Where To Eat in Washington, D.C.
4. Ben's Chili Bowl -- This venerable old-timer is a late-night zoo of types from every walk of life, who come to chow down in the colorful and brightly lit interior on chili-cheese fries (below) and "half-smokes" (above) -- something like a Polish sausage dressed with more of the strange, almost chalky and slightly bitter chili. Throw in chopped raw onions and "cheese" sauce, and it somehow works, and any reservations you might have about how good the food actually is vanish once you take a bite. We sat at Obama's table (no, he wasn't there right then) one night after a cocktail-hopping spree, and Ben's was the perfect antidote. 1213 U Street NW, 202-667-0909
5. Toki Underground -- Paradoxically located above a bar in a pleasantly cramped space that makes you feel instantly at home, Toki avoids the pretentiousness that pervades many contemporary hipster noodle parlors. It's located on a stretch of H Street in the Northeast quadrant of the city that feels a little like Williamsburg with its mix of bars, coffee shops, and cafés. The tonsoku (pig-foot broth) is superb, deeper and denser and more brownish red than the straitlaced and doctrinaire Japanese versions here. What's more, there's a Taiwanese tinge to the menu that also makes the place unique. Great dumplings (below) round out the picture. 1234 H Street NE, 202-388-3086, http://tokiunderground.com/
Toki Hakata Classic ramen, with pork cheek and gooey egg
Pachinko machines are set into the bar at Toki Underground
6. Wagshal's -- Located in a Colonial-style strip mall on the northwestern outskirts of Washington in a pleasant residential neighborhood, Wagshal's is a maverick Jewish delicatessen that seems to have invented its formula in the absence of any New York influence. Think you know Jewish delis completely? Drop in to Wagshal's. First and foremost is a bodacious pastrami sandwich. Oops, did I say pastrami? It's called smoked brisket and owes more to Schwartz's in Montreal and Mile End in New York than to pastrami. The flesh is ruby colored and shot with fat, and they don't care whether you like that fact or not. The sandwich is absolutely scrumptious, and the baked goods are good, too. At $7.99, the sandwich is as big as Katz's, and half the price. 4855 Massachusetts Avenue, 202-363-5698, http://wagshals.com
Three other places I've visited and loved before this visit and continue to recommend, even though I didn't re-check them on this trip: Eden Center, a Vietnamese food mall in Falls Church, VA; Dukem, an Ethiopian place on Avenue U; and Minibar, one of the country's foremost temples of molecular gastronomy.
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