The other day an old friend asked if I had any recommendations for places to eat in DC, and it reminded me that I hadn’t yet posted about our Christmas trip dining adventures. And it’s almost February. Ah, life and priorities. So, if for no other reason than posterity …
I struggled a bit with recommendations for my friend because I made an assumption that she likes “regular” food, like me. Bryan would say I could substitute “boring” for “regular” because he grew very tired of Pepa and me shooting down his desire for culture while we were in DC, the literal melting pot of diverse dining.
Prior to our trip, Bryan made reservations for a few of our meals, but many days we played it by ear depending upon what part of town we were in and/or what we were hungry for. Turns out, that’s not the best way to eat in DC. In fact, my biggest recommendation to my friend was to make as many reservations as possible to plan ahead. We quite often ran into long waits or having to go to a second choice due to lack of seating.
So all week, Bryan would recommend unique places with culturally diverse menus, like Indian, Thai, etc. and the rest of us would balk that we’d rather go somewhere that we knew we’d like. Both Pepa and I are what Bryan would call “boring eaters.” We like our steaks, hamburgers, a good piece of seafood. Our idea of “culture” when it comes to food would be pasta at an Italian place or a Japanese steakhouse (because steak is always good). In my pre-Bryan days, I would have included Mexican on that list, but we eat it so much now, it’s become “normal” to me. I mean no disrespect. I’ve just not had a lot of luck finding dishes I like at non-American food places. Often, I end of barely picking at my meal of choice because the flavors or spices or whatever just don’t appeal to my palate. Maybe Bryan’s on to something with the “boring eater” label. So I leave hungry, and, after walking for hours around DC, I did not want to risk that.
Ironically, in one of those I hate to admit ways, the best food we ate in DC was not “regular” at all. On our last night there, we finally let Bryan have his way, and it ended up being one of the best meals of the week. So what follows is our “Top Ten” restaurants we visited while in the DC-area over Christmas 2016 (starting with the best or favorite).
#1. La Tasca (Spanish) – Lunch
We literally stumbled upon this place on one of our big walking days. We’d spent Christmas morning trekking around Arlington Cemetery and were famished. We needed lunch and needed it quickly. We walked in not knowing what to expect but knowing our bellies needed filling. The menu was made up of tapas, and we had no idea what that meant. The wait staff wasn’t very friendly; each time one of us ordered a dish, the waitress would say “that’s it?” Turns out, tapas are small plates or appetizers and aren’t meant to be a full meal for someone. Rather than ordering one tapa each, we were supposed to order 2-3 per person and share across the table. Despite being out of our element, we ended up getting enough to eat and it was all phenomenal. Even though the service wasn’t great, the food was, particularly the empanadas Bryan ordered.
#2. Zaytinya (Mediterranean) – Dinner
All week, Bryan had practically been begging for Indian food. He had a place in mind – Rasika’s – because it was the top choice on many internet lists. So, on our last night there, we said okay. But when Bryan called Rasika’s, he was told that they were booked through the first week of January (ahem, “top choice on many internet lists”). The person he spoke to did say, however, that if we arrived when they opened at 5pm, we could be seated on their “casual” side. (It seems quite common in DC for everyone to assume that everyone knows what everyone is talking about). Anyway, we arrived at maybe 10 after 5 only to be told that there was a 3 hour wait. The kids and I don’t wait 3 hours for anything (well, unless it’s a Harry Potter ride at Universal). So, plan B, was this Mediterranean place a couple of blocks away, even though I wasn’t really sure what “Mediterranean food” would be (“Boring eater” is starting to make more and more sense.) Turns out, the menu offerings are structured similar to those of La Tasca; meaning, most items are “small plates” meant to be shared with the table. Thankfully, the wait staff here was quite helpful. Our waiter explained how to order and even made a few recommendations after asking us what we like. He also went out of his way to track down the bartender downstairs who had mixed up a “pink lemonade” for Wonder Boy even though that wasn’t something they normally served.
#3. I-Thai (Thai/Japanese) – Dinner
Even in DC, many restaurants close for Christmas. After calling around, we found this place in Georgetown and ubered over for dinner. Walking in to the tiny ground floor entrance, we all began to question the choice. But when we were seated upstairs about 15 minutes later, it was like we entered another world. We sat in the “sun room” off the upstairs main dining area and enjoyed a great non-traditional holiday meal.
#4. Cedar Restaurant (American) – Dinner
This elegant dining place is right around the corner from Ford’s Theatre. Bryan had made reservations for us to have a full-course pre-theatre meal prior to A Christmas Carol. However, there was some sort of mix-up and the restaurant was not able to guarantee timing on the full-course meal; so we simply ordered from the menu. Regardless, the food was great, and the service worked with us to ensure our timely departure for the play.
#5. The Hamilton (American) – Dinner
Bryan made reservations for us to visit The Hamilton on our first night in DC, mainly for the Girl’s benefit. She’s obsessed with all things Hamilton right now and was stoked to be eating here (indeed, this place was her #1 for the week). The food was delicious (except for Bryan’s prime rib, which he wasn’t thrilled with) but we were seated in a private room off the main dining hall and seemed to get a good bit of “special treatment.”
#6. Old Ebbitt Grill (American) – Lunch
Sitting across from the White House, this place is on every “must-eat” list for the DC area. So we made a point of visiting. Turns out, it’s part of the Clyde’s Restaurant Group and we’d already visited two of its sister restaurants (The Hamilton and Clyde’s) during the week. Perhaps that, and where we were seated, detracted from the ambience. The restaurant is located on the bottom floor of an office building and has overflow seating in the wide-open expanse of the building’s lobby. Nonetheless, we all thoroughly enjoyed our meals (particularly the shrimp and grits).
#7. Clyde’s (American) – Lunch
While trekking through Georgetown, we walked between two larger than life nutcracker statues to enter Clyde’s. Once seated, we realized it was owned by the same company that owns The Hamilton (where we ate on our first night). Honestly, I’d probably rate this meal above Old Ebbitt because of the ambience and our server who was very personable and entertaining. We finished off lunch with dessert we carried in, having stopped at the infamous Georgetown Cupcakes earlier that morning.
#8. Hard Rock Café (American) – Dinner
It’s probably safe to say that this was everyone’s favorite night. We had dinner reservations and got a table by a window. While the food was fine, it wasn’t anything truly special. Nevertheless, the kids enjoyed walking around to see all of the rock legend memorabilia and Wonder Boy entertained us (and sidewalk passersby) with his own dance moves.
#9. Elephant & Castle (British) – Lunch
We had tried earlier in the week to go here but it was closed for the holidays. Even though it’s part of a chain, this location was listed on several internet lists as a top dining choice. The food was just okay but the atmosphere – what I would imagine an old-fashioned smoking room (without the smoke) or a really cool bar/library—was pretty cool.
#10. Carmine’s (Italian) – Dinner
Carmine’s is one of those family-style Italian eateries where the portions are huge and everyone can eat off of everyone else’s plates. Translated: we had a lot of leftovers and no place to take them home too.
With every meal out for 7 days, we also ate at the following: The Pavilion Café (at the ice skating rink); the Café at Gettysburg; Abi Azteca Grill (in MD); Fuddrucker’s (near Chinatown). I can safely say we didn’t have a bad meal all week.
Up next … DC-Area Extras!