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East Street Cafe, Union Station - Pan-Asian With A Smattering Of Filipino Dishes


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Anyone have a restaurant suggestion for Philippino food? I've only heard of one place in Arlington with mixed reviews.

East Street Cafe, my go-to spot at Union Station, serves up a smattering of Filipino dishes. The pan-Asian restaurant is Filipino owned and operated. While I have had only the adobo from among their Filipino offerings, I will say that several other dishes--most notably the house spicy ginger beef--are consistently good.

Some of their Filipino dishes:

Lumpia

Summer Rolls

Fried Tofu

Chicken Mami

Pork Adobo

Manila Pork Barbeque

Pancit Bihon

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I eat at East Street Café at least twice a month. I mentioned it as my secret shame in the thread on which restaurants are in your rotation, and Don asked me to start a thread on it. It is in Union Station on the second floor (mezzanine). It is the only sit-down Asian close to my office, and we like Asian food. It promotes itself as "A Culinary Journey of the East", and "Authentic Asian Cuisine".

I do not recommend this place. Unless you're in Union Station or the nearby environs it is not worthwhile to seek this place out. The food is mediocre at best, and can be awful. The prices are high, with all of the entrees running $9 to $12. However, if you have to be in the station or nearby, and want to have a sit-down Asian lunch or dinner, this is all you have.

Appetizers and soups are stronger than the entrees here. The pan-fried gyoza isn't bad. Neither is the fried lumpia, chicken satay, or the tempura, although it is usually greasy. Don't even think about the entrée portion. The tom yum soup is decent and consistent. Likewise, the tom yum noodle soup is good, but not up to the standards of Nooshi.

Once you get off of this into the entrees, you must step carefully. The best is the spicy basil chicken, which is sliced chicken breast stir-fried with green and red bell peppers and hot peppers in a brown sauce with fresh Thai basil. This is very tasty. The spicy basil fried rice is usually good as well, although I have to ask for it extra spicy to bring the heat up a little. My last experience with it was not as good, though. It had an unappetizing aroma that smelled faintly old and rancid. Completing a Thai trifecta, the green curry is adequate, although doesn't even get close to what you can find at any Thai place in a shopping mall in Virginia.

A notch down are things like the pancit bihon, the rice noodle dish from the Philippines. It's not bad, but unless you want noodles there is nothing of great note in this dish to attract you. However, it seems to be the best of the noodle dishes. Mee goreng is not that good, with egg noodles in a vaguely spicy sauce. It always leaves me wondering why I ordered it in the first place. The pad thai looks ok, and they serve a lot, but I've never had it. I've also never had the drunken noodles, which look to be served with the noodles on the bottom, meat-basil-hot peppers on top, and no attempt to mix the two in the kitchen. I wonder if the noodles are stuck together on the bottom by the time they come out, and so I've not bothered to try it.

I generally avoid beef here, because it has been consistently tough and gristly. However, a friend recently had the bulgogi, and it wasn't as bad. The meat is sliced thin, crispy on the edges from the trip around the wok, and reasonably tender, although some pieces of beef were overcooked to crunchiness. It is nowhere near as good as any Korean place that I've ever eaten at, but a better choice than the spicy ginger beef or others.

This place just isn't that good. It stays in business because of its captive market of travelers, tourists, bureaucrats, and others in the neighborhood who can't find time to run down to Chinatown but have $10-12 to spend on a sit-down lunch. I'll keep going until we can get a decent Thai, Chinese, or Vietnamese place on this side of the hill. But it's a shame we can't do better than this.

ETA 9/11/07: I've been advised by a colleague that the drunken noodles are not sticky and are easily mixed around. That is one of the usual dishes he orders, so it cannot be that bad.

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Thank you for the detailed report, but this line sums up my two unfortunate experiences with East Street. Frankly I think that some of the rat hole Chinese places in the basement of Union Station are better.

I can't disagree with this observation based on the meal I had at East Street yesterday. In a word, it was "yuk"...!

I ordered the Drunken Noodles. It came out with the requisite wide rice noodles, but it was topped with what appeared to be a can of dog food. And it tasted about like a can of dog food might taste, not that I am an expert in dog food.

One companion had the Tom Yum Thai soup, and only ate about half of it. Another companion had a rice curry dish that he mauled becasue he was hungry, but declared it mediocre.

All in all, this was a really bad meal. But as Union Station goes, the options are somewhat limited unless you get out of the building. It's a shame, because when the ongoing renovations are completed, Union Station is one of Washington's greatest buildings.

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I think Union Station actually has the best chains in the biz.  Pret a Manager, Chipolte, Shophouse, Roti.  Would rather the Chop't be a sweetgreen.  Plus, I get a certain pleasure of eating Shake Shack under the golden arches of Union Station's main hall.  

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I think Union Station actually has the best chains in the biz.  Pret a Manager, Chipolte, Shophouse, Roti.  Would rather the Chop't be a sweetgreen.  Plus, I get a certain pleasure of eating Shake Shack under the golden arches of Union Station's main hall.  

I might have actually tried Shake Shack, except that the line was practically out the door to First St NE...

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I think Union Station actually has the best chains in the biz.  Pret a Manager, Chipolte, Shophouse, Roti.  Would rather the Chop't be a sweetgreen.  Plus, I get a certain pleasure of eating Shake Shack under the golden arches of Union Station's main hall.  

Just tried Shophouse the other day and it was pretty awful.  I noticed that the opening week lines had shortened dramatically, so maybe it wasn't an aberration.  i think the key phrase is "best chains in the business."  That strikes me as a low bar.

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I used to visit Europe fairly regularly for the job I had about two decades ago. From my recollection, the train station was a perfectly credible place for a decent meal, and I seem to recall Germany, Belgium and France (at least) being in this category. Union Station would not be in this category.

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