October 2015 Update: 2 days after writing this, we discovered the best tacos in DC at J & J Carryout on Georgia Avenue. If you’ve been in DC long enough, you know we flail when it comes to tacos. A lot of them are good, but never quite hit the spot. But these….these are special. Go check them out, they also have a great vegetarian menu and an amazing jalapeño crema.
One of the best things about living in the DC area (or what we locals call the DMV) is how much amazing international food exists nearby.
I’ve recently found myself eating a lot of global cuisine. It’s some of my favorite because you can have a delicious, unpretentious meal at a decent price that tastes like somebody’s grandmama might have made it.
Northern Virginia is known for having amazing and authentic Asian food. Our good friends, Kristin and Dan, threw an amazing wedding in that area this past weekend (yes, her dress is BEAUTIFUL!). For every wedding Jay and I have been to the past year, we have turned it into a dumpling-hunting adventure. This first started in LA and then continued in Virginia. It was on the Left Coast that we first discovered xiaolongbao, also known as soup dumplings.
I’d always been under the impression that I didn’t like steamed dumplings. I always found the dough to be too gummy. When I finally had XLBs, I realized I’d been eating dumplings made by the WRONG people all my life. These were little chewy pockets of heaven, filled with savory soup and delicious meat. If you get a chance to try them, do! And yes, you can find pretty good ones in the DMV.
We didn’t find any XLBs this weekend, but we did stumble on the Dumpling Queen in Chantilly. Armed with a hangover, sore dancing feet from the amazing DJ (I mean, he played SPICE GIRLS!) and an appetite, we devoured the Lili’s Special steamed dumpling filled with pork, shrimp and chives. The filling was fresh and perfectly seasoned, while the dumpling had the perfect texture. They were delightful.
Thanks to moving closer to Maryland and me working there, we have been taking full advantage of the amazing amount of ethnic food in the Silver Spring area. The Big Greek Café is amazing, with flavorful gyro meat, great feta and herb covered fries, perfectly fried and seasoned falafel and (wait for it) BAKLAVA CHEESECAKE. It was a really good meal and I can’t wait to branch out to the rest of their menu.
Yesterday, not that excited for the salad I’d brought for lunch, I ventured over to Tastee Tropics in the White Oak shopping plaza. The 3 star average on Yelp wasn’t that promising for this Caribbean joint, but this Florida girl with Jamaica in her heart figured anything would scratch the itch. It was a good reminder of why we shouldn’t always trust Yelp: this food was BOMB. I got curry goat, rice and peas, collards and plantains. Everything was SO good. I was pleasantly surprised by the plantains, as so many people get these wrong. This meal took me back to many vacations in Jamaica. If you’re ever in White Oak, give it a try. Too scared of goat? Go for the curry chicken!
As much as I enjoyed these places, there’s a new kid on the DC block that has been near and dear to my heart for a few months. Jay and I like to think we have always been ahead of certain trends: swirl coupledom; Jay drank rosé years before it was “cool”; A mutual admiration of big butts (which let’s be honest….have always been cool, whether mainstream magazines say so or not). And most recently, a new Laotian restaurant, Thip Khao.
Thip Khao has recently received a lot of well-deserved love and attention. Bon Appétit named it one of the best new restaurants in the country. We first checked it out before it received that honor on New Year’s Eve of 2014. I still remember what we ate – the Naem Khao or crispy rice, the crispy wings, the sundried beef with lemongrass and ginger and the duck laab. Everything was great, but the Naem Khao was a revelation.
Made of crispy rice, coconut, lime, scallion, pickled pork ham, peanut, cilantro, lettuce wraps, it is sweet, spicy, salty, bitter, and savory. It is every flavor profile you want in a dish. I honestly crave it regularly. Writing about it right now is killing me. It is my absolute favorite thing to eat in DC right now.
Since that first trip, we’ve also tried the crispy pig ear and the crispy snakehead fish with mango, avocado, ginger leaves, spicy fish sauce, garlic and cashews. The snakehead fish was perfectly cooked and the additional ingredients were fresh, bright and flavorful. The reason Thip Khao dishes have such a dynamic flavor is because Chef Seng grows many of the ingredients she uses. You can honestly taste the difference. She’s also incredibly personable and you can tell she absolutely loves what she does. I am so happy for their success and hope they continue to thrive as they approach their second year. And give Chef Seng a follow on instagram, but know that her feed will make you hungry!
So tell me, readers. Been to Thip Khao yet? If not, let’s go! Are there any globally-influenced restaurants that you think are out of this world?? Comment below!