Washington, D.C. is a great place to visit. Sure, it’s not a theme park, but the entertainment and educational mix of opportunities are without equal in America. The Unofficial Guide to Washington, D.C. covers a lot of things, as those guides tend to do (and it is fabulously written might I add). The guide, however, tends to focus on some of the best restaurants available and we’ve been getting questions (for real, we have) about more…reasonably priced offerings.
Since I occasionally travel to D.C. for research I also end up eating, and I rarely have the time or the expense account for elaborate meals. Therefore, I seek out cheap-to-mid-priced options and relay them to you as these mini-reviews.
The small city I live in has some surprisingly decent food options, but the two things that I love that it does not do very well are Hispanic food and barbecue. Because of that, I seek either of those out whenever I get the chance. There are a few different spots for barbecue around D.C. so I decided to pick one that got generally good reviews and thus ended up at the descriptively named BBQ Joint, owned by chef Andrew Evans.
There are four different locations: Easton and Pasadena in Maryland and Union Market and 14th Street in the District. I visited the 14th Street NW location, which is in the U Street area of the city–I picked that one basically because I was in the area.
It’s a relatively small, narrow spot that clearly was built as a bar. It was comfortable, if a little dark, but there’s no need to spend any more time on the atmosphere–it was fine but nothing that will enhance the rating. Sadly, that was kind of how I felt about the food, too.
I ordered ribs, brisket, and pulled pork (not pictured), which I basically picked randomly. Ribs are almost never my favorite because of their difficulty to eat and meat-to-bone ratio, but when done very well they are certainly tasty and tender. The rub that was used on these ribs was indeed tasty, but tender they were not. I ended up having to resort to picking up the rib and eating it caveman style–even the knife and fork couldn’t remove the meat from the bone.
Brisket is probably my favorite smoked meat when done very well, although it is hard to do very well. The BBQ Joint did an admirable job, but there were still some chewy bits and not much in the way of flavor. I think the idea was to let the meat’s natural flavor through, but it wasn’t cooked well enough for that. The pulled pork was the best of the trio, but it wasn’t that much different that the version you get in thousands of places.
The BBQ Joint was certainly not bad and I would even call it good, but truly great barbecue is…something else. I wouldn’t tell people to avoid the place or anything, but next time I’m going to try somewhere else.
Okay, this one is basically a chain. Owned by chef David Chang, there are many locations in New York, Toronto, Sydney, and Vegas (coming soon) to go along with this relatively new spot in Washington. I have always heard really good things about them, so I decided to stop by for lunch.
CCDC is found on I St NW, just a couple of blocks north of the Gallery Place Metro station, which makes it a not-too-terribly-far-away stop if you’re visiting the National Mall area. The restaurant is surrounded by large windows and is built in a very open, almost industrial style making it airy…and loud. As a generally loud person, the volume very rarely bothers me, especially in a casual setting like this.
The restaurant also has an open kitchen and a small bar facing it, which I had the pleasure of sitting at. I love to cook and have always been fascinated by the professional aspects of cooking, even though I’ve never done it. This was a well-run kitchen and it was intriguing to watch–a bonus for CCDC if you are also interested in that sort of thing.
Before I explain my food, let me tell you the plan: I had perused their lunch menu ahead of time which I thought was pricey. It seemed to be mostly noodles, rice, salads, etc. for around $10-15. Since I was trying to keep the cost reasonable I decided I would just get one thing and then add on a dessert from their incredibly well-received–and incredibly busy–Milk Bar (which is a separate, adjacent storefront with service to CCDC).
I ordered the $14 Chilled Spicy Noodles which contained Sichuan sausage, spinach, and candied cashews. The server warned me repeatedly that it was very spicy, which I assured him was what I wanted. Upon being served, I was surprised at how big the dish actually was–big enough that I barely finished and eliminated any chance of dessert. As advertised, it was very spicy, but I do like that. I also liked the dish–check that, I loved the dish.
The mixture of chilled noodles, warm sausage, spicy meat, and sweet cashews was perfect. It was balanced and delicious and I wish I could’ve done a tasting menu of everything they had. Between the food and being able to watch the kitchen at work, it was one of the most enjoyable solo dining experiences I’ve ever had. The experience was excellent and cheaper than I expected it to be. I will be back.