NFT Washington DC Chinatown / Union Station

Chinatown / Union Station

Mostly white-collar business by day, Judiciary Square, Union Station, and the Capitol are full of politicians, lawyers, and other Washington DC fat cats. You really can see it all in this part of town: motorcades, suits feasting on steaks during weekday power lunches, credit card-happy consumers, fashion plates, hipsters, and sports fans, all set to go-go beats being pounded out on trash cans.

Once defined by its ethnic and culinary connections to China, a yuppie influx encouraged by the popularity of the Verizon Center has made Chinatown a haven for mid-career types looking to blow a wad on food, drink, and residence. Eat pizza at Matchbox, tapas at Jaleo, sushi at Momiji, grab a pint at See more.

>The Dubliner, and an espresso at Chinatown Coffee (just don't ask for it over ice).


This Neighborhood Featured in...
Veg in the City

By Amber McDonald
What's captivating everyone from politicians to Playboy bunnies, athletes to authors? Veganism! Check out Amber McDonald's guide to DC's new and unusual veg offerings.
Washington DC's Bronze

By James F Thompson
Donations are accepted at the Hirshhorn Museum’s Sculpture Garden so feel free to give them everything you have. It's the least you can do for ogling their visuals.

I'm With The DJ

By Jade Floyd
If the eclectic mix of musicmakers Jade Floyd brazenly chronicles in this stirring set of interviews aren't spinning, they're not living. Read their words, hear their music and appreciate the creativity of DC's newest/coolest/hottest disc jockeys. Huzzah.


On Our Radar:

Posted By:  Kara Deniz
Photo:  Kara Deniz

Crumbs Bake Shop
Washington's famed cherry blossoms are so unpredictable. One downpour or gust of wind and the fragile flowers are all gone. However, in honor of the Cherry Blossom Festival, you can enjoy a cherry blossom cupcake all month long at Union Station's recently opened Crumbs Bake Shop. The oversized confection is vanilla cake filled with cherry preserves, topped with vanilla cream cheese frosting mixed with cherries and a candied cherry. Whew! That's a lot of cherry! Sweet, but not overpowering, the cupcakes cost $3.75, with 15 percent of the proceeds going to benefit earthquake relief efforts in Japan. After all, everyone knows good deed calories don't really count.

Posted By:  Kara Deniz
Photo:  Kara Deniz

Taft Memorial
In the shadow of the Capitol, and ironically, not far from the Teamsters Union building, stands a 10-foot bronze memorial to Senator Robert A. Taft (R-Ohio). The tower, dedicated in 1959, has a carillon with 27 bronze bells that ring on the hour and quarter hour. The structure itself is pretty generic as far as carillons go, not that I'm any carillon expert, but then again, who is? It's the atmosphere that makes this monument unique. The tower is surrounded by small fountains that create a pond-like setting, and the secluded spot is a great place to eat lunch and read a book, away from the well-trodden paths surrounding the Capitol. Taft was known for his conservative political viewpoints, including his opposition to FDR's New Deal programs. He was also a sponsor of the Taft-Hartley Act, which placed strict controls on labor unions. Despite some controversial stances, Taft was well respected, thus earning him a permanent place in the shade to the north of our Capitol.

Posted By:  Cathleen Richards
Photo:  Cathleen Richards

Urfa Tomato Kabob
After living on doner sandwiches in Austria this summer, I've been on the prowl for quality doner in DC. Urfa Tomato Kabob is a good attempt. The sandwiches are big, and only $5.99. The combination of flavor was delicious (they add a Turkish tomato sauce to the standard lettuce, tomato, onion melange), and the yogurt sauce tasted very fresh. However, the meat was a little on the dry side, and there wasn't that much of it. I ordered a Euro, which has fries in it, but was disappointed to find maybe 5 french fries in the whole sandwich. But this sandwich is definitely good enough to go back and try another variety.

Posted By:  Magda Nakassis
Photo:  Magda Nakassis

Art and Soul
Art Smith is the *ahem* soul of Art & Soul, the restaurant and bar attached to the Liaison Capitol Hill hotel. With a resume that includes Beard Awards, best-selling cookbooks, and Iron Chef America / Top Chef appearances, and with references that include Oprah Winfrey, this chef comes well recommended. In addition to breakfast, lunch, and dinner, Art & Soul also offers a number of special events--including Crab & Beer Wednesdays (on the patio, weather permitting) and the 5:01 Session Happy Hour. For the latter, there are a number of excellent drink and food specials, but I suggest the pairings, which expertly combine the two for $10. True to Art's southern roots, the menu is full of fried green tomatoes, ham and cheese biscuits, and... wait for it... pork rinds! Served in a small deep fryer basket, these spicy, tasty, classy, fatty, roasted pig skins are worth the quadruple bypass.

Posted By:  Kara Deniz
Photo:  Kara Deniz

Summer House
Hidden away from the hustle and bustle of the Hill is the Summer House, a peaceful grotto located just north of the Capitol. The fountain garden was designed in the 1880s by famed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, who also designed Central Park, and in DC, the American University campus and Smithsonian National Zoo. The open-air brick building is entered through three arches, exposing a tranquil setting--a hexagonal space with brick seats surrounding a fountain. The Summer House was originally designed in response to complaints that there were no places on the Capitol grounds for visitors to find drinking water for themselves and their horses. Even if you're not a fan of DC tap water, the Summer House is a great place to take shelter on a hot, summer day. While you're there, watch life roll along, as tourists take a rest, and suited Capitol Hill staffers pass by, likely unaware of the serene hiding spot that is before them.

Posted By:  Magda Nakassis
Photo:  Magda Nakassis

Irish Channel Pub
Sometimes you want to sip an expertly prepared cocktail with elusive ingredients. Sometimes you want a glass of red wine paired with homemade charcuterie. Sometimes you want a flight of craft beers that challenge your palate. And sometimes you just want to knock back some cold ones, not in an upscale hotel bar--but at the Red Roof Inn, with a view of the check-in desk from your stool. Those are the times when you head to the Irish Channel, the least pretentious watering hole in Chinatown. It's just a bar, folks. Nothing fancy on tap--unless Heineken counts. Just the Guinness, Harp, Boddington's, and Smithwick's you'd expect of an "Irish" pub, plus the macrobrew regulars. But here in DC, where the dining and drinking scene is full of all kinds of fads and gimmicks (I'm looking at you, under-sized, over-priced cupcakes), a guileless dive such as this is quite refreshing. Bottoms up!

Posted By:  Magda Nakassis
Photo:  Magda Nakassis

My Brother's Place
DC is not a cheap city. Not to rent, not to buy, not for groceries, not for gas, and not for going out. People will pay $4+ for a can of processed corn that tastes like battery acid. They will also drop double digits for a hand-crafted, gourmet cocktail. And not only that--they're willing to elbow strangers to compete for space, and suck up to mean bartenders. So imagine my surprise then, when a friend and I had the distinct pleasure of drinking 8 beers in a busy (but not overcrowded) bar, served by a friendly bartender, for only $10. The qualifications: They were not full pints. They were served in plastic cups. We were drinking Miller Lite and Keystone Light. (Don't judge.) And, it was a dive. We had accidentally shown up for the beat-the-clock Friday happy hour (4–9 pm) at My Brother's Place, during which time domestic drafts start at 75¢ and go up a quarter every hour. Further investigation reveals that they have a special for every night of the week, from $15 "All-U-Care-to-Drink" Saturday nights (aka Catholic University student binge-drinking) to $8 pitchers of Yuengling on Wednesday evenings. It was a welcome break on my wallet, and their fried pickles plate with ranch dressing sealed the deal. I'll admit it for all the Internets to see: I am not too good for a 75¢ Keystone Light draft.

Posted By:  Magda Nakassis
Photo:  Magda Nakassis

Center Café
I abhore eating or drinking in bus stations, train stations, rest stops, and airports. I feel like a mass transport culinary hostage, with options that are usually overpriced and greasy, with surly workers, stressful atmospheres, and dirty tables. And since I rarely remember to add a healthy, delicious meal to my packing list, I find myself standing in line for something I don't want to eat, or filling my body with vending machine carbohydrates to avoid hunger pains. But I must admit that I was pleasantly surprised by my happy hour at Union Station's Center Cafe. Let's be clear: this is not a destination. But presumably you're at the train station because you already have one, and the drinks and food are fairly priced and reasonably fresh. The draw, though, is the location. The restaurant is smack dab in the middle of the station, so when you sit on the second "floor," you're vaulted up into the Beaux-Arts interior, complete with stone inscriptions and sculptures. Instead of being elbowed by MARC train commuters, you can gaze upwards at the ceiling details of gold leaf, granite, and marble. And it’s quite nice to hear the hubbub below while calming sipping your beer from above--and in the company of allegorical sculptures. It's just Union Station, but relatively speaking (to McDonald's), it's all very grand!

Posted By:  Magda Nakassis
Photo:  Magda Nakassis

Jerk Chicken Wrap Cart
Although it's been years since I worked on K Street, I still lament its many lunch options. Gone are the days when I could chose between Ollie’s Trolley, Juice Joint, the Burrito Man, and Julia’s Empanadas--all within minutes of my cubicle. But now my neck of the work woods has something new, delicious, and cheap: the Jerk Chicken Wrap Cart. A lovely lady with an amazing tolerance for heat is serving up $5 jerk chicken wraps, dressed with with citrus black beans, coconut rice, mango salsa, and hot sauce. Her cart is indistinguishable from the others surrounding the Judiciary Square Metro station (4th St & Indiana Ave NW exit), but follow your nose...

Posted By:  Magda Nakassis
Photo:  Magda Nakassis

Red Velvet Cupcakery
Let's assume you have a sweet tooth. You're all about the cupcake craze. And now you can't get enough of the fro-yo trend either. So how does the idea of one spot serving boutique cupcakes and frozen yogurt strike you? Did you go into sugar shock? Well that's what the sibling owners of the Red Velvet Cupcakery and TangySweet have achieved in DC's Penn Quarter. Walk in one door and indulge in small-batches cupcakes, from the Morning Call (chocolate espresso cake with mocha buttercream) to the Southern Belle (red velvet cake with whipped cream cheese frosting). Or walk in Door #2 and treat yourself to pomegranate and green tea frozen yogurt adorned with fresh fruits and cereals. Or open up both doors. Or go back and forth between the two. I don't judge.

Posted By:  Emily Groves
Photo:  Emily Groves

United States Botanic Garden
Unless you're a horticultural nut, the best part of the US Botanic Garden isn't the exotic trees and plants from around the world. Oh no. The most unique and interesting part of the Botanic Garden--by far---is the new seasonal display of DC's famous landmarks--all constructed down to the smallest detail with natural elements, such as twigs, leaves, acorns, and bark. Apparently, the "models" are the brainchild of a contracted landscape architect from somewhere like Kentucky, who has made a business of miniature, natural reconstruction. And from the Washington Monument to the Jefferson Memorial, they are unbelievably and elaborately true-to-form, and all lit up! Of course, the trees and plants from around the world are nice, too. Oh, and the US Botanic Garden is one of the few "museums" in DC that won't search you and your bags upon entry, which is another reason to go check the Garden out.

Posted By:  Jade Floyd
Photo:  Jade Floyd

The Source
Wolfgang Puck has finally entered the Penn Quarter. Recently, his restaurant has won the coveted 'New Restaurant of the Year' at the 2008 RAMMY Awards. The space is an architectural gem with floor-to-ceiling glass windows, a 2,000 bottle wine cellar, impeccable wood floors and table-upon-table of DC's most well-connected crowd devouring executive chef Scott Drewno's incredible treats. Word on the street is The Source will commemorate the summer Olympics with Beijing-inspired dishes that will be offered throughout the duration of the games from August 8 through August 24, 2008. This three-course menu will have favorites like Roasted Duck with scallion wraps and Mandarin Orange reduction; Hot and Sour Soup with jumbo lump crab and pork tenderloin; Kung Pao prawns with a spicy garlic-chili sauce and toasted peanuts; and Steamed Grouper with a seven-vegetable stir fry and lotus root. Priced at $35 a person this is a true steal so make haste as tables book fast and this is DC's ultimate spot to see and be seen.

Posted By:  Alyssa Kim
Photo:  Alyssa Kim

Your goal in life is to win a Pulitzer. "Good Night, and Good Luck" is your favorite movie. When Deep Throat's identity was revealed, your life was complete... I mean, the previous generation's collective life was, because you live vicariously through them. On any account, clearly the Newseum is your version of heaven on earth. But how does the Newseum fare for those not as interested, ok, passionate about the media? Don’t let the name throw you. At its core, the Newseum is a history museum, using front pages of old newspapers, poignant photographs, and significant television broadcasts to tell the stories of major historical events from our country and world. The 9/11 Gallery is incredibly moving, so much so that the museum staff was smart enough to place a box of tissues in the room. Other must-see exhibits include the News History, Pulitzer Prize Photographs, and Comics galleries. But for most people, the question won't be, "Will I like the museum?" but rather, "Will it be worth the exorbitant price?" At $20 a ticket, admission is steep, especially considering it's next to the free Smithsonian museums. But with plenty of artifacts and interactive features, the Newseum proves the importance of the media and shines a whole new light on the way we interpret history.

Posted By:  Magda Nakassis
Photo:  Courtesy Anthony McCall

Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden
Sometimes the amount of time you devote to an art exhibition is equal to the time it takes you to walk through the space. You might face paintings or sculptures, but not really look at any of them. You might read all the wall text, but not really look at the object. And then "mall legs" kick in, and suddenly you wander through rooms looking not for a stunning work of art--but rather for a bench to sit on. Or maybe "you" is really just "me." Part I (Dreams) of The Cinema Effect--on view at the Hirshhorn through May 11, 2008--features moving-image artworks, all of which are shown on loops. And by taking up a certain amount of time, the viewer is forced to engage with them...and very often while sitting on a bench! The art installations "use film language and technology to explore the ever-increasing impact of the cinematic on our perceptions." Translation: It's an afternoon at the wacko movies, and it's fantastic. (Tip: Don't make the mistake I did and try to walk around before your eyes adjust. The combination of darkness and films that explore "the darker recesses of the imagination" results in a contemporary art haunted house.")

Posted By:  Elisabeth Grant
Photo:  Elisabeth Grant

Verizon Center
This past Monday, Republicans unleashed a herd of their favorite animal (elephant) on Capitol Hill to take back Congress and trample the opposition! Just kidding. The circus has come to town! In what has become an annual event, Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus paraded their elephants (and assorted horses, clowns, and glitzy trapeze girls) through the Hill to their final destination at the Verizon Center. This year the trek began right around 1 p.m. at Garfield Park, came down 3rd street past the Folger Theater, wound by Union station, and landed at the Verizon Center. The star-stamped pachyderms and their entourage left behind them a trail of giddy children, amused Hill workers, and impressively large piles of crap. The circus moves on to the Patriot Center for shows April 2-13.

Posted By:  Katie Pyzyk
Photo:  Katie Pyzyk

National Museum of the American Indian
A lot of people in the DC area can get "museumed out." There are so many museums boasting so many collections. I decided to visit one of the lesser known ones, the National Museum of the American Indian, and am now adding it to my "must see in DC" list. It's only 3 years old, highlights Native Americans not just from the lower 48 states, but from places like Alaska and Mexico. Being so new, the museum has a lot of technology the older ones interactive flat screen monitors to help you get a closer look at the artifacts behind glass. Through August there's an exhibition on women's dresses, many dating back to the 1800s. Most are made of animal hide and you pick up the faint scent of leather upon entering the room. A whole floor is dedicated to Native Americans in the modern world, and the struggles many tribes face today...from retaining heritage to gaming. The exhibits are fascinating, but another reason to go is the architecture. The building itself, inside and out, is a beautifully constructed piece of art.

Posted By:  Graham Fortier
Photo:  Graham Fortier

New Century Travel
OK, let’s be honest: Maybe the drivers don’t entirely know where the bus stops along the way and when they do stop they do so at strange I-95 offshoots to pick up and drop off family members, and there’s no dining car. In the end though, there is no quicker and cheaper way to get up and down the east coast than The Chinatown Bus. There are myriad options to choose from once you hit H or I Street downtown, but I’ve found New Century to be a fairly reliable choice. Even if the driver can’t, there’s someone who can tell you if the bus is going to stop in Baltimore and I’m usually able to escape the smelly-man-or-crying-baby entrapment. So maybe you don’t live paycheck to paycheck or consider anywhere south of Cleveland Park to be the “hood,” and you want to throw down a hundred bones for the train. So be it. For the rest of us, a 35 dollar roundtrip to NYC sounds pretty sweet. Just keep to yourself, and don’t ask questions. Eventually you’ll get there.

Posted By:  Magda Nakassis
Photo:  Tom Arban

Shakespeare Theatre Company
Normally I’m always looking for ways to cut financial corners. Coupons, people who like to treat, happy hours, dumpster-diving, etc. But there are some things that become creepy when they’re too cheap. Sushi and hotel rooms spring to mind. Also when it comes to Shakespeare, if tickets are too affordable, I assume it’s a community production with uncomfortably fake British accents and lines delivered by actors who don’t understand them. So without the income to match my snobbery, I am usually left with my own voice reading the library copy of Hamlet aloud… in a horrendous accent, and totally confused by what a “kind, life-rendering pelican” is and why it might repast anyone with its blood. But now that the Shakespeare Theatre Company has launched its 20/10 program, Bard-lovers 35 and under can get tickets for only $10 each. Every Tuesday from 10am, the theatre will give out 20 pairs of $10 tickets for performances taking place through the following Sunday. If you work by the fabulous new Sidney Harman Hall, you can pick them up in person (limit of two per person, and ID required), or if you’re not so close by, just ring the box office. Now you don’t have to forage for ticket stubs in the Jaleo dumpster anymore.

Posted By:  Katie Pyzyk
Photo:  Katie Pyzyk

A dinner of tiny tapas can often leave you feeling unfulfilled. But at Jaleo, the portions are substantial, the quality is top-notch and the food selection is so plentiful it might leave your head spinning a bit. But don’t worry, you’re expected to pick several of them. Or you can do what I do, and only order one small dish, then mooch off—I mean “sample”—what all your friends ordered. Some of the items, like the shark, may seem questionable, but will end up surprising you in positive ways. And any trip to Jaleo is incomplete without the signature sangria. Don’t kid yourself. You’ll want more than one glass, so just go with the carafe. Want to explore more of the food and wine from Spain? Head to the Crystal City location on the last Thursday of the month. The restaurant features a different region of Spain each time. There are also wine tastings on Wednesday and Thursday evenings from 5-7pm.

Posted By:  Megan Parry
Photo:  Megan Parry

When it comes to fancy-smancy Mexican food, most of us settle for super sizing our Gordita combo meal at Taco Bell. And while I wouldn’t want to discount that kind of cheap thrill, I would like to point out that we, as Washingtonians, have other spicy, cheesy options. For instance, if you are trying to holler at some guacamole prepared table-side and a (tad too) sweet pomegranate margarita like I was last weekend, make a reservation (I repeat, make a reservation) at Rosa Mexicano in Chinatown. While I’ve heard that some of their entrees are less than thrilling, I was quite content with my guac, tortilla soup, and crabmeat quesadillas from the appetizer menu. It was refreshing to see that the menu actually consisted of real Spanish words that corresponded to real Mexican food (not that a 1/2 pound of big, beefy, cheesy melt isn’t Spanish…or Mexican…).

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