Takoma Bev Co.

Full disclosure: I’m morally obligated to love this place because it’s owned by a former teacher from my school. Also, I’m jealous that they have cornered the market on combination coffee shops/bars because this is the perfect restaurant concept that doesn’t exist enough. But I’ll try to separate my feelings about the ownership and concept from my actual review. Let’s get down to it!

Once again this weekend, we came upon a nearly empty restaurant with a fantastic-looking menu. Is this the Walking Dead? Are we going to have to barricade ourselves in the restaurant and hunker down with whatever living souls happen to be working there? Takoma is such a neighborhoody place, why was nobody out and about at this cutesy shop?

At Takoma Bev Co., you have to order at the counter and place a number on your table. I’m normally opposed to this structure. If you’re paying someone to bring my food out, why can’t you pay someone to come over and take my order? On the other hand, this enabled us to grab a comfy couch to sit on. We eat dinner exclusively on the couch at home, why not do it in a restaurant too?

I ordered the special happy hour house cocktail and my husband got a sour beer from Oliver. The cocktail was a perfect blend of sweet rum, tartness from the pineapple, and herbal chamomile. It was one of the better craft cocktails I’ve had in recent memory.

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For dinner, we ordered three dishes: the brussels sprouts, the octopus, and the braised short rib. All three were brought out together. The sprouts were well-cooked, but had gone slightly slack from the lentils and yogurt that accompanied them. The sweet-sour cranberries went well with the bitterness from the sprouts but they could have been crispier. Still very tasty.

I really really enjoyed my octopus. It was cut into small pieces so that it would mix well with the crispy fried potatoes in the bowl. As such, it was a little hard to find pieces of octopus but on the other hand, it had a great texture, definitely not too chewy, and I loved the paprika aioli with the whole thing. The short rib was very soft and flavorful, with creamy potatoes to boot. All three of our dishes were on the smaller side, but reasonably priced for what they were.

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We sprung for three kinds of dessert: a homemade chocolate cookie, a porter, and a mocha latte (bonus: taking home a bomber of special edition beer from the Bruery!) The cookie was chocolatey, chewy heaven. It is pictured below in half-eaten form because it was already mostly gone by the time we got back to the table. The Founder’s Porter is obviously good, but this is not news to anyone. The mocha was rich and sweet, but not artificial tasting the way some chocolate syrups are. It was a luxury for me to drink a sweet coffee drink and totally worthy of the splurge.

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Price: $25 per person.

Bottom line: Takoma Bev Co. is great fodder for any time of day and just a nice, cozy hangout spot. You can have all your caffeine, alcohol, and sustenance needs met while you’re fighting off zombies, if it comes to that.

Huacatay

If you happen to be walking down 4th Street NE, you can just follow your nose to Huacatay. Seriously, you can smell their chicken roasting from several blocks away, even on a stagnant, rainy night like tonight. You’ll know it’s Huacatay making that yummy smell because you can be sure it’s not any of the sketchballs liquor stores that flank it on all sides.

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I’ll just jump right in here. I hope you like eating chicken like a caveman and getting grease all over your face while you suck juicy meat from the bones because that is exactly what you are going to do here. It’s a good thing we did take-out because nobody deserves to see me eating like that.

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A quarter-chicken meal looks like this:

Yeah. Those green beans are considered a “side.” They are onion-y and peppered, and juuuuuust greasy enough. Don’t worry, the grease isn’t enough to keep you from feeling self-righteous eating vegetables while your significant other ingests an unholy amount of mayonnaise and fried stuff. The side salad is what it is. I added my own dressing at home because I’m pretty sure Huacatay’s dressing is just straight-up mayo.

A half-chicken meal looks like this:

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That is…definitely half of a chicken. The coleslaw side is made to please that person who keeps packets of mayo in their desk drawer. The arroz chaufa is a fantastic salt-bomb (read: exactly the way fried rice is supposed to be, if you’re into that sort of thing). My third-favorite thing about Huacatay is the variety of sides they offer, not just your typical soggy steak-fries that you can find at every other Peruvian pollo joint. My second-favorite thing is their sauces. They offer four: white, green, pink, and yellow. Yellow is great if you want a kick of spice. Green is cilantro-y. White is, I’m pretty sure, just plain mayo again. Pink is a happy medium.

My first-favorite thing about Huacatay is the chicken. I don’t know what they baste the bird with besides magic butter. Is it salty? Definitely. But it has a perfect crisp on the outside while the meat on the inside is insanely juicy.

I almost forgot the alfajor! Sweet but not too sweet, perfectly crumbly in a way I can never capture in my own cookies, and maybe just not quite enough dulce de leche inside. There are few better ways to cap off your dinner than this.

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Price: $12 per person.

Bottom line: In DC, a land saturated with Peruvian chicken restaurants, Huacatay goes beyond with not only their chicken, but also their delicious sides. I know you’ve had pollo a la brasa before, but Huacatay is still worth a detour.

Spice

Spice is a little Jamaican carry-out place I found while perusing google maps for a place to pick up lunch on the way to our Saturday afternoon outing to Sandy Spring Adventure Park. After seeing a number of Caribbean carry-outs in the area, and thus getting my heart set on jerk chicken, I settled on this one, mainly due to a) proximity to my driving route, and b) it opened at 11 rather than 11:30.

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We ordered a half-chicken, a beef patty, and the coco bread. I wanted to get my share of yummy Jamaican specialties, but also not go overboard at lunch. Friendly people, tables to sit at inside, good-size menu; all signs pointed to yum.

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The chicken was mostly moist, although it included a lot of gristle and was kind of (read: extremely) cold. The jerk sauce was definitely flavorful, but once again left me wanting more heat (both literal and figurative). The patty was good, but ultimately was just a normal beef patty. It was flaky and chock-full of ground beef, but it was not particularly well-seasoned, and I’m not convinced that it was made in-house. The coco bread was moist and flavorful, and would have paired well with the jerk sauce if I’d had more of it. I wanted to like it, I really did. But it just wasn’t anything better than okay. I also realize that at this point, I sound like some masochist whose only pleasure comes from eating overly spicy food. I swear I’m not.

…Well, maybe.

…But if you, reader, are averse to spicy food, you should probably just stop reading now.

Price: <$10 per person

Bottom line: Due to low cost, this place had a high return on investment, so it wasn’t a total loss. I got a solid chicken meal with standard jerk sauce, so I guess I can’t complain. Will look for other Jamaican restaurants in the future.

Seoul Food

I got a hot tip on this place, which is located very deceptively inside a gas station in Wheaton. In fact, I had a horrible time finding it because it’s not readily apparent from the outside and almost had a mental breakdown because I just wanted some Korean food. Sadly, this would not have been the first time I cried over not being able to find a restaurant. In order to spare everyone else the trouble and the tears, you can enter through the doors on the University Blvd. side or from the gas station entrance.

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seoulfood3The menu looks beautiful and there are a lot of options and sides, and great options for vegetarians. I wanted to keep it on the light side, and I was eating alone, so I went with the bibimbap (no rice because that’s how I roll) with bulgogi beef and the regular kimchi, and I ordered it spicy. They were nothing if not fast, and the two dishes arrived on beautiful plates and looking very composed. The bibimbap was on a bed of baby spinach with tons of shredded carrot and daikon. The kimchi was a little on the small side, but it looked great.

seoulfood1Kimchi: very refreshing with a nice semi-wilted, semi-crunchy texture, but dramatically under-spiced. I come from the school of thought that kimchi should be painful to eat and this was not.

Bibimbap: The beef was cooked nicely and tender, and it was a sufficient amount. The baby spinach and other veggies were fresh and the daikon was nice and cool. And my #2 rule of food is that a fried egg makes almost anything better. On the other hand, calling this “spicy” is an insult to all spicy things, and it was just generally nothing special. The sauce was good, but it needed more of it in general as both the veggies and the meat were pretty dry. I’ve made bibimbap at home and this tasted no better than mine, and I promise I’m not secretly some super-talented Korean chef.

Price: $15 per person

Bottom line: Seoul Food was just alright. I might even consider it good if I remember that it’s located inside of a gas station, but I feel like that should have no bearing on its rating. I think it was slightly overpriced for what I got, but it fed me, I feel good about what I ate, and I’d go here again if I were in the area and someone else wanted to try it and everything better was closed.