Khartoum

Rating: ★★★★☆

14937828_10154703134213011_2001594731_nHave you ever walked up 18th street in Adams Morgan (likely not sober) and wondered what the place with the Arabic lettering was? Well it turns out it’s a little Sudanese market called Khartoum, located at 2116 18th St NW. It doesn’t have a huge array of stuff but it does have some cool finds, like fava beans imported from Egypt, as well as all sorts of hookah materials and large containers of cheap olive oil. The friendly owner also talked me in to buying some cumin, which was the freshest I had ever seen. There are a few savory pastries (like sambusas) on the counter, which I plan to try in the future. It doesn’t have a selection of Middle Eastern goods anywhere near as extensive as Shemali’s near American University, but it’s in a much more convenient location (at least for me). It’s worth a stop in, at the very least to 14958704_10154703134223011_1830559791_ncheck out this unique, somewhat obscure spot.

Mama Ayesha’s

Rating: ★★★★★

imageMama Ayesha’s is a Palestinian/Lebanese restaurant located at 1967 Calvert Street NW. Ayesha, for whom the restaurant is named, grew up on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem in the 1800s when it was still part of the Ottoman Empire, making her Palestinian in today’s terminology. She founded Mama Ayesha’s in 1960 and it has remained a beloved institution to this day. Since the countries that comprise the Levant today (Syria, Lebanon, Israel/Palestine and Jordan) were once once considered part of Greater Syria under the Ottoman’s they all have very similar cuisines, with regional specialties of course. Lebanon came to be known as the region’s culinary center such that top restaurants in Amman, for instance, will often market themselves as Lebanese. Pedantic distinctions about cuisine aside, Mama Ayesha’s is truly excellent. While it makes me cringe to pay American prices for what I would eat for a few dollars in Amman, they do excellent and authentic renditions of some of the best mezze classics, including hummus, fuul and falafel. Service is very friendly and the decor is beautiful, if a bit over the top. They also serve a very satisfying kunafeh, which is very difficult to find done properly in the U.S. Kunafeh, at least the Palestinian version which was invented in Nablus, is a sweet, rich dessert consisting of cheese topped with shredded wheat and sugary syrup.

imageIt may sound gross, and it can be if it isn’t done right. When done right it’s divine and Mama Ayesha’s does a solid version.

 

Döner Bistro

Rating: ★★

13262256_10154237305068011_14031005_oDöner Bistro is a German cafe and bar located at 1654 Columbia Rd NW boasting both Turkish döner kababs, casual German fare like schnitzels and sausages, and a solid German beer selection. Döner kababs, which are a pita sandwich similar to a shawarma or a gyro, are originally from Turkey but have become widely popular in Europe, especially in Germany where there has been a lot of immigration from Turkey. Their döner sandwich is pretty good, though it was a bit too heavy on the sauce for my taste. The atmosphere is cool and the decor makes you feel as though you are in a small eatery in Germany (the vibe is somewhat similar to Amsterdam Falafel in that regard, except for the fact that they have beer.

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Lapis

Rating: 

Lapis is an upscale Afghan restaurant located at 1847 Columbia Rd NW. While most Afghan restaurants have rather predictable names that inevitably include “Kabob,” “Afghan,” “Grill,” and/or “Kabul,” Lapis’s name is the first clue that this is not your average Afghan place. Don’t get me wrong, I love Afghan food. In fact, Afghan food is probably my favorite cuisine. But Lapis takes things to another level by providing a more extensive menu than most Afghan restaurants with chic, tasteful decor, and some of DC’s best cocktails.

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The “Five Lions”

Let’s start with the cocktails: Afghanistan is sadly a dry country, but it doesn’t lack delicious ingredients that provide inspiration for interesting and exotic cocktails. I have now tried a number of their cocktails. The “Afghan 75” is tasty, but I would mainly recommend it as a brunch drink. It is a light, bubbly cocktail, made with cognac, cardamom syrup, and champagne. The “Five Lions” (gin, cardamom syrup, egg white, fresh lime) and the “Khyber Pass” (bourbon, creme de violette, and blood orange) are both absolutely fantastic. I also tried a sip of my friend’s “Gulistan,” which is made of rye, house-made rose grenadine and pressed lime, and it was also excellent. I would not recommend the “Karakoram” (gin, orange blossom orgeat, lemon, and soda) so much because the ice and soda dilute it such that it doesn’t have all that much flavor and is a rather weak cocktail (unless that’s what you like).

 

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Aushak

In terms of the food, I haven’t yet tried something there that I didn’t like. I went with a large group of friends and we ordered a bunch of different dishes. Among the appetizers , I have had the Sambosa Trio (phenomenal) and the Bolani with pumpkin and beef. Bolani is essentially a stuffed flatbread and both the pumpkin and beef fillings were excellent. I have had both types of Afghan dumplings, Aushak “and Mantoo (with beef) and both were tasty as well, if perhaps less memorable. That might be simply because I have had both of these dishes many times before.

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Mantoo with beef.

 

 

 

 

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Mixed Grill.

We also ordered the mixed grill (chicken, lamb and ground beef kabobs) which was spot on and the “Qabuli Palao,” which is an Afghan pilaf topped with carrots, raisins and lamb was tasty as well, if a bit of a small portion.

 

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Dal.

All Afghan places have at least a handful of vegetarian options, but Lapis provides an exceptional array of choices, including a vegetarian tasting menu, a wide range of veggie dishes and a number of other dishes that can be made vegetarian. We sampled the sabzi (a spinach dish a bit like Indian saag), the dal and the buranee kadoo, which is sauteed pumpkin topped with garlic yogurt and dry mint. They were all great, but the buranee kadoo was especially excellent.

 

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Buranee Kadoo.

 

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Brunch featuring Karayee, the Sambosa Trio and the “Afghan 75” cocktail.

Lapis also does a nice brunch, and while a large portion of the brunch menu consists of American brunch food, I ordered the tasty Karayee which consists of eggs over sauteed tomatoes, potatoes, onions and hot peppers, which I enjoyed.

 

Fortunately, Afghan cusisine does not lack dessert options. In this regard, Lapis offers the holy trinity of Afghan desserts, Sheer Yakh (vanilla ice cream with rose water and a pistachio garnish), “firnee” which is a custard,  and “sheer berenj,” which is a rice pudding. I found the “sheer yakh” to actually be a little less flavorful than versions at other Afghan places, which often add cardamom and saffron to the mix. I haven’t tried the “sheer berenj” or

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Sheer Yakh.

the “firnee” yet, but I will in the future. Despite the less than perfect ice cream, Lapis is an excellent place that can appeal to people of all tastes, carnivores and vegetarians, and lovers of sophisticated cocktails.

 

 

 

Bukom

Rating: 

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Gulder, a Nigerian beer that’s barely better than PBR, but a novelty nonetheless.

Bukom is a Ghanaian restaurant located at 2442 18th St NW in Adams Morgan. I spent what were arguably the best two weeks of my life (so far) on a trip to Ghana where I was impressed by the country’s tasty food, friendly people, and beautiful scenery.  Bukom is a friendly (if often very loud) and reasonably priced spot to sample authentic Ghanaian food such as fufu (a gooey pounded cassava dish), groundnut (peanut) soup and jollof rice (which tastes a bit like Mexican rice) and much more. They also serve African beers, which is cool (though the beer that I ordered, Gulder, which is Nigerian, was barely better than PBR and was pretty pricey at $7). They have live reggae music sometimes (even though highlife is the music of Ghana, not reggae), but it adds to the vibe.

 

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Groundnut soup with chicken and fufu (called  Kumasi Nkatikwan on the menu).

Himalayan Heritage Restaurant

Rating: 

12953178_10154108973433011_1618604086_oHimalayan Heritage Restaurant is an Indian and Nepalese restaurant located at 2305 18th St NW in Adams Morgan. It is a really great place for a cold winter evening since the place is cozily decorated like a Himalayan mountain lodge. I have been to another Indian and Nepalese restaurant in DC, Laliguras, which was also good but Himalayan Heritage offers more Nepalese options. I started the meal with a mug of chhaang, a Nepalese and Tibetan rice beer that is literally the stuff of legend. It tastes a bit

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Chhaang, the Himalayan rice beer that is the drink of choice of the yetis.

like sake and legend has it that it is the favorite drink of Yetis, who raid villages in order to steal it. It also supposedly cures alcoholism, which is a counterintuitive quality for a beer. For my dinner, I had the dhindo thali. Dhindo is a Nepalese cornmeal porridge that is a bit like West African fufu in consistency. It is used to eat the food with your hands (it serves a similar function to Ethiopian injera). My thali came with goat curry, dal, spinach, and spicy pickled veggies. It was delicious and pretty spicy. I can take medium spice, but if you can’t handle spice at all, be wary. This is a great place to go for a unique dining experience in the heart of AdMo.

 

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Philz Coffee

Rating: 

 

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Mint mojito latte and a croissant.

Philz Coffee is a small San Francisco-based chain whose first East Coast location is at 1827 Adams Mill Rd NW in Adams Morgan. There was a lot of buzz surrounding the opening of Philz since it has a cult following in Cali. My friend from San Jose (who lives in Boston) was visiting DC for the weekend and was super excited to see that there was a Philz opening. I can totally see what the hype was about. While the wait can get a bit long, their drinks are delicious. Their most popular drink is the mint mojito iced coffee, which is creamy, minty, sweet and delicious. I also had their gingersnap iced coffee, which was excellent as well. I also had their butter croissant, which was actually good (I was surprised and impressed since most croissants at American coffee shops are total sh*t, especially the ones at Starbucks that come from La Boulange,  another Bay Area

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Gingersnap latte.

institution). There’s not a ton of seating, but the friendly staff, delicious drinks, and good WiFi totally make up for that.

 

Pizza Boli’s

Rating: 

12874344_10154051516018011_1777144261_oPizza Boli’s is a regional chain, but this review is for the location at 2455 18th St NW in Adams Morgan, which is one of several locations in the area where you can order the famous DC Jumbo Slice, which is a supersized pizza slice of sometimes marginal quality. Yes, I know, writing about jumbo slices is pretty much sacrilege for a food blogger, but sometimes a huge slice of pizza can hit the spot, and not only when drunk. There are may jumbo slice places, especially in Adams Morgan, and most of them 12674795_10154051516118011_847302275_oclaim to be the original jumbo slice joint. Pizza Boli’s is no different in this regard, except that jumbo slices were apparently invented at nearby Pizza Mart. I do think, however, that the jumbo slices at Pizza Boli’s are better than most of their competitors. The sauce to cheese ratio is spot on, and the crust is good and not soggy. By contrast, I find the crust at Jumbo Slice soggy and the crust at Pizza Mart seems almost pre-made. The pizza at Jumbo Pizza on U Street is best consumed while drunk. Plus, you save $0.50 by going to Pizza Boli’s since their jumbo slice is only $5 instead of $5.50. I wouldn’t trek out of my way to go here (unless you’re looking to show an out of town visitor one of DC’s most infamous traditions) but I live in the area, so it actually makes for a satisfying and cheap dinner option when I don’t feel like cooking.

Amsterdam Falafel

Rating: 

12788792_10153999476498011_1674626308_oAmsterdam Falafel is a falafel and french fries shop located at 1830 14th St NW and 2425 18th St NW, with an additional location at L’Enfant Plaza. The photos here are from the 14th Street location, but I have actually been to the 18th Street location more often. Those who know me well know that I am extremely picky about falafel. I spent a summer in Amman, Jordan and became addicted to the falafel at three places: Hashem, Al-Quds Falafel, and Abu Jbara. Afteem Falafel in Bethlehem is also

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Hashem in Amman, one of my favorite places in the world.

world-class. My falafel snobbery is to the point where I prefer Jordanian falafel to the subtly different Israeli falafel. Normally, I absolutely hate falafel in the US. But Amsterdam Falafel is actually pretty good. To some degree, what one considers good falafel is a matter of personal taste, related to what goes into the batter (how much parsley, for instance- I prefer no parsley in my falafel). But there are also some basic rules for how not to totally f*ck up falafel.

 

  1. It MUST be FRIED. There is a place I’ve seen in Penn Station in New York called “Chickpea” with the tagline “always baked, never fried.” It makes me want to vomit in disgust.
  2. It MUST be FRESH. The best falafel in the world isn’t good once it’s been sitting out for more than a few minutes. If you go to a falafel place and the falafel comes out of a bin from behind the counter and not fresh out of the fryer, you’re getting inadequate falafel.
  3. It should be COOKED THROUGH (not gooey on the inside) but also moist and NOT BURNED TO A CRISP.

 

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The falafel at Amsterdam Falafel.

Fortunately, Amsterdam Falafel follows all of these rules. There are a large number of toppings, though I tend to be a purist and just stick to a couple veggies like tomatoes and onions and top it with some tahini and garlic sauce. This is a matter of country by country preference- Israelis tend to prefer to load their falafel with all sorts of pickles and other accouterments, while Jordanians stick to minimal toppings. I don’t really get why it has an Amsterdam theme (everyone in the Middle East, especially Israelis and Palestinians, are constantly arguing about who had falafel first, but they can all agree it wasn’t the Dutch). It does have a cool Amsterdam “coffee shop” vibe, though, which is fun. Overall, this is a good place to grab a quick, relatively inexpensive bite, and it makes good drunk food as well.

 

 

 

Tryst

Rating: ★★★★★

12787247_10153986063783011_634710078_oTryst is a combined coffee shop, restaurant, and bar located at 2459 18th Street NW in the heart of Adams Morgan. Tryst is a DC institution that is rightly regarded as one of the best coffee shops in DC. It’s great for its laid-back vibe and cozy seating options. As I write this post, I am sitting on a really comfortable antique couch, enjoying a delicious $5 microbrew special (the Golden Ox Belgian Ale from Old Ox Brewery in Virginia). I’ve been known to come here a few nights each week since I live close by and much

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The Golden Ox Belgian Ale from Old Ox Brewery.

prefer getting work done here to my studio apartment. It has kind of become my living room, except I can’t just grab a beer from the fridge. I don’t often have a full meal at Tryst, but their food is very good, both for brunch (they have Bullfrog Bagels!) and for lunch/dinner. The pies and desserts are tasty too. The great thing about Tryst is that it can be whatever you want it to be; you can come here in the evenings to hang out and get work done, as I often do, or you can come here for dinner, for brunch, for a drink, on a date, you name it! When I go there to work, I usually nurse a Chaucer’s Cup, which is a calming herbal tea blend of mulling spices, mango and rose hips. In the evenings, there is very often live music. They have special deals every night; though some nights are better than others. My favorite nights are Sundays (when there is Happy Hour from 4 pm until close) and Tequila Thursdays

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I’m sure Lindsey Graham would love the julep toddy.

(when there are $6 margaritas). The coffee menu is extensive and features Counter-Culture coffee and a wide variety of espresso drinks. Be aware that Tryst can get very crowded and that unless you’re grabbing a coffee to go, it’s table service; the servers are all very friendly, but it can be hard to get their attention. That said, it’s really great that it’s a place where you’re encouraged to linger. Tryst is the sister restaurant of The Coupe, Open City Cafe and The Diner. If you live near The Coupe (located at 3415 11th St NW) it offers a similar experience to Tryst, though with much more modern and less cozy decor.