Where can you eat at or around the MCI Center? That's a question for thousands of people every week headed out for a Caps or a Wizards or a Hoyas game.
The answer: There are dozens of options. Since Abe Pollin announced in 1995 that he would build his new arena at Seventh and F streets NW, atop the Gallery Place Metro station, the area has been transformed.
There are now steakhouses (four and counting), Mexican/Tex-Mex places (three), brew pubs (two), a supper club, a Spanish cantina, a seafood house, a couple of chains and the full array of Chinatown -- all within walking distance.
The newest addition is the drop-dead gorgeous Zaytinya in the Pepco Building at Ninth and G streets NW. The restaurant, a collaboration between the owners of nearby Cafe Atlantico and Jaleo, specializes in little plates, known as mezze, of Greek, Turkish and Lebanese origins.
The space is transporting -- all whitewash and deep Aegean blue. Lots of candles, white upholstery on the banquettes and the plain, dark chairs, hammered copper serving pieces and hundreds of little white china plates. There are more than 60 mezze on the menu, ranging from the traditional (spanakopita and fattoush) to contemporary pairings such as beef tenderloin with vin santo sauce and roasted shallots and scallops with a yogurt and dill sauce.
Just across the street are two of the largest restaurants in the area: Angelo and Maxie's and Gordon Biersch. Both are local renditions of successful national operations. Angelo and Maxie's hails from New York (the name comes from Al Dubin's lyrics for "Lullaby of Broadway") and has a capacity of nearly 400 in its cavernous Arts and Crafts-inspired space.
Giant ribeyes are the featured fare, followed by mammoth desserts (try the deep-dish apple crisp). Havana Rick's is a special interior room for smoking cigars. Michael Jordan is among those who have a private humidor there.
The even larger (capacity: 600-plus) Gordon Biersch is the only mid-Atlantic outpost of a California-based brew pub empire. Housed in a historic former Riggs Bank building, Gordon Biersch serves only the German-style beer it brews (and serves in traditional large beer glasses and mugs), but its upscale tavern menu shows Cajun, Asian and Italian influences.
Also new to the MCI Center area is Legal Sea Foods, in the block of Seventh Street where the venerable Golden Palace served dim sum for decades. Note the name in Chinese characters on the front window, also on those of Ruby Tuesday and Fuddruckers, which fill out the block.
In contrast to the sometimes raucous atmosphere of some nearby restaurants, Nick & Stef's Steakhouse -- on the first floor of the sporting complex -- is sleek, sinuous and sedate. The clubby, dark wood interior seen in many such places has been given a contemporary twist, with soaring wooden ceiling baffles and deep taupe banquettes. Open Monday through Saturday (plus any Sunday or holiday there is a game), Nick & Stef's provides ticket holders a special entrance into the MCI Center through a locked back door of the restaurant, a maneuver that can shave 30 minutes off the wait to get inside.
There is no lack of food in the MCI Center itself.
Those with either club level season tickets or access to the private suites have the greatest number of choices. Such ticket holders can dine before or during the game in the private Acela Club, which features two rows of arena-side tables. (And, yes, at least five hockey pucks have made it all the way up there, but there is new netting to protect diners from future landings.)
And just in case you can't see every move on the floor, there's always the Jumbotron and closed-circuit televisions situated every four tables. There is a lavish buffet before each game and either buffet or a la carte service during games (by reservation only). A bar at one end of the club offers more arena-side seating.
For those privy to one of the suites, the array of food that can be ordered -- and served -- en suite is almost endless: from popcorn to tenderloin, fajitas to cheesecake.
Club level ticket holders also have access to four themed concession stands: the Hill Grill, featuring grill items; Fattore Camp (Home Court Advantage) with Italian specialties such as panini; Nothin' But Net, with crab cakes and fish and chips; and D.C. Market, which offers deli sandwiches.
For everyone else, there are concession stands along every concourse, offering the usual ($4 hot dogs, $3.75 french fries, $5.50 hamburgers, $8.25 chicken tenders, $3.75 sodas and $6 beer) and the not-so-usual ($11 Papa John's pizzas, $6.75 pulled-pork sandwiches, $9.25 Hunan beef and broccoli and $3.25 spring rolls).
Perhaps the best bargain in the building is the F Street Sports Bar, on the second level of the MCI Center. Entry is free (no ticket required, though there is also a special entrance to the arena from the bar); beers are $3; and there are banks of large-screen televisions with closed-circuit feeds from the floor and satellite broadcasts of other sports events. Capacity is about 800, and it's the only smoking area in the building.
If your family has a dish that is always a part of your Thanksgiving celebration but isn't part of the traditional turkey-stuffing-potatoes menu, and you are willing to share the recipe and its background, please contact Nancy Lewis at firstname.lastname@example.org.