In which the author tells you how to run your life -- or at least how to make the most of the fun parts of it.

For instance, inside these pages you will learn how to weather a mortar attack in good spirits; how to avoid booking yourself on the Internet into a bed and breakfast full of twee quilts and dusty tchotkes; and how to plan a dinner party that will stun your guests with deliciousness and style and not destroy your will to live with the amount of work you have to do to pull it off.

These are things I know firsthand, and things people who know me often ask me about (though I usually just book them into bed and breakfasts myself -- identifying ruffled death traps is an acquired skill). I am almost always right about everything (food, style and travel-related, anyway, and often many other things) and if everyone would just do as I say, dinner would taste better, cupcakes would not be dry, your parties would be more fun (for you), and mortar attacks... well, they always suck. I can't do anything about them.

*except laundry. I can't manage my own laundry, much less yours.

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Monday, March 12, 2012


I just started doing food tours on the weekend ( which is really fun and convenient and puts a nice bit of cash in my pocket (so far people are tipping brilliantly!). It's all in my neighborhood (we are never more than 3 blocks from my house) and I get to talk about the Dinner Table Agreement, the East India Company, The Swamp Fox, Ghosts, The Race Riot of 1835, What Freed Blacks Had to do AND PAY to stay in DC pre Civil War (it SUCKED), The Battle of Bladensburg, DC easement rules, and dog parks. And the Marine Corps. And John Phillips Sousa. Oooh and the Lincoln Assassination, and the death rates in post Civil War alley dwellings (VERY HIGH).

So it's a good time.

Anyway, to shill for even MORE tips I am handing out my own personal guide to DC. I thought I'd share it here. You can tip me on paypal.

Seriously: if you are a reader and are coming to DC, let me know and I will tell you exactly what to do and see and eat.

Jimmy T's -- a 40 year old Capitol Hill institution. Cindy mans the grill; her husband John serves from behind the counter. Don't expect fast service, necessarily, but the food is great, the place is packed to the gills with locals (including Spike from Top Chef, Capitol Hill policemen, the architect of the Capitol, members of Congress, administration officials and journalists.) Tell them Pam sent you and it might mean you get your coffee faster. Fantastic waffles. Closed Mondays. Open really early for breakfast. Cheap

Market Grill: World famous blueberry buckwheat pancakes (saturdays only), homemade bread for ham-egg-and -cheese sandwiches (if you want potatoes on them order The Brick). Awesome fried oysters in season and great crab cakes. The line is long on Saturday mornings so either be there before 8:30 am or come on a Tuesday - Friday. Cheap. Inside Eastern Market. Not open on Mondays.

Oyamel: Would be my last meal on this earth if I could. Gourmet Mexican small plates, tableside guacamole, excellent margaritas from a James Beard award winning chef, Jose Andres (you can see his show, Made in Spain, on PBS). Penn Quarter. Make reservations. Mid-range ($30 a head without drinks)

Little Serow: is hot on the heels of Oyamel for my heart. Spicy, incredible, fresh wonderful northern Thai food made by Johnny Monis, one of the top chefs in the world (he’s the owner of Komi). Dupont Circle. This place is POPULAR. Get there early (5 pm) or late(9 pm) or prepare to wait. No reservations; given them your phone number and they will text you when your table is ready. Go get a drink at the Fox and Hound next door. Prix Fixe -- $45 for 5 courses.

For great relatively cheap tacos on the Senate side, zip over to Taqueria Nacional, next to Johnny’s Half Shell. (right near C-Span’s offices. So you may see politicos and journalists coming in and out. If you see Brian Lamb, tell him Pam (Meg’s friend) said hey. (Really. He knows me.)

For strange but good make a rezzie at Thai Xing. 5th and Florida NW. It's in a townhouse. Prix Fixe. Call a week in advance.

1789: A gorgeous historic restaurant in Georgetown that uses local farmers. Uber romantic.

Tabard Inn: 17th and N -- tucked away behind Dupont Circle. Wonderful food, quaint place. Fireplace in the winter, patio in good weather, cinnamon donuts on Sunday. Make a reservation.

Go to Ris at 23 and L for butterscotch pudding and anything else on the menu, but don’t miss the butterscotch pudding.

Check out where DC’s food trucks are on Subscribe to the Twitter feed and you will know where they are at all times. My favorite is Red Hook lobster rolls. Seoul Food DC is also fabulous.

Cupcakes: My money...Best in the city is at Sweet Lobby, a tiny shop on 8th Street SE near my house (yay), also amazing macarons. Georgetown Cupcake is good but the line goes out the door at all hours... the power of TV *(the liens were there before TV, truthfully, but not alwaysl ike now).

OOH get a homemade Poptart at Ted's Bulletin on 8th Street. And get a happy hour cracked lobster at Senarts on 8th,. About $12. So good.

See a movie at E Street Theater (documentaries, foreign films, indepedent movies) or Uptown (first run movies on a big screen -- the way movies used to be).

Visit 14th above Mass Ave / U Street: hip clothing and antiques and furniture stores. Go to Ben’s Chili Bowl for a Half Smoke (Bill Cosby eats there for free, for life. The president has been there too. It’s an institution). Enoteca for wine and a bite. Cork for dinner. Cork Market for picnic supplies. Don't miss Good Wood on U Street for well curated and not outrageously priced antiques. Lots of wonderful places to eat all over. 9:30 club for a live show. Black Cat, too. The Source theater is also there.

Hire a pedicab to take you around to the monuments at night. Negotiate the price up front. There isn't really a set payment schedule.

Visit the National Building Museum -- incredible interior architecture, and a great museum store.

Visit the National Geographic Museum below Dupont Circle. It costs about $10, really cool exhibits.

Go to the Newseum. If you don’t feel like coughing up the $20 entry fee, at least peruse the newspapers out front. There are about 50, and they change daily. Compare front pages. Then go have mini dumplings at the Source around the corner, Wolfgang Puck’s outpost in DC.

Go to the Renwick -- the small American craft museum across from the White House. Never crowded, always wonderful.

Go to the National Portrait Gallery and visit the folk art exhibit -- truly wonderful.

Rent a canoe or paddleboard in Georgetown and take to the river!

Go the Georgetown Flea Market on Sunday. (across from the Safeway on Wisconsin)

On Thursday eve from April till November go to the farmers market on Vermont Ave near the White House. Mrs Obama sometimes pops out to the market. You never know.

Have a drink on the roof deck of the W at sundown (make a reservation)

Have a drink in the basement of the Hay Adams hotel across from the White House. Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie go there whenever they are in town. So does Nelson Mandela, Tony Soprano (I’m sure he loves that I only know his character’s name). So do big time TV journalists. Be sure to complain about media bias! They love that, especially when they are drinking J

If the wind is blowing from the south or east, have a cab drop you off at Buzzard Point with a picnic and watch the planes land... they come in just over your head. It's less exciting when they are taking off to the north.

See an IMAX movie at either Air and Space or Natural History.

Catch a game at National Stadium ($10 seats are great, and you can hang out on the deck with a beer) and go to the Bull Pen (a beer garden during games) right after.

If soccer is more your thing, DC United plays at RFK. Try to sit near the Screaming Eagles.

Go to the Maine Ave seafood market for a weird cross section of both people and fish. Get some steamed crabs with extra old bay seasoning and ask a local how to eat them.

Pick up the free City Paper to see what free events are going on. It comes out on Thursdays.

Go to Mount Vernon in Alexandria. Great tour, cool visitor’s center.

Go to Old Town, Alexandria. Take the food tour there, or just go straight to Jackson 20 and order a Honeysuckle, then go to Restaurant Eve and prepare for the meal of your life. Reservations a must.

Heading into the countryside? Email me!


  1. This is really great info, and timely, too. We are headed to DC for spring break in a couple weeks. My husband and I have twins who are 10 years old; one is a very adventurous eater, the other not so much. Got any recommendations for us? We're staying near the L'Enfant Plaza metro stop and don't plan to rent a car. Thanks a bunch!

  2. No need to rent a car. You;ll be sitting right on top of a metro stop, and you are very close to the museums. You'll def want to hit air and space. There's a new exhibit on Videogames that your kids might enjoy -- it's small but has 80 of them (that's in the Arts and Industries Buildings I think. Check City Paper.)
    How long will you be in DC? Most places usually have some kind of chicken or pasta dish that your kid will eat. However, if I may wade into child rearing a bit... I'd give your non adventurous eater the option of choosing something off the menu or getting a slice of pizza before or after dinner. I wouldn't miss out on DC's amazing restaurants because of one picky (underage) eater.
    Hit up Pitango for amazing gelato. Sweet Lobby on 8th St SE near Eastern Market for cupcakes (it won the Food Network challenge).
    During the day you might want to hit up Teasim on 8th and D NW (near archives metro) for lunch or a snack -- great bento boxes. Their Salty oat cookies unleashed a trend on the city. For comfort food, go to Ted's Bulletin on 8th Street. (The prez ate there!). They make homemade PopTarts that will rock your world. Cava on 8th SE (Barracks Row) would be fun. Your kids will love the saganaki (cheese that is set on fire). DO not miss Eastern Makret breakfast but get their early -- the market is fun to hanfg around for a couple of hours actually. If you want a good comfrotable Italian meal, I always love Otellos on 17th NW just below Dupont Circle. If you are here on a Sunday, hit Dolcezza for coffee and pastries and then go to the Dupont Farmers Market. It's terrific. To weird your kids out, head down to the Maine Aveniue Fish market. They sell some strange fish, and it's a great scene. Try Graffiators on 6th NW -- loud but good food, a Prosecco bar, and its owned by a top chef competitor (Mike Isabella). Good Stuff Eatery is own by another one (Spike Mendolsen) -- thats a burger joint on the Hill. (also an Obama restaurant). Make sure you work in lots of breaks for sitting -- moveis and such. DC is exhausting for kids not used to walking and observing so much. Also see what's free at Kennedy Centers Millennium stage. Have fun!

  3. Wow - such great info! Thank you so much for sharing your DC with us. The kids are really excited about the trip and now, with your insider info, I am too! Thanks again, & I love your blog!

  4. HI - I'm glad to see you are back. You were gone for some time. You are such a hoot! I found your blog a few months back and had so much fun reading it!

    I am not planning a trip at this time of year, but have been wanting to bring my mom there. She is reluctant to agree because it takes some effort to get around. She is a bit over 80, and has a prosthetic on the lower half of one leg. For very short periods of time, she gets along ok with her walker or cane, but uses a wheelchair alot at home because she has arthritis in her back. She would have to take breaks and probably a nap. She simply isn't use to alot of activity, so we would have to be real picky about how she spent her time. I know parking is a nightmare there for anyone. I am not sure how going from one place to another would work out.

    Do have any specific advice for this type of situation?

    Other than the obvious things like the canoe trip, what would you reconsider on your above list?

    She would love to see DC but thinks it would be too much of a hassle. Do you have any first hand knowledge of how accessible things are for people that have limitations getting around? Do you know of any special services that might make things easier?

    I know she would want to visit Arlington Cemetary and the White House. She'd would totally give anything to love on Obama! =D She loves anything native american related and american history. I think she would like the tour you are currently doing, so would I. We also love seafood, so those lobster rolls sound amazing! I am pretty sure she would have a heart attack at the thought of paying $10 for a cupcake, but we do LOVE our fair share of sweets.

    Glencoe, IL

  5. Hi again Sara!

    You'll definitely want to choose your battles, and adopt the locals' transportation mode of choice: a taxi. They are everywhere, not terribly expensive, and they make your day easy.

    I'd pick one or two great meals a day and only one or two great sights a day -- a single monument or a single museum equal a site -- not the National Mall! You might want to make your sites really far away from each other so you get a nice long sit between them -- ie Mount Vernon in the morning, cab it up to lunch downtown (Oyamel, Jaleo, District Chophouse for a burger, or Rasika), then go to the National Archives, and cab home.

    Or investigate a car service that can cater to you for one or two full days. You can get a lot done that way with minimal exhaustion.

    Red Top Cab is awesome, although technically they aren't allowed to take you from site to site in DC (they either have to originate or end their trips in Virgina). But if you hire them separately that might be ok. Really professional, always on time.

    Have breakfast in your hotel, take a cab to site number 1. (The Capitol, or the Supreme Court, or to the National Gallery of Art, or to the Vietnam or Korean war memorial. I believe the monuments have (well hidden) elevators for people with disabilities. Find out where those are before you go, and you'll have an easy time.)

    (Have your Red Top Cab driver's phone programmed into your phone, and tell him exactly where and when to pick you up.)

    Then go have a long, leisurely lunch for which you've made reservations. Make this your special meal of the day. You eat just as delicious food for less money at lunch in DC, and it's a great break.

    Then go see a movie -- there are wonderful movies at E Street Theater. That's a good break and you'll get to see foreign or indepednent films and documentaries that probably don't make it to Glencoe!

    Then head back to the hotel for an early evening, or hit another site.

    If I were you I would hire a pedicab or horse drawn carriage (Charlie Horse) for a full monument tour at night. The monuments are gorgeous, and just seeing them lit up as your driver slowely wheels you past might scratch the itch for monumnets without exhausting you.

    Or plan your visit to focus on one neighborhood at a time.

    My perfect Sunday would be:

    The Tabard Inn for a massive brunch, then the Dupont Farmers market, coffee at Dolcezza, then a short cab ride or medium walk to Little Serow for some seriously great Northern Thai. No reservations but if you show up at 5 or 5:30 there shouldnt be a wait.

    Or Sunday on Capitol Hill: brunch at Montmarte, then a walk through Eastern Market. Have a snack later at Marvelous Market, go to Capitol Hill Books (used, crammed to the rafters). Pick up supplies for an indoor or outdoor picnic, depending on weather and energy, then go back to your hotel. (or have the pedicab pick you up and eat and drink along the way. Wonderful!)

    Another great Dupont day would be brunch at Luna Grill, then National Geographic museum, poke your head into St Matthews Cathedral, then end up at the Tabard for a drink and snack or a meal.

    14th Street/U street would also be great -- Masa 14 or Il Posto or Cork for a meal, then shopping at a couple of the furniture stores (Miss Pixies) then see a play at Source.

    It takes planning but just keep it modest: breakfast, site 1, long lunch, site or activity 2, dinner near or in the hotel. And a cocktail or two. DC has great bar culture.

    Expect to pay $3 per cupcake (maybe $2.75)! Get a few and live it up. (I like Sweet Lobby, Red Velvet, and Georgetown Cupcake, in that order. Buzz Bakery also makes great cupcakes).

    Tell me more what your mom enjoys, how many days you'd come, and how much you would be willing to spend on hotels and meals (per meal) and I can put together a suggested itinerary for you!

  6. Hi Sara -- another quick note. Approach DC the way you would (hopefully) a great European city -- a chance to experience another pace of life and really indulge yourself, and do things a little outside your normal routine. Stop and smell the roses... that sort of thing.

    So: make great meals a central focus, and plan to spend more than you would at home, and make sure you have one great meal a day. they do take a little planning for reservations and menu investigation. So set those up before hand. That will give each day shape.

    And take your time at a museum. They are mostly free, and all are wonderful. World class. Lots of time to sit and enjoy. You don't have to see the whole thing.

    Bring a great book to read. Pack a picnic, and make reading and sitting somewhere -- even if it's just your hotel room -- an experience.

    Get theater tickets so you have a night out to look forward to (and make sure you get aisle seats for your mom). There's everything from Shakespeare to broadway musicals to drama to more odd, experimental theater.

    Consider all your senses: sight (beautiful monuments, artwork), sound (free outdoor concerts about -- pack a picnic), taste (those meals I keep harping on); touch (run your hands along the monuments, dip fingers or toes into reflecting pools, brush flowers -- or schedule a massage or facial at the Mandarin Oriental hotel spa or somewhere lese! That's a BRILLIANT idea, for both of you) and smell (literally smel the flowers, a bakery, coffee.). Try to tickle each sense at least once a day.

    Plan breaks for BEFORE you get tired. Coffee and tea, a pastry, a bistro table. They are all over the city, and they will refresh you.

    Don't get cheap on taxis. They will make your trip happy and fun. Plan a daily trip back to your hotel for a nap if that seems necessary, and then make sure you have ar eason to leave your room again -- theater or movie tix, a dinner reservation, a cocktail lounge to try.

    Carry Sudoku or KenKen or crossword puzzles and pens and your Kindles so you can disengage from each other intellectually -- you'll be together but apart, and get a nice break. And it will give you something to do while she naps.

    Bring stamps so you can write and send postcards... a good relaxing task while you enjoy your cappucino and afternoon cupcake.

    Make sure you schedule an afternoon out for yourself to shop or whatever, so you can enjoy some of the city at your own pace.

  7. Red Top Cabs has wheelchair accessible vans. Use that! DC created the disability access lawas, so take advantage! Tons of folks, epecially WWII veterans, get around with wheelchairs. It takes a little more time but it's TOTALLY doable, and a great way to see the museusm. Many museums also have wheelchairs for people who have a hard time w alking. Again, investigate and reserve in advance, and you'll be a happy tourist!

  8. Ok - I will use all of that info and do some more research on which museums/theater she would like best to put a plan together. Hopefully that will convince her she can go and have a great time.

    Thanks for all of the wonderful info. She did get a kindle fire this past Christmas and she uses it quite a bit. She is a fanatical reader, she goes through books like water!

    Our budget would be pretty modest, but we would want to make the most of it. It would likely just be the 2 of us. I'd guess about 4 days would be the length of our visit, and we would probably drive. My mom lives in southern Indiana, about an hour north east of Louisville Ky along the Ohio river.

    Do things calm down in DC between spring & summer? I was thinking fall might be the best time to come, or is it always crowded and busy?

    Glencoe, IL

  9. Fall is the best time to come to DC, actually -- first or second week of October is almost always gorgeous. Summer -- the last 2 especially -- can be beastly hot and overrun with tourists.

    Investigate Air B-n-B for inexpensive (compared to hotels) accommodations. (and check with me before booking to make sure it's a good neighborhood).

    Tell me what kind of food you like to eat or what you would like to try.

    Definitely plan on either a pedicab or horse tour of the monuments at night -- pedicab will be cheaper and possibly more fun.

    Smithsonian museums are free. The Newseum is $20 but is great.
    So is the Capitol -- there's a great movie there, and probably a wheel chair tour.

    I'd focus on a few neighborhoods:
    -Capitol Hill (Eastern Market on a weekend, or weekday but not Mondays. Weekends are more fun)
    Do the Capitol tour, see the Library of Congress, maybe the Supreme Court. Plan to sit in the gallery for a bit -- though since it's an election year they probably won't be in session. Eat lunch either at Capitol Hill Tandoor (indian), Ted's Bulletin (comfort food), Sonoma (Italian/Californian with local sourcing), or Belga (Belgian. Great mussels, steaks, fish, and fries. I see the former CIA director there all the time.) Sweet Lobby for cupcakes and macarrons to take back to your room. Try a pop-tart at Teds.

    Dupont Circle: Nat Geo museum (about $10 each), The Tabard Inn for lunch or dinner. St Matthews Cathedral. Cappucino at Dolcezza, Otellos for a reasonable and delicious Italian dinner. Pizzeria Paradiso if you can tolerate noise and a possible wait. Wonderful pizza. If you feel adventruous and want a fasntasic but spicy dinner, go to Little Serow. $45 prix fixes (not including drinks)

    Georgetown: Your mom might enjoy the sit down canal barge tour... stories, slow moving barge pulled by mules, possibly some banjo music. Georgetown Cupcake or Baked and Wired (compare!). For a real feast for the sense, make a reservation at Mie n Yu -- a wonderful mix of dishes from the spcice road, all sourced with ingredients from local farms. Crazy fun decor. Gerogetwon Flea Market on Sunday. You might also eat at Martin's tavern... a local institution.

    Try to include a stop at the Willard Hotel (maybe afternoon tea instead of lunch or dinner?) and if you can tolerate the crowds, (and $20 drinks) an evening cocktail at the W rooftop bar -- you overlook the White House, Treasury Department and Washington Monument.)

    Have fun!