There are two questions here. The first is how well do you know Georgian food? It is the best in the Caucasus and the best from the former Soviet Union. The second is how this place compares in the broader constellation of Georgian restaurants. If you are not up to speed on Georgian, this place is a must. Georgian offerings are subtle, diverse, and combine some of the best ideas from eastern Europe, Persia, Russia, and the Middle East. Get as many small dishes and cold dishes as you can. Get the Khachapuri, the classic Georgian dish, stuffed breads, maybe the best one is with the spinach. Get the just plain Georgian bread, not on the menu you can just ask for it. Get the dumplings with meat. Avoid the larger dishes. That all said, how does this place compare with Georgian restaurants in say NYC or Berlin? Well, it is good enough to go to, but not above average. That said, the average is decently high. The downside is that this place is not super cheap. The bottom line is that in DC we now have a “good enough to go to” Georgian restaurant. And of course for people watching it is superb, hardly anyone who goes there is native-born American.
More Uighur food in Fairfax! Of the area’s Uighur restaurants, this one is the least mom and pop, the one you could take a job interview candidate to. As you might expect, it has the best ingredients of the local selection of Uighur restaurants, but is the weakest on the hot and spicy dimension. But since a lot of Uighur food is not intended to be so scorching, that can be quite a good trade-off. I very much recommend this place, while stressing it can and should coexist with Kiroran and the area’s other Uighur restaurants in your regular repertoire.
The new wave of Ethiopian restaurants in and near West Alexandria is so good it is hard to review each one, as they blur together in a stream of excellence. I can say that this one has kitfo as good as any, slightly below par yellow peas, and is currently #1 for crowd and atmosphere. Definitely recommended, but how to choose between this and all the great competitors?
Contrary to what many people will insist, it’s now possible to eat excellent Mexican food, including tacqueria-style tacos, in D.C., Northern Virginia and nearby Maryland. But this is not the result of a sudden influx of Mexican migrants — long an underrepresented group in the D.C. area — into the dining scene. Rather, earlier Mexican migrants are assimilating, opening larger businesses and spreading quality versions of their food to more parts of this country, just as hamburgers and pizzas earlier transcended their regional origins. This development is consistent with research showing that Mexican-Americans are assimilating more rapidly than previously we had thought. So the next time California, Texas or Arizona snobs complain about Mexican food offerings on the East Coast, tell them it’s better than they think.
The D.C. area also has some stagnating ethnic cuisines. Vietnamese food has continued to penetrate the market in Texas and Oklahoma, but in the Mid-Atlantic region mainstream Vietnamese restaurants seem to be in slight retreat. Vietnamese pho soups and banh mi sandwich shops are popular, and those dishes are feeding into fusion cuisine. But the full-menu restaurants don’t compete well with Thai and Chinese offerings. I am reminded of the Upper East Side of Manhattan, which decades ago had fine and reasonably authentic German restaurants, but now they are mostly gone or are shells of their former selves. In the D.C. area, Bolivian is another cuisine that’s holding steady but not advancing in either the number of restaurants or the popularity with non-Bolivian customers.
The broader lesson is that America isn’t going to become endlessly more diverse, whether in its culinary offerings or otherwise. There are natural limits to these processes, and some are self-reversing as immigrants either assimilate or reach a peak influence on the broader American culture. In dining markets for the last 10 years as a whole, I would say the biggest development has been the spread of high-quality hamburgers and pizzas to all price ranges and dining styles, not the growth of cuisines cooked by recent immigrants.
Marib in Springfield is still the very best Yemeni restaurant around, but this is probably number two. Especially good sambusas and lamb mandi, the salteh I thought could have been better. For people-watching, this place is a clear number one among the Yemeni selections, given its close proximity to West Alexandria.
Hong Kong dishes mainly, I was skeptical when the Washington Post rated this as the seventh best place in all of D.C. Yet it delivers. Avoid the Sichuan dishes, which are not really hot or properly ma la anyway. Get the pork ribs, the barbecue plate, the chow foon noodles, and the fried rices. The cauliflower is also quite good. While it’s hard to compare this place to D.C.’s best Western food one way or the other, it exceeded expectations in every regard. It’s an order of magnitude better than any other Cantonese restaurant around. Note, though, it is pretty loud and the core style is trendy more than mom and pop. The prices are reasonable enough, though I don’t think the whole fish is quite worth the price they are charging, that said it is still pretty good.
I’ve been to The Block a bunch of times, and until now I have been reluctant to review it or any of the individual places in this food court. Each time I have felt I just don’t “get it.” And I guess I don’t.
On the bright side, The Block feels more like East Asia than anywhere else around, and it feels like the Asia of today, not the Asia or Korea of the 1980s that you get so often in Annandale. It is fun to be here, and the crowd is appropriately lively. On the down side, it is maybe the loudest place around, at least during busy hours. But that’s not my real gripe. What bugs me is that this is a place for people who think there should be mayonnaise on Asian food. If that’s you, go! I think many of the dishes here are well done, or at least “good enough,” but I also know they are not for me. I don’t like them, and when eating them I wish I was somewhere else in Annandale, because ultimately the food trumps all. So conditional on you liking this place, I am not the critic you should listen to. At the very least, you all should visit because I have seen the future and the future is The Block. Take that as you will.
The waok ye is especially good, which is a mix of rice, beans, plantains, fish, and noodles. Plus they have fried yam with turkey, jollof rice, Red Red, and of course Fufu. The décor is very basic, the crowd friendly, service a bit halting. Ghanaian food is not to everyone’s taste, but I would describe the offerings here as above average. If you are inclined to try this place, you should, that said do not expect too much variety in the offerings over repeated visits.