When I showed up in Washington, D.C., last weekend, I didn’t know what to expect. I came to visit my best friend from home who lives in the city, and also to revisit some of my favorite haunts. It’s been almost a year since I moved away from D.C. I left the day after the election.
Needless to say, that was a very dark day in my life and in U.S. history. I was walking around sobbing and I wasn’t the only one. People looked shell shocked and afraid. How could Trump get elected? What would we do now?
When I got to town on Friday, I was very vigilant of the mood. I pictured it being dark and gloomy like the day I left. I even thought it might even be worse, considering the current political climate.
But I found that not much has changed. D.C. is still D.C. Sure, there are F*** Trump signs everywhere, but the city seems more or less the same. It’s energetic or rushed, depending on your mood, diverse, historic, and intellectual.
Also, the food was still amazing, if not better. There were so many new restaurants and my friend and I tried to hit up a lot of them.
I read an article in the Washington Post a couple weeks ago where a guy made an argument that D.C. is the most hopeful place in the country. BS, I thought. How can D.C. be the most hopeful place when there are so many politicians who are bringing down the country?
It’s easy to get swept up in the negative, but, if you take a closer look, you’ll see some truth to the writer’s argument. There’s a lot of young energy in D.C. People always seem to be planning, whether it’s a startup, a new restaurant, or a nonprofit. The city is full of ideas, and ideas fuel hope.
I’m starting to sound like a politician so I’ll stop there. But I will say that D.C. surprised me this weekend. It showed me that I actually like Cantonese food (I used to think I didn’t like Chinese food, believe it or not), that you can go back to a place you fled and remember all the reasons you loved it, and that the city seems to be surviving despite the political madness. D.C. has more grit than people give it credit for.
Here are some of the highlights of my food journey through D.C. It’s not an exhaustive list so for more tips or recommendations, check out my Instagram.
My friend Rachel and I started our food tour de force of D.C. at Bread Furst, a bakery in Van Ness. I first heard about Bread Furst from Rachel because she lives down the street in Cleveland Park. Bread Furst is known for their artisan loaves and also, their delicious lunch fare. I got a pulled brisket sandwich with horseradish mayo on the house rye bread, and a slice of apple spice cake. Needless to say, I almost blacked out.
I read about Colada Shop a few months ago and I texted Rachel immediately. “We need to go here,” I said. Colada Shop is tucked away off the bustling 14th Street corridor. It has a big, colorful patio and a laid back vibe. I ordered a cubano and a pastelito with guava and cheese. I could have eaten 30 more. They were delicious.
I’d never heard of Columbia Room but Rachel recommended it as a place to grab drinks before dinner. It’s in Blagden Alley, a literal maze of restaurants and bars in the middle of Shaw. We snagged seats on the rooftop, which had a nice view of the neighborhood. The cocktails are strong, as they should be, and delicious. I had a tropical punch with green tea and bourbon. I drank it very slowly to savor every drop.
The Red Hen
The Red Hen is one of my all-time favorite restaurants in D.C. I went there for the first time a few years ago at 10 p.m. because I couldn’t get a reservation earlier than that. I’ve been back a few times since and it never disappoints. It’s fresh Italian food made with local ingredients. Rachel and I split fried Brussels sprouts that were so good, I started weeping. I got a homemade pasta with duck sugo and it was the perfect dish for a crisp fall night: heavy, warming, and flavorful. It’s the food equivalent of being wrapped in a blanket.
I discovered Chaia my first summer in D.C. They had a stand at the Dupont Circle Farmers’ Market and I’d always wait in a long line for tacos after I was done shopping. They’ve since expanded to a storefront in Georgetown, and business is booming. When I stopped by on Saturday, I got the taco trio with mushrooms, eggplant, and cauliflower. The mushroom is my favorite: It comes with a red salsa and the shrooms are always tender and perfectly cooked.
I tried to go to Pie Sisters a couple years ago on Pi Day. I walked all the way there from my apartment in Dupont and they were OUT OF PIE. It was one of the saddest moments of my semi-adult life. Thankfully they were open and fully stocked when Rachel and I stopped by on Saturday. I got a pumpkin pie that brought me to tears, and Rachel got bourbon pecan.
I could never come to D.C. and skip Dolcezza. It’s one of my favorite gelato shops in the city, maybe even the world. There are a bunch of different flavors but this last time, I settled on Indonesian vanilla bean and Meyer lemon crème fraîche. If you’re a coffee drinker, Dolcezza also has great espresso drinks. Next time I want to get an affogato, or a scoop of gelato with a shot of espresso on top.
“I have to take you to Purple Patch,” Rachel said a few months ago when I told her I was coming to D.C. The restaurant is in Mount Pleasant, a mostly residential neighborhood in Northwest D.C. Their speciality is Filipino food and it is delicious. Everything is spicy and flavorful. I didn’t get pictures of everything we ate but I did manage to get one of the Bicol Express, or pork with peppers and coconut milk, and the ube ice cream that I ate for dessert. The ice cream was so pretty, I almost didn’t want to eat it. But then I did.
I could live in Union Market. Maybe they’d let me set up a cot there. Probably not. HOWEVER, I made sure to block out a big chunk of time to spend their last weekend. Union Market has a bunch of food stalls, purveyors, and pop ups. I decided to try a new vendor this time, an Ethiopian food cart called Gorsha. I got a bowl with turmeric rice, vegetables, lentils, split peas, honey yogurt sauce, and Injera. It made me remember how much I’d missed Ethiopian food. I never wanted to leave.
I used to go to Buttercream Bakeshop when I felt like cheating on the bakery I worked in for a while in D.C. They have so many types of cookies, cakes, and pastries, but one of the best things in the shop is the chocolate chip cookies. They’re soft and they melt in your mouth. I only got one and I berated myself for it later.
I wasn’t sure that I would like Tiger Fork. I love most Asian food but I’ve never been a fan of Chinese/Cantonese cooking. Maybe because my palette was limited to americanized Chinese food for so long. But Tiger Fork completely changed my mind. It was amazing from start to finish. I had a pickled cucumber salad, cheung fun with shrimp and flowering chives, and what I would call “deconstructed crab rangoon.” It was creamy tofu with roe on top (I love roe), and fried dipping sticks to eat it with that kind of resembled churros. For dessert, Rachel and I split the bubble waffle. We got to watch the cook make it because we were sitting at the chef’s table. It had lychee, two scoops of ice cream, candied banana, and miso caramel. I took one bite and almost blacked out.
Big Bear Cafe
Big Bear is one of my favorite places in D.C. It has delicious coffee and a big, ivy-wrapped outdoor patio with plenty of light and plants. They’re always playing Motown inside, which I love. I got a cappuccino and apple muffin yesterday for breakfast and it was as good as I remembered, if not better. Not having it for a while made me appreciate it more.
I can’t go to Shaw and not go to SUNdeVICH. It’s a tiny sandwich shop located in an alley, which sounds sketch but it’s actually amazing. You order at the counter and seating is limited, but if it’s a nice day, you can take a walk to Logan Circle and eat it there. I managed to get a seat yesterday. I ordered my old favorite, the “Isfahan” with spinach soufflé and tzatziki. The bread was soft and warm, the spinach was tender and flavorful, and the tzatziki was fresh and slightly sweet.
I ended my weekend of food debauchery with veggie ramen at Chaplin’s. Chaplin’s is right up the street from SUNdeVICH in Shaw, one of my favorite neighborhoods in D.C. It’s a funky, dimly lit ramen joint that also serves popcorn and cocktails. I showed up in time for happy hour so I got some wine with my ramen. It was a good pre-plane dinner.
So ends my weekend of hedonism in D.C. I had a great time exploring, trying new places, visiting old restaurants and coffee shops, and spending time with Rachel. I’m glad that I went back after being traumatized last year post-election. There’s still a lot to love about the city and I’m happy I remembered that.
Here’s a song that reminds me of my trip. I heard it when I was having breakfast at Big Bear yesterday.