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Sep 28, 2013 03:31 PM

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.


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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 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)


    Ren's Ramen
    Toki Underground


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

    Vit Goel (soondubu jigae)


    Ruan Thai


    Bangkok Golden




    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


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


    El Charrito Caminante


    Pimento Grill


    Amoo's (not a dive)
    Kabob Bazaar


    Ravi Kabob
    Kabob 'n' Karahi


    Gharer Khabar


    Zenebech Injera

    13 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

                      My fish curry was very boney, I had to eat it with my hands, but it was really good. They may have different fish different days, love this place!

                  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.

              2. re: Marty L.

                Great list. I'm not sure I'd call El Charrito Caminante a Salvadoran restaurant. The owner is Mexican and the tacos are definitely Mexican-style. They do have a knock-out Salvadoran-style chicken sandwich, however, which is maybe the best thing on the menu. And I wouldn't be surprised if the ladies at the grill are Salvadoran.

              3. 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).

                4 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:

                    1. re: hamster

                      went to mi cuba, quite good
                      the mexican place right next to it is good too

                      1. re: echoparkdirt

                        Los Hermanos, next door, is Dominican.

                        What did you have at mi Cuba?

                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.

                        4 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.

                          1. 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.