Kabob Palace (Crystal City, VA)

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.

Approaching Kabob Palace from Crystal City or Jefferson Davis Highway, it’s not an impressive sight: it’s basically a slightly run-down building with a simple “Kabob Palace” sign and a smaller “Enter here” sign. The reason for this is that if you are approaching from this direction, you are actually coming in the backdoor of Kabob Palace (the real, nicer entrance is on Eads St), but you soon fine yourself in a fairly elaborately decorated dining area, although with a bit of a fast-food vibe. Sitting down and looking at the menu (which seems to follow the general rule of kabob joints in having a lot of minor misspellings, such as “Como” instead of “Combo”), the selection is primarily, well, kabob, with all the usual variations: chicken (bone-in or boneless), lamb, and various ground meat kubidehs, or combinations thereof. They’ve also got a nice selection of karahi dishes, and some occasional specials like a daily curry special, and a vegetable of the day. Myself, I decided upon a boneless chicken kabob special, which came with rice and a side vegetable, for which I chose spinach.

After a brief 5 minute way, my kabob arrived, and for the $12 I paid for it, this was a very ample portion of chicken kabob, a small mountain of rice, a deep pile of spinach, and a basket of pita bread. I was pleased with the kabob itself: the chicken was very nicely marinated without being over-tenderized, with a nice rich turmeric color and a very nice spicing, and cooked just to the point of crispy perfection, maintaining a moist interior. The spinach was very pleasing as well, a very flavorful mound of spiced wilted greens cooked just to the point of starting to fall apart. Add in some fresh, crispy pita bread and some rice (which was, well, rice, nothing fancy there), and this was a very generous portion for a reasonable price.

In a city with well more than its fair share of kabob places (off the top of my head, I can think of at least a dozen, including Kabob Bazaar up in Clarendon, which I prefer by a slight margin), Kabob Palace holds its own, offering a very pleasant, generous, and afforable alternative to the expensive chains of Crystal City.

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