Chinatown Express

Rating: ★★✩✩✩

23897084_10155922808278011_729723829_o.jpgI 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.

Reren Lamen

Rating: ★★★★☆

18578851_10155342251168011_142341532_nReren Lamen’s name is not some kind of racist joke about confusing Ls and Rs. Lamen, if you did not know (I didn’t) is the Chinese equivalent of ramen and is Reren’s specialty. Reren holds the distinction of being one of the few Chinese restaurants left in DC’s Chinatown, a shell of its former self, that is both good and authentic. While lamen is the main attraction, Reren offers a wide selection of food and drink options, including bubble tea, 18554504_10155342251183011_869078529_nbaijiu and pork xiao long bao (Shanghainese soup dumplings). Since xiao long bao are one of my favorite foods and are hard to find in DC, I had to try them. They were flavorful, though a bit too small and contained too little soup to be truly great xiao long bao. They’ll work to satisfy a craving, but it’s still work trekking out to Rockville for places that specialize in them. As for the lamen, I ordered the signature lamen with pork belly and a tea egg. While I certainly enjoyed it, it had less of that strong umami flavor than Japanese ramen at the likes of Sakuramen or Bantam King and the pork belly was not as tender as pork belly at other spots, like Purple Patch. Nonetheless, it was overall an enjoyable meal and Reren Lamen remains a bright spot in DC’s otherwise fairly bleak Chinese food scene.

Reren Lamen is located at 817 7th St NW.

Poke Papa

Rating: ★★★★★

18072466_10155264035803011_902252477_n.jpgThe poke (pronounced POH-kay) phenomenon has finally arrived in DC! For the uninitiated, poke is a popular Hawaiian snack consisting of marinated sashimi over rice with an assortment of toppings, such as seaweed, tempura flakes, pickled ginger and edamame, plus sauce. For those familiar with chirashi, poke is basically chirashi gone wild with flavors and toppings. Poke Papa, which is fast-casual, serves up excellent poke at very reasonable prices with generous portions. If you love sushi but hate how expensive it is, try Poke Papa for a delicious and fast raw fish meal that won’t break the bank. Friendly service add to a great experience!

Poke Papa is located in Chinatown at 806 H St NW.

On Rye

Rating: ★★★★☆

15050301_10154743549758011_1639497864_nOn Rye is a new addition to DC’s New York-style Jewish deli scene alongside Loeb’s NY Deli and DGS Delicatessen. It boasts the expected pastrami sandwiches, latkes and matzoh ball soup alongside more innovative fare like the Turkey and Charoset (roasted turkey breast, fennel, sage, spinach, apple compote on a challah roll) and babka ice cream sandwiches. The food is delicious; the only thing I have to kvetch about (yes, I am an honorary Jew from Long Island) is the price- $14 is pretty steep for 15046413_10154743549728011_830555383_na plain pastrami sandwich, even though that pastrami sandwich is very tender, very tasty and made with wagyu beef. It’s also not exactly heaping, but it does get points for good taste. The latkes were tasty as well, if a little small. So far my take on On Rye is that the food is tasty and I always appreciate good Jewish deli food. But it’s not light on your wallet, considering it has a fast casual format.

On Rye is located at 740 6th St NW.


Bantam King

Rating: ★★★★★

14483467_10154585777733011_1766006009_nBantam 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.

14459028_10154585777718011_306218487_n14459127_10154585777683011_1097157646_nNo 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!


Rating: ★★★☆☆

14397867_10154562614958011_672185134_nHipCityVeg 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 14397434_10154562614928011_1671552657_nfor 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.

Joy Luck House

Rating: ★★★☆☆

14249291_10154528301373011_432805521_n.jpgJoy Luck House is a Chinese restaurant located at 748 6th St NW, right next to the much better-known Chinatown Express. The name, of course, reminds me of the book, “The Joy Luck Club” and is across the street from one of the last bastions of Chinatown’s Chinese community, the Wah Luck House. I ended up at Joy Luck House one evening because I was trying to go to China Boy their famous chow fun but stupidly forgot that China Boy closes at 5. Since I was stuck in DC’s rather meager Chinatown and craving chow fun, I decided on Joy Luck House, which at least gets decent reviews (unlike some of the real tourist traps in the area. And decent it was. The people were friendly enough, the food came fairly fast, and the chow fun was tasty. Since China Boy reportedly sells its handmade noodles to many places in the area, I would be willing to bet that the noodles were from China Boy. Ultimately this place gave me my chow fun fix, but wasn’t anything particularly special. Not that the chow 14269751_10154528301318011_1089479814_n.jpgfun at China Boy is necessarily better- that’s just the original and there’s something to be said for that. In the future, though, I do need to try their homemade sweets.





The raspberry and apple mimosa.

Oyamel is a Mexican restaurant located at 401 7th St NW. It is run by celebrity chef José Andres, which immediately sets a high bar for quality (China Chilcano, another José Andres restaurant across the street, is one of my favorites in the city. The menu is certainly special, and I appreciate the fact that it is not Tex-Mex but instead seeks to bring the full complexity of authentic Mexican cuisine to the capital. I also appreciate the fact that the brunch menu (I went for brunch) includes real Mexican breakfast items that go far beyond huevos rancheros, though they, of course, have that too. The menu is, however, frustratingly tricky to read.


We started the meal with a pitcher of raspberry and apple flavored mimosas, which were delicious (I wanted to try the blood orange and


The Pozole Rojo soup.

chile pequin ones, but I was out-voted). I began my meal with the Pozole Rojo, which is a hominy soup with pork and chiles, garnished with onion, lettuce and sliced radishes. The soup was good and had a nice kick, but it wasn’t my kind of dish; I’m not a big soup eater unless it’s matzoh ball soup or clam chowder and I should know that by now.


Next, I had chapulines, which are grasshopper tacos. Yes, they are tacos filled with actual
grasshoppers. And there’s no mistaking them for anything else; you can see the legs and antennae and they’re definitely crunchy. They come in a spicy sauce, so it’s hard to tell what the actual grasshoppers taste like, but this is not for the faint of heart; you remain acutely aware that you’re eating grasshoppers and this was made worse by the fact that my friend kept saying “Jiminy Cricket” to me while I was eating them.


There’s no mistaking these for anything but grasshoppers.


The Carne Machaca con huevos revueltos

I finished with the meal with the Carne Machaca con huevos revueltos, which is scrambled organic eggs served on a tortilla with dried shredded beef, potatoes, poblano chile, tomato and a smoky sauce of chile pasilla de Oaxaca. It ended up being way too much food, which is an example of Oyamel’s main drawback: the service. For starters, the server (who was very nice) described the menu as small plates and suggested we get two or three dishes. I could easily have had one dish and something small (like the chapulines) and we all felt a bit led astray by that.


In addition, and unlike China Chilcano, the service was so slow and the waitress forgot half of one of my friends’ food. The food was brought out rather haphazardly all at different times, and service quality was simply lost in the shuffle. Unlike China Chilcano, which has airy and spacious ambience, Oyamel feels tight and constricting. Overall, you can see some of the José Andres magic in this place, but it’s still a bit rough around the edges.


China Boy

Rating: ★★★★☆


Clockwise from top left: Chinatown’s “Friendship Archway,” China Boy’s sketchy, hand-drawn menu, China Boy’s tasty beef chow fun, and China Boy’s exterior.

China Boy (yes, it’s actually called that) is a hole in the wall Chinese place located at 817 6th St NW in Chinatown. Those of you who know DC well will know that DC has a shortage of good Chinese food in its small (and generally disappointing Chinatown). I stumbled upon China Boy because it’s one of the only places in Chinatown that gets good reviews on Yelp. China Boy is a pretty dumpy-looking, tiny place (there’s one round table if you insist on eating there, but it’s mainly a carryout) that is known for one thing: it’s chow fun. The noodles are made in-house and the chow fun is delightfully greasy, rich and in huge portions (one container for $10 really serves two). At my previous job, I used to host “Chow Fun Fridays” with chow fun from China Boy. One of my colleagues was pregnant at the time and China Boy’s chow fun became her pregnancy craving. The noodles here are undeniably tasty, but it’s a pretty sketchy-looking place, so don’t go here on your next date (or at all if you’re squeamish).



Rating: ★★★★☆


Top: “Lox and Onigiri.” Bottom left: Poached Egg and Chesapeake Korokke. Bottom right: “Chicken and Waffles.”

Izakaya is a Japanese small plates restaurant located at 705 6th St NW. Izakaya is located upstairs from its sister restaurant, Daikaya, which is a ramen place. Japanese food is not normally associated with brunch, but Izakaya’s Japanese fusion brunch might just be the best brunch in DC. An added bonus is that unlike some of the better-known brunch spots (read: Founding Farmers) it is not difficult to get a brunch reservation at Izakaya. Some of their most innovative and delicious brunch options include:

  1. A Japanese take on bagels and lox featuring a rice ball in place of the bagel and an assortment of smoked salmon, salmon sashimi ikura, picked onion and cream cheese.
  2. A Japanese take on crab cakes benedict with a Japanese-style crab korokke and tonkatsu sauce.
  3. A Japanese chicken and waffles with chicken kara-age and a waffle stuffed with red bean served with maple syrup and wasabi butter.
  4. Delicious french toast made with condensed milk.

One of the best aspects of their brunch is that it is served small-plates style, so you can (and should!) try a few. Excellent french press coffee sourced from Qualia Coffee in Petworth and tasty cocktails round out the meal nicely.

So why doesn’t Izakaya get five stars? I tried their brunch before their dinner and had high expectations that their dinner would be equally mind-blowing. It wasn’t. I ordered the “hambagu,” Japanese-style beef hamburger steak with red wine-Worcestershire sauce. It was reminiscent of meatloaf. I also had a fish dish, which was fine but nothing terribly memorable. The crab croquettes were very tasty, though. Izakaya also does a really cool take on the sake bomb: the sake comes enclosed in a ball (similar to a large pop boba) floating in the beer. When it hits your tongue, it pops, giving you a burst of sake.

The bottom line for Izakaya is that the brunch is phenomenal and deserves five stars. The dinner (at least what I ordered) wasn’t bad by any means, but was less exceptional.