Restaurants in 2009 – The Bad (Part 2 of 3)

This is part 2 of a 3 part series.  Read the first post here about restaurants on rebound

We now have come to the most disappointing part of this series…restaurants that I once enjoyed, but in the past year – seemed to have lost their magic.  All of these restaurants I have eaten at more than 8-10 times each, so I feel as if I know if something has changed for the worse.

On the way down:

Tallula/Eat Bar: This used to be one of my favorite places to eat in years past.  Every time I’ve been there this year, Tallula has been empty, and EatBar was thriving.  Before last week, the last time I went to EatBar about 6-8 months ago.  It may have been an outlier experience, but this time the food wasn’t that good.  The mini-burgers tasted more like dried sausage and the steak tartare lacked character.  It was decent, but if I want to eat a good mini-burger, I’ll just go to Matchbox.

11th Street: Another watering hole that I used to frequent.  Sometime last year they changed the menu and removed almost everything that we went there for, and haven’t recovered since.  After talking to the manager, a few items have made a return, but somehow they’re not as good as they used to be.  For example, you can’t get just sweet potato fries anymore – they come with regular fries interspersed now.  Other items missing from the menu – mini steak frites.  Please, bring them back!

Liberty Tavern – I don’t know what’s going on with this place, but the last two times I have gone there have been some…umm….interesting odors.  The first time was a distinct vomit smell, and the second time (over a week later) was the overwhelming smell of bleach.  I actually do like the food.  Their Vermont Pizza is one of my favorites, but it’s hard for me to imagine eating it with so much going on in the air.

Any restaurants that have taken a turn for the worse?

Next up is the last of three posts about the new restaurants that I’m excited for as well as some restaurants that I’ve come to love over the past year…

Restaurants in 2009 – The Good (Part 1 of 3)

I eat out a good amount.  Some weeks, more than I should.  I do get a little upset when I don’t feel like I’ve gotten a good value for my money and with so many great restaurants in the DC area, why should I be okay with eating a bad meal?  This past year I have been mentally compiling notes on restaurants that I frequent; which ones are improving, which ones are on the decline, which ones are new that I’m excited about and which have become staples in my dining life.  I have boiled it down to a short list…so read on!

On the way up:

Restaurant 3: I admit I had written off this place earlier this year.  The first time, all the food was smokey tasting, the second time, the food was just not good.  What has changed?  Since January, they have changed and expanded their menu to include a lot less expensive items on the menu.  The fried green tomatoes, scallops and grits, and burger were all hits with me.  I’m glad that they seemed to address the issues with the menu.  Combine that with a decent happy hour (goes til 8pm!) I’ll be going more often.

Spider Kelly’s – I have only gotten drinks here previously, but tonight I tried their Spider Kelly’s burger (with pork fat!), black bean burger, wings and ‘cardiac’ macaroni and cheese.  Not bad!  I agree with Tom Seitsema about the Spider Kelly’s burger having a funny taste to it, but overall I’ve heard decent things about their food, and I’m happy to say that I think it makes it into my rotation.  With the decline of Liberty Tavern (more on that in a later post) – Spider Kelly’s sneaks back onto my radar.

What do you think?  Have you found a restaurant that has made a rebound this year?  Let me know in the comments.

Next up – restaurants that are on the decline…

My Favorite Arlington Restaurants (March 2009)

It seems I have written more and more about food and restaurants lately.  Finding out and trying new restaurants is one of my favorite things to do and there is no shortage of places to try around DC.  I thought that I would start off by writing about places that I’ve eaten at tens of times – my favorite places in Arlington.  Rather than serve up some of the typical favorites of mine (Faccia Luna, Whitlows, Harry’s Taproom) I’ll try to keep it to places that are less typical and more  the “gems” of Arlington as well as give you some inside tips.  All of these places are super cheap, so you can keep going back without it hurting your wallet.

Peruvian Chicken
Peruvian Chicken

El Pollo Rico – I was introduced to Pollo Rico almost a decade ago when I was doing some temp work in Ballston.  An employee at whatever place I was working took me there for lunch and my life hasn’t been the same ever since.  There was a short stint where I thought it had disappeared when the 1021 condos knocked down the shady strip mall it used to be in, but found it after college on quiet Kenmore St.

Pollo Rico has the best Peruvian rotisserie chicken, period.  Every place in the area tries to be like it but fails.  Pio-Pio, Edy’s, Crisp & Juicy don’t come close.  They don’t have yucca, but the chicken is the real star. Get extra mild sauce, and mix it with the hot (green) sauce.  Insider tip: for a complete authentic meal, get an Inca Kola.  I couldn’t place the taste until a year or two ago, but Inca Kola tastes like cotton candy.  Don’t judge, just try it.  An order of quarter chicken with fries, cole slaw and and an Inca Kola will run you about $6.  Even Anthony Bourdain dropped by in his DC episode of No Reservations (@ 7:50).  Oh yeah, cash only.

Tons of beers
Tons of beers

Lost Dog Cafe – Lost Dog is off the beaten path in the Westover neighborhood of Arlington.  You would probably never run into it unless someone told you to go there.  Lost Dog specializes in having a huge variety of sandwiches to try along with some pretty good pizzas.  My favorite sandwich is the Balboa or the Bureaucrat.  I also highly recommend the chili.

In addition to all the sandwiches and pizza that they offer, they have a few hundred bottles of beer to choose from (and some on tap too).  Half of the restaurant is for selling microbrews and six packs of beer and the other half is the dining area.  Insider Tip: if you’re coming to get bombed, you’ll max out at 3 beers.  Since they’re in a fairly residential neighborhood, they wanted to keep it neighborhoody.  So…order the big beers.

awesome burritos
awesome burritos

El Charrito – My sister has been touting this place for a while and I’ve only recently become obsessed with it.  The back story is that El Charrito used to be a mobile taco vendor until they moved into a store front right on Washington Blvd.  I haven’t ventured too deep into the menu, mostly sticking with the burrito supremes (I get the pork, but I haven’t heard a bad thing about the chicken, or the veggie version).  I want to work up the courage to try the goat burrito, but haven’t yet.  The rice and beans are also great.

Don’t plan on grabbing a table, this place is pretty much only walk up and take out orders.  There are some bar stools there, but I haven’t seen anyone eat their entire meal there yet.  Insider tip: Like Pollo Rico, cash only – and tax is included.  There’s something awesome about ordering a $4 burrito, and paying $4.  Rice & beans will run you $3, but could serve two.

Try these places out, and let me know what you think.

Review: Restaurant 3

The growth of new restaurants in the N. Arlington area has somewhat slowed down as builders continue to put up new condos and apartments. Welcome Restaurant 3 to the Clarendon night scene. Restaurant 3 is the latest creation of involving the owner of one of my favorite burger and beer spots – Whitlow’s. It occupies the lot that, thankfully now defunct neon-green eyesore Mama Quan’s used to claim. The old building was knocked down, and a new, very nice looking structure was put in its place about a month and a half ago.

I finally got around to meeting with some friends for dinner there, and so far it got off on the wrong foot…At first sight, the place looks very nice, the menu a little sparse, but all the essentials were represented (beef, chicken, vegetarian, duck, etc.). We sat in the bar dining area, which turned out to be very loud, but bearable. Average entree price ranged from $14-$28, pretty standard. I started with the grilled Brie platter for the table, and noticed a very strong charcoal taste. It wasn’t bad, but turned out to be a theme with everyone’s dinner later…

It turns out that I’ve become a huge fan of pork chops. It’s such a simple thing to order at restaurants, but when you get a pork chop done right, it’s amazing. (yeah, I said it – amazing.) I ordered it medium as usual, and it came with a side of mashed potatoes, and diced apples. Here starts the bad news, the chops were dry. Nowhere near medium, and also had the strong charcoal taste. Two strikes. It wasn’t just me, the fillet mignon that was ordered was cooked correctly, but had the same overpowering smoky taste. Not good.

I’ll have to give it a “just ok” and temporarily withhold judgment as it’s less than two months old and they still have some kinks to work out, but in the highly competitive N. Arlington restaurant business, you don’t have that long to get things working right. Some suggestions: clean the excess residue off your grill, check the temperature of your meat before you serve it, and put in some noise muffling in the bar area somehow and you’ll be ahead of the game. Until then, for those in the Arlington area, I’d recommend another favorite of mine, Tallula. It has similar prices, superior pork chops and better ambiance. If you’ve been to Restaurant 3 and disagree, let me know what you thought!

Website: Restaurant Three

Update 01.05.09: I’ve been here 2-3 times now, and still haven’t been impressed.  I plan on only going here for drinks and not much else.  For another excellent restaurant in the same family as Tallula, check out Evening Star Cafe in Del Ray/Alexandria – haven’t had a bad dish there yet.