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This week’s question comes from Washington City Paper news reporter Ruth Samuelson, who wants to know:
“I, like many other people, have family coming into town this week for Thanksgiving. We want to have a decent meal on Saturday night, but I’m having trouble coming up with a local restaurant that will, presumably, meet everyone’s approval. Mostly spicy cuisines are probably out, as well as highfalutin foodie joints with unrecognizable dishes. The budget is $25 to $35 per person, including drinks and possibly shareable appetizers or dessert. And, ideally, the restaurant wouldn’t be extremely loud.”
Maybe you’d like President Bush to stop by your table, too, with Dick Cheney in minstrel outfit frolicking in the background and playing “Hail to the Chief” on pan flute? What you’re asking for, Ruth, is a tall order, particularly because, as you said in a separate note, “the idea is definitely to impress” the family a bit. In D.C.’s ever-expensive restaurant climate, $35 doesn’t go very far, particularly if that price must include tax and tip. For example, I recently had lunch—lunch, mind you—at Brasserie Beck and it ran $38.50, without tip. My meal? One beer ($9), one brioche appetizer ($9), and one bowl of mussels ($17).
I’ve been combing through my recent receipts and checking various sources, trying to find some good, not-too-expensive restaurants that might impress your kin without being too noisy or too spicy. The list is not long, and it may require some sacrifices on your family’s part. You definitely won’t be able to have pre-dinner drinks or cocktails, which will likely add between $5 and $15 per person to the check. Nor will you be able to have more than two courses each. You may even have to split a bottle of cheap wine to keep your liquor costs down.
With those caveats, I’d suggest the following restaurants, both for the (general) quality of their food and for offering an environment, a vibe, or an experience that you won’t find elsewhere. In no particular order, I’d take the family to Oyamel (many of the antojitos at José Andrés’ downtown operation are not spicy, but just make sure to go early; it can get noisy later in the evening); Hank’s Oyster Bar (either the Dupont Circle or Old Town location), Rustico in Alexandria (try one of the Bites & Beer appetizers); Colorado Kitchen in Brightwood Park (you may have to share an app, since the entrees are often in the $20 range); Palena Café in Cleveland Park (the roast chicken and truffled cheeseburger are among the best in town, but go early, ‘cause it’s first come, first served in the front of the house); Dr. Granville Moore’s (the hip new moules et frites joint on H Street NE could cross your noise threshold, particularly if the jukebox is blaring); Old Ebbitt Grill in downtown (the powerbroker ambience and oysters alone make Ebbitt worth a trip); Comet Ping Pong on Connecticut Avenue NW (no ordinary pizzeria, this joint serves up uniquely handcrafted New Haven-style pies in a cool, industrial playground); Central Michel Richard on Pennsylvania Avenue NW (no lobster burger for you!); and, finally, if your family is a little adventurous, I’d suggest the Saturday dim sum at Hollywood East Café on the Boulevard (it may be the cheapest best meal in the area).
Ruth, I hope you and your family have a great Thanksgiving, regardless of where you choose to eat in the days after the feast.