Tag Archives: vegetarian

Not Your Instant Ramen Noodles

Walking through Bethesda during this weekend’s cold spell made me crave one dish: a hot, steaming bowl of noodles to warm me up. Luckily, I knew just the place. Ren’s Ramen, located in a quiet, nondescript mini mall on Arlington Road, has been dominating the D.C. foodie circuit since its opening last May. After months of reading about its “luscious, complex broth” and “righteously curly and chewy” noodles, I had been dying to try it. And Saturday’s tornado-like conditions (I may be exaggerating, but it was super windy!) presented the perfect opportunity.

Ren’s Ramen is situated in a tiny storefront; the room seat maybe 20-30 people. Wood tables and counters come unadorned, and a few banners with Japanese calligraphy and photos of Japan adorn the egg-yolk-yellow walls. Though some might say the restaurant lacks ambiance, I actually found it quite pleasant. The room felt alive with diners milling in and out, slurping on noodles, and chatting amongst themselves.  The wait staff was also quite friendly, greeting customers with a congenial “Konichiwa” (or “good afternoon”) as they walked in.

The real draw at Ren’s Ramen is, of course, the ramen. The shop specializes in Sapporo-style ramen, which to my knowledge, means a richer and fattier broth. My roommate, a vegetarian, ordered the Vegetable shio ramen ($11), which arrived with a heaping pile of seaweed, steamed cabbage, scallions, and bean sprouts. The broth, though heavily salted (the menu said “salt-flavored,” to be exact), was surprisingly soothing and smooth.

I ordered the Sapporo Shoyu ramen ($10, pictured at the top). The broth was much darker than the vegetable version, and flavored with soy sauce rather than salt. It was also verrrrry salty, and I could see a thin layer of fat glistening on the broth’s surface. These traits would usually turn me off of a dish right away, but somehow, at Ren’s Ramen they worked. The broth was so tasty, and complimented the chewy ramen noodles perfectly. And oh, those noodles. They were not the thin, cardboard-esque noodles found in cup-of-noodle. These noodles had a bite to them, a subtle eggy flavor, and a delightful chewiness that was quite addicting. And last, but not least, my ramen was adorned with 3 slices of roast pork. This was perhaps the best pork I have eaten in a while. The fat melted in my mouth and left a smoky, earthy flavor that was just heavenly. I wish there had been more than just 3 pieces, but then again, maybe that was better for my cholesterol.

After drinking about 5 glasses of water, we left Ren’s Ramen feeling full, content, and ready to face the windy weather. But, in typical glutton fashion, we somehow wandered over to Downtown Bethesda and…were lured into Georgetown Cupcake.

Now readers, I have to make a confession. This was a moment of weakness. Until then, I had made it a point not to succumb to the Georgetown Cupcake craze. Yes, I had heard from friends how good the cupcakes were, but I just could not stomach the whole waiting in line for 30+ min…for a “designer” cupcake. Plus, I am a loyal customer of Baked and Wired, which in my opinion, serves the best cupcakes in D.C.

But the sickeningly cute cupcake display and impossibly short line (only 10 people!) lured me in. And I have to say, I was very impressed with the array of flavors (from key lime to cherry blossom to chocolate squared) and the not-too-steep price ($2.75). I ordered a salted caramel because I love anything that’s sweet and salty (and caramel, for that matter). The cupcake was decent, though not mind-blowing, and it had too much frosting for my taste. I certainly wouldn’t wait in line for it again, but I do sort-of understand the appeal. It’s hard to resist a cupcake that’s as adorable as this:

To satisfy your next ramen and cupcake cravings, head to Ren’s Ramen and Georgetown Cupcake in Bethesda!

Ren’s Ramen

6931 Arlington Road

Bethesda, MD 20814

(301) 693-0806

Ren's Ramen on Urbanspoon

Georgetown Cupcake at Bethesda Row

4834 Bethesda Ave.

Bethesda, MD 20814

(301) 907-8900

Georgetown Cupcake at Bethesda Row on Urbanspoon

Unpaid Gourmet tip: Follow @GTownCupcake on Twitter to find out their free secret flavor of the day.

Fresh Falafel at Maoz Vegetarian

First off, I have some exciting news. Where the Locals Eat, a site that compiles the best food blogs in America, has selected The Unpaid Gourmet to be a featured blog for Washington, D.C. Hooray! Now, The Unpaid Gourmet posts can also be found on Where the Locals Eat. Hopefully, this will attract more readers and publicity, both of which are always appreciated by a novice food blogger like myself.

And now, onto the meat of this post (or in this case, the falafel). I usually try to avoid reviewing chains, but there are some that are just so good, they deserve a glowing review. Maoz Vegetarian is one such chain.

The first Maoz opened in Amsterdam, Holland in 1991, with a mission to “spread the vegetarian lifestyle in mind.” Customers loved Maoz‘ fresh take on falafel and ultra chic look. The company expanded all across Europe and arrived in the States in 2004 (its first U.S. location was in Philadelphia).

D.C. was lucky to get its very own Maoz this year. Located in Dupont Circle, Maoz is nestled between a slightly seedy-looking bar and a worn building with a sign for “Jasmine Therapy” (whatever that may be…). Maoz clearly stands out from its neighbors, with its sleek new sign and bright lime green windows.

Now, I already know what you are thinking. Has this blogger ever been to Amsterdam Falafelshop, D.C.’s ever popular, critically acclaimed falafel shop in Adams Morgan? And even if she has, how could she possibly betray this beloved Washington establishment?

Well, I am here to tell you, dear reader, that there is good–even, dare I say, amazing— falafel outside the confines of Amersterdam Falafelshop and it can be found at Maoz. Maoz has a similar layout to Amsterdam Falafelshop, in that both have the fully stocked self-serve toppings bars (pictured above). Both places have similar toppings too: tabbouleh, cucmbers, lettuce, yogurt sauce, etc. But what sets Maoz apart is their fresh-tasting, virtually greaseless falafel and their crispy, addicting sweet potato fries.

I ordered the junior Maoz sandwich with sweet potato fries and a drink, all for under $10. A junior-sized sandwich seemes small at first, but with the generous portion of sweet potato fries, it turned out to be just the right size. The pita was warm and hearty, the falafel crisp and speckled with chopped parlsey and cilantro. Of course, I piled my pita high with toppings, which included tabbouleh (bulghur wheat with herbs and lemon juice), red cabbage, cucumber, tomato, and marinated carrots. I also highly recommend the garlic sauce–it was sweet and not overpowering, and a perfect accompaniment to both the falafel and those heavenly sweet potato fries.

And oh man, those fries were to die for. I am usually not one to be impressed with sweet potato fries, since I make my own at home (side note: slice up a sweet potato into french fries, toss with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and bake in the oven at 450 degrees for 10-15 minutes until crisp for your own sweet potato fries!). But the fries at Maoz, I have to admit, were far superior to mine and any others I have tried for that matter. They were piping hot, crisp and salty on the outside and soft and sweet on the inside. I vowed to save half of the fries for my boyfriend, but despite my efforts to the contrary, I devoured every single one.

After just a few visits, I have been converted to an avid fan of Maoz. Its sleek, modern aesthetic and fresh, flavorful fare seems to have that effect on all of its devotees–like Ta-Nehisi Coates, one of my favorite writers at The Atlantic, who raved about Maoz in a recent blog post. The blogosphere has clearly spoken: Maoz is awesome.

Maoz Vegetarian

1817 M St. NW

Wahsington, D.C. 20036

202-390-2117

Open M-Th 11a-11p, Fri-Sat 11a-3a

Maoz Vegetarian