Category Archives: African

How Food News Travels

There is, evidently, a phenomenal Mexican restaurant called R&R Taqueria located in an Elkridge, Maryland gas station. I have never been there (clearly need to go!) but HowChow has been blogging about it for at least a couple of years. Suddenly, though, just this week, Todd Kliman is chatting about it at Washingtonian, and Tyler Cowen on his blog. Why the new cluster of attention? I suspect everyone read about it in the Wall Street Journal, which got wind of R&R and included it late last month in an article on gas station taquerias, what they cleverly call Texaco-Mex. It’s an interesting culinary trend, but the news flow also interests me, starting with a local blogger, then suddenly some national attention and whooooo everyone is in the game.  Wonder how WSJ found out?  Do they read HowChow?  (They should, it’s a great local food blog)

Wheaton has no Texaco-Mex but we do have a gas station African restaurant, Global Cafe, in the Exxon at Georgia/University; their food is okay but not WSJ-coverage-quality.  But you can get takeout from Global Cafe — does that make it Exxon-Mobile food? Heh heh.

In other news:

  • Patch has been hiding its restaurant reviews — how about some home-page love!? — but have been doing a nice job lately with their Bites Nearby column, most recently on Garrett Park’s Black Market Bistro and Kensington’s Continental Pizza.
  • Just Up The Pike discusses ensuring public access in the planned Wheaton Town Square.
  • Gazette reports on possible DC-style 5-cent bag tax (paper AND plastic, ma’am) in MoCo.

 

Dessie

Friends in town interested in Ethiopian food led us to a recent lunch at Dessie (2655 University, next to Nick’s Diner), allowing me to check another Wheaton restaurant off my list of places I’ve never been.  I did include Dessie in my Bodegas of Wheaton tour, but that involved only a perusal of the grocery side. This time, we sat and ate amidst heaping platefuls of rolled injera.

Ambience is fun: groovy Ethiopian pop music, lots of interesting art on the pastel walls, a tiki-hut-like bar area (what is the East African equivalent of the tiki hut?). Small tables and decorated chairs are arranged near the window, but we sat at a larger table covered with green plastic tablecloth, not sure if that was part of their Christmas decoration or just normal. Service is fine, communication can be tricky but the menu isn’t huge and pointing in combination with order-by-number works.

Vegetarian dishes won the day, especially the misir wot split lentils, the only offering that had anything approaching the kind of spice (in terms of both heat and just intensity or concentration) one expects from Ethiopian food. Yellow split peas were also good; green beans and collard greens okay.  We tried several different meats, all “tibs”: I thought lamb was most flavorful, relative to beef and chicken, but all were overcooked and unexciting, accompanied by onion and plenty of pepper but no real sauce and nothing screaming “Ethiopia!”  We didn’t try the kitfo, maybe a mistake, but if I go back I would stick with vegetables plus try to find a meat dish with maximum sauce.

The actual menu is twice as long as the one on the website. Overall, at around $12 per dish, a fair value, we enjoyed lunch, but I probably won’t rush back.  On the other hand, Mrs. Me said she liked it, and she wasn’t expecting to (not historically an Ethiopian food fan).

We also noticed a bare-bones Ethiopian market (whose name I didn’t write down and have forgotten) has opened where a shady video store used to be in the Subway/Brazilian strip mall on Georgia just south of University.  Along with Ethiopia Plus Market, just a half block further south on Georgia, plus Dessie, that’s plenty of Ethiopian cuisine availability in Wheaton.  Still, I don’t think it will surpass Thai, Salvadoran, or Chinese anytime.  No question my $12 was better spent at Paul Kee than at Dessie.

I’m sure there is a good Dessie/Loch Dess Monster pun to be made, but I haven’t found it yet.

Bodegas of Wheaton, Part I

In large U.S. cities like New York, you find little bodegas — convenience stores — on almost every block, selling fruits and vegetables, dried goods, newspapers, odds and ends. Wheaton doesn’t have the density (yet!) to support bodegas on residential blocks, but we nevertheless seem able to support quite a few little stores that are scattered throughout the downtown area. I’m actually surprised there are so many, but most of them are tiny, rents must be fairly low, and there are lots of people around of various ethnicities — or broad culinary interest like me — to support them. As high-rise apartment/condos are built, these little shops could really thrive, though I imagine only some will survive.

There are in fact so many bodegas in Wheaton that I am splitting my review of them into two posts, starting with the ones that are not Latino-oriented. Thus, a mix of Asian, African, and American bodegas are discussed below as Part I.

Everybody Hung Phat Tonight

Hung Phat Market

Hung Phat (11315 Fern) — bursting with mostly Thai or Vietnamese goods that threaten to collapse from crowded shelves down upon unsuspecting shoppers; huge, nearly overwhelming selection of sauces, pastes, and spices; lots of dried/frozen/preserved items; back corner is a pile of dishes, pots and random kitchen implements; small but good produce section; not sure I trust their meat; lots of unusual items like pork or beef blood (fresh and frozen!) or sliced fresh taro root. Good source for limes. Friendly staff, I enjoy shopping here.

The Name Does Not Lie

Asian Foods Market

Asian Foods (2301 University) — Less claustrophobic than Hung Phat, better arranged, more multi-Asian, but not as many excitingly unusual finds; still, they have for example dried chrysanthemum, frozen purple yams, and many rice varieties; authentically average Thai street food, mostly fried things and curries/soups, served from steam tables in the East Wing. And they are incorporated!

Shalom Strictly Kosher

Shalom Strictly Kosher

Shalom Strictly Kosher (2307 University) — Shalom is our go-to source for challah bread (great for French toast — does that make it Israeli toast?); big deli section with all kinds of salads, pastrami and other meats, sandwiches assembled to order; chubbs, whitefish, herring, the usual mix; acceptably good knishes (I am very picky about knishes); lots of meats and dried goods; excellent bakery; everything indeed seems to be strictly kosher; meat looks to be excellent quality and is kind of expensive — I suppose rabbinical supervision does not come cheap. Overall a useful, unique part of Wheaton’s food scene. Max’s Kosher Deli, also good, is next door.

Dessie

Dessie Ethiopian Restaurant and Market

Dessie Ethiopian Restaurant and Market (2655 University, next to Nick’s Diner) — the market is about a third of the space, and bare bones, just a few shelves of injera, unlabeled spices, grains, and a few other items; the restaurant section is bigger but still small, lots of green, a tiny three or four seat bar with a television; I look forward to trying it one of these days (Mrs. Me is not an enthusiastic consumer of Ethiopian food; I’m not crazy about injera but I love the meat and veggie dishes). Not sure I will ever have occasion to shop at the market.

Ethiopia Plus Market

Ethiopia Plus Market

Ethiopia Plus  Market (11303 Georgia) — looks a lot like the market third of Dessie inside, slightly more shelf space but not much difference in contents; with no inviting restaurant included, I am likely to stick with Caramelo Bakery next door when I find myself on this block of Georgia.

Filipino Home Baking & Grocery Store (11222 Triangle Lane, next to Moby Dick) (forgot to take a photo) — I know essentially nothing about Filipino culture but this store does a good job of providing the basics, I would imagine; lots of baked goods, preserved fruit, many varieties of fish in cans, especially competing brands of sardines; freezers full of fish, veggies, and lumpia, the Philippines’ answer to the spring roll. Also some CDs and Filipino accoutrements. Friendly staff.

Amherst 7-Eleven

Old Tired Amherst 7-Eleven

7-Eleven (11445 Amherst, next to Wheaton Post Office; 11406D Georgia) — possibly you are already familiar with these quintessentially American bodegas — although Japan has more of them than does the United States. Slurpee! Sometimes we go here for emergency milk or ice (or Big Gulps), especially now that our Safeway is a Zombie.

New 7-Eleven

Shiny Newish Georgia 7-Eleven

Coming soon: Bodegas of Wheaton, Part II: Los Mercados Latinos

Wheaton Tastes Good

No surprise there. Overcast and 70 but no rain is not a bad way to spend a gluttonous weekend afternoon with thousands of our Wheaton friends and neighbors, at today’s Taste of Wheaton:

Taste of Wheaton 2010

Taste of Wheaton 2010

Lots of good and varied eatin’ opportunities among the fifteen food vendors, but even at $1 a pop it is difficult to sample a variety of dishes because even the cheap ones tend to be filling. I did what I could.

We skipped the chains in favor of local establishments, and so did most everyone else we saw. Such a culinarily enlightened crowd! IHOP had a big crew loudly but largely unsuccessfully pushing their hot dogs and funnel cakes — nothing wrong with the occasional funnel cake — and Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts had about what you would expect, but not many takers. Biggest lines seemed consistently to be at El Boqueron and Saigonese, but almost every food vendor was doing a solid business.

Los Cobanos (11210 Grandview) was the first vendor we saw, and therefore the first food we ate:

Los Cobanos Pupusa y Taco

Los Cobanos Pupusa y Taco

The pupusa was good but greasy, chicken taco was crunchy and pretty good although more of  a taquito than a taco. At $1 apiece, an outstanding start. Like several others (Pollo Sabroso, Umberto’s, Saigonese), Los Cobanos tent was set up right in front of their actual restaurant. I think the Grandview Avenue restaurants get the most value out of Taste of Wheaton because you taste their food, look up, and hey there’s the storefront behind the tasting tent. In most cases I think food vendors operate at a loss at the Taste, there is no way they make money charging $1 for pupusas or enchiladas or 1/4 sandwiches (Marchone’s). So participation is a huge point in all these places’ favor, in my book; it is of course a marketing opportunity but nevertheless a loss leader, and it also shows community involvement, and I like that.

So we meandered further up Grandview to the El Boqueron (2311 Price, next to the former Ferdinand’s space) tent where the long line gave us time to finish the Cobanos pupusa before ordering a Boqueron pupusa, plus an enchilada and tamale ($4 for the three, I forget which one cost $2):

El Boqueron

El Boqueron Do-It-Yourself Combo Plate

The enchilada was open-face and soaking wet, and it’s hard to tell in the photo but that’s the enchilada on the bottom and the pupusa (also wet thanks to slaw) on top. Pupusa was less greasy but maybe also not quite as flavorful as Los Cobanos’ version. Enchilada was okay. Mrs. Me and I both liked the corn tamale a lot, it seemed deep-fried not steamed but was fresh with great corn flavor. And I know it seems like pupusa overkill already, but I do love a good head-to-head taste test, plus how can anyone walk by an outdoor griddle full of fresh pupusas and not buy one?

El Boqueron Pupusa Griddle

El Boqueron Pupusa Griddle

Already we were getting full but onward! We tried some grilled beef at Saigonese (11232 Grandview) (excellent) and a saltena ($2.50) at Pollo Sabroso (11216 Grandview):

Pollo Sabroso Saltena

Pollo Sabroso Saltena

The saltena was right out of the oven, hot, and full of beef, peas, potato, and a scalding brown liquid that involved a flavor I couldn’t place. Not bad, and the dough was really good, perfectly cooked, but it was too wet inside (and outside, once bitten).

We bypassed old favorites like Moby Dick (11220 Triangle), selling various sushi bites for $1 apiece, and Marchone’s (11224 Triangle), selling sandwich sections and cannoli, and also skipped El Pulgarcito de Callao (11333 Elkin), where we recently lunched, and Umberto’s (11230 Grandview), where we ate right when they opened several years ago to only average results and haven’t been back — they seem to have dropped the Italian half of their menu and are focusing on Tex-Mex. We didn’t try their food today but it looked good, and we will eat there again someday. Overall, Grandview has a pretty good restaurant row going these days.

Mrs. Me wanted some Singapore Rice Noodles from Hollywood East but they ran out by 1 p.m. and were slow to replace them; lots of other good looking food at HE though. Need to try their new Wheaton Mall location soon, and maybe also their Mall neighbor Noble Roman’s, who appeared to be losing today’s Taste pizza battle to Ledo, which had a little line the whole time we were there. NR is really designed to be a “family” place (i.e. Chuck E. Cheese competitor) but if they have skee-ball we will brave the kids at least once, at least for a half hour.

Our final stop was the Global Cafe African Grill (11310 Georgia, in the Exxon station), which didn’t seem to have its act together. When we first arrived the proprietor was on his cell phone, ignoring us and everyone else who walked up. In his defense, I think he was on the phone with his parter trying to figure out where their food was, because it sure wasn’t in the tasting booth.  We came back later and some of the food had arrived, though there was no jollof rice (per the sign) and also no meat pies (not per the sign):

Global Cafe African Grill Menu

Global Cafe African Grill Menu

Their website (which I am shocked exists — Global Cafe seems least likely of all Wheaton restaurants to have a website, and it ain’t much, but it does exist, so more power to ’em — better off spending time on food than HTML anyway) indicates jollof rice is their big specialty, so its absence was a bummer. In addition to missing dishes, they also had no change, frustrating would-be purchasers who only had twenties. The guy seemed pretty stressed out. We bought a “fish pie empanada” and the peanut butter soup stew — did they think “stew” would sell better than “soup” or was it just a typo? — and although my expectations weren’t that high, the fish pie was actually pretty good, with a nice pepper kick, although a bit dry inside. Peanut butter stew was okay:

Global Cafe Peanut Stew and Fish Empanadas

Global Cafe Peanut Stew and Fish Empanadas

The food makes me want to visit their restaurant in search of jollof rice, but their logistical problems give me pause. Anway, I don’t have to decide about whether to eat there right now, because I am done eating for at least the rest of today and possibly the first part of the week. This was mostly high-quality food, but also heavy and calorific.

Whew. Another successful Taste of Wheaton in the books.

Coming sometime in the next 48 hours, the results of yesterday’s pre-Taste warmup: the Good Eatin’ Banh Mi Smackdown, pitting Saigonese against Hung Phat in a delicious Vietnamese sandwich head-to-head (bread-to-bread?) taste test.