? No, because it's too watery. But as a topping for a dog, I've had much worse, including at such vaunted old school chili dogs shrines as The Varsity, which I never liked in all my years in Atlanta.

                                                                  1. re: The Big Crunch

                                                                    It's been a tired trend on Chowhound for about nine years. Recommending Ben's to tourists has been a tired trend for a lot longer.

                                                                    I have to admit I like Ben's. But it takes me little effort to get there. For a Chowhound coming in from out of town, taking time out from their routine, wanting to know the best places to eat, willing to go out of their way for great food, I think it's a shame to recommend Ben's compared to other places in the neighborhood such as Oohhs and Aahhs. It may be historic, but it's just not that good. Plenty of visiting Chowhounds have wasted a meal plus time and money getting up there only to be faced with "watery" chili and "I've had worse." That's not what people are looking for on Chowhound.

                                                                    1. re: Steve

                                                                      Old news, but happy to see someone else speak up about Ben's.

                                                                      Try Eastern Market, The Standard, or DC 3

                                                                        1. re: monkeyrotica

                                                                          Yep, and burger delite's!
                                                                          Great for breakfast!

                                                                    2. re: The Big Crunch

                                                                      I recently went to Bens and the service was TERRIBLE, the food was TERRIBLE and I will never go back. Again, if you want a good Chili Dog go to the Vienna Inn in Vienna, VA.

                                                                      1. re: tallvagal

                                                                        Vienna Inn doesn't serve halfsmokes.

                                                                        If you want a good halfsmoke and don't want to deal with Ben's, Union Meats in Eastern Market serves them fresh.

                                                                    3. re: Steve

                                                                      I like Ben's - Ilked Ben's 30 years ago - and I like it now. I liked it after sweating myself silly at a Trouble Funk show and and I liked it after moshing at the original 930 club.

                                                                      I like to run up there for lunch a couple of times of month and I like to take my kids up there for lunch now.

                                                                      It is a greasy spoon and hot dog shack, to hold them to some sort of standard is absurd. They do a good job at serving what they serve and have helped build the character of the city.

                                                                      God bless the Ali family, and may their little neighborhood joint remain a part of our collective lives for generations to come.

                                                                      1. re: drewpbalzac

                                                                        Want a good sausage or hot dog?
                                                                        DC3 off Penn Ave SE.
                                                                        Ben's is ok if you are drunk, out late, or just don't care it cost $8 for a $1 sausage that may or may not be what you "remember" from last time: IMHO.
                                                                        Been eating DC half smokes since 1960 something.
                                                                        At one point they, Ben"s, was good, today, basically a tourist trap.
                                                                        Crap alert: They can step up the fare every now and again, but tourist usually will eat sawdust just to say they went to Ben's. I think it is mandatory for every "Must Eat" tourist visit, like fisherman's wharf in SF.
                                                                        Want a good half smoke?
                                                                        Try the passenger on 7th street NW.
                                                                        Good hotdog: DC3
                                                                        Really want what used be been old style half smoke?
                                                                        Cook your own. You can buy em 5 at a time for $4.50
                                                                        B.K. Millers

                                                                        1. re: RobertM


                                                                          I have nothing to add to this conversation, I just wanted to say that.

                                                                          1. re: RobertM

                                                                            I thought the kimchi dog at The Passenger was superior to the Seoul Kimchi dog served at DC3. But if I'm out late and want a half smoke I'm going to Manouch cart and getting the half smoke with everything which includes his famous GW sauce.

                                                                      2. re: The Big Crunch

                                                                        where would you recommend getting crab cakes that are broiled (not fried) with minimum filler (breadcrumbs)?
                                                                        thank you!

                                                                        1. re: bruinike

                                                                          Oohhs and Aahhs, a soul food joint, takes 35 minutes for broiled, and boy are they worth it.



                                                                          1. re: bruinike

                                                                            If ever near PAX, then Clarke's Landing does a great broiled crab cake. Also picking up one at Thompson's seafood corner and broiling at home may be even better.

                                                                        2. Kabob House right up from your hotel in Clarendon has great Persian food and Mala Tang at Virginia Square is awesome Szechuan hot pot. Also recommend Liberty Tavern for locally sourced ingredients and solid cooking. The Green Pig, also in Clarendon has been getting good reviews.

                                                                          1. Many posts on this thread but figured I would throw my two cents in. I didn't appreciate the food in DC as much until I left the area and began to miss it, especially the seafood. Here in the Midwest we don't find much good seafood. DC does not have too many regional dishes, but when I get back these are the place that are always on my list:

                                                                            Middle Eastern Food: I agree Zaytina in Penn Quarter, also, Lebanese Taverna is my tried and true go to Lebanese place. They have about 5 restaurants in the area, one in Pentagon Row near where you will be staying.

                                                                            Other local chains that produce good stable food: Clydes/Old Ebbit Grill- This is one of my favorite Maryland crab cakes, and if you are going to DC definitely make sure you get a good crab cake. Also, any of the Great American restaurants are pretty solid for a good meal or brunch.
                                                                            There are a lot of great Thai places, one of my favorite is Bangkok 54 in Arlington
                                                                            For casual kebobs: Moby Dick
                                                                            Crabs: Captain Pells in Fairfax wins out for me, but the Quarterdeck is a close 2nd.

                                                                            Are you looking for casual or upscale? Most of the restaurants suggested are good meals but not fancy meals.

                                                                            I haven't been in DC, but Art Smiths restaurant here in Chicago is great, I assume his restaurant there would be pretty good.

                                                                            Definitely go to Bens though, it is a DC staple

                                                                            1. If you are staying in Arlington, then you should really try to get to the Eden Center as mentioned. Everyone has their favorite places within it, mine is currently Rice Paper. But there are lots of options. I also like Green Pig Bistro, Screwtop Wine Bar, Lyon Hall and Liberty Tavern in Arlington, but they don't have any specific specialties.

                                                                              I think Michel Richard is kind of a DC specialty, as is Jose Andres (although both are branching out now) so I think in a way Central and Jaleo are fairly special in that way. I also think the cooking at Rasika is unique to other traditional Indian food and worth a try. We also have a bevy of Neapolitan pizza places- Red Rocks, Two Amy's, Il canale, La Forchetta, Orso, Pupatella, etc etc, so that is a strange item that we kind of happen to have as a specialty for a reason that I am just not sure of.

                                                                              You might check out the Eastern Market and/or Union Market which will have interesting items.

                                                                              1. Steak and cheese sub at Mario's in Arlington. That's one of the very few things that you can't get anywhere else.

                                                                                17 Replies
                                                                                1. re: flavrmeistr

                                                                                  Second Mario's. Nothing like what you'd find in Philly. Thicker cut steak with a nice bite and shredded cabbage make it more like a grinder than a sub.

                                                                                  1. re: flavrmeistr

                                                                                    I've always been partial to the cheeseburger sub with everything (except mayo).

                                                                                    1. re: Steve

                                                                                      Friday's are drive to work days, and I now work in Arlington.
                                                                                      Guess I just have to roll back the clock and try that cheeseburger sub, again!
                                                                                      Potomac yards, or off Wilson?

                                                                                      1. re: RobertM

                                                                                        The one across from Potomac Yards is Marino's; the one off Wilson is Mario's. The reason they're spelled different but have an identical menus is a long acrimonious story filled with sighs and grease. I've found the subs at the latter to be superior to the former.

                                                                                        1. re: monkeyrotica

                                                                                          Taking my Lipitor as we speak, heading to Mario's Monday.

                                                                                          1. re: RobertM

                                                                                            It's huge, yet somehow I always want more. A Lipitor chaser, I like that idea.

                                                                                          2. re: monkeyrotica

                                                                                            There is another genuine Mario's location at Lee Highway and Gallows Road in Merrifield. It's right up there with the original on Wilson Blvd., except that the pizza is ROUND instead of square. What is the world coming to?

                                                                                            1. re: flavrmeistr

                                                                                              Here I thought I was going to be the first to mention that the Steak and Cheese served at Mario's, Al's (Roman, I believe) and the Broiler is nothing like a Philly Cheesesteak. There have been gastronomic tomes written on this website that are incredibly rich with local history if you search the branch for them. My only quibble with Mario's is that they tend to put sweet pickles on it, which is a bit offputting.
                                                                                              Too bad all the take out blue crab steamers that I remember from the early 80's have closed down. There used to be one in north old town Alexandria that was pretty good and another one closer to my old campus at Univ of Maryland.
                                                                                              The Quarterdeck is the last crab house in Arlington that I know of and it is way more expensive than crabs used to be.

                                                                                              1. re: Ziv

                                                                                                You don't have to get the pickles. For me, the pickles and hots make it.

                                                                                                1. re: flavrmeistr

                                                                                                  Same here. You need something sweet/acidic to cut the richness of the cheese and meat.

                                                                                                2. re: Ziv

                                                                                                  Do you think maybe the reason Quarterdeck is so expensive is that it's the only game in town? Supply and demand, don't you know.

                                                                                                  I'm reminded of the story of the lunch wagon owner who retired in 1915 after serving sandwiches in Connecticut since the 1880s. He was lamenting how he used to make a tidy profit off his 5-cent egg sandwiches when he first started but that, even though he raised the price to 15 cents, he was barely making ends meet, what with customers demanding a slice of onion on their sandwich and drowning it in condiments.

                                                                                            2. re: RobertM

                                                                                              Right now, Rocklands in Arlington is hitting on all cylinders. Better than it's been in years. I am addicted to the chopped pork sandwich. The pork egg rolls are especially satisfying.

                                                                                              1. re: Steve

                                                                                                I'm glad someone else has noticed that Rocklands in Arlington is really superb right now. If I sit down and think about what one dish I'd like to have anywhere in the DC area, the brisket sandwich is always at or near the top of the list.

                                                                                                1. re: Mississippi Snopes

                                                                                                  Ok, that settles it, I must finally try the brisket sandwich there. Have you tried the brisket sandwich at Wagshal's? Not smoked on site, of course, but it is serious.

                                                                                                  1. re: Steve

                                                                                                    The brisket sandwich at the Wisconsin Ave. was always pretty good.

                                                                                                    1. re: flavrmeistr

                                                                                                      Wow, I hadn't heard anyone mention the Wisconsin Restaurant (on Wisconsin Ave,) since the 70s.

                                                                                                      1. re: Steve

                                                                                                        I meant the Rocklands on Wisconsin.

                                                                                        2. I skimmed this thread so forgive me if these have been mentioned.
                                                                                          Pollo- pick a Pollo Peruvian chicken restaurant in NoVa. A delicious blend of spices on delicious cheap chicken.
                                                                                          Pho 75 on Wilson Blvd.
                                                                                          Ray's Hell Burger on Wilson Blvd.

                                                                                          All really good and really cheap!

                                                                                          1 Reply
                                                                                          1. re: monavano

                                                                                            Boy, many of my fav meals right there in one post. My family laughs because I can sit paralyzed for several minutes in the car at Skyline pondering whether I'd rather have Edy's chicken or pho at Golden Cow for lunch. Look right, look left, repeat, sigh. My son suggests first one, then the other (pho first, chicken for dessert).

                                                                                          2. What about pupusas? Isn't there a sizable Salvadoran population by Wheaton or some such? Not that Wheaton should ever be visited, save for those interested in escalator superlatives, but ...pupusas? Where's their roost?

                                                                                            6 Replies
                                                                                            1. re: BuildingMyBento

                                                                                              My favorite papusas in DC are at El Don, way up 14th St., NW. In Maryland, Samantha's are superlative. In NoVa, Taqueria El Charrito Caminante.

                                                                                              1. re: BuildingMyBento

                                                                                                I like Irene's in Wheaton - I hope they are still fabulous. At this point, it's been a few years since I've been.

                                                                                                1. re: BuildingMyBento

                                                                                                  Wait a minute... BuildingMyBento, are you saying Wheaton should never be visited, except for those who dig insane escalators?

                                                                                                  Two of the best Thai places in DC are up there, as well as an insanely good ramen place (every bit as good, IMO, as the vaunted Toki Underground). Full Key is a first-rate Hong-Kong style place with terrific soy chicken, roast duck, chow fun, and shrimp dumpling soup. Max's Kosher is one of the best delis in the region, and makes, IMO, the best falafel in the DC metro area. Oh, and Pollo Rico, the best Peruvian chicken in the area, as well as Super Chicken, which offers a number of delicious Peruvian dishes. And then there's Saigonese, which makes excellent bahn mi (the second best I've had in the region). There's also an H Mart (giant Asian grocery store) which, in addition to excellent Asian goods, has terrific produce, good seafood, and a small-but-yummy Korean restaurant located inside. Oh, and Moby Dick, also in downtown Wheaton, turns out some terrific sushi. Hell, even though it's over-priced, Woo Mi Garden is a decent enough Korean BBQ place if you don't feel like driving down to Annandale.

                                                                                                  And yes, Irene's makes excellent pupusas.

                                                                                                  I get some good-natured ribbing from my friends when I say this, but in terms of quality, diversity, and value, Wheaton is, IMO the best foodie "neighborhood" in the DC region. I lived down the road in Silver Spring for nearly a decade before moving to Logan Circle with my GF this past spring, and honestly, for all its trendy buzz, the dining options are superior in Wheaton. I really miss being able to drive ten minutes down the road and grab some Pollo Rico, or stop in for floating market soup at Nava, or just pick up a whole mess of roast duck from Full Key.

                                                                                                  1. re: The Big Crunch

                                                                                                    I'm totally with The Big Crunch on the wonders of Wheaton - especially re: Ren's Ramen. I like Ren's much, much better than Toki Underground. If I lived closer, I'd be at Ren's Ramen at least weekly.

                                                                                                    Oh yeah ... and there is an H Mart there.

                                                                                                2. Coming late to this party, but an interesting discussion There are good restaurants in DC, but this is not a town known for haute cuisine. That said, it is not worth wasting time on Ben's, which is good diner food and nothing more. DC is about trendy more than about quality, so Ben's is now all the rage as it is in a now trendy part of town and Obama ate there (it's been around for decades)

                                                                                                  DC has some decent restaurants with some creative chefs. Art and Soul near the Capital is very interesting, especially now that the chef developed diabetes and overhauled the menu. Food Wine & Co in Bethesda has made a passion about mussels. It all depends on what you want.

                                                                                                  DC does have some decent delicatessen, which is due to some family delis that have been in business for decades, Loeb's downtown does remind one of Katz' in NY, for instance.

                                                                                                  I would be interested in others' favorites in town

                                                                                                  11 Replies
                                                                                                  1. re: law_doc89

                                                                                                    Loeb's doesn't remind me of anywhere I'd like to eat. The newly opened DGS Deli is downtown's version of Katz's. Deli City on Bladensburg Rd. in NE DC is a must for deli fans. Central serves an excellent corned beef sandwich at lunch only.

                                                                                                      1. re: law_doc89

                                                                                                        What is trendy about Deli City?

                                                                                                        1. re: Steve

                                                                                                          DGS is new trendy fusion rather than authentic. Loeb's has its difficulties, especially with the government having kicked them out of the Import Export Bank building, but it is an authentic Jewish Deli,

                                                                                                          1. re: law_doc89

                                                                                                            There is nothing trendy about serving kasha varnishkas,matzoh ball soup, or borscht. As someone whose grandmother ran a deli in Brooklyn, I am happy to have a place like DGS that cares about the food they serve. I am thrilled with the corned beef at Deli City, and so far I am happy to eat at DGS. I only care if its delicious or not.

                                                                                                            Now, I wish it was less expensive, but considering it's open for dinner, it can make an excellent choice when I need to eat downtown but don't want to pay for a full meal. I go to the theatre often, and this would make a great choice for a quick and delicious pre-theatre meal.

                                                                                                            In terms of Loeb's being authentic, then I am not sure what you mean. I just took a look at their Facebook page, and I am confused about which is more authentic: the sausage gumbo soup, the Italian Wedding Soup, Crabcake sandwich, lobster roll, or the New England Clam Chowder?

                                                                                                            1. re: Steve

                                                                                                              Let me be the typical MOT and disagree with you both!

                                                                                                              Loeb's is pretty good (I like their chopped liver), and their sandwiches are very generous, but as Steve notes, no authentic Jewish deli is going to serve any of those things. So at Loeb's I would say, forget thinking it's a real Jewish deli, just try one of the "traditional sounding" (for want of a better term). Sandwiches.

                                                                                                              As for DGS, I'd say it's a case of being trendy just like my daughter's name is now extremely trendy, even though she was named for my wife's grandmother and until recently, her name was generally affixed only to old Eastern European ladies. Yes, dishes like borscht are very old, but DGS doesn't pretend to make them like Bubbe did. Having said that, my first visit to DGS was generally very pleasing and I will be going back for brunch on Saturday.

                                                                                                    1. re: law_doc89

                                                                                                      I wouldn't say Ben's is all the rage "now". The place has been a tourist mecca since the '90s when Oprah gushed about it.

                                                                                                      I've been to Food and Wine a couple of times. It was decent, but nothing special. The dishes were fine for what they were, but the menu is pretty generic.

                                                                                                      As others have said, DC has some good ethnic food in the suburbs that are also good values for folks like me who eat on a limited budget. From what I've heard, Rasika, Minibar, Citronelle, Komi, and Marcels (to name a few) are among the better restaurants in the country. From what I understand, if you have the bank account for it, there are some truly amazing places in DC to eat, so I feel like blanket statements suggesting DC generally has weak restaurants and is all about being trendy (whatever that is supposed to mean) are a bit off the mark.

                                                                                                      In terms of delis, I like Max's Kosher in Wheaton (though mostly for falafel and schwarma) while Celebrity Deli and Deli City (both in the 'burbs) make really tasty sandwiches.

                                                                                                      1. re: The Big Crunch

                                                                                                        I'll add Chutzpah and Wagshal's to that list of good deli sandwiches. As for speciality sandwiches, Mangialardo's has the G Man, which dates back to the '68 riots when cops would converge at the deli. The subs at Litteri's aren't shabby either.


                                                                                                        Looking forward to Attman's coming to Potomac Md.


                                                                                                        1. re: monkeyrotica

                                                                                                          Wow, Attmans in the DC area? Rock on.

                                                                                                          1. re: monkeyrotica

                                                                                                            Yeah, I also dig Wagshal's, though it is a pain the ass to order and wait at that place. Also worth noting, they have a small, but very good liquor selection. Wray and Nephew overproof, Luxardo Amaretto, Four Roses bourbon, and Clement Creole Shrubb can all be found at Wagshal's.

                                                                                                            1. re: monkeyrotica

                                                                                                              Baltimore's Attman's? (like there's any other)

                                                                                                              you lucky dogs.

                                                                                                        2. Ray's hellburger is amazing, but pho 75 is overrated crap. In reference to all the Rasika recommendations, it's not overrated crap, but it is definitely overrated. The vegetarian entrees are good but that's about it. I've taken several of my Indian friends there and they all disliked it.

                                                                                                          Try Luke's lobster in Penn quarter. If you are feeling fancy, *definitely* try blue duck tavern and get reservations in advance. I also second Old Ebbitt, great place. Other than that, I don't think you'll find DC's food scene to be that spectacular, especially compared to other big cities like NY, LA, or Chicago

                                                                                                          3 Replies
                                                                                                          1. re: takadi

                                                                                                            I really enjoy the pho at Pho 75, though I've only eaten at the one on University Blvd. I've eaten there well over 30-40 times over the course of a decade. I've had pho at about a half dozen other places and I honestly think Pho 75 is the best.

                                                                                                            Luke's is tasty, but it's just a lobster roll, and besides, it's a chain. Red Hook and Freddy's are just as good, and local.

                                                                                                            I also like Old Ebbitt, but the food is nothing special. It's not bad but it's pretty generic. That said, the history and overall feel of the place are terrific; it's an authentic part of Washington history and it feels that way, even if it's now just another Clyde's in barely concealed disguise.

                                                                                                            I don't know anything about LA, or Chicago food scenes first hand, but I assume they're better, if for no other reason than they are far more massive cities. I've eaten in NYC a fair amount and it's not fair to compare any place to NYC. That said, from what I've heard (and been able to try) DC does have some excellent dining options. I can't claim to be a regular eater at any of the routinely named 10-15 best restaurants in DC. I'm not part of the 1% and I don't have a job that lets me comp meals like that regularly. However, from what food writers say, DC has a number of places that are as god as you'll likely find anywhere in the country. Do we have hundreds of places like that? No. Are we missing some types of cheaper places like great delis and BBQ joints that other areas have in abundance? Sure. However, I've had superb meals in the last year at Ripple, Vidalia, Bibbiana, Estadio, 1789, Jackies, and Little Serow. My guess is that for the same amount of money I spent at those places (all special occasion meals for me) I probably wouldn't get much better in NYC, Chicago, or LA. It's trendy to say DC restaurants are dull, and maybe if you take every singe eatery in the greater metro region into consideration there may be some truth to that, but there are also dozens of places where you can get spectacular food.

                                                                                                            1. re: The Big Crunch

                                                                                                              Oh man I totally forgot about vidalia! I love that place. I've eaten the Pho 75 at the wilson blvd and route 50 locations and I have to say I was very unimpressed. The wilson blvd location is supposed to be the best out of all of them but it was probably one of my top five worst pho experiences ever. Bland tasteless soup, small portions, long lines, horrible service. I do second your opinion of Old Ebbitt though...I found the food pretty generic but very well done nonetheless. The ambience and the bartenders make up most of the experience.

                                                                                                              I'm not super rich either so I can't say I have the most accurate picture of the dc food scene but based on opinions of friends and my own, I'd have to say that most of the food I've tried in dc comes off as "touristy" or kitsch, taking inspiration from regions of other areas of the US and not quite matching up. Maybe I'm going to the wrong places, or going to places at the wrong times, but I've never been truly astounded with DC in general.

                                                                                                              1. re: takadi

                                                                                                                I still don't quite get the touristy and kitsch thing. Food is a trend-based industry. Gourmet burgers get hot in NYC, and the rest of the country, or at least a LOT of the major metro areas will be over-run with gourmet burger joints. DC is no different than any other city in terms of having a lot of restaurants trying to sell what is currently trendy, and thus, in demand. It is a business after all.

                                                                                                                When I think of kitsch in terms of recent DC restaurants, the first thing that comes to mind is America Eats, the insanely over-priced and underwhelming venture that Jose Andres oversaw. In terms of touristy... Maybe Spike Mendelsohn's laughably over-hyped and underwhelming burger and pizza joints? Spike may be a hell of a self-marketer, but his pizza sucks, the service there is half-assed at best, and his burgers (while not bad) aren't exactly the sort of eye-popping burger experience I expect from such a famous chef.

                                                                                                                Like I said though, if you look at the Washingtonian's best list, and go to THE BEST places, you'll be surprised how original and terrific much of the food is, or at least that's been my experience. My GF and I do have to save a little bit for a couple of months to afford one of those nights out, but as I've gotten older, I just don't enjoy loud bars as much, while I do enjoy a nice dinner in a sophisticated setting. If only my salary kept up with my evolving tastes; we often get irritated looks when we just order water :) That said, neither of us know jack about wine and you'll be surprised how much cheaper a meal with a $35 entree is when your beverage bill is $0.00. Leave off desert and share an appetizer and even a wage slave like me can feel a little bit like a big shot foodie every few months :) Just make sure the places you go don't demand you order from a price fixe menu - that happened to us once and needless to say, we paid a bit more than we intended :(