District Taco – Arlington

30 03 2011

“You had me at taco.” – Taco Bell Sauce Packet

District Taco Exterior

Where did the Little Caesars go?

District Taco began life as a simple taco truck roaming the streets of Arlington. They mainly cater to lunchtime business customers in high density commercial areas (Crystal City, Rosslyn, etc.) But this past fall they opened up a brick and mortar establishment on Lee Highway (near Joe’s Pizza and Pasta). I knew about the taco truck and how good it was, as well as the opening of the Lee Highway location, but like many things in life I just kept putting it off. I don’t know the reason for my aversion, I like tacos, I like federal districts, what’s the problem? Anyways I finally went to District Taco with LGF and Brewdib and immediately regretted not going sooner.  This place is awesome.

DT Interior
Where’s the HFCS?

The interior set up at District Taco is pretty standard for a casual dining/semi-fast food restaurant. One notable exception though is the Boylan’s fountain soda machine. Boylan’s is a New Jersey based soda company, that unlike the larger soda conglomerates still uses cane sugar as its primary sweetener rather than the ubiquitous High Fructose Corn Syrup. There’s also a rather awesome salsa and condiments bar.


Not my tacos, but I wish they were

I ordered two chicken tacos with black beans, jalapenos, and cheese. In the time it took me to find a seat and place my jacket and drink down the tacos were ready. I then went to the salsa bar, loaded them up with chopped onions and various salsas and was good to go. The quality of the chicken used was surprisingly good and you could really taste the fact that it was grilled (unlike Chipotle). I was also surprised at how much two tacos filled me up, but as you can see in the picture above you can stuff a lot into a taco. One of my friends got the habanero salsa (not available at the salsa bar, must be requested at the counter) and I poured a bunch on my second taco. This salsa is no joke, if you love spicy food I highly suggest it. (Note: Habanero salsa is excellent for giving to unsuspecting people that don’t like spicy things).

I highly suggest you go to District Taco and give them your business. Good food, good prices ($5 will get you two tacos and a water cup), and you’re supporting an independent establishment. The following day I went to Chipotle for lunch and honestly after District Taco I was disappointed by the subpar quality of the food and was wishing I had gone to District instead. Also District Taco will be doing sidewalk vending at Nationals games, as well as continuing to run the original taco truck.

Note: The images used in this review are not my own. Clicking on them will take you to the original source.

District Taco Website

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Cafe Tirolo – Arlington

11 03 2011

“And I don’t cook, either. Not as long as they still deliver pizza.” – Tiger Woods

Cafe Tirolo

Ballston's Greatest Secret?

One cold Thursday back in January we needed somewhere to eat dinner quick. Several usual suspects were named: Chipotle, Super Pollo, Italian Store, etc. Then a new challenger entered the melee, Cafe Tirolo. Apparently it had everything we could ever want (cheap pizza at a good price) so off we went. The reason I had never heard of Cafe Tirolo is that it is hidden, as in tucked behind the back of an apartment building across the street from Central Library hidden. You would never know this little place existed, and thankfully it does.

I was extremely famished that evening so I ordered a medium Pizza Bianca for $5.95 as soon as I saw it on the menu. The order system was standard for small pizza places; place your order and pay at the counter, sit down and your pie is brought to you. As soon as the pizza hit the table I sprinkled on some red pepper flakes and then did not stop eating until it was done. The medium was the perfect amount of a truly famished individual.

The pizza had a nice, thin dough and crust with an excellent consistency and chew to it. You could taste the olive oil used to make it, but it wasn’t overwhelmingly greasy. Tirolo’s had achieved that sometimes hard to reach middle point between dry and too greasy. The cheese and the garlic based white sauce worked together perfectly to just bring the pizza together. I’m a big fan of white pizza so I could not have been more satisfied. My friends had split a large and they too seemed to be enjoying it just as much as I was. They also ordered desserts, which looked great and according to them tasted amazing.

I highly recommend Cafe Tirolo to anyone that wants good cheap pizza without a huge wait or fancy atmosphere. The other items on their menu also looked extremely appetizing so it seems you can’t go wrong with whatever you order. Cafe Tirolo is the out of the way pizza place/deli that only you and your friends knew about in college and took full advantage of.

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(Note: The image used above is not my own. Clicking on it will take you to the original source)

Tapa Tapa Tapas – Spain [Franklin Smith]

8 01 2011

Tapas.  I am sure that everyone has heard this word.  And then after hearing it, they turn away in disgust — mostly because in America, tapas signifies some foodie-gourmand-‘my taste buds are better than yours’-type of eating that leaves normal folks hungry and poor at the end of the meal.

But with some very limited experience here, my attitude has changed.  Tapas in Spain are amazing.  It is like having a multiple course meal for the price of a hamburger.  Here is what you do: walk in fearlessly to any of the number of tapas bars in the city you are patronizing.  Do not be intimidated by the old men or the black tie/white shirt waiters.  They only add to the atmosphere.  You can see a menu if you want, or you can just point to whatever looks good behind the bar.  There is a ton of food back there, and most of it costs around 2 euros.  Granted, there is usually only enough for 4-5 bites, but there is so much variety to choose from.  Jamon, cheese, Spanish tortilla, anchovies, croquettes, fried cod, spinach with chickpeas, shrimp, octopus, meatballs, chicken wings, chorizo, white esparagus, etc etc etc.  So, you just keep ordering tapa after tapa after tapa.  Then after the 4th or 5th plate, you realize, “wow, I’m pretty full”, and you walk out of the place with an amazing and strange mixture of food in your stomach.

Tapas (Madrid)

Apparently these tapas are from Madrid

Tapas are different in every region of Spain, partly because most of the ingredients are fresh and local.  So, if you are by the sea, you are going to be eating a lot of seafood tapas.  But tapas are also different because one region is so distinct from another.  Your experience in the south in Granada is going to be worlds apart from your experience in the north in San Sebastian.  The surrounding culture influences a tapa experience just as much as the ingredients themselves do.

My favorite so far has been Granada.  Here, you don’t even order anything specific — you just resign yourself to fate, because tapas come free with any drink.  Ordering a glass of beer or wine gives you free food.  The waiter looks at you and then decides what you need, no questions or preferences asked.  They frequently give out massive bagel sandwiches, with ham and cheese in the middle.    I never even dare to request a specific tapa, in fear that I might throw off an unspoken bond of understanding established with the waiter.  In some ways it is easier — all you have to do is sit back, drink your beer, and eat whatever they put in front of you.  The best part is, at the end of the night, you have gotten free beers out of the deal (or free tapas, depending on how you look at it).

Granada Sandwiches

How to libate in Granada

On the other end of the tapa spectrum is San Sebastian.  There is a different language up there in Basque Country, and instead of tapas, they call them pintxos (peeeeenchos).  In all of the bars in this city, there are platters upon platters filled up with different bite-sized portions of picturesque, saliva-inducing food.  And everything is impaled with a toothpick, for easy access.  The technique here is almost like a buffet; grab an empty plate, and then work your way down the bar, filling it up with whatever strikes your fancy.  The barman keeps track of how many you have eaten, and you pay at the end of the meal.  Each toothpick-skewered portion costs 1-2 euro.  If you aren’t careful, you can end up like that fat kid in Willy Wonka, eating everything in sight, and then getting kicked out because you can’t pay the 100 euro bar bill that you have somehow accumulated in only 15 minutes.

My goal now is this: weirdly alluding back to Pokemon (pokedex, categorization of diversity), I want to make a ‘tapadex’, an encyclopedia of tastiness that can be shared and bettered by tapas-eaters all over the world.  Hopefully it won’t ever have an end.

Note: The images above are not originally Franklin’s. Clicking on the image will take you to the original site.

George Castañas – Spain [Franklin Smith]

8 11 2010

Today, the elementary school I work at celebrated “the foods of autumn”.  School closed an hour early, and about 75 Spanish children invaded the nearby park with some parents to get their snack on.  And snack they did.  Typical Spanish autumn fare is not what I expected; roasted chestnuts, walnuts, dried figs, and pomegranates.  While American kids are still gorging themselves on Halloween candy, these Spaniards are being oddly healthy.


Newspaper: Spanish for cup

By far the most interesting of these foods are the roasted chestnuts. This is the Spanish variety though, and they are called castañas, and they are everywhere.  The grocery stores carry barrels of them you can buy per kilo.  Today, the Spanish mothers took castañas, roasted them over a fire, and wrapped some in newspaper for personal portions.  Eating a castaña is like eating a peanut; you have to peel back the hard outer shell and a second inner skin to reveal the treasure inside.  The actual nut looks like a big walnut, but with a saltier taste.  The castañas are hot, and they fall apart in your mouth when you are eating.   Walnut + hot boiled peanut + a Pringle = hot roasted castaña.   By the end of our celebration, the park resembled a massacre. Kids were passed out on benches surrounded by castaña shells and torn-up newspaper, the only remains of this fall feeding frenzy.

There are also vendors in my town that sell castañas on the street corners.  Their carts are surrounded by a wet steam smell of barbequed nuts, and if you look closely, you can see that most of the salesmen are missing at least one finger.

The second unique Spanish food I learned about is a little walnut and fig sandwich called a casera.  Rip the fig in half, put the walnut inside, close the fig, and eat.  It gives you the crunchy texture the fig lacks that, after eating, you realize you always wanted in figs but had never known it.  Best of all, it can be eaten in one bite.

Pomegranates are ripped apart and the seeds are eaten straight from the fleshy cobwebbed part of the fruit.  Sprinkle some sugar on top, but don’t let them stain your clothes.  (Also, if you are a beautiful girl in Ancient Greece, watch out if the God of the Underworld tries to convince you to eat one.)

These traditional fall foods have a mysterious earthy feel to them, like they came out of the depths of some lost forest, covered in dirt.  They are healthy and savory, but in the end, there was still some nagging part of my memory that kept reminding me of the sweet corn-syrupy and sugar-crashing goodness we all associate with this time of the year.  These kids are really missing out.

Side Note: The image used in this post is not Franklin’s. Clicking on the image will take you to the original site.

Amsterdam Falafel – Adam’s Morgan

5 10 2010

“I was wondering, do you deliver falafel to the top of Mt. Zion? Great. I’d like a large falafel with pepperoni, sausage, and extra cheese. Yes, I know what a falafel is.” – Homer Simpson


Front of the Shop


Amsterdam Falafel is a place that is near and dear to my heart. They are on a very short list of places who’s food I will specifically crave. They have a very unassuming shopfront due to the fact that they’re built into a townhouse. The interior feels just like they’ve invited you into their underground, quasi-legal food joint. A breath of fresh air from the generic modern look of the gentrified, yuppie food dispensaries. They keep it simple here: they serve falafel and fries (with purchasable baked goods). Their prices are simple: $10 for falafel, soda, and fries (tax included). All you have to say is combo white or wheat depending on what type of pita you desire. That’s the simplest ordering system I’ve ever seen in DC, which becomes quite obvious if you come here after partaking in the night life. That’s not to say that this place isn’t totally awesome in the daytime either as a lunch spot.

They fry up the balls for the falafel and the fries in small batches so your food always tastes fresh and hot. They then simply hand you your falafel in a paper bag and fries in a paper cup, the rest is up to you. That’s right, there’s a topping bar.


Forget the bedroom, this is where the magic happens


They have a sheet on top of the topping bar to guide you through the proper process if it is your first time. Namely crushing the balls of your falafel before putting in toppings and a few rules regarding taking extra toppings in extra containers. As you can see, there are a plethora of toppings available for your falafel and I advise you to constantly try new stuff and don’t be afraid. The Turkish Salad is a must-have though; I cannot stress how excellent it truly is. There is even an iPhone Application for topping selection available on their website. There is also a selection of sauces to the left of the topping bar as well as a selection of sauces for your fries next to the soda machine. The peanut butter sauce is phenomenal and immediately became the default condiment for any French Fries I consumed there.

Try to avoid getting the itis after coming here, I challenge you. I know I have yet to accomplish this daring feat.

Amsterdam Falafel Website

(Note: Images used in this review are not my own. If you click on the image it will take you to the source website I borrowed them from)

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