Where to stuff your face in the District of Columbia

Don't let anyone fool you — tasting local cuisine is just as important as draining a memory card in some museum somewhere when you're traveling around the planet. But if you happen to land in Washington, DC, here are five places you have to check out:

1. Wok and Roll, Chinese and Japanese Restaurant

That's some monstrous crab!
Tiger Roll (left), Spider Roll (right). 
     This place is in Chinatown, so there's your first clue that the food is a step up from the plastic foam tray that usually drives itself to your front door. I mean, look at the Spider Roll. The four pieces are all you need, with almost a quarter crab stuffed into the two end pieces. The circumference of the Spider was significantly larger than the Tiger Roll (8 pieces), and called for unfortunate disassembly to fit in my face.
     But Wok and Roll's Spider also converted my favorite boy's taste buds to soft-shell crab for the first time. We split half a Peking Duck ($15.95) as well, which is matched with fresh onions, Hoising Sauce (slightly brackish tang) and "pancake."The pancake turned out to be little, weightless tortillas, like the wrap of a spring roll. If you've never had a duck burrito in Chinatown, please do it once.
Too tasty to quack. And crispy on top.
This place will wok your face off.

604 H Street Northwest, Washington, DC 20001

2. Potbelly Sandwich Shop

It's Subway and Cracker Barrel after a head-on collision. Sandwiches are automatically toasted, because they just know. Choose between the Originals size or the Bigs. IBC Cream Soda in a glass bottle and hand-spun milkshakes/malts. Live music on certain days. I've been scarred by sandwich chains in the past, finding that every sandwich ingredient usually tastes like plastic and/or Windex, requiring sauce to make it bearable. Potbelly's Grilled Chicken & Cheddar is totally bangin' and I added some bacon for less than a buck. Pair it with a bag of Zapp's Sour Cream & Creole Onion chips and you're set until dinner. More than 240 Potbelly Sandwich Shops are scattered across the United States, but that doesn't mean there's one near you. Cherish it if you find one.


3. PhoWheels . . . "For Realz"

On my last day in DC, the fat kid in me was saddened for not finding one local food truck to try on this vacation. On our way to the National Museum of Crime & Punishment — I'm pretty sure I even squealed — I was lucky enough to spot this crazy black and white Pho truck parked by the stretch of sidewalk ahead of us. 

As much as I love Pho, it was way too hot for soup cravings that day. It was the perfect excuse for me to score Saigon Eggrolls (2/$4). End to end, both rolls together equalled about a foot of crispy pork and shrimp, not to mention a mini cup of fish sauce. Phock. Yeah.

Saigon Eggroll

4. RFD - Regional Food & Drink

Yes, that's a Jumbo Bavarian Pretzel. Uh huh. 
Hopes and Dreams.
Luckily, I have friends living in DC who could point us to local hangouts and restaurants instead of sand traps just waiting for a tourist's dollar. RFD is also in Chinatown, but it's more of a sports bar/beer garden gig. When I think sports bars with keg buffets, I think of Beef O' Brady's because every sports bar is essentially Beef O' Brady's with or without Irish flair, but RFD has some spark. We started out with the Crab Stuffed Pretzel smeared with homemade crab dip and melty cheddar jack — the added Old Bay is a nice touch. 
     I went with Schlafly Pumpkin Ale ($6.50/glass) while we waited for our meals, which is a glass of bubbly pumpkin pie with a little buzz. You can almost taste the cinnamon, too. For dinner I went with the Beef & Bleu sandwich, which was not at all what I'd expected. This was not salty lunch meat roast beef that had been soaked in extra salt with a side of salt, but rather perfectly cooked pot roast on straight-up ciabatta bread. With the added bleu cheese, caramelized onion, horseradish mayo and homemade potato chips it was food coma time. 
After a couple more Schlafly, that is. 

810 7th Street NW - 202.289.2030

5. Co Co. Sala

Free frozen hot chocolate sip
before your salad
You've made it this far, so trust me when I say this place will easily be $100 with two people, but it's so worth it you'll relive the meal in your head for the rest of your life. The chocolate theme melts through the entire place, from the intimate setting to cacao-inspired ingredients in almost every dish. Our night started at the bar, and you know it's high scale when you see a jar of cucumber slivers instead of half-deydrated lime quarters next to the bartender. We tried the Fetish first, a smoothie-like cocktail with strawberry foam and a chocolate-infused vodka that would put Willy Wonka to bed. The foam creates a perfect froth-liquid ratio with a submerged chocolate covered strawberry too big for one bite. The Co Cojito is also worth a sip; the chocolate-infused vodka is so good it's silly — think vodka filtered through a Hershey's candy bar.

Homemade lil buns. So cute. 
We happened to dine during Restaurant Week with a fixed dinner price of $35.12 per person and special menu items. Your choice of salad, two "Co Co. Bites" and one of two dessert options. The Summer Peach Salad was devoured immediately, but how can you resist Chocolate Brioche Croutons? For the Bites I chose Garlic Shrimp Mac & Cheese (with jalapeƱo and mini penne) and beef sliders with co co. mole sauce. Steve used our special occasion to try crab cakes for the first time and Co Co. Sala got him hooked. I tried to convince him not to get crab cakes from Ruby Tuesday the next day because I knew he would be disappointed. He was. So put on your fancy pants, grab a taxi and go with someone you like lots.
Grand Finale: Chocolate Onyx. COMPLETELY. RIDICULOUS. And yum.