Eastern Market and Barracks Row Neighborhood Guide

Unless you live in the neighborhood, this section of Capitol Hill can be a bit of a world unto itself. So while many have strolled through the historic market hall on Seventh Street SE and waited in a long line for Market Lunch's blueberry buckwheat pancakes, it's easy for an outsider to overlook the intimate bistros and book shops that sit within the Eastern Market's shadow.

And then there's Barracks Row, on Eighth Street SE, a commercial strip that's seen a bar-and-restaurant boom in recent years, transitioning from a strip marked by empty storefronts to a destination where one can stroll, eat, drink and shop a day away.

--Alex Baldinger

Photo gallery: Get to know the neighborhood

 
 

Acqua al 2

212 7th St. SE, Washington, DC 20003  | 202-525-4375  |  Web site »

It may have opened only in May of last year, but this Italian restaurant landed with some real old-world heritage. The original Acqua al 2 opened in Florence more than 30 years ago and became known for its rustic Tuscan decor and deceptively simple Italian cuisine. In 2000, Acqua al 2 chef Martin Gonzalez returned to his hometown of San Diego to open the restaurant's first colony; 10 years later, fellow Acqua al 2 kitchen hand Ari Gejdenson followed in his footsteps, opening the restaurant's third location in Capitol Hill, blocks from the house he grew up in. The three locations share an identical and quite traditional menu, with heroic portions of pasta and entrees: Fusilli Lunghi alla Contadina ($13), for example, is a simple but satiating plate of pasta, a homemade vegetarian ragu and a Parmesan kick. But as is the Tuscan style, red meat reigns, with the Filetto al Mirtillo ($29), a filet mignon topped with a not-too-sweet blueberry sauce, as the signature standout. --Justin Rude

Capitol Hill Books

657 C St. SE, Washington, DC 20003  | 202-544-1621

First-time visitors are often surprised and a little overwhelmed by Capitol Hill Books. Most of the shelves in the rambling two-story shop are stacked two-deep, as if to reward those who spend time searching. Waist-high stacks of books sit precariously next to aisles, and it's not unusual to hear a clatter as a pile topples to the ground. (Seriously, this, and not the threat of thievery, is why you're asked to leave large bags at the front door.) And yet the staff somehow seems to know where everything is. Here's a quick primer: Washington's best collection of mystery and detective fiction is upstairs in the front room. Vintage cookbooks, wine guides and large photography books are in the way back of the first floor, past the history and politics sections and a bathroom full of foreign-language books. (Told you, no space goes unused.) Fiction is upstairs, and the deep selection of books about the Washington area is along the east wall. (Fun fact: The shop originally only took up the first floor. Owner William Kerr, a Jesuit priest and Washington Post employee, lived in an apartment upstairs. After Kerr died in 1994, in what is now the Mystery Room, the new owners expanded the business.) Capitol Hill Books can be a zoo on Saturdays, but you shouldn't miss the free wine-and-cheese tasting, which happens on the second Saturday of the month from 4 to 7 p.m. I prefer to stop in on lazy Sunday afternoons, when I can take my time and linger while searching for Margery Allingham detective stories or browsing for old guides to Washington's forgotten buildings and be thankful that my favorite bookstore is here for another day. --Fritz Hahn

Montmartre

327 Seventh St. SE, Washington, DC 20003  | 202-544-1244

Ten years in operation doesn't make for an old restaurant, but in a neighborhood marked by more recent arrivals than the international terminal at Paris-Charles de Gaulle Airport, chef Stephane Lezla's Montmartre stands out as something of a neighborhood institution. The 48-seat petit four of a bistro, warmed by the display kitchen and the golden hue of the earthtone wallpaper, is electric without being overstimulating: simmering conversation, sizzling skillets and the clinking of wine glasses provide the only soundtrack over the dinner hour. An exploration of the menu proves a survey of French comfort foods, recognizable without being pedestrian: No steak frites here. Instead, turn your attention to the escargot ($7.95), slathered in a garlic-pesto sauce that begs to be soaked up by the crusty French bread (or, as on a recent visit, hunks of hot garlic-basted dough from Seventh Hill, the adjacent pizzeria co-owned by Lezla and Christophe Raynal). The cassoulet ($21.95) defines the word savory: golden duck leg confit, served atop cannellini, French sausage and a generous ladle of jus. Meanwhile, the rockfish with red beet risotto and white wine sauce ($21.95) shows how a simple piece of fish can take on a life of its own given the right hands and ingredients. There's no dessert menu, per se: That day's items are presented tableside by your server, typifying the bistro's convivial flare. --Alex Baldinger

Peregrine Espresso

660 Pennsylvania Ave. SE, Washington, DC 20003  | 202-629-4381  |  Web site »

In a city that often feels like there's a Starbucks or Caribou for every member of Congress, finding a true neighborhood coffee shop is an increasingly rare feat. And while the Starbucks that sits catty-corner at Eighth Street and Pennsylvania Avenue SE certainly isn't hurting for business, Peregrine (from the Latin "peregrinus," or "foreign") has captured the hearts and taste buds of locals - undoubtedly, some of those very members of Congress - since it opened in 2008. It's the individual attention customers receive that puts Peregrine a cup above: The baristas brew each order of coffee, tea or espresso ($2-$4.25) using separate personal-sized filters, so no one gets stuck with the dregs of the morning's batch. Any latte or cappuccino order pops up on the counter with a delicate heart design drawn into the foam. The monthly menu of specialty espresso drinks consistently puts your standard grande vanilla latte to shame - last month's boasted a honey latte with cedar and rosemary-infused milk. This month, look out for a tiramisu-flavored espresso drink and spiced hot chocolate. Peregrine gets its beans from Counter Culture Coffee, a fair-trade supplier that promotes the use of sustainable cultivation practices. Coffees rotate seasonally, with more Ethiopian and Kenyan varieties in the winter months and more Latin American brews as spring comes around. Nearby residents can even have their beans delivered by bicycle. If that isn't neighborly, nothing is. --Jessica Righthand

Hill's Kitchen

713 D St. SE, Washington, DC 20003  | 202-543-1997  |  Web site »

Walking between Seventh and Eighth streets SE along D Street, one could easily overlook this gray Victorian rowhouse as one of Capitol Hill's ubiquitous refurb jobs. But a peek inside the window reveals a shop that's a culinarian's pantry of cookie-cutters shaped like U.S. states, mountains of enviable Le Creuset cookware and various devices to help one poach an egg. Head upstairs, though, and you'll find Hill's Kitchen's secret ingredient: A sprawling room of stainless steel cooking islands, cheery wall charts and a sea of gas burners that host the store's regular cooking classes. Would-be gourmets and microwave mavens alike come here to learn basic knife skills, the fine art of quartering and deboning poultry, how to whip up sea scallops and even how to wow houseguests with the humblest of all meals: breakfast. A class on pressure canning led by instructor Nicole Donnelly, while mostly conversational, is fact-filled and tempered, seeking to instill a dread of botulism in home cooks without actually scaring anyone away from the practice of canning. --Fiona Zublin

Ted's Bulletin

505 Eighth St. SE, Washington, DC 20003  | 202-544-8337  |  Web site »

Restaurateurs discovered long ago that nostalgia can be a very appetizing menu item. Like a dollop of butter atop a stack of blueberry pancakes, family-style eateries - among them, the Silver Diner chain and the American City Diner in Upper Northwest - serve up diner favorites with several pats of classic Americana: 25-cent jukeboxes that play hits by Buddy Holly and Elvis; kids meals served in paper trays shaped like classic Studebakers; and, of course, thick milkshakes served with the stainless steel mix canister. Ted's Bulletin, which opened in 2010, exists firmly in the present while referencing the past, and not with the gimmickry of sock-hopping waiters or goofy soda fountain hats, either. The milkshake list is a good place to pin-down the zeitgeist: The 14 classic offerings ($5.99) evoke childhood simplicity, while the alcohol-infused adult milkshakes (Spiked Thai Coffee, for instance) are simpatico with the 21st-century bottomless mimosa brunch phenomenon. Several menu items, like the Walk of Shame Burrito ($11.29) and the T.U.B.S. (or "Ted's Ultimate Breakfast Sandwich," $9.49) share a gonzo spirit that would have seemed preposterous to the Greatest Generation. The latter also happens to be to-die-for, with two types of egg joining sausage, bacon and cheddar atop perfectly golden Texas toast. The menu, overseen by the folks behind Matchbox and DC-3 (both of which also occupy nearby retail space on Eighth Street SE) offers breakfast, lunch and dinner, including a panoply of burgers ($10.29-$12.29), sandwiches ($9.79-$14.79) and blue-plate specials such as country-fried steak, meatloaf and ribs ($14.99- $29.79). In other words: Neighborhood diner fare, although this neighborhood diner is surely worth a trip across the city. --Alex Baldinger

Belga Cafe

514 Eighth St. SE, Washington, DC 20003  | 202-544-0100  |  Web site »

Rain or shine, day or night, Belga Cafe is always packed. And for good reason - the restaurant serves up well-loved staples of Belgian cuisine for every meal of the day, with the singular flair of Belgian chef and owner Bart Vandaele. Belga's casual atmosphere evokes a bustling, European sidewalk cafe that has been picked up and harmoniously plopped on to Eighth Street SE. The atmosphere is classy and authentic; it's not hard to imagine Vandaele feeling as at home here as in his former post as executive chef at the Dutch Embassy. But Belga also maintains a decidedly unpretentious, distinctly neighborhood vibe. Stop by for brunch, and you'll have your pick of crepes and waffles - try the savory goat cheese waffle ($10.50) or share the fluffy-but-rich nutella crepes ($9). Egg dishes range from "green" eggs with melted spinach and herbed pesto ($13.25) to the perennial favorite, poached eggs with smoked salmon and asparagus ($14). Lunch and dinner open up a world of mussels prepared several different ways ($18.99 for a bucket), hanger steak and frites (with mayo; no ketchup here) and much more. Don't forget the extensive beer list, featuring well-known favorites such as Leffe Brune and Hoegaarden, as well as Belgian ales seldom found outside their country of origin. Portions are light, and presentation is simple and elegant. Eat here and you'll go forth pleasantly satiated, not sunk into a food coma. --Jessica Righthand

The Fridge

516 1/2 8th St. SE (Rear alley), Washington, DC 20003  | 202-664-4151  |  Web site »

In an alley just past the cafe chic of Belga Cafe and the brash yellow glow of Banana Cafe lays the Fridge, a gallery that could seem an anomaly in buttoned-up Capitol Hill. Launched by graphic designer Alex Goldstein in 2009, the Fridge has carved out a niche specializing in street art and public art, two mediums more likely to be painted over than to hang on gallery walls. Yet, the Fridge has, in its short tenure, brought a gust of cool to the neighborhood. In an economy that hasn't been especially kind to galleries, the Fridge has bet on a diversified portfolio: Besides mounting exhibitions by artists such as painter Laura Elkins, muralist Decoy and public artists Mark Jenkins and Tim Conlon, every month, the Fridge plays host to the Sunday Circus, a night of live performance that can veer from slam poetry to stilt-walking to fire dancing to storytelling without missing a beat (the next one is Sunday at 6:17 p.m.). Or you might find yourself there for an electronic music festival (Goldstein, a DJ, built the space with its own DJ booth). Most compelling, however, is that the Fridge has evolved into an arts classroom for the community, teaming up with gallery artists and artist collective Albus Cavus to offer weekly art workshops for $20 a pop. Students - who range from school kids, to youths from the Boys & Girls Club to adult hobbyists from the neighborhood - might learn magic tricks from David London or muraling from major urban artist Gaia or tape sculpture from Jenkins. All of which has helped turn an alley in Capitol Hill into its own eclectic little arts community. --Lavanya Ramanathan

Lola's Barracks Bar & Grill

711 8th St. SE, Washington, DC 20003  | 202-547-5652

Xavier Cervera is a mogul on Barracks Row, where his empire includes Molly Malone's, the Chesapeake Room and the forthcoming Pacifico. But it all started with cozy little Lola's, and in many ways, it's still the best. Few other spots scream "neighborhood" as much as this one-room bar does, from the old sepia-toned photos of the Library of Congress and black-and-white images of the Washington Senators on the walls to the dog-friendly rear patio, which Cervera created as a refuge for his own pups. More than that, though, Lola's is just comfortable. The high-backed leather bar stools are more like thrones than the usual rickety stools. The tables are broad, with seats for six. Antique light fixtures and crown molding give the place a more timeless saloon quality. It's no wonder that the bar attracts a slightly older crowd than some of its neighbors. Comfort bar food is on the menu - a pate and brie platter, steak sandwiches, wings tossed in Old Bay - and there's a food and drink special offered every night after 7 p.m. There are rumors about Lola's expanding upward in the near future - nothing has been approved yet - but we can only hope it keeps the same sort of charm. --Fritz Hahn

Homebody

715 Eighth St. SE, Washington, DC 20003  | 202-544-8445

A haven for those seeking eclectic gifts or modern furniture with a mid-century edge, Homebody combines housewares, candles, bath products, jewelry, home furnishings and enough coffee and tea supplies to keep you caffeinated for years. But the end result isn't the usual boutique hodgepodge: Owners Henriette Fourcade and Erin Mara have carefully edited their merchandise, focusing on the tactile, trendy and slightly offbeat. The front half of the 2,500-square-foot store is dedicated to gift-worthy items, including lotions and potions from all-natural, eco-friendly lines Erbaviva and Dani. Espresso makers and teapots from Bodum are arranged in neat rows next to Black Blum's clever bento-box-style food storage containers. Two counter displays showcase locally designed jewelry, which ranges from handmade necklaces by Nan Lopata to Jon Wye's leather cuffs to Kerkhoven Design's cuff links crafted from slivers of auto-body paint. The remaining space is filled with an array of contemporary furnishings, from sturdy geometric sofas in muted hues to quirky asterisk-shaped stools and coffee tables cut in the shape of the District. The store celebrated its five-year anniversary in early February, and Fourcade, a first-generation American who grew up in the District, says her clientele feel fully at home here. She nods toward a tray of homemade cupcakes that a regular customer dropped off earlier. "It's like a little Mayberry," she says. --Holly Thomas

The Ugly Mug

723 Eighth St. SE, Washington, DC 20003  | 202-547-8459

The Ugly Mug is Barracks Row's resident sports bar, with all the trappings thereof. Large flat-screen TVs hang on every wall, so you'll always have a view of the action, whether you're on a stool at the bar or ensconced at one of the horseshoe-shaped tables in the dining room a few feet away. With 24 beers on draft and a menu that stars numerous bar-food staples, including nachos that can be smothered in beer cheese and hearty stromboli-style Mug Rolls, this is where you want to be when March Madness rolls around, or a spot to meet your buddies at happy hour before walking over to a Nationals game. (Happy hour runs from 4 to 7 p.m. Mondays to Thursdays and 4 to 9 p.m. on Fridays, and includes $4 beers and rail drinks and $6 pepperoni rolls.) On the Mug's Tuesday game night, high scores on Wii Bowling and Big Buck Hunter are rewarded with $20 gift certificates. But the Mug's claim to fame, as it were, is as the host of viewing parties for Ultimate Fighting Championship pay-per-view bouts. Whenever mixed martial arts are scheduled, the Mug gets packed with fight-loving locals and Marines from the barracks across the street. The energy is infectious, and you may find yourself going home with one of the bar's Fight Night T-shirts, looking forward to the next big championship event. --Fritz Hahn

Stitch DC

731 Eighth St. SE, Washington, DC 20003  | 202-544-8900

As Marie Connolly, owner of Barracks Row yarn emporium Stitch DC, unpacks soft bundles of yarn in this season's bright colors, she chats with a customer, casually spinning free advice about the different twists on each yarn. Though some knitters may be intimidated by her ability to whip up a pattern before they could even finish a row of purl stitches, she is never bothered by those asking for her advice. Rather, Connolly offers the same help she received when making socks at age 9. "Whenever I had a problem, I went down to the local yarn shop and asked for help," she said. "Just like people do here." Simply known as "the yarn shop" to many of its visitors (it has been the sole one in the District for most of its existence), Connolly has turned a small space made smaller by a courtyard into a mecca for those seeking the softest knit. A chalkboard in the back is scrawled with steps to finish a hat, while a table holding supplies and adorned by vivid plastic chairs waits for the next knitting or quilting class to gather. Let your fingers graze over the mohair, cashmere and wool threads upon the shelves, and it's easy to feel why knitters prefer a visit to StitchDC than a crafting supply superstore: The store is all about the yarn. "I choose what I love," Connolly said. And to loyal customers, that's the highest recommendation. --Kristen Boghosian

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