Budget-conscious visitor to DC
So I'm coming down from Toronto for a week of gluttony and the occasional conference session. I was in DC for my first time last year and enjoyed my meals at Oohs and Aahs and Rasika (this was our big fancy meal of the trip), though I preferred the atmospheres of Busboys & Poets and the area around the Eastern Market the most. I already have a reservation with a friend for Toki Underground, and am looking to pick y'alls brains for other interesting low to mid-priced restaurants that I should try out (about half my meals will be by myself, and the other half will be with a friend who's also not rolling in the Benjamins, so the cheaper and the less formal, the better). I lean much more towards ethnic and hole in the wall than fine dining, but can pull myself together if necessary.
From my research, I know that I missed out on Ethiopian food last time. Of Ethiopic/Zenebech/Etete/Dukem, which one would you choose for someone who's had Ethiopian before, but wasn't particularly wowed by it? Which place do you think would change my opinion on the matter? Toronto has a terrible Thai scene, so I'm looking to satisfy some of those cravings - how would you rate Thai Square/Bangkok 54/Nava Thai/Ruan Thai? At Eden Center, are there any particular standout restaurants and dishes that I should try? If you had money for only one pricier meal (~$30-40/person incl.), where would it be? Jaleo/Zatinya/Le Diplomate/Blue Duck Tavern/Birch & Barley/Estadio?
During the daytime, the conference I'm attending is centred around the Woodley Park-Zoo to Dupont Circle Metro Station corridor. I've read that there's a Crispy and Juicy location further north on the red line, and that Afghan Grill and Lebanese Taverna are both good informal lunch options?
My list of other places to try include Teaism, El Pollo Rico, Moby Dick, Granville Moores, 2 Amy's, and Sibarita. What am I missing that I most definitely should eat at?
Looking forward to your responses. Thanks a lot!
Ruan Thai best overall, two dishes are not so easy to find elsewhere: the #11 fried watercress appetizer with shrimp/squid/cashew, and the #52, stir-fried boneless duck breast.
Nearby is the single most impressive Thai dish in the area, the Floating Market Noodle Soup at Nava Thai. Though the rest of the menu is less interesting. Eating a whole bowl by yourself would be a serious challenge - if you dare.
At Eden Center I recommend Bay Lo, hidden in one of the small, interior hallways. Worth seeking out for the goat roll, miscellaneous salad, and the Boy Lo 7 special, their version of Bun Cha Hanoi.
Jaleo would be my one pricier meal. Get the mini-hamburguesa- made with iberico ham ($7), the quail with rosemary sauce (12), the spinach with raisins (7), and the patatas braves (7).
No to Lebanese Taverna or Teaism, Moby Dick only for the ground chicken kabob.
Etete is my choice for Ethiopian, best vegetarian platter around, derek tibs, add the fish for $2 (or so).
For cheap great eats, consider the bulgogi hot dog at DC-3 (the tuscon sonoran a second choice), the quarter dark chicken at the spiciest level at Nando's - also consider the mushy peas and the fries with perinnaise sauce. And because of your location and how cheap it is - the vegetable and cheese empanadas at Panas.
Also consider the toasted marshmallow milkshake at Good Stuff Eatery, the burger at BGR, and the chopped pork sandwich at Rocklands.
At Toki, definitely get the kimchi ramen. A 'must order'.
Ethiopic is fantastic. That would be my pick.
For Thai, if you go to Elephant Jumps in Merrifield and order from the Thai (not the Thai-American) menu, you will have a mind-blowing meal. Problem is transportation. You can take the metro to Dunn Loring/Merrifield and it would be a very short taxi ride from there. Otherwise, we prefer Nava Thai to Ruan Thai but both are good.
Skip Moby Dicks and 2 Amys. Pizza is better at Pupatella and Wiseguy, kabobs at Food Corner Kabob House in Dupont. Dirt cheap Korean at New Young's Deli off Florida Avenue near NY Ave Metro. If the weather isn't totally appalling, the raw bar at Maine Avenue Fish Market is a great deal. Jimmy's Grill does a good seafood chowder and fried whiting, but it's all al fresco. For a pricey meal, I'd do Le Diplomate but be prepared for a wait.
Go to Little Serow for your expensive Thai/Lao meal (7 courses prix fixe $45 - could be very spicy). As for normal Thai, I prefer Ruan and Nava over anything in VA. Around 7 Corners, if you don't do Serow, then you should do Bangkok Golden for Lao (they also do a version of fried watercress salad with shrimp, not on menu, but it's almost always available).
In Eden, your best bet and English friendly restaurants are Rice Paper, Huong Viet (cash only), Hai Duong, and Viet Garden. Want noodle soup besides pho? Then try bun bo hue. Have you ever heard of Cha Ca La Vong? If that interests you, you can try it at Hai Duong and I believe Rice Paper (under the name Cha Ca Than Long). Rice Paper and Huong Viet have websites. Go through them and see what interests you and I (or others) may advise you whether it's good.
No to Le Diplomats. I like the restaurant just fine but I rather eat French in Montreal.
Sounds like you really want some tapas. You can also check out Boqueria, or Kapnos for Greek small plates. Hottest restaurant in town is probably Rose's Luxury. Rose's and Little Serow do not take reservations. You must get there early.