Tag Archives: Capitol Hill

Loco for Tortilla Cafe

I had a friend visiting me from out of town, and needed somewhere quick, cheap, and delicious to meet her for lunch. My roommate recommended Tortilla Cafe down by Eastern Market, and boy, am I glad she made that suggestion.

Tortilla Cafe offers authentic El Salvadorian and Mexican fare that you can tell is made with love. The cafe is a family operation, owned by Jose Canales and managed by his daughter, Catalina, who can be found working the register most days. Mr. Canales also owns Canales Deli, a meat purveyor inside Eastern Market.

My friend and I split a pupusa platter with plantains and black beans ($5.95) and a sweet corn tamale ($2.25). Service was friendly and warm, and our food was brought out quickly, piping hot. Pupusas are a popular El Salvadorian snack: thick corn tortillas filled with cheese and meats that are fried to perfection. Tortilla Cafe’s version is light and greaseless, with melted cheese and flavorful pork oozing out of each bite.

The side dishes were excellent as well. The pupusa platter comes with your choice of 2 sides (beans, rice, fries, fried yucca, plantains). We chose the plantains and black beans. I’m a sucker for plantains and I can wholeheartedly say the ones at Tortilla Cafe were first-rate. Crisped outer edges, soft in the middle, with that irresistible sweet and savory balance. The platter also comes with a complementary serving of curtido, a pickled cabbage slaw with peppery salsa drizzled on top. The dish paired nicely with the pupusas, adding a jolt of heat and tanginess.

The sweet corn tamale was reminiscent of summer. It tasted like biting into a freshly steamed ear of white corn. The maize had a firm bite–one of the signs of a solid tamale. Lesser versions can be mushy or grainy.

Perhaps the most astonishing part of the meal was the price–less than $10 for a filling and fantastic meal. Tortilla Cafe more than delivered on the quick, cheap, and delicious fronts.

More people (other than me) are starting to take notice of this hidden gem’s low prices and high-quality food. Tortilla Cafe was featured on Food Network’s Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives, and the restaurant proudly displays a signed Guy Fieri poster on its wall. The episode hasn’t aired yet, so be sure to head down to Tortilla Cafe–before the legions of Triple D and Food Network fans do!

Tortilla Cafe

210 7th St. SE

Washington, DC 20003

(202) 547-5700

Tortilla Cafe on Urbanspoon

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Around the World in 1 Day

Last weekend was filled with glorious spring weather and loads of fabulous food events (as I wrote here). My friends and I spent a blissful Saturday afternoon at two of these events: Cultural DC’s Embassy Tours and Taste of Eighth. With the splendid array of international cuisine and culture featured at each of these gatherings, I felt like I had traveled around the world by the end of the day.

First stop was the Korean embassy, where pleasantly smoky aromas and sounds of Korean barbecue sizzling on the grill greeted us. After waiting in line for 30 minutes, we were rewarded for our patience with a plate of kalbi (barbecued spare ribs), rice, and kimchi (the infamous Korean dish of spicy fermented cabbage). I always lament the dearth of Korean restaurants in DC, and was very grateful to the Korean Embassy for providing a satisfying, authentic taste of Korean cuisine (and for free!). The kalbi tasted slightly nutty from the sesame seed oil and smoky from the grill–perfectly cooked to be chewy and meaty. The rice and spicy kimchi provided a tasty accompaniment.

In addition to food, the embassy also showcased Korean culture with tae kwon do demonstrations, Korean drumming, and gorgeous exhibits of traditional Korean art and clothes. It was a fun and lively way to become acquainted with Korea’s exciting culture!

Next on our international tour was the Brazilian embassy. I won’t even attempt to describe how idyllic and charming the Spanish colonial style house looked, with sunlight streaming in through the tall windows, ornate wall paintings, dark mahogany furniture, and lush bougainvillea-filled gardens outside. Words can’t do it justice, but photos just might.

The only thing that the Brazilian embassy was missing: some Brazilian food. I would have loved to chow down on some pao de queijo (cheesy yuca bread), picanha (Brazilian grilled meat), and feijoada (a hearty black bean stew) after milling through the impeccable embassy.

After the embassy tours, we headed to the opposite end of town to Capitol Hill, where the annual Taste of Eighth event was taking place. Since we arrived at 3:00, and the event ended at 4:00, it was a bit frenzied to use up all our tickets and get to all the vendors in time. But, in what’s probably a record time of 30 minutes, we were able visit 5 (technically 6, if you count Levi’s which closed early) restaurants and sample some of the tastiest food I’ve had in a while.

Cava Mezze, which specializes in Greek small plates, served the most delicious roasted lamb chops with homemade pita chips, hummus, dolmas (grape leaves), and homemade yogurt. Though not all lamb chops were equal (my boyfriend’s was particularly fatty), mine was very meaty, juicy, and tender. It was so good that I couldn’t stop myself from gnawing on the bone! The pita chips were also phenomenal: crunchy and crisp on the outside, but soft and bready on the inside. Great with the tangy yogurt and spicy red pepper-flecked hummus.

Next, we walked over to Zest, which served a lamp wrap with onions and pomegranate barbecue sauce (pictured in the top right). The wrap was hearty and flavorful. But I wasn’t a big fan of the pomegranate sauce; a bit too sweet and overpowering for my taste. The bread was also a bit hard, probably from sitting out in the sun all day, but hey, I understand it’s street food.

Starfish Cafe, a bright and eclectic cafe further down 8th St., offered avocado gazpacho and ceviche (pictured in the bottom left). This was the only restaurant where patrons could sit inside and eat; and it was a much needed respite  from the heat. The gazpacho and ceviche were both refreshing and light.

For our last dish, we chose Capitol Hill Tandoor, where a vibrant, colorful dish caught our eye. They served chicken biryani, a traditional Indian rice dish. The flavor was incredible: mildly spiced, but complex in flavor. The chicken in the dish was also super tender.

And for a sweet ending to a sweet day, we went to Ted’s Bulletin for the most decadent vanilla milkshakes, with fresh dark chocolate shavings on top. Ted’s Bulletin, which was set to open this week, is a cute 30’s style diner. With milkshakes that tasty, I’ll definitely be coming back for more.

Cava Mezze

527 8th St. SE

Washington, DC 20003

202-543-9090

Cava on Urbanspoon

Zest Bistro

735 8th St. SE

Washington, DC 20003

202-544-7171

Zest Bistro on Urbanspoon

Starfish Cafe

539 8th St. SE

Washington, DC 20003

202-546-5006

Starfish Cafe on Urbanspoon

Capitol Hill Tandoor and Grill

419 8th Se. SE

Washington, DC 20003

202-547-3233

Capitol Hill Tandoor & Grill on Urbanspoon

Ted’s Bulletin

505 8th St. SE

Washington, DC 20003

202-544-8337

Ted's Bulletin on Urbanspoon

Weekend Round-Up

The weather forecast predicts gloriously warm temps in the 80s for this weekend. Woot woot! I am beyond excited to finally get out of this cold weather slump and dawn sundresses and sandals again. Luckily for me, and all Unpaid Gourmet readers out there, this weekend is full of fabulous events that offer good food, outdoor fun, and occasions to show finally show off your summer wardrobe. Here’s a list of events, compiled from some of my favorite D.C. blogs:

Saturday 5/1

Passport DC Embassy Tours: This Saturday, Washingtonians can travel around the world in one day. From 10 a.m.-4 p.m., embassies from Africa, Asia, the Middle East, Europe, and the Americas will all be open to the public for tours and activities. Each embassy will have booths, performances, and food (!) that will showcase their country’s culture. I’ll for sure be stopping by the Korean embassy, which will offer samples of delicious kimchi (their signature fermented cabbage) and Korean barbecue, and the Thai embassy, which will of course serve pad thai. For a complete schedule of events, click here. And please note: some embassies (e.g. Japan) require that you pick up tickets in advance. Thanks to the Going Out Gurus for pointing out this event!

Taste of Eighth: From 1-4 p.m., Barracks Row on Capitol Hill will host their annual Taste of Eighth event, where 14 restaurants along 8th St. will offer samples of their most delectable dishes. Participating restaurants include Cava Mezze (Greek small plates), Belga Cafe (Belgian fare), Levi’s Port Cafe (Soul food), Zest (recently opened, with American cuisine focused on using local ingredients), and many more. Tickets for food samples are $5 each or $20 for 5 tickets, and will be sold at retail shops on 8th St. Click here for more details. Props to Tasting Table DC for publicizing the event (and for your daily emails, which I would be lost without).

Cafe Green Opening Party: Prince of Petworth is one of the best sources for events and news all around D.C.–follow him on Twitter for the most up-to-the-minute updates (@popville). That’s how I found out about the Cafe Green Opening Party on Saturday! The restaurant will be open and serving its organic vegan cuisine from 11 a.m.-11p.m., along with a gift card raffle, music, and tons of specials. My friend is a big fan of Java Green (Cafe Green’s sister restaurant), so I’m sure the food will be excellent. Plus, there just aren’t many vegan restaurants in the D.C. area and it would be great to support one. Click here for more details–and menus!

Capital City Cheesecake Opening: If you’re in Takoma Park on Saturday, stop by Capital City Cheesecake for its grand opening. Capital City Cheesecake, or CCC, gained a following by selling their decadent cheesecakes online. Now, the bakery is finally moving to a brick-and-mortar shop, which will serve fresh baked bagels, truffles, and fair trade coffee in addition to cheesecake. Shoutouts to the Washington City Paper’s incomparable Tim Carman for scooping this event. Check out the Young and Hungry blog for more details.

Kentucky Derby Happy Hour at Acadiana: Put on your fanciest hat and heels and head over to the Kentucky Derby happy hour at Acadiana. From 5-7 p.m., the bar will offer $5 mint juleps and $5 Derby-inspired dishes to celebrate the race. See the Washingtonian for more details.

Sunday 5/2

Street Performance Festival at French Embassy: If you were disappointed with last week’s Georgetown French Market (which, in my opinion, was sorely lacking), then perhaps this event will satisfy your French cravings. From 12:30-6 p.m., la maison francaise will host more than 40 performances throughout the day. Performers include jugglers, acrobats, comedians, and more.  Patrons can nibble on dainty French pastries (like crepes, quiches, and croissants) and sip Mimosas while watching the show. Tickets are $5 in advance and $10 at the door; children under age 10 get in free. Click here for more details and props to the Washingtonian for finding the event.

Wags and Wine: For wine lovers in VA (or those in DC with cars), this is the event for you. From 1-4 p.m., Wags and Wine will offer over 40 wines to taste and food from Cafe Oggi, a popular Mclean restaurant. The event will be held at the Palladium’s Civic Green fountain courtyard and admission is $10. A portion of the proceeds will go to the Washington Humane Society, so animal lovers should check out the event as well. Click here for details; thanks to Tasting Table DC for the notice.

Bethesda Row Restaurant Week: Sunday marks the last day of Bethesda Row’s Restaurant Week–hurry over before these great deals end! As my friend Mary over at Girl Meets Food writes, guests can enjoy a three-course lunch for $15 or a three-course dinner for $30 at participating restaurants. These include Le Pain Quotidien, Jaleo, Lebanese Taverna, and many more. Check out the Web site for more details.

Have a wonderful, sun-and-food-filled weekend, everyone!

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