Most Overrated DC Restaurant?

By Ezra Klein

The Washingtonian is asking for nominees. One commenter says Gazuza. Another replies, “Gazuza is a restaurant? I didn’t know douchebags were edible.” That commenter FTW. Also, in a judgment sure to rile up at least 30 percent of the IFA, Elise says, “Cork. Crap food, cramped space, deafening noise, just awful.” Them’s fighting words.

I’d offer up two nominees. First, Zaytinya. Mediocre food at terrible prices. Almost everything that’s actually mediterranean can be had better, bigger, and cheaper at Lebanese Taverna. In multiple dinners at Zaytinya, I have yet to have anything memorable, or even particularly good.

Second, Central. Not terrible, just not great. It’s a restaurant whose concept — pricey food at merely expensive rates — plays off a dining culture that DC simply doesn’t have. The idea seems better suited to a town with pricier food. A haute tuna burger that clocks in at $19 simply isn’t a steal here, even if it may be a life-altering find in New York.

What are your nominees?


8 responses to “Most Overrated DC Restaurant?

  1. I agree with you on Zaytinya, although it’s the same complaint I have at Jaleo, as well. Most of these small plate restaurants serve portions so, well, small, that you end up spending a fortune for an ok dinner. It’s a decent concept on paper, but I’ve found it to be a disaster with almost any sized group. I VIOLENTLY disagree with you on Lebanese Taverna, though, which pains me to say. I’m a NOVA native, and remember when Lebanese Taverna was just one restaurant (in that weird area on Washington Blvd. between Arlington and Falls Church,) and the Deli in Arlington. The family that runs it was a constant presence, and the food was always very good. Since they’ve expanded to take over the entire known world in the past five years or so, I’ve had a series of meals that can only be described as bad. Not mediocre, not a little off, but actively bad. Cold food, no spicing, just bad. It seems to me somewhere that has simply grown faster than it could expand its quality control.

    Also, Central is great for lunch, as it’s not too expensive to get away with expensing for many people, and the burgers-and-whatnot menu works better. For dinner, you’re dead on.

    I still don’t really get Matchbox. The wait situation isn’t as bad since they’ve expanded, but it still sucks, and the pizza seems pretty average to me considering the hoops you have to jump through to get it. Two Amys it ain’t.

  2. How could I not chime in here? I’d say you’re one for two on your nominations: Central, I agree, is totally overrated (though my meal there was cheaper than I expected it to be). However, having lived in the Middle East for two years, I regularly crave hot pita, good, fresh hummus, and tangy labane. Zaytinya’s renditions are as close to authentic as I can find — and no, Lebanese Taverna doesn’t come close. Zaytinya’s pita alone is worth the trip. Also, I’ve probably eaten with ten of twelve different people at Z. and all have found my favorite dish of seasonal mushrooms with dates to be worth the trip.

    Dare I throw this out there before the restaurant turns half a year old? Founding Farmers. That place is oh-so-packed at lunch and well-populated at dinner, but everyone I’ve talked to found the salad to be the best thing on the menu. In other words, their produce is good, their cooking not particularly. Then again, I guess people go there because they like belonging to the culture of crunchy, organic, feel-goodness. I admit to be one of them.

  3. Just want to agree on Zaytinya, though I’ve been lucky enough to not eat in DC for almost three years now. Even back in 2005, it was overpriced, understaffed, and filled with people that were the reason I left DC.

    That said, the hummus was really, really good.

  4. I agree that Zaytinya isn’t great, but Jaleo is clearly the most overrated. Jose Andres is as close to a celebrity chef as there is in DC, and the food is invariably . . . fine.

    It’s never bad, but I just can’t really bring myself to care.

  5. I’ll come to Jaleo’s defense, at least as far as the Bethesda location goes: I’ve never had a bad (or even not-very-good) item from the menu there, and it tends towards excellent. Same dynamic applies for Raku’s Bethesda>Dupont locations.

    Lauriol Plaza might make the grade for most overrated in my book. The food is fine but massively overpriced given that better examples of the same food can be had nearby for substantially less, and I find it to be an entirely unpleasant place to eat – loud, with a wait, and mediocre/indifferent service.

  6. As a New Yorker, I’m unaware of 1789’s general popularity, but that was about the bleakest, most offensive meal I’ve ever had–certainly at such great cost.

  7. Wow Ezra, I’m surprised. I know you’ve been there twice while I was working, and I’m completely surprised that you felt that way. What didn’t you like about it?

    I’m also interested in the comment about it being understaffed- we generally have about 35 people working front of house on any night. In what way was it understaffed?

  8. I’m late to this game, but my two cents are just begging to be spent.

    I agree with several of those mentioned above, especially Jaleo and Zaytinya, but my pick is Sequoia.

    While I grant that most choose to patronize the place for the view, the few times I’ve dined there the food was barely north of atrocious: at turns bland and underseasoned, and reliably lukewarm.

    Not a bad place for cocktails al fresco, though.

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