top 200 commentsshow all 403

[–]-DYBIM- 230 points231 points  (28 children)

Can we have a top ten budget picks for the broke graduate students?

[–]stache_twistaDC / Brightwood Park 129 points130 points  (9 children)

Can’t remember if Tom wrote this but WaPo a few years ago declared the stretch of 14th St between Spring Road and Quincy (Taqueria Habanero, Mezcalero, etc) the best stretch of cheap restaurants in DC. I’m going to extend this a little further north to Little Coco’s and neighboring places too

Edit: Here's a link to that story (from Sept. 2018, also RIP Little Havana) https://wapo.st/3WXDCb3

[–]ballastboy1 45 points46 points  (2 children)

Pupusas on Mt Pleasant and Tacos on that stretch of 14th are some of the best budget options in that area.

[–]dc_co 2 points3 points  (0 children)

Pollo sabroso is like $10 too off 14th and in Mt Pleasant.

[–]johnbrownbody 11 points12 points  (0 children)

Little Coco

This place is wonderful but you have to get a reservation for brunch these days! It's getting too much hype.

[–]Ornery-Classic-894 7 points8 points  (1 child)

If you extend a little further south you pick up Pho Viet, The Artemis, and Tequila & Mezcal

[–]SuspiciousLeek4 8 points9 points  (2 children)

Not sure about the others, but Taqueria Habenero's prices seem to have gone up significantly in the last few years (or am i crazy)

[–]johnbrownbody 5 points6 points  (0 children)

I think they have gone up somewhat but also I'm not going to complain since it's still incredible imo.

[–]washingtonpostDC / Downtown[S] 34 points35 points  (1 child)

My current list of favorite bargains would definitely include Annie’s Paramount Steakhouse in Dupont Circle, The Tombs in Georgetown, Bindaas Bowls and Rolls in Penn Quarter, Afghan Bistro in Springfield, Shallah Restaurant & Bar in Silver Spring for Ethiopian and Padaek for Laotian in Falls Church — for starters.

Each restaurant was included in my 2022 fall dining guide, focusing on value: https://www.washingtonpost.com/food/interactive/2022/best-restaurants-in-dc-2022/

[–]Daftpunk107 4 points5 points  (0 children)

With respect, the Tombs is not a bargain. Maybe by Georgetown standards it’s below average, but a drink and a burger will still set you back $35.

[–]primeirofilho 17 points18 points  (10 children)

With the economy the way it's been, I think a lot of people would be interested.

[–]dc_co 20 points21 points  (9 children)

Hard to get by under $30/person these days even at mid level eateries these days.

[–]primeirofilho 17 points18 points  (8 children)

Its kind of shocking. My favorite options are ethnic places out in the suburbs since they are cheaper but even those are $15 to $20 for an entree.

[–]dc_co 14 points15 points  (0 children)

Yeah, i'm going through sticker shock recently eating out and it's drastically changed my habits. I used to be a 4+ night out person and now it's maybe 1 or 2.

I don't feel like i'm getting the value for the cost of experience recently.

[–]202markb 7 points8 points  (0 children)

Safeway lol

[–]MountainMantologistArlington 94 points95 points  (19 children)

Hi Tom, big fan of your work!

  1. I've heard of fancy restaurants keeping a log of what restaurant reviewers look like - presumably to make sure they provide extra good service/food/etc - do you think this ever happens to you?
  2. What are some holes in the DC restaurant scene you would like to see filled? We're spoiled for choice here but have you had meals in other cities that just aren't available here and you wish they were?

[–]loogie_hucker 51 points52 points  (11 children)

I can answer 1 for you - absolutely, 10000% yes, and not just fancy restaurants either.

[–]MountainMantologistArlington 8 points9 points  (4 children)

oh damn, can you elaborate on how that works? And what do you do differently if you recognize a guest is a food critic?

I think I heard about that practice as something michelin starred places do - didn't realize non-fancy spots would bother to do the same.

[–]loogie_hucker 48 points49 points  (0 children)

sure. you don't really do anything too differently because that can definitely backfire (think what would happen if a critic wrote about huge portions, and most diners just got small tapas plates, for example). but, you do a lot of small things to make sure the critic's experience is exactly what you want to curate. so, off the top of my head a few small things we would do if we caught wind that a critic was visiting:

  • extra attention to plating. make sure everything is well arranged.

  • food should be "well-represented". e.g. with a beef stew, you'd want to make sure there were the right portions of beef, carrots, potatoes, etc. so they get a comprehensive experience.

  • try and save a better table in the restaurant for them, if we knew they were coming in advance. obviously best available table if we didn't.

  • you'd have your best waitstaff serve them.

i think in general, a lot of folks don't realize how much a food critic's review can make or break a restaurant. so most places, if they know a critic is coming or they recognize one as famous as Tom, will absolutely put in the extra legwork to make sure they have a great experience.

[–]AnExtensiveReportDC / Shaw 16 points17 points  (0 children)

In most cases, well known critics are in a training binder. It’s rare they ever come in with their own name on the reservation and appearance will be the only way to know.

Otherwise we really just treat them as we should any table. Some extra touches and probably letting everybody else take any other busy tables you would have. We’ve never sent them anything extra at places I worked, since they’re there to get a normal feel for it. A manager will 100% keep eyes on the table though.

[–]BirdLawyerPerson 13 points14 points  (0 children)

This article from a little over 5 years ago does a pretty good dive into how restaurants deal with Tom Sietsema.

[–]Pipes_of_Pan 7 points8 points  (4 children)

I am sure Tom doesn't want to give away any trade secrets but most food critics don't arrive looking like their regular self; also, they don't sit alone looking austere and judgey like Ego in Rattatooie - they do their best to blend! :-)

[–]loogie_hucker 4 points5 points  (1 child)

very true! but a face is a face and tom is one of the most high profile faces in dc food :)

[–][deleted] 18 points19 points  (0 children)

for 1, yes, 100%. I was sitting next to Tom at the bar once, and the bartender discreetly pointed him out to me after he stood up.

they absolutely know.

[–]washingtonpostDC / Downtown[S] 33 points34 points  (0 children)

1) I know for a fact a number of restaurants keep tabs on critics, what they look like, the alternate names they use for reservations, even their taste preferences. More than a few times, readers have sent me mug shots establishments have of me, hanging in kitchens or affixed to host stands. (Some are pretty old and/or blurry!) Mine is definitely a bit of a cat-and-mouse game.

2) Being a world capitol, Washington brims with global flavors. But I’d welcome more Nordic, regional Chinese, (genuine) deli and Indonesian representation.

[–]mattchuman 14 points15 points  (0 children)

2 - A diner scene. Specifically, a 24hr diner scene (or really any food that you can get at any hour). Most all you're left with is either fast food or Manny & Olga's. Steak N Eggs and the Diner aren't even truly 24 hours anymore.

[–]darthjoey91Reston 10 points11 points  (0 children)

We're in a FEMA disaster zone by the Waffle House Index.

[–]FlamingTomygun2DC / Waterfront 4 points5 points  (0 children)

  1. I just want actual late night options other than jumbo slice. It's really hard to get food after 10 pm basically.

[–]alagrancosa 1 point2 points  (0 children)

Worked in a fancy restaurant that had just opened up in Bethesda when Tom walked in. This was like 2005 or so and at least 2 people recognized him

[–]smokehidesstars 42 points43 points  (5 children)

What's your "guilty pleasure" restaurant?

[–]washingtonpostDC / Downtown[S] 35 points36 points  (1 child)

Regular readers of mine know I’m a fool for the spicy chicken at Popeyes and, more recently, the filet-o-fish sandwich at McDonald’s. Outside of restaurants, peanut M & Ms and Doritos are my kryptonite.

[–]mmeeplechase 4 points5 points  (2 children)

Adding on here, what’s your favorite chain/fast food?

[–]washingtonpostDC / Downtown[S] 24 points25 points  (0 children)

In 2017, I ranked the 10 most popular casual restaurant chains. ( I reviewed each brand based on several visits, just as I would with independent restaurants). Texas Roadhouse and Denny’s fared pretty well. Both got “B” grades. But the only chain I actually took leftovers home from was Cracker Barrel, which I awarded an “A.”

Especially after eating a lot of food that tasted as if it came from a factory rather than a kitchen, it was clear: No other chain restaurant in my months-long survey comes as close to home cooking as this operation. If the chicken dumplings are a little doughy and the corn bread muffins prove a tad salty, just about everything else that crossed my lips in this barn-size dining room dressed with lanterns and license plates is something I’d be happy to try again.

Here’s my report: https://www.washingtonpost.com/sf/style/2017/12/12/which-is-better-applebees-or-cracker-barrel-our-critic-ranks-americas-most-popular-chains/

[–]Neferknitti 332 points333 points  (15 children)

Can you please address the extra fees restaurants have been adding to checks lately? Those are not cool.

[–][deleted] 78 points79 points  (3 children)

Tom, when you review a lesser known, small, “hole in the wall” type place, how do you consider the impact of your review on the restaurant. For example, you recently highlighted a small eatery that is a favorite of mine, but I’m not sure they are prepared for all the quick attention they get from a glowing review and then aren’t able to consistently put out food at the same level of quality as before (I’m not thinking of trendy places looking for a Michelin star, just small neighborhood joints). How do you handle this?

[–]washingtonpostDC / Downtown[S] 29 points30 points  (2 children)

Your concern is mine. I try to prepare smaller establishments by letting them know the date the review is running (online and in print) and during the fact-checking process. At the recently-reviewed Little Vietnam in Petworth, for instance, my favorite dish is off the menu. You have to know about the chicken Caesar wraps, which are made in small quantities. I let the restaurant know there might be a demand for the dish. The rest — proper staffing and such — is up to the establishment.

My review: https://www.washingtonpost.com/food/2023/01/06/little-vietnam-restaurant-review-dc/

[–]stache_twistaDC / Brightwood Park 5 points6 points  (0 children)

I haven't been to Little Vietnam yet but I hope they make it. There has been a lot of turnover there post-Himitsu. It's gotta be hard to turn a profit in such a tiny space unless you sell a lot of takeout.

[–][deleted] 2 points3 points  (0 children)

Thank you, Tom! Glad to hear that’s part of your consideration.

[–]earlym0rning 35 points36 points  (4 children)

Favorite vegetarian restaurant? Best or favorite Ethiopian restaurant?

[–]washingtonpostDC / Downtown[S] 22 points23 points  (1 child)

My favorite journey is to India. I love the meatless selections at Bombay Club in the District, Agni South Indian Cuisine in Sterling, Chennai Hoppers in Gaithersburg, among others. For more mainstream vegetarian food, I like Fancy Radish on H St. NE. Oyster Oyster in Shaw is great for vegetarian fine dining. As for Ethiopian, Rohobot in Silver Spring bundles its vegetable combination like a babushka wraps a Russian baby: so completely, it’s hard to see what’s inside. Peel back the folds of injera, though, and you witness a kaleidoscope of yellow lentils, dark green collards, crimson beets and turmeric-colored cabbage with bright orange carrots.

[–]marjoramandmint 2 points3 points  (0 children)

Have you made it out to Adyar Ananda Bhavan (A2B) in Herndon? I went once a while ago, not experienced enough with the cuisine to pass judgement, but have a friend that used to go to a location in India, and we both loved it. Keep meaning to go back!

[–]newlexiconH St. 4 points5 points  (0 children)

Yes to both of these!

[–]Necessary_Ad_9012 1 point2 points  (0 children)

Oh yes, not just favorite, but best family-friendly, best romantic, best-budget vegetarian-friendly restaurants!

[–]ArmsofSleep 56 points57 points  (0 children)

How, if ever, does pricing affect your take on a particular place? I’ve found that among my foodie friends, our common refrain post-Covid has been “really good but not worth that price”, particularly for middlebrow spots that don’t offer special atmosphere or service. Obviously a critic is going to approach this a lot differently than a consumer would, but as the economy tightens it’s grips on everyone it does seem that it’s often more worth it to stick to delicious cheap eats and splurge every once in a while on a true barn burner as opposed to trying a new hyped up spot every night.

[–]xhoiS. Arlington 57 points58 points  (4 children)

Tom, if you could be based in another city in the world to report on their food scene, which would you pick and why?

Another question, what thoughts do you have related to events like "Some Disassembly Required" at Mess Hall? My foodie friends and I have checked out several of those and really enjoyed them.

Somewhat related, what are your thoughts on the various culinary programs around the area? I've taken classes at Culinarie(RIP) and Cookology and found them to be really enjoyable and informative.

[–]teragram333 7 points8 points  (0 children)

Love the first question!

[–]stache_twistaDC / Brightwood Park 3 points4 points  (0 children)

fwiw Anthony Bourdain said he would choose Tokyo, for both its breadth and diversity of offerings https://explorepartsunknown.com/tokyo/bourdains-field-notes-tokyo/

[–]BartletForPrez 18 points19 points  (0 children)

Hey Tom,

Thanks for the writing all these years! My question is: If you were the DC restaurant tsar and could change anything you wanted at will, what would you instantly change?

[–]meditation_account 39 points40 points  (3 children)

Can you do a write-up on good places to eat for people sight seeing on the mall looking at the museums? The museums have awful cafe food and then there are food trucks on the street. Looking for decent places to have lunch within walking distance of the Smithsonian museums.

[–]washingtonpostDC / Downtown[S] 27 points28 points  (1 child)

Near the Mall, I like to belly up to the bar at Central Michel Richard for one of the French-American restaurant’s burgers — take your pick from chicken, seafood, turkey or beef — and maybe the beautiful and bountiful chopped salad. On the Mall, my last best museum experience was at the sprawling Sweet Home Cafe in the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

[–]Pray44Mojo 4 points5 points  (0 children)

RIP to The Partisan. Was a relatively family friendly favorite near the mall.

[–]Ziggee 18 points19 points  (0 children)

What’s your pick for the best restaurant in each Ward?

[–]MountainMantologistArlington 15 points16 points  (1 child)

Ooh, I forgot one: how many meals a year do you eat out? Do you have any tricks to keeping in shape with so much restaurant food? I remember reading the Man vs Food guy basically starving himself or eating only salad outside of his televised monster meals - wonder if there's less extreme routine for food critics.

[–]washingtonpostDC / Downtown[S] 19 points20 points  (0 children)

I eat out an average of 10 meals a week. To (try to) combat the effects of all that, I eat a healthful breakfast — generally the only meal of the day I can control — work out with a trainer a couple times a week and take my dog on a mile-long walk every day. Sending home restaurant leftovers with friends helps, too. But I’m nowhere near as discliplined as I used to be, alas. Salty crunchy snacks are my downfall.

[–]Muppet_Fitzgerald 13 points14 points  (8 children)

Do you find DC’s ice cream scene as lacking?? I would love an old school soft-serve walk-up place somewhere.

[–]Nespot-despot 9 points10 points  (1 child)

Try Carmen’s in Rockville. I know, sorry that it’s in Rockville and by the side of a highway, but top notch swirled custard makes that journey worth it

[–]poopsasaurus 2 points3 points  (0 children)

Not soft-serve, but try Mt Desert Island Ice Cream in Mt Pleasant!

[–][deleted] 31 points32 points  (6 children)

A fierce debate among my friends and family is how to pronounce your last name. Please let us know. Thanks!

[–]Gooner91 32 points33 points  (3 children)


From the man himself! Things could have changed in the last 8 years though.

[–]fos4545Kensington 17 points18 points  (0 children)

Samsonite! I was way off!

[–][deleted] 4 points5 points  (0 children)


[–]washingtonpostDC / Downtown[S] 10 points11 points  (1 child)

Thank you for asking! My name is pronounced SEET-suh-ma. Given the unusual last name, my parents thought is best to gift their kids easy first names: Mary, Tom and John.

[–]kavorka2 14 points15 points  (1 child)

What is still not fixed since Covid, as far as eating out experiences in DC?

[–]washingtonpostDC / Downtown[S] 28 points29 points  (0 children)

A lot of diners are still anxious about eating in often-crowded dining rooms and want to know about alternative seating. Restaurants would do themselves a HUGE favor by posting more information about any outdoor options they offer.How many seats are outside? Is the venue tented or fenced in? How far apart are the tables? Are heaters available? Can outdoor seats be reserved? Those and other questions should be addressed online, with accompanying photographs.

[–]useminameMt. Vernon Triangle 12 points13 points  (10 children)

Hi Tom,

What are your recommendations for Chinese restaurants in the District? Should I write off Chinatown for good quality and authentic cuisine at this point? As a Toronto transplant it has been difficult!

P.S. Does pineapple belong on a pizza?

[–]washingtonpostDC / Downtown[S] 25 points26 points  (0 children)

Hands down, the best Chinese in the District right now is the fledgling Chang Chang in Dupont Circle, whose visionary chef, Peter Chang, originally worked at the Chinese embassy here. My review: https://www.washingtonpost.com/food/2022/11/11/chang-chang-restaurant-review-peter/

[–]dihydrogen_monoxideMD / RockHardTown 7 points8 points  (6 children)

The best Chinese food is in Rockville!

[–]useminameMt. Vernon Triangle 1 point2 points  (5 children)

That is what I’ve been told, but I live in DC sans vehicle.

[–]alexremingtonDC 4 points5 points  (3 children)

Sans vehicle makes it challenging as it's practically a highway interchange, but Panda Gourmet near the intersection of New York Ave and Bladensburg Rd is a classic, of course.

Closer downtown, I haven't been yet, but Chang Chang has been getting good reviews, including from Tom Sietsema. And it's a bit different — upscale Taiwanese-ish fusion — but Maketto is beloved as well.

And The Post's Tim Carman has long been a supporter of Great Wall Szechuan on 14th Street — as I live a block away, I can testify that their Ma La menu is spicy and *very* good (as well as extremely affordable) for a takeout storefront, particularly on one of DC's ritziest blocks.

[–]recordcollection64 1 point2 points  (0 children)

Astoria, Han Palace, Panda Gourmet, Sichuan Pavilion

[–]NalorakkBotoBoneBrosDC / Chevy Chase 10 points11 points  (2 children)

I don't have a question, but I wanted to chime in to say how much I enjoy and appreciate your column and Q&As in the Post!

[–]washingtonpostDC / Downtown[S] 7 points8 points  (1 child)

Thanks for the kind words (and thanks, Reddit for letting me join you today) The best part of my job is not the “free” food, but the opportunity I get to spend time with readers and fellow chowhounds in forums such as this.

[–]heels_n_skirt 32 points33 points  (5 children)

What places would you recommend to your enemies?

[–]fos4545Kensington 24 points25 points  (0 children)

You haven't read his review of Founding Farmers, have you?

[–]sunshoweredSW Waterfront 8 points9 points  (3 children)

And is it still La Vie? 😂

[–]ZealousidealMap2269 4 points5 points  (2 children)

Omg that review was BRUTAL lollll

[–]sunshoweredSW Waterfront 6 points7 points  (1 child)

It was so brutal that it caused me and my friend to go out of our way to get a drink there just to see it. It was hilariously bad—I had a terrible and watered down cocktail and we couldn’t sit at the bar because the stools were so tall that they just barely fit under the bar with an inch or two of clearance. There was no room for your legs! Hilarious

[–]FlamingTomygun2DC / Waterfront 39 points40 points  (1 child)

Hi Tom! What would you say is the most underrated spot in the district? And which "well known" spot are people better off skipping?

[–]novanon7 21 points22 points  (0 children)

Seems like, by definition, Tom can't answer the first question, since the instant the Post's food critic says a restaurant is better than you'd expect it ceases to be "underrated".

Second question is still interesting, tho!

[–]novanon7 9 points10 points  (0 children)

Do you think Arlington is turning a corner in terms of its food scene? Despite its wealth, Arlington has always had a reputation for being boring/immigrant/bar food. Until recently it felt like it you wanted to go to a place worth dressing up for, you had to cross the County line. But post-pandemic it seems like things are shifting? In Clarendon, for example there seems to be a new upper echelon forming (e.g. Green Pig, Maison Cheryl, Bar Ivy, etc.) that have serious chefs making unique dishes. Two other Arlington Chefs have just been recognized by the James Beard people. What do you think accounts for this shift?

[–]notedgarfigaroDC / Hill East 5 points6 points  (1 child)

What area restaurants would you trust for a big milestone celebratory dinner? As in, maybe not the top of the charts best, but where you know the service and the food will be on point and allow the happy couple to float on their happy cloud?

[–]washingtonpostDC / Downtown[S] 12 points13 points  (0 children)

Festive and (fairly) easy on the wallet: La Bise near the White House, Ellington Park Bistro downtown, Melina for Greek in Rockville, L’Ardente for Italian, Rooster & Owl on 14th St. — love the novel tasting menu there — and Aracosia for Afghan in McLean.

[–]primeirofilho 23 points24 points  (20 children)

Are there any good mid priced Italian places? DC seems to have a dearth of decent Italian places.

[–]washingtonpostDC / Downtown[S] 15 points16 points  (0 children)

Actually, I think we have some pretty good mid-range choices in the form of Al Tiramisu, Alta Strada, Caruso’s Grocery and Tortino, where main courses average $28 and the food is served on linen-topped tables by servers in vests.

[–][deleted] 7 points8 points  (4 children)

We've had some success with Sfoglina...I know it's a chain but they are pretty decent for the price.

[–]notyourproblem1 17 points18 points  (1 child)

2nd sfoglina. It's not a chain though. They only have 3 locations, all in the DC area. I don't think that constitutes a chain

[–][deleted] 5 points6 points  (0 children)

Good to know. But yeah, they do a decent meatball and the carbonara is pretty darn good.

[–]badbunnysadbunny 6 points7 points  (0 children)

Sfoglina is great but it is not mid priced.

[–]toorigged2fail 4 points5 points  (0 children)

I don't know if I'd call them mid priced as Italian goes

[–]gobias 9 points10 points  (7 children)

Caruso’s is not really expensive, very good food. New location in Bethesda is not as busy as the DC location if you can make it out there.

[–]UFOInTomahawkCounty 3 points4 points  (5 children)

I love Carusos but I think he may have been referring to them with this

The newish neighborhood Italian spot in the District? Let’s just say it was the generic pasta, not the red vino, that almost put me to sleep.

[–]littlegreenstick 2 points3 points  (1 child)

He gave the original Caruso’s a great review when it opened — what makes you think this is about them? Just curious bc I haven’t seen anything from him about them since (though haven’t looked)

[–]ieatglassColumbia Heights 2 points3 points  (0 children)

Not Tom but tortino fits that bill

[–]Phar4oh 1 point2 points  (0 children)

I was really impressed by Capa Tosta

[–]FlamingTomygun2DC / Waterfront 1 point2 points  (1 child)

if you're willing to go out to Alexandria, Osteria Marzano is exceptional and not insanely expensive.

[–]crazyagent 21 points22 points  (2 children)

I always read your articles and recommendations for Albi. I went there with my family shortly after it opened, and had one of the worst dining experiences I’ve encountered in DC. I think I can attribute this to you dining at the some time that we were. At the time I worked at a restaurant in the area so our managers always taught us who to watch out for. I recognized you the second I walked into Albi. It was really off-putting at how much attention was drawn towards your service that it completely ruined the experience for us. We had such a bad experience that I haven’t returned since despite such positive reviews. I know not really a question, but something I’ve always wanted to bring up in your Q&A sessions.

[–]washingtonpostDC / Downtown[S] 21 points22 points  (0 children)

I hate hearing that. Everyone should be treated well, or at least equally. A good restaurant knows not to overdo it with critics, who, if they’re doing their jobs, pay attention to what’s going on throughout the restaurant, not just at their table. Fawning attention can backfire, by the way. (Stay tuned for an example in a future review.)

[–]iLikeGreenTea 2 points3 points  (0 children)

That super sucks for you, OP!! 😕

[–][deleted] 7 points8 points  (0 children)

Hi Tom, thanks for taking the time to be here!

My question: how do you think DC's food offerings compare to other large US cities such as New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles?

[–]tacuacheDC / Anacostia 5 points6 points  (1 child)

What prompted you to add noise levels to your reviews? Really appreciate those

[–]washingtonpostDC / Downtown[S] 20 points21 points  (0 children)

Thank you! I feel like that contribution will be on my tombstone: “He added sound checks to his reviews.”

I added sound checks in 2008 because 1) I noticed dining rooms getting louder 2) readers were complaining about the noise and 3) designers were creating these boom boxes in so many large spaces. Just a few years ago, the sound recorded at a popular happy hour destination was the equivalent of a jet engine at takeoff – that’s stuff readers want to know before deciding where to spend their money, right?

[–]NoDesinformatziya 6 points7 points  (1 child)

What's the worst reaction you've had to one of your reviews, and why was it the owner of Founding Farmers?

Watching the owner have a PR nightmare/meltdown in the WaPo comments section in real time for your second negative review of their restaurants was one of my most delicious schadenfreude moments.

As a more real question, what is your advice to someone who feels burned by your reviews?

[–]washingtonpostDC / Downtown[S] 13 points14 points  (0 children)

My zero-star review of Founding Farmers was the No. 1 most-read article on the Post’s site for awhile in 2016. Who would have thought? The owner responded with a video online and I heard from thousands of readers, including many who claimed to be fans of what I referred to as a farm-to-FABLE restaurant. Just for the record, I went seven times to pretty much try the entire menu over the course of several weeks. So, I think I gave the place a fair shot. After the review came out, I felt vindicated by all the employees, past and present, who pretty much validated my sense that Founding Farmers wasn’t as fresh and seasonal as it claimed to be. My review: https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/food/founding-farmers-review-where-the-biggest-temptation-is-to-leave/2016/06/01/76b2c844-204e-11e6-9e7f-57890b612299_story.html

I try not to share my opinion of a place when I’m in the process of fact-checking with a chef or owner. “How did you like it?” they invariably ask ahead of publication. I tell them I’m always happy to discuss the review after the fact, after the review is out. I’ve had some chefs thank me for negative reviews, or tell me they were working on issues. I’ve also had chefs ask me to remove negative reviews because they were better than what I had written, which is something we’d never do, of course. The Post isn’t in the business of erasing news stories. I do sometimes return to places I’ve reviewed poorly, to take their temperature, so to speak. So, businesses are open to second chances, just now right away. Every bad restaurant is different; I’m open to talking to owners about specific things that might help their restaurant, after the fact, but then, I don’t want to get into the business of consulting. What I write is pretty much a reflection of how I feel about a place. I don’t pull punches.

[–]Over_Statistician913 12 points13 points  (0 children)

What impact do you think the new minimum wage legislation will have on dc food service ?

[–]lettertoelhizb 5 points6 points  (1 child)

What is your go to meal at the Hitching Post? I hear it’s one of your favorites.

[–]washingtonpostDC / Downtown[S] 6 points7 points  (0 children)

My go to dishes at the Hitching Post include the fried chicken, fried whiting, collard greens and mashed potatoes. But soul food isn’t the lone attraction at my neighborhood draw. The chef-owner is from Guyana and grew up eating Indian food. He makes a good shrimp curry, too.

[–]AnExtensiveReportDC / Shaw 3 points4 points  (0 children)

Besides restaurants, is there a favorite wine or cocktail bar you have in the city?

[–]9AD-Capitol Hill 4 points5 points  (1 child)

Hi Tom! How do you deal with restaurants that experience a real decline in quality after your review? How often do you re-review? Do you think the Michelin guide coming to DC has been a net negative or net positive?

Thanks! Love your articles!

[–]toorigged2fail 2 points3 points  (0 children)

Those places should be afraid. Very, very afraid.

[–]TahhPG 4 points5 points  (1 child)

What restaurants will you be at this weekend, and at what times, and what will you be wearing?

[–]well-that-was-fast 3 points4 points  (0 children)

Do you think DC restaurant cost structures are different than other large US cities?

If so, how? Is labor, ingredients, and/or rent a greater percentage of the mix in DC?

[–]Ineffectivedouchebag 4 points5 points  (1 child)

Hi Tom! Big fan. Do you feel like the pandemic changed the way you review restaurants?

Pete Wells over at NYT did a fascinating piece on the Daily about how his experience changed, I’m curious to see if you think DC went through a similar transformation.

[–]washingtonpostDC / Downtown[S] 11 points12 points  (0 children)

I’ve long thought of myself as an advocate for diners, not a cheerleader for the industry. But I couldn’t help but sympathize with the plight of owners and chefs as I covered restaurants after March 2020. I know I went easier on places, at least during the last two years. But I do find myself being more critical again, to an extent. Restaurants have gotten more expensive, for one thing. Diners have been patient and generous with restaurants for the past three years and I know they expect their patience and support to be reciprocated now. Here’s a sort of Valentine I wrote to the industry instead of a dining guide in spring 2020: https://www.washingtonpost.com/magazine/2020/04/23/restaurants-matter-reasons-more-than-dinner-posts-food-critic-what-were-danger-losing/

[–]a-username-for-me 5 points6 points  (1 child)

Are you able to turn the "reviewer" off and on? Do you find yourself critiquing the cooking of friends or gas station coffee the way you would for a review?

[–]washingtonpostDC / Downtown[S] 16 points17 points  (0 children)

Funny. Even when I grab something from a vending machine, I can’t help but think about flavor or texture. (Hmmm. Have Fritos gotten saltier?)

That said, I LOVE IT WHEN PEOPLE INVITE ME TO DINNER. I spend 40 hours or more a week in restaurants a week and appreciate simple home cooking. I’d be happy with tomato soup and grilled cheese. But no cheap wine, please. :wink:

[–]WhyAreWeEvenHereShaw[🍰] 5 points6 points  (0 children)

Do you have any disagreement with the Michelin and Bib gourmand ratings of DC restaurants? Any particular restaurant you feel has been snubbed over the past years? Any one you think didn’t deserve to be listed, based on your experience?

[–]glass_table_girl 4 points5 points  (0 children)

One time your colleague Tim Carman wrote on the virtues of 7 Eleven go go taquitos, and I felt vindicated. What are your personal thoughts on go go taquitos?

[–][deleted] 10 points11 points  (2 children)

Wow, what a great AMA. So many good answers.

Question: I worked for 14 years in restaurants front and back of house so I've got so much respect for the effort that goes into making a restaurant a success. That said, is it okay to try and speak to a chef after the meal to say thanks or should i just not be a pretentious ass? If a Michelin star restaurant fucks up a dish or service (as I recently had happen in DC) I should tell them, right?

What's your favorite restaurant in Estonia and why is it Lee?

[–]Not_CleaverMaryland Driver 1 point2 points  (0 children)

Personally liked the German and the Italian restaurants in the old city the best. Also, the German restaurant had like a massive flight for only twenty euros. Think the German place was Olde Hansa. Even though it’s been five years, I still remember both.

I also remember eating very good sült at someone’s house, but that’s not a restaurant.

[–]JosuetheBearBorn in DC. Works VA. Lives MD 10 points11 points  (4 children)

Hey Tom! I love my Salvadoran food and really only find/know about it in DC. Any other cities that you know of with quality Salvadoran food? Also, who is your favorite music artist? Thanks!

[–]typeALady 4 points5 points  (0 children)

What is the biggest change in the DC restaurant scene that you've seen over the course of your career?

[–]TheAustr0naut 4 points5 points  (1 child)

Do you wear any disguises while you're undercover for an in-person restaurant review? I worked at a popular DC staple (won't reveal where) that has your face up on the notice board in the break room to make sure servers were aware.

[–]washingtonpostDC / Downtown[S] 7 points8 points  (0 children)

I’ve used disguises in the past, especially early on in my tenure, when I probably visited most of the top spots as someone who even friends didn’t recognize. That was fun, playing undercover operator! But also a lot of work – time I’d frankly rather devote to writing, reporting, actually dining.

[–]kirkl3sDC / Hillcrest 18 points19 points  (1 child)

Hi Tom - love you work. Why haven't you written anything about the mediocre restaurant that I frequent? Are you biased against my neighborhood?

[–]joshuahtree 1 point2 points  (0 children)

It's also Tom's favorite and he doesn't want it to get overcrowded. Yes.

[–]stache_twistaDC / Brightwood Park 5 points6 points  (4 children)

What is the best meal you’ve eaten in DC this year? What opening are you most looking forward to?

[–]washingtonpostDC / Downtown[S] 14 points15 points  (2 children)

How about best dishes instead? In that scenario, I’d list the caviar-crowned omelet at Le Clou in NoMa, the oyster service at Woodberry Tavern in Baltimore, the oh-so-generous antipasti at Obelisk in Dupont Circle, the hummus at Saffy’s in Los Angeles, the squash “risotto” at the Henri downtown and Dorothy Sietsema’s tuna salad at my brother’s place in Northern Virginia. (Dorothy is my mom and a great home-cook.)

[–]sparsileDupont Circle 1 point2 points  (0 children)

Would love to hear his answer to both of these!

[–]ManitouWakinyanDC / Cathedral Heights 4 points5 points  (2 children)

Hey Tom - what's your favorite bad restaurant?

[–]pingjeepong 3 points4 points  (1 child)

What are we missing in dc when it comes to food culture?

[–]recordcollection64 2 points3 points  (0 children)

Same as 20 years ago…amazing Mexican. Best is Muchas Gracias in Tenleytown

[–]molliebrd 3 points4 points  (2 children)

As someone who has been a chef in DC for over 15 years I have a very serious industry question. What do you scarf over the sink late at night? 😂

[–]John-Basedow 11 points12 points  (0 children)

Have you ever been to dans cafe?

[–]Over_Statistician913 6 points7 points  (1 child)

How do you feel about auto gratuity ? How do you feel about "no gratuity allowed" and flat bills?

[–]washingtonpostDC / Downtown[S] 5 points6 points  (0 children)

I like automatic gratuity (20 % seems to be a reasonable starting point and I saw 23 % recently in Baltimore) because I don’t like having to do math after a meal. It just simplifies the payment process. I also think it makes life more equitable for workers. “No gratuity allowed” suggests restaurant workers are being paid living wages based on things like menu prices that incorporate reflect the cost of hospitality. The popular Two Amys pizzeria eschews tips, for example.

[–]mostlymutualmasturPark View 6 points7 points  (1 child)

Hi Tom! What are your go-to places in the city to order take out from?

[–]washingtonpostDC / Downtown[S] 6 points7 points  (0 children)

For the first part of the pandemic, I did themed round-ups of places that did take-out: Japanese, Indian, French, special-occasion — you name it. I’m now back to reviewing the insides of places, and ordering a lot less takeout. However, one business that stood out, time after time, was Unconventional Diner near the convention center. I love both the presentation and the variety of its selections. “Supper” features such diverse dishes as chicken noodle soup, meatloaf , Lebanese fried rice and Peking duck confit.

[–]UFOInTomahawkCounty 2 points3 points  (3 children)

Hey Tom, as someone that loves to eat and try new places I’m a big fan. It’s been killing me since your article from May. You said:

That dining tip from a reader, two hours from Washington in Virginia? Not worth the pilgrimage, best left for people who live much, much closer.

What place was it?! I think I know the first one you mention before this one in the article, and the one mentioned after makes me not care, but I’m really curious what restaurant this is?

Have you been out to the Hillbrook Inn in WV?

Lastly, if there was one dish you would go back for over and over again, what would it be and where?

[–]darthjoey91Reston 4 points5 points  (2 children)

That sounds like The Inn at Little Washington, which is 2 hours from DC, but has 3 Michelin Stars.

[–]UFOInTomahawkCounty 4 points5 points  (1 child)

That’s my first thought, but he said it was a tip from a reader. Inn at Little Washington is a pretty well known restaurant and has been for years, I don’t think it’s one he went to on a tip from a reader.

[–]Gooner91 2 points3 points  (2 children)

Do you ever have restaurants not wanting the expectations of diners a great review brings? Have you ever had a restaurant request you not write about them?

We've seen chefs in recent years turn down Michelin stars for similar reasons.

[–]washingtonpostDC / Downtown[S] 6 points7 points  (0 children)

Yes. There was a small Thai restaurant in McLean that I wanted to write about pre-pandemic, but the owners refused to take my calls, no matter how I approached them — or had fellow Thais approach them. I gave up. To the the place justice, I needed to know more about the business than what I experienced on the plate.

[–]meltingintoice 1 point2 points  (0 children)

I recently talked to a restaurant owner who was terrified that Tom would show up before they'd been open a year and had their act together (both to be able to show him their best, but also to be able to handle the customer load after a good review).

[–]PopsSMITE 2 points3 points  (1 child)

Which Peter Chang restaurant have you enjoyed the most?

[–]washingtonpostDC / Downtown[S] 2 points3 points  (0 children)

Right this nanosecond? Probably Mama Chang in Fairfax and Chang Chang in the District – Chang’s first business in Washington – because I’ve dined in both recently. But I always look forward to dim sum and other dishes at Q by Peter Chang in Bethesda, too.

[–]punchbears 2 points3 points  (0 children)

Hello Tom! Where can I find the best, freshest, and fluffiest bread in DC? Any bakeries that really hit it out of the park?

[–]sprayedice 2 points3 points  (0 children)

Tom, what do you think the next big "foodie" item is going to be (ie, frozen yogurt, bubble tea, etc.)? Or restaurant/dining cuisine, I feel like we're seeing more high end options for Mexican/Spanish cuisine in the dmv, but what do you think is next?

[–]MarkinDC24 2 points3 points  (1 child)

Could you tell us why you became a food critic? What do you think of the movie "The Menu"?

[–]peppylootu 2 points3 points  (0 children)

Hey, Tom. I love your critiques. Your take on Founding Farmers in 2016 was pretty epic for when the height of Farm - to - table fad was going on.

What are some restaurants that evoke a similar response now? For me I feel like Imperfecto in West End and few restaurants in Navy Yard and Butter Chicken Company are similar. Big claims, Zero Game.

Follow up: And, why is DC so uniquely focused on appeal and not the quality?

[–]beadazzlebub 2 points3 points  (2 children)

What is the worst food experience you've ever had?

[–]washingtonpostDC / Downtown[S] 2 points3 points  (1 child)

Getting food poisoning, twice from mussels, in Seoul and Barcelona. At first, you think you’re going to die. Then, you want to die.

[–]rufioherpderp 2 points3 points  (0 children)

If you were going to open a restaurant, what kind would it be? Have you ever seen anything in a restaurant that immediate made you leave or stop your dining experience?

[–]ActuaryPersonal2378 2 points3 points  (1 child)

What's your favorite bakery in DC?

And what are the best restaurants for going solo?

[–]Lunrun 2 points3 points  (0 children)

Are Michelin Star restaurants really worth it, or would you prefer the best cheeseburger (or equivalent junk food) in town?

Honorable mention to Chicken & Whiskey for related reasons.

[–][deleted] 2 points3 points  (0 children)

Can you get Joe Biden to come to Central Union Mission for dinner? I believe that the Chef there is the best in the city and deserves recognition for his amazing talent and hard work.

[–]tinker2121 2 points3 points  (0 children)

How do we move to a European system of dining and tipping, where servers and restaurant staff are paid a living wage, and we don’t have to tip on every small service?

[–]minkenator44 2 points3 points  (0 children)

What’s the most blatant story about a restauranteur attempting to sway your review?

[–]Have_a_PizzaMyMind 8 points9 points  (0 children)

If I've been sad about something and tend to cry randomly, what kind of places could I go to where I can sit, enjoy being out of the home, and cry privately while slowly working on my meal?

[–]mudahH Street 4 points5 points  (0 children)

Mangialardo's, A. Litteri, or The Italian Store?

[–]brb202 3 points4 points  (0 children)

What will the city’s dining scene look like in 10 years?

[–]rom_sk 2 points3 points  (3 children)

Where can one get the best cheap Thai food in DC?

[–]alexremingtonDC 5 points6 points  (0 children)

Baan Siam may not be "cheap" — but it's extremely reasonable by DC standards, and excellent Thai food by any measure.

[–]piximillion 4 points5 points  (2 children)

Have you seen The Menu (new movie on HBO)? If yes, what do you think Voldemort would do if you were in his restaurant?

[–]sparsileDupont Circle 1 point2 points  (0 children)

He did a review of recent movies about restaurants/food critics that included The Menu!

[–]beingtwiceasnice 4 points5 points  (0 children)

Hey Tom--is there an accepted protocol regarding tipping for take out in the US?

[–]churchofnobodyMt. Pleasant 1 point2 points  (0 children)

Favorite Mediterranean spot?

[–]hei_luobo 1 point2 points  (0 children)

When will Thip Khao bring back the Awk?

[–]sumpdiddlyump_Pipetown 1 point2 points  (1 child)

What’s the best place to get a fried chicken sandwich in DC?

[–][deleted] 1 point2 points  (0 children)

I've noticed in your reviews that you often comment on how loud a restaurant tends to be. Have you noticed any trends in that regard?

[–]SetYourGoals 1 point2 points  (1 child)

Any budget-friendly Mexican restaurant recommendations? My wife and I moved to DC from Los Angeles and we've not been able to find a go-to Mexican spot.

[–]grandmasterfunc 1 point2 points  (2 children)

Where can I get the best cheesesteak in DC?

[–]Vinny_Cerrato 1 point2 points  (0 children)

Hi Tom - Where can I get a good hotdog?

[–]wwb_99U Street 1 point2 points  (1 child)

Are you seeing any big trends or patterns emerging post-pandemic in terms of restaurant openings / formats / programs / locations? What changed after the disruption?

[–]archju01 1 point2 points  (0 children)

Do you ever try a dish and think, "I have to try to make this at home"? What are some of your favorites where you've had success in that?

[–]DaBake...a thousand more places to go 1 point2 points  (0 children)

Hey Tom! What's your take on Michael Landrum and do you think he'll open another restaurant? Is there any room left for a Ray's the Steaks in this current dining climate?

[–]Low-Current9945 1 point2 points  (0 children)

Long time DC resident and reader of your reviews — always appreciated! My wife and I will be visiting Manhattan in mid February. Any suggestions for a dinner spot in/near Hudson Yards? Thanks!

[–]dram2011 1 point2 points  (0 children)

What's your favorite pairing of pre- or post-meal activity with a specific restaurant? A.k.a please design a date night for me and my wife. Thanks for that and all your hard work!

[–]rsplatpc 1 point2 points  (0 children)

Best pizza in the DC area period?

[–]Frosty-Abrocoma6090 1 point2 points  (0 children)

Hey Tom! Besides DC, what is your favorite city for food?

[–]iamstephen1128Del Ray 1 point2 points  (0 children)

My gf recently moved down to DC from NYC and has been extremely disappointed with the quality and availability of good sushi (especially quality and/or affordable omakase offerings). Any recommendations?

[–]ronperlmanface 1 point2 points  (1 child)

Which restaurant do you miss the most that is no longer around?

[–]washingtonpostDC / Downtown[S] 4 points5 points  (0 children)

Too many to count, honestly. But when I turn on the throwback machine in my head, restaurants that come too mind include Germaine’s for Vietnamese in Georgetown, the lunch counter CF Folks downtown, Makoto for high-end Japanese in the Palisades (and gruff servers!), Kinkead’s for seafood in Foggy bottom, the original Johnny’s on P St., Palena in Cleveland Park (that roast chicken!), the original Ray’s the Steaks in Arlington …. the list is epic, really.

[–]jadedlens00 1 point2 points  (0 children)

Tom, what’s in your opinion the best Ethiopian restaurant in the DC metro?

[–]toorigged2fail 1 point2 points  (0 children)

How do you feel about restaurants imposing fees (without any standardization across the industry as to who mandatory fees go to), Initiative 82, and other models like restaurants that don't accept tips (who salary employees or pay higher hourly rates with more equity between front of the house & back of the house). What model would you like to see adopted in DC, or would you keep the status quo?

Edit: Also, why do industry folks seem to have such a different opinion than the majority of voters on 82?

[–]jdeeebs 1 point2 points  (0 children)

Dear Tom,

Go to fast food restaurant?

Yours truly,


[–]abakune 1 point2 points  (0 children)

I just want good Mexican food...

[–]Technicolor_Reindeer 1 point2 points  (0 children)

Hi Tom! I always look forward to Wednesdays when I sit at my cubicle eating lunch and reading your Q&A column.

My question is if you have ever been to/reviewed Arepa Zone (they have locations on 14th street NW and at Union Market's La Cosecha)? Its probably my favorite food spot in DC and you probably won't find better Venezuelan food in the city.

[–]hectorsuarez9090 1 point2 points  (0 children)

How has the Michelin Guide impacted the standards of the Dc’s culinary scene?

[–]SaintOlgasSunflowers 1 point2 points  (0 children)

Etiquette question: I rarely dine in fancy establishments. When I do, I am always confused when a wet, warm, folded towel on a plate is offered to me. I wipe my hands and put it back on the plate.

I have so many questions.

  1. What's the history?

  2. Do we wipe just our hands? (my son once wiped his face)

  3. Are we supposed to fold it when we put it back on the plate?

[–]alexremingtonDC 1 point2 points  (2 children)

New Orleans is famous for restaurants that have been open for centuries, but DC doesn't have too many of those.

Among DC-area restaurants that have been open for more than 50 years, what are your favorites? You've repeatedly praised the Hitching Post (and been a little less impressed by the current fare at Ben's Chili Bowl). What else has stood the test of time?

I can mostly think of bars: The Raven, Billy Martin's Tavern, The Vienna Inn, The Tune Inn, Hank Dietle's... a bit of Googling reminds me of Old Anglers Inn and Crisfield. And Swing's, to stretch it a bit. But still - not a very long list! What do you think about as a "classic" that still holds up?

[–]UnderwhelmingComment 1 point2 points  (2 children)

Where are Tom’s replies?