Why I don’t Appreciate D.C. Food

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.

16 responses to “Why I don’t Appreciate D.C. Food

  1. dont worry...be happy!

    chacun a son gout!
    (each to his own taste!)

    we all enjoy different things, and viva la difference!

    for a fruitarian, the perfect dining experience could be a plate of juicy, organic peaches….
    for you, perhaps it might be a perfect slice of pizza…
    for someone else, a lamb chop or a braised duckling or reindeer stew,
    for someone else, a box full of jelly doughnuts.
    what is more beautiful….the grand canyon, mt. mckinley or a sunset on the beach at maui??
    we all like different things!
    life is one big, sensory experience!!!!
    no apologies……just enjoy!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    my humble bag of white summer peaches, on sale at $2.49 = perfect dining experience and the price is right:-)

  2. void_pelican

    i generally agree with your points here, and find it interesting that DC has the same lack-of-great-cheap-food problem that my much smaller town (santa cruz, CA) has. i always assumed that bigger would equal better, especially on the low end where there would presumably be much more competition for the non-foodie’s dining dollars, but perhaps not.

    more importantly, though, i’m really looking forward to the comments from that one foodie/chef/douchebag that sometimes comes around, castigating you for your low and crass peasant tastes.

  3. Re cheap eats, DC may well have a pretty low density of good cheap eats. Not a lack of cheap eats, but a low density of ’em … and you, sans car, are at a big disadvantage in terms of trying out some of the places we do have (ref: http://is.gd/QgRV ).

    Re your views, propound away. I’d just rethink the angry New York rant thing. Not sure it’s really working for you — or your arguments!

  4. The place on K St may be Sichuan Palace. It’s pretty good. Also, check out New Big Wong in Chinatown.

  5. soul food and southern food. dc skews southern, if you want to eat good and cheap, get your ass to wilson’s already or just shut your damn mouth.

  6. Finding restaurants that will give you what you need in a new city can be difficult. Sometimes it’s finding cuisines that you like at a price you can afford. More often it’s a matter of finding restaurants with the right atmosphere to make you feel at home.

    A bad atmosphere can make great food bad. And a good atmosphere can make marginal food good. That said, no atmosphere can make truly lousy food good.

  7. Santa Cruz? That place is all delicious cheap food, with no real upscale options!

  8. (Full disclosure) I agree with sci-fi author Spider Robinson that I prefer reviewers to critics. Under his definition, a reviewer tries to give a person enough information to determine if a (pick one) {movie, restaurant, novel, auto mechanic, etc} is likely to appeal to me, as opposed to a critic who tells me which {movie, restaurant, novel, auto mechanic, etc} I should like.
    Ben, I think I would like to spend time in your company (I’m on your side as a cheap food guy) but you come off as a bad caricature of a critic. There is too much rant and not enough reviewing. When I read your stuff on IFA (I haven’t visited your primary blog) I hear your voice as Jon Lovitz doing Jay Sherman, eg every film in the top 1,000 box office stinks but a red balloon floating over random scenes in genius. Substitute a pizza slice for the red balloon and you have the average Ben Adler IFA post.
    Sorry your allergy comes between you and some good cheap food. However, I also feel strongly that the ultimate evaluation of food is “at this time in this place does this food taste good to me.”I despise purists who say there is only one (pick one … BBQ, chili, bagel, even fish, as if salmon and sardines were supposed to taste the same). I would prefer a description of how things tastes instead of a rant of how things fail to meet your personal preferences.
    I hope as time goes on you find more places that you enjoy.

  9. I remember there being a ton of good, cheap Indian restaurants in DC, and even more outside of DC proper. High end places like Rasika and Indique get a lot of attention, but for cheap and good in the city there was (is?) Naan and Beyond on L NW near the Farragut North metro station, that South Indian place in Georgetown, a good number of grotty places on the Hill… hell, the Sunday all you can eat brunch at Bombay Club wasn’t that pricey either. Outside of the city, there’s Kabob Palace in Crystal City, Delhi Club in Clarendon (right opposite the Metro, no less!), Ravi Kabob in Ballston, Food Factory in College Park, Udupi Palace and Tiffin in Langley Park, and a bunch more I’m blanking on.

    It’s been a year since I’ve been in DC, and I’m focusing on your line about Indian food, but seeing as I can rattle of these restaurants from memory easily, I worry that your argument is a bit flimsy.

  10. Ravi Kabob is the greatest! Also, I recommend Bombay Curry in Alexandria. But if you are really never going to leave the District, well, you might be SOL. I mean hey, it’s not like there is such a thing as the “DC Metropolitan Area” or anything.

    I have a question: if you are not a ‘serious foodie’, why write for an entity calling itself “The Internet Food Association”? I’m not just trying to be bitchy…I really want to know!

    PS If you find good, reasonably-priced Italian food, inquiring minds want to know that, too!

  11. i think i’m one of those “some” with relatively middle-to-lowbrow tastes who would rather have a good bowl of Chinese noodles than a cutting-edge chef’s glamorous meal, and i’m glad, Ben, that you’re willing to stick up for that as an option. but i find the role of defender of the right to pretty-good food hard to square with high levels of intolerance for the insufficient level of pretty-goodness in DC.

    “bah, there’s nothing to eat here” doesn’t help me choose between two places to eat. and when it’s all “bah, there’s nothing good here” it is hard to know what validity to give any individual dismissal – i’m left with about the same level of information as if i hadn’t read anything.

    at some point, the “DC, you’re doing it wrong” storyline ceases to have function outside of itself – is there a way to stand up for the very valid role of non-“serious foodie” with a little more candle-lighting and a little less darkness-cursing?

  12. Mix-Tec? Seriously?

  13. Interesting article (and comments) on the DC food scene over at the Atlantic’s food channel: http://food.theatlantic.com/abroad/why-dc-should-be-a-food-destination.php

  14. It’s not you, it’s DC.

  15. Pingback: Best Burger I’ve ever had « The Internet Food Association

  16. Pingback: Best Burger I’ve ever had | kashwaynepromotion.com

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