Tacos El Chilango is a taqueria located at 1119 V St NW. Alongside Taqueria Habanero and Lezo’s Taqueria, Tacos El Chilango is one of DC’s best and one of the city’s most pleasant budget dining experiences. While Tacos El Chilango is conveniently located near the U-Street/Cardozo metro station, it is tucked away on decidedly residential V Street. You could easily miss this tiny spot if it weren’t for the (somewhat annoying but entirely necessary) bright flashing lights outside. The cozy, warm interior is adorably decorated and friendly and the tacos are great value. You do have to order a minimum of three (but you want three) and it costs only $8.50. The menu is pretty small but the tacos come quickly and are very tasty. Add in a margarita for $5.50 and you and your date or significant other have a tasty, inexpensive and low key dinner out. For a starving non-profit worker like myself, places like this are clutch.
The Fainting Goat is a classy, New American restaurant located at 1330 U Street NW. Its catchy logo (of a fainting goat, of course), guides diners into a pleasant space with tasty food and great drinks. I confess that I have a bias against New American places and in favor of ethnic dining, but I did have a really enjoyable meal at The Fainting Goat. I started with the “Who Killed Kenny?” cocktail because I loved the South Park reference. It was very tasty. A better value, though, are their punches, which are served in carafes for multiple people to share. I love when places offer punches because they tend to be a delicious and relatively cost-effective alternative to ordering a cocktail. For an appetizer, I ordered the steak tartare which was delicious, if tiny. However, my main course, the duck bolognese, was a hearty and generous portion. In this sense, I like The Fainting Goat better than nearby Provision No. 14, which offers delicious food but absurdly small portions.
Florida Avenue Grill is a soul food institution that claims to be the oldest soul food restaurant in the world, located at 1100 Florida Ave NW. It has been in business since 1944, which at the very least makes it quite a historic spot, though I definitely have my doubts about its truly being the oldest in the world. The atmosphere is great, though, on-point soul music and signed celebrity photos are on the walls in classic diner surroundings. I ordered the pig’s feet with okra and tomatoes and mac and cheese on the side. It was my first time having pig’s feet and I can’t say I liked it very much. There were a lot of bones and knuckles and the texture was extremely gelatinous and reminded me if traditional Ashkenazi pt’cha (calf foot jelly). It’s not Florida Avenue Grill’s fault for serving an authentic classic, though. Next time I’ll probably stick with the fried chicken, which my friend ordered and which he said was excellent. The okra and tomatoes and the mac and cheese were great, though. For dessert, I ordered the king of all soul food desserts, their excellent sweet potato pie. In terms of press coverage, Ben’s Chili Bowl gets all the press as the DC institution, but Florida Avenue Grill is older, equally important and has better food.
Marvin is a Soul Food-Belgian fusion restaurant and bar and an homage to DC icon Marvin Gaye located at 2007 14th St. NW. Marvin Gaye grew up in DC and went to Cardozo High School, located just a few blocks away from Marvin. What is less known is that Marvin Gaye moved to Belgium in 1981 for self-reflection and recovery from heavy drug use. While in Belgium, he wrote his hit “Sexual Healing,” which has recently been made into an addictive remix. As such, Marvin, with its Belgian bistro feel combined with all sorts of Marvin Gaye memorabilia on the walls, is an interesting but comforting combination. I went with my parents and grandma for brunch and started with a Pimm’s Cup, my favorite summer brunch cocktail. I ordered what is probably their signature brunch dish, which was an excellent rendition of chicken and waffles with a side of collard greens. The greens were a bit too leafy for my taste since I prefer them stewed down more, but the chicken and the waffle were both excellent, served with syrup and gravy. My grandma had chicken and waffles for the first time at 91 years old and really enjoyed it. This is a solid place to bring a visitor to DC for brunch to experience two of DC’s greatest assets, soul food and Marvin Gaye (though they weren’t playing as much Marvin Gaye as I had expected, the music was nonetheless good). One of the few drawbacks was that we were there on a beautiful day but they don’t have brunch seating on their rooftop bar. In the future, I plan to go back for dinner and try their moules frites.
Pica Taco is a taqueria located at 1406 Florida Ave NW and 1629 Columbia Rd NW with an additional location outside the Beltway near Franconia-Springfield. This is a very solid spot for tasty, fast, filling, and inexpensive tacos. They have great combo deals, and with options like lengua and barbacoa, this is definitely no Taco Bell. I have only been to the Florida Avenue location but the service there is speedy and very friendly. Highly recommended for your quick taco fix.
The foie gras: an absurdly small portion on a huge plate.
Provision No. 14 is a New American restaurant and bar located at 2100 14th St NW. I am very conflicted about this place. The food and drinks are delicious, but the portions are inconsistent- ranging from sizeable to absurdly tiny, and the prices are high. For my drink, I ordered the Pinju Tiki (Beefeater, Lyon Dark Rum, Martell Cognac, pineapple, juniper, citrus, absinthe and bitters), which was delicious but a bit pricey at $14. The draft cocktails also sounded excellent but they weren’t able to make them because the draft equipment was malfunctioning. Our friendly waiter explained to us
The Pinju Tiki
that Provision No. 14’s shtick is that it’s a “communal dining restaurant” with large shareable dishes and small plates. The shareable plates did not sound all that appealing so we each ordered two of the small plates. As is typical of small plates places, you end up paying almost as much (if not as much) as you would for an entree at many other places. Take the fois gras, for example. It was an absurdly small portion on a massive place. The plating was pretty and all, but it was as if a casual spot like this was trying to be Le Bernardin or something. It was accompanied by rhubarb and mustard, which were both tasty on their own but which made an odd combo. Don’t get me
wrong; the fois gras itself was fantastic but it was way too small to be shared and was completely out of proportion with the mustard and rhubarb that accompanied it. I also ordered the duck which was also small, but not as absurdly tiny as the fois gras. It was delicious, but these two dishes combined set me back $30 ($18 for the absurdly small fois gras and $12 for the duck), and I still considered supplementing my meal with McDonald’s. In contrast, one of the other people with me ordered the burger and the brussels sprouts, which were both big portions. She ended up having way too much food. Of course, I don’t expect all of the dishes to be exactly the same amount of food, but it would have been nice if they had categorized their menu based on size. My overall impression of Provision No. 14 is that it’s a cool place to go on a date for drinks, but dinner here burns a huge hole in your wallet without filling the hole in your stomach.
The Codmother is a dive bar and restaurant known for fish and chips located at 1334 U St NW. This place is awesome if you’re looking for a grungy, basement dive with a ton of character, tasty food and cheap drinks. If you’re looking for anything remotely classy or datey, stay away. The beer of choice here is Genessee Cream Ale, aka “Genny” which is a pretty terrible cheap beer from Rochester, New York, but I applaud this place for offering something other than PBR. The atmosphere of the place transports you from U Street to what I imagine a divey joint in Newfoundland would look like. And the fish and chips are excellent – fried to perfection with a small side of mushy peas. The walls are covered in chalk with whatever the patrons decide to scrawl on them (often obscenities). This is, of course, no surprise since this is the home of the world-famous “Peruvian Bearfucker” cocktail, composed orange juice and PBR with a shot of bourbon on the side. It may not be the most classy drink, but points for the name.
Dukem is an Ethiopian restaurant located at 1114-1118 U St NW. It serves up a wide variety of tasty Ethiopian food (like Keren, it has Ethiopian breakfast food like fuul in addition to injera platters). I ordered a delicious combination platter, but be aware that it’s not the cheapest place out there. You’re likely to pay $15 for your entree, which isn’t bad, but this is not a divey cheap place. I also ordered a St. George beer, which is an Ethiopian lager. It’s cool for the novelty of drinking Ethiopian beer (and it comes in a cool-looking bottle decorated with a picture of St. George slaying the dragon) but it’s otherwise a fairly average lager. Basically this is a solid spot for a large menu of tasty Ethiopian food, but it’s a full mid-range restaurant, not a hole in the wall.
Amsterdam 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
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- It should be COOKED THROUGH (not gooey on the inside) but also moist and NOT BURNED TO A CRISP.
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.
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.