Dining Around DC

by Gray Cargill on January 21, 2015

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One of the greatest surprises for me about Washington, DC was just how much I dug the dining scene here. I didn’t get a chance to try as many restaurants as I would have liked; I had a really long list of places I wanted to try and didn’t get to a third of them. But I did enough research to know that I can’t wait to go back and try some more!

To give you a sense of the variety of options you have as a solo traveler to DC, here’s a roundup of my dining experiences on this trip.

Oyamel Mexican Restaurant
401 7th Street Northwest, Washington, DC 20004

This restaurant is a few blocks away from Ford’s Theater and the Spy Museum, which made it a convenient place to grab lunch the day I visited those two places. It was also hands down the best meal I had in DC. This comes as no surprise to me, since it’s a Jose Andres restaurant. I’ve eaten at two of his restaurants in Las Vegas–Jaleo and China Poblano–and after my meal here at Oyamel, I am convinced he can do no wrong. The man knows his food, and he knows how to run a great restaurant.

Oyamel

Oyamel

The service was professional, but also warm and friendly enough. The decor is a colorful fiesta of eye candy. During the time I was there, they were celebrating Dia de los Muertos (“Day of the Dead,” which falls on November 1 after Halloween) and the films of a famous Mexican wrestler and actor, El Santo. They had a display of his masks near the door and above the exhibition kitchen, they had one of his films playing. (El Santo wore a mask covering his face throughout the movie; I got the feeling mask-wearing was his trademark.)

Squash salad

Squash salad

The menu at Oyamel is extensive, with lots of tapas options. I had a fantastic apple-and-pear flavored margarita and two dishes marked on the menu as being among El Santo’s favorites–Camerones al mojo de ajo negro (shrimp sauteed with shallots, sweet aged black garlic, poblano pepper, lime and arbol chile) and Ensalada de chayote (a Mexican squash salad with crumbled queso fresco and crushed peanuts in a hibiscus dressing). Before my food came out, fresh, warm tortilla chips were brought to me with an equally fresh salsa.

Black garlic shrimp

Delicious black garlic shrimp at Oyamel.

Everything was perfectly delicious. The squash salad surprised me a bit; it didn’t look like any squash I’ve ever seen, but it was tasty nonetheless. The shrimp had a kick to it, but wasn’t so spicy that I couldn’t bear it. I could really taste the lime and cilantro in this dish (I am a big fan of both).

For dessert, I couldn’t resist a scoop of the chocolate gelato with a cookie crisp in it. The total cost (with tip) was $46.20 (including 20% tip), and it was worth every penny.

Logan Tavern
1423 P Street Northwest, Washington, DC 20005

Logan Tavern

My “restaurant-away-from-home” in DC

Logan Tavern became my “go to” restaurant of choice most nights when I was in DC for several reasons:

1. It was only a few blocks from my hotel, making it an easy walk even when I was beat from walking all day.
2. It has an excellent menu with a great variety of dinner options and prices.
3. I was always able to snag a seat at the bar.
4. The bartenders were awesome.

This is a very solo-friendly, locals restaurant and bar in an equally great little locals neighborhood. Every night that I walked to and from the restaurant, I passed by the cutest walkup brownstones. I kept thinking “I could see myself living here.” It didn’t feel touristy at all.

When I arrived the first night, I sat between two other solos, both of whom were reading while eating their dinners. They left and were replaced by a couple of guys and a trio of friends doing happy hour. (It seemed as though most of the other people I saw at the bar were there primarily for happy hour drinks rather than dinner, which is a shame, because the food is very good.)

On my first night there, the bartender (Devon from Massachusetts) let me sample the draft beers they had on tap before I settled on a pint of the “Devil’s Backbone” (brewed in Virginia), which was not too strong, not too weak, but just right for my tastebuds. I’m not usually a fan of dark beers, but it was very smooth and I liked it.

How’s the food? Well, I ate there three times, which should tell you something.

The first night, I had the chicken paillard, which was amazing–a bed of gooey, cheesy grits topped with a breaded, pan-friend chicken breast fillet (just the right amount of crispy), which was topped with creamy goat cheese and arugula. Mmmm. (Total cost: $30.36)

Chicken Paillard

The Chicken Paillard was so, so good.

The second night, I had the garlic mashed potatoes, brussel sprouts and a marinated flank steak with chimichurri sauce that was divine. The steak was tender, juicy and just the right amount of pink in the middle (I asked for medium). The potatoes were flavorful (that flavor being garlic, which I love) and even the brussel sprouts were good. (Total cost: $38.93)

For my third and final dinner at Logan’s, I ordered the bacon-wrapped dates and veggie spring rolls off the appetizer menu. The bacon-wrapped dates were excellent, though the first two of the four had no blue cheese in them. After I ate them, I remember thinking that they would be perfect if they just had blue cheese with them (the tanginess of the blue cheese goes so well with the sweetness of the dates and saltiness of the bacon). Then I bit into the third date and lo and behold, there was the blue cheese I’d been longing for. Perfection. (Total cost: $22.11)

Logan Tavern appetizers

The veggie spring rolls and bacon-wrapped dates.

Despite the name “tavern” Logan’s was a bit more upscale than I expected (though you certainly didn’t need to dress up). Available seating included booths, four-tops, and a long wooden bar with hooks underneath to hang your purse or umbrella. There’s a large, lovely old clock behind the bar that looks like it was salvaged from a train station or something. I wanted to ask about that, but didn’t. There are TVs behind the bar if you need a distraction while you eat.

Rasika
633 D Street Northwest, Washington, DC 20004

Rasika meal

Lunch at Rasika

My friend Tracy (who was basically my DC travel consultant for this trip) recommended this great Indian restaurant to me. It’s a good lunch spot if you’re visiting the Newseum, as it’s only a couple of blocks away. Rasika is a classy place. I really liked the decor and the food.

Since I didn’t have a reservation, I ate in the lounge. I made the poor choice of grabbing a table with bench seating. The table was very low to the ground, which made eating a little awkward. I should have sat at the bar instead. At least I got a seat. Soon after I arrived (by 12:15 on a Tuesday), the place was mobbed. There wasn’t a free seat to be had, even at the bar. There were some tourists, but also lots of business people eating lunch there.

Service was excellent and the food was everything I’ve heard it to be. Tons of people on Yelp had recommended the Palaak Chaat, so I ordered that and the garlic naan bread. All those people on Yelp were not wrong. The Palaak Chaat was one of the most interesting (and delicious) dishes I’ve ever tried.

It’s crispy baby spinach (how do they DO that?) with sweet yogurt tamarind and a date chutney that includes diced tomato and onions. The spinach literally disintegrated in my mouth. It was like eating cotton candy. Very, very good and flavorful dish. I also ordered a fresh watermelon juice to go with my meal.

Palaak Chaat

Palaak Chaat practically melts in your mouth.

The only downside to this restaurant is how crowded and loud it can get when it’s busy. I also didn’t care for how closely they crowded tables together to try to cram in as many people as possible. When I headed to the ladies room before leaving, it was really hard to squeeze by people seated at tables between me and the bathroom. It also looked difficult for the waitstaff to navigate between the tables with trays of food. The space is just too tight.

I would absolutely return, but would choose to sit at the bar and would try to go during off hours so it’s less busy. Cost of my meal here: $26.40.

Hot and Juicy Crawfish
2651 Connecticut Avenue Northwest, Washington, DC 20008

Hot and Juicy Crawfish

Be prepared to make a mess.

I met my friend Timothy for dinner one night at this restaurant across the street from the Woodley Park Metro. Timothy is a native of Louisiana, so it didn’t surprise me that he chose this place. It’s a very casual restaurant with indoor and outdoor seating. It was a nice night, so we sat outdoors. The menu consists of seafood, mostly crawfish and shrimp doused in hot sauces of all kinds. For this reason, the tables are covered in plastic to protect them, and there’s a roll of paper towels at every table.

While I waited for Timothy to show up (he had a longer train ride than I did), I chatted with my waitress, Jasmine (who was super cool) and a woman at the next table who was diving into a bag of the sauced-up shrimp. I didn’t dare try the messy shrimp myself, but she raved about them. She said she’d ordered the “medium” spice and her mouth was on fire (in a good way).

For dinner, I got the catfish basket with sweet potato fries. It was okay, but not the best catfish or sweet potato fries I’ve ever had. I also ordered the corn fritter appetizer, though, and that was amazing. I could have just had corn fritters for dinner. They came with a great dipping sauce.

Corn fritters

The corn fritters really are amazeballs…that come with awesomesauce! (That is the first and last time I’ll ever use those phrases, I promise.)

All that deep fried food, though, proved to be too much for me. I could barely make a dent in it. Then again, I also drank two Abita beers before and during dinner: the seasonal Pecan and the much better Purple Haze. (I’ve loved Abita since my trip to New Orleans in 2008. )

During dinner, there was a guy playing jazz trumpet across the street outside the Woodley Park metro station, and I could clearly hear him from where we sat. I almost felt like I was in New Orleans again. That was a nice touch.

(Total cost of meal: $30)

Old Ebbitt Grill
675 15th Street Northwest, Washington, DC 20005

Old Ebbitt Grill

Old Ebbitt Grill: Definitely not a diner.

This place was a research fail for me. I knew it was one of the oldest restaurants in the city and had been frequented by Presidents past, so that made it a place I wanted to try. But somehow, I thought it was a diner where I could sit at the counter and have an old-fashioned breakfast served by old-fashioned waitresses. I have no idea where I got that impression, because nothing could be further from the truth.

When I arrived, I realized my mistake. It is a fancy place–very dark, with lots of dark wood everywhere, including the walls and the bar and beams across the ceiling. The waiters wear button-down white shirts and black bow ties and white aprons over black slacks. There are elegant old paintings on the walls. The overhead lights are like chandeliers. I was afraid I might not be dressed up enough, since I was dressed for a day of walking around town. But they let me in, so I guess they’re accustomed to tourists.

Since it was Sunday, they were serving brunch. I was seated at the back of the restaurant at a two-top in a corner, with bench seating. This would have been fine with me, except that shortly after I ordered, they seated a couple right next to me. (I could have reached out and touched both of them, they were so close.) As a solo diner, it was awkward for me to have to listen to their entire conversation while pretending not to.

My meal was another fail on my part. I made the mistake of ordering the Breakfast Club. It sounded good in theory: French toast stuffed with ham and bacon (served with Vermont maple syrup, so at least they have taste), with a side of fruit. And the presentation was fabulous: It arrived in four cute little bundles. The stuffed French toast had been quartered and wrapped in bacon, so it looked like four little presents on my plate. Adorable!

Old Ebbitt Grill

Breakfast for one at the Old Ebbitt Grill

Unfortunately, it was deep-fried. That was way too heavy and greasy for me, especially first thing in the morning. I did eat more than half of it, because I was starving, but I finished off the fruit plate, which felt a lot healthier to me. On the bright side, the coffee was very good. I’m pretty fussy about coffee.

My waiter, Josef (emphasis on the second syllable) was a real sweetheart. I have no complaints there.

Basically, my experience here is a classic case of me not doing my research well enough, and I have no one to blame but myself. I’m sure most people are delighted with their experience at Old Ebbitt. I’d certainly give the place another try, but probably for dinner rather than breakfast and I would be more outspoken next time about where I want to sit.

(Total cost of meal: $24.36)

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