Category Archives: Chinatown

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Pho DC: Confounded by Beef Meatballs

Before I touch on the peculiarity of Vietnamese beef meatballs, a quick question: When you tell someone you’re in the mood for pho, do you pronounce it the correct way (“fuh”) or the way it looks (“foh”)?

Even though I know better, I often mumble out “foh”, mainly because the correct pronunciation is hardly universal knowledge, so saying it makes me feel like a pretentious tool, like that woman in the TV commercial: “Oh, and an endive salad. No, it’s absolutely pronounced ‘on-deev’.”

Anyway, on to Pho DC in Chinatown. Or as I refer to it, “Chinablock.” I’m not sure we can really call it a “town.” Love DC, but our Chinatown is weak, weak, weak.

Pho DC doesn’t look like much from the outside, but it’s surprisingly modern and sleek on the inside. Many people sit with their bowls of pho at the big bar in the front of the restaurant, and there are two dining rooms further back.

The first time I ate there, I ordered the grilled shrimp vermicelli, which was excellent. Perfectly grilled shrimp with nuoc cham and a spicy assortment of hot sauces.

A couple of weeks ago a few of us from work went during lunch. Started off with spring rolls.

And I decided to order pho this time around, going with beef meatballs.

I hesitate on how to describe the meatballs… I should preface my comments by pointing out that I’ve never had Vietnamese meatballs before. These could have been the finest example in all the land for all I know. But to say they weren’t what I was expecting is a massive understatement. Where I was anticipating biting into soft, pillowy orbs of ground beef, these had the consistency of a rubber ball. Tough and rubbery is really the only way I can describe them.

I gave it my best try, but just couldn’t come around to the texture. For the first time in a long while, I left food behind on my plate — the meatballs went uneaten.

If someone is an expert on Vietnamese cuisine, please illuminate — is the rubbery texture typical?  I’m guessing my aversion has less to do with Pho DC and more with Vietnamese meatballs themselves.  Did I miss out on a delicacy by leaving them untouched?

Pho DC
608 H St. NW
Washington, DC
202-506-2888

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Going to Church for Comfort Food

It is practically impossible to find an eating establishment these days that isn’t on Yelp, Urbanspoon or any of the food review sites. Even the most obscure restaurant has at least one review, even if that review was written by the owner in 2007.

But here’s one for you that you won’t find on any of the  sites — the Greater New Hope Baptist Church.

It’s never occurred to me to have lunch at a church, but at Greater Hope New Baptist, they serve up lunch in their dining room every Wednesday through Friday.

I’ve heard one of my co-workers talk about “going to the church” for months now for their fried fish. Finally, on a recent unseasonably mild winter day, she took us to this secret place near Chinatown.

Served up cafeteria-style, the lunch options are comfort food galore. Among the items on the board that I jotted down: turkey wings, chicken wings, Salisbury steak, meat loaf, fried whiting, liver and onions, pork ribs, fried trout, candied yams, collards, corn bread, potato salad and Lipitor.

This is my packed plate of chicken wings, potato salad, collards and corn bread.

I don’t claim to be a comfort food expert, but I had zero complaints. None. What’s to complain about with crispy chicken and stick-to-your-ribs sides?

We waddled back to work and I almost took a nap under my desk, Costanza-style.  I can’t say I’m much of a church-going man, but I’m happy to go again if it involves lunch.

Greater New Hope Baptist Church
816 8th St. NW
Washington, DC
202-842-1036

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Feeling Peckish After Lunch at the TaKorean Food Truck

I’m somewhat ambivalent about the whole food truck phenomenon. I get the attraction of fresh, out-of-the-norm food that pops up in your neighborhood like an ice cream truck on a hot summer day.  Food trucks are fun. They’re unique. It’s exciting to find out a particular truck is coming to your area.

However…

Shouldn’t the guiding principle of the food truck be that the food is inexpensive? As in, less expensive than a brick and mortar restaurant?

My co-worker Cindy and I stumbled upon the TaKorean truck recently when it was parked on 7th St. across from the Verizon Center. Yum. Korean tacos. I wanted one.

It being a nice day and the height of the lunch hour rush, a line was queued up.

Moved fairly quickly though, and gave us a chance to peruse the menu: a choice of meat (steak, chicken or tofu) and slaw (spicy kimchi slaw or napa-romaine), in a taco or a bowl. $3.50 for one taco, or $9 for three tacos. The bowl was also $9.

These are my three tacos, one of each meat, with the kimchi slaw.

Each taco gets a treatment of sriracha, lime crema, cilantro and sesame seeds, and the corn tortillas are doubled up to prevent the filling from falling through.

I liked the bulgogi steak the best, followed closely by the tofu. The chicken was the weakest of the three.

We gobbled up our tacos on the steps of the National Portrait Gallery. When we left I was still hungry. Like, barely-made-a-dent hungry. I realize I have human garbage disposal tendencies, but I could have eaten at least two, maybe three more tacos. At those prices that would have cost anywhere from $16-$18!  $9 for three tacos may sound like a bargain, but we’re not talking about an enormous amount of food here.

Compare these tacos and prices to the tacos I ate at Los Molcajetes in Norwalk, CT. More filling, and substantially cheaper. And Los Molcajetes is a restaurant, not a truck.

I know, I know, Norwalk is a small city, Washington is a big city and price inflation has to be factored in. I still think there could be a middle ground. TaKorean is a welcome change of pace for lunch, but next time I’m eating a snack beforehand.

TaKorean

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Take a Friend to Matchbox

If a DC resident were to ask me for the name of a casual restaurant to take out-of-town friends, Matchbox would be one of the suggestions. It’s a sure thing: moderate prices (by downtown DC standards, anyway), an appealing decor and vibe that says hip but not too hip, pleasantly buzzing ambience (but not deafening), nice drink list, non-threatening menu that will please both the gastronome and the less adventurous eater, and all around good food, including rock solid pizza. (And if your friend doesn’t like pizza, that right there is grounds to end the friendship).

My first visit to Matchbox was with friends after a museum afternoon. We shared the mini burgers and onion straws (which reminded me so much of the thin-sliced onion rings my family used to get from Philbrick’s at Cape Cod’s Nauset Beach. The only thing missing were the waves.)

And we shared a pizza — half veggie and half Q special (chicken, roasted red peppers and portobellos).

Big, chunky vegetables with herbs and loads of garlic, on a crisp, chewy, smoky crust. Can’t go wrong with that.

On the second visit, I met my friend Diandra, in town from NY. I thought Matchbox would be the perfect place for drinks and a bite.

This time, I had the large and filling crab cake sandwich.

And Diandra had a pizza with arugula.

There’s pressure when a friend visits — the last thing you want to do is present a poor impression of your city with a lousy dining experience. I’m happy to say Matchbox came through with flying colors.

Matchbox
713 H St. NW
Washington, DC
202-289-4441