I don’t know if this is fully authentic poke; it was basically a sushi bowl. I am extremely okay with that.

Poké Papa
806 H St NW
pokepapa.com

Cost: $14

Poké Papa is conveniently located for lunches – just far enough I feel like I’m getting a bit of a midday walk but close enough even for a pretty busy day. I was working, so no drinks.

They offer both DIY and pre-designed options; I went with the Volcano while my friend had the Onolicious. All bowls are offered on rice or mixed greens.

poke

Volcano

Chunks of tuna marinated in a spicy sauce (basically a sriracha mayo), topped with jalapeño, scallion, fish eggs, soy sauce, and “lava sauce,” plus their standard edamame, cucumber, pickled ginger, hijiki salad, and imitation krab salad.

I thought this was fantastic. The lava sauce is indeed pretty hot – or at least white people hot – when combined with the spicy marinade already on the tuna. Factoring in the additional jalapenos, I was glad to have the cooling krab and hijiki salads. If you like a spicy tuna roll, you’ll be happy with this bowl. You can get the lava sauce on the side, or not at all, if you don’t want as much heat.

Onolicious

Chunks of tuna marinated in soy sauce with hijiki, lotus root, ginger, sesame, scallion, and onion. Served with the usual edamame, cucumber, pickled ginger, hijiki salad, and imitation krab salad.

I was not as fond of this one – I found it a little bland. I suppose I could give them more credit and call this one “subtle” instead, but I’m not gonna. (I actually went back on another day and got a whole bowl, so it wasn’t just that I got a mediocre bite of my friend’s lunch.) There was nothing wrong with it, and if you’re a big fan of the regular old tuna roll then you will have a good time with this one. But I prefer my plainer rolls with a hit of wasabi, and that was missing here. From the menu it looks like they do have a wasabi sauce option – perhaps next time I’ll give that a try.

Overall, I think this is a fantastic (and hearty!) lunch option in downtown DC .There are several other “signature” bowls, including salmon, shrimp, scallop, and octopus, or one that is vaguely Thai with ground chicken if you’re feeling squeamish about raw seafood, and you can always DIY if you have your own vision of perfection.

 

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I decided to kick off March with an act of true gluttony, and The Bird delivered. This was also the day that Hope Hicks got shown the door, which meant everything on the happy hour menu was half price! Keep an eye out for fired senior staffers to keep both your wallet and your belly full.

The Bird
1337 11th St NW
www.thebirddc.com

Cost: $50 per person

A clarification about the cost – I put together a group of nine, with orders to come hungry and wear elastic waists. We ordered … a good portion of the menu, and kept the drinks coming. You could easily leave well sated for less than $30 – maybe even under $20 if somebody got fired that day.

The Drinks

Of course they’re famous right now for their Moscow Mueller, but to be honest I don’t love turmeric that much. The Black Boulevardier (rye, Campari, amaro, balsamic) was more my style. Usually they cost $8 at happy hour and I would not have been mad to pay that much; at $4 every drink on the menu was a steal.

Boulevardier

I just love rye, okay?

The Food

Almost everything at The Bird is, well. Made of bird. Most of that is chicken, but you’ll also find duck, pheasant, quail, Cornish hen, and assorted eggs. This is not a place that’s vegetarian friendly, though there were one or two items on the menu that would suffice. We started with the Happy Hour menu – ordered most of it – and then moved on to the full menu.

Happy Hour

Deviled Eggs: Sure, it’s “just” a deviled egg but to be honest it was a really great deviled egg.

Korean Style Fried Wings: Delicious, but unless you’re wing-obsessed wait for a visit to Bonchon.

Duck Meatballs: These were fantastic. The curry sauce overwhelmed the duck – they could have been chicken or turkey for all I could tell – but the sauce was so good I didn’t care. Forget the meatballs, somebody pass me a vat of that sauce and a spoon.

Chicken and Waffle: I am a latecomer to the whole chicken and waffle thing but I am fully converted now. The happy hour portion was good sized – half a waffle and a chicken quarter.

Chicken Tacos: Tasty and a steal at the price but other things on the table were better.

Nachos: Very standard nachos. The only standout was the fried duck egg on top.

From the Dinner Menu

Chinese Broccoli: A nice break from all the richness. It was good to have a green thing.

Duck Fat Roasted Carrots: I don’t love cooked carrots but these were tasty. Probably something to do with all that duck fat!

Grilled Peri-Peri Cornish Hen: Nando’s does more satisfying peri-peri, but I could have eaten my body weight in the potatoes that came with this.

Quail, Shrimp, & Grits: I didn’t get a lot of this dish but the grits were fantastic.

Silkie Chicken Doro Wat: Richly spiced lentils with berbere. Frankly, all doro wat should come with a runny poached egg on top.

Duck Confit Bolognese: The duck in this was barely noticeable beyond adding richness, but ohhhhh my god the gnocchi and sauce were so good. I could have happily eaten three bowls. The portion is pretty small.

Brussels Sprouts: delightful! The pomegranate arils were a nice pop.

Dessert

Chocolate Ice Cream Cake: Heavy on the ice cream, light on the cake. Respectably delicious.

Bourbon Brioche Bread Pudding: Creamy and tender, with a scoop of ice cream and a caramel drizzle. The bourbon was too subtle but everything else was great. No raisins, thank you chefs.

Sorbet Duo: Blood orange and Forest Berry sorbets; I skipped these and left them for our lactose intolerant diner.

Sweet Cinnamon Waffle: OUTRAGEOUS and outrageously good. A giant stack of waffle sundae.

Apple Frangipane: I was sincerely surprised to find that this was my favorite, but the classic combination of apple and almond really stood out amid an evening of excess.

As much as I enjoyed The Bird – and I very much enjoyed it! – their gimmick doesn’t work quite as well as I hoped. Many of the more “exotic” birds were used in highly spiced dishes that overwhelmed the flavor of the meat itself. I could not tell you how silkie chicken or a guinea fowl egg differs from regular chicken meat and egg, because the berbere spices in the doro wat took front row. The duck meatballs were overwhelmed by the (phenomenal) curry sauce. The quail was stuffed with spicy andouille sausage. A couple dishes we skipped – the pheasant ramen, the pan seared duck breast – may be prepared with a subtlety that would allow the meat to shine. The food was all fantastic, but they could have used chicken in every dish and I wouldn’t have noticed a difference.

I wound up Accidental Cheap Eats February with another Ethopian option, and I’m finally writing about it. I’m EXTREMELY BEHIND on my blogging! But not on my eating – let’s be realistic about my flaws here.

 Bete Ethiopian
811 Roeder Road, Silver Spring
https://www.beteethiopia.com/

Cost: $27 per person

I have no idea how to pronounce this restaurant’s name. Bet? Beetee? Behtay? However you say it, it’s well worth the trip to Silver Spring.

The Drinks

Bete has a very limited drinks selection, and this time I had to try the honey wine. It was interesting, but very very sweet. There is zero resemblance to the funkiness of mead, so don’t go in with that expectation. I like sweet things so I had a good time, but I’m not planning to search out more at my local package store.

The Food

We got two main dishes and a veggie combo, and everything was sincerely great.

Bete

Kitfo and tilapia in the middle, assorted lentil and bean dishes around the perimeter. Not pictured: two additional cameras providing good lighting.

Kitfo: Ground beef in spiced butter and berbere, with collard greens and crumbly cheese. We got this cooked medium; raw is traditional. I think I would actually like to try it cooked well done – I think it would benefit from having crispy bits and more Maillard reaction.

Fish Dullet: Minced tilapia with onions and jalapeno. Surprisingly, this was the standout dish for me. I don’t usually love tilapia, because I find it bland and uninspiring even when covered in delicious spices. But the ratio must have been in my favor, because this was fantastic. It came with a little pile of bright red chili powder that really pumped it up without being too hot.

Veggie Special Combination: A standard veggie combo, with a lot of lentil and bean and collard dishes. I couldn’t single out any one as the best, but they were all delicious.

I can recommend this one unequivocally. The food was great, the price was right, and the location was reasonably convenient to the Silver Spring metro / 16th St Corridor bus lines. The restaurant is tiny, but there was only one other party in the place so unless this one gets “discovered” you should be fine.

Galentine’s Day tacos?  Yes please! But also: not quite.

Chaia
3207 Grace St NW
https://www.chaiadc.com/

Cost: $25

Chaia is only sort of a taco joint. Yes, the food is small, handheld, and wrapped in a corn tortilla. But there are few of the flavors of Mexico that you might expect. There’s some lime. There’s some cilantro. Jalapeños are available. Otherwise, it bears closer resemblance to “new American” – or maybe just ridiculously hipster – than anything else.

The Drinks

Chaia offers an assortment of pressed juices and shrubs. (Another tick in the hipster category.) I got the lemon ginger shrub, served cold. It was tasty but it didn’t turn me into one of the drinking vinegar obsessed.

The Food

Chaia might not be serving proper tacos, but that doesn’t make them bad! In fact, all three I tried were delicious.

They’ve done an excellent job at putting together hearty, interesting, and strictly vegetarian options with seasonal ingredients. Nothing this season is vegan, but some of it could probably be made so if needed.

FullSizeRender

Three tacos was a modest amount of food – the addition of one side made for a filling meal.

Chipotle Sweet Potato Hash Taco: Tasty, but this was pretty one note. The chipotle was nonexistent, I didn’t even notice the feta (not cotija? Feta’s not even the right continent!!), and the arugula pumpkin seed salsa was … theoretical.

Smoky Collard Greens: I didn’t grow up in the south, so my interest in collards comes and goes. Frankly, they shine brightest when bolstered with bacon. Here they only had queso fresco, a smoky salsa, and cilantro for assistance.  Again, it was pretty much just collard greens. If that’s your thing, you’ll like this.

Creamy Kale + Potato: This was my favorite, maybe because I’m just a sucker for potatoes. But I also think the creamy pepperjack and the pickled onions went a long way to making this one sing. It was the only one that felt like it was greater than the sum of its parts.

Green Rice side: The menu calls this “brown rice with herb pesto and feta.” (See how none of those words are Mexican in the slightest.) Still, this was the other star of the meal – a generous amount of feta, a bright herby flavor, and bonus toasted pepitas for crunch.

Cinnamon Coconut Cookie: I might be a cookie snob, but this was only meh. While the cinnamon was nice, the texture was dense, crumbly, and a little greasy – and not in that great, classic Toll House kind of way. However, the menu notes that it was made by Rise DC, one of our few entirely gluten free bakeries, so I’m giving it a pass by virtue of ingredient limitation.

Ultimately, the food was good and it was nice to find a place that does both a locavore and entirely vegetarian menu. It might not be gluten free enough for somebody with celiac disease, but it was close enough to suit if you’re “gluten sensitive.”

It still wasn’t tacos though.

 

 

 

I’m having a run of cheap(ish) eats! I’m really not mad about that.

Letena
3100 14th Street NW
https://www.letenarestaurant.com/

Cost: $15 ($60 for 4)

Ethiopian food is sort of a blind spot for me. I enjoy it, but I don’t know a lot about it and it’s not usually my first choice. Letena was good enough that I’d like to change that.

The Drinks

The spiced tea is good, but I should have tried the honey wine. A missed opportunity!

The Food

One of my favorite things about Ethiopian food is how much they lean into “lemme get a little of everything.” Letena’s sampler plates do an excellent job of this, though I’ll have to go back for some of their non-stew dishes. I split the meat sampler ($19.50, sized to share), while my vegetarian friends split the vegetarian sampler.

The meat sampler comes with four meat dishes, two vegetarian sides, and plenty of injera. There are only four meat stews on the menu, so we got them all.  In retrospect I couldn’t tell you which was which, but I can say that all of them were delicious. For vegetarian sides we got red lentils (yemisir wot) and collard greens (gomen).  I don’t even usually like collards that much, but these were delicious.

Everything had great flavor, while being mild enough for even the spice-wary white palate. Frankly, I could have used a little more heat! Portions were generous but realistic – I didn’t leave hungry but I did wipe the plate clean.

No pictures this time! I totally forgot.

Do yourself – and your stomach, and your wallet – a favor, and get to Los Hermanos immediately.

Los Hermanos
1428 Park Rd NW
www.loshermanosfordc.com

Cost: $30 for two

I don’t remember who told me to visit Los Hermanos, but I owe them a debt of gratitude. This no-frills, counterserve restaurant is way more delicious than it has any right to be.

One caveat: they are entirely opaque about pricing. I had no idea what anything was going to cost before I got to the register – I still have no idea what individual items cost. On the other hand, at $30 for two with leftovers to take away, you can feel free to order as much as you want.

The Drinks

No alcohol served, but we “earned” a free beverage through one of those neighborhood loyalty apps. The mango juice was delicious.

The Food

My friend and I started off by sharing a combo plate. The base of this was rice and pigeon peas. It’s hard for me to know how delicious the rice was in itself, because I am living my best life and I had the server pour chicken juice all over it. The combination was honestly just *kisses fingers like an Italian chef*

IMG_4022

Yes, everything is sort of brown. Shut up, lots of delicious things are brown.

There were half a dozen different stews and other meat options.  I was hoping I could get the stewed goat, but they didn’t have it that evening.  Instead we got stewed chicken and pulled pork. We also got a side of sweet plantains. All of these were amazing but I’m still sad I couldn’t try the goat. I’LL JUST HAVE TO GO BACK I GUESS.

This one plate was honestly a ridiculous amount of food. I could have eaten half of this and been full. But I didn’t come to play so of course we also got the tostones – smashed fried plantains.  Crispy perfection.

IMG_4024

Eaten alone, they could have used a little salt. Not a problem when used a shovel for the pulled pork.

And finally, an order of chicharron, fried pork belly. This was a little tougher than expected, but still delicious. One order was massive, and wasn’t going to keep well, so I prioritized this in restaurant and saved a lot of the rice&stew as leftovers.

IMG_4025

We finished off the meal with a couple of their “cookies” which turned out to be a dense, sweet bread with cinnamon and coconut. These were fine, but skippable. Save your stomach room for more pulled pork.

 

 

It took a whole month but I finally found a dud.

Fig & Olive
934 Palmer Alley NW
http://www.figandolive.com/restaurants-and-menus/d-c

Cost: $33 (Restaurant week prix fixe)

I went to Fig & Olive for restaurant week with some ladies from work. I did do my research this time, but unfortunately most of what comes up is reports of a massive 2015 salmonella outbreak, and an exposé around the same time alleging that the food is made in upstate New York at a “commissary” and shipped frozen to DC. Fine for a big chain I guess, but pretty sketchy for a place as posh as Fig & Olive wants to be.

I didn’t get salmonella, so we’re calling this a win!

Fig & Olive avoided the worst pitfall of restaurant week – ie: tiny portions that leave me feeling like a hobbit who missed elevenses and won’t be getting second lunch either. In fact, everything was surprisingly abundant – it’s a shame it was only just okay.

I understand that their location – in trying-hard-to-be-elegant City Center, next to a Chanel and a Dior to give you a sense of the hoped-for clientele – requires elevated prices to make rent. But at their regular menu prices, I would have paid $65 for a LUNCH.

Verdict: skip this for literally anyplace else. Skip this for McDonalds.

The Drinks:

Workday lunch, kept it sober.

The Food:

Most of the table went with the prix fixe restaurant week menu, which included an appetizer, main, and dessert.

For a starter I got the quinoa salad, which was loaded with butternut squash, pomegranate arils, and brussels sprouts, in a light citrusy dressing. It wasn’t bad! The bowl was huge (especially for a starter!) and the pomegranate was a nice touch.

IMG_4003

If I made this for myself I’d pat myself firmly on the back. But it wasn’t $15 appetizer nice.

Next I got the chicken paillard, which was pretty sad. Despite a lovely description, it turned out to be a tough chicken breast next to a side salad. (The salad was good – more brussels sprouts, more citrus, almonds.)

IMG_4004

Whole lotta capers on that chicken.

The dessert was the best thing on the table by far, but only because I picked correctly. I ordered the chocolate pot de crème and it was as delicious as I could have hoped. But one of the others ordered the dessert “crostini” and it looked genuinely tragic – two sad shortbread cookies with a dryish, crusty smear of what might have been mascarpone or something cheesecake adjacent; and topped with a couple marinated cherries. Maybe it was better than it looked? I sure hope so.

Way back in 2011, Toki Underground was DC’s first ramen shop. That’s no longer the case, but Toki still holds its own against a host of more conveniently located ramenya in the northwest quadrant.

Toki Underground
1234 H Street NE
www.tokiunderground.com

Cost: $35

I’m not really a soup person. More often than not, the broth is underwhelming and the rest is overcooked to cardboard. Chicken noodle is the worst offender – mushy pasta and stringy chicken that manages to be simultaneously soggy and dry make this the world’s least appealing soup.

  • I know this is anti-American. All of America is wrong; I alone am correct.

Ramen is one of my exceptions. Every component is prepared separately and only assembled mere seconds before you slurp it up, so nothing has a chance to overcook. And the focus on a rich and flavorful broth means every sip is worth having.

Of course, you do have to find a decent ramenya, which can still be tricky in … most of America. Fortunately for me, Toki Underground is more than decent. They keep things simple by offering only two broths – a rich tonkotsu (pork based) broth, and a vegan option. (why tho?) From there, you can get seven variations on a theme, with toppings including braised pork, fried chicken, onsen egg, and assorted vegetables.

The Drinks

Half of the team was doing dryuary, and it was a Tuesday, so I got a Japanese apple “sidra” – more of a soda than a cider, and nonalcoholic. Sweet but not cloying, and very apple-y.

sidre

They also use this in a gin based cocktail if you’d prefer to spend $14 instead of $4.

The Food

We ordered the fried chicken steamed buns to share. This was tasty, but should have been better – the fried chicken had spent a little too long in its sauce and it wasn’t as crispy as I hoped.  It was also DIY – a plate of popcorn-chicken sized bits, 4 buns, and kewpie mayo and pickles to garnish.

chicken buns

The bun base seemed pretty mass market and bland.

From there I got the Abura Tsukemen – Toki’s version was the standard tonkotsu broth served in a separate bowl next to the warm noodles & stuff. (This is not a standard tsukemen, which would be a cold noodle with a warm dipping sauce, often served only in summertime. However it was delicious.) I personally enjoy the extra fun of dipping my noodles but if you don’t, get a regular ramen.

Finally, we split the chocolate chip cookies for dessert. As is becoming my standard, I managed to fuck this up – described on their menu as “served with red miso buttercream and milk” I interpreted “buttercream” as “ice cream” and had pictured something like a Chipwich full of miso ice cream.

chipwich

I was so ready, you don’t even know.

Instead, we got three small cookies, a smear of “miso buttercream” (basically a frosting, of miso, butter, and sugar), and a little cup full of milk.

The cookies are baked to order, so expect them to take a solid 10-15 minutes to get to your table. As chocolate chip cookies go, they’re just all right – I’m a firm proponent of the classic Toll House recipe and these are cakier, which is not to my taste. Serving them fresh baked is a nice touch. The smear of “frosting” was pretty good, when combined with a dip in the milk. But partially because of my disappointment, and partially because this did not manage to be more than the sum of its parts, this one is skippable.

Because fried pork crackling, juicy chicken, and lots of avocado wasn’t enough, we made a quick stop for dessert.

Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams
1925 14th Street NW
https://jenis.com/14th-street/

Cost: $5.50 for a small

Maybe you didn’t know, but ice cream is my JAM. I throw myself ice cream social birthday parties, and if you think that means I buy four pints of Ben & Jerry’s and call it a day then THINK AGAIN.  We’re talking seven or eight batches of the home-made good shit, M I N I M U M.

I have my own ice cream maker. And no, I don’t mean one of those chemical-filled bowls that you have to store in the freezer for 48 hours ahead of time. (I did have one of those, and I used it so much it broke and the mystery liquid inside leaked out.) I have the fancy one, with the built in compressor.

cuisinart

No waiting period between batches, no bulky bowl that takes up 1/3 of my freezer space.

So given the opportunity to hit up the new branch of Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams I couldn’t resist. And frankly, splendid is right.

Flavors Sampled:

Thank you @ our server who graciously handed out A LOT of samples while we dithered.

  • The Matterhorn – wildflower honey ice cream with white chocolate and smoked almonds
  • Gooey Butter Cake – cream cheese ice cream with vanilla cake crumbles and caramel ribbon
  • Brown Butter Almond Brittle – vanilla ice cream with crumbles of almond brittle
  • Pistachio & Honey
  • Bangkok Peanut – peanutty, spicey, hint of curry
  • Riesling Poached Pear sorbet
  • Coconut & Cacao – vanilla coconut base with cacao nibs

Ice cream 2

I went with a split small – The Matterhorn and Pistachio & Honey – while my friend split the Gooey Butter Cake and the Brown Butter Almond Brittle. The Matterhorn is a classic flavor with some delightful touches – the smokey flavor of the almonds, the floral sweetness of the honey – taking it to new heights. The Pistachio & Honey was rich and nutty – more like pistachio-butter than the watery “green” flavor of a cheap supermarket version.

This ice cream is … amazing. The flavors are delicious and surprising without being so strange you don’t want a whole serving. On the contrary – I could have eaten a LOT more. It came with a complimentary waffle chip garnish that I was expecting to be basically styrofoam but was actually far more delicious than it had any right to be.

So I really need to start doing some research on the restaurants I pick for this.

Chicken + Whiskey
1738 14th Street NW
http://www.chickenandwhiskey.com/

Cost: $35 for two.

I didn’t research Chicken + Whiskey at all. I heard some vague “oh isn’t that place good?” chitchat and I stuck it on my list. I assumed, based on the name, that I would be getting some fried chicken and some brown liquor. Doesn’t “Chicken + Whiskey” say classic, southern-influenced Americana to you?

Well. It is indeed southern and American – in that Peru is South American. Their specialty is slow cooked rotisserie chicken with Peruvian sides, such as yucca fries, guasacaca, black beans, and chaufa. And while I was mistaken about their offerings I certainly wasn’t disappointed.

The Food:

My friend and I got a whole host of dishes:

  • Guasacaca – basically just guacamole, but nobody is complaining.
  • Arepitas – “deep fried pork crackling corn flour dough” whatever the fuck that means. It was pretty much a pork mcnugget? But that sounds terrible and this was delicious. I wanted 10,000.
  • Cilantro Mojo Chicken – luscious
  • Sopa de Pollo Picante – I didn’t try this one, because I had a cold and didn’t want to be a plague vector
  • Reina de Chicharrón – like a chicken salad sandwich, only the binder was avocado and the bun was … something amazing and fried. Not bread.
C+W- everything else

definitely a no-frills chicken joint

C+W- sandwich

no carbs means it’s healthy, right?

The Drinks:

I’m so stupid?? I just sat there like “where’s the whiskey?” because it turns out the whiskey is only available past the secret fucking faux-refrigerator door like some kind of goddamn speakeasy. There is no whiskey to be had in the entire main restaurant at all. I didn’t realize this, so I didn’t drink any whiskey nor did I witness their bougie af hand carved giant ice cubes. I may bend my resolution to go back and have a drink.

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