Mari Vanna

Rating: ★★★★★

15046320_10154730313088011_1792588474_nMari Vanna may sound strangely like Marijuana, but it’s the DC branch of a well-known Russian restaurant with locations in Moscow and Saint Petersburg (as well as NY, LA, and London). It is an absolutely beautifully decorated place that will transport you straight to Russia, with delicious and authentic Russian food to boot. We started with pirozhki (delicious meat-filled fried buns) and pelmeni (Russian dumplings). The drinks menu is extensive and features a wide 15032389_10154730313073011_45109335_nrange of infused vokdas- I stayed away from the fruity ones and ordered cucumber and dill, which was refreshing. I also tried my dad’s horseradish vodka which had a great kick to it. For my main, I ordered the perfectly tender golden duck with a delightfully tangy sour cherry sauce and cabbage on the side. My dessert, sour cherry dumplings, was certainly interesting. I can’t say it was decadent enough for my taste for a dessert, but I appreciated its unique Russianness. A small glass of Armenian Ararat brandy, on the other hand, made for the perfect digestif. I highly recommend Mari Vanna for its beautiful 15049685_10154730313118011_1427240451_nand cozy ambiance and authentic Russian food.

Mari Vanna is located at 1141 Connecticut Avenue NW.

 

 

 

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Zeke’s Coffee DC

Rating: ★★★★★

14813006_10154669797603011_775198186_oZeke’s Coffee is a Baltimore transplant with a DC coffee shop and roastery located at 2300 Rhode Island Avenue NE in Woodridge. If you haven’t heard of Woodridge, you’re not alone. It’s a neighborhood located between Brookland and the Maryland border that’s still largely lacking in anything but carryouts, but which is home to a small group of trendy new establishments. Zeke’s Coffee is undoubtedly one of the coolest coffee shops in DC, but it’s worth noting that it’s not a place that has a ton 14800243_10154669797608011_1295340650_oof seating or a lot of food; it’s more of a coffee shop operation that has been set up inside a space that is largely dedicated to being a roastery (Zeke’s sells its small batch roasted beans all over DC). As such, it almost has the feel of a pop-up. The coffee is delicious and pretty inexpensive at less than $2 for a small, single-origin coffee. They also sell inventive kolaches (delicious stuffed rolls that are Czech by origin but have become a Texas delicacy) baked by Republic Kolache, a DC popup bakery. I had both the saag paneer kolache and the egg and chorizo kolache which were delicious but a bit pricey at $4 a piece. Friendly staff rounded out my tasty first excursion to Woodridge.

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Baan Thai

Rating: ★★★★☆

14542818_10154607300948011_92793384_nBaan Thai is a Thai restaurant (that also happens to serve sushi), located at 1326 14th St NW. Let me say up front that if pad Thai is your favorite dish, you will be disappointed because Baan Thai doesn’t serve it. Instead Baan Thai forces eaters to branch out and explore a wide variety of complex and spicy authentic Thai dishes from various culinary regions of Thailand. Apparently the chef of Baan Thai used to work at Thai Tanic, an Americanized Thai restaurant downstairs from Baan Thai. She subsequently became the chef at Baan Thai and crafted a more authentically Thai menu. I ordered the Khao pad grà-tiiam gài (stir-fried garlic rice with Thai-style deep-fried chicken), which made for good comfort food, though it wasn’t all that rich in flavor. It came with a hot pepper sauce on the side, which did spice things up though. I definitely plan to go back and try more of the menu items that you won’t find in a typical Americanized Thai restaurant.  

The Billy Goat Tavern

Rating: ★★★★☆

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The original Billy Goat Tavern in Chicago.

Chicago’s Billy Goat Tavern is renowned for its supposed role in the failure of the Chicago Cubs to win the World Series since 1908. Legend has it that the tavern’s owner tried to bring his pet goat to a game at Wrigley Field but his goat wasn’t allowed in. He allegedly cursed the Cubs and the Cubs’ subsequent dry spell has been attributed to “The Curse of the Billy Goat.” It is also famous as the scene for a 1970s SNL skit. I’ve visited the fabled original location in Chicago, but I’ll bet you didn’t know that there’s a DC branch of the Billy Goat Tavern as well, located at 500 New Jersey Ave NW. The 14522249_10154606159998011_1926772246_oplace serves “cheezborgers” as well as Chicago favorites such as the Maxwell Street Polish and the Chicago-style hot dog. While their Chicago-style dog lacked a poppy seed bun (I guess those are hard to come by back East), it did have all the other requisite accoutrements. I also appreciated the Chicago-level prices (cheap compared to DC) and the profusion of Chicago sports memorabilia on the wall. When I went, the crowd was mostly older, but it’s a nice, calm spot to knock back a shot of Malört with your Chigaco-style hot dog. I’m sure it’s significantly less calm when there’s a big game on featuring a Chicago sports team.

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Yum’s II

Rating: ★★★☆☆

imageYum’s II is a carry out located at 1413 14th St NW. There are a number of other carry outs that call themselves Yum’s, but they appear to be unrelated. Carry outs in DC are a unique breed, typically featuring such diverse options as Chinese food, subs and sometimes even pizza. They have been a staple of the District’s food scene since long before gentrification. While they may not be the most gourmet of choices, if you choose one that isn’t overly sketchy, they are convenient and cheap. The signature dish of DC carry outs (and Yum’s II is no exception in this regard) is fried chicken wings over fried rice with a condiment called mumbo sauce. imageMumbo sauce is specific to DC and Chicago and is a tangy, somewhat sweet red sauce that tasted a little like ketchup to me, but less thick. Wings with fried rice and mumbo sauce is as DC as chili halfsmokes and fried whiting sandwiches. It’s probably at least as African American as Chinese and origin and is a way to experience a slice of DC culture that has been around much longer than the truffle naan at Rasika.

The Chickery

Rating: 

13199572_10154199002828011_823273688_o.jpgThe Chickery is a fried chicken fast casual restaurant located at 1300 Connecticut Ave NW near Dupont Circle. This place is to KFC what Chipotle is to Taco Bell; it offers a sleeker take on fried chicken without getting too fancy. In terms of boneless options, they offer both chicken fingers and “chicken feathers,” which are different styles. I ordered the Chickery Box, which provides a somewhat balanced meal, allowing you to eat fried chicken without feeling overly guilty. It comes with a small salad and a side. Sides are generally Soul Food-style options, like corn bread and mac n cheese. I ordered collard greens to feel (slightly) healthy. Everything was tasty and the service was friendly. According to their website, The Chickery is looking to franchise. I wouldn’t be surprised if they 13161203_10154199002798011_975918515_osucceed.

DC Pollo

Rating: 

13152886_10154199070283011_1361096065_nDC Pollo is a Peruvian food truck. You can find their location on their TwitterDC Pollo serves up hearty portions of Peruvian food, including Chifa. For the uninitiated, Chifa is a form of Chinese food created by Chinese immigrants to Peru, who brought their culinary traditions with them. As a result, dishes like Arroz Chaufa (fried rice) and Lomo Saltado (Lo Mein) became wildly popular in Peru and Lima boasts an iconic, historic Chinatown called the “Barrio chino.” I tried the food truck special, “El Triple” which sounded fantastic. It is an Arroz Chaufa with sauteed sirloin steak, chicken breast and ceviche. It was hearty 13183036_10154199069773011_191355172_nand delicious but for the ceviche. I’m sure the ceviche is good on its own but it doesn’t belong mixed in with the Arroz Chaufa since the heat cooks it somewhat, harming both the texture and taste of a fresh ceviche. I had hoped maybe the ceviche would be on the side. This truck still gets four stars though for hearty, tasty food and friendly service. Just avoid mixing ceviche with fried rice.

Tony’s Place

Rating: 

13078143_10154167326928011_280390129_oTony’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, 13052666_10154167326913011_2097240284_oturkey 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!

 

Pete’s New Haven Style Apizza

Rating: 

Pete’s New Haven Style Apizza has four locations including in Clarendon, Silver Spring, 12915001_10154103918263011_479691140_oFriendship Heights and Columbia Heights, but this review is for the Columbia Heights location at 1400 Irving Street NW. Despite the fact that New Haven is a crappy city, it is known for excellent pizza. The pizza (apizza?) at Pete’s is definitely a solid cut above normal. For starters, the crust is crispy and slightly charred on the bottom and as a New Yorker, I consider this the mark of a high-quality pizza. In addition, their tomato sauce is fresh-tasting and is light and slightly sweet, as it should be. There could have 12921988_10154103918323011_878556993_obeen a bit more sauce in the sauce to cheese ratio, however. However, they are best-known for their white pizza with clams, which is a New Haven specialty. It is tasty and garlicky and definitely not something you’re likely to find at any other pizza place in the area. A huge plus is that their slices are only $2 after 9 pm on weekends, which makes for a delicious and cheap late dinner option. Be aware that this a casual pizza place, not a Lady and the Tramp-style checkered table cloth romantic option. They do serve wine and beer, though their wine by the glass is a bit pricey for a pizza place (no reds under $7).

Oyamel

Rating: 

 

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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

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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.

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There’s no mistaking these for anything but grasshoppers.

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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.