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Jun 10, 2010

Must Haves: Julia's Empanadas, or el Turkey es Bueno!

DSCN5283
Must Haves focuses on some of DC's great dishes.

A few weeks ago, Food Wars rolled into town to settle our city's big food conflict: who serves the best jumbo slice of shitty pizza in Adams Morgan.

Who won? Who cares?

The good folks over at the City Paper did a fine job panning this steaming pile of crap. However, the show did resurrect the issue of D.C.'s lack of a signature dish. A poll conducted by the City Paper back in December found (unsurprisingly) that most folks think the half-smoke at Ben's Chili Bowl is the District's Philly cheesesteak.

It's not, not for me anyway. When I think of D.C., I think of Julia's Empanadas.

In 2004, the missus and I moved down to Chapel Hill, N.C., so she could attend grad school and the University of North Carolina. For the three years we were in Carolina, I never thought about half-smokes, Peruvian chicken, or thin pizzas with fancy toppings. I thought about savory pastries filled with meat and egg. I thought about their weight and their egg wash. Trips back to D.C. often meant trips back to Julia's.

(The great thing about Julia's empanadas is that they're always good, whether you're eating one at 11 a.m. or 2 a.m. -- and I've eaten them at 11 a.m. and 2 a.m.)

DSCN5285 Now, the empanadas being a Spanish-cum-South American dish, you'd think the Chilean style beef or the chicken filled Saltenas, with their boiled eggs, olives and onions would be the way to go. Or maybe the spicy chorizo empanada with black beans. Oh no, my friends, they may be delicious pockets of meaty joy, but the best one on the menu is the turkey empanada with spring onion.

The sweet savory ingredients of turkey, onions, jalapeno and cilantro mingle together in a rich filling tinted dark yellow by turmeric. It's Latin Thanksgiving inside a warm golden shell. Without a doubt, it is the best $3.41 this city has to offer (which is why I always end up spending $6.82).

So as the immigration debate rages on, consider that the signature dish of our nation's capital might be a South American pastry born in Spain. I like apple pie, but I love Julia's empanadas.

Categories: Cheap Eats, DC, Must Haves, Spanish, Washington, DC
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Feb 26, 2010

El Chilango: Autenticos Tacos Mexicanos en Arlington

TacoTruck2 Over the past couple years, food trucks have hit DC in a big way -- a veritable convoy of the suckers have descended, bringing with them a bit of west coast charm hitherto unseen. Cuisines and attitude vary, from the over-the-top antics of the curry slinging Fojol Brothers, to the constantly Twittering bakers @CurbsideCupcakes. Several rock the social media like nobody's business, whereas others fly well below the radar.

El Chilango is definitely one of the quieter, less exposed trucks on the block. I had never seen nor heard of it until one cold December afternoon, when my girlfriend came home bearing tacos (that's why I love her!). She said she'd gotten them from a truck on Barton Street, and that the nice man cooking them even invited her into the truck, as it was rather blustery outside. Since then we have gone back several times, and have sampled practically everything they offer -- which is tacos. Just tacos. But, oh, what tacos!

TacoTruck3 Jesús, the truck's lively proprietor, serves up six different kinds of tacos: Lengua (beef tongue), Chorizo, Asada (grilled steak), Pollo (chicken), Al Pastor (marinated pork), and Res (beef), each available for $2.00 apiece. All come dressed in the traditional Mexican style, topped with plenty of cilantro and onion, double wrapped in crisp re-fried tortillas. Cucumber, radishes, and salsas verde and rojo are thrown in the deal on the house -- it really turns out to be quite a bit of food for the modest price tag.

Though the Pollo is a little dull (as might be expected), and the Asada only so-so, the rest of Jesús' offerings are out of this world. The Lengua is only slightly beefy, but has a wonderful, almost fluffy texture -- this taco would be a great intro for someone who 'doesn't like tongue,' so buy it for a friend, and don't tell him what it is. The Chorizo has a good amount of spice, but isn't offensively salty, which can TacoPlate often be the case with cheap Mexican sausage. Though I am not 100% sure what the difference is between the Asada and the Res, I can say that the latter has an outstanding texture, both crunchy and fatty at the same time, and a great blackened flavor.

The Al Pastor, though, is my hands-down favorite. This traditional Mexico City dish is made from adobo and chili marinated pork, which is cooked rotisserie-style with pineapple. I think he might cheat on the rotisserie part, but the pork itself has just the right level of fat content, and the smokey adobo and pineapple fruit come through nicely. With a bit of green chili sauce splashed on the top, the sweet, spicy, and smokey flavors meld into something truly beautiful.

When you visit, don't miss Chilango's homemade horchata. A combination of honey, rice milk, and spices, horchata has the consistency of skim milk, but is obviously much sweeter, and bears a faint flavor of cinnamon. I had ordered a Jarritos, but they were out, so when I was handed a cup of this opaque white TacoTruck1 stuff instead, I was very skeptical, but damned if it didn't make a perfect accompaniment to my tacos! Though I was disappointed to miss out on my favorite pineapple-flavored soda, the horchata's mellow sweetness made a soothing counterpoint to my spicy entree.

What El Chilango lacks in variety, it more than makes up for in quality. Even at some of your more expensive Mexican joints, the tortillas can be soaked and flabby, and the meat bland and over salted. I love the double tortilla at El Chilango, which is always crisp and firm, and the fillings are well above the curve. These are some of the best tacos I've had in the area, and when you throw in the fixins', it ain't much more expensive than Taco Bell.

El Chilango is normally parked on N. 14th St, between Quinn and Queen St, right off of Route 50, between the hours of 1:30 and 10:30. In the springtime, Jesús will likely shift the operation to Barton Street, between Fairfax Drive and N. 11th St.

Categories: Arlington, Cheap Eats, Food Carts, Mexican, Restaurant Reviews, Tacos
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Jun 20, 2008

Stoney's Bar and Grill

The Venue: If Stoney’s were an entry in a thesaurus, words like lived-in, comfy, cozy and maybe even homely would pop up next to its name. Although a staple in our post-theater rotation, how would Stoney’s hold up to the “pre-theater mandate”: quick service, light fare, value and variety. DS and I decided to grab a quick bite before the 8 o’clock show at the Studio Theatre.


The Cast of Characters: Most will tell you that the star of Stoney’s is the Super Grilled Cheese – comfort food taken to a new level with the addition of tomatoes, bacon and onions. However, the (regular) Grilled Cheese is more to my liking – lots of cheese, melted, between slices of thick bread. Both are served with fries.


DS ordered the crab platter and got more than he bargained for: two crab cakes and two sides – mashed potatoes and salad. (The menu was a bit confusing: Crab cakes are listed as an Appetizer ($9.25), Sandwich ($10.25) served with fries and coleslaw, and Platter ($17.50). Although both the sandwich and platter come with sides, DS didn’t realize he had ordered the platter until the bill came.) Although the crab cakes looked a suspicious shade of gray – maybe it was the lighting – they were really quite good: just the right amount of filler, a light hand in the seasoning department. I’ve not developed my palate to be able to distinguish between mashed potatoes that come from a box and those that come from the ground, but with enough butter and salt it doesn’t really matter.


A creature of habit, I ordered the cheeseburger with fries. The cheeseburger was… well, just a cheeseburger. And, although I’ve eaten my share of burgers at Stoney’s, they’re nothing to write home about. I have learned, over time, that a rare Stoney’s burger often leaves the kitchen medium rare; medium rare is closer to well done. You do get your choice of toppings, ranging from Black & Bleu to Texas with BBQ sauce and coleslaw to the One-Eyed, a burger topped with a fried egg and Swiss cheese. All burgers are served with fries and range in price from $7.75 to $8.95.


DS and I both made the mistake of ordering as if this was just another evening out. We forgot we had tickets to the theater. The goal – eat light, drink less, stay awake – was totally forgotten. Although the portions are adequate our selections proved to be too much for a pre-theater meal. Stoney’s does offer salads and pizzas – and there are daily specials that include pastas and solid comfort food – and we could have easily chosen lighter fare.


Performance: We were, however, able to enjoy a leisurely meal. The food came from the kitchen at a reasonable pace. Yet, water or wine refills are another story: don’t expect much attention from the wait staff. They are quite content to leave you on your own. Past experience told us it’s easier to glance at the chalkboard, rather than ask the wait staff, for the daily specials.


Set Design: Stoney’s is divided into two distinct areas: a bar and a dining area. Beer tap handles – at the top of the back bar, extending around both sides – provide sporadic bursts of color among the dark wood and an interesting distraction while waiting for food.


Stoney’s does attract, as well as reflect, the diversity of the neighborhood. On any given night you might find: sixty-somethings celebrating a birthday in the dining area; twenty-somethings discussing the World Cup qualifiers as they watch on one of the two big screen TVs; neighborhood folks chatting up newcomers and regulars alike; or, actors gathering to unwind, critique or congratulate.


The Mark: Our expectations weren’t high. After all, we had eaten at Stoney’s many times after the show; however, this was one of the few times we had visited before the show. Stoney’s is a tavern, in the true sense of the word: a place to gather, socialize, drink and eat. The crowd is eclectic and the food is reasonably priced, dependable and, unlike other neighborhood restaurants, available for both the late-night and pre-theater diner.


Stoney’s Bar and Grill

1433 P Street, N.W.

Washington, DC

Map

(One block west of Studio Theatre)

202-234-1818

(Stoney's is so unpretentious that it doesn't even have a web site.)

Categories: Bar/Club, Burgers, Cheap Eats, Fast Casual, Logan Circle, Pre-Theater, Restaurant Reviews
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Jan 22, 2008

Bolivian Salteñas

Small_saltena_and_salsa_2
A mention of Pike’s Pizza in Friday’s Washington Post Weekend section brought to mind a food I recently discovered -- the salteña. Over last season’s farmers market in the Del Ray neighborhood of Alexandria, Marcela’s Bakery, which is located just up the road on Mt. Vernon Ave., set up a table where beef and chicken salteñas were sold. After my first one, (actually two because I had to test out the beef after having the chicken salteña) I grew fond of the dough filled parcels. It became my breakfast each Saturday I visited the market. Fresh out of the oven, the hot chicken and beef salteñas were beautiful with their egg-washed golden crust topped with a braid which secured the soupy mix inside.

The Bolivian salteña is a staple food in its native country and is served often for breakfast and as a mid-day snack at roadside stands. This labor-intensive savory pastry takes days to make from the sweet pastry to the gelatin thickened broth inside. Once the outer pastry and filling are made, the dough is wrapped around the filling and secured with a telltale braid on top. I liken the salteña to a hand held pot pie. Sweet crust encapsulates a juicy filling of chicken or beef (sometimes both) with hard boiled egg, diced potatoes, peas, olives and raisins.

Brought to Northern Virginia by Bolivian immigrants to what is known as the Salteña Circuit (which centers around Columbia Pike stretching from Falls Church to Arlington), the salteña and Bolivian fare in general have, in the D.C. area, flown under the radar, so to speak. Although Arlington (called Arlibamba by some due to fact that most Bolivians immigrated to Virginia from Cochabamba) is home to the largest population of Bolivian immigrants in North America, many local residents are not familiar with Bolivian cuisine and the many restaurants that are nearby serving primarily Bolivian customers. More widely known among foodies and Northern Virginia residents is our plethora of Vietnamese and Korean food. In Washington, Ethiopian restaurants have been enormously popular. But Bolivian cuisine has quietly crept into our food scene, often disguised as a pizza joint or Tex-Mex restaurant. Tutto Bene in Arlington mainly serves Italian cuisine- but there is a separate Bolivian menu available and during the weekend, the restaurant teems with Bolivian-Americans enjoying the cuisine of their homeland. Tutto Bene serves thousands of salteñas per week.

Pike Pizza, as recommended by Tom Sietsema in Tom’s Picks in fact doesn’t serve pizza anymore. It does however crank salteñas out of it’s pizza oven tray after tray.

Small_saltena_open_with_egg_3
Approaching the salteña, one must have a strategy. Unlike an empanada, the filling is quite juicy and eating it in hand takes skill. My approach is to eat the salteña on a plate or in its container with a knife and fork. First I cut into the top, then I scoop the filling out and tear away the crust a little at a time, sopping up the juices as I go. The true way to eat a salteña is to hold it in on hand, bite off an end and tip the juices into the mouth. Then eat the rest- no plate needed. No doubt, I would wind up wearing it if I tried that.

On my salteña quest, I ventured past my tried and true Marcela’s Bakery and headed to Arlington where I purchased chicken and beef salteñas from Tutto Bene on N. Randolph St., a warm and friendly place which was starting to fill with Latino customers exchanging Spanish greetings with the owner.

Next, I went to Pike Grill (not Pike Pizza) on Wilson Blvd. This restaurant was a more bare bones casual- Mom and Pop where mixed beef and chicken salteñas were cooking in the oven as I arrived. Through a window, I could see a woman cooking in the kitchen toiling over dough and cutting potatoes. Having to wait a bit for my salteñas, I was offered chicha morada, a drink they make themselves. Chicha morada is a bright red sweet drink make from boiling red corn and adding cinnamon, lemon and sugar...and lots of sugar.

I departed from Pike Grill having left a nice tip in appreciation of the welcoming hospitality and refreshment and drove to My Bakery and Café in Alexandria (there are two other branches: one in Falls Church and one in Manassas). Here I picked up a mixed beef and chicken salteña and headed home for a tasting.

Small_saltena_opened_closeup_3
All salteñas were accompanied by a fiery salsa verde called llajua. This condiment can range from mildly  spicy to hotter than Hades. It's best to dip a prong in first to gage the heat level. I got a bit overly confident with the llajua from My Bakery and Café and put about half a forkful into my mouth which resulted in the invocation of the Almighty’s name quite a few times in between grasping for milk or anything with fat, but mercifully, it didn’t last long. Decidedly, Pike Grill's llajua was the favorite between my husband Frank and I. It had a nice thick consistency and medium heat which did not blow out my taste buds.

All of the salteñas I bought ranged in price from $2 to $2.50. My favorite was from Pike Grill because I thought the sauce had a fuller, spicy taste with a little heat in the sauce. Egg was definitely present in both salteñas and I got a nice hunk of green olive. Frank liked Tutto Bene’s salteña the best. I have to say the raisins in their salteña are a nice counterpoint to the heat of the filling. Not that there were any losers here as they were all excellent and beautifully made.

If you haven’t treated yourself to a salteña or Bolivian food in general, I hope this inspires you to expand your foodie repertoire and try this delightful cuisine made by people who welcome you into their restaurant as if it were their home.

My Bakery and Cafe
http://www.mybakerycafe.com/
3839 Mt. Vernon Ave
Alexandria VA 22305
703-842-7554
Map It

Pike's Grill
3902 Wilson Blvd
Arlington, VA 22203
(703) 243-0279
Map It

Tutto Bene
http://www.tuttobeneitalian.com/
501 N. Randolph St
Arlington, VA 22203
(703) 522-1005
Map It

Categories: Bolivian, Cheap Eats, Restaurant Reviews
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Apr 02, 2007

Lakeside Asia Cafe

Lakeside Asia Cafe is hidden away in a little shopping center in Reston. Little did I know that this little Asian gem was minutes from my office. I'd driven by it many times, even dined at the same shopping center for ages now and never paid the little Asian cafe much attention. It's a small place, with a tiny, four-seat bar and probably ten to 15 tables max, but the food has big spicy flavors that I always enjoy. I've tried many of the dishes from the various sections on the menu, Chinese, Thai, Malaysian, Japanese, and I've never had a bad meal.

For starters, definitely try the spicy beef jerky. No one at the table would share it with me, since it doesn't look like the most appetizing appetizer in the world, but that just meant there was more for me. It's got incredible flavor! Although, not horribly spicy, I'm sure they'd kick it up a bit if you ask them to.

My favorite entree is any Kung Pao dish. I usually go with chicken, which is always tender and not fatty or chewy. In a similar manor to the kung pao that I get at Joe's Noodle House, it's got some kick to it and plenty of garlic. Chicken Rangoon is another star on the menu with crispy snow peas and tender dark chicken meat that's had all the fat removed from it. You also can't go wrong with the curries from the Thai section of the menu. Yellow, red, green, they're all good. The creamy yellow curry is definitely my favorite, although I wish it had a little more kick to it.

The prices on the menu are very reasonable. Whole Peking duck is the most expensive thing on the menu at $36, but everything else is between $7 and $15. Lunch portions are available for everything, but are still fairly large making it an ideal lunch stop. Definitely give it a try for lunch if you're in the area!

Lakeside Asia Cafe
11130J South Lakes Drive
Reston, VA 20191
Map
(866) 743-6137
http://www.lakesideasiacafe.com

Categories: Asian/Sushi, Cheap Eats, Restaurant Reviews, Reston, Thai
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Jul 06, 2006

Joe's Noodle House

It's no secret that Joe's Noodle House in Rockville is one of the better Chinese (or Szechuan) restaurants in the area, if not the whole country, but on Friday night, I found myself eating there for the very first time. Amy and I were on our way back from a trip to stock up on formula, diapers and other necessities, so we were looking for a place that was kid friendly and quick, for it was late (about 9-ish) and Noah was going to be getting tired soon.

I  really had no idea if Joe's Noodle House would meet those requirements, but we gave it a try anyway. I was pretty confident that it would since I know several people with children that love Joe's Noodle House which lies hidden at the back left side of it's Rockville Pike strip mall location.

As I suspected, Joe's Noodle House was everything we needed for a night out with Noah with child seats, a casual atmosphere, and little child plates and spoons just for children. We made a rookie mistake though. We sat down and waited for a server to come and wait on us. And waited. And waited. "Do I need to put down my menu?" I was thinking to myself. Then just as Amy noticed the sign up front that said "Order and Pay Here", one of the servers came up to us and pointed out that we needed to order up front. Oh, right. Duh.

Like many Chinese restaurants, the menu at Joe's Noodle House is large with an extensive list of noodle dishes and house specialties. You'll find the typical garlic or sesame chicken, but then you'll also find dishes like shredded pork tripe, or homemade bacon with leeks. Even after looking at the menu for as long as I did, I still couldn't decide what to get. My final choice for my entree was a little unwise.

Let me give you one tip. When you order a dish, and the woman at the cash register says, "Oooh, that's a very spicy dish. Do you want me to have them tone that down a bit for you?"

Say YES!

Dsc00284 I  made the mistake of saying "no" when I ordered the Szechuan Spicy and Dry Beef Saute and I still feel my stomach lining of eroding. I love spicy food, but this was hot as hell. There were so many peppercorns that my tongue turned numb and I couldn't taste the food I was eating, making the dish almost unenjoyable. But, in the end I got what I deserved...I guess.

All of the other dishes were enjoyed completely: a spicy cellophane noodle with finely ground pork, a unique salad appetizer with chopped leak stem, ground pork, black beans, and jalapenos, and some fluffy steam buns, which were the sole, mild dish that we ordered. I couldn't get enough of the cellophane noodles, which came out very hearty and full of the flavor of the pork and whatever liquid they were cooked in.

The three appetizers and two entrees ended up being far too much food for the two of us, and we ended up taking a lot home. We could've easily eaten there for under $25, which makes Joe's Noodle House one of the best bargain restaurants that I've eaten at in a long time. There isn't a single dish on the menu for over $11. Even the whole steamed fish is $10.95 and I would've ordered that instead of the spicy beef, but I hesitated because I wondered how good an $11 whole fish could be. I'll probably order it on my next trip back though.

Joe's Noodle House
1488-C Rockville Pike
Rockville, Maryland
(301) 881-5518
Map
Web Site

Hours:
Monday - Friday 11:30 AM - 10:00 PM
Saturday, Sunday 11:00 AM - 10:00 PM

Dress Code: Very Casual
Parking: Plenty in the strip mall parking lot.
Smoking: Not Allowed.
Closest Metro: Twinbrook
Reservations: Not taken..
Baby friendly rating: 4 diapers. Child seats and a casual atmosphere make this a great place to bring a baby. 

Categories: Cheap Eats, Chinese, Restaurant Reviews, Rockville
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May 22, 2006

Negril

One of the few good things about working out in Largo is that I am close to a fabulous Jamaican/Caribbean eatery called Negril. Now, I know that Negril is no secret, at least to those of us that have lived in DC for more than a year, but I figured I would write about it anyway for the few people out there who haven't tried it yet. Negril has been doing what they do for more than 18 years now and have four locations around the beltway. As a family owned business, they control the recipes and quality of the food served quite well.

Lunch is a must at Negril. If you're in a hurry, Negril might not be the place for you. The line can be kind of long and all of the food is made fresh to order. I've waited 20 minutes sometimes for my order, but it's definitely worth it. You wait in line, give your order and you'll get a number. The smart thing is to call ahead, and then pick up your order which you can then eat there or take back to the office. 

For a couple years now, I've been going to Negril for lunch and only ordering one thing, the jerk chicken sandwich. I know, that's extremely boring, but have you had the jerk chicken sandwich??!! Think of moist, tender, and spicy jerk chicken topped with a lemony poppyseed sauce and served on their warm, fluffy fresh-made coco bread. Why do they call it coco bread? I have no idea. It's surely not made with coconuts.

The sandwich is fairly large, so it's enough by itself for lunch. However, I'll add one of the meat, vegetable, or chicken vegetable patties on the side. If your appetite isn't as large as mine, a quick lunch is one of these patties, with an order or coco bread. At $1.35 - $2.25 for the patty and $1 for the coco bread, it's about the cheapest lunch that I can think of around here. Just open up the coco bread by tearing it in half, put the patty in the middle, and close it. Voila! A Jamaican patty sandwich.

Dsc00243 Recently, I've branching out a bit and trying some of the other dishes at Negril. My current favorite is the chicken or goat roti. When I saw the word roti in the name of the dish, the first thing I thought of was an Indian whole wheat roti, and that's really what this is. Of course the roti is stuffed with a ton of tender shredded curried chicken, but for those of you who a scared of curry, don't let this scare you. It's NOT hot or overly spicy.  The next dish I want to try is the curried oxtail.

Negril is super cheap and you can get an incredible lunch for between $4 and $10 every time you go there. The portions are huge too, so you don't have to worry about needing a mid-afternoon snack. The only thing you do have to worry about is the afternoon food coma.

Negril
Gaithersburg
18509 N. Frederick Ave.
Gaithersburg, MD
(301) 926-7220
Map

Howard
2301-G Georgia Ave. NW
Washington, DC
(202) 332-3737
Map
    
Mitchellville
12116 Central Ave.
Mitchellville, MD
(301) 249-9101
Map

Silver Spring
965 Thayer Ave.
Silver Spring, MD
(301) 585-3000
Map

Categories: Caribbean, Cheap Eats, Gaithersburg, Howard, Howard University, Restaurant Reviews, Silver Spring, Upper Marlboro
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May 10, 2006

Malaysia Kopitiam

It was a gloomy, cold and rainy evening when I was walking down M Street, and I was looking for a place to get out of the rain, as well as a quick bite to eat. I passed Camelot.

Hmmm...I hear they have good burgers there.

Then I passed Malaysia Kopitiam. Since I might be the only person who hasn't been there, I figured it was about time I tried it out. It was on Washingtonian's Cheap Eats last year, it gets very positive reviews from just about every food critic and gets very good word of mouth. Just a couple weeks ago, I was talking to a friend who said he went there and had a great meal. This was someone whose opinion in food I respect very much, so I figured I'd better try it.

Malaysia Kopitiam is on the the basement level, but it's hard to miss with the big sign above its door. Since it was 5:30, the restaurant was pretty empty. The only people there were one couple and what seemed to be a bunch of family members of the restaurant staff and owners. I recognized one of the owners from the pictures and articles hung on the wall out front. My first impression of the interior of the restaurant was that of one of the restaurants on the Food Network's Restaurant Makeover, before the makeover. It just goes to show that looks aren't everything.

I sat at a table by myself. The server handed me a menu...no, not a menu, a three-ring binder. The menu comes in two parts, the regular menu with the list of dishes and prices, and then a three-ring binder with the pictures of the dishes. I found this very convenient when ordering because the descriptions on the menu were not the best at explaining what the dishes are actually like.

This first trip, I wasn't so happy with my choice of appetizer. The roti canai, or flaky layered Indian bread with spicy Malaysian curry chicken, would've been great except for the rubbery chicken. The sauce was a wonderful hot-spicy blend and the bread couldn't have been better. I loved how buttery and flaky it was. A friend of mine later told me this was their favorite dish at Malaysian Kopitiam. I guess I just had a bad batch of chicken -- mine was fatty and over-cooked.

The spicy tamarind beef, on the other hand, was pretty good, but wasn't anything to write home about. Unlike the chicken, the beef was lean and tender. This beef was cooked for a long time, and had a consistency of the beef that I make in a slow cooker all day. I'd say that it was either brisket, hanger or skirt steak.

Out of the kindness of my heart, I ordered some takeout for Amy, and chose extremely unwisely for her entree. I think of all the dishes on the menu, I chose the most bland and unsatisfying of them all -- vegetarian stir-fried mix noodle. I'm not sure why, but I think I chose the dish that's on the menu for the unadventurous vegetarian diner who thinks they're a vegetarian, but doesn't want to try any "weird" vegetables because they're actually just a picky eater. Yeah, I'd say that about sums it up.

On the other hand, the appetizer that I chose for her made me want to return a second time. It was a little spring roll called a Po Pia. This was a thin crepe filled with jicama (pronounced hick-e-mah), lettuce, eggs, dried shrimp, and topped with a hoisin sauce. I'm not sure what it was that made these rolls so good, but I'm pretty sure it was the hoisin sauce. As I ate them back at our apartment I said to myself, "Well, if these are this good after sitting in these takeout containers for a half hour, then I've got to try these fresh in the restaurant!"

This is going to be another one of those reviews where I describe each dish I ate in detail...If you are short on time, you should stop reading now. :)

I returned a week later with Amy and Noah and had a great time with him there. Malaysia Kopitiam, I have to say, is very baby friendly. They have high chairs, the restaurant staff were very friendly to Noah, and the casual atmosphere makes me feel at ease having Noah there. Especially since Noah's been getting experimental with the volume of his voice lately. 

My choices of dishes was better this visit. Maybe it was Amy's influence over the ordering, but we ordered some really incredible dishes. Of course we started with some of those incredible Po Pias which were sooo good -- fresh and hot unlike my first time eating them cold after takeout.

The raja chicken was an very similar to the General Tso's chicken that you find at every Chinese takeout joint. Somehow, the chicken seemed to have this double-fried chicken texture to it, almost like they'd fried the chicken without the breading really quick, dipped it in batter and fried it again. It'll be hard to get crappy MSG-y Chinese takeout ever again after eating this dish.

We also ordered some curry pork rib noodle. Imagine pork ribs so tender you could suck the meat right off the bone. Now add curry sauce and rice noodles.

Yeah, I want to go back too.

Both meals were under $40 after tip and this is with us ordering beer (Singhas to be exact.) I really wish I'd gone to Malaysia Kopitiam before now. Perhaps I'll head back there this weekend.

Malaysia Kopitiam
1827 M Street NW
Washington DC 20036
Map
(202) 833-6232

Hours:
Mon - Thu: 11:30 am - 10:00 pm
Fri - Sat: 11:30 am - 11:00 pm
Sun: 12:00 noon to 10:00 pm

Dress Code: Casual
Parking: No Valet. If you time it right, there is a ton of parking that opens up on M street right around 6:30PM
Closest Metro: Dupont Circle or Farragut North
Reservations: Not Taken
Amy's Bathroom rating: Need for improvement. They were a little rundown, but hey, you're not going here for the ambiance.
Baby-Friendly Rating: 3 out of 4 diapers. A casual environment, friendly and accommodating wait staff make this place ideal for taking an infant to. Noah had a meltdown after about an hour and a half and no one even batted an eye. The rundown bathrooms mean there's NO place to change a diaper though.

Categories: Cheap Eats, Downtown, Dupont Circle, Malaysian, Restaurant Reviews
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Apr 26, 2006

South Street Steaks

Dsc00223 Hallelujah! Finally, there's a real Philly cheesesteak in the DC area. I can't believe this day has finally come!

Once I read the article in the Washington Post a few weeks ago, I knew I had to go. I've never been so glad that I work out in Largo, just a mere 15 minutes from South Street Steaks in College Park. I was anxious during my drive over. Would it be like the real thing, or would I be disappointed like I've been oh so many times before? I couldn't wait to find out.

When I walked into the joint, I could tell from the smell of the air that they had something good going there. The air reeked of grease, onions, and peppers -- exactly what you would expect from a cheesesteak joint. (I call it a joint and not a restaurant because I consider a restaurant to be a place where it's possible to eat the contents of your meal without dripping the grease on you pants.)

Dsc00225 "I'll have a steak wit whiz and onions please," I said with a smile. It's been a long time since I've said that.

I watched carefully as they prepared the cheesesteak. On the left of the grill, there was the mound of sliced sirloin and on the right, the mounds of onions and peppers. When they cooked a steak, they would cut off a mound of steak from the pile and put it on the hot section of the grill, spraying some water as well to get that steamed-yet-fried effect.

The griller then chops at the meat with two metal spatulas, and once it's coarsely chopped, they add the onions and let them sizzle in the meat a little longer. After that, he grabs an Amoroso roll (the true roll of the Philly cheesesteak which South Street Steaks has shipped in special from Philly), scoops a ladle of cheese whiz out of the big metal canister, spreads it on the roll, and covers the meat on the grill with the roll.

Finally, the griller takes one spatula and slides it under the meat and quickly flips it over to put it on a plate.

Dsc00224 "Ok. Sounds good so far Jason, but how did it TASTE??"

Like the real thing...or at least pretty damn close. I reminded me of the cheesesteak I had in my last trip to Philly at Jim's Steaks. It's been a while since I've been back to Philly for a cheesesteak though, so my memory might be a bit fuzzy. This was a true cheesesteak -- the meat tender, thinly sliced, and well flavored with the creamy cheese whiz on a fresh roll all juicy, drippy and completely unhealthy.

The junk food for the truly discerning foodie.

My only complaint was that I thought the onions could have onions cooked a little longer and lightly browned. They were translucent and but not browned or caramelized at all.

If you eat two cheesesteaks in one sitting, you get your picture on the wall -- kind of like a wall of fame. There's one person who's eaten ten. My hero.

South Street Steaks
7313 Baltimore Avenue
College Park, MD 20740
(301) 209-7007
Map

Hours:
Mon - Wed: 11am - 10pm
Thu: 11am - 2am
Fri : 11am - 3am
Sat: 12pm - 3am
Sun: 12pm - 10pm

Dsc00222

Categories: Cheap Eats, College Park, Restaurant Reviews, Sandwiches
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