Char Bar is DC’s only full-service Kosher restaurant, located at 2142 L St NW. Since my best friend is Orthodox, I often find myself at Kosher restaurants, typically in New York City. Sadly, many Kosher restaurants are pretty mediocre, since they have a niche market with little competition. Since Char Bar has a captive audience among Kosher diners in DC, it could easily get away with being marginal. However, I was pleasantly surprised. I ordered a pastrami sandwich, which was large juicy and flavorful- exactly how a pastrami sandwich should be. It was served with a large helping of potato chips, which were probably Terra and out of a bag, but the excellence of the pastrami made me overlook that. The one drawback was the price. I know kosher meat costs more, but $17 for my sandwich was definitely pretty pricey. If you’re looking for pastrami, there are cheaper places to get it, like Loeb’s NY Deli. That said, Char Bar’s is very good.
When I found myself at RFK stadium for my first Major League Soccer game (DC United vs. the Montreal Impact) I figured I would use the opportunity to explore the food options. I read an article in DCist about how RFK Stadium’s concessions had been rated among the best in the country because of its handmade, Latin American offerings like pupusas and local offerings like half-smokes. The variety was certainly there, but the quality wasn’t. I started by ordering pork and cheese pupusas, but when I bit into my pupusas, there was no pork to be found. I was left with rather bland, dry, marginal pupusas, which was a disappointment.
Next, I ate a half-smoke, which was cooked on a hot dog roller (like everything at RFK, the concessions are makeshift since the actual kitchen equipment that may once have been there has been taken out). It was also mediocre, topped with average chili, nacho cheese sauce and unpleasantly pungent. The biggest redeeming quality of the concessions is the $10 Tecate, which sounds expensive until you realize that they give you 24 ounces of it. It’s poured into a cup out of a huge can because (of course) they don’t have taps.
Ivy and Coney is a Chicago and Detroit-themed dive bar and restaurant located at 1537 7th St NW. Without a doubt, this place has more personality than almost any other spot in DC. Their schtick is that they try to be as divey as divey gets, and their very amusing owner, who has an excellent and dry sense of humor is a perfect example of this. In a bit of an unorthodox move for a dive bar (and for brunch in DC) I went with my friends (one of whom is from Detroit and one of whom has lived for the past two years in Chicago) for brunch. Brunch options include the “eggs bene-dog” (sausage on a bun with a poached egg, bacon jam and hollandaise) and the “chicken and waffles-ish” (fried chicken sausage served over a pancake topped with bacon and hot sauce maple mayonnaise, alongside several equally comical (and comically unhealthy) choices and lunch options such as the Chicago-style dog and the Coney dog. You can pair it with a mimosa-ish (orange juice out of the fountain soda gun, mixed with cheap beer), just a cheap beer (like Stroh’s), or something stronger. We were the only people there for brunch and the owner was out of the beer on tap for the mimosa-ish and wasn’t serving hot coffee because of the hot weather. But that just added to the not-really-giving-a-f*ck charm of the place. We just chatted with the owner about how he once got Rahm Emanuel (whom he referred to as a f*cking a**hole – not even a f*cking a**hole-ish) wasted off of shots of Malort when he visited once and my Midwestern friends were thrilled to experience a little slice of home.
Tony’s Place is a small diner located at 622 Kennedy St NW with additional locations at 1400 Good Hope Rd SE in Anacostia and 1401 H St NE . This tiny, no-frills, counter-serve spot offers some of the best-value breakfasts in DC; I ordered the breakfast platter which includes 2 eggs any style, a choice of bacon ham or sausage plus toast and homefries or grits all for $5.19 (plus tax). The bacon was a little tough, but no complaints about the value overall. To me, this place is to the Kennedy Street Corridor what Ben’s Chili Bowl is to U Street and Horace and Dickie’s is to H Street NE, a classic spot serving up cheap, tasty food. They also have breakfast sandwiches with an astonishing array of meat options including ham, bacon, sausage, bologna, turkey sausage, ribeye steak, scrapple, smoked sausage, country ham, beef scrapple, turkey scrapple, and even salmon. Prices for these are also low and range from $1.99 for just egg to $4.39 for egg, ribeye steak, and cheese. There is also a wide variety of lunch options including DC classics like half smokes and whiting sandwiches, soul food classics like collards and smothered pork chops, the kinds of organ meats that another Tony (that is Anthony Bourdain) loves like gizzards and livers. They oddly serve boca burgers too. This place isn’t for those looking for an upscale experience; the interior is cramped, dim and basic, but for a tasty, hearty and cheap breakfast this place is hard to beat!
Five Guys may be a large burger chain now with over 1,000 locations, but they got their start right here in Arlington. Five Guys continues to have a heavy presence throughout the DMV area with several locations in the District, in addition to locations at Reagan National Airport and in Arlington, Hyattsville, Kensington, Bethesda, Fairfax, Potomac, Alexandria, McLean, and Annandale. While the “better burger” market has become saturated in recent years by new offerings like Smashburger and Shake Shack, Five Guys was the first of the “better burger” chains I tried and I still think it’s one of the best. For starters, the burger (despite the fact that you can’t order it less than well-done) is always flavorful and juicy (some people might say it’s greasy, but I find it delicious). And there’s a large selection of toppings- I always get a cheeseburger with lettuce, tomato, mushrooms, pickles and ketchup. The fries are tasty (if you like them with the skins left on) and I love that they serve free peanuts while you wait. The wait is usually pretty brief (rarely as long as at Shake Shack. Be aware that Five Guys doesn’t do much other than burgers and fries; they do have hot dogs (I’ve never tried one) but you can’t get a veggie burger. They’ll make you a sandwich of veggies on a bun, but that doesn’t sound too appetizing. Since I love burgers and I’m not a vegetarian, I don’t really care. Some Five Guys serve breakfast, which is basic, but tasty. You can get a bacon, egg and cheese sandwich or add a burger patty to that for an extra charge (and extra calories). They do have coffee but it’s pretty meh (what did you expect?).
Bobby’s Burger Palace is a relatively small chain with a DC location at 2121 K St NW, as well as additional locations in Bethesda and College Park. Bobby’s Burger Palace benefits from the immediate name recognition of its owner, celebrity chef Bobby Flay, a largerr-than-life personality on the Food Network. I had previously eaten at Bobby Flay’s Mesa Grill in Las Vegas, which serves up delicious, sophisticated, and pricey Southwestern fare. I loved it, so Bobby’s Burger
“The New Mexico”
Palace was on my list to try. Bobby’s Burger Palace falls into the “Better Burger” genre alongside the likes of Five Guys and Shake Shack. However, there are some differences that make it somewhere in-between a fast food place and a sit-down restaurant. First, you order when you enter but then take a number to place on your table so that a food runner can bring the food to you. Second (and most important) is that the bugers are cooked to order; unlike like Five Guys, where you just choose toppings (though I love Five Guys), at Bobby’s Burger Palace, you can actually choose how you want the meat cooked. I ordered the “New Mexico,” which comes topped with green chilis, queso and picked red onions. I appreciate that Bobby Flay brings some of his Southwestern flare into his burger joint; the burger itself was very tasty and had a nice kick to it, though it didn’t blow me away. The fries were good too, but the fry sauce wasn’t thick enough for proper dipping, as far as I’m concerned. Any burger can be “crunchified” by adding potato chips to it for free. In the future, I want to try their shakes (they have a cool list of flavors and you can order your shake spiked with a shot of alcohol. I also need to try their cactus pear margarita, since I had something similar at Mesa Grill and loved it. If you’re not a meat eater and insist on ordering a salad at a burger place, Bobby’s Burger Palace has you covered with salads that sound legitimately good. The interior is sleek and cool-looking and the staff are very friendly. This is a solid spot if you’re craving a good burger, and the menu offers far more inventive choices than the standard options at Five Guys and Shake Shack. It’s also nice to be able to order your burger the way you want it cooked. That said, I’m not going to crave Bobby’s Burger Palace over Shake Shack or Five Guys going forward; all three satisfy my craving for a fattening, delicious burger that’s more than a cut above a Big Mac or a Whopper.
Petworth Citizen is an American bar and restaurant located at 829 Upshur St NW. It is a cozy, dimly-lit space with hearty food options, such as the chorizo burger (which is very tasty). They offer a daily punch (mine was made with blood orange and was delicious) as well as a wide variety of other drink options. They offer a $7 drink special called “Chutes and Flutes,” which sounds dangerous- it’s a champagne flute of Miller High Life and shot of bourbon (mercifully in a separate glass). Petworth Citizen also has
The Chorizo Burger
an adorable reading room, which is basically a small library tucked away in the back of the restaurant. The books are all organized by color, which is a cool effect. I’m not entirely sure what the reading room is used for. They also told me they don’t have public WiFi, which I found odd; I think getting some work done while I enjoy some “Chutes and Flutes” sounds like a great idea!
The Reading Room
Ben’s Chili Bowl is a DC classic with multiple locations (in Rosslyn, on H St NE, and in National Airport), but the one and only original is located at 1213 U Street NW. Ben’s is famous for its chili (duh) and its chili half-smokes, which are basically jumbo loaded chili dogs with mustard and onions. They really are delicious and Ben’s has updated its options in recent years, adding veggie chili and a veggie half smoke. Ben’s also has several flavors of shakes which are good too. Ben’s is one of the most iconic places in DC and has been in operation since 1958; it survived both the race riots of 1968 at the crack epidemic of the 1980s. It retains its 1950s charm and plays Motown classics. This is a place that everyone living in DC must visit at least once (even Obama has enjoyed a Ben’s half-smoke) and it is a great place to bring visitors to show them something quintessentially DC.