One of the fairly substantial culinary changes I’ve seen over the last 20 years or so is that Vietnamese cuisine has changed from a fairly niche ethnic cuisine limited to areas with high Southeast Asian populations, to a relatively common cuisine that is enjoyed by quite a large number of Americans of all ethnicities: it’s pretty common now for people to know about phở, that wonderful Vietnamese noodle soup, as well as several other Vietnamese dishes, like the bánh mì sandwich. And heck, even Vietnamese-inspired condiments like nước mắm and Sriracha sauce (I know, it’s at least as much Thai as Vietnamese in origin…) are now fairly common: we even have a bottle of Sriracha in the fridge here at work in New Hampshire. But it’s still somewhat of an urban cuisine, so I don’t get to enjoy a good bowl of phở unless I’m traveling. But one of my recent trips to DC let me visit an old favorite: Pho 75 in Arlington, between the Courthouse and Rossyln Metro stations.
A quick check of my review list will show that the DC area is one of my frequent work travel destinations. For a large number of these trips, I end up staying in Crystal City. If I’m avoiding various special events, the rooms are cheap, the area has good Metro access, it’s a short walk (really) from Reagan National Airport, and if one wants to ride on a Capital Bikeshare rental bike, it’s right on the Mount Vernon Bike Trail (and I can get almost anywhere in DC or Arlington in 40 minutes by bike on a nice day). But it also has its weirdness: Crystal City was built as a super-block of integrated office, residential, and retail space, kind of like a self-contained city. And unfortunately, the food choices of Crystal City itself aren’t terribly great unless you are looking for high-end dining catering to the business dinner (like Ruth’s Chris Steak House and Legal Seafoods), and a rather large fraction of it is chain restaurants. But there’s one thing that the savvy diner can do if found in Crystal City: look West. Just one block West of Crystal City, on the other side of the Jefferson Davis Highway, lies 23rd Street, which has a surprisingly vibrant collection of restaurants, including a diner, a sports bar, two Ethiopian places, and, finally, my destination: Kabob Palace.
As I mentioned in my review of El Pollo Rico, it has been a long standing tradition of mine, on every trip to the Ballston area, to go out for pollo a la brasa (a.k.a. Peruvian chicken). Back when I started that tradition, there was basically one place in the area to get such chicken: El Pollo Rico, but in the intervening years a lot of other chicken places opened up. I had been to, and enjoyed many others, but one I hadn’t been to was Super Pollo (which has a half dozen or so DC area locations). But on my latest trip to Ballston, some traffic backup coming in from Dallas cut into my schedule a bit, and instead of my usual El Pollo Rico stop, I decided to instead hit Super Pollo, since it is literally right next to the client I was visiting.
On my last morning in Arlington, I was craving some really good iced coffee, and after doing a quick web search, there was one place that made several recommendation lists: Oby Lee Coffee Roastery. This immediately drew my attention, since it was actually a familiar name that I didn’t think I’d see again. Oby Lee used to be my go-to place for coffee on summertime trips to Rehoboth Beach, DE, but a few years ago, they closed up shop and were replaced by a distinctly less pleasant coffee shop. So it was interesting to see their name pop up in the Arlington area.
I’m glad to find that Oby Lee is still in existence, just in a different place (talking to the owner they got frustrated with the seasonal nature of the Delaware beach business, so they "moved to where the people are"). So now they’ve got a coffee shop, creperie, and wine shop in Arlington just south of the Clarendon Metro. So when I was craving a good iced coffee and a light breakfast, Oby Lee was worth checking out.
Seeing that I work as a consulting engineer, with most of my clients being US Government agencies, it seems that every single June I need to go down to the DC area for a business meeting (so far this month, I’ve had 5 DC-area meetings scheduled, although I’ve so far managed to keep them combined into just two trips). Usually I end up staying in either Crystal City or Ballston, but I’ve done it enough times that I’ve got some regular traditions. Two of these involve the efforts of one DC restaurateur: On different visits I tend to alternate between getting a really good burger at Ray’s (you can read my review of the now-closed Ray’s Hell Burger, but their similar Ray’s to the Third restaurant across the street at 1650 Wilson is still alive and well), or going to get a steak at Ray’s The Steaks.
My last day on this year’s trip to DC had me visiting several clients in Arlington. One of these had me walking between Virginia Square and Clarendon Metro around “late lunchtime”, and it was impossible for me to resist another trip to El Pollo Rico for pollo a la brasa (a.k.a. Peruvian chicken). Starting, oh, around 15 years ago at least, pollo a la brasa joints seemed to start popping up all over Arlington. Indeed, I can think of at least a half dozen off of the top of my head. But El Pollo Rico is one of the older ones. It’s also better and cheaper than some of its competitors (although I admit I have yet to do an exhaustive review of Arlington pollo a la brasa joints, fun as that would be), so between that and its location, it’s my go-to joint for chicken in Arlington…
(Closed) Well, sometimes the combination of work and personal travel means that there literally is no rest for the weary. I had barely done laundry from the back-to-back-back Chicago, Dayton, and Austin trips, when my travels again had me heading out for 5 days to the DC are for a conference. I rather like going to DC (and do so a lot, usually 4-5 times a year), but it’s never convenient getting there from my house in New Hampshire; I either have to deal with planes, trains, and metros (BWI), a long bus ride (BOS), or inconvenient flight times (DCA). This time I opted for the last of these, since I was staying in Crystal City. Indeed, my with 6:45 am flight, I arrived at DCA and was out the door with my bags by 8:10am on a fabulous Sunday morning, with nothing on my slate until 1:45 in the afternoon (yes, my client scheduled things for Sunday…). After a nice, pleasant walk to the hotel (Yes, Crystal City is only about a 20 minute walk from DCA), I realized I had the better part of 4 hours to get something useful done. So I grabbed a bike from Capital Bikeshare (which is one of those bike rental services that’s just perfect for a visitor like myself), and decided to take a scenic ride north on the Mount Vernon Trail to Arlington, and Ray’s Hell Burger.
After completing my business trip in Arlington, I had a few hours to kill before I needed to head over to DC for my next meeting. Perusing the normal rating sites on my iPhone, I noticed that one place in Arlington in particular was getting consistently top marks: El Chilango.
The interesting thing here is the El Chilango isn’t in a part of Arlington particularly well known for good food. Located in a residential area at approximately the corner of 14th St N and Quinn Street, approximately equidistant from both the Courthouse and Rosslyn Metro stations, just off of Arlington Boulevard (and a stone’s toss from my brother’s old apartment on Oak St, uphill from the Iwo Jima memorial), El Chilango is a taco truck. Yes, Arlington now has a decent taco truck!
While I may have mentioned this before, one of the things I generally don’t like when I’m traveling is free breakfast in hotels. I have several reasons for this, but the big reasons are that (a) hotel breakfasts generally suck, especially for the price, and (b) one of the perks of the otherwise dismal life of the business traveler is the ability to try new places to eat. So, like most every time my schedule allows me to try a local place for breakfast instead of having bland waffles at the hotel, I try to do so, even if it requires getting up early. This time, I decided to walk several blocks from the hotel to Northside Social Coffee and Wine in Arlington.
Well, after after a few complications in my travel due to Columbus Day (The Marc trains weren’t running, and the Metro’s Orange line was farked), I made it to Arlington. After a fairly successful meeting the next day, I decided it would be a good opportunity to meet up with some of my DC area friends, and we decided a nice, large gathering at Kabob Bazaar in Clarendon for, well, kabobs, was in order…