Friday Question of the Day – What’s Your Favorite “Old School” Restaurant in DC?

It was fun talking about El Tamarindo’s 30th anniversary yesterday. Lots of folks said they had the best pupusas in town. Since we talk about new restaurants all the time, it got me thinking about what other old school restaurants I’ve forgotten about. Do people still line up for Pasta Mia?

Let’s just say an “old school” restaurant is one that has been around at least 10 years. I feel like restaurant years are like dog years. Dang it, now I miss my beloved Yanni’s… Ok, for today’s FQotD – what is your favorite old school restaurant and are there any must order items on the menu?

179 Comment

  • saf

    OK, I feel old. You’re using a picture of Pasta Mia. I still think of that place as new!

    • I thought the same thing. I remember when it opened, and my partner asked the waitress if they could put peas in her alfredo sauce. We overheard the cook/owner throw a fit in the kitchen when he was asked. “Peas! No, we can’t put peas in the sauce!” Not sure, but I think he threw something.

      My old time restaurants: Dupont Italian Kitchen and Trios.

    • I still don’t understand why someone would wait in line for pasta. It’s pasta folks! Go to Whole Foods, buy some fresh, local La Pasta. Boil some water. Go to the farmers market, buy some local produce and make a great sauce. Save money (and use plastic nonetheless), eat at home, and not look like an idiot waiting in line for PASTA!

      • Were you trying to sound like a pretentious douche bag?

        • Imagine how well they’d do if they tried…

          Posting too fast? It’s been days! Please, PoP, can’t this ever be fixed?

      • +1 – the food is nowhere near good enough to wait in line for. It’s good pasta, but nothing special.

      • If you’ve ever been to Pasta Mia you would understand why people wait in line? Just seeing the picture makes me want to go there!

  • I miss A.V.’s

    • +Billions

    • AV had Pasta Mia and Dupont Italian Kitchen beat by miles. That place was good, super-filling homestyle Italian cooking. Pasta Mia and DIK are disgusting in comparison (and DIK is disgusting, no matter what).

    • Ditto! That place was a significant component of my dining out plans when I first arrived in DC.

    • yep, this was my first thought too.

    • Another vote for A.V.’s. Badly missed. And wayyy better food than Pasta Mia, without the wait. Not sure why that place close (rising rents, I assume), but it was a shame.

      • Nope. The family owned the property, just like Famous Luigis owns theirs. Jemal had been trying to buy AV for years, along with the other properties on that block. When none of the owners’ kids wanted to take over, they decided to give in, retire, and move to Florida. My only consolation is that they sold just before the market tanked and Jemal hasn’t done squat with it since. Suprise.

    • +1!

    • I think I just realized, is A.V.’s the place that was right on 6th Street NW and New York? Little Italian Place right next to the Moroccan restaurant? Thanks for reminding me about that! I loved that place.

  • orderedchaos

    Not particularly old-school but here for more than 10 years AND good-yet-inexpensive: I love Hard Times Cafe in Bethesda, Irish Channel Pub in Chinatown, and The Little Fountain in Adams Morgan.

  • Pizza or Pasta Carbonara at Luigi’s on 19th.

    • So Luigis is legit? I work in the area and have been meaning to try it, but no one from the office has been there to give it a thumbs up. Good to know.

      • Luigi’s is legit for red-checkered tablecloth Italian-American. And it’s been a few years since I’ve been there, but I remember the pizza being pretty damn good.

  • definitely Luigi’s. also, Rally in the Alley but that was more of an event than a restaurant.

  • China Wonder on Georgia Ave. 4 Lyfe!!! One of the last reminders of when DC was Hood.

  • Callaloo and potato-chana roti at the Islander.

    • Uh, thanks a lot, my friend. Now I have a craving for callaloo…before 10 am, no less.

    • +1 Bull in the Pan!!!

      • +1 Definitely. Even after they jacked up their prices.

        • Ah…Bull in the Pan at Annies…memories….

        • me

          My vote is for Annie’s as well. Everyone that I have taken there loves it, and it is always requested by my parents when they come to visit. They remember me and my family every time we go in, even if it has been awhile since the last visit. Love their steak salad.

          They also make a mean manhattan.

    • -1000 after they changed their menu in 2008 or 2009 – haven’t been back since.

  • La Fourchette in Adam’s Morgan.

  • Definitely Luigi’s. Old Europe has been around forever, but the food is most definitely hit or miss, but the beer is still cold and they’ve got that blind lady on piano. When my dad went to Georgetown in the ’40s, he used to go to Martin’s Tavern. The place is pretty much the same. When my brother went to Gonzaga in the ’70s, he’d sneak into Irish Times. Avoid the food at all costs. Prime Rib has been around forever; fun to watch the musty 90-somethings with their poorly preserved 60-something trophy wives. Just don’t order the salad. It’s totally not uninispired.

  • I’m dating myself but I grew up in the district: Roma in Cleveland Park.

  • The people who line up at Pasta Mia are a bunch of hapless tards, or people who stand in line for any restaurant for that matter.

    Most Old Skool restaurants aren’t very good, but they survive on memories and loyalty, which is undeniably worth something.

    • They also die off because the style of food they’re serving no longer becomes fashionable, like Blackie’s House of Beef or Trader Vic’s or Scholl’s Colonial Cafeteria. That and they can’t afford the rents. But you still have quite a few old school joints in the inner suburbs, like Italian Inn in Landover Hills and Weenie Beanie in Alexandria. Cheap American Italian and greasy slop hotdogs will never go out of style.

      • I would sell a kidney if I could have a Scholl’s pie this weekend. Boo hoo.

        • The cakes and pies at Jimmy’s Grill at Maine Avenue Fish Market are just as good. Beats the $h!t out of those rockhard $h!tcakes Cakelove peddles. Get a strawberry lemonade while you’re at it. Crazy good.

    • Hapless tards, Krusty? Nice. Nothing like making your point by using a slur against people with disabilities. It showcases your intelligence and way with words.

  • La Chaumiere

  • PDleftMtP

    Top three:

    Florida Avenue Grill
    Bistro Lepic

    Think that covers me for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and angioplasty.

    • You might need that angioplasty right after breakfast from the Grill. If you make it out from there without, drink lots of wine from the next two and you might be alright. Heh

    • Blithe

      +100 for Florida Avenue Grill!

  • Pumpernickel in Chevy Chase.

    • Pumpernickel has the closest thing to legit NY pizza that I’ve had anywhere in the DC area. Pretty damn close to the slices I grew up with…

  • binpetworth

    Afghan Grill. It used to be called Khyber Pass (and you used to sit on low cushions on the floor), but the food and owners are the same, just got a makeover sometime in the early ’00s.

  • Li-Ho in Chinatown. Hasn’t been the recipient of any upkeep since it was built in the late 40’s, early 50’s it seems, but good food at a cheap price.

  • Speaking of Pasta Mia, how about Mixtec right next door! There’s a dearth of Mexican in that neck of NW, and their mole is fantastic!

    • There’s a dearth of good Mexican in the entire city.

    • How does Mixtec’s mole compare to Casa Oaxaca? I thought Mixtec was overprices, but if they have good mole, i’m totally there!

    • I was at MixTec last night!. Love that place; 30 years and going strong. Their Tacos al Carbon are awesome and the service is friendly.

      Haven’t ever tried the mole at MixTec, but I really don’t get the draw for Casa Oxaca – seems overpriced and overcrowded for food that’s fair-to-middling at best.

    • Incredibly mediocre and definitely overpriced.

  • pines of rome in bethesda.

    • +1 This was my first restaurant when I was a baby, where I went after I graduated high school, and college.

      That white pizza. Amazing.

  • Otello’s on Connecticut Ave South of Dupont Circle. The owner is so darn nice, and the food is good. It looks like the place has been there a long time, and probably hasn’t been redecorated in 25 years…

    • Bland red sauce Italian. A reminder that DC lacked quality places from the heyday of those places.

  • I would have said the Round Table, but unfortunately that is long gone, too.

  • Primo’s in Arlington. Long gone (decades), but the best italian food around by far.

    • If we’re talking about Arlington, I’d like to have a moment of silence for the now closed Alpine and Tom Sarris Orleans House. Years later and I’m still upset that Tom Sarris is closed. I loved that place.

      • Gross! Orleans House? That place was always a bit seedy…

        • You’re crazy 🙂 It was kitchy and awesome. It had a steamboat shaped salad bar for God’s sake!

          • Orleans House was awesome! Surf and turf and that big ass steamboat salad bar. And that funky ironwork and trompe loeil ceiling. Totally unpretentious which seems to have gone out of fashion nowdays.

          • God, I miss the hell out of the Orleans House. I used to go there when my parents came to visit, and when I told my dad it closed, it was like I’d told him the Dodgers just moved to LA.

  • Trios &
    Dupont Italian Kitchen

    I have such great memories at those places and now go there with my kids. Another oldie, though far more upscale, is The Tabard Inn. Love that place.

    • The steak and cheese from Trio’s around the corner is a taste I shall relish forever.

      • Man, I miss those steak N cheeses. Hit 17th, grab a sandwich and head home for chow.

        This thread is making me nostalgic

  • Pines of Florence on Connecticut in Kalorama. Luigi’s is great too.

  • Why Trios on 17th Street of course – especially up before Madam died…

  • Two more: Childe Harold and Mama Ayesha’s

  • I miss Sherrills. The ancient waitresses and the smoke-covered hunting scene murals.

  • ARMANDS- In true old dc fashion there is nothing pretentious here. No interior designer paid to deck the place out ala Hilton Brothers. No craft beer or cocktails. Just decent deep dish and pitchers of beer. (save the hate chicagoans. nobody cares.) It’s kind of sad to go to now but back in the day it was crowded all the time and was the place to go after little league.
    I second Old Europe. The food has that home-cooked feel. Pricey but good and they serve game meats. Goose, Boar, Deer, Rabbit.
    Little Fountain also worth a visit for all those people that think adams morgan is just a frat hole. They were there before it was a frat den and they will be there after.
    Mixtec is still worth a visit but they kind of went down hill. I’d like them to go back to their red plastic basket roots.
    Mama Ayeshas- It’s fancy now but the food is still great.

    another good post might be “what dc institution would you most like to bring back from the dead.” mine would be the Zebra Room. That place was a true local joint.

    • Despite your direction I cannot save the hate….and all chicagoans care…Armands is Pizza is insult to all that is right and good in the world, it should be nuked from orbit lest its evil continue to infect the universe. Enough hate for ya?

    • Man the zebra room had a big pizza.

  • I love Trios/F&H, Pasta Mia, The Tombs, Gtown Chadwick’s (for brunch), Vace’s, Thomas Sweet’s, Martin’s Tavern, Crisfield Seafood… and at this point Cactus Cantina (I’ve been going there since I was a kid and I’m not that young)

  • Ok, I grew up in Montgomery County, but I will always love Pines of Rome in bethesda. I use to go there every sunday night. Best pizza in DC. I lived in China for a year, and when I landed in Dulles, I went straight to Pines for Pizza. Wolf Blitzer happened to be there. Typical DC night. The people who work there have been there for years. The owner is always super nice. It’s probably a front, but it’s still a great family business.

  • Shakeys as well. Might have been a chain, but they dont make restaurants like that anymore.

  • Keren at 18th + Florida – I’ve never had anything but the ful (traditional Eritrian dish) and never wanted anything else.

    Crisfield’s just across the line in Silver Spring. It’s like walking back in time. Some seafood is overly fried but you can get seafood baked and they serve local seafood. The last time I was there, I got shad roe. Gotta respect that.

  • Cafe Luna on Connecticut that backs up to 18th street. This is one of the only “locals only” places in DC IMO. Luna has a very neighborhoodly vibe to it and virtually no tourists (except those brought in by locals). Their turkey chili in a bread bowl is very good, as are their half priced pasta nights. I really like their sweet potato fries also.

    • Not to be confused with the other FIVE renditions of “Luna Cafe” and “Cafe Luna” and “Lunar Cafemondo”… I actually enjoy their breakfast and have found the quality to be consistently better than most other places in the area. Plus, their coffee is hella bomb.

      Also, Kramerbooks Afterwards Cafe!

    • I hear you re: Cafe Luna, but the one you’re describing sounds like Luna Cafe. Cafe Luna on P Street with the Sunday half-price pizza nights was my hang-out for many years.

  • The Calvart Inn (or something like that) in Alexandria. It was pretty good before it got sucky and closed. They used to give you tasty rum buns with your check.

  • I’ve only been going there a couple of years, so I don’t know how old it is, but Tony’s on Kennedy street has delicious diner breakfasts. It looks like it’s been there since the 50’s.

  • Vace and Lavandou in Cleveland Park.

  • Ancient school – Cafe Berlin. Lived close enough to walk to it.

  • bfinpetworth

    Odeon Cafe in Dupont. I wandered into that place when I was in town for a big gay march on Washington in the early 90’s with my current partner and we had a great meal. We lived down in Norfolk at the time, and DC was the big city! I think we ate there after the big Dyke March from dupont to the Mall. I’ve been there a few times since and it is pretty good and not overpriced like so many places these days. Good memory.

  • I always liked The Diner on 18th when I lived up that way. Cheap, never great but usually edible, and sometimes the pie for dessert was just perfect.

    • NOT old school

      • You may not feel it’s old school, but it fits PoP’s criteria: been around for longer than 10 years. Some of us are just so old that our definition of old school is actually ancient school.

  • Goins Family Restaurant on Georgia Avenue.

  • Eat First.

    When I lived closer to Chinatown in the late 90s I ate there once or twice a week. I’d walk-in and if my favorite chef/cook saw me he’d start making my usual! Haven’t been back in years since I moved. Chinatown is more scary to me now than before the shiny crowded “revitalization”.

  • 2 thoughts

    1) Judging by this thread, DC’s food scene has come a LONG way in the past decade

    2) I’ll throw out Meskerem. Not because it’s the most fabulous Ethiopian food in town, but it’s established as an acceptable gateway for the uninitiated (along with Red Seas RIP) and continues that role even as most Ethiopian spots have migrated eastward.

  • My favorites are now gone: Childe Harold, Timberlake’s, and Yenching Palace.

    Honorable mention: Hamburger Hamlet in Bethesda. I think it’s still there. Kind of weird and old inside, but they still make great burgers.

    • bfinpetworth

      I’m with you on Childe Harold. I used to love bringing my girlfriend to the basement bar and drink classic cocktails and chat it up with those classic bartenders there. I happened to wander in there on its last night, and there were a lot of sad people down there having one more drink…

    • There’s still a Hamburger Hamlet in Crystal City, and it’s still good.

    • Got to love a place with the name, “Hamburger Hamlet.”

    • The Hamburger Hamlet in Bethesda was still there as of last January – unfortunately it’s getting dangerously close to offering the same burger you can get at TGIAppleChili’s. Which sucks – the same thing happened to the few remaining Ground Round outlets.

    • Yes!! Yenching! My parents met there.

      • saf

        I have a menu from there that is looking for a good home.

        (We were going to frame and display it, but it doesn’t fit the decor we went with in the end.)

  • Requries 6 parts alcohol, depending on your tolerance, but bistro francais for late night eggs benedict. Hmm.

  • pablo .raw

    I’m not a food expert, but I really like Pasta mia. I only go there like twice a year and yes I make the line! I should also mention that I’m cooking challenged, and I like to share some pasta and wine with friends there.

    • I’m actually trying Pasta Mia for the first time ever next weekend (Friday night) with a friend in town. What time should you get in line?! 5:30? 6? Only took almost 4 years for me to check it out. 🙂

  • Bistro Francais in Georgetown – where else can you get an early bird special at midnight?

  • Zorba’s deserves a mention.

  • La Fourchette in AdMo, Mr Henrys and Cafe Berlin on the Hill, Annies, Florianas, and Skewers in Dupont. I guess the Diner in AdMo counts since it’s 11 yrs old.

  • Moby Dick’s House of Kabob. Was just with a high school friend who insists on going with her dad every time she comes home. Still great!

    Also Tachibana in McLean. While not in the District, it’s fantastic Japanese food. I remember when it was on Lee Highway & Old Dominion Road in the 80s.

  • In D.C., Rocklands: Beef Ribs will always my choice item

    In Bethesda (since everybody is talking pines of rome) I say, The Foong Lin. There fresh squid dishes are probably the best item of Chinese food I have had in this area. Things have come and gone but that place has remained and still serves the same dishes with the same excellence as they did twenty years ago.

  • Blithe

    Crisfield’s seafood restaurant — on Georgia Avenue near the Silver Spring border. This is about as “old school” as you’re gonna get. This is where my family often celebrated graduations and birthdays long long ago. My favorite dish was often the lobster norfolk; other folk went for the fried seafood platter, or the crab imperial. A recent visit reminded me of the joys of unembellished “Murlan'” food — Eastern Shore style.

  • A lot of my favorites have already been mentioned, but I’ll add Bistro Italiano on the Hill. There’s more authentic Italian to be had in the city, but it’s solid Italian American and the pizzas are great.

    • Second Bistro Italiano. It comes the closest to the Luigi’s/AV red check tablecloth vibe.

  • Cashion’s and the Tabard Inn.

    • bfinpetworth

      Love love love Cashions. Not cheap but the menu is great and changing, the food is always excellent, and the bartenders are super. Cashions is our go-to place when we want a good meal, nice atmosphere, and can’t think of anything else that inspires.

    • seriously? Cashions opened in 2007… I wouldn’t call that old school..

      • Cashion’s Eat Place opened awhile ago, it was just the current management team that took over in 2007.

    • Cashion’s opened much earlier—probably the 90s—by Ann Cashion. It changed hands in 2007. Perhaps, that’s what you were thinking.

  • Colorado Kitchen! Oh my that place had the best homemade donuts!

  • I also like Cafe Atlantico in Adams Morgan when it was where Cashion’s is now.

    My then roomies and I were walking back from dinner there to our house on Kilbourne in Mt P when the Mt. P riots were breaking out. My roommate fled to our house, but I stayed and watched it unfold. It was unreal.

  • My Mom worked on the Hill during the late 60’s – early 70’s and was thrilled to see Mr. Henry’s was still open when I moved to the neighborhood nearly three decades later. That place must be considered an institution of sorts

  • Crisfields, but that might be Silver Spring

  • Re: A V

    What’s in that space now? I can’t seem to think of what is there.

  • I think people need to RE-READ the Question of the Day… what OLD SCHOOL restaurant do you like… not just your favorite place to grub…… OLD SCHOOL… i’ll give the transplants here a break, but a restaurant that opened in 2008 is hardly OLD SCHOOL…..

    • Your comment made me wonder what the oldest continually operating restaurants in DC would be. Someone mentioned Martin’s being around from the 1940s. I know Old Ebbit Grill is old, though perhaps it moved locations at one point…

      • Old Ebbitt has been operating since 1856, but only at its current location since the 1980’s. Obviously if you count every version of it, it’s the oldest, but I’m now curious as to the oldest one operating at one location, too. If you find anything out, post to let us know!

  • Swensons and armands in tenley. oh hot shoppe for pancakes

  • Maybe not as old school as some, but Little Fountain def has an old school vibe.

  • Blithe

    B. Smiths’s! I forgot about B.Smith’s! Which was my family’s “sophisticated” nouveau alternative to Crisfield’s! 🙂 My favorite dish is called Swamp Thing (Thang?). And there is/was sweet potato pie with a pecan topping — which settled the family argument re: which is better: Sweet potato? Pecan? Just get both!

  • I miss Au Pied De Cachon in Georgetown. Such good memories of late nights, eggs benedict. So sad it’s gone.

  • I’m trying to think of old school restaurants that are a) still open and b) still good.

    One of the first meals I ate in DC (in the early-mid 80s) was Trattoria Alberto on the Hill. It’s still there, but last time I went there they jacked up their prices beyond what I was willing to pay for their food.

    Cafe Luna got worse when they expanded, IMO.

    Ben’s, of course. I genuinely like their chili dogs, and yes I’ve eaten it sober.

    Harder question than I would have thought.

  • George’s King of Falafel in Georgetown. Been around since I got here for college in 1993, and hasn’t really changed at all.

  • Love the staff, love the patrons, love the early bird specials ! Great way to lose an afternoon.

  • I’m def going to have to go with the Pines of Rome in Bethesda.

  • It’s Washington DC staple crawling with tourists, but it Old Ebbitt Grill. It’s current form has been around for like 20 or 30 years. Hard to beat the consistency of that place even though they serve like 500+ people each day.

    • Allison

      Mmm Old Ebbit. Speaking of Old Ebbit, I think it’s time for a showdown throwdown! Who makes the better butternut squash ravioli: Old Ebbit, or Founding Farmers? I am undecided as both made me want to smoosh my face into the plate and just move my mouth around until I had inhaled it all.

    • I’m partial to the atmosphere of Clyde’s in Georgetown over Old Ebbitt, I think. But I see what you’re saying.

  • I miss the original Stoney’s, when it was on L St. I can’t bring myself to go into the P St location. Lots of fond memories of that place from the first few years I lived here, including during the 2003 never-ending blizzard.

  • Seriously? How has no even mentioned “little Tavern” in Georgetown? Our own little White Castle!

  • So I’m not actually sure how long they’ve been there, but for, um… “old school style,” low-maintenance greek, I’m partial to Zorba’s in Dupont Circle.

  • Famous Luigi’s, Nam Viet, Astor, Tono Sushi, Guapo’s, Clyde’s, Kinkead’s.

  • la lomita dos on capitol hill. yummy margaritas and, if you stay a while, the staff will bring you some cheap tequilla that will give you a major headache the next day. it’s been around for at least the 20 years i’ve lived here.

  • Etrusco on 20th Street in Dupont Circle. Consistently good food and service. Love it.

  • It’s long gone, and it wasn’t in DC, but Hausner’s in Baltimore was a true old school restaurant.

  • My list of old school favorites not around any more:

    – Maggie’s on Wisconsin Ave in Tenelytown ( I used to work there)
    – Zebra Room on Wisconsin Ave.
    – Mr. Eagan’s in Dupont
    – Ristorante AV
    – The Round Table
    – The Crow Bar

    Still around (as far as I know):

    – Zorba’s
    – Lebanese Taverna
    – Luigi’s
    – Henry’s Soul Food Cafe

  • Jimmy T’s on Capitol Hill– the best of old school.

  • Further afield, the Lazy Susan Dinner Theater in Lorton. That place is seriously old school. In so many ways.

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