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D.C. dining on a dime: 10 capital restaurants


Gifted Gourmet
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article from Southern Living (on CNN Travel)

the ultimate value meal: great tasting, excellent service, unique atmosphere, and -- hardest of all -- close to the sites and attractions you want to see. Near the White House and want a bargain lunch? No problem. Spent a bundle on tickets to the Kennedy Center but don't have any money left for a pre-show dinner? Read on. All of the following restaurants are centrally located, and you won't need a wad of Benjamins to eat at them. A couple of Abes should do you just fine.

Cheap eat No. 1: The Breadline

Cheap eat No. 2: Ben's Chili Bowl

Cheap eat No. 3: Lauriol Plaza Restaurant

and the list goes on ... if you live in or have visited D.C. have you eaten at some of these places? Agree with the author of the article?

Melissa Goodman aka "Gifted Gourmet"

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Boring. Obvious. Wrong.

Nothing on Capitol Hill. No Asian, only the most well-scrubbed Latin, nothing in any area that hasn't been cleansed of the poor and the threatening. It should be called the "cautious Tourist's Guide to Safe Dining."

Of the places I've been:

Bread Line: Love their bread. Bought five loaves this morning at the market. The Sandwiches are very good. A fine call.

Ben's: Holly Moore and I disagree vehemently on this, (never say I'm not "fair and balanced" :wink:,) but I find the place vastly overrated and their chili nasty. Props to Ben Ali and his family for keeping the place going after the riots and (even more devastating) during subway construction, when every other storefront for blocks was shut down. Now that the neighborhood is "revitalized" I expect they do more business between 11PM and 4AM on a Friday night than they used to do in a week back when I lived nearby. An obvious, almost obligatory, choice, but a bad one.

Lauriol Plaza: A perfectly mediocre place, much beloved of unadventurous 30-somethings. Another obvious choice.

Matchbox: Not bad but, again, something of a no-brainer. Their pizza is not my favorite, but is a quality pie and deserves respect. Many nights, you'll feel less like a Beltway insider than a suburbanite on the way to a basketball game there, as it is just around the corner from the MCI Center. I like to go there early or late, to avoid the crowds.

The Diner: Maybe they've inproved, but the one meal I had there (breakfast, which should be a no-brainer) was wretched.

Moby Dick: Best pick on the list. Cheap, good, a bit obscure.

I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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Not sure how the author came up with this list but I can't agree with much on that list.

Ben's, Lauriol and TQ are mediocre at best. I can't believe people think Ben's is good or cheap (for what they serve). There are far better places to dine and cheaper. How about 3rd and Eats, FL Ave Grill, Full Kee or the hot dog cart on 7th&I?

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I'm a big fan of Moby Dicks (besides the Dupont Circle location, they also have one in Georgetown and McLean and the food is consistent at each of them). The others are not near the places I typically end up so I haven't tried them.

But it's pretty easy to eat cheap and well in DC if that's your goal - especially for lunch.

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Agree with the author of the article?

No.

Care to expound upon your thinking? About the choice of the restaurants? The assessment of the ten choices? Anything?

I agree with Charles. Another list of the usual suspects.

Not one restaurant on that list is even remotely known for the "excellent service" in the article's title. Quite the opposite. The only thing they all have in common is that they are cheap, and as we all know, you get what you pay for.

Mark

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Another ditto. Charles hit precisely the note I would have on Moby's and it's a pleasant surprise to see the number of us who appreciate this very humble, no frills establishment. Great kabobs, specials including fish, and sandwiches. Same re the sides.

Ben's is very important culturally, especially since there is so little left in a changing U Street corridor that endures from the African-American owned and run businesses of the past. The smoked sausage is the best thing there. The chili's mediocre as are the fries, but I am fond of the old booths, atmosphere and friendliness. A historic stop on one's way to Home Rules for silicon kitchen supplies or Go Mamma, Go! for the "We Who Have Money Sure Do Like the Third World" supply of seductive linens and crimson-dyed wooden salad bowls.

FYI, Matchbox (never been there) just got written up again in tomorrow's magazine for the Washington Post. It received two stars.

"Viciousness in the kitchen.

The potatoes hiss." --Sylvia Plath

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Thumbs-up for the Diner (my dad still raves about the $7.95 fish special he had there two years ago) and Matchbox. Have had great food in both places.

This "centrally located" business is bunk, though. Tourists aren't going to Adams Morgan, where the Diner and Left Bank are, and I wouldn't try to direct anyone to Lauriol Plaza from the Metro for love or money. Ben's, I think might be somewhere near a Green Line stop? Also nowhere near the monuments or other attractions.

You want good food on the Mall? Go to the cafeteria in the Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian. That's a much more practical find that better matches the lead-in to this article.

Cooking and writing and writing about cooking at the SIMMER blog

Pop culture commentary at Intrepid Media

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This "centrally located" business is bunk, though. Tourists aren't going to Adams Morgan, where the Diner and Left Bank are, and I wouldn't try to direct anyone to Lauriol Plaza from the Metro for love or money. Ben's, I think might be somewhere near a Green Line stop? Also nowhere near the monuments or other attractions.

Good point re Adams Morgan & LP, though I have seen tourists exit taxis to go to mediocre restaurants north of Dupont Circle that rely on their patronage.

Ben's is directly across the street from the metro stop. It is considered a serious tourist destination by some, including readers of Gourmet & fans of the Sterns. The area does not accommodate the usual things visitors do in town, but holiday lights are up in Adams Morgan already. The U Street corridor and streets nearby are becoming a bit of a Mecca for shoppers since there are so many stores with furniture and household goods, funky jewelers, imported wares and so forth. The set who tend to gravitate to Georgetown are starting to head to the vicinity of Ben's, so their friends from out of town may follow.

"Viciousness in the kitchen.

The potatoes hiss." --Sylvia Plath

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I applaud their inclusion of Breadline and The Burro. How did they even find them?? Especially The Burro...it's hidden away in the 2000 Penn shopping center and is populated by mostly GW students and World Bank people. And really tasty burritos, of course. Breadline is probably the most sensible item on the list, all in all. It's unclear if the ordering is significant, but it's my go-to lunch spot more often than is financially responsable of me.

Other than that, the list doesn't do much for me, but who couldn't do a better one around here, ne?

Matt Robinson

Prep for dinner service, prep for life! A Blog

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If one more person recommends Loriol Plaza I'm going to scream.

If I have to go to one more birthday celebration, get together with friends, happy hour, or other event planned by people who don't know what food is supposed to taste like I'm going to shake them into next week.

Just because some thing is over priced, and comes with big overly sweet drinks, doesn't make it good!!!

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If one more person recommends Loriol Plaza I'm going to scream.

If I have to go to one more birthday celebration, get together with friends, happy hour, or other event planned by people who don't know what food is supposed to taste like I'm going to shake them into next week.

Just because some thing is over priced, and comes with big overly sweet drinks, doesn't make it good!!!

I don't actually eat at Lauriol Plaza unless someone makes me, but I've never quite understood the visceral hatred it draws. It always seemed perfectly OK, and even a cut above chain restaurant Latin -- not that that's not setting the bar pretty low. Is just because it's so dang successful?

I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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I don't know, Its expensive, you have to wait forever for a table, too much grease and cheese covering up what is usually better than chain latin food.

As sad as it seems, I think its the lack of real mexican places this poor girl without a car can get to, I would rather hit up La Loma on Mass instead.

Of couse if I could shlept out to VA/MD there are more choices, but whats not on a metro line basically doesn't exist for me.

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Boring.  Obvious. Wrong.

Nothing on Capitol Hill.  No Asian, only the most well-scrubbed Latin, nothing in any area that hasn't been cleansed of the poor and the threatening.  It should be called the "cautious Tourist's Guide to Safe Dining."

Hi Busboy,

I think you are being a bit harsh.

First of all, there is Asian on the list, so that was just a blatantly false statement.

One of the requirements the piece sets for itself was being close to "the attractions," which I imagine means stuff in the district. I have a damn hard time finding good Thai, Chinese, Vietnamese and Korean in the district and I lived there for 24 years. So, I think we can go a little easy on them for the "No Asian" thing. The good sushi in the district is very expensive, but I might have put Kotobuki on there instead of Aoi.

Matchbox and the Chili Bowl are places that I think a traveler on a budget should try, and Diner is pretty neat, especially for a visitor enjoying the adams morgan nightlife. Or would you reccomend a jumbo slice instead? Breadline is also an excellent choice.

Edited by eatvancouver (log)

Jason

Editor

EatVancouver.net

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Boring.  Obvious. Wrong.

Nothing on Capitol Hill.  No Asian, only the most well-scrubbed Latin, nothing in any area that hasn't been cleansed of the poor and the threatening.  It should be called the "cautious Tourist's Guide to Safe Dining."

Hi Busboy,

I think you are being a bit harsh.

First of all, there is Asian on the list, so that was just a blatantly false statement.

One of the requirements the piece sets for itself was being close to "the attractions," which I imagine means stuff in the district. I have a damn hard time finding good Thai, Chinese, Vietnamese and Korean in the district and I lived there for 24 years. So, I think we can go a little easy on them for the "No Asian" thing. The good sushi in the district is very expensive, but I might have put Kotobuki on there instead of Aoi.

Matchbox and the Chili Bowl are places that I think a traveler on a budget should try, and Diner is pretty neat, especially for a visitor enjoying the adams morgan nightlife. Or would you reccomend a jumbo slice instead? Breadline is also an excellent choice.

I'll see your 24 years in the District and raise you four. :wink:

I believe that if the author were President, this piece could be presented as an articel of impeachment, to wit:

Not having a single Ethiopian restaurant is a High Crime, given that this is the one ethnic (and inexpensive) (and funky) food of which Washington can legitinately argue that we offer the best in the country.

And not choosing a Latin restaurant that actually caters to a Latin crowd is a Misdemeanor -- heck, Tamarindo is only a two blocks away from Lauriol Plaza, and Mt. Pleasant isn't that far off, either.

Mentally -- if not officially -- "sushi" is a distinct category for me, as opposed to "Asian" generally but I'll grant you that. On the other hand, if you couldn't find good Thai, Vietnamese, Chinese or Malaysian food you weren't looking -- just as they weren't.

On the Jumbo Slice front, after six hours of drinking, I'm sure they taste as good as anything at The Diner. And, at least jumbo slices are a bizarre DC tradition, as opposed to mediocre neo-diners, which are as common as SUV's at a soccer match. Hell, at least Tryst has a personality. Trio's diner has personality and a history (and serves milkshakes for breakfast).

On the whole, I just don't think the author tried very hard and thus came up with a list that was worse than wrong -- it was boring.

I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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Hey, I like Ben's.  But only, ONLY, for half-smokes and really good homefries for breakfast.  The rest, well, whatever.

If I found myself in front of Ben's I'd just walk a few blocks to the east and eat at Oohs and Aahs. That's good food, and the service ain't half bad for what it is--they bring what you order upstairs, or sit at the counter and watch the passing show.

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I think we need to consider the source on this one. I have relatives that work for Southern Living, so perhaps I'm over sympathetic, but some food for thought:

I'd guess your average Southern Living reader is a woman, in the 50-65 age group, who wants to travel and yet isn't too adventurous. If you were in that age group, living in Jackson, MS and coming to DC for the 1st time, these recs. don't seem too off-base. Remember that a lot of out of town dining guides don't keep up on the hot places to eat of the minute.

I surely would recommend Matchbox or Moby Dick- and especially Breadline!- to an out of towner looking for good food on a budget. 3 out of 10 ain't bad.

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  • 2 weeks later...
Mentally -- if not officially -- "sushi" is a distinct category for me, as opposed to "Asian" generally but I'll grant you that. On the other hand, if you couldn't find good Thai, Vietnamese, Chinese or Malaysian food you weren't looking -- just as they weren't.

I will agree that Ethiopian should be on the list, but

1. I was looking for good Thai, Vietnamese, Chinese and Malaysian IN the district.

2. It was nearly impossible to find. For Vietnamese Falls Church is where it's at. All the good Thai places seem to be in Arlington. Okay, I have heard of some underground place run by a guy named Toth, but I haven't tried it yet. If lives up to the hype, then maybe they should have mentioned that. Chinese is DC flat out sucks. We have one of the worst Chinatown's ever. Tai Shan is reasonable but only if you know the owner. Eat First can be good, but is highly inconsistent. Full Kee is alright, but mainly because it's open so late. Some of the more expensive places are better, but don't fit the requirements of the article. China Garden in Rosslyn is good, but again, not in DC. I blame it on Tony Chang thinking he is the godfather of chinatown. I haven't really looked for Malaysian food, so you've got me there.

Jason

Editor

EatVancouver.net

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