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“It’s the best cheesesteak outside of Philly,” Kyle Bailey tells me over sandwiches from Yum’s II on 14th Street NW. “Everything’s better in Philly. Even the Wawa!” The executive chef at the heralded Birch and Barley, and Philadelphia native, often enjoys the food from the neighboring chicken-salad-subs-seafood-and-Chinese carryout.
At first, I was pretty nervous about heading into Yum’s to try a vegetarian sandwich. I figured this place better catered to grease-starved drunks than a food writer at lunch. Then I found out that Yum’s II is a favorite of not only Bailey, but of the whole Birch team.
One day sous chef Mike Malyniwsky, known for scouting out prime hole-in-the wall joints across the D.C.-area, walked in with chicken wings from Yum’s. And then it started.
Yum’s often caters Birch’s weekly staff meetings and even provided cheesesteaks, chicken wings and fried rice for its holiday party. On many nights, Bailey drops by Yum’s II after working, stuffs two subs in his backpack and motorcycles home. “I finally feel good,” he tells me about his late-night cheesesteak eats.
I know what you’re thinking though: Why doesn’t Bailey just eat at work? I thought that, too. And so does he.
“I work all day. How did I leave a whole building full of food?” he often asks himself when he gets home. But that’s also not what will fill him up after being on his feet for 14 hours. Plus, “I’m so sick of my own food,” he tells me in all seriousness, “I know all the tricks.”
So for something comforting, but also filling and good, he turns to Yum’s II. And it’s no secret. When Travel + Leisure asked chefs around the country what their favorite restaurant was, he named Yum’s II.
Maybe it was my large camera, but when Bailey and I went to Yum’s II the regular cashier noticed him. “Is that you in the book?” she asked him. It seems that people have been bringing copies of Travel + Leisure to Yum’s II and ordering just like him. Because, apparently, you must say “steak and cheese” and not “cheesesteak” or you’re apt to receive an order of mozzarella sticks.
As we waited for our sandwiches Bailey pointed to the grill, behind a glass wall. He acknowledged how very clean Yum’s keeps its kitchen. He doesn’t think the sandwich is greasy either, and it’s priced just right.
I have to agree. Yum’s vegetarian sandwich is simple and good. Bread that holds up to a bundle of vegetables and cheese is not easy to find in the District. Green peppers and onions are quickly cooked on the grill, leaving them with plenty of crunch. Tomatoes are well used here and are not mealy, adding extra flavor and texture. Just as Eli (commenter) suggested, I left off the mayo and requested provolone. But I did ask for a side of hot pepper sauce and couldn’t have been happier with the added heat.
In fact, I couldn’t have been happier with Yum’s II. Leave it to a star chef to remind me that good food can be found in all places.
In order of appearance in the comments:
- Cork Market
- Cowgirl Creamery
- Busboys and Poets (sandwich 1) (sandwich 2)
- Taylor Gourmet (sandwich 1) (sandwich 2)
- Pret a Manger
- California Tortilla
- Jaleo (sandwich 1) (sandwich 2)
- Highland Cafe
- Jimmy John’s
- Greek Spot
- Sticky Fingers
Yum’s Super Taco
- Luna Grill
- Five Guys
- Everlasting Life
- Au Bon Pain
- Devon & Blakely
- Corner Bakery
- Black Squirrel
Photo by Stefanie Gans