Eatin’ in Wheaton, Pelecanos Style

George Pelecanos has written a bunch of stuff, perhaps most notably HBO’s The Wire (with David Simon) but also a series of novels, mostly crime fiction, set in greater Washington, D.C.  Among Pelecanos’ strong points are his seamless injections of accurate local color into his plots. I have only just begun exploring Pelecanos’ books, but the first one I picked up, The Way Home, includes visits to two loosely-described yet clearly recognizable Wheaton restaurants.

First, two characters go on a date to  Wheaton for pho at a restaurant “in a commercial strip of Landromats and Kosher and Chinese grocers…diners sat communally at tables similar to those found in school cafeterias.”  This brief description obviously refers to the strip on University from Max’s Kosher Deli to Shalom Kosher grocery to (no longer there) Asian Foods grocery to a laundromat to Full Key Chinese restaurant (to liquore store) to, on the East end, Pho Hiep Hoa, which is indeed cafeteria-like and nearly ambience-free (which, in a way, is perfect cheap pho house ambience).  Despite (or maybe thanks to) the atmosphere, Pho Hiep Hoa serves pretty decent soup, though I prefer Song Phat — but the characters in The Way Home are absolutely the kind of folks who would visit Pho Hiep Hoa on a date.  Ring of truth, for sure.

About 25 pages later, a real estate agent holds court at “a Thai restaurant up in Wheaton, off University Boulevard, in an area heavy with Hispanics and Orthodox Jews…the restaurant itself had little ambience, holding eight four-tops and a half-dozen deuces, with the standard royal family portraits hung on plain blue walls.”  Again, a no-frills description that is totally accurate, and clearly the restaurant (“Thai Feast” in the book) is Ruan Thai, which was a little pastel-blue-walled dive before it was renovated last year (The Way Home was published in 2009). The passage continues, noting that “the food was clean, the service mostly efficient, and the specials went for four dollars and ninety-five cents” — not sure the specials are that cheap anymore, but the rest still holds true (and of course the food is better than clean, it is fantastic!).  I’m looking forward to reading more Pelecanos, both because he tells a good story, but also to see what other local spots pop up.  If anyone knows of any other instances of Wheaton restaurants showing up in works of fiction, please post in the comments.  I love this kind of thing.

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6 responses to “Eatin’ in Wheaton, Pelecanos Style

  1. One of Pelecanos’s early books discusses a place that’s obviously the Stained Glass Pub in Glenmont. Pelecanos is a graduate of Northwood High and a local resident his whole life. In many of his earlier works, Wheaton and its 1970′s haunts were described in some detail.

  2. Thanks MDBBQF — I look forward to reading more of his stuff, and can’t believe it took me so long to start.

  3. Dave in Wheaton

    Not exactly a restaurant and not exactly Wheaton, but in The Turnaround the kids buy beer at Country Boy in Glenmont. There’s hitchhiking on University in Wheaton. And a bunch of other local references I’m not recalling on Monday morning. The Turnaround is a good one for local details – and it’s based on an interesting piece of local history that occurred in KenGar in the early 70′s.

  4. Thanks Dave! We buy all our mulch at Country Boy, love that store. Will check out the Turnaround.

  5. In the 1970′s, Country Boy was sort of a big shack located in Wheaton. It sat off Georgia Avenue where the Metro entrance and apartments are now (northbound side of the road). It wasn’t until some point in the 1980′s that Country Boy moved up to Glenmont. My buddies and I bought beer there back in the wonderful days when the drinking age in Maryland was 18!

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