It can be tricky to sift through the maze of carryouts in DC. They are invariably pretty sketchy and some are downright awful, but if you know where to look, there are some hidden gems. Johnny’s Carryout is in many ways very typical. It’s not the cleanest-looking, there’s bullet-proof glass and the menu is miles long, with a massive array of Chinese dishes, cheesesteaks that they tout as the “world’s best” (just tell that to someone from Philly), fried chicken, and fried fish.
I ordered vegetable lo mein, which was pretty standard but well-priced at $6 for a large portion. It wasn’t anything particularly special, but it did have a good assortment of vegetables, including baby corn, broccoli, mushrooms, carrots and snap peas. However, the reason this place gets 4 stars is their Chinese sugar donuts, which are basically fried dough dusted with sugar. They’re simple but absolutely delicious and at $3.50 for 10 pieces, it’s a great deal.
Honey’s Empanadas is certainly not a healthy food truck to eat your lunch at but it certainly is tasty. Unlike the empanadas at Julia’s Empanadas which are baked and make a claim to be nutritious, Honey’s Empanadas are very much fried. And if you want, you can get this fried empanada with fried pork inside it. There are a variety of interesting options, including a Korean kalbi beef empanada called the “Yi” and a chicken tikka masala empanada called the “Asha.” At least the day I went, there was only one veggie option. You can get two empanadas plus a side for $10, which is a bit steep for the quantity of food. The sides are also not exactly healthy and consist of tostones (fried plantains), fried yuca and red beans and rice. But for a day when you just want something greasy, comforting and delicious that’s made with love, Honey’s Empanadas is a good way to go.
You can find Honey’s Empanadas’ location on their Twitter.
Grill Kabob is a fast casual Afghan kabob restaurant with two Downtown DC locations, one at 1331 Pennsylvania Ave NW and one at 1025 Vermont Avenue NW, as well as a few additional locations throughout the DMV area. Grill Kabob is similar to Moby Dick House of Kabob, though Moby Dick is Persian and has a larger menu. Grill Kabob does a solid lamb kabob with rice, yogurt sauce, chutney and a side salad. My Afghan friend who ate there with me enjoyed it. However, the place lacks atmosphere and variety on the menu. If you’re just looking for a good kabob, though, this place does that well (as it should with a name like “Grill Kabob.”
My friends and I stumbled upon Sonoma Cellar while browsing around Old Town Alexandria and decided to stop in for wine tasting. Sonoma Cellar offers a tasting of four wines for $10 or four reserve wines for $15, as well as a full food menu (we stuck to wine this time). They are flexible and let you mix and match between the two wine lists. We all decided to taste two wines from the regular “Select Tasting” list and two from the “Reserve Tasting” list for $12.50. The pours were generous and the experience afforded us the opportunity to taste some truly great wines while being well taken care-of by our friendly server.
The star of the show: the 2015 Mazzocco Zinfandel
I started with the 2013 Chehalem Reisling from Wilamette Valley, Oregon, which was a classic, bright, satisfying Reisling. Less successful was my next tasting, the rosé of the day which was a Pinot Noir-based rosé with notes of strawberry that we all found rather bitter. However, the 2013 Au Contraire Pinot Noir from the Sonoma Coast, CA was great, and everything I want from a pinot noir; it was a light, approachable, tasty red wine. Even better still was the 2015 Mazzocco Zinfandel from Dry Creek Valley, CA. This bold, dark red had complex flavor but lacked the unpleasant earthiness of some potent red wines. It was without a doubt one of the best reds I have ever tasted and I plan to pick up a bottle at some point. I am no wine connoisseur, but my group unanimously agreed that this one was really good.
I must admit that I’ve been known to bash Moroccan food a bit. While I’m a big fan of Tunisian food, Moroccan food’s spicier and more seafood-oriented cousin, I tend to lampoon the national dish of Morocco, the tagine. Tagines are an overcooked stew of generally under-seasoned meat and vegetables and as a food, are highly overrated. So at Magazan, I did not order a tagine but instead stuck to two Moroccan foods that I actually like: harira and bastilla. Harira is a lentil soup, which is tough to mess up too badly. Mine was pretty average, though I didn’t find any small pieces of lamb in it, a usual component. I also ordered the chicken bastilla, pastry filled with chicken and dusted with cinnamon and sugar. The sweet/savory combination turns some people off to bastilla, but I really like it. In Morocco, bastilla is just as commonly made with pigeon, and while I was not surprised that pigeon wasn’t an option at Magazan, it would’ve been cool. Nevertheless, Magazin’s bastilla was delicious and beautifully presented.
The major flaw with Magazan, at least in my experience there, was the service. I went in the late afternoon when the restaurant was nearly empty and plenty of staff were there. Nonetheless, my server, while pleasant, was relatively inattentive and slow to take my order. They also brought me the wrong menu (a cheaper menu of lunch specials first) before apologizing and bringing me the dinner menu, because the lunch deals ended earlier despite the fact that I was still there at an off-hour and far too early for dinner. This place has the makings of being great; the food is tasty and the decor is sleek, but the service needs an upgrade.
Magazan is located at 2901 Columbia Pike in the Westmont neighborhood of Arlington, VA.
Pansaari is a really cool concept: an underground Indian restaurant with an open kitchen,
South Indian Coffee
low tables with floor seating and spices for sale. You walk down a flight of external stairs to the basement of a drab building on 17th street near Dupont Circle and you’re immediately transported into a beautiful, expansive, South Asian-inspired space. I went for brunch on a Sunday. Pansaari’s brunch offerings eschew American brunch options in favor of a purely Indian menu, offering dosas, kati rolls, parathas, and chaat plus drinks such as chai and South Indian coffee, as well as desserts. I ordered a Mysore masala dosa, as well as a South Indian coffee.
Interestingly, you place your order when you enter, bring your receipt to the open kitchen and then take a seat. Everything was going smoothly but for the fact that the people working the open kitchen, who were also serving as food runners, couldn’t keep straight who had ordered what. This confusion could have been resolved by simply having numbers on the tables, as most places that use this format do. Instead, we waited for a long time for our food, which was a frustrating aspect of a brunch that otherwise had a lot of potential.
When the food finally arrived, it was delicious, but those with sensitive palates might want to ask them to lay off on the spicy heat (I like spice but one of my friends found her cheese paratha overpowering). I really liked my South Indian coffee, which reminded me of Vietnamese coffee with condensed milk. This place is a unique and really cool spot with lots of potential. It would earn 5 stars but for the service issues, which should be easy for them to fix.
Pansaari is located at 603 17th St NW.
Rappahannock Coffee is a cozy, though not flashy, coffee shop that roasts its own beans in house. It has a bit of a faded feel to it, but I appreciated the fact that even though I was there on a Saturday, it wasn’t especially crowded and I could easily find a seat. That is not the case at many of the coffee shops in the DMV area. The menu is small and fairly basic, but this place gets the job done. It’s not the sort of coffee shop that I would make a destination out of (there are some, like Qualia Coffee, that I will go out of my way to go to) but if you’re in the area, it’s solid.
Rappahannock Coffee is located at 2406 Columbia Pike in the Pennrose section of Arlington.
Panas, an empanadas shop near Dupont Circle, is an excellent spot to get your empanada fix. It is bright, cheery, friendly, cheap and offers a wide variety of delicious empanadas, including many options for vegetarians. The empanadas on offer range from the carnivore lover’s chipotle steak to the “popeye” (sautéed spinach and onions, golden raisins, cream and goat cheese). The empanadas are smaller and lighter than the ones at Julia’s Empanadas and at $2.50 each, are best ordered a few at a time. Stop in for a fast, cheap, and tasty meal or snack!
Panas is located at 2029 P St NW.
It turns out that Philadelphia isn’t the only city in Pennsylvania with a distinctive style of sandwich. Pittsburgh boasts its own special sandwiches, known for containing french fries inside the sandwich. Luckily, you can sample them at Pittsburgh Rick’s, a food truck that hails from Leesburg, VA (apparently they used to have a brick and mortar location out there). I ordered the pastrami and cheese, which comes stuffed with excellent pastrami, provolone, lettuce, tomato and (of course) french fries. I’m sure it’s pretty artery-clogging but it’s absolutely delicious and I highly recommend it.
You can find Pittsburgh Rick’s location on their Twitter.
The DC area is known for its profusion of Ethiopian spots, including markets, restaurants and coffee shops, but what makes Dama Pastry and Cafe (a market, restaurant and coffee shop all rolled into one) especially interesting is that you can sample Ethiopian pastries there. Ethiopia doesn’t really have much in the way of desserts, aside from Italian imports like tiramisu, but Ethiopia does have some breakfast pastries (which also appear to be Italian in origin, but which Ethiopians have made there own). At Dama Pastry and Cafe you can enjoy a delicious coffee while gorging yourself on a large Ethiopian-style bombolonas (donut of Italian origin) or Ethiopian fried dough called pasti. The bombolonas is tasty, but only lightly sweet.
Dama Pastry and Cafe is located at 1505 Columbia Pike in Foxcroft Heights, Arlington.