Zeba Bar

Rating: ★★★★☆

18555027_10155345755153011_1898171643_nZeba Bar is not as well-known as some of DC’s other hookah spots, like Soussi, but it is a much more relaxed (and less pretentious) spot as a result. While I’ve sworn off hookah for the time being because it’s so terrible for you, I can vouch that they have a wide selection of flavors and reasonable prices.  As for the food at Zeba, it’s nothing special. I believe the owners are Persian (which makes sense since zeba is the Persian word for beautiful). If so, they have 18578495_10155345755103011_692215404_nmissed an opportunity to include more Persian options on the menu. While they do offer a pretty tasty chicken kabob, it’s more like a salad with four chunks of meat on each corner. Otherwise the options are pretty much your regular bar food. Most importantly, Zeba Bar has been the regular site of my favorite Middle East-themed pop-up bar, The Green Zone, which boasts DC’s best cocktails.

Zeba Bar is located at 3423 14th St NW.

Letena

Rating: ★★★★☆

17199173_10155114862488011_2053266935_n.jpgDC is rightly known for its Ethiopian food and Letena offers a new model for Ethiopian food: a bright fast-casual restaurant where you order at the counter, you take a number and the food is brought to your table. Mercifully, Letena avoids the “bowl” phenomenon that is rampant at other fast casual places like Cava and ShopHouse, where great cuisines are bastardized by throwing a bunch of ingredients into a bowl. Fortunately, Letena serves actual Ethiopian dishes, including kitfo, which is one of my favorites. Kitfo is the Ethiopian version of steak tartare (or is steak tartare the French version of Kitfo?) Either way, kitfo is a mound of raw beef that is deliciously seasoned and served on top of injera bread. Letena’s kitfo was massive and made for an indulgent feast that is a carnivore’s dream. I have to admit I get a sort of primal joy out of eating raw meat. Friendly service rounded out what was a solid dining experience. My only gripe is that I wish they served alcohol, like tej (Ethiopian honey wine) and Ethiopian beer.

Letena is located at 3100 14th St NW (though physically on Park Road) in Columbia Heights.

Johnny’s Carry Out

Rating: ★★★★☆

16901471_10155067779568011_1373661686_nIt 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.

16900414_10155067779583011_1419580891_nI 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.

Z-Burger

Rating: ★★★★☆

14455854_10154589747588011_677661584_o.jpgZ-Burger is a small DC burger chain located at 3301 14th St. NW in Columbia Heights, with additional locations in Tenleytown, Dupont Circle, and  Virginia Square, Arlington. The format is similar to Five Guys, another, older homegrown chain that has grown far larger. Burgers are grilled fresh for the customer and you can choose from a wide variety of toppings for no additional charge. My burger was certainly tasty, though I found the patty slightly less juicy than Five Guys. It did hit the spot, though, and it wasn’t as if I tried it in blind taste test up next to Five Guys- that would be possible given how close the nearest Five Guys is, but I don’t think your nutritionist would recommend it. The coolest thing about this Z-Burger location, however, is that it is situated inside the historic Tivoli Theater 14489747_10154589747593011_987221265_ocomplex, which was built in 1924. As such, the interior of Z-Burger has a beautiful ceiling with crown moulding and antique, whimsical murals on the wall. It’s a cool space, and worth checking out.  

Los Hermanos

Rating: ★★★★☆

14329076_10154546235323011_1214460850_nLos Hermanos is a Dominican cafeteria-style restaurant located at 1428 Park Rd NW. When I think of Dominican food I can’t help but think of SNL’s parodies of David Ortiz, aka Big Papi, played by Kenan Thompson. And just like Big Papi, you can have a big Dominican lunch at Los Hermanos. It is simple, cheap and friendly. You choose a rice, two meats and a side. I went for rice and peas, pulled pork and beef with a side of mangú (mashed green plantains). Since it is cafeteria style, the food isn’t cooked to order. It’s also fairly simple, but it’s filling and satisfying. I washed it down with a sugary sweet Refresco De Merengue, which is essentially a Dominican version of champagne cola.

El Rinconcito

Rating: ★★★★★

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El Rinconcitis a Mexican and Salvadoran restaurant located at 1326 Park Rd NW with an additional location at 1129 11th Street NW. This cozy restaurant is one of DC’s best spots for a hearty, tasty, and inexpensive Salvadoran meal. Like at other Salvadoran/Mexican places, I stick to the Salvadoran offerings because that’s what they truly specialize in. They offer a wide selection of tasty pupusas, which range from $2.13 to $2.35 a piece and are a great deal.

 

Thip Khao

Rating: ★★★★★

 

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Laab with chicken.

 

 

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Fried duck heads: a bit like wings, but with virtually no meat on them.

Thip Khao is a Laotian restaurant located at 3462 14th St NW. I had heard fantastic things about Thip Khao, but the first time I went I ordered the exact wrong things. Since I consider myself an adventurous eater (I’ve had the grasshopper tacos at Oyamel) I figured that I would be able to handle the chicken heart kabobs, fried pig skin, and fried duck heads. The chicken hearts were decent enough, but the fried pig skin was both tough and fatty and the fried duck heads were somewhat reminiscent of chicken wings, but with hardly any meat on them. I did have fun quacking them and saying I was Donald Duck, probably to the annoyance of those around me. I’m never one to penalize a place for serving authentic delicacies that can

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Chicken hearts.

be hard for an American to stomach. When I went back, I had the Muu Som (Rice-cured sour pork belly wok tossed with ginger, garlic, onions, bell peppers, dried Thai chilies, kaffir lime leaves, fried red shallots) and the chicken laab, both of which were beautifully cooked and full of flavor. When I tasted them, it was clear to me why Thip Khao is widely considered one of DC’s best ethnic restaurants. Reasonable prices and a great location right in Columbia Heights are great bonuses.

 

 

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Fried pig skin.

 

 

 

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The Muu Som.

Bad Saint

Rating: ★★★★★

13479428_10154301197703011_1351156931_nBad Saint is a Filipino restaurant that opened in the fall of 2015 at 3226 11th St NW, and which has been generating quite the buzz ever since. If you haven’t heard about Bad Saint yet, you’re quite possibly living under a rock. Be aware before you go that they don’t take reservations and don’t accommodate groups larger than 4 people. The place is pretty tiny, so you will wait a long time for a table. We put our name in at 7:30 pm on a Sunday and our table was ready at a little before 9. Fortunately, you can pass the time with some delicious cocktails at Room 11 next door, and they will text you when your table is ready.

 

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A delicious cocktail made with lambanog, a coconut liquor.

Bad Saint is absolutely worth the wait. Between the delicious, complex, and flavorful food, the excellent cocktails, and the friendly service, everything is just perfect. We ordered most of the items on the menu, all of which was excellent. But before I recount the delicious things we ate, be aware that the menu items change frequently. One of the cocktails that we had included a delicious Filipino coconut liquor called lambanog. My bartender friend and I expressed curiosity about the liquor itself, so the friendly staff gave us each a free shot in addition to the cocktail. I also had a Red Horse Beer, which is a Filipino malt liquor that is pretty crappy. That said, Bad Saint gets points for serving the authentic goods.

 

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The octopus was delicious.

The food was excellent across the board. We had banana hearts as a starter, which are the flowers of the banana tree. We also had a couple of ceviche-like dishes, including one made with octopus. Both were totally delicious. A standout, however, was the flounder, served whole, eyes and all. The very flavorful and reasonably tender (by goat standards) goat was excellent as well. Though we were pretty stuffed after the meal, we were talked into ordering dessert, which was a delicious, light concoction of fruit and syrup (no, not that heavy, awful kind of syrup), topped with flower petals. They also gave us each a small additional dessert on the house.

 

 

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Check out that flounder!

 

Simply put, Bad Saint absolutely lives up to the hype, and it is a must for anyone with a serious DC dining bucket list.

 

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Save room for dessert!

 

 

Gloria’s Pupuseria

Rating:

IMG_5677Gloria’s Pupuseria is a Salvadorean restaurant located at 3411 14th St NW. This place is a bit bare-bones and kind of smells like bleach (though it’s perfectly clean). The very friendly proprietors (along with the clientele) speak basically zero English, so hone your rusty Spanish before you go, or else you may find yourself miming what you want. My food was tasty, if not super memorable. I ordered three pupusas (loroco, frijoles and revueltas) which were only $6.50 total, so no complaints about the price. My friend ordered the Carne Asada platter which was absolutely massive.

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Five Guys

Rating: 

12952785_10154103948773011_910181536_oFive 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, 12941142_10154103948738011_1729560251_oFive 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?).