Category Archives: Street Food

Yellow Rice For World Peace

The robes may be saffron but I’m pretty sure it’s only turmeric in the rice. Still, today’s afternoon snack exceeded my low expectations. I bought it from a street stall outside the Portrait Gallery on F Street between 8th and 9th, part of the 11-day Kalachakra For World Peace. Lots of Buddhists (maybe 20,000 says City Paper) are in town for the first Kalachakra in five years, but how many spent the $400 to actually attend, and how many are just soaking up the atmosphere?  Does this qualify as a Buddhist invasion, or is that an oxymoron?

Anyway, there is a tent city on the F Street sidewalk, including five or six vendors selling Tibetan or similar food, mostly not looking very appealing, though I have seen many people sitting around eating it this week. My $5 portion of rice was large, bright yellow, studded with (formerly frozen) veggies, plus a generous squirt of hot sauce (like sriracha but not exactly, and very hot), and it was pretty good.  Not $5 good, but maybe my $5 bar is too high. The hot sauce was a good idea. It brought some peace to my afternoon world, at least.

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.

Koh’s Bulgogi

Nice to have an affordable change-of-pace option for weekday lunch. Today: Korean from a cart. Koh’s Bulgogi cart hangs out at the corner of 9th and F (Portrait Gallery) during most of December, and I hit them up for beef bulgogi and soup. Koh’s frequently changing locations can be tracked here. The bulgogi is good, garlicky, a little dry, but sure beats hot dogs, the only other street food available for blocks around. Better is the side salad — cabbage, spinach, another leafy green or two along with cold noodles in sesame sauce — and the kimchi, which is cubed instead of the usual sliced variety, but packs decent heat and flavor despite less surface area to absorb the sauce. Koh’s also features bibimbop and “bulgogi tacos” which normally I would have been all over but a colleague warned me away, so instead I got today’s special, the fish cake soup, which was not bad, a semi-clear delicate broth with green onions, fish cake slices, and too-large chunks of onion. None of it is good enough for me to want to eat there repeatedly — it’s no Woomi, but then Woomi’s kitchen is a lot bigger than a 4×8 food cart — but I enjoyed it as something different for a change. Tough to find quick, inexpensive takeout at Metro Center that isn’t a chain or a hot dog. Hooray for diverse street food!  I also appreciate Koh’s commitment to environmental responsibility, which is secondary to the food, but a nice bonus.

Any Time is Taco Time

So say the Taco Time adverts, although I am more amused by this 1983 ad, apparently from Australia. Taco Time is a Pacific Northwest-based competitor to Taco Bell, which I mentioned recently as I bemoaned my inability to get a taco in Buenos Aires. My friend Brent commented that TT is merely “average” and expensive compared to TB, which is “cheap, fast, maybe regrettable.” And he noted that in Seattle at least, higher-quality and not outrageously expensive taco trucks are now the way to go.

It is true that the Time is pricier than the Bell, but you get what you pay for: IMO, TB is cheap, fast, and always regrettable, sometimes instantly. TT’s soft tacos may not be any better, but I don’t order soft tacos. I order the two items that TT does better than anyone else, items that few other places even offer: crisp burritos and Mexi-Fries.  You can now get the Mexi-Fries — slightly spiced tater tots — stuffed or swimming in cheese, but the unadorned variety are plenty good enough for me. The crisp burritos are sort of simplified chimichangas and I’m sure they’re terribly unhealthy, but they are incredibly good. Last I checked, they were in the $2.50-$3 range, which isn’t exorbitant. And TB offers neither sort of product, and I bet most (any?) taco trucks don’t either. I would sooner drink from the Chao Praya river than eat at Taco Bell, but I look forward to my next Taco Time visit, hopefully in the summer of 2010.

Having said all that, I have heard great things about taco trucks in Seattle and elsewhere, including here in the DC area; the Maryland suburbs are rife with them. Street food in general is enjoying a renaissance in the United States, from Seattle (I look forward someday to trying pork here, and a pre-Mariners meal from these guys) to LA to NYC to DC.  The problem in DC is there are few options (other than hot dogs) near where I work, and I don’t have time during lunch to traverse the entire city looking for the best food carts. For example, I’d love to try Fojol Bros. but they only seem to be active a couple of days a week, and never near enough to me. But the street food situation is getting better all the time, to our collective benefit.