By Elliot Merker
Hey there! My name is Elliot “The Wookiee” and if there’s one thing I love as much as Star Wars, comic books, cosplay and anime, it’s food. Yes, I am a massive foodie and for years I’ve wandered around the DMV area and found some great restaurants that, if you order right, you can get out of for under ten bucks and have had a delicious meal. I’m not talking fast food, I’m talking about hole-in-the-walls or local names that you might not have heard of, maybe even if you’ve been living here for decades.
But because con season is beginning, and none earlier than Magfest and Katsucon at the Gaylord Hotel and Convention Center in National Harbor, MD, I’m going to focus on local fare not too far from the Convention center that’ll give you a great meal that won’t break your budget.
First off, if you want just want a burger and don’t want to go too far for it, and for some reason Elevation Burger or Five Guys that are in the National Harbor area don’t really appeal to you, I highly suggest Johnny Rocket’s, located at 6800 Oxon Hill Road, Suite 770 in the Tanger Outlets just on the other side of Oxon Hill Road from the Gaylord. The food is great and the retro 50s décor is cool, but the reason I go is the Patty Melt. Prices for the entrees range from $6.59- $10.69 (w/o tip) but it’s worth it. Also, if you REALLY want those bacon cheese fries with your burger, don’t worry. Just ask for them on the side instead of regular fries and it shouldn’t be too much more expensive. I’ve done that and got an Original and got out of there for less than $10.
A word of warning about this particular location: the lines can get problematic and it’s the only food in that shopping center (which might explain the lines). The food is worth is, but patience is a virtue.
If you don’t mind crossing the river, the first place I suggest is the Ichiban Sushi House at 211 King Street in Old Town. You may be saying “Hey! You promised us affordable food, why are you sending us to Old Town? That’s expensive!” Well, normally you’d be right, but Ichiban is one of those gems I’ve discovered. Great sushi and, as long as you don’t go for the Chef Specials (which are priced around 13-15 bucks a roll), most of their sushi/hand rolls (hand rolls are more loosely rolled and slightly larger) range from about $5 to $10. My personal favorite is the Crunchy Yellowtail Roll, for $7.50. They also have lunch specials and a happy hour from 4:00-6:30 which bring the prices WAY down (probably under the assumption you want to buy drinks, but if you’re underage or just don’t like booze so much the better for you). Definitely give them a shot.
If you’re looking for something even more chill, and a bit quicker to get back to your convention festivities, there’s District Taco, which opened up at 701 South Washington Street, just a quick walk across the bridge from the Gaylord, only about a month ago and has been packed at lunch and dinner ever since (so I recommend coming in for an early- or late- lunch/dinner (Hours are 7 am to 10pm). Their prices are quite nice, since everything on the menu is about $8, though I would recommend getting a burrito since I think that $8 is a bit more than three tacos are worth (you’ll see why in a bit). Whatever you get, though, get it with the Al Pastor meat for your protein (unless, of course, you’re vegetarian or have something against pork, like I would if I kept kosher like others of my religious background). To quote their menu, Al Pastor is “carved rotisserie pork, marinated with guajillo and served with chopped pineapple”. Now, I don’t know what guajillo is, and if you do please message me and explain it to me, but I do know it’s REALLY good and you should try it. Now.
That said, if you’ve got a car and are willing to venture a tad further inland for great food try Tippy’s Taco at 5912 North Kings Highway JUST across the street from the top side of the Huntington Metro Station, in the same shopping center as the Post Office. Since I’m a physics geek, the best way for me to explain this place for you is mathematically: $5 = 4 crunchy tacos= happiness. Seriously, I’ve never had a bad meal here and the most expensive thing on the menu is the Fajita platter, at $8.75. But all the food is delicious and they are more than willing to work with you if, say, you don’t like pico de gallo or sour cream. They also serve a welcome oddity at the soda fountain, birch beer. If you’ve ever had root beer, it’s the same idea but more flavorful and red. Bright red.
…no, but seriously. Get the 4 for $5 tacos. They’re THAT good.
Since I seem to be on a bit of a Hispanic food kick, allow me to direct your attention to El Paso, at 8746 Cooper Road in Alexandria, it’s a BIT more expensive than anything else I’ll direct you to, but worth it. It’s built into what used to be a run-down Chinese place, but make no mistake, the food is excellent. Lunch specials will save your wallet but no matter when you go I recommend getting the pick –two ($8.99) or –three (9.75) combos. It’s the cheapest thing on the menu, but the chile rellenos and the tamales are WORTH IT.
Bringing this back a bit closer to the bridge is a neat little pho place called Viet House, located at 6226 Richmond Highway in the same shopping center as a Domino’s pizza and a Fast Eddie’s. Now, I’ve had something of a pho obsession for years (which I’ll come back to later in another piece) and I’ve been to over 130 difference pho places in the US from DC to San Diego and I’ve always compared them to Viet House. For 8.75 for a large bowl of pho, I would go there for every meal if I could. The soup is superb, the spring and summer rolls are to die for (spring are fried and served with an oil-based sauce, summer are have rice wrappers, are chilled and served with a sweet peanut-flavored sauce, recommend buying only if you’re in a group splitting the check evenly) and the service is fast and polite. I love this place and I’ve yet to bring a friend or group there that didn’t leave just as happy-bellied as I was afterword.
So here’s to a good con season! I hope my suggestions help you make it all the better with some good food. May the Forks be with you!