Do you miss ShopHouse? I know ShopHouse wasn’t the most authentic Southeast Asian food around, but I did miss being able to go for a cheap and quick Southeast Asian meal. BKK Cookshop, while it is more authentic, a bit pricier and has waiter service, does provide eaters with delicious and fairly quick Thai meals at reasonable prices and with friendly service. From the people who own the popular Beau Thai, BKK Cookshop is a great spot to grab a bite to eat, especially if you can sit on the tranquil patio out front on a nice evening. The menu is full of noodle stir fries and noodle bowls, but I opted for the spicy basil rice, a fiery fried rice dish described as the “Kitchen Special” available with chicken, beef, pork, tofu, or shrimp. I opted for beef at the waitress’s suggestion, and while the beef could have been a bit more tender, the dish was bursting with flavor and was that perfect level of spicy such that it had a serious kick to it without being so overwhelming that you had to stop eating.
BKK Cookshop is located at 1700 New Jersey Ave NW in Shaw.
Red Toque Café, a Pakistani restaurant in Shaw, is not quite what I expected it would be. Given the interesting name and its location in Shaw, I was expecting an interesting and cutely decorated spot. But the interior is the definition of drab and the food is average and not especially cheap. I ordered a lamb kabob with rice and spinach, which was just ok. I would have preferred for the kabob to be a bit more char-grilled and flavorful. The spinach was on-point, as was the rice. The naan, however, was not as buttery as I expect and prefer. Ultimately the place isn’t bad, but it’s honestly nothing special.
Red Toque Café is located at 1701 6th St NW in Shaw, with an additional, smaller, location in Georgetown.
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.
Compass Coffee is a popular local coffee shop with two locations in Shaw at 1921 8th St NW and 1535 7th St NW. It’s easy to see where this place’s popularity comes from; they roast their own coffee and make an innovative array of coffee drinks, such as nitrogen-infused cold brew. They also offer kolaches, which are savory, filled, pastries of Czech origin, but have become popular in Texas. Compass Coffee‘s Kolaches are made in the Texan style but with a twist; the day I was there, there were saag paneer kolaches and half smoke kolaches. I wish my half smoke kolache had been warm, but it was otherwise tasty. Seating at both locations is tight, which is probably Compass Coffee’s main drawback. It isn’t like Tryst where you can lounge on a couch, but I can’t dock them too much for being victims of their own popularity.
Calabash Tea & Tonic is a friendly, funky, and awesome tea shop located at 1847 7th St NW in Shaw. Calabash Tea & Tonic boasts a colorfully decorated interior and, more importantly delicous and creatively-named teas. Names of teas include “Teayoncé,” “Nefer-Tea Tea,” and “Kiss Me Guido,” among many others. The teas are a bit pricey, but this place is a unique gem so it’s worth paying to drop in here from time to time. The owner is a fifth-generation Jamaican herbalist, so you know she knows what’s she’s doing!
Rito Loco is a burrito place located at 606 Florida Ave NW (they also have a food truck). Despite this place’s excellent online reviews, I was not particularly satisfied with my burrito (the OG Beef). It essentially tasted like a bunch of ground beef wrapped in a tortilla without much flavor. Maybe I ordered the wrong thing, but I found it subpar.
Sumah’s West African Restaurant serves up Sierra Leonean food at 1727 7th St. It is a tiny hole in the wall with zero decor, run by Sumah himself, who hails from Sierra Leone. Be aware that this place is super spare. It has the atmosphere of a carryout, though it does have a few tables thrown in for good measure. Comically, the tables have little fake flower bouquets on them, as if that really adds something to the decor. The food, on the other hand, is definitely tasty and authentic. I ordered one of my favorite West African dishes, jollof rice with chicken, which was delicious. It’s not as cheap as you might think for this kind of place, though. The jollof rice was a very large portion but it set me back approximately $15. Nonetheless, if you want to eat authentic West African food in DC, Sumah’s should be on your list of places to try.
Uprising Muffin Company is a cafe and muffin bakery located at 1817 7th St NW. Given the fact that cupcake bakeries are all the rage these days, it’s unsurprising that the close cousin of the cupcake, the muffin, now has it’s own dedicated spot. I had a pumpkin muffin, which was tasty, though didn’t knock my socks off. Fortunately, unlike Baked and Wired, there’s a decent amount of space and good WiFi. They serve Stumptown Coffee and this is a good spot to hang out and work for a bit, even on the weekends.
Zenebech Restaurant is an Ethiopian Restaurant located at 608 T Street NW. Unlike nearby Dukem, it makes no attempt to look even remotely upscale (Dukem largely fails at this anyway). I like that, though, because their prices are are reasonable and their injera is excellent. Against my better judgement, I ordered the Awaze Tibs with lamb, which is spicy. I don’t mind some spice, but super spicy food does me in. It as tasty though, and the waiter gave me fair warning that it was spicy. What I liked best about Zenebech, however, was the drinks menu. They had several kinds of Ethiopian beer as well as Tej by the glass. Tej, for the uninitiated, is an ancient Ethiopian honey wine (mead) that according to legend was the beverage that King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba toasted with. It is made with a special Ethiopian hop-like herb called gesho. Apparently, every Tej is different and some can taste rather funky. The Tej at Zenebech, however, was very pleasant and floral. It inspired me to pick up a sketchy bottle of Tej put in a reused one-liter soda bottle at Habesha Market and Carry-Out later that day to bring to a friend’s birthday party- it was a hit!