By Ben Adler
Ezra suggested to me the other day that my lack of appreciation for D.C.’s dining options might be just the result of my particular tastes. Specifically, he suggested that since my most beloved cuisines are white ethnic — Italian, Greek — and that those are where D.C. is weakest, that I may have less love for D.C. food than it objectively deserves. Certainly, this is part of the problem. If I loved Ethiopian food, or if I wasn’t allergic to corn and could eat pupusas and tacos and therefore get more out of Salvodoran food, I’d be a bigger booster of D.C. cuisine.
But, I don’t think this is the primary reason. I enjoy many ethnic cuisines that are not European. I like Mexican, Peruvian and Argentinian food (I recommend Mix-Tec on Columbia Rd in Adams Morgan, Inti on 18th St in Dupont Circle and Rumberos on 14th St in Columbia Heights for each of those nations, respectively.) I am also a fan of all manner of Asian food, from Middle Eastern and Persian to Thai, Vietnamese, Filipino, Chinese and Japanese to even, when the spice is contained, Indian. Some of these foods are completely unrepresented in D.C. (Filipino). Others, are just generally very bad in D.C. (Indian, except for Indique in Cleveland Park and some other high-end places, Chinese except for Chinatown Express and a place on K St whose name I can’t find). Some, like Vietnamese, are best in the suburbs, which I never go to.
But that doesn’t mean that my antipathy for D.C. restaurants isn’t a product of my own proclivities and limitations. The real problem, I think, is that I only eat cheap food. I’m not, after all, a serious foodie. I’ve never been to Komi or Cafe Atlantico, and while I’m sure I’d enjoy those places I may not appreciate them enough to warrant paying the bill. I don’t know anything about molecular gastronomy and I’m not a big fan of tasting menus composed of a dozen tiny courses. I like to dig in to hearty burger, which D.C. has in droves, or a good bowl of pasta, which it doesn’t.
So, to some, the question of whether D.C. has good food or not would be answered by looking at how many places have been opened by well-known chefs on the cutting edge of culinary advancement. But meals at those restaurants compose such a small portion of those that I eat, that I hardly consider that in making my assessments. Nor do I think my opinions of those places are really well-informed. But I do know what a good plate of Chinese noodles or slice of pizza tastes like, and how easy it is to find one for a reasonable price without waiting an hour for a table. And, contra what many web foodies might suggest, I don’t think that means my views are invalid or that I should stop propounding them. After all, my tastes are probably representative of whole lot more people than your average food critic’s.