Diamonds in the Rough: the We Ball Harder Guide to Adams Morgan
Adams Where? The Weekly 18th Street shitshow? What does WBH have to do with that? Well, your author lived for two years on Calvert Street, just past the insufferable weekend crush of shwasty-faced hoodrats, gang-bangers, interns, fake IDers, and drunk-ass bros, and despite having a sweet apartment, was not thrilled with said swarm of ragers providing a ruinous end for an otherwise nice night out in a different part of DC. So why the hell am I writing this? Because nearly three years later, new delights have opened, old stalwarts have remained, and I’ve discovered under-the-radar gems that I overlooked in my previous desire to avoid 18th & Columbia and environs at all costs.
DISCLAIMER: 18th Street is still chock-a-block with absolute SHIT bars – and I’m gonna name them: Grand Central, Tom Tom, Town Tavern, Columbia Junction or whatever it’s called, Shenanigans, and many others. Avoid. It also still home to most dubious pizza by the slice ever – Jumbo Slice and its derivatives. No level of drunkenness makes this a good idea. Also avoid.
So with that out of the way, let’s get on with it, starting from the top of the hill to the bottom.
SUPER TACOS & BAKERY “Autentica Comida Mexicana” – Sopes, huaraches, pozole, menudo, horchata, tortas, and tacos de chorizo, lengua, cochinita pibil, and other meaty treats – sold by the taco ($2.75) or by the pound! Reasonably priced, filling, and about as authentically Mexican as you can get without hauling off to the Maryland suburbs or some taco trucks in Arlington. (1762 Columbia. Not open late, sadly)
JULIA’S EMPANADAS – A cheaper, possibly healthier, and far more delicious fast food and late night option that Jumbo
Shit Slice. $3.59 gets you a tasty empanada, in Chilean or Jamaican style, or with chorizo, or the famous Salteñas with chicken and olives. Good stuff. Open until 4 am, and unlike the one in Dupont, takes cards. (2452 18th)
CALIYOGURT – some of the best frozen yogurt within walking distance, and also has a great tea selection. (2473 18th)
TRYST – “coffehouse, bar, lounge” and that’s exactly right. One of my all time favorite places in the world, and a DC institution since 1997. A gigantic open room with a very neat ceiling, eclectic, local artists’ work for sale hanging from the walls, mis-matching, seat-yourself furniture, superb coffee and tea, rather good food, good desserts, and a great, underrated bar. Open from very early in the morning for the coffee crowd (the coffee section is near the entrance, which makes it great for take-away), through brunch (served all day) and lunch (great sandwiches) until the evening, when during the week live jazz and blues bands often play, and on weekends when it’s a relaxed change from the usual AdMo madness. Good beer selection, great cocktails and bartenders who know their shit. Only open till midnight during the week, but till 3 on weekends. Expect a short wait for some seats to open up, and the other big caveat is service is often slow. (2459 18th)
TIMEHRI – Jamaican bar and club, in a basement. When I’ve been, there were Rasta dudes with huge dreads, Ethiopians, and deadly heavy reggae and dancehall booming out of the bass-heavy sound system. Appleton rum and Red Stripe to drink, among other options. Looks sketchy but is wicked cool. Good stuff. (2439 18th)…
BLACK SQUIRREL – a very, very solid beer bar. Laid back vibe, huge draft beer selection and a surprisingly large menu of absinthe, plus good burgers and other well-done bar food on several levels. If only more bars in Adams were like this. (2427 18th) Right next door is…
AMSTERDAM FALAFEL – exactly what it sounds like: Amsterdam style falafel. Which is really Israeli-style, but since WBH is a big fan of Lebanon (and Amsterdam), we’ll stick to Amsterdam-style. Kitted out in Dutch paraphernalia, flying the XXX flag of Amsterdam (really), and accepts euros alongside dollars. A small comes with 3 generously-sized falafel balls, and an unlimited choice of 20 or so toppings – the best of which include fried eggplant and cauliflower, and numerous pleasantly spicy sauces. Don’t be fooled, the small is very filling, especially when you add toppings, and runs $5.50. Another far superior alternative to Jumbo Slice, and open just as late (until 4 on weekends). (2425 18th)
BOURBON – Another great bar that more places in AdMo should aspire to. Very chill, huge whisky selection, great cocktails, beer, and bar food. (2321 18th)
CASA OAXACA – One of the best Mexican restaurants in town, specializing in the cuisine of Oaxaca state, arguably Mexico’s culinary epicenter. Superlative food, and my Mexican friends’ favorite place in the city. True authentic food, on the higher end. Moles multifarious, ceviche, alambres, real tamales, and numerous quality tequilas and mezcals (get the Mezcal Ilegal). Really, REALLY good. (2106 18th)
HIMALAYAN HERITAGE – Very good North Indian food with many well-executed standard dishes, but with a Nepali twist – including Momos (spicy Himalayan dumplings), several unusual and delicious appetizers, and Indian-Chinese food, which distinguish it from other Indian places. Very reasonable prices, one of the best proper restaurants in the area. (2305 18th)
JACK ROSE – another best of DC sort of place, they call it a “Dining Saloon” but that’s not really accurate. The food is good, but the main level is a huge open room, and the focus is on WHISKY – Hundreds of kinds. Single malts you haven’t heard of, including many, many rare independent bottlings, and awesome cocktails. Good draft beer too. Has a great rooftop deck that plays awesome music, with a tiki bar in the back. On the fancier side, but unpretentious, it gets busy but not horribly packed, and really does everything right. At the bottom end of the strip, away from the asshole scene. (2007 18th)
KEREN – Family-run Eritrean hole-in the wall and one of my absolute favorite restaurants in the area. Eritrean food is similar to Ethiopian but has its own twists – notably foul and many eggy breakfast dishes (served all day). The rest of the menu has some Italian-style dishes (from Eritrea’s colonial period), and superb renditions of Ethiopian-esque dishes, for laughably cheap. Two people could easily eat here for $15. Also has excellent coffee, both in standard drip for, and in the special Eritrean coffee ceremony, which green coffee beans are roasted on the spot, ground, brewed, and served in a traditional coffee pot. It’s available any time of day, and could easily serve 3-4, all for $6. The food is amazing and bargain-basement priced, and the service is fantastic – the women who run it are as friendly as it gets, and when I haven’t been in more than 2 or so weeks, I always get greeted as a long-lost friend. My heartiest recommendation. (1780 Florida Ave)
LOCOLAT – at first glance a chocolate shop, but really a first-rate, full-out Belgian restaurant and cafe – myriad varieties of waffles and mussels, a HUGE Belgian beer list, nice panini, good coffee, and yes, great chocolate, both to eat and drink. Also has outdoor seating. A real hidden gem. (1781 Florida Ave)
That’s about it. There are other places that are OK, but these are the best of the best. Remember them next time you’re in Adams Morgan, and leave the bros in the dust.