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City's Restaurants Serve Up a World of Variety

Thursday, April 21, 2005; Page DC64

What is the ultimate Washington dining experience?

For many tourists, it's a quick snack at one of the major museums or a pizza delivered to their hotel room. For many new residents, it's exploring the variety of ethnic cuisines they probably never encountered in their hometown.


Bread Line owner Mark Furstenberg does some early morning baking at his downtown store to prepare for the day. The restaurant features great sandwiches on its flavorful bread. (Michael Williamson -- The Washington Post)

For more settled residents, the ultimate Washington dining experience is likely to be found in places where they won't run into a lot of tourists or newcomers. It's a neighborhood restaurant that serves food interesting enough to keep them coming back, in an atmosphere that makes them feel comfortable, perhaps even a part of the family. Of course, they also sample some of the big-name restaurants more suited to an expense account.

There was a time when converted rowhouses were home to many of the city's upscale restaurants, even along Pennsylvania Avenue. Most are gone, though a few remain, such as Obelisk near Dupont Circle, 1789 in Georgetown and the Brasserie on Capitol Hill.

A more contemporary trend is creating restaurants that -- by their architecture, ambience and food -- seem to transport diners to another place.

Here are some recommendations for your ultimate Washington dining experience.

Southern

Just because it is south of the Mason-Dixon line doesn't make Washington a southern town, especially when it comes to real southern cooking. Several restaurants claim to offer southern cooking and then do something such as put sugar in their corn bread, which simply isn't done in the South. Some of the best southern home cooking is found at several downtown churches that operate cafeterias or dining rooms, aimed mostly at downtown office workers.

Saints Paradise Cafeteria at the United House of Prayer for All People (601 M St. NW, 202-789-2289) serves breakfast, lunch and dinner daily. Hundreds of people line up for the chicken, ribs, pork chops, fish, macaroni and cheese, greens, green beans, cabbage, rice, candied sweet potatoes, peach cobbler and banana pudding, among other offerings.

Greater New Hope Baptist Church (816 Eighth St. NW, 202-842-1036) serves lunch Wednesdays through Fridays. The menu includes pork chops, barbecued ribs, fish, baked chicken and beef liver, with all the trimmings. Other choices include Cole's Cafe (1918 Martin Luther King Ave. SE, 202-889-9588), the Florida Avenue Grill (1100 Florida Ave. NW, 202-265-1586) and Levi's Port Cafe (1102 Eighth St. SE, 202-547-6500).

Although the setting seems unlikely, the sleek new Palette (1177 15th St. NW, 202-587-2700, www.palettedc.com), in the renovated Madison Hotel, turns out stellar shrimp and grits. Chef James Clark's South Carolina roots are evident in the yummy meatloaf, chorizo and grits and sweet potato soup.

The Colorado Kitchen (5515 Colorado Ave. NW, 202-545-8280) has southern roots, too, and it shows not only in the Deep South small-town cafe decor -- chrome and red vinyl chairs and tables and cutesy character salt and pepper shakers -- but in the lunch shrimp po' boy and the mile-high lemon meringue pie that could easily take first place at the Southeastern Fair in Atlanta.

Seafood

The Southwest waterfront was once lined with large fish restaurants that served the bounty of the Chesapeake Bay. The home-grown fish places are mostly gone, and national chains such as Legal Sea Foods and McCormick & Schmick's dominate.

One stalwart holdover is the Market Inn (200 E St. SW, 202-554-2100, www.marketinnrestaurant.com), a Washington institution for more than four decades. The menu is extensive, with some 85 seafood and beef selections. There are so many regulars, it's almost like a private club. There's piano music in the evenings and brunch on Sundays.

Kinkead's (2000 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, 202-296-7700, www.kinkead.com) is the new Washington homegrown fish house, but it specializes in almost everything but crab (there is a crab cake appetizer). The downstairs bar is often more welcoming than other areas of the restaurant, where there are definitely Siberia seats.


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