I was an intern in D.C. in 2009. Old Beltway veterans could “just tell” that I was from California. I lived in the heart of Dupont Circle where nobody actually lived except for GW students and some of the more affluent members of the gay community. I could hear the police sirens but never saw them stop anywhere. Whatever crime there is in D.C. seems to only exist in the outskirts.
I had lots of good times out there. There were tons of late nights, a little bit of romance, and lots of cold mornings on the Red Line. Most importantly, I had lots of bomb food.
As an intern, I couldn’t afford the more expensive stuff. The most lavish meal I had was Thai Food at Thaitanic. Still, the east coast knows how to do sandwiches and fast food better than anyone. Even the Subway sandwiches out there are better than the ones here, with more bread options and those spicy colorful pickled peppers that aren’t pepperoncinis. Anyone know what they’re called?
In D.C., when you’re poor you don’t necessarily have to resort to BK Delivers, especially if you’re located in or near D.C. proper.
Here are my three favorite cheap options:
I miss these the most. Before coming to D.C., I had never known the wonders of qan empanada. To this day, I still haven’t had one like the ones offered at Julie’s. I used to stick with the Chorizo empanada, which had a simple Spanish sausage filling with rice and black beans. My only issue with this place was the fact that they were stingy with their green hot sauce, which gave the empanadas a kick I still dream about. Julie’s has since raised the price of an empanada from $3 to $3.59, and apparently it now accepts credit cards, but it still offers the best-tasting meal I had for the price in D.C.
I had never known the wonders of a falafel before coming to D.C. either. In spite of the large Middle-Eastern presence in L.A., I compare every falafel I’ve had since to the one at Amsterdam. This place had fluffy pitas, millions (dozens?) of toppings and fresh falafel balls that managed to be crispy on the outside but just soft enough to crush into submission at the bottom of a pita.
Every Chinese Delivery Hut That Let Me Get Fries and Cheesesteaks With My Wonton Soup:
I have a terrible affinity for hole-in-the-wall places. When I see a run-down slum of a restaurant, I automatically assume it’s going to be the best meal I’ve ever had. Years of repetition and a recent breakthrough at a burrito joint in Redondo Beach have forced me to conclude that I was wrong. In fact, most Mexican burrito joints in L.A. carry the same watery salsa, stale tortilla chips and fatty meat. They might as well be Taco Bell.
What these DC Chinese food huts lacked in quality they made up for in MSG and more food offerings than Costco. I miss their fresh, frozen crinkle fries and their cardboard chicken fried rice, their “real cheese” cheesesteaks and chunky hot and sour. I miss the combination of the two very different genres of food, which all tasted the same mushed together in my mouth. At 2 a.m. there’s nothing better than salt and Sriracha.
I wish you all existed in L.A.
*Ravi Bhatia is a writer and a tutor with a passion for good, cheap food.