• 16Aug

    Tacos seem to be all the rage these days. Not that they haven’t always been loved, but they seem to get more and more popular. Recently opened in my neighborhood (Arlington’s Columbia Pike) is the brick-and-mortar version of a beloved Mexican food truck, Tortas y Tacos La Chiquita. Don’t be fooled by the name–this place serves more than tortas and tacos.

    I had never been to the food truck, but was thrilled to try their new home. It’s small, but it’s brightly colored and plays upbeat music. Staff is friendly and helpful.

    Over two visits, I tried the asada huarache, carnitas quesadilla, and a variety of tacos: pollo, al pastor, asada, and pescado. Everything was excellent. Huaraches are like a bigger version of a sope. Fried masa topped with beans, cheese, cactus, and meat; you really cannot go wrong. If you’ve never had cactus, I recommend trying it hear. Nicely seared, it’s like eating a pepper. If I hadn’t been told it was cactus, I wouldn’t have known. The quesadillas are huge, and are filled with tomato and guacamole, along with cheese and meat. The street tacos are traditional: two tortillas, meat, cucumber, lime, radish. The standard red and green sauces are offered; I opted for the spicier red version. La Chiquita does not skimp on the fillings, so prepare to leave full. As for the meat fillings, my favorites, across all preparations, are the asada and al pastor. Both are crisp and flavorful. However, if chicken is your thing, this is probably the best chicken taco I’ve had, as the chicken is well-seasoned, but not dry. Pozole is offered on weekends. In addition to Jarritos bottled sodas, other drinks include tamarindo, horchata, and limonada.

    There are many places for Mexican cuisine, especially tacos, not only in Arlington, but in the D.C. area, and many are quite good. But you’d be doing yourself a favor to swing by this small restaurant on Columbia Pike and enjoy a meal.

    -LEM

  • 12Aug

     

    In the D.C. area, you can find a variety of Caribbean cuisine–Jamaican, Trini, Cuban, Puerto Rican, and Dominican. But it’s been a while since our region had Haitian food. Luckily, that void has been filled by Don Berto’s Kitchen.

    A pop-up held most Sundays in Silver Spring (held in the Afrik Grill/GOLF Lounge space), Chef Don Berto serves fresh, flavorful dishes from noon-7 p.m. The menu changes weekly, and their Facebook page is updated frequently.

    Popular dishes from this island nation include griyot (fried pork), rice and beans, mashed fried plantains, and pikliz (pickled vegetables). You’ll find that here (though the griyot tends to be turkey), along with snapper, goat stew, rum cake, and more. You’ll also find the national drink, Rhum Barbancourt, which is a good sipping rum. What you won’t find is MSG and Maggi (used quite frequently in Haitian cooking). Instead, the chef freshly mixes his seasonings.

    I had the goat stew, red snapper with rice and beans, plantains, and vegetables.  Everything was delicious. The goat stew is rich and filled with vegetables, dumplings, and plenty of goat. I’ll be looking forward to this in the colder months. The red snapper was beautifully done, and I could not stop eating it. The sauce coated the rest of the food on the platter and made everything more delectable. The portion size is good, but you must leave room for the rum cake. Soaked in rum, yet not soggy, it is the best version I’ve ever had, and you’ll be taking a slice to go, guaranteed.

    Chef Don Berto and his staff are welcoming and happy to answer any questions. You’ll be craving their food after just one visit, and you’ll want to return for the family-like atmosphere, friendly service, and maybe even stay for the kompa.

    -LEM

  • 05Aug

    Sugar Factory Rainbow Sliders

    We recently attended the recent pre-grand opening of Pentagon City Mall’s Sugar Factory American Brasserie. Sugar Factory started as a candy store, and grew into a group of restaurants with locations in Las Vegas, New York, Miami, Orlando, Chicago, Dubai, Philippines, etc. They have both restaurants concepts (such as Pentagon City) and small retail stores/cafes (such as  Bahrain, Hollywood, and the newly opened Union Station in Washington, DC. The restaurants include small candy stores (and house-made ice cream).

    Let’s start with the drinks. There is definitely a sweet theme here, with many of the milkshakes and bubbling goblet (group-sized, 60 ounce) cocktails being garnished with candy. The 3 neon colored (individually-sized) martinis we tried tasted like Jolly Ranchers in the best possible way, with the Lemon-Head being our favorite. If you don’t enjoy very sweet drinks, you may want to skip alcohol for the evening. There is no beer or wine menu at this location.

    Milkshakes

    All of the food including sauces like Buffalo, BBQ, and mustard, and even the turkey in the turkey club are made from scratch. This is something that more restaurants should do because it is more cost effective, but also results in fresher, more flavorful food. The dishes we tried were good versions of classic American food that we grew up on.  The salmon was the one dish that was fancy restaurant fare instead of a good version of a classic diner or pub dish. We tried one brunch dish, the well-prepared  chicken and waffles. The only component of any of the dishes we tried that needs work is the asparagus that came with the salmon, which should be an easy fix.

    This is a good restaurant for groups, besides the goblet cocktails. There were even 5 or 6 birthday parties for children (all girls) going on the evening we were present. Sugar factory even has a 24 scoop King Kong Sundae for groups to share.

    We are looking forward to returning to Sugar Factory, possibly for brunch. Feel free to take a look at the drinks and food (including brunch) on their huge online menu.

    -JAY

  • 02Aug

     

    John Shields of Gertrude’s, PBS’s Coastal Cooking, and the New Chesapeake Kitchen was the MC and crab disassembling demonstrator at last week’s Crab & Beer Dinner at Wildfire in Tysons. Evolution Brewing of Salisbury, MD was on hand to pair and serve their fine brews.

    Properly-spiced Maryland blue crab served alongside a plastic lobster bib, mallet, and beach bucket for the shells was our first course of the evening. John showed everyone a proper technique to get out all the succulent meat in an expedient manner. He’s even studied with professional crab pickers. The blue crab was paired with Evolution’s Delmarva Pure Pils.

    Crab Spaghetti with summer vegetables and lobster sauce followed as the second course. Large chunks of fresh and delicious crab topped the spaghetti. The lobster sauce was made from a nicely reduced sauce. The dish was both fresh and delicate. This course was paired with Evolution’s Pine’hop’le IPA.

    Tender and savory Crab Crusted Bacon Wrapped Filet Mignon in a roasted shallot-sherry wine reduction completed the pre-dessert courses. The steak dish was paired with Evolution’s Exile Red Ale.

    Dessert was served last, an orange pound cake with seasonal mixed berries and fluffy whipped cream.

    Keep an eye out for other extraordinary dinners at Wildfire. The next few months will bring another beer dinner, a single malt scotch Dinner, and a Wine dinner.

    Our thanks to Chef Moreno Espinoza (pictured above on the left) who joins us annually from Chicago to cook for this wonderful event.

    -JAY

  • 21Jul

    Everyone loves food. Everyone loves tacos. Everyone loves a good deal, and what’s better than buying two tacos and getting an additional for free? Few things come free in life, my friends, especially tacos, so when the opportunity comes, I say go and eat it.

    Such is the case at Fruitive, an all plant-based, organic-certified restaurant in City Center DC. I realize that the most popular type of tacos come with a meat base, but before you wipe Fruitive off of your radar because they don’t serve meat, believe me when I say Fruitive doesn’t sacrifice taste for health, just as they don’t sacrifice health for taste. You get the best of both worlds. Just peep the pictures and close-ups of the tacos I bought this Tuesday; I mean talk about total food envy!

    L to Rt: The Sesame Ginger, Tuscan, and the Southwest Tacos

    So, what exactly is this taco deal, and what exactly are your options? Every Tuesday, Fruitive holds a Taco Tuesday Special: buy any two tacos, you choose a third for free. Fruitive has three taco options: Sesame Ginger, Southwest, and Tuscan. You can mix and match, and try each one or, if you so desire, get three of the same flavor! I tried all three, but my personal favorite were the Tuscan tacos. The basil pesto “mayo” they put in them is an utter game changer, and the butternut squash totally tastes like mango. As surprising as that combination of flavors may be, it honestly works! The other two tacos were mighty fine, don’t get me wrong, but everyone has a personal favorite.

    So, if you’re someone who is a taco fanatic, someone who is looking for a new food joint, someone who is health-conscious, or someone who, like me, loves food with a great price tag, I encourage you to check out Fruitive’s tacos any Tuesday! The atmosphere is great, and the tacos are even better.

    I’ve included links to their website, official Instagram, as well as their main menu below, so click away, and I hope to see you there next Tuesday!

    -Mela (MEL), Guest Blogger

  • 16Jul

    Oklahoma Joe’s at Dunn-Loring Metro is now District BBQ.

    We recently read Time Carman’s article entitled “District BBQ and three other runners-up for best barbecue in the D.C. area,” leading us to believe that more had changed at this establishment than just the restaurant’s name. We’ve been to Oklahoma Joe’s a few times, and after finding the pulled chicken and pork, and sliced brisket to be bland, mainly returned a few times for the baked beans, French fries, and chicken chili. We headed to the restaurant in question this weekend (hoping for improved BBQ), but when we arrived, they assured us the food had not changed at all. We were already there and hungry, so ordered the Grand Champion ($29.99), which includes sliced brisket, burnt ends, pulled pork, pulled chicken (we substituted turkey) and three sides (not counting the bed of French fries the meat rests on).

    The Sides:

    Yes, we ordered two sides of beans, since it is something that is done well here. The chicken chili would have been a good option as well. Yes, we asked for extra pickles. The onion rings had a thick crunchy coating and were well-executed. No complaints about the fries either. We really wish they would add a vegetable side such as collards or some other kind of cooked greens to the menu. I realize that the closest Oklahoma Joe’s come to a vegetable is green beans in only one of its locations in OK, but now … the name has changed, so that excuse doesn’t hold. Green beans would suffice if they were fresh and prepared well.

    The BBQ:

    The pulled pork, turkey, and sliced brisket lack flavor, but are edible if you cover them in BBQ sauce (including their vinegar BBQ sauce). The ribs and burnt ends were enjoyable enough (because they already have BBQ sauce added).

    We wouldn’t travel out of our way to eat here, but it’s a decent option if you live or work nearby, are craving BBQ, and order well.

    Recommendations:

    • Burnt Ends
    • Ribs
    • Beans
    • French Fries
    • Onion Rings

    -JAY

     

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  • 08Jul

    DC recently welcomed the Pod Hotel to its Chinatown neighborhood. For those that aren’t familiar, the Pod offers small rooms with large amenities and a fun vibe. Founded in NYC, they are just starting to branch out. Having stayed at the original Manhattan location, I think the DC outpost stays on brand. While I didn’t see the rooms, the lobby, staff, and diner were exactly what I’d expect from a Pod.

    Hushpuppy

    So why was I at the Pod, if I didn’t see any of the rooms? To sample sips and tastes from Crimson Diner, one of the hotel’s three eateries. While the Pod opened in April, this was their official launch party. The atmosphere was energetic and you could tell that everyone was really excited about this project. The diner is an all-day sort of place with a focus on Southern favorites and boozy milkshakes, is on the main level, and has just opened. Crimson Whiskey Bar is beneath the diner, and opens in July. Crimson View, their rooftop bar, opens in August. While the menus will differ, all three seem like places that will attract visitors and residents alike. Backed by the Hilton brothers, it’d be hard to go wrong here.

    For drinks, we sampled the Crimson Old Fashioned and cava. The Old Fashioned was strong yet balanced, and my favorite. You’d be remiss not to order it. The cava was dry, bubbly, and perfect for summer. Samples of the Tennessee Transplant, a boozy milkshake, were passed. Concocted of vanilla ice cream, Jack Daniel’s, peanut butter, and cola syrup, it wasn’t overly sweet, and I’d consider ordering it. For a non-boozy milkshake, we had the Georgia Belle, which is vanilla ice cream, peaches, and hibiscus syrup, and it was basically dessert in drink form.

    Fried Chicken Sandwich

    Food definitely focused on Southern fare. We tried biscuits with ham and apple butter, crab hush puppies, and fried chicken sandwiches. The fried chicken was savory and crisp, and I’m hoping it’ll be an entrée on their full menu, in addition to the sandwich. I’ve never even considered ham and apple butter on a biscuit, and while slightly salty, I loved this combination and it was my favorite nosh of the evening. It was texturally interesting as well as being delicious. I thought the hush puppies lacked flavor, and while crispy, I’d not go for those again.

    The highlight of the evening had to be that DC Mayor Muriel Bowser stopped by to speak and cut the ribbon to officially launch the Pod. She was just as excited as everyone else, and her energy was really great.

    Crimson Diner seems to be just what is needed in Chinatown—casual, but not “fast casual,” with thought and creativity behind the food and drink. Keep Crimson in mind when in the neighborhood.

    -LEM

  • 24Jun

    The Tysons Private Event Group (TPEG) is an informal group of restaurants with private event spaces in the Tysons area. They meet quarterly, discuss a topic of mutual interest, and refer business to each other. Thursday evening, TPEG gathered a crowd at Convene to sample some of the great catering options Tysons has to offer. After trying the evening’s offerings, it is clear why so many DC area companies hold their events in Tysons. Above are some image highlights from an evening of great food.

    The restaurants which sampled offerings from their private events menus included:

    Convene
    Flemings
    Fogo de Chao
    Gordon Biersch
    Lebanese Taverna
    Maggianos
    Ruth’s Chris
    Seasons 52
    The Capital Grille
    Ten Pehn
    The Palm
    Wildfire



    -JAY

  • 12Jun

    Congrats to Federalist Pig on winning the DC Lamb Jam for Best in Show and People’s Choice! Kudos to the judges!

    This was a great year for the Lamb Jam with most dishes being stand outs. BBQ is apparently a GREAT theme for lamb! We are already looking forward to next years event!

    Now that I’ve tried the Urban Butcher ‘s lamb salami with coriander and orange, I need to make another trip to the restaurant (or farmer’s market) in Silver Spring. Meat Crafters’ Skinny Salamis (the lamb versions) were also delicious, and are available at the Silver Spring Farmer’s Market.

    -JAY

  • 09Jun

    Alatri Bros. in Bethesda may only be a few months old, but don’t let that deter you from visiting. This “neighborhood pizza joint,” as they refer to themselves, is well worth a stop. It’s fun and funky, with interesting décor and a great soundtrack, along with fantastic service and food.

    Verdura Pie

    Over the course of two visits, I tried cauliflower fritti, wings, buffalo-style Brussels sprouts, and two pizzas: the Tomato & Mozzarella Pie and the Verdura. The cauliflower fritti is perfectly fried and deliciously addictive with its feta and red pepper dipping sauce. Buffalo-style Brussels sprouts seems like something that could easily go awry, but here the sprouts are crisp and have right amount of buffalo sauce. This dish might even convert a Brussels sprouts hater into a lover. Wings definitely hit the spot if you are looking for that classic wings and pizza combo. The pizza is great. The crust has that rustic wood-oven char that adds flavor and depth to a pizza. The pizzas are not heavily-topped (not that the toppings are skimpy), but you don’t end up with a mess, and they reheat well the next day. It’s hard to say which pizza I prefer, as I loved both. If you are a traditionalist, stick with the Tomato & Mozzarella Pie. If you need your vegetable fix, go with the Verdura, which is all about the veggies.

    Their liquor, beer, and wine selection is small but well-curated; I haven’t had a cocktail, though there’s some choices that have piqued my interested. I have had the red sangria, and it’s a good (and strong!) choice. Alatri Bros. has a rather full happy hour menu and dining al fresco, and it shares its patio with sister restaurant Gringos and Mariachis.

    Alatri Bros. is on par with some of my favorite DC pizza places, and I look forward to returning. It is worth seeking out, and you won’t be disappointed.

    -LEM

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