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arldiner

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  1. Having been in Austin numerous times over the last few years, I've been meaning to post some of the (many) places we've liked. This post was a good reminder to do that. I unfortunately don't have much insight into vegetarian options, but many of these places are very laid back and pretty kid friendly: "Buzzier" places Kemuri Tatsu-Ya: Really cool place that mixes Japanese Izakaya type food with Texas barbecue. Phenomenal, unique food, and absurdly reasonable prices by DC standards. The brisket ramen is a standout, but a ton of good stuff there. Suerte: Mexican place specializing in masa. Some of the best Mexican I've ever had, and highly recommended. Goat barbacoa and squash tamale both excellent. BBQ Micklethwait Craft Meats: Just down the street from Franklin BBQ, and while I have no doubt Franklin is excellent, I have never had the slightest inclination to wait in that line given the quality of Mickethwait's. Fantastic Texas barbecue with top notch brisket, but they also do a lot of high-quality sides and some interesting specials (pulled lamb, excellent homemade sausages). Free beer while you wait in line, but if you hit it at like 11:30 on a Friday you won't have to wait much. Valentina's: Honestly this might be one of my favorite places to eat, of any type, anywhere. Phenomenal Texas barbecue, but then done with a Tex-Mex spin into incredible tacos and tortas. The best flour tortillas I've ever had, and it doesn't get much better than their brisket, pulled chicken, and breakfast tacos. This place is pretty far south and it's a bit of a hike to get to, but is 100% worth it. If I could put any place anywhere in the DC area, it might be Valentina's. Tacos No shortage of great spots, but have enjoyed most: Ñoños Tacos: In a gas station in north Austin. Excellent corn tortillas and highly traditional tacos. Closed Sundays. Dos Batos: Also in north Austin. Less traditional, but with a good smoky flavor on everything. Brewery/Winery Jester King: Fantastic farmhouse brewery a bit outside of town in a gorgeous setting. Everything from great IPAs to some really cool sours and barrel-aged beers. Great place to spend an afternoon. Lewis Wines: I enjoy wine, but am not remotely a wine expert. That being said, I was impressed by Texas wine country which had some (to my taste) really enjoyable wines, especially doing some Spanish and Italian varietals well. And just as good is that, while they seem to get grapes from all over Texas, many wineries are out in the Hill country which makes for an excellent day trip from Austin. And much more reasonable prices than the (absurdly priced) VA wineries. Lewis Wines has solid wine and an amazing setting with an open pavilion in an oak grove. The people there are super nice and it's about a very relaxing place to spend an afternoon. Also near Pedernales Falls state park, which is a great spot for a hike beforehand. Hilmy Cellars: Not as relaxing or pleasant a spot as Lewis Wines, and much busier, but excellent wine (better than Lewis). This of course barely cracks the surface of what's in Austin, but just sharing some places that have been highlights.
  2. Did not see a Call Your Mother (Timber’s bagel spinoff) thread, so I’m putting this here, but feel free to move this to wherever it should go if not here. A word of warning: I am always on the hunt for a great bagel in the DC area, and had seen the hype Call Your Mother was getting, so I was excited when Dolcezza announced they were carrying Call Your Mother bagels at their locations (as there is one right next to my office – much closer than Columbia Heights). I stopped in to try one this morning and got the za’atar bagel, untoasted with cream cheese. This thing had roughly the same texture as a supermarket bagel, and was essentially tasteless. It tasted like it was at least a day old (possibly more), which for good bagels makes an enormous difference. I haven’t been to CYM to have one fresh so I can’t rule out that their bagels don’t just suck in general, but it seems Dolcezza locations are getting maybe two shipments a week and selling them until they’re gone, which basically makes these things tasteless hockey pucks. And at $4 (with cream cheese), they are not exactly cheap (and several days old are a rip off). Anyway, short version: don’t get a Call Your Mother bagel at a Dolcezza, and if I was CYM I would be highly concerned about losing business over this (i.e. I had wanted to make it up there before to try them out, but now have zero desire to).
  3. Consider Grady's in Dudley for your BBQ stop. Skylight is excellent, but Grady's might even be on another level entirely (a level for pork BBQ I have not had matched anywhere else in the state). Also has incredible fried chicken.
  4. Also second these posts, this place is fantastic. Also really like Market Burger in Purcellville. Think those might be the two best burgers in the area, along with Ray's Hell Burger (in the category of dedicated burger places).
  5. Going to be in Florence for the first time for three days next weekend. After reviewing everything on this board (and other sources), leaning toward doing a lunch at Enoteca Pitti Gola and dinner at either Il Santo Bevitore or Zeb (and then doing additional more low-key/market/cooking meals). Has anyone had recent experiences at any of these places? Any thoughts overall on additional places we might consider above those? Thanks in advance!
  6. Made another visit to Afghan Bistro this Friday and honestly I think this might be among my top three favorite restaurants in the area at the moment. I'm sure it's not empirically the "best," but I think it may come close to making me the happiest. They were absolutely packed full and while we had a reservation for two, it seemed like it was going to be a bit of a wait when we arrived. But then ended up being able to seat us fairly quickly as several parties left. As always, the staff here is incredibly nice and welcoming, and the owner (I presume) checked up several times throughout our meal to see how everything was (as he had in past visits). The meal started as always with bread and the four chutneys - all of which are excellent. Honestly, could eat a meal just of the jalapeno and red pepper chutneys on good bread by themselves. We then went with three dishes and just told them to bring them out whenever - the hot mazza assortment and aushak off the appetizer portion of the menu, and then an oxtail and potatoes dish (can't remember exact name) that was a special. Everything was excellent. The aushak have been one of my favorite dishes in the area and they are just outstanding - delicately layered flavors and everything works in tandem. The hot mazza assortment was also delicious, containing one aushak, roasted butternut squash, roasted eggplant puree, and a leek turnover. Each of these were pretty much perfectly done and nothing overpowers the other items. The oxtail and potatoes dish featured those ingredients in a gravy with rice and a light chutney. Not quite as good as the preceding items of the meal, but still excellent overall. Had previously had a similar version of this dish with lamb shank and eggplant and thought that was slightly better, but would happily eat either again. Great news for the owners that they are opening up a second place - they certainly seem to have more business than this location can handle -- but selfishly hoping that the quality keeps up. I was an enormous fan of Bangkok Golden its first few years and thought that when they opened Thip Khao both the new location and original were still great, but not quite up to the level of the original at the beginning. I wonder whether the next couple months will be the best time to go to Afghan Bistro at its peak. Hopefully they are able to stay up to form at both spots (and frankly even if it's 75% as good, will still easily be worth going to).
  7. This is a belated review, so apologies for the lack of details, but as I've been to Arlington Kabob several times now and enjoyed it, thought it was worth writing up at least a short note. I really like this place and the folks there are very nice. I think Ravi Kabob is a tad better (admittedly that's a very high bar, so no shame in that), but Arlington Kabob is much easier to get to and park and a bit less crazy inside. Kabob-wise, believe I've had the chaplee kabob and the lamb kabob - the first being excellent and the second just the slightest bit dry, but still good. Beyond that, I enjoyed the Qabli Palaw which I remember being a sizeable lamb shank for the price. I also tried (inspired spur of the moment by this thread I believe a while back) the steak and cheese, which was good quality, but I got it to go and by the time I got it home it had gotten fairly soggy from both the juice from the meat and the mayonnaise (the one part I could have done without). On me for not thinking that one through, but the ingredients and meat were all very good and I still enjoyed it even as a soggy mess - believe it would have been excellent if I had eaten it there. Overall - a very good option in north Arlington and one I'm glad is in the area.
  8. I've always liked Super Pollo. I'm not sure the chicken is any better than El Pollo Rico (probably about the same), but they have great sides and much more varied options there.
  9. Have been to Afghan Bistro twice now (and wish I had made it more). Love this place. It is virtually everything I look for to my personal tastes in a restaurant - fantastic, unique food and amazingly nice people. The aushak I have had both times and it might be one of my favorite dishes in the area. This somehow manages to feel almost light and delicate despite the ground beef and yogurt topping. Fantastic leak dumplings. Have also had both times an excellent special consisting of a lamb shank in a red curry with eggplant over rice. Perfectly cooked and great flavor. The eggplant is almost better than the lamb (and the lamb is great). And then the flatbread with chutneys as described above is a perfect way to kick off the meal. Could eat a lot of this by itself. Cannot recommend this place heavily enough and wish it was closer to me.
  10. Just got back from there and had been intending to post on a few places, so will combine that in with some general recommendations. To start: Saltbox Seafood in Durham is excellent. Stopped by there for lunch, and while you should be prepared for a bit of a wait (it seems everything was cooked to order and they take their time), the everything is outstanding. Collectively we had the fried shrimp sandwich and the fried catfish sandwich, each of which was on a roll with their very good (and even better no mayo) slaw. The fish/shrimp was very fresh and each was lightly fried and not oily at all and well seasoned. Both excellent sandwiches. But the real highlight was the grilled croaker plate - two whole croaker grilled with lemon, rosemary and thyme that were some of the best fish I've had anywhere. That came with some outstanding potatoes that were cut like chips (maybe a bit thicker) and then fried, but so they were still soft in the middle, and slaw. Incredibly delicious. And an order of their hush puppies (they call them hush honeys) to top it off. Incredible meal, and I can't say enough about this place. Very nice owner as well, who is apparently from DC (and was very excited to learn that Ray's is still around - asked about it). Definitely go here for lunch one day. Beyond that, took customary trips to Sunrise Biscuit Kitchen in Chapel Hill (delicious southern biscuits - get the chicken biscuit - that will clog your arteries for days) and Hillsborough BBQ Company up the road a bit in Hillsborough. My go to for BBQ in this area had always been Allen and Sons, just before Hillsborough, but for the past few years they frequently seem to be mysteriously closed quite frequently (they are apparently still open overall). If Allen and Sons is open, it's always great and a real bare bones, old-school atmosphere. Best pork BBQ outside of eastern NC. But Hillsborough BBQ is a few years old and has been doing great stuff - more of a full restaurant, but laid back and great BBQ. In addition to pork BBQ and hush puppies, we had the smoked brisket (surprisingly always very good for NC) and a delicious cup of brisket chili. Their Brunswick stew is also fantastic, and they've got great mac and cheese and collards. Outside of food, tried for the first time Durty Bull Brewery in Durham. This place was very enjoyable - they're doing a good amount of wild ales and sours and while they're not at the level of an Aslin or a Wicked Weed (not much is), had a few very solid beers in a nice, laid back taproom. Their rhubarb berliner weiss was insanely delicious if you like sour, fruit-forward beers, and also enjoyed the blond sour ale and the brett IPA. Picked up a bottle of their Imperial Rice IPA to try as well, which I have not yet gotten to. But very nice people here and enjoyable beer, definitely recommend a stop by if beer (and sours) is your thing. Word of advice - the place looked closed when we arrived, so make sure to try the door on the right which opens to the tap room (up a metal ramp). There is no signage and we almost left because we thought they weren't open. Very glad we didn't. As far as Chapel Hill/Durham generally (I don't really know Raleigh), there is an enormous amount of good food here. In Durham - have always loved Watts Grocery, although haven't been in several years. Mateo is also solid for spanish/tapas, while I have heard great things about Littler and the Counting House. For lunch options, Nanataco and Toast are great. There is probably a ton more that's good, but am not as up to date as I once was. For stuff to do here - the Nasher art museum on Duke's campus is a very interesting one, and it's worth seeing what is playing at DPAC. The Brightleaf Square area downtown has a number of interesting shops and art galleries, and if the weather is nice, swing over to the Duke Gardens which are impressively large. In Chapel Hill foodwise - Lantern is outstanding and definitely worth a visit, while I have always loved Kitchen - a laid back French Bistro with affordable prices (exactly the places we need more of in DC). Beyond that, worth spending a few hours in Hillsborough, a small town just 20 minutes north of Durham/Chapel Hill. It's got a great downtown area which is a few blocks of art galleries, shops, good restaurants (in addition to Hillsborough BBQ company, the Wooden Nickel is a great bar with good food and Antonia's and LaPlace area good), and a nice co-op market (Weaver Street). There's also a great walking path along the Eno River. Worth spending a couple hours walking around here.
  11. Tried Ambar for the first time a week ago at the Clarendon location. I thought it was solid, but honestly I was expecting a bit more. We opted for the $35 Balkan Experience, and got I believe 9 dishes. For two people, this was a solid amount of food, but we weren't stuffed. Some of the dishes are fairly small (the meat skewers, asparagus), while others are larger (mushroom pilav, fried zucchini). Of those we had, the smoked pork neck mezze and the cheese pie were the standouts. The first comes thinly sliced and cured on a plate with a couple good cheeses (one cow's milk and one mild feta), some dried fruits, and (if I remember correctly) a red pepper spread. The cheese pie was a decently puffy pastry that was also delicious. The grilled shrimp were good, although the corn puree they came with was a bit too sweet for my taste. We enjoyed a good asparagus dish that came with two poached quail eggs and some crumbled crisped prosciutto. And I thought the stuffed sour cabbage and lamb skewer were both solid. The remaining dishes were more forgettable - mushroom kajmak, mushroom pilav, and fried zucchini were all fine, but not sure I'd order any again. The fried sourdough that came with the mushroom kajmak sounded interesting, but I thought came out too heavy in practice (not that fried sourdough sounds particularly light). Overall, this was a perfectly good meal, but with that coming out to $90 tax and tip included for two people (without any drinks) I didn't feel as if it was worth it given what else we have in the area. On the meat side of things, I like the kabobs at Ravi Kabob much more, and overall I find Rus Uz to be much more interesting flavor wise (not to overly generalize - neither of those is completely the same type of food, but I would go to each before Ambar, especially at half the cost for 2 people). And frankly - at $90 for 2 without drinks, this bumps Ambar into a category of excellent places more broadly that it doesn't come close to approaching (can certainly do Red Hen, Rasika, probably Rose's on roughly those parameters). That's not to disparage them - the place is perfectly fine and people are certainly willing to pay that in Clarendon (it was packed the whole time we were there on a Friday night). You're not going to have a bad meal here. Just didn't think it compared favorably or was more interesting than other options I can do for the price.
  12. Planning a trip to Italy for next fall (I know far in advance) and intending to stop in Bologna. Any recent recommendations from folks who have been there? Either for food, places to stay, places to visit. Have been doing general research but the suggestions on these boards are invaluable. It sounds like asking around locally for great places to eat is a solid bet, but curious if anyone has particular places they love. Additionally, this would be on a 7-10 day trip spanning northern Italy and western Slovenia - how long would folks ideally spend in Bologna? Maybe a day there and a day in the surrounding countryside? Thanks for any advice!
  13. Far from an expert here, but The Barns at Hamilton Station is close and is a very pleasant place on a nice afternoon with both a large outdoor patio and lawn and often live bluegrass music indoors. Wouldn't say their wine is the best in Virginia, but it's certainly not bad and is plenty enjoyable. Really like Aspen Dale Winery, but that would be a longer drive south, maybe 40 minutes or so.
  14. Both Parker's and Wilber's are solid and you can't go wrong with either, but at that point you're also pretty close to the best Eastern NC pork bbq period, which is at Grady's. It's a bit farther off 95, probably about a 45-minute total detour, but I would drive 3 hours out of my way for Grady's. When I first went there, I also tried Wilber's and the Skylight Inn on the same trip. Both were incredible. The first bite I had of Grady's pork bbq, I instantly knew this was a whole other level entirely. I hadn't even thought there was a higher level, but somehow Grady's hits it. Also great fried chicken and solid sides and hush puppies (but you're going for the pork bbq).
  15. Decided to try All Purpose tonight. Arrived a little after 6:30 and was quoted an hour to an hour and a half wait for a party of two. However we got a drink at the bar and were able to snag two seats there after about 15 minutes or so. This is a more crowded bar with less space to eat than, say, the one at Red Hen (which I find very comfortable and enjoyable - maybe even better than a table for two people), but no complaints (we avoided a lengthy wait after all). We each ordered a beer, and then started with the oven-roasted clams. This was very good -- clams in a rich white broth served with toast topped with a cured Italian meat sliced thin and a few extra pieces of bread. We then went with the Sorrento and the Ferraro pizzas. As mentioned previously, these were very filling with a chewy, wheaty crust. The Sorrento was topped with excellent prosciutto, arugula, and had fennel and nice hints of gruyere, while the Ferraro had chunks of artichoke with finely chopped ramps, stinging nettles, and a pistachio pesto. Would recommend both. Overall this is a very different kind of pizza than say, a Pupatella -- a bit heavier with more elaborate toppings -- but definitely enjoyed it. It will do very well here, not that that's news.
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