Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Where You Should Eat at AWP in DC

Okay, in anticipation of the AWP Conference, during which thousands of writers will descend upon Washington, DC, bringing with them angst; an edgy nervous energy; a vast and yearning neediness; and a lovely swirl of conversation about books, writers, writing, and booze, I will offer some suggestions to address the all-important question of WHERE TO EAT. Just one warning: I may be holding back a couple of spots that I want to keep for myself. Okay, another warning: I’m not looking up links, so get ready to google. And a last warning: you’ll need reservations at most of these places.

Bad news: The immediate neighborhood of the AWP Conference hotels—Woodley Park—does not really have any destination restaurants in easy walking distance (possible exception: Lebanese Taverna). Good news: There are close neighborhoods that do, and the metro isn’t that hard to figure out (though count on running into at least one broken escalator and a delayed train. Also, good luck figuring out the obscure new fare structure. Haha—funny because it’s all true.).

Anyway, places I like in:

Dupont Circle
Levante: Middle Eastern
City Lights of China: Chinese food
Hotel Dupont: classy drinks (wait, don’t go there; I’m going there!)
Tabard Inn: nice; American food
Luna Café: very casual American
Zorba Café: very casual, Greek
Thaiphoon: Thai, casual

Also, The Phillips Collection is a lovely, manageable art museum in this neighborhood if you need a break from the scary writers.

Cleveland Park
Palena: fancy (okay, I haven’t been here, but it’s always in the top restaurants of the city…bring your gold card!)

Ardeo/Bardeo: very nice, wine bar & small plates (okay, I haven’t been here either, but I’m dying to go)

U Street:
Sorry that I’m not hip enough to get to many restaurants here, though if you want an AMAZING (and not cheap) craft cocktail experience, check out The Gibson. HIGHLY recommended! (And reservations are essential.)

Oh, and everyone MUST go to Ben’s Chili Bowl, a true DC institution. Even Barack Obama had to stop by early on in his term. Late at night you might have to stand in line, but if you’re drunk enough, you won’t care.

And if I’m not hip enough for U Street, I’m really not hip enough for the new and truly hip neighborhood, The Atlas District. But drop it frequently into conversation as I do.

Oh dang, I'm not even sure if there's anyplace good in Adams Morgan anymore, though Cashion's Eat Place used to be a reliable choice. I've got to get out more...

Penn Quarter:
This is where I do most of my eating. Lots of choices, both for food and drinks, though things get crowded whenever there’s a home hockey/basketball game.

Teaism: lovely, casual tea and light Asian fare; amazing salted oatmeal cookies (inexpensive; I think there’s also a branch at Dupont Circle, though this is the nicest branch IMHO)

Jaleo: Spanish tapas, something to please everyone. A little noisy, but one of my all-around favorite restaurants; not cheap, but a very good value.

P.S. 7: Great and inventive cocktails. New American. I had one incredible meal and one slightly less incredible meal, so I need to go back for the tiebreaker.

Proof: awesome wine bar with awesome food. My husband saw our local “hot babe” sports newscaster here during a happy hour, so obviously a magnet for “celebrities.”

Zaytinya: small plates with a Mediterranean flavor, VERY noisy (Annoying Mike Isabella from the current “Top Chef” worked here; speaking of “Top Chef,” you can also go to Spike’s very casual restaurants on Capitol Hill: We The Pizza, and Good Stuff for burgers…be sure to get the homemade soda at We The Pizza)

South Austin Grill: cheap Tex-Mex. There’s also Rosa’s, but I actually find South Austin better in that cheese-laden, comforting way.

Rasika: the best Indian food you will ever have; nicer than what you think of when you think of an Indian restaurant

Chinatown is at the Penn Quarter metro stop; look for the gaudy Chinese gate and take your pick.

Clyde’s is a reliable, local chain that will please and handle a large, fussy group.

And while you’re here, might as well go to the National Archives and look at the REAL Declaration of Independence and Constitution. Yes, the real ones. Kind of humbling: that’s writing.

Did you just get "that" call from Oprah? Then celebrate here:
Citronelle, in Georgetown: of the best places in town
CityZen, in a neighborhood you wouldn’t go to unless you were going here or worked as a bureaucrat...sigh, my fabulous birthday dinner last year
Plume , the restaurant at the Jefferson Hotel...oh, sigh again, such a beautiful setting
Marcel...sigh, that amazing French sausage

There’s more, but for all the talk about what a “great food town” DC is, I’m not totally convinced. There are good places, but you need to spend $$$. Service is often so-so. And, generally speaking, the best of the ethnic food has migrated to the suburbs. Still, I feel better having steered you in the right direction. Just don’t hog that table that I’m waiting for….


DC-area author Leslie Pietrzyk explores the creative process and all things literary.