Category Archives: Lunch Locale

A Memorable Lunch at Blue Duck Tavern

As a summer associate at a law firm, I was lucky enough to go out to many fancy lunches over the past 2 months.  But at the end of it all, the one lunch that stands out most in my mind is Blue Duck Tavern, for its truly spectacular yet unpretentious American cuisine.

The interior is distinctively American, perhaps to reflect its cooking.  Old-fashioned rocking chairs and an open-style pantry greet guests at the front reception.  The expansive dining room features dark oak and wood paneling, and feels elegant without being stuffy or overly formal.

The meal began with the watermelon gazpacho, which I recently waxed poetic about in a previous post.  For my main dish, I  ordered the chilled lobster salad with frisee, avocado, grapefruit, and honey citrus vinaigrette ($15).  It was truly a delightful summer salad, featuring a substantial amount of lobster.  The honey citrus vinaigrette accented the sweetness of the lobster, and highlighted the citrus notes from the grapefruit.  Beautifully presented, and perfectly executed.

We shared a couple sides as well.  The roasted asparagus ($10), topped with bacon, a hard cheese (perhaps parmesan or grana padano), and egg was crisp and slightly charred on the outside, and perfectly seasoned.  Surprisingly, the daily harvest vegetables ($9) were also delicious.  I was expecting your typical boring sauteed vegetables (which is probably why I didn’t take a photo), but what arrived was a gorgeous plate of buttery sugar snap peas and carrots.  The simple preparation–butter, salt, pepper, and a sprinkling of fresh herbs–really highlighted the freshness of the vegetables.

Of course, we had to order the infamous hand cut BDT triple fries ($10), which are quite extravagantly fried in duck fat.  We felt a bit miffed when only a handful of fries arrived at the table, but be warned–a few fries are more than enough.  The fries are very thick-cut and rich, yet not greasy at all.  Definitely worth ordering if you have never tried duck fat fries, but not a dish for the faint of heart or calorie-counters.

I’ll admit we went a bit crazy on desserts.  But at $9 each for a sizeable, delectable portion, the desserts at Blue Duck Tavern seem to be a good deal.  Though I glanced over this at first, the milk chocolate banana s’mores ended up being my favorite of the three desserts.  It was more of a deconstructed interpretation of a s’more, with crumbled graham crackers on the bottom, a caramelized banana custard, and a homemade marshmallow on top.  The marshmallow was blowtorched just before arriving at our table, and had slightly smoky flavor, which accentuated the caramelized banana custard nicely.  Overall, it wasn’t an overly sweet dessert, which is what I normally think of when I think of s’mores.

The chocolate cake with sour cherries was quite decadent and fudgey, but nothing too memorable.  I did enjoy that it was served warm, along with the cold whipped cream on the side.

The apple pie was much larger than we expected, and easily could have been shared by 4 people.  I loved the caramelized sugar on the crust, which added a divine crispiness.  The apple filling was much tarter than usual, and in my opinion, a bit dry.  I like my apple pie filling gooey, or smothered in a bit of just-melted vanilla ice cream.

If you are looking for someplace to host a special meal, Blue Duck Tavern should certainly be your pick.

Blue Duck Tavern
1201 24th St. NW
Washington, DC 20037
(202) 419-6755
Blue Duck Tavern on Urbanspoon

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Eating on the Eastside: Not Just for Hipsters

The Unpaid Gourmet is (finally) back after a long hiatus, which involved studying for (dreaded) law school exams, moving out of a (grungy) Philadelphia apartment, spending two (glorious) weeks at home in Los Angeles, and settling down for the next month in Washington, DC.  In between all the chaos, I managed to enjoy more than a few noteworthy meals, which I’ll be recounting right here on this blog.

I’ll start with some memorable meals from my trip to Los Angeles.  Growing up in Silver Lake, I’ve seen the neighborhood transform from dull and quiet to happening and hipster.  Before, I couldn’t convince my friends to go east of Larchmont.  Now, my former Westside-centric friends flock not only to Silver Lake, but also as far east as (gasp) Pasadena to visit the latest restaurants and bars.  The Eastside has definitely become a dining destination, for hipsters and old-timers (like me!) alike.  I’ll share some of the new places that I enjoyed most on this trip, along with some oldies that remain just as fantastic as before.

Golden Road Brewery (Glendale)

It’s pretty difficult to find Golden Road Brewery, hidden behind the railroad tracks and industrial warehouses, but well worth the trek.  Locals flock to Golden Road not only for its awesome craft brews, but also for the fresh, local fare served at its gastropub.  The pub is surprisingly big, with a huge patio out front and warehouse-sized dining room inside.  But even more surprisingly, on a Wednesday night when I attended, the entire pub was filled.

I ordered the famous Point the Way IPA ($5), ground pork & bacon meatballs ($7), and coconut “noodle” salad ($9).   The Point the Way IPA was mildly hoppy, and went down smoothly on a warm summer night.  The meatballs, served in a warm tomato-bacon sauce over chili corn bread, were underwhelming.  Though moist and tender, I thought the meatballs lacked in flavor, and the chili corn bread lacked any remnant of chili flavor.

The coconut “noodle” salad, however, more than made up for the underwhelming meatballs.  Thai coconut, julienned vegetables, napa cabbage, and fresh herbs were dressed in an almond chili sauce, and topped with spicy cashews.  The sweetness of the coconut “noodles” balanced the heat of the almond chili sauce beautifully, while the cabbage, julienned carrots and bell peppers added a lovely crunch.  I devoured the entire plate, and believe me, that almost never happens when I order a salad.

Golden Road’s convivial atmosphere, respectable beers, and sophisticated pub fare seems to be a hit with the crowds, as evidenced by the full dining room on Wednesday night.  I’ll definitely be back for happy hour with my friends.

5410 West San Fernando Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA
(213) 373-HOPS (4677)
The Pub at Golden Road Brewing on Urbanspoon

 Fiore Market Cafe (South Pasadena)

Fiore Market Cafe is the perfect spot for ladies-who-lunch, with its charming garden and rustic menu.  The cafe itself is tiny, occupying one small room in the back of a community theater.  But what Fiore lacks in indoor space, it more than makes up for with its outdoor seating.  Grab a seat at one of the umbrella-covered picnic tables, amidst the manicured hedges and idyllic vegetable garden, and you’ll forget all about the city traffic outside.

The food mirrors the setting at Fiore: lovely and ladylike.  I ordered the short rib sandwich ($9.25), served on Fiore’s homemade bread.  The bread was light and airy, but substantial enough to soak up the juices from the short ribs.  Pickles and red cabbage slaw gave the sandwich an Asian accent, but the addition of chipotle mayo seemed at odds with the other flavors.

I also ordered a side of the spicy udon salad ($4.25), with pleasantly chewy udon noodles, crisp napa and red cabbage, carrots and scallions in a spicy soy dressing. I would have liked more heat since the salad was billed as spicy, but overall, I enjoyed the dish.  For a lovely and leisurely afternoon lunch, Fiore Market Cafe and its adorable garden can’t be beat.

1000 Fremont Ave.
South Pasadena, CA 91030
(626) 441-2280
Fiore Market Cafe on Urbanspoon

Tomato Pie & Intelligentsia Coffee (Silver Lake)

I, along with GQ food critic Alan Richman and legions of other fans, am absolutely hooked on Tomato Pie, a retro neon-orange jukebox of a pizza joint, located on Hyperion Blvd.  Since it opened a few years back, Tomato Pie has become a neighborhood staple and one of my must-go-to spots whenever I am back home in LA.  Their pizza simply can’t be beat; not only because it’s one of the few authentic NY-style pizzas on the West Coast, but also because of its commitment to fresh ingredients and dedication to the sheer craft of pizza making.

I can’t go to Tomato Pie without devouring ordering a slice of its infamous Grandma Pie.  To the uninitiated, the Grandma seems, well, old and boring; it’s just another Margherita pizza.  But devotees know the Grandma is so much more, and it’s all in the sauce.  Soulful, intense, just-garlicky-enough tomato sauce is topped with a handful of fresh basil and interspersed with mounds of melted mozzarella.

Another favorite of mine is the eggplant parmigiana pie, and it couldn’t be more different than the Grandma.  While the Grandma is an exercise in restraint, the eggplant parmigiana just piles it on, with crispy breaded eggplant, spinach, ricotta, and mushrooms.  It’s rich and satisfying, especially for eggplant lovers.

And if the top-notch toppings aren’t enough to win you over, Tomato Pie’s crust will definitely convert even the staunchest of haters.  Crisp and brown on the outside, chewy with a hint of salt on the inside, it truly is the best crust ever.

If you still have some room left after visiting Tomato Pie, walk a few blocks down to Sunset Junction, the heart of Silver Lake’s hipster revolution.  Now, I’m normally averse to hipster spots, but this one is honestly worth the aversion.  Intelligentsia Coffee (pictured above) is definitely a scene, with its perpetually filled tables (even in the middle of a weekday), minimalist interior, and strict ban on skim milk.  But its stellar single-origin coffees, expertly made espresso, and funky pastries (baked by Cake Monkey) make it easy to get past, and maybe even embrace, the hilarity of it all.

2457 Hyperion Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90027
(323) 661-6474
Tomato Pie Pizza Joint on Urbanspoon

3922 W. Sunset Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90029
(323) 663-6173
Intelligentsia Coffee on Urbanspoon

Cook’s Tortas: Where the Westside Meets East LA

Though many of my Westside-centric friends believe East LA begins in Silver Lake, they are woefully wrong.  They speak proudly of venturing as far east as Echo Park, where all the hipster bars and new age restaurants are opening.

But true Los Angelinos know that East LA really begins off the 60 highway, encompassing Boyle Heights, Montebello, and Monterey Park.  While authentic ethnic food abounds in these neighborhoods, few would ever venture to describe the dining scene here as anything resembling hipster.  With the opening of Cook’s Tortas in  spring 2008, however, things have started to change on a formerly sleepy stretch of Atlantic Blvd., Monterey Park’s main drag.

Many reviews of Cook’s Tortas have noted that it is more reminiscent of Westside eateries, with its daily-changing chalkboard menu, bright mint green walls, gourmet ingredients, and upscale flavor combinations.  I agree, but where I think Cook’s has succeeded the most is upgrading a classic Mexican sandwich while keeping prices down and flavors accessible to the general public.  This success is apparent in the never-ending lunch lines at the restaurant, the crowd a mix of East LA College students, neighboring firefighters & police, office workers, and adventurous foodies (like myself).

Cook’s menu features over 20 rotating varieties of tortas, each one with a unique flavor profile.  There are heaping entree salads and an array of sides as well.  I ordered the Ranchito torta ($7.39), filled with chorizo, carne asada, nopalitos (cactus) salad, queso fresco, and guacamole, with a side of sweet potato fries.  The Ranchito is not for the faint of heart.  Though smoky and rich from the steak and chorizo, the intensity was balanced by the slightly acidic nopalitos and creaminess of the cheese and guac.  The best part of the torta to me, however, was the bread–made fresh in-house everyday.  Porous and light, but still dense and chewy enough to stand up to the fillings, it was truly a feat of engineering genius.

To wash down the torta, I ordered a melon agua fresca.  Aguas frescas, a popular Mexican beverage made by infusing water with fresh fruits, grains, or flowers, are also made daily in house and are available in rotating flavors.  The melon agua fresca was refreshing and not too sweet–a perfect compliment to the intense flavors of the torta.

I found the desserts at Cook’s to be a bit disappointing.  Grandmother’s corn cake, topped with raspberry preserves, had a slightly goopey texture that was off-putting.  And while the chocolate chip cookie was large enough to share, it wasn’t really worth the effort.

The stars at Cook’s Tortas really are the tortas.  Fresh, innovative, and affordable, these tortas are definitely worth the drive and may even lure insular Westsiders further east than Echo Park.


Cook’s Tortas
1944 South Atlantic Blvd.
Monterey Park, CA 91754
(323) 278-3536

Cook's Tortas on Urbanspoon

Ode to Baja Fish Tacos

One of the things that I miss most about Southern California is fish tacos.  Before leaving the West Coast, I thought fish tacos could be found everywhere in the US, or at least on the East Coast as well.  But, after countless fruitless searches, I soon realized that fish tacos were a purely SoCal specialty, and on every trip home to Los Angeles,I  have made sure to satisfy my craving.

I’ve always been a faithful Senor Fish girl, but when my boyfriend mentioned that he’d found an even better fish taco place in Santa Ana, I hesitantly decided to try it.  Since then, fish tacos have never been the same for me.

Baja Fish Tacos is located in a strip mall, just down the street from South Coast Plaza.  This unassuming spot always has a line out front, no matter what time of day.  And yet, service is always friendly and efficient, as a seemingly endless number of diners place their orders at the counter.

After placing your order, take a seat either in the surprisingly spacious indoor seating area, or if it’s a sunny day, at one of the outdoor tables.  While you’re waiting, help yourself to the fresh salsa bar, featuring 3 different types of salsa, sliced limes, peppers, and onions.

It doesn’t take long for the food to come out, always served hot and fresh off the grill.  My go-to order at Baja Fish Tacos is the two taco combo ($7.60), with one carne asada taco, one blackened fish taco, rice, and black beans.  The carne asada taco is excellent: tender steak cooked lovingly on the grill, topped with freshly chopped romaine lettuce and pico de gallo salsa.

But the real star of the show is the blackened fish taco.  Marinated in a killer spice rub, the fish is bold yet subtle, slowly building up heat in your mouth.  As the heat builds, take a bite of the fresh cabbage on top to cool you off.  Or, if you’re a spice addict like me, add some more salsa and Cholula hot sauce for a more fiery effect.  Either way, it’s delicious, and better than any fish taco I’ve eaten before.

With fresh ingredients, affordable prices, and a friendly atmosphere, it’s no wonder why Baja Fish Tacos is so popular, and has people singing its praises all over town.


Baja Fish Tacos
3664 South Bristol St.
Santa Ana, CA 92704
(714) 641-4836
Other locations throughout Orange County, CA

Baja Fish Tacos on Urbanspoon

Rebel Heroes: A Brilliant Concept

Before the blistering heat set in, I headed to Court House for lunch at the critically acclaimed Rebel Heroes food truck. Tim Carman of  Washington City Paper called Rebel Heroes “the best food truck on the streets” and The Washington Post featured it in its “Good to Go” column. After all the positive press, I set out to try Rebel Heroes with expectations set pretty high.

Unfortunately, I think my expectations were set way too high. I ordered the roast pork bahn mi ($5.50) and Vietnamese iced coffee ($3.00). There were a lot of things I liked about the bahn mi: the bread was crusty enough to stand up to the fillings, the pork had nice flavor, and the pickled daikon and carrots added a fresh, tangy finish. But in the end, there was something missing for me. I would have enjoyed more pork and even other cured meats and pates in the sandwich. And a few more jalepenos and cilantro to add more heat.

I did enjoy the Vietnamese iced coffee, which had just the right balance of sweetness from the condensed milk and velvety chocolate notes from the coffee–it actually reminded me of a grown-up version of chocolate milk!

Though I wasn’t blown away by their bahn mi, I still liked Rebel Heroes a lot and would love to go back to try some of their other subs (like the “Che-che-chicken” which I hear is outstanding). I think the concept is brilliant, considering the lack of decent bahn mi in DC/Arlington. And since I can’t drive all the way to Eden Center every time I have a craving for bahn mi, I’m grateful to Rebel Heroes (and mother-daughter team Ninh and Tan Nguyen, who admirably prepare everything from scratch) for saving me the hassle.

Plus, with sandwiches costing no more than $6.00 and exotic drinks like Vietnamese iced coffee, Jarritos Mexican soda, and coconut water, Rebel Heroes offers affordable street food options that differ from those of any other food truck in the area. Here’s to hoping they decide to venture into DC proper soon!

Follow @rebelheroes on Twitter or visit their website to find out where Rebel Heroes will be serving next!

Rebel Heroes (Food Cart) on Urbanspoon

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China Boy’s Handmade Noodles

Chinese New Year parade in Chinatown

A few weeks ago, the Washington Post’s food section published a great article about hand-pulled noodles made right in the middle of Chinatown. Authentic Chinese noodles in D.C.’s Chinatown–who knew?! What a novel idea to  have Chinese food in Chinatown! (For those who have not been to D.C.’s Chinatown, it has very few actual Chinese businesses. The streets are filled with chains like McDonalds, Dunkin’ Donuts, and Chipotle, all of which have their names translated into Chinese characters, as if to justify their being there.)

Since I was in Chinatown on Sunday to watch the Chinese New Year parade, I decided to check out China Boy, one of the noodle purveyors listed in the article. China Boy occupies an unassuming store front on one of the quieter streets in Chinatown (a welcome respite from the crowds on 7th and H). The restaurant is tiny with only a few tables for dining in (most people take out).

Yet surprisingly, this small storefront churns out “1,800 to 2,000 pounds of rice noodles for more than 100 Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean and Thai restaurants in the District, Maryland and Virginia,” according the Post article.

The menu is pretty straightforward. You can order rice noodle crepes, which is a large rice noodle sheet folded over fillings which include beef, shrimp, and roast pork, or char siu ($2.75-4.00). The rest of the menu has regular rice noodles, which you can order in noodle soup or stir fried as chow fun.

I ordered the roast pork noodle soup ($5.95), a hearty and simple soy-sauce based broth filled with soft, chewy rice noodles and sweet roast pork. It was a very large portion for six bucks and I was certainly too full to order the shrimp noodle crepe I had been eyeing during my meal.

China Boy’s noodles were a cheap and filling end to a great day. I’ll certainly be back again soon to try those delectable looking noodle crepes.

China Boy

817 6th St. NW

Washington, DC 20001

202-371-1661

China Boy

Exploring the Hill

The Capitol

Since moving to DC in August, the past few months have been filled with job interviews, law school apps, and all the other anxieties that come along with unemployment. But now that I have an internship lined up for January and all my law school apps sent in, I’m playing the waiting game and have a LOT of free time on my hands. My family and friends keep telling me to enjoy the free time while I still have it, do all the things I won’t have time to do when I start working, and most importantly, to stop complaining to them because they are jealous of all my free time!

Entrance to Mangialardo and Sons--looks can be deceiving

I finally followed their advice this past Wednesday–and couldn’t be happier that I did. I had read a lot about a small, hole-in-the-wall Italian sub shop popular with the Capitol Hill lunch crowd. With nothing to do that day, I decided to check it out and explore the Hill.

Mangialardo and Sons is located on Capitol Hill SE, just off the Potomac Ave. metro stop. The area reminds me a bit of Columbia Heights, in the sense that it’sgradually being redeveloped, but there are still some parts that feel a bit seedy. Case in point: when you walk out of the Potomac Ave. stop, there is a brand new, sparkling clean Harris Teeter  on the bottom floor of a huge apartment unit across the street. Walk a few blocks in the opposite direction, however, and the area quickly goes down hill (both literally and figuratively). Luckily, Mangialardo and Sons is near the Harris Teeter, but that doesn’t mean the location is perfect. The front window of the shop had been smashed in when I visited, and a wood board and some duct tape haphazardly held it together. (The owner joked that it was probably a bitter family member or customer desperate for salami who broke the window.)

Despite the shabby storefront, Mangialardo’s was crowded with Hill staffers picking up sandwiches for their offices when I walked in. The store’s interior is sparse but clean, with shelves along the walls stocked with jars of roasted red peppers and bottles of imported Italian olive oil. Service is efficient and friendly, especially to newcomers. The menu, above the service counter, includes hot and cold sandwiches, and a special of spaghetti and meatballs. There are also coolers filled with sodas and a nice selection of bottled teas.

The G-man

I ordered the G-man on a soft roll with everything on it (which received positive reviews on Yelp) and walked over to Harris Teeter to eat my sandwich (Mangialardos is cash and carry-out only). For only $6, the G-man is a great value for the money. The sub is huge, more than twice the size of Potbelly. The roll was soft and chewy, but substantial enough to hold together the sandwich. Fillings included ham, bologna, pepperoni, salami, mortadella, provolone cheese, mayo, Italian seasoning, hot peppers, oil/vinegar, and lettuce and tomato.

I am by no means a connoisseur of Italian subs, so perhaps I could not fully appreciate the G-man in all its glory. Yes, the ingredients were fresh and high-quality. Yes, it was very authentic. And yes, it was a pretty darn good and filling mean for only 6 bucks. But, I found the sub to be a bit too salty for my taste. After taking out the pepperoni, mortadella, and some of the cheese, however, I thought it tasted much better. Although I did find myself drinking a ton of water the rest of the day. Nevertheless, if you’re looking for an authentic Italian sub or just a change of pace from Subway, I would still wholeheartedly recommend Mangialardo and Sons.

Foodies' mecca aka Hill's Kitchen

Afterward, I wandered around the Hill and stumbled upon the cutest culinary shop, Hill’s Kitchen. I stocked up on stocking stuffers for the holidays: an eggplant shaped spoon rest, Capitol-shaped cookie cutters, and cute penguin napkins. Then I somehow ended up in Chinatown (not sure how…) and went to the Downtown Holiday Market for even more holiday shopping. Lots of handmade jewelry, beautiful photos, and cute clothes all from local vendors. There was also live jazz outside the Portrait Gallery and really yummy, fresh-out-of-the-fryer donuts. All in all, it was a wonderful day to be unemployed.

Jazz outside the Portrait Gallery

Mangialardo and Sons

1317 Pennsylvania Ave. SE

Washington, DC 20003

(202) 543-6212

Open weekdays 7:30a-3:00p

Mangialardo & Sons on Urbanspoon

Hill’s Kitchen

713 D St. SE (across from the Eastern Market metro)

Washington, DC 20003

(202) 543-1997

Downtown Holiday Market

F St. between 7th and 8th St. (near the Gallery Place/Chinatown metro)

Open Dec. 4-23, Noon-8pm daily

Downtown Holiday Market