Yes, I know there are people who swear by frozen custard. That slice (scoop?) of boardwalk Americana that brings back nostalgic memories of summers on the Jersey Shore or at Rehoboth Beach. I get it. Frozen custard is tasty and I do like it marginally more than regular soft-serve. That said, I much prefer hard ice cream. The Dairy Godmother, a cutely-named, popular and friendly spot in the lively Del Ray neighborhood of Alexandria, specializes in frozen custard. My salted caramel frozen custard, which came in a delicious waffle cone, was tasty. That said, as frozen desserts go, I still like my hard serve.
The Dairy Godmother is located at 2310 Mount Vernon Ave, Alexandria, VA.
I had heard many people extol the virtues of the duck noodle soup at Chinatown Express. Given the very mixed reviews of the place online and the fact that it seemed like a bit of a tourist trap, I was deeply skeptical. However, given the fact that there are few authentic Chinese spots remaining in DC’s sad Chinatown and since they do have someone in the front window making noodles by hand, I figured I ought to give this veritable institution a try. I went on a nice evening and sitting outside was pleasant, despite the fact that the outdoor seating is hardly idyllic and you’re likely to be placed next to an A/C unit or something similar. Nevertheless, it all would have been pleasant enough had the food been better. The duck noodle soup really was disappointing; the duck had little meat on it and the broth was thin and utterly lacking in flavor. I left feeling that my skepticism was warranted and not understanding why people say they love this place. If you insist on eating Chinese food in Chinatown, stick to Reren or China Boy.
Chinatown Express is located at 746 6th Street Northwest.
I entered El Catrachito, a tiny restaurant in Wheaton in what clearly used to be a railroad car-style diner, having little idea what Honduran food was. I left wondering why it isn’t more popular. Mexico has its tacos and El Salvador has its pupusas while Honduras has baleadas. What are baleadas, you ask? Well they are a deliciously unhealthy tortilla folded over and filled with refried beans, scrambled eggs, avocado and cream. I ordered the baleadas mixtas which also had deliciously-seasoned chicken and beef thrown in for good measure. Make no mistake: there is nothing remotely healthy about these bad boys. But they are extremely satisfying.
This cute little spot is nothing remotely fancy but it certainly is delicious and well-worth a visit.
El Catrachito is located at 2408 Univ Blvd W in Wheaton, MD.
At first glance, this small, storefront Thai restaurant in Arlington looks like a run of the mill Thai restaurant. But look more closely, and you’ll notice signs that this is no ordinary Thai restaurant. The picture on the wall, for instance, is of people on horseback on a steppe with a yurt. That’s because the owners of Thai Eatery aren’t Thai at all but are, in fact, Mongolian and this is a spot that (in addition to an extensive Thai menu that I didn’t try) serves up authentic Mongolian food. How did I know that? Well, I probably would just have bypassed this place as just another Americanized Thai restaurant had it not been for the fact that a college classmate of mine lived in Mongolia for a time and tipped me off about the place. I ordered raisin juice to drink, which is a traditional and refreshing Mongolian beverage. In case you’re wondering what raisin juice is, you’re not alone. I, too, couldn’t fathom how a dry raisin could produce juice, so I looked it up. It turns out that it’s made by soaking raisins in water and then evaporating the excess liquid.
For food, I ordered khuushuur, which are fried dumplings filled with juicy beef, and a bit of broth, making them reminiscent of soup dumplings, but fried. An interesting Mongolian tradition is the belief that holding warm khuushuur between your hands will boost circulation thereby promoting health. I’m not sure there have been scientific studies showing whether the boosted circulation offsets the artery-clogging that is sure to occur from eating these. Either way, they are delicious (but very heavy).
Thai Eatery certainly isn’t fancy, but it’s a solid place to grab a tasty and reasonably-priced Mongolian meal.
Thai Eatery is located at 1926 Wilson Blvd in Arlington.
At long-last, DC has a Georgian restaurant. While many people are confused that Georgia is, in fact, a country in addition to being a state, Georgia has one of the world’s greatest cuisines and one of its oldest wine cultures. In fact, Georgians will claim that the country is the world’s oldest wine producer but the Cypriots and people from several other countries would beg to differ. Regardless, Georgia makes some truly excellent wine, and the beautifully-decorated Supra is a perfect place to savor some. Some Georgian wines are fermented and aged in a large clay jar called a qvevri and Supra offers several of these. At the friendly Georgian waiter’s recommendation, I had the Orgo Saperavi. At $16 for a glass, it certainly was expensive, but it was an excellent red.
The food was fantastic as well. We started with the tasting board, which includes pkhali (a type of ball of vegetables that is hard to describe but that tastes amazing), three Georgian cheeses that could stand toe to toe with the world’s best, eggplant, additional spreads and warm, delicious fresh bread. It was beautifully presented. Then we moved on to khachapuri. Georgia has many kinds of khachapuri, which are stuffed breads. We opted for the ajaruli, a boat-shaped khachapuri that is filled with cheese and an egg. We finished with khinkali, Georgian soup-dumplings that are a bit similar to Chinse xiao long bao. While tasty, they could have had a higher soup to meat ratio and were only lukewarm inside. That would be my only criticism of what was otherwise a fantastic meal.
Supra is located at 1205 11th Street NW.
Back in my hometown on Long Island, we have a little Japanese grocery store where the friendly sushi chef, Takahashi-san, makes delicious and reasonably-priced sushi in the back. Takahashi-san, who has a son my age, is a fixture in my hometown and has a loyal following of regular customers, including my father. I didn’t realize how spoiled I was to grow up in a place where I could get a tuna roll for only around $5 or so. Here in DC, I rarely eat sushi because it’s so damn expensive; even a supermarket roll costs over $10 and the pieces of $1 happy hour nigiri at Tono Sushi, a great deal by DC standards, are almost comically tiny.
Yet, improbably, hidden in a building downtown, Sushi Express exists. The place is basic and mostly for takeout. It’s only open weekdays and closes at 7 pm. But, it might be the best place in town for affordable sushi. Tuna, salmon and yellowtail rolls are only $4 and there are great-value combos as well. This is definitely the place if you just want your sushi fix without breaking the bank.
Sushi Express is located at 1990 K St NW #400.
I had passed by Bul, a Korean restaurant in Adams Morgan, countless times before trying it. While I love Adams Morgan (it’s my neighborhood), I don’t tend to take restaurants on 18th Street very seriously. I would NEVER eat at one of those spots that’s primarily a fratty bar that happens to serve food. There are, however, some solid spots: Zenebech, Donburi, Sakuramen and Himalayan Heritage come to mind. When I finally did go to Bul, it was only because a friend of a friend (who is Korean) had recommended it. Moreover, it was our third choice of where to go that night, after our first choice had been closed for a private party and our second choice was packed to the gills. I’m so glad we went- the food at Bul is delicious, authentic and reasonably-priced.
One of my friends who I was with has made it very clear that she absolutely hates the thought of having children. However, after trying Bul’s kimchi fried rice with pork, she declared that she was in love with the dish and that having the dish’s babies was “negotiable.” For my part, I tried a bunch of dishes including the seafood pancake (excellent), the galbi (excellent) and the Bul Korean Fried Chicken (so spicy that I was crying). Definitely don’t make the mistake I made of overlooking this place and give it a try!
Bul is located at 2431 18 St NW.
While the DC area is loaded with Mexican taquerias and Salvadoran pupserias, Guatemalan restaurants are a bit harder to come by. La Bamba Restaurant in Silver Spring is your spot to try Guatemalan food, which is similar to the food of its Mexican and Salvadoran neighbors but with its own unique twists. You will find Mexican food on the menu here, but that’s for the Gringos. That said, I was the only Gringo in the restaurant when I went.
Guatemala does have its own style of tacos, which are rolled up, fried and crisy, but I opted for the pepian de pollo, a chicken stew, at the waitress’s recommendation. I tend to favor red meat over chicken and don’t generally love stews but the special Guatemalan sauce that the chicken was stewed in was extra flavorful and the green hot sauce that they brought me added the perfect kick.
For dessert, I had the rellenitos, a sort of fried plantain made into the shape of an empanada and stuffed with a sweet black bean filling. While it may seem strange to the North American palate to have black beans for dessert, it’s really no different than red beans in Asian cuisine.
La Bamba certainly isn’t fancy, but this no-frills, homey spot serves inexpensive, soulful and satisfying meals.
La Bamba is located at 8241 Georgia Ave, Silver Spring, MD
No, Chez Dior is not a designer clothing store. In fact, it’s the DC area’s only Senegalese restaurant and a very tasty one at that. This friendly, welcoming and brightly-decorated Hyatsville spot offers a broad menu showcasing one of West Africa’s most complex cuisines. Start off your meal with a pain de singe juice, made from the fruit of the baobab tree. After that (provided that you like fish), I highly recommend the thieboudienne, which is the national dish of Senegal (and neighboring Mauritania). Thieboudienne is a fish and rice dish that contains delicious, seasoned rice similar to jollof rice, but red in color due to tomato sauce and seasonings. The dish is great, but not if you don’t like fish and other flavors that may be a bit exotic for the American palate. Regardless of whether you go for the Thieboudienne, the laid-back, friendly vibe of Chez Dior is sure to make for a positive dining experience.
Chez Dior is located at 5124 Baltimore Ave, Hyattsville, MD 20781.
DC is known for its Ethiopian food and for good reason: there are probably more Ethiopian restaurants in this city than there are lame, overpriced steakhouses that K Street lobbyists frequent (THANK GOD!). But this overabundance of Ethiopian restaurants poses a conundrum: which should I eat at? Zenebech and Keren (technically Eritrean) are word-of-mouth favorites and Ethiopic is the home of bougie Ethiopian food (all are excellent). But Chercher is the lone Ethiopian restaurant on Michelin’s Bib Gourmand list, making it worth a try. I started my meal with tej (Ethiopian honey wine). I brew tej from time to time at home and have had the homemade tej from Habesha- both my home-brew and Habesha’s were significantly funkier and drier than the tej at Chercher, which I suspect is made sweeter to conform to the American palate. That said, it was tasty and Chercher does boast an impressive selection of Ethiopian wine and beer. For food, I ordered kitfo, an Ethiopian version of steak tartare that comes with a side of cheese and collard greens. It’s worth noting that kitfo (best eaten raw) is mixed with ghee, making for a very rich and heavy meal. It was delicious, but I felt overstuffed without even finishing it. Also of note, it’s not worth ordering the delux version that comes with qocho, a flatbread. A few pieces of bread is simply not worth an extra $3, especially when you’re given plenty of injera. Decor is cute, prices are fairly reasonable and the spot is date-friendly.
Chercher is located at 1334 9th St NW.