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First time in DC, and a week in Virginia - Tips?

Hi everyone,

I'll be travelling to the US for a week in June, staying for 36hrs in DC and the rest in Charlotteville, VA for a training programme.

I'm looking for street food & restaurant suggestions, specifically:

Bakeries. We have loads of good breads and pastries in Europe, but I'm looking for American items such as bagels, cupcakes, pancakes. I enjoy Magnolia Bakery (for their banana pudding not the cupcakes), Clinton St. Bakery for their blueberry pancakes, Momofuku for their werid shakes & cookies - all in NYC.

Street food / Quick bites. I plan to be walking and making quick stops for small snacks, especially in DC. I enjoy things such as Momofuku or Baohaus pork buns, bubble tea, burgers from Shake Shack, tacos/burritos, dumpings, pastrami sandwiches like from Katz deli in NYC, hotdogs like from Gray's Papaya's. Most based on my time in New York and Connecticut, what's good in DC?

Restaurants. Are there local specialities in DC or Virginia? Blue soft shell crab or is that more southern? Otherwise I enjoy Thai, Chinese, Japanese although we get that in Europe. Maybe some authentic Mexican food, which is more difficult to find over here?

Thanks a lot for any tips!

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  1. There are a few C-Ville tips in this thread: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/901245

    On street food, mainly for lunch in DC, check out foodtruckfiesta.com

    1. My favorite (easily accessible) places right now to stop in for a snack are GBD for the fried chicken breast (it's snack size, but only available at dinnertime), and the chopped liver appetizer at DGS. These are the names of the places, not just cryptic shorthand. Both places are on the same block just south of Dupont Circle metro. You can eat at the back bar of DGS. During the day at GBD, they do offer chicken leg and thigh combo. Ignore the donuts at GBD, and go across the street to Krispy Kreme, do not get a pre-made donut, ask them to make a couple fresh.

      DC3 just south of the Eastern Market metro for the kimchi hotdog and the Sonoran hotdog.

      Across from DC3, get an eclair at Sweet Lobby. It is not the kind you are used to!!! They also have cupcakes here if you really need one.

      Remaining on Capitol Hill, get a toasted marshmallow milkshake at Good Stuff Eatery. Next door at We the Pizza, they make their own sodas. I recommend the sour cherry or the coconut - but ask for an extra shot in the coconut.

      Oyamel for Mexican - a restaurant that serves tapas portions. Go for the albondigas and the ceviche with passionfruit. Ignore the tacos.

      In DC that you can't find easily elsewhere: Oohhs and Aahhs is a tiny soul food kitchen with four stools and a small dining area upstairs. It specializes in Coastal Carolina soul food. Go for the shrimp and grits, the lemon pepper wings or the broiled crabcake - though this involves a long wait. Do not get the crabcake fried. Down a block from Oohhs and Aahhs is Etete, an Ethiopian restaurant. Go for the vegetarian platter and add the fish for a small upcharge. Both of these are located an easy walk from the U St/Cardozo metro stop.

      Overall, you seem to be looking to recreate your NY experiences here - most people on Chowhound seem to think this is a bad idea, and I tend to agree.

      Arlington, Virginia is home to a sizable Bolivian community. My favorite place is Luzmilla's (get the saltenas, open only until 6pm), but if you are interested in dinner, I recommend Sibarita, about a 15 minute walk from the Clarendon metro. They specialize in silpancho, get the beef. Also the sopa de mani and a mocochincho to drink. Next door to Sibarita is the DC area's best taco, the taco de cabrito at Taqueria El Charrito Caminante.

      There is also a large Vietnamese population here, and Eden Center is a vietnamese shopping center with about 23 Vietnamese restaurants and other shops. I like going here in the evening. RIce Paper is a very popular place, focus on the rice paper wraps. For a more exotic experience, there are three hidden courtyards. The one labeled Saigon East contains Nha Trang (I go for the noodles with shrimp paste in the shape of worms) or to Bay Lo (I get the Boy Lo 7 Special or the "miscellaneous salad"). Neither of these are easy to find, but worth the effort.

      4 Replies
      1. re: Steve

        ha! your post reminds me how much DC really IS "Acronym City" and "insiders only welcome"

        it's like phyllo, layer after layer after layer.

        1. re: Steve

          I would steer away from Oyamel now, they used to be awesome, but they've started to really decline. For Mexican food in DC, unfortunately I'd say the best options are El Centro DF and Rosa Mexicano (upscale). Downscale, there's Ercilia's, a nice though very casual Salvadoran place, and a few taco places I don't know much about.

          1. re: Steve

            I'll tag on here since you always have excellent recommendations. Trite but close to Oohs and Aahs is Ben's chili bowl, as close to street food as you can get w/out it being in a truck. It's worth visiting just to see the pictures and history.

            If you make it to Arlington, try Bayou Bakery--the chef/owner is a Louisiana native. There are sandwiches at lunch time but check for dinner specials. We've been when they had crawfish boils, shrimp boils. The baked goods are very good. If you go for breakfast, try their beignets and French coffee.

            Also in Arlington, try one of the Rays burger places for an American burger done more upscale.

            If you can get to Annandale, there are a lot of Korean food places there. Try Shilla's for the korean shaved ice. Shaved ice w/ the kitchen sink--an amalgam of korean and american toppings (from red beans to frosted flakes). They have plenty of samples for their baked goods. Interesting assortment of baked goods w/ red beans, mung beans, taro, sesame, etc.

            On the way to Charlottesville, try the Moo-thru creamery for ice cream/some baked goods. Ice cream is made from milk from cows down the road.


            In Charlottesville, I like Bodo's bagels, especially if they're still warm.

            1. re: chowser

              I second the Ray's rec, in Arlington or Silver Spring.

          2. in Shavoutz-ville Bodo's (a chain) is probably your best bet for bagels (and don't miss a Monticello tour while there) after reading all the stuff about GlassHaus (sp?) I really would like to try it.

            at the low-end bargain basement level of the spectrum, a "Gus Burger" around 3 AM at the White Spot on the "corner", is a must. inebriation is non-negotiable.

            8 Replies
            1. re: hill food

              I replied about Bodo's before reading your response. I think it has the best bagels in the area, far better than any in the DC area.

                1. re: hill food

                  Yeah, I can't remember the last time I bought a bagel in this area. Just not worth it.

                  1. re: chowser

                    Port of Piraeus used to get H+H bagels from NYC on the train every AM, but just wasn't quite the same as getting them fresh from the (now-shuttered) store on B'Way on the UWS...

                    1. re: hill food

                      Chutzpah Deli supposedly got their bagels from NYC, too. I don't know if it's the transport but their bagels aren't good.

                      1. re: chowser

                        The bagels at Bagel Buddies in Fair Lakes, Tysons Bagel Market, and Main Street Bagel Deli in Fairfax are all good, but none are good enough to merit a special trip.

                        Chutzpah's bagels are ok, a decent accompaniment to one of their egg dishes.

                2. re: chowser

                  DGS imports their bagels from Montreal's St. Viateur Bagels. They're quite good.

                  1. re: Benquo

                    How often? That's quite a trek from Montreal. Given I'm in the suburbs, it's easier for me to make my own. Why can't anyone in this area make their own decent bagels? Why are so many places importing bagels? It doesn't seem efficient.

              1. Georgetown in DC is great for cupcakes (Baked and Wired for big cakelike ones, Georgetown Cupcake if you like smaller elaborately frosted cupcakes).

                Near Eastern Market, there's Ted's Bulletin, which has pop-tarts made from scratch and a nice selection of milkshakes and more generally old-fashioned American diner food.

                As far as food trucks go, if you see Takorean or Carnivore BBQ you should try it.

                10 Replies
                1. re: Benquo

                  Question: What's the magic behind Georgetown Cupcake? Any specific flavors? I biked past there on Friday last week and there was a line about 30-deep around the corner. It was the same the last time I drove by there a couple years ago.

                  We have a place here in MN that makes easily the best cupcakes I've ever had but...they're still just cupcakes. Order for the wife's birthday? Absolutely. Wait in a 30+ person line? Hell no.

                  Are they worth killing 1-of-36 hours in DC standing in a line?

                  1. re: MSPD

                    No, I've never had to, I wouldn't, and there's a place in Arlington called Bakeshop that I like just as much. But I do have to say that with all the wannabees, all the others are just plain terrible.

                    Here in DC, the cupcake has reached a saturation level and is on the wane. The next big thing here is donuts, and the Washington Post is doing a months-long series on who has the best donuts. Still, nothing beats a made-to-order donut like an old fashioned Krispy Kreme which has been around for decades. Some restaurants have been doing made-to-order donuts for brunch for a long time now, and those are very good. The pre-made donuts are worthless, like 99% of the cupcakes.

                    1. re: Steve

                      cupcakes, yeah, that's soo "Sex in the City" from 10 years ago.

                      KK donuts? sure but ONLY when a Krispy's "FRESH" sign is on. off the shelf, or from the supermarket? may as well buy the off-brand.

                      1. re: hill food

                        At Dupont Circle Krispy Kreme, they will make the donuts fresh anytime! All you have to do is ask.

                      2. re: Steve

                        I don't get the appeal of KK, either. They're overly sweet. I love a good donut but they're hard to find. The WaPo has been covering them in the Food section every week and nothing has caught my eye. The best donuts I've had were an amuse at 2941 about a decade ago. Meyer lemon donut holes. It was the highlight of our meal. Beignets aren't technically donuts but I love the ones at Bayou Bakery.

                        1. re: chowser

                          You could remove some of the coating if its too sweet; it is still liquid right after it comes out. Or ask for none at all.

                          Fresh, piping hot donuts seconds after they've been made are a good thing. A Krispy Kreme donut like that will beat any donut cold.

                          1. re: Steve

                            How do you remove the coating? Do you just blot it off w/ a paper towel? I've had them hot, in Alexandria, which I think might be the original location. It never occurred to me to ask for no coating but I might do it if I find myself near one.

                      3. re: MSPD

                        They're not worth the price, let alone waiting in line. You can avoid the line by placing an order online and prepaying. Waltz past the line and pick up. Or have them delivered. But, they're only known because of the show, not the quality of the cupcakes.

                        1. re: chowser

                          They were known before the show. That's how they got a show. I know it's common to think of TV show hosts as talentless boobs. They are, in fact, talented boobs.

                          1. re: Steve

                            Known, but not lines out the door, 3 hour wait known. I don't care for their cupcakes and the few times I saw the show in the beginning, they seemed so clueless that it was surprising their store had been a success. But, it's been years since I've seen the show (don't know if it's still one) or had their cupcakes.

                    2. Shilla Bakery in Alexandria, VA is excellent for Korean baked goods like sponge cake rolls, sweet buns, and bubble teas. You might want to stop by on your way to Cville for supplies. The biggest center for SE Asian cuisine is Eden Center, where you can find excellent Vietnamese and Chinese restaurants. It's located off Rt 50.

                      1. One thing you might want to look for as you make your way from DC to C'ville is a guy by the side of the road serving barbecue -- look for ribs and pulled pork.

                        4 Replies
                        1. re: Bob W

                          Smokin' Joe's is the name I believe. Haven't been in a few years, but if there the beans are actually the stand-out dish. Pulled pork for meat. I forget anything else.

                          1. re: Dennis S

                            Yeah, that place in New Baltimore did have good beans, but I'm not sure if it's still there. I was just talking generically -- if you see a guy by the side of the road serving bbq, it's worth checking out.

                            1. re: Bob W

                              Joe was just outside of Gainesville, but I agree on your general sentiment. And for anyone looking for this, it seems that Petersburg, VA might just be ground zero for this type of thing.

                              1. re: Dennis S

                                Route 50 from South Riding through Aldie is a good stretch for roadside barbecue. The Pit Stop at Gilberts Corner is very popular.

                        2. Great topic, but I'd like, if I may, to focus the recommendations.

                          I'm also going to be coming in to DC shortly (July), but I'm coming from Toronto, which is also a big food town.

                          My question is this:

                          There's lots of great eats in Toronto across the board (with the notable exception of Thai- we have zero Thai population), but we're exceptionally good at certain kinds of cuisine. Cantonese is second to none (maybe Vancouver) on the continent. Same with Indian, junky Canadian delicacies, etc.

                          What are DC's particular specialties? I've got a trip to Komi lined up, but I'd like some suggestions from the locals on local specialties that either can't be found, or are rare, in other places.

                          Oh, and barbecue. Man, I would commit multiple murders to get my hands on proper barbecue. Our barbecue up here is a pale, pale, pale imitation of the real deal. Baaaaaarbecue!

                          7 Replies
                          1. re: biggreenmatt

                            You can search for BBQ but you'll largely be disappointed. In DC proper especially b/c there is a no smoke/flame rule or something of the sort. There are places that may do one thing right, such as burnt ends at Williards, which is out by the Udvar Hazy museum if you go there.

                            Otherwise, to the specialties in the area, Ethiopian, Vietnamese and Sichuan are probably the top of the genre list to be aware of. I'd throw in Korean as well. For all of these but Ethiopian you're pretty much going to have to head to the burbs. Eden Center is a mall of, by and for the Vietnamese community. There are a couple of metro accessible Sichuan places in Rockville, and my two favorites (Hong Kong Palace in Seven Corners and Grace Garden in Odenton MD) need a car to get to. Korean - look to Annandale, VA first.

                            These are all discussed extensively on this board, so a search should answer most any question in depth, but don't hesitate to post any specific question.

                            1. re: Dennis S

                              I second the Ethiopian rec - go to Zenebech or any of the places around 9th and U

                              DC does have Thai X-Ing, which is excellent (and unique: a Thai Chef's Choice menu for $20-40 depending on the night, BYOB, in a dining room that's basically the basement of a rowhouse), and Little Serow, which I hear great things about.

                              1. re: Dennis S

                                is that converted bus up in NE near the Home Depot still around? word was their BBQ was the (a qualified statement to be sure) best in DC proper. so yeah, I wouldn't hold high hopes without a 40 minute drive involved.

                              2. re: biggreenmatt

                                What do you have in the way of Southern or Soul Food in Toronto? Crabs? There is good Thai in Arlington (VA), Wheaton (MD), in DC at the highly unusual Thai X-ing (but I haven't been in ages).

                                In Arlington, there is a huge Bolivian population and some mighty fine vittles to match.

                                In DC we have the Jose Andres empire, especially Jaleo (Spanish) and Zaytinya (Greek-Turkish, etc) tapas. And then Michel Richard with Central and a follower of his at Mintwood Place serving unique twists on French/ American cuisine.

                                In Virginia, I live close to some damn good Lao food as well as Eden Center, a Vietnamese shopping center with at least 23 restaurants, shops, and other food sores.

                                We have Palestinian food, Yemeni, Peruvian, Burmese, Senegalese, Jamaican, Persian...

                                1. re: Steve

                                  If by Southern and soul food you mean traditional southern cooking excluding barbecue, there's not much. Certainly none of note that I can think of off the top of my head. I imagine there's a few scattered around town (Toronto's a very big place), but I can't imagine they're any good. Since there isn't a big deep-south population (well, duh), there's no demand. hell, it's even difficult to get superior fried chicken in town!

                                  There are barbecue restaurants in town (barbecue is this summer's trend, FYI), but they're mainly so-so, with a few exceptions that are good, not great. Importantly, there's no such thing as a barbecue joint or shack up here, and that's the big difference. With respect to everyone involved, there's a big difference between barbecue cooked by someone with a culinary diploma versus barbecue cooked by someone with no teeth.

                                  South American/Mexican (not tex-mex) sounds interesting; we've got most of the rest here (esp. Ethiopian and Mid Eastern- gigantic populations of both).

                                  1. re: biggreenmatt

                                    My favorite for Southern cooking is a hole-in-the-wall. Oohhs and Aahhs is a tiny kitchen with four stools plus a dining area upstairs. Coastal Carolina cuisine. Go for the shrimp and grits (ask for peppers and onions), lemon pepper wings and the broiled -not fried- crab cake. Sides of greens and cabbage are my favorites. Across from the U St/Cardozo Metro stop.

                                    For the Bolivian in Virginia, you might need a car.

                                    For BBQ, Rocklands in DC has a very good chopped pork sandwich, also sliced pork loin and grilled fish. Sides of Texas corn pudding, cole slaw, and greens are very good as well.

                                2. re: biggreenmatt

                                  You should be able to get good BBQ once you get to Charlottesville. I haven't been back in a year or two, but for a long time the gold standard there was Big Jim's. I think there have been some changes with their location/setup (catering and pre-ordered bag lunch only, I think), but someone on the Mid-Atlantic board can probably help you. I've also heard good things about Belmont BBQ, which is newer.