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Your Favorite Ethnic Dives in DC Area?

Nervous about a possible move to DC from LA here.

Help me out by posting your favorite ethnic dives in DC and surrounding area. "Ethnic" meaning authentic/probably spicy and "Dives" meaning casual/cheap.

Special asks for best szechuan, best dumplings, best schwarma/kabobs, best vietnamese, best pakistani.

Thanks!

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  1. Yikes -- that's a pretty broad request! I'll give it a start, and then Steve and others can chime in with a gazillion others. (I'm sure I'm forgetting even some of my own faves.)

    Please note -- owing to the size difference, please understand that we can't top L.A.'s "bests" in almost all of these categories; but these are damn good:

    Sichuan:

    Sichuan Jin River
    Hong Kong Palace
    Joe's Noodle House

    Other Chinese:

    East Pearl (Cantonese)
    A&J (northern Chinese dim sum)
    Full Kee (Cantonese)
    New Big Wong (Cantonese)
    China Bistro (dumplings)
    Bob's Shanghai (xiao long bao)
    East Dumpling House (Manchurian -- get any bean curd dishes)

    Ramen:

    Daikaya
    Ren's Ramen
    Toki Underground

    Korean:

    [this category will be huge, and varied; I'll just offer a a start with . . . ]

    Vit Goel (soondubu jigae)

    Thai:

    Ruan Thai

    Lao:

    Bangkok Golden

    Burmese:

    Myanmar

    Vietnamese:

    Huong Viet
    Pho 75 (esp. Rockville location)
    Banh Mi DC Sandwich
    [other Eden Center places, including Thanh Son Tofu for carry-out only -- the best seem to change fairly frequently]

    Peruvian Chicken:

    Super Pollo

    Mexican:

    Mama Chuy's
    R&R Taqueria
    Taco Bamba
    La Sirenita
    R&R Taqueria
    Taqueria La Placita
    Tortacos
    Taco Bar
    Tortacos
    Taqueria Distrito Federal

    Salvadoran:

    El Charrito Caminante

    Jamaican:

    Pimento Grill

    Persian:

    Amoo's (not a dive)
    Kabob Bazaar

    Pakistani:

    Ravi Kabob
    Kabob 'n' Karahi

    Bangladeshi:

    Gharer Khabar

    Ethiopian:

    Zenebech Injera

    11 Replies
    1. re: Marty L.

      For Ethiopian, Zenebech recommendation seconded. Not a dive in any way anymore, but still cheap and excellent.

      For Salvadoran, Ercilia's in Columbia Heights is nice too.

      1. re: Benquo

        Went to zenebach. A lovely little place. Great food. Perfect except for the parking difficulties....

      2. re: Marty L.

        Went to gharer Khabar in the middle of the sleet storm yesterday. Wonderful and impossibly cheap, fantastic lamb Palao. A winner, thanks.

        1. re: echoparkdirt

          Now that you've found it.... the moghlai parotta is a must order, and go for the chatpati, roast chicken, fish curry (regular, not the dried fish), and the 'vegetable' on the chalkboard menu, which changes daily and comes out so fresh and piping hot that it will ruin you for buffet food.

            1. re: The Big Crunch

              Thanks for recommending this place. I've driven by there more times than I can count but never noticed it. I went yesterday and had the dry chicken curry and the chotpoti. Both were delicious and the place is ridiculously cheap. That said, it is VERY tiny, with maybe four tables and sixteen chairs total. I will definitely go back and explore more of the menu n the future. I've heard the fish curry is quite good.

              1. re: The Big Crunch

                The fish curry is one of the best things to order. It's a quality fish. but don't go for the dried fish curry unless you can really stand the strong fermented flavor.

                1. re: Steve

                  Thanks for the heads-up. I'm pretty open to most flavors and food aromas, but strong fermented flavor is NOT something I usually enjoy. I'll try the "wet" fish curry next time. How bony is the fish?

                  1. re: The Big Crunch

                    Not bony. I forget what kind of fish it is, but it is very good.

                    1. re: Steve

                      Good to hear. I asked about that and they told me it was bony, but maybe they just assumed that as a generic white guy I would expect it to be boneless. I'd heard great things about the dry chicken curry as well so I went with that and it was indeed quite tasty. A nice deep brown clingy sauce redolent of browned onion and cumin. My only complaint was that the chicken was a tad drier than I'd prefer, however, being dark meat it was quite forgiving of being overcooked and was in no way too dry to be enjoyable.

                2. re: The Big Crunch

                  I think they have three tables and just one more would be a huge improvement. Love the food, good people.

          1. Jeez, you'll have to do better than that. There is too much. I admit, it isn't NYC - but - there is a Korea Town (Annandale) and a Vietnamese center (7 corners), a sort of Chinatown (Rockville) and a big Hispanic center (Wheaton), an East African area in Silver Spring... one of the most ethnically diverse small cities in the nation is Rockville, by the way.

            So, don't stress. There are some very good szechuan (Jin River in Rockville), dumplings (several Xia Lun Bao, and also A&Js, Rockville), schwarma (Max's in Wheaton), vietnamese (7 corners) and various Indian (try Jewel in Hillandale, but there are many others, including nepalese in Bethesda).

            2 Replies
            1. re: benk

              my first vietnamese was Pho Viet in Columbia Heights (looking for a vietnamese place nearish me)

              The spicy beef pho was wonderful, complex, lovely stuff.
              The egg rolls were delightfully crispy and tasty.
              The beef on noodles was decidedly mediocre

              i would return for the pho

              1. re: echoparkdirt

                If you're in Columbia Heights, check out Mi Cuba Cafe on Park Road, Adams Express on Mount Pleasant, Ercilia's for pupusas on Mount Pleasant, and Super Tacos on Columbia Road (in Adams Morgan). The spicy noodle soup at Beau Thai on Mount Pleasant is also quite good though it's not a dive.
                There's another taco place up there that I have to try again, though it's been years: http://www.taqueriadf.com/

            2. I think you need to define "cheap," because there's downtown cheap and suburban cheap. 

              For Korean in DC, New Young's Deli in the Florida Ave Market. Suburbs, there's plenty of choices in Annandale, but I do Kimchi House and Hunan Deli because they're closer to me and cheaper.

              For tacquerias, La Mexicana Bakery and Tacqueria. Also Tacos El Costalilla.

              For Chinese noodles, China Boy meets the criteria for cheap and dive.

              For cheap Indian in Crystal City, Kohinoor Dhaba.

              For pho and springrolls, Five Ten Food Mart. For $8, you can kill yourself there.

              For Serbian/Bosnian, Balkan Grill.

              8 Replies
              1. re: monkeyrotica

                I second Kohinor, for the food and the people and i have heard very good things about 5-Ten but haven't gotten there yet.
                I would add the carry out food at the Duangrats grocery on Leesburg Pike. It is Thai/Isan and it is not only good value but spicey delicious in a rich layered way instead of just rolling the Scovilles.
                Thai Square isn't a dive, more a hole in the wall, but it really takes me back to market town type Thai food.

                1. re: Ziv

                  that is exactly the type of insider info I am looking for thank you!
                  I find that small groceries that have hot food are some of the best/most promising places to look for authentic cheap ethnic food.

                  1. re: echoparkdirt

                    Then work Bangkok 54's grocery into your rotation, their prepared dishes in the way back part of the store are very good too. Not surprisingly, it is more traditionally Thai than Duangrats Isan/Thai. I really liked the calamari there but I have seen that dish be a little hit or miss, but when it is on it is very good. The minced pork with basil is excellent, now if I could just get a fresh fried egg on top.... Maybe I should just ask and I bet they would get me a fried egg, come to think of it.
                    Very nice people at both Duangrat's and BKK 54 Grocery's.

                    1. re: Ziv

                      Bangkok 54 is great -- restaurant side as well as the grocery. Restaurant is nice for when you want a bit of nice going out feel but still tasty ethnic and moderately-priced food.

                      1. re: rachelcp

                        It's got a large menu (as do most Thai places) so maybe I ordered wrong, but the fried rice (which sooo many Yelpers rave about), Spicy Duck, and Spicy Pork Belly all were real letdowns or me. The latter two just tasted like salty, fatty, fried meat, and the rice was just meh.

                    2. re: echoparkdirt

                      BKK 54's grocery is recovering from a fire. The restaurant is fine, but I saw them hauling the last groceries out of the store on Saturday. Not sure what they are going to do with the grocery store. I was Jonesing for some calamari and it was not to be!

                      1. re: Ziv

                        what time was the fire? later in the afternoon? we drive by that area around 3 and didn't notice anything out of the ordinary.

                        it is my go-to asian market, that and the one at eden center.

                  2. is Malaysia Kopitiem still in business (and as interesting)? despite having a photograph menu, sticky wall2wall carpet, in a basement lined in cheap paneling, I always liked the dump.

                    and right downtown. M street near 19th very handy to a liquor store and a strip club.

                    guess which one I always hit after? - yeah the legal takeaway.

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: hill food

                      MK is still going strong and still fairly inexpensive. So is Camelot's next door.

                        1. re: hill food

                          Especially in these troubled times. It's nice to know some Washington institutions remain intact.

                    2. don't be nervous about the food. 13+ years ago I did a move from SF to DC and food was the absolute last of my problems. sure it's a little different, but that means there are all sorts of new variations to be found, and some so regionally cool I'm pissed I can't find them now I've left.

                      the real differences aren't always on the plate.

                      1. The biggest shock will be the prices. LA is the capital of cheap eats. In DC, fuhgedaboudit, the prices are high and the good stuff is rare.

                        In the suburbs you will find some gold, but in any case it won't be as extensive and it still won't be as cheap.

                        But there is gold, and just like in LA you need mobility to get to it.

                        Adding to the excellent compilation by Marty L., I'll give you a few highlights. As always, please do a search for specific menu recs. That will make all the difference:

                        Rockville, MD
                        Peruvian, La Limena
                        Yunnan specialties, Mandarin Express

                        Gaithersburg, MD
                        Shanghainese, Pacifica Cafe (some specials need to be ordered in advance).

                        Germantown, MD
                        Peking Palace (Hunan Menu)

                        Near Dulles Airport:
                        Chettinad Cuisine: Akshaya or Karaikudi

                        Falls Church, VA:
                        Vietnamese: Bay Lo in Eden Center.
                        Bolivian, Luzmilla's (open only until 6pm)
                        Palestinian, Jerusalem Restaurant
                        Ethiopian, Eyo
                        Yemeni, Al Jazera
                        Filipino, Fairfax Inn (closes at 6pm)

                        Annandale. VA
                        Korean, Mandu Rang Kimbob Erang
                        Korean, Yechon (open 24 hours)

                        Arlington:
                        Bolivian, Sibarita
                        Thai Square
                        Pizza, Pupatella
                        New Orleans, Bayou Bakery
                        Burgers and Cheesateaks, Rays to the Third

                        Fairfax:
                        Afghan, Mazadar
                        Vegetarian South Indian, Saravana Palace
                        Thai by Thai

                        DC or Arlington,VA
                        BBQ, Rocklands

                        Wheaton, MD
                        Nava Thai
                        Salvadoran, Samantha's

                        Langley Park, MD
                        Vegetarian South Indian, Woodlands

                        Multiple Locations
                        Burgers, BGR

                        DC
                        Jewish Deli, Deli City
                        Jewish Deli, DGS
                        Fried Chicken, GBD
                        Hot Dogs, DC 3
                        Milkshakes, Good Stuff Eatery
                        Eritrean, Keren
                        Soul Food, Oohs and Ahhs (a dive, but not necessarily cheap)

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: Steve

                          Also, Rice Paper (Vietnamese) in Eden Center has a Broken Rice Combo for $9. It is a ridiculous value, though this place is far from a dive.

                          1. re: Steve

                            Steve has a good point - and something DC makes difficult is finding that cheap or mid-range place with stellar food. it's to be found, but not always easy.

                          2. Szechuan:

                            Great Wall (DC, 14th Street NW) - They have a basic Chinese food menu, but you want to check out the Ma La menu. I like the chicken and veggies, szechaun eggplant, boiled beef, and Yu Shian pork. If you truly love szechaun peppercorn, go with the three pepper chicken.

                            Kabobs:
                            I'll go with Ravi Kabob in Arlington as the best in the area. Everything is excellent, but honestly, as good as the kabobs are, the chickpeas are truly amazing. Kabob Palace in Crystal City is also quite good, and in DC proper, Food Corner Kabob House in Dupont Circle is allso very good, though more of a take-out joint than a sit-down place. Those are more Pakistani, but if you want terrific Iranian/Persian style, go to Rose Kabob in Vienna. I have no idea how they crank out such perfect and flavorful white meat chicken kabobs, but as long as they keep doing it, I don't care.

                            Vietnamese:
                            Just go to the Eden Center, during the day. Four Sisters is also well respected and less of a dive than a nice and affordable Vietnamese place. I'm not exactly an expert on Vietnamese food, but Falls Church has a very large Vietnamese population, and hence a lot of Vietnamese joints to explore. As far as pho, I'll also back Pho 75, either the Virginia or Maryland location. As far as bahn mis, I'll back DC Bahn Mi (maybe the best sandwich I've ever had) and Saigonese in Wheaton. The other food at the latter is good, though nothing special, but their bahn mi is very, very good and at $3.17 (with tax) it's dirt cheap; I always ask for extra veggies but you can get extra meat as well - I suggest the pork.

                            Peruvian chicken is something of a local specialty, though more so in the the MoCo and Arlington 'burbs than in other areas. Pollo Rico (either in Wheaton or Arlington) turns out some of the most delicious and cheap rotisserie bird you'll ever eat, and is the generally agreed upon king of pollo a la brassa in the area. Anthony Bourdain went ga-ga over the stuff when he ate there.

                            Dumplings:
                            China Bistro can't be beat. 'Nuff said.

                            DC has more ethiopian joints per capita than probably anywhere in the country. I know folks will fight about this, but after eating at over half a dozen of the places for more than a decade, I tend to find them mostly interchangeable. That said, Dukem (the best known) usually leaves me unimpressed with its overcooked meats while Etette always impresses with its delicious and plentiful servings of Kitfo (raw beef drizzled with herb butter). My GF and I live a block over from Lalibella and find it to be perfectly good and quite cheap, even by standard Ethiopian restaurant prices.

                            A good online resource is The Washingtonian magazine which has a pretty extensive restaurant finder section.

                            A few other favs:

                            Woodlands in Langley Park is a terrific Indian vegetarian place that has a very wallet-friendly buffet on the weekends, but be prepared for a wait, it is VERY popular and you can easily wait for 20-30 minutes for a table to open up.

                            Nava Thai in Wheaton has some fantastic Thai food. Their floating market soup is unlike anything else in the area. I wouldn't call the place a dive, but it is quite affordable.

                            8 Replies
                            1. re: The Big Crunch

                              I'm curious about why you say go to Eden Center "during the day." Is this a concern about crime? My wife and I have been to Eden Center dozens if not hundreds of times at night and have never had even a trace of a problem.

                              They've had a couple of bizarre incidents that could have happened anywhere. In no way, should Eden Center be considered a place that's unsafe at night.

                              1. re: Mississippi Snopes

                                I'd imagine it's more about finding a seat.

                                1. re: hill food

                                  I go to Eden Center "during the light", more than "during the day". The few times I've tried to manage that parking lot, those entrances to the parking lot, the Seven Corners intersection at night...no. Never again.

                              2. re: The Big Crunch

                                I went to Great Wall today. I thought it was pretty good. Especially for how close it was!

                                I had the dan dan noodles, which were acceptable if a little pricey (8.99). The 3-spice chicken was defly spicy and was okay. The Hot Sour Soup was also okay. And I mean okay in the "utterly acceptable" way

                                It's not cheap enough to truly be a dive, but it was pretty good, and much better than the even more expensive Szechuan Pavilion on K Street.

                                1. re: echoparkdirt

                                  If you go back, the ma po tofu is probably the best in the area and the baby bok choy is thoroughly outstanding. These people are the zen masters of baby bok choy.

                                  1. re: Steve

                                    The bok choy is quite god. My favs are the ma la chicken and veggies, kung pao (the ma la kung pao), Yu Shiang pork Szechaun style, boiled beef, and eggplant in Szechaun garlic sauce. My GF and I live a couple of blocks over from Great Wall and get take-out from there about once a month. I wasn't as keen an the ma po tofu, and the three pepper chicken was just too hot, though my GF loved it.

                                    1. re: Steve

                                      Better than Sichuan Jin River?

                                      1. re: hamster

                                        I'd say it is my favorite ma po tofu, yes. The menu doesn't go too deep, unfortunately, so overall this place doesn't compare to either Joe's Noodle House, Sichuan Jin River, or Hong Kong Palace. They also make an unusual wontons in red hot sauce with a triple thick wrapper and ground chicken. They are also excellent, but you have to accept the idea they are not the ordinary version. Some people can't handle that.

                                2. Here are some of my favorites

                                  Ethiopian
                                  Dukem

                                  Vietnamese
                                  Four Sisters

                                  Afghani
                                  Kabob Palace

                                  Chinese dim sum
                                  China Garden

                                  Sincerely,

                                  Ricky L
                                  www.TastyChomps.com

                                  17 Replies
                                  1. re: TastyChomps

                                    I went to Kabob Palace yesterday. Fantastic chicken, wonderful haleem, great rice, great lamb. really happy to have found it. And open 24 hours! Amazing.

                                    1. re: echoparkdirt

                                      It is pretty awesome. I also love the fact that it always seems to have a crowd and a buzzing sense of energy. I'll be interested to see what you think of Ravi Kabob. Honestly, I think they tie in terms of kabobs, but the chickpeas at Ravi are just insanely good. You may never eat better chickpeas anywhere.

                                      1. re: The Big Crunch

                                        I used to love Kabob Palace when I lived in DC. Way better than Moby Dick, but my last two trips to KP involved flavorless chickpeas and chicken that was more bone and gristle than meat. Ravi Kabob is better, but not worth the traffic/parking hassle and waits. When I want decent kebabs, I end up at either Food Corner, Karahi Kabob, Afghan Kabob, or Dera in Springfield.

                                        1. re: monkeyrotica

                                          Kabob Palace is awful right now, like you said. The Ravi across the street from the original is uncrowded and parking is easy. I prefer the garlic chicken kabob (there is a small sign for it, not on the menu) at Z Kabob in Bailey's Crossroads. SIde of mixed vegetables was excellent. All around a perfect, huge amount of food for cheap.

                                          1. re: Steve

                                            Just wanted to pipe in here briefly before I forgot -- within the last couple of weeks, I've had *spectacular* carry-out at both Kabob 'n' Karahi and Amoo's. The latter, of course, is not a dive, and pricier than the places discussed on this thread, but still worth noting in a general kabob discussion . . .

                                            1. re: Marty L.

                                              i am eager to wade into this terribly important discussion with fresh taste buds. I will report back.

                                              Have to say i thought Moby Dick's was mediocre (not going back) and Food Corner wasn't great either -- am I not ordering the right thing?

                                              1. re: echoparkdirt

                                                I dunno. What are you ordering? As a rule, unless they're using thigh meat, I avoid chicken kebabs. It's almost always breast meat and it's almost always dry. I've had pretty good luck with ground lamb koftas, but I tend to opt for chunk lamb kebabs.

                                                1. re: monkeyrotica

                                                  They use breast meat at Maiwand Kabob, and it is invariably juicy and delicious. It can be done.

                                                  1. re: flavrmeistr

                                                    Haven't been there in a couple of years, but I have had some excellent kabobs and aushak at Maiwand.

                                                  2. re: monkeyrotica

                                                    Agree that it s a good general rule, but some places do break the mold. I usually prefer bone-in chicken kabobs, which most places have.

                                                    1. re: monkeyrotica

                                                      In principle I share your distrust of white meat, but nonetheless, I've had plenty of white meat kabobs that were terrific. Ravi does excellent bone-in white meat and the 5-6 times I've been at Rose Kabob in Vienna, I've always had the white meat kabob which is wonderfully juicy and tender and surprisingly flavorful for white meat.

                                                      1. re: The Big Crunch

                                                        Bone-in white meat is a new one on me. I've never seen it at any of the kabob places. I'll have to look for it the next time.

                                                        1. re: Steve

                                                          I'm pretty sure they have it at Food Factory II and Ravi, but perhaps I'm off with that about Ravi - I tend to always get the lamb or the boneless chicken at the latter and haven't been to the former (the College Park location) in many years.

                                                    2. re: echoparkdirt

                                                      The ground chicken is the thing to get at Moby Dick. Hard to find that elsewhere, and it's really good.

                                                2. re: monkeyrotica

                                                  I don't think the parking, traffic, or waits are bad at all at Ravi. Are you expecting fast food? I've been there at least a dozen times in the last two years and I tend to find the new location to have perfectly acceptable waits (maybe ten minutes), while parking is plentiful if you're willing to seek out a spot along the neighborhood streets. Granted I tend to go on Sunday afternoon or evening, so maybe if you go on a Friday or Saturday night things are worse, but still, it's never been a big deal.

                                                  1. re: The Big Crunch

                                                    The 'new' Ravi Kabob looks pretty much neglected all the time, even when they are packed at the location across the street.

                                                    1. re: Steve

                                                      I've never seen it empty, but I've never seen it at capacity either, which makes the waits shorter :)

                                          2. I don't know what you consider a surrounding area (I come down from Boston now, but I lived in DC for years and don't consider an hour to be a long drive down there, though it sure is up here.) In the District I have always enjoyed New Big Wong, especially the salt and pepper squid heads, house special stir fry with deep fried small fish and dried squd, Ka Pang noodles, and fried "Good Dale." In Wheaton I've had decent luck at New Kam Fong. Both Cantonese.

                                            If you're not afraid of a little driving, one of the best Chinese restaurants ever is Grace Garden in Odenton. At the same level of quality (though quite different in character) and slightly further out, in Catonsville, is Hunan Taste. Both of those are medium priced ($13-17) by Chinese restaurant standards.

                                            (And I concur with Sichuan Jin River, HK Palace, Pacifica, A&J, Joe's, BK Golden, and Myanmar. I've also had decent dim sum at Hollywood East.)

                                            2 Replies
                                            1. re: KWagle

                                              Thanks, KWagle -- on your rec I ordered the house special stir fry with deep fried small fish and dried squid (which actually has a different name on the menu, one I'm forgetting), which I had never ordered before. (I think I've had dozens of things there and have barely made a dent in the menu.) I thought it was great! That plus the scallop fried rice, some greens and the deep fried pork chops, and you've got yourself enough delicious food to last several meals.

                                              1. re: Marty L.

                                                "Dried squid and vegetables in the King" or something like that. The Chinese name is basically something like "King small stir fry" and the use of the name of the restaurant is what clues you in that it's the house special. They also have another house special on the wall in Chinese, including duck feet and seafood, I think. I've had it and it was okay but didn't warrant the price ($21.95 I think, which lets you pick it from the wall by price.) I had the deep fried pork chop the last time I was there, but I didn't think it was their best work at all. The deep-fried "baby squid heads" are much better.

                                                Grace Garden also has a new stir-fry with squid, pork, and vegetables, which is not on the menu because it takes a long time to prepare, but Chef Li can make it for you anytime it's slow--there are no special ingredients or anything, it just takes three or four long steps to prepare. He made it for us once with lean pork, once with pork belly and a somewhat different mix of ingredients, both were good but the lean pork (the standard recipe) was better. He's pretty good at getting it right.

                                            2. Not on your list, but as mentioned by a couple others, I always introduce newcomers to Peruvian style pollo a la brasa. A full meal will set you back no more than $10. We feed a family of three for $20.

                                              Personally my favorite is Justa's in Alexandria; their other Peruvian items are also good. Justa's happens to be close to my house but I would frequent Crisp n Juicy when I lived elsewhere in the area. Either one is better than Super Pollo, and Super Pollo isin turn better than El Pollo Rico.

                                              21 Replies
                                                1. re: rachelcp

                                                  I find Crisp and Juicy to be underflavored - not much in the way of seasoning and very little hint of smoke from the coals. I also dislike their green sauce, which includes mayo and sour cream. If I want to make my green sauce creamy, I'll mix it with the mayo sauce myself.

                                                  The thing about Pollo Rico is that they get more flavor from their marinade and rub than the dozen or so other places I've tried, and they consistently get more of a hint of smoke on the bird as well.

                                                  The OP is also now learning that loyalties (and dislikes) of certain pollo joints in the DC area can be as passionately heated as I suppose loyalties to various taco joints must be in LA :)

                                                  1. re: rachelcp

                                                    Rotisserie chicken is a highly changeable item - especially how quickly you eat it after it comes off the spit. This means high turnover is key. After trying about seven places closer to my home, a return to El Pollo Rico in Arlington was like returning home. Truly outstanding. One advantage they have is the turnover. When they are about to remove the chicken from the spit, quite a long line has formed. It helps, of course, that the marinade and spice rub is probably the most effective out there. Unfortunately, chicken is pretty much all they do.

                                                    1. re: Steve

                                                      The beans and rice are decent at Pollo Rico, but...yeah...it would be nice if they made more of an effort on the side dishes.

                                                      1. re: The Big Crunch

                                                        That's part of it... I hate their fries and slaw. Yuca is a must for me.

                                                        1. re: rachelcp

                                                          The best yuca we have found is at Guapo's in Manassas. When we go there we get huge piles of it. Their chicken may not be the very best around, but it's more than good enough. But that yuca is off the charts -- crunchy outside, creamy inside. So much yuca around here is starchy, mealy, and served in too-fat chunks.

                                                          Caribbean Grill in Arlington, where I used to be a regular when I worked in FC, has very good chicken, dependable yuca, and a broader range of sides (two styles of plantains, for example -- fried and baked) than most pollo places. They also have, I think, three colors of sauces. But I have not been in a while, can anyone give a recent report?

                                                          1. re: Bob W

                                                            Guapo's used to make a killer tres leches. Not sure if it is still on the menu.

                                                            1. re: Bob W

                                                              I never understood that green mayonnaise, though. The only acceptable condiments with yucca, boiled or fried, are mojo and/or salsa.

                                                              1. re: flavrmeistr

                                                                If the green stuff is the spicy one, I love that! If the yuca is good, just line up the condiments for me. If the yuca is not good, the condiments can't save it.

                                                                1. re: Bob W

                                                                  True enough. Mayonnaise never saved anything.

                                                        2. re: Steve

                                                          See, I feel just the reverse about roto-chicken. High volume usually means under-cooked chicken, which I find unacceptable. If they're moving too much too fast, that's the way it comes out. My chicken must be crispy--all over. As such, my standard is Pollo Tropical, which is grilled. Alas, there are none of these establishments in the metro DC area. Fortunately, I was in Ft. Lauderdale earlier this week and was able to indulge my PT craving.

                                                          1. re: flavrmeistr

                                                            At the EPR in Arlington, I don't think they are moving it too fast. The latino community has some sort of signal telling them when the chicken is about to come off the spit. They form a line, and they are willing to wait for it.

                                                            Same thing goes for Pollo a la Brasa on Columbia Pike, though it's not as good as EPR. Last time we waited in line a good 15 minutes, though everyone could have easily gone across the street to Edy's.

                                                            1. re: Steve

                                                              Yes, I've noticed that. I always seem to get there right after they sell out. The hell with 'em.

                                                        3. re: rachelcp

                                                          My favorite rotisserie chicken places are Sardi's (Beltsville, and they have a Gaithersburg location but I haven't been) and Pollo Fiesta (Riverdale.)

                                                          Sardi's in Belstville is across the street from my favorite local pho place, Pho 88.

                                                          1. re: 4X4

                                                            Whenever I'm at Ikea I always mean to try Sardi's. I've heard from a few folks that it's pretty good.

                                                          2. re: rachelcp

                                                            Funny, but your ranking is just about the reverse of mine. I prefer El Pollo Rico (Clarendon) to Super Pollo (Wilson Blvd and Columbia Pike-Lake Barcroft). I used to go to Crisp and Juicy (Falls Church) before I found El Pollo Rico. I've only been to Justa's once and thought the chicken was just so-so, not as good as Super Pollo a few blocks away.

                                                            None of them are completely consistent and those with multiple shops like Super Pollo vary from shop to shop. I liked the one in Ballston that was torn down better than the one on Wilson Blvd, and haven't tried the new one in Ballston yet.

                                                            1. re: MikeR

                                                              You're totally right about the multiple shops -- we used to go to the crisp n juicy in Silver Spring. The couple times I've dragged over to Falls Church, it wasn't quite as good. I figured it was a fluke, but maybe not.

                                                              1. re: rachelcp

                                                                Falls Church Crisp and Juicy seems mostly deserted, and the chicken suffers for it. The Arlington location is much better.

                                                                1. re: Steve

                                                                  I like the C&J Arlington better than the el Pollo Rico now, partly due to the sides but also because the C&J bird has recovered from its 2010'ish doldrums. I used to actually microwave the C&J chicken because it was blood red near the larger bones, but now they are usually prepared just right and the seasoning on the skin is excellent, plus the hot sauce is EXCELLENT! Haven't tried the green so I can't speak to that.
                                                                  I do like to go there between 11:45 and 12:30 for lunch and the birds seem better then. ePR does so many birds they do win the fresh off the rotisserie points.

                                                                  1. re: Ziv

                                                                    Is this the one on Lee Highway, near Lorcum Lane? There are so many chicken places with similar names that I can't keep them straight.

                                                                    I think that was my first Pollo place and it was on my lunch route until I found a few others. I haven't been there in a year or two, mostly because it was a little less convenient and a little more expensive than the alternatives that I was happy with. I guess I should try it again while the reviews are good.

                                                                    1. re: MikeR

                                                                      Mike, that is right, the C&J Arlington is near Lorcom Ln on Lee Hwy/Old Lee in the shopping area with Arrowine, US Seafood, Cassats, & Randolphs Patisserie.
                                                                      It has had its ups and downs but it is pretty good now. I get a better bird when I order the half chicken instead of the special, not sure why. The rice and beans are good, the yucca is good, the hot sauce (not the green one) is very good.

                                                          3. Thanks for all the help here! I will hit as many as possible and return for reviews.

                                                            In the last few days I've hit

                                                            Panda Gourmet for Szechuan
                                                            (wonderful Dan Dan noodles and fine lamb with cumin -- although the big pieces of pepper and onion seemed to signal cantonese BS -- not so good dumplings with chili oil)

                                                            and

                                                            Amsterdam Felafel in Adams Morgan
                                                            Fantastic, fun, cheap, and some of the best fries I've had on either coast -- esp with the yummy garlic ali oli....

                                                            1 Reply
                                                            1. re: echoparkdirt

                                                              The Shaanxi Cold Steamed Noodles are the more serious cousin of the dan dan noodles at Panda Gourmet.

                                                            2. I have found my first authentic and good ethnic dive in DC.

                                                              Salt and Pepper Grill in Columbia heights, fantastic and cheap tikka masala, chicken vandaloo, about as divey as they come. Wonderful.

                                                              2 Replies
                                                              1. re: echoparkdirt

                                                                Congrats, welcome, and thanks for the input!

                                                                1. re: echoparkdirt

                                                                  Thanks for the tip!
                                                                  If you like that area, try Sumah's and Zenebech Injera.

                                                                2. A great Pakistani dive is Shiney's in Annandale. They have a hot, delicious buffet and take out. They do a huge catering business and their specialty is desserts. When I want a greasy satisfying home cooked Pakistani meal fast, I go to Shiney's. It is perfect!

                                                                  8 Replies
                                                                  1. re: CecileB

                                                                    Shiney's is a very good place to know about. Sometimes they make long pepper pakora. If you don't see it you can ask, and maybe they will make some.

                                                                    Speaking of Pakistani, Z Kabob in Bailey's Crossroads makes a garlic chicken kabob that is killer. The mixed vegetable side dish is rich and spicy. This was the perfect antidote to all the dry kabobs I've been having lately.

                                                                    1. re: Steve

                                                                      Is this the same 'long horn pepper' used to make tiger skin peppers, or some other kind of long pepper?

                                                                      1. re: KWagle

                                                                        Long peppers are not the same. They are always hot and very long!

                                                                        1. re: Steve

                                                                          Can you post a reference or a picture?

                                                                            1. re: Steve

                                                                              Interesting. Definitely not a long-horn pepper, even though long-horn peppers are also always hot (as much as any variety of pepper can be consistent) and very long! Those are much darker in color and twisted/wrinkled.

                                                                              They claim it's a banana pepper but I didn't think those were particularly hot. I guess I'm just going to have to try this the next time I'm in DC, twist my arm. :D

                                                                              1. re: KWagle

                                                                                The mirchi pakora are a regular menu item at Akshaya in Sterling. Excellent stuff.

                                                                                1. re: KWagle

                                                                                  i agree -- i don't think those in the photo are banana peppers. they seem slightly smaller; plus every "banana pepper" i've had is mild.

                                                                                  i guess there could be a different variety of banana pepper, though. i know in sri lanka, they use a long mild banana pepper and stuff it with tuna and potatoes, then deep fry it.

                                                                    2. Based on Steve's recommendation I'm going to try Hong Kong Palace. So far I have enjoyed his suggestions.

                                                                      2 Replies
                                                                      1. re: knitone

                                                                        My three favorite items at HKP are not on the menu, they are listed on the specials on the wall in Chinese only, but anyone can order them:

                                                                        1) Chicken with crunchy peppers. They will know what you mean. BTW, on the wall it is translated literally as "mouth, mouth, crispy, good-smelling." The Chinese character for mouth is a simple box shape, so you may be able to spot it on the wall. Everyone loves this dish. They have this most of the time.

                                                                        2) 100 flavor chicken. This is cold sliced chicken on the bone. Not everyone will love this, and it is powerfully spicy. But it is oh so good. I never understood why anyone would want to eat chicken like this until I ordered this dish. Even if it is not listed on the wall, they usually have this. Just ask for it.

                                                                        3) Preserved bacon (pork).

                                                                        From the menu:

                                                                        golden corn and egg
                                                                        cold cucumber with sauce
                                                                        cumin lamb
                                                                        chengdu spicy cold noodles
                                                                        tiger skin peppers (caution, approx. 1 in 10 will be blisteringly spicy, and there's no way to tell)

                                                                        1. re: Steve

                                                                          I would add that the golden corn with egg is a very, very unusual dish. It's quite good, but a little goes a long way, so it's best ordered by a fairly large group. It's almost a necessity if you order some of the really hot dishes.