Delicious is a word I use often. And by often, I mean constantly. I love the word delicious almost as much as I love the food that makes me say it. Everything about delicious is a win-win. Therefore, be it resolved, that Saturday March 6th was SO FULL OF WIN. If you don’t know just how delicious the ethnic food of DC and NoVa can be, you are missing out in the worst kinda’ way.
My Saturday started by meeting up with good friend, fantastic amateur chef and ultra foodie and blogger Dan Tompkins. We started throwing out types of cuisines, regions of the world that were a “must hit” for the day and names of hole-in-the-wall places that were favorites of mine. Just listing out the countries we could potentially consume in the hours to come lead to a very enamored and elated couple of hungry, hungry guys.
“Let’s start at the taqueria on Washington, then we have to grab some of my favorite falafel at Astor, hopefully they have koshari too…then we definitely need chickpeas from Ravi Kabob. I think a visit to Present for Vietnamese is also very much called for and it’s totally on our way out to Great Wall, the giant Asian grocery store.”
If our initial list of food stops had actually been the limits of this day, it still would’ve ranked up there with some of the most delicious days of my life. But thankfully Dan and I don’t let silly things like goals keep our food egos in check. We go all out when we get together and this day was like none other that had come before it. This, my fellow DC friends, was the most delicious day of my life. Our bellies happily danced to the tune of food induced merriment brought on by the entire world’s best dishes meeting their demise in our mouths over the course of 9 hours. Mexican, Egyptian, Bolivian, Lebanese, Pakistani, Peruvian, Afghan, American and more!
We pulled up to the parking lot for El Chorrito Caminante, a taqueria in Arlington, just outside of Clarendon on Washington Blvd. We had about 10 mins before our taco-seeking friend would arrive to join us so our eyes quickly widened as we noticed the little definition of a hole-in-the-wall restaurant called Don Arturo’s Bolivian. A chance to add a previously unexpected cuisine to our delicious list? On it. Arturo’s had the honor of being the very first restaurant (of oh so many) we would eat at that day and it set a great mood to get us going. Taking our seats at the tiny bar, which was joined by only a few scattered empty tables as the only seating in the carry-out size establishment, we started reading over the limited menu. While most of it had English subtitles, it’s times like these that make me thankful for the Spanish I do know. Dan was eager to try the beef heart, el corazon, on the menu (I’m not quite at that level of ethnic food robustness myself), but that’s only available two days a week or so. We settled on a diputado sandwich and made the very, very wise decision to split it as this didn’t even count as one of our many planned meals for the day.
Like most Bolivian dishes, our sandwich consisted of a piece of fried steak with a fried egg on top, delightfully joined by sautéed peppers and onions. Throw in a little super-spicy salsa verde and wash it all down with a refreshing Inca Cola from Peru (hint: if you’ve never had it, there is nothing “cola” about it). Bolivian is always good, but it’s never like HOLY CRAP THAT WAS AMAZING kinda’ tasty. Subtly delicious is a good way to describe it, I feel. Ready for tacos? Let’s hit it.
We made our getaway and jumped 50 feet over to El Charrito. You can tell from the outside that this place is authentic and that’s even before you find out that El Charrito used to be a set of taco trucks that grew big enough to start a restaurant. Ding Ding Ding! Since this was my first time here, I had to sample my usual suspects – some of which are not really Mexican but jumped out at me none the less. Fried yucca please, oh and los platanos con crema sounds awesome…and of course a taco or two. Oh holy waitness….WAIT. I forgot about the pupusa. The heavenly, melty, cheesy, gooey, out-of-this-taco-loving-world pupusa. The plantains served perfectly with a side of dipping cream, not too sweet but just sweet enough. The yucca was very good and gets an A-, but not quite to the level of my favorite yucca in the city at Taqueria Nacionale. The pupusa gets whatever grade comes above an A++ and the beef taco gets a B-. But I was honestly not that concerned with the taco after I stuffed my face with so much other deliciousness, so it is certainly worth a trip back to try more. After spending 30 mins chatting with the son of the owning family about how to get yucca to the right consistency (a must), when plantains are technically “ripe” (hint: way after an American would think they were), and how to make a slaw that did not taste like pure vinegar, we thanked Jose for his kind service and scrumptious food and hit the trail to start our tour of the Middle East.
First up is Astor Mediterranean, a quick walk down Pershing. This place, which is owned by the same folks as Astor in Adams Morgan, seems to be in the middle of nowhere when it comes to a restaurant. But it is literally feet from US-50. I’ve come to know and love Astor well because they have my favorite falafel! We ordered a falafel platter so the team (which had grown to four at this point) could all sample what an amazing, crispy with a tad bit of appropriate sweetness falafel tastes like. A little of their hummus on top and dipped in yogurt sauce, eaten between two pieces of stiff pita amounts to heaven on earth. While falafel has become popular in the DC area, I wanted to make sure my friends tried something they surely hadn’t seen before – koshari. I discovered this simple yet delicious national dish of Egypt on my travels there last year. One of the owners of Astor, a very sweet lady named Selwa who likes to keep us entertained as we ask tons of prying questions about the cooking behind her food, is Egyptian and makes koshari only on select days. Fortunately, she was willing to whip up a batch for us and it would be ready in about 30 mins. Time for us to leave Egypt and Lebanon and head for Pakistan while we wait!
Ravi Kabob is hands down my favorite kabob place – ever. It sits in a strip mall (well, two actually) on the side of Glebe Rd. as you come into Ballston. It’s super authentic and beyond delicious. While my usual is the lamb kabob meal, we had to tone down the intake to make it through the day, so I settled for my favorite part of any meal at Ravi, the chickpeas. Chickpeas are God’s gift to our tummies. Formed into hummus or falafel or just served on their own in Latin or Middle Eastern cuisine, they are freaking good. Dan wanted to try something else as well, but Ravi #1 was out of samosas. No problem, we’ll walk across the street to Ravi #2! An amazing side order of chickpeas (which I carried in hand across Glebe Rd.) and a samosa drenched in chickpeas and a special yogurt sauce later, it was time to go back to Astor to get some of that koshari.
How Koshari is Made in Luxor, Egypt (my own terrible video, sorry)
You’ve probably never had koshari before, but you should. It’s a dish made up of bits of pasta, lentils, chickpeas (who likes chickpeas? ME!), macaroni, caramelized or crunchy onions and topped off with a semi-sweet, tiny-bit-spicy tomato sauce. Then all mixed together and ready to be demolished. It’s a national dish of Egypt but rarely seen in similar cuisines. Astor’s is good but made a bit differently than the Luxor version I had. It’s more similar to the koshari I had in Cairo but didn’t quite deliver what I was expecting. Still very much worth you eating it though. After our second trip to Astor for the day, we needed a little break. A break as in cupcakes and coffee! Best break ever! Off to Buzz in Alexandria.
Buzz delivered some fantastic mini-cupcakes, especially the “Buzz” cupcake which has a crunchy, brownie-like topping that even includes a little espresso mixed in. A double-shot latte and an espresso filled cupcake gave us more than enough jolt to re-energize us and keep us going for a few more hours of food fun. Since it happened to be a warm and beautiful day, we spent close to an hour on their patio enjoying life and reminiscing about the various food we’d already consumed.
Some of our eating adventurists had to leave, so Dan and I took off for a little shopping at Great Wall in Falls Church. This post is already long enough, so I’ll spare you on the details of our shopping at the amazing Great Wall, complete with swimming turtles, frogs, eels and geoduck! But after our extended trip to Great Wall, we headed over to nearby Present for my favorite Vietnamese place. Unfortunately I am not the only one who loves Present…it was so booked that they couldn’t even seat two people at anytime in the foreseeable future! Time for a new place then and back to the Middle East it was. Back down to Alexandria, this time to try an Afghan joint we’d never been to.
Maizbon Afghan Grill, off Little River Turnpike, is hidden in the same type of structure as most great ethnic restaurants – a strip mall. I was excited to try another Afghan place as there really are not all that many, but the cuisine of the Afghans is full of delish. My first impression delivered a bit of disappointment as this place tries to be a few things it is not. It tries to be somewhat fancy, but it’s decor is contrived and overdone and comes off looking like a low-budget Indiana Jones set for a movie that was fortunately never made. The food was slightly pricey and honestly only qualified as “good”, not awesome. The kadu (pumpkin) was OK, but nowhere near the deliciousness of the kadu at Afghan Grill in Woodley Park. I did order a full meal here, even though we were stuffed, because it was our last endeavor for the day. My entree was kecheri quroot, which has the consistency of thick oatmeal and acts like quicksand when you put your fork into it. Which is kinda’ fun actually, but also, really, really tasty. It’s a yogurt cheese, served in a soup bowl, with very flavorful meatballs floating on top. It was certainly the highlight of the meal and created leftovers that were enjoyed by many.
After eating the world in just over 9 hours, we were several levels beyond stuffed but incredibly happy and giddy with food-loving-excitement. All of this food brought on sleepiness that could only be cured by a few pints back in Arlington. Taking a step back and looking over the whole day that was not only delicious but remarkably fun and enjoyable, it makes me wonder why everyone doesn’t hit up these kinds of spots on a daily basis. But then I guess they wouldn’t be “undiscovered”, now would they? Without a doubt, this phenomenal ethnic bonanza of a day was the most delicious day of my life.
Have another ethnic place for me to try? Leave it in the comments!