Best D.C. area iconic eats photo
(Jeffrey Porter/For the Washington Post)

Best D.C. area iconic eats

Justin Rude  |  Updated 10/27/2011

With the coming of the holidays, an influx of relatives and old friends is imminent. Although Washington's restaurant scene has exploded with trendy urban dining destinations, it sometimes feels as if those establishments could be in any big city. When you're hosting out-of-town guests or catching up with prodigal friends, the real treat is to visit one of these iconic local places that can't be replicated.

 

Ben's Chili Bowl

Washington, DC

I can hear the groans from here. Look, I understand that Ben's makes practically every list of important D.C. restaurants. But each time I return to the counter that Ben and Virginia Ali erected in 1958, I'm reminded of two things: 1. Despite being oversold as Washington's only unique regional dish, a half-smoke smothered in chili is awesome; and 2. A busy evening inside Ben's is everything an outing here should be: a little hectic, friendly, racially and economically diverse, and steeped in history.

 

Bob & Edith's Diner

Arlington, VA

Growing up in a Northern Virginia suburb, I spent many a night at shows across the river (R.I.P. Capitol Ballroom). Those excursions almost always concluded with late-night breakfast at a greasy spoon in Arlington known as Bob & Edith's. Post-midnight crowds at the diner, which opened in 1969, were anything but serene, as customers crowded the snug booths and Formica tables for plates of home fries, fried eggs and waffles. These days, I'm far more likely to meet my friends over a morning breakfast with our children. But although much has shifted in our lives, Bob and Edith Bolton's throwback diner remains largely unchanged.

 

Florida Avenue Grill

Washington, DC

The Florida Avenue Grill has been pushing plates of honest soul food since 1944, and you don't need to be an original patron to see that not much has changed in that stretch. The menu, complete with hotcakes, scrapple, pork chops, trotters, fried apples and catfish, is a timeless classic, and so is the cheerful and welcoming service. It's easy to love a place when everyone inside, patrons and staff alike, seems so happy to be there.

 

Horace & Dickies Seafood

Washington, DC

Just over 20 years old, this Northeast D.C. carryout is the baby on this list, but it has become an institution in its H Street neighborhood. Order a fried whiting sandwich, and you will see why: That isn't a miniature bun in your foam container; the gargantuan fried fillets just warp your sense of perspective. Long lunch lines mean a bit of a wait, but it's an easy sacrifice for such a classic sandwich.

 

Jerry's Seafood

Lanham, MD

This Lanham restaurant, which officially opened in 1983, is known primarily for one thing: the Crab Bomb. That's a 10-ounce, physics-defying sphere of jumbo lump crab meat, barely kissed with Old Bay and held together with a miraculously small amount of mayo. Jerry's is now owned by a nephew of its eponymous founder, but the Crab Bomb, and some excellent crab soups, keep it standing tall among Prince George's County's premier crustacean destinations.

 

Mangialardo and Sons Inc. Italian Deli

Washington, DC

The District isn't widely recognized as a great hoagie town. And, sure, we don't have the sandwich pedigree of Philadelphia or Chicago. But I bet we would have a better national standing if this 58-year-old counter-service deli were on more tourist maps. Mangialardo's most popular sub, the "G" Man, makes for a wonderful meaty meal. Named for the FBI agents who inspired its invention, the hefty creation layers ham, salami, mortadella and pepperoni with provolone and fontina cheese for one of the city's best sandwiches. The diverse and already large crowds of Capitol Hill workers and neighborhood types aren't likely to lament the lack of out-of-town recognition.

 

Old Ebbitt Grill

Washington, DC

This list might as well end with another place that is likely to produce groans. Yes, it doesn't get more stuffy-old-D.C. than this, and I'm pretty indifferent to most of the cooking done at this iconic downtown haunt, which claims to have been around since 1856. But I am a fan of their shucking, and I defy anyone to find a sweeter deal than the Orca Platter at the Old Ebbitt. Not only is the $99.95 plate so massive that it can easily feed half a dozen friends, but it's available for half-price during the raw-bar happy hours, which run from 3 to 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. to 1 a.m. Monday through Thursday. The two-tiered feast features a pound of lobster and a dozen each of oysters, clams, crab claws and jumbo shrimp. Good friends gathered late at night with drinks and a veritable mountain of shellfish? That, my friends, is how you catch up.

 

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