Z-Burger is a small DC burger chain located at 3301 14th St. NW in Columbia Heights, with additional locations in Tenleytown, Dupont Circle, and Virginia Square, Arlington. The format is similar to Five Guys, another, older homegrown chain that has grown far larger. Burgers are grilled fresh for the customer and you can choose from a wide variety of toppings for no additional charge. My burger was certainly tasty, though I found the patty slightly less juicy than Five Guys. It did hit the spot, though, and it wasn’t as if I tried it in blind taste test up next to Five Guys- that would be possible given how close the nearest Five Guys is, but I don’t think your nutritionist would recommend it. The coolest thing about this Z-Burger location, however, is that it is situated inside the historic Tivoli Theater complex, which was built in 1924. As such, the interior of Z-Burger has a beautiful ceiling with crown moulding and antique, whimsical murals on the wall. It’s a cool space, and worth checking out.
Bantam King is a Japanese place that specializes in chicken ramen and Japanese-style fried chicken located at 501 G St NW. Bantam King is owned by the same people as Izakaya/Daikaya, but while Izakaya/Daikaya is sleek and a bit dim inside, Bantam King looks a bit like a fast food restaurant that has been whimsically decorated with Asian lanterns, plastic trays, Christmas lights and Japanese cartoons.
No wonder, given the fact there apparently used to be a Burger King in that spot. It is bright and fun and the friendly staff adds to the atmosphere. I started with one of the specials, a monkfish tartare on toast, which was delicious and a bit like foie gras. I had never had fish liver before, but it really does taste like liver from other animals. My chicken ramen was also delicious, filling and hearty. Overall, this place is great. The menu is inventive, the decor is fun, and the people are friendly. Check it out!
I confess I often overlook Italian places in favor of other cuisines that are less common. But once I found out about A. Litteri, I just had to go check it out. A. Litteri is an Italian market, butcher and sandwich shop located at 517 Morse street N.E., tucked in the warehouses occupied by wholesalers around Union Market. It’s the definition of an institution; it was founded in 1926 but moved to its current location in 1932. The current owner’s grandfather and great uncle (Antonio Litteri, hence the name) founded the place. The store is mostly a market selling Italian products such as Italian wines, balsamic vinegars, sauces, and pastas. Their collection of different types of olive oil is particularly impressive. I know olive oil tasting is a thing (when I went, there were a few out to taste), but I’ve never seen so many different kinds of olive oil in one place. I also can’t imagine that most customers are even remotely knowledgeable about olive oil to appreciate the selection (I’m certainly not). What this demonstrates to me is a commitment to excellence and a sense of pride in a carefully curated selection. There’s also a butcher in the back where you can order sandwiches like meatball heroes and, of course, Italian sandwiches. I ordered the Italian sandwich, which was delicious and very reasonably-priced at $5 for six inches (sure, the nearby Subway is cheaper but obviously the quality here is far better). The only drawback is there’s no place to sit and eat, and no particularly good spot for a few blocks around. This place is well-worth stopping in though- it’s truly one of a kind.
Ethiopic is an upscale Ethiopian restaurant located at 401 H Street NE. Those critical of Ethiopic might point to its higher price point than most Ethiopian spots in DC and argue that you’re paying mainly for the ambiance. There is some truth to this; the ambiance is lovely with dim lighting and Ethiopic script on the walls. Unlike a place like Zenebech, it makes a romantic spot for a date (the messiness of Ethiopian food aside) and you can certainly get great quality food for a cheaper price at a place like Zenebech.
But Ethiopic‘s high-end character makes for a very worthwhile dining experience that goes far beyond the chic decor. While other reviewers of Ethiopic have griped about inconsistent service, my table’s server was attentive, friendly and helpful. The meal begins with a tasty wheat bread with a hot pepper and olive oil dipping sauce, and the drinks list is particularly extensive; while most Ethiopian spots in DC only offer St. George Lager, Ethiopic offers a list of several different Ethiopian beers, though only some were available when I went. There are also several Ethiopian wines plus tej, a Ethiopian honey wine fermented with powdered leaves and twigs of the gesho plant, which acts a bit like hops and lends a funkiness to the beverage. Unsurprisingly, this funkiness is not always well-received by American palates, so Ethiopic’s tej is sweet and very approachable. I personally prefer the funkier home brew at Habesha Market and Carry-out, but Ethiopic’s tej does make a pleasant accompaniment to spicy Ethiopian food, if the sweetness doesn’t bother you.
Kitfo- Ethiopian beef tartare.
The full richness of Ethiopian food can’t be experienced without trying both meat and veggie dishes, but Ethiopic doesn’t offer mixed meat and veggie combos for some reason. As such, it is best to come here with a group and eat family style. We ordered a vegetarian combo, lamb tibs and kitfo, which is Ethiopian beef tartare served with a little cottage cheese and collard greens. The veggies were all delicious but the lamb, while very flavorful, was a little on the tough side. The kitfo, however, was fantastic and wouldn’t be something I’d feel comfortable eating at a place that wasn’t a bit upscale. Overall, Ethiopic is great- the atmosphere is great and while the food in general is similar what you’ll find at excellent hole in the wall places, you’ll find food and drink options here that you won’t find elsewhere.
HipCityVeg is a vegan fast casual restaurant that already has a couple of locations in Philadelphia, but which set up shop at 712 7th St NW. This modern, sleek and friendly spot serves vegan versions of fast food items like chicken sandwiches, burgers and shakes. At the suggestion of the guy serving me, who said that it was their most popular item, I ordered the “Crispy HipCity Ranch” which consists of battered imitation chicken, lettuce, tomato, onion, pickle, and peppercorn ranch. As a non-vegan it was tough for me to see the more mainstream appeal of a sandwich like this; while imitation meat is likely better for the environment than actual meat, imitation chicken doesn’t taste as good, is highly processed and isn’t necessarily healthier. This could have been offset by a decadent, crispy batter, but the batter wasn’t as crispy as I had hoped. It’s also not cheap for the quantity of food. HipCityVeg is certainly bright, friendly and cool, but for someone like myself, I’d rather eat a real chicken sandwich at Chick-fil-A (sorry, chickens). I can certainly see its niche appeal, though.
Menomale is an Italian-style pizzeria located at 2711 12th St NE. “What do you mean by Italian-style pizzeria? I thought all pizza was Italian,” you ask. While it’s true that pizza has its roots in Italy, the New York pie and the Chicago deep dish are at least as American at this point as they are Italian. Menomale strives to take pizza back to its roots by crafting true Neapolitan-style pies with imported ingredients fro Italy’s Campania region. Apparently Neapolitan pies don’t traditionally come sliced, so your pizza arrives with a special pair of scissors to cut it. I ordered the Prosciutto Cotto pie, which was absolutely delicious and paired it with a very pleasant glass of red wine. As you might imagine, even though the prices are reasonable, the ambiance is great, especially if you sit outside. I went there for the first time on a date and it proved to be one of the best casual date spots I’ve been to in DC. Everyone who’s seen Lady and the Tramp knows nothing makes a more romantic date than some classic Italian food. So bring a special someone, pick a pleasant evening and head on over to Brookland!
Langston Grille on Wheels is a food truck operation from Langston Bar & Grille, which is located at 1831 Benning Rd NE. You can find the food truck’s location on their website. The food truck bills itself as soul food, but the options were more cajun/creole, given the variety of po’ boys on offer. They do have a couple of soul food sides, like collard greens and mac and cheese, but at $4 a piece they seemed pretty steep given that soul food sides are typically included with entrees as real soul food restaurants like Florida Avenue Grill and Saint’s Paradise Cafeteria. I ordered a shrimp po’ boy, which was small and disappointing. The price was steep at $12 for a small sandwich and the shrimp was simply boiled with absolutely no seasoning. The people are friendly at Langston Grille on Wheels, but the experience was otherwise a let-down. There is a real need for a good soul food food truck, but Langston Grille on Wheels just didn’t deliver.
Los Hermanos is a Dominican cafeteria-style restaurant located at 1428 Park Rd NW. When I think of Dominican food I can’t help but think of SNL’s parodies of David Ortiz, aka Big Papi, played by Kenan Thompson. And just like Big Papi, you can have a big Dominican lunch at Los Hermanos. It is simple, cheap and friendly. You choose a rice, two meats and a side. I went for rice and peas, pulled pork and beef with a side of mangú (mashed green plantains). Since it is cafeteria style, the food isn’t cooked to order. It’s also fairly simple, but it’s filling and satisfying. I washed it down with a sugary sweet Refresco De Merengue, which is essentially a Dominican version of champagne cola.
I admit I paid no attention to the Corn Factory food truck for a long time, mainly because I assumed from the name that it was all about corn on the cob or popcorn. I’m one of the few people in this world who doesn’t like corn on the cob, and while I love popcorn, it’s not something I eat at lunch. But names can be deceiving. The Corn Factory is actually a Venezuelan and Mexican food truck specializing in corn-based fare like arepas, cachapas, corn tacos, empanadas and tamales. You can find their location on their Twitter. Cachapas are a delicious stuffed corn tortillas that look a bit like pupusas, except for the fact that they are corn-based and not beef-based. I ordered the chachapas mixta, which were filled with chicken and beef, plus delicious seasoning. I added cheese for $0.50, which made them all the more flavorful. It wasn’t a huge quantity of food, but wasn’t tiny either- at $9 it was reasonable by food truck standards, and totally delicious. The line was short as was the wait time and the lady running it was very friendly- I imagine if their offerings were clearer from the name, they would get a lot more traffic. Check it out!
Galanga Indonesian Cuisine is one of at least three Indonesian food trucks in DC. You can find their location on their Twitter. I have previously had mixed experiences with Indonesian food trucks in DC: my meal at Java Cove was only so-so, while my meal at Saté was good. Sadly, Galanga was not good. I ordered the Bihun Goreng, which is stir fried rice noodles in a sweet soy sauce with chicken, egg and bok choy. One would have thought it was wartime and meat was being rationed- there was hardly any chicken in my noodles at all, just a scattered small pieces that were few and far between. There wasn’t much egg either and I wasn’t getting much of the sweet soy sauce. This made for a really bland dining experience, which is not what I expect from a Southeast Asian place. If I wanted to eat plain, thin noodles for lunch, I could have microwaved a pack of ramen.