Middle Eastern food is becoming increasingly popular in the U.S., but while hummus and falafel are now well-known, another Middle Eastern classic, mana’eesh, is less so. Mana’eesh (singular: manousheh- yes, Arabic plurals are very confusing) are pizza-like dough with a variety of toppings, including labneh, za’atar, olive oil, and, in some cases, meat. Zayt & Za’atar (or Z&Z) for short, is a delicious farmer’s market stand at the Foggy Bottom and H Street Northeast farmer’s markets that serves authentic, healthy mana’eesh. I went for the “Lebanese Bride,” which is a very traditional manousheh topped with labneh, za’atar, tomatoes, mint and olive oil. It took me back to my time eating mana’eesh in Jordan. The dough is baked fresh and is fluffy and perfect. Friendly staff round out a great experience.
Zayt & Za’atar is open from 3 PM to 7 PM on Wednesdays at the Foggy Bottom Farmer’s Market next to Foggy Bottom Metro Station and from 9 am to 12:30 pm on Saturdays at the H Street Farmer’s Market at 800 13th Street NE.
In the US, hummus is often thought of as a mere dip, something to put out at a party in addition to guacamole or salsa. But in the Levant, hummus can truly anchor a meal. Jordanians, Palestinians, Israelis, Lebanese, etc. will fiercely argue about the best place to grab a meal of hummus. People make pilgrimages to spots like Abu Hassan in Jaffa, Hashem in Amman, Lina in Jerusalem and Hummus Said in Acre, just to eat a meal of hummus. And why not? Hummus is delicious, healthy and filling.
Little Sesame, tucked under the popular DGS Delicatessan, has finally brought this style of eating to DC. This laid-back, friendly spot serves up hummus with inventive toppings and fantastically fluffy pita, without doing anything that would piss off a purist myself. For instance, they don’t mess around with stupid stuff like chocolate dessert hummus. Instead, toppings like za’atar, sumac and chicken shawarma are firmly rooted in the Middle East. Oddly, they don’t have Middle Eastern drink options like mint lemonade or Vimto but ginger beer pairs surprisingly well with hummus. I had the #5: roasted onions, charred ramp vinaigrette, sumac and sorrel, which was absolutely delicious despite the fact that the vinaigrette made the hummus a little thinner than I would’ve liked. Do note that they are only open on weekdays for lunch, but it’s worth a trip even if your office isn’t super close by.
Little Sesame is located at 1306 18th St NW.
Charming Nomad is a food truck that serves a mixture of Pakistani and Afghan food, though I’d say it skews more towards the Pakistani. This solid lunch option offers tasty and relatively healthy South and Central Asian meals with fresh ingredients and very friendly staff. It differentiates itself from the rather nondescript kabob trucks with eye-catching (and charming) decor and a commitment to using local, farm to table ingredients.
You can find Charming Nomad’s location on their Twitter.
The 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.
Lunchtime meets Vegas at 50-50 Pizza, a food truck where you can spin a wheel on an iPad to determine how much you’ll pay for your meal. You have a 50-50 shot of only paying 99 cents for a pie with one topping. If you “lose” (they like to say everyone is a winner) you pay $9.99. It’s a really cool concept that adds an (often much-needed) dose of fun in the middle of the work day. As for the pizza itself, there’s room for improvement. The crust is pretty good and it’s a good size, but the cheese to sauce ratio tends way too heavily towards the cheese. I love cheese, but the amount of cheese is almost overwhelming, overpowering the sauce.
Find 50/50 Pizza’s location on their Twitter.
It may seem strange that I’m writing about a movie theater on a food blog, but Sun’s Cinema is far too cool of a spot for me not to write about. It’s a combined indie theater and dive bar in a small space in Mount Pleasant, offering up cheap drinks like $3 PBR, as well as the obligatory popcorn and, oddly, vegan pork rinds. They purport to sell “TV dinners” as well if you want something more substantial with your movie, but they didn’t have them available on the night when I went. The movie selection is eclectic and ranges from the old and obscure to the (relatively new) and popular, like Superbad. I went to see Ong Bak, a highly entertaining and action-packed Thai martial arts movie (yes, I was also skeptical when I first heard about it) that happens to be one of my favorite movies. The place attracts a cool crowd and is a real gem- my one gripe would be that because the floor isn’t slanted like a normal movie theater, you could have trouble seeing if you’re behind someone tall. My friend with me had to move to be able to read the subtitles. Other than that, though, I highly recommend checking this place out.
Suns Cinema is located at 3107 Mt. Pleasant St. NW.
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.
Far from the cupcake wars of Georgetown, Lavender Moon Cupcakery is a far more low-key spot, baking delicious cupcakes in an adorable space in Old Town Alexandria, just off King Street. In fact, it does little other than bake cupcakes. While they have bottled cold drinks like water and soda for sale, they don’t offer coffee like Georgetown’s Baked and Wired does. While I appreciate having coffee or hot chocolate with my cupcake, Lavender Moon is in the business of doing one thing and doing it well. The cupcakes are smaller than the massive ones you’ll find at other cupcakeries, but $3 doesn’t seem too unreasonable of a price for premium cupcakes such as these, especially when the La Boulange crap at Starbucks costs about the same. I ordered a chocolate peanut butter cupcake and really enjoyed it. If you’re in Alexandria, check it out!
Lavender Moon Cupcakery is located at 116 S Royal St. in Alexandria, VA.
Did you know that José Andres has a food truck? It’s called Pepe and it serves Spanish-inspired sandwiches. The day that I went, the line was pretty short and I got my sandwich quickly, though the cold weather may have played a role in the short line. I ordered the Butifarra Burger, which was a long, narrow baguette with olive oil, bravas sauce and Spanish butifarra sausage. It was a bit too small for the $12 I paid for it and while I wasn’t wowed by the sausage itself, the interplay of the sausage, the olive oil, the bravas sauce and a high-quality baguette made for a really tasty sandwich. Still though, I don’t come to a food truck expecting small plates, so while I know that’s José A’s M.O., larger sandwiches would be welcome.
You can find Pepe’s location on its Twitter.
Dolan Uyghur Restaurant in Cleveland Park is the first Uyghur restaurant in DC proper. Uyghur cuisine, the cuisine of the Turkic-speaking Uyghur people of Western China could be described, unsurprisingly, as a cross between Central Asian food and Chinese food. Since being written-up by the Washington Post, this small Cleveland Park spot has gotten very popular very quickly. So if you go on a weekend, prepare to wait for your food. Probably the most iconic Uyghur dish is laghman, hand-pulled noodles with beef and stir-fried veggies. I ordered the Royal Laghman, which was reasonably-priced at $16. The portion wasn’t overwhelming but it was sufficient. I did expect my noodles to arrive a bit more piping hot, but they were delicious and, as laghman tends to be when it is handmade, the noodles were delightfully stretchy. For dessert, my friend and I ordered the candied walnuts, which were tasty but came in too large of a portion, in contrast to the laghman. I would also liked to have seen a more interesting beverage selection. I know that Uyghur society is Muslim, so there likely isn’t much in the way of a culture of alcohol, but the cocktails could be made more interesting through the use of Uyghur-inspired ingredients. The service was friendly and welcoming.
Dolan Uyghur Restaurant is located at 3518 Connecticut Ave NW in Cleveland Park.