Tag Archives: burgers

Jake's American Grille

16 Jun

Van Ness used to be a barren wasteland for restaurants, but with places like Comet, Acacia Bistro, and Jake’s American Grille bucking the trend, perhaps there is hope for this neighborhood after all.

Rachel and I as well as a couple of our friends went out to Jake’s for dinner last week. We had been looking forward to dining there for quite some time given the expansive menu and diverse beer list, especially in a location where it is somewhat difficult to find both of these things in one setting.

There is a relatively large bar area on the left side of the room which looks like it would be a great happy hour spot. In fact Jake’s offers two happy hours: 4pm to 7pm, Monday through Friday, and a drinks-only “reverse” happy hour from 9pm to close, Monday through Thursday.

Red Curry Yellowfin Tuna

We were able to secure a table as soon as we arrived and were seated towards the front of the house. The interior gives off somewhat of a homey, neighborhood feel to it with its brick walls, wooden floors, and dim lighting. The menu primarily consists of tavern fare which featured an array of burgers, sandwiches, chicken, and fish.

I went with the red curry yellowfin tuna while Rachel ordered the southwestern tilapia. When I ordered my tuna, the waiter didn’t ask for a cooking temperature, but assuming that the kitchen would cook it on the rare side anyway, I didn’t think much of it at the time. When the dish arrived, the tuna was definitely rare, if not a little undercooked.

The parts of the fish that were cooked at the right temperature weren’t bad, but the quality of the tuna itself was just subpar. Considering that I have had similar dishes at other restaurants, I was slightly disappointed. I did, however, enjoy the side of buckwheat soba noodles that featured baby corn, broccolini and edamame which was covered in a red curry-coconut sauce.

Southwestern Tilapia

Rachel certainly liked her tilapia, but she felt that the dish was missing something as it only came with a side of black beans. It could have been accompanied with some sort of vegetable, rice, side salad, something! She put it best when she described it as “a plate of fish and beans”. I mean, this is supposed to be an “American grille”, not a taqueria.

All and all, outside of spending some quality conversation with our friends, our meal was pretty forgettable. Nothing really stood out in regards to the food, and while the prices were rather reasonable (our two entrees combined cost us $31), everything was just average.

We’re hoping that Jake’s will improve with age as it’s a great space in a location begging for business, but until the kitchen improves, we’ll probably just stick to happy hour visits in the interim.

Jake’s American Grille is located on 5018 Connecticut Ave in the Van Ness neighborhood of DC.

Jake's American Grille on Urbanspoon

Burgers and Shakes at Ray's Hell Burger

1 Jun

While you might find this rather surprising, this was in fact our very first visit to Ray’s Hell Burger. We know, we know.

That’s not to say we haven’t dined at some of Michael Landrum’s other fine establishments… because we have. Trust us. In fact, we had dinner years ago at the original Ray’s the Steaks location which is now, you guessed it, where Hell Burger is situated. That’s not to be confused with Ray’s Hell Burger Too, which is just down the street.

But in order to commemorate our inaugural visit to the place to get a burger in this town, we had to go on my 30th birthday. Yes, it was my real birthday this time around.

But enough with the side stories, let’s get to the beef. And let me tell you, there was a lot of it!

Ray's Hell Burger: Au Poivre-style

While Hell Burger keeps it simple by offering one entrée, there are so many permutations one can come up with given the smorgasbord of burger styles, cooking temperatures, toppings, and cheeses that it can almost be a little overwhelming. Sorry folks, there are no alternate burgers here for those who are vegetarians or don’t eat red meat. This is purely a burger place.

Yet what makes Ray’s even better is the price: $6.99 for 10 ounces of hand-trimmed, freshly grounded beef. And while cheeses, bacon, or even roasted bone marrow (yes, that is an option!) might cost you extra, there are a plethora of toppings offered free of charge which range from cognac & sherry-sautéed mushrooms to charred jalapenos.

As for my burger, I ordered it Au Poivre-style (seared with a black peppercorn crust), cooked medium, and topped with lettuce, tomato, grilled red onion, sautéed mushrooms, pickles, and piranha sauce (fiery, spicy green sauce).

Rachel kept it simple with their original burger, added their secret steak seasoning blend, and topped it with lettuce, tomato, pickles, grilled onions, and mushrooms. She just recently started liking real burgers (normally she would opt for the veggie burger), and this one definitely took the cake in her mind. Sure it was messy and a little hard to eat, but it was worth every bite.

Ray's Hell Burger: Classic

We also split an order of sweet potato fries as well as a black cow milkshake. Hey, I mean if we’re doing Hell Burger for the first time we might as well do it right, right?

When the burgers arrived at our table, I nearly had to do a double take. To say they were monstrous would be an understatement. Let’s just say I don’t think the old Wendy’s lady would have any trouble finding the beef.

My burger was outstanding, although I kind of second-guessed ordering it Au Poivre-style after taking a bite of Rachel’s. Not that I didn’t like the peppercorn crust, but I was really able to enjoy the natural flavor of the beef moreso with Rachel’s patty than with my own.

The toppings were of high-caliber as the grilled onions and sautéed mushrooms were delicious but I felt the bun was rather ho-hum. It was able to keep the contents of the burger intact given all the juices and oils packed inside (which is important in its own right), but the bread was just average.

Black Cow Milkshake

Meanwhile the fries were nice and crispy but nothing memorable. The black cow milkshake, on the other hand, was excellent. The vanilla/chocolate concoction was absurdly thick, impressively rich, and ultimately complemented the early summer weather as a refreshing treat.

I don’t need to tell you more about Ray’s than what you’ve already heard, but if you haven’t been yet, skip the overhype (as well as the lines) of Shake Shack and head over to this great local institution instead.

Ray's Hell-Burger on Urbanspoon

Wild Tomato Brings Casual Fare to Cabin John

18 May

We have always been big fans of Persimmon, so naturally we were thrilled to hear that the owners were opening up a casual restaurant in nearby Cabin John. While the food and service at Persimmon is top notch, we appreciate an informal alternative that’s friendly on our wallets as well.

We met our friends Dan and Judy for dinner there on a Saturday night at around 9pm. It’s a good thing we waited till then to head over as they do not take reservations, plus the place was packed! The small restaurant is situated in a strip mall on MacArthur Boulevard and is roughly the size of Olazzo in Bethesda in regards to dining space.

As we waited for our table, we were able to find two stools by the bar in the back to congregate by, so we ordered a bottle of Riesling to share. After a few minutes we secured a table and, after glancing at the menu and what other diners were eating, we knew right away we had to try some of their pizzas.

Wild Tomato’s menu is primarily comprised of starters, large salads, 12″ pizzas, sandwiches, burgers, and reasonably-priced entrees such as salmon and roasted chicken. We decided to keep it simple, so each couple ordered a chicken-chopped salad and a different type of pizza.

Chicken-chopped salad

The salad was fine, but we all agreed that we could have done without it. There was nothing that stood out and we were a little disappointed with how bland it was. Brett and I had the Smokin’ Pizza, which came with bacon, marinated red peppers, mushrooms, smoked mozzarella, chorizo, and spicy tomato sauce. The pie definitely lived up to its name and you could certainly taste the smokiness. I would order that pie again, but perhaps with a plain pizza too in order to balance out the strong flavors.

While there is no shortage of casual sit-down pizza establishments in the area, Wild Tomato definitely has a neighborhood feel to it. The Maryland mascot, Testudo, was drawn on the blackboard, along with “Go Navy” and “Go Rams” illustrations. So while everyone in the Rockville vicinity is still waiting in two hour lines for Matchbox during the weekend, it is definitely worth giving Wild Tomato a try instead.

Wild Tomato on Urbanspoon

Burgers and Beers at Bourbon

12 Apr

Kentucky Breakfast StoutAfter an arduous search throughout many of the District’s bars and beer stores, I was tipped that Bourbon had Founders Kentucky Breakfast Stout in stock. We set off for the Glover Park establishment to finally fulfill my personal quest of this sought-after brew.

Rachel and I have been to Bourbon several times, both in Glover Park as well as its Adams Morgan location (where they offer a solid brunch), but we have never had dinner at either of their restaurants. We decided to make an evening out of it. I mean, if we’re going all this way just to try a beer, we might as well enjoy it over a meal, right?

We made our way upstairs, but alas, all the tables were occupied at the time. Bourbon is like ChurchKey where diners seat themselves whenever a table opens up as there is no host service. No matter as I immediately went to the bar and ordered my very first bottle of KBS. While priced at a steep $9, it was worth every drop.

While the bartender just served me the bottle, I asked for a pint glass to pour it in as I wanted to enjoy the variety of aromas captured inside in addition to observing how thick and jet-black this beer actually was. Aged in oak bourbon barrels for over a year, the bourbon flavor wasn’t as overpowering as I thought it would be. Add in the hints of chocolate and coffee and I can see what all the hype is about, and I’m not even a huge fan of stouts. Even Rachel enjoyed it, and she hates bourbon!

Blackened tuna steak sandwich

Just as we ordered our drinks, Rachel was able to secure a table in the back. As for the food, I ordered a blackened tuna steak sandwich. Topped with avocado, baby spinach, and dill aioli, it was a generous portion of fish. It wasn’t anything special, but for a place that emphasizes spirits over entrees, as well as the $11 price tag, I wasn’t complaining. The side of house made sweet potato chips helped matters as well.

Rachel ordered the bison burger, something she never had before, and had always been hesitant to try ever since she saw buffalo roaming in Yellowstone on a trip years ago. However, she decided to get past that and took her first-ever bite of bison, and it was delicious. She heard bison is leaner than regular burgers, and was surprised by the thickness as well as the juiciness of the sandwich. It was topped with Swiss cheese and sautéed mushrooms and, while messy, hit the spot. The burger came with a side of bourbon BBQ baked beans that were so good that her only complaint was the size of the small ramekin they were served in.

After our waiter read off a list of desserts, we simply could not refuse and had to order the homemade Chipwich. It turned out to be a worthwhile decision. Filled with rich vanilla ice cream and sandwiched between two warm chocolate chip cookies, we asked our friend Brian to help finish it off as were all but full from its deliciousness.


The great thing about Bourbon is its extensive beer selection as we had two more of our friends who lived nearby join us for some drinks. It’s a great neighborhood bar that’s right off of Wisconsin Avenue should you be looking for some quality micro brews as well as some solid bar fare. I’m already looking forward to another Chipwich myself.

Bourbon on Urbanspoon

Burgers and Beers at The Black Squirrel

24 Mar

During my weekend-long search of the scarcely distributed Kentucky Breakfast Stout from Founders Brewing, it had turned out (thanks to the power of Twitter), that Adams Morgan’s The Black Squirrel had carried the rare brew.

Thus we set plans in motion to: a) get dinner at the new Logan Circle barbecue stand Standard, and then b) head over to The Black Squirrel and get my hands on some delicious KBS.

Great Lakes Eliot NessLittle did we know that the world was against us that evening.

When we arrived at Standard at about 7pm, the place was already locked up for the night! A piece of paper Scotch-taped to the fence indicated that the kitchen had completely run out of food and that they were closing at 6pm. Needless to say, I was furious. I was really, really looking forward to devouring some barbecued brisket. Like, all weekend.

Rachel suggested that we should just eat at The Black Squirrel instead since we were going to head over there anyway. She had also heard that the burgers were really good, so off we went.

When we got to the main level bar, there weren’t too many options to sit down, but we were able to snag a table by a TV to watch some of the NCAA Tournament. The waitress came by and asked us for our drink orders. Before she could even take her pen out, I immediately asked if they had anymore KBS. She went to the bar and soon returned empty-handed. Turns out they had sold their last bottles just hours earlier. I was devastated.

Thankfully, The Black Squirrel has one of the better beer offerings in the city. I ordered a Williamsburg AleWerks Washington’s Porter on draft, and while it was no KBS, it was still a very nice beer. We also split a 22 ounce bottle of Lagunitas’ Wilco Tango Foxtrot. It proved to be another solid choice amongst the group.

The Classic Burger

Without hesitation, I ordered the burger and had it topped with lettuce, tomato, pickles, barbecue sauce, and sautéed mushrooms. Starting at $10, some toppings (such as the aforementioned pickles and sauce) are 50 cents while others (such as cheese, bacon, etc.) cost an additional dollar. It quickly adds up, and while I agree that a slice of cheddar or scoop of chili should cost an extra buck or two, there’s really no reason to charge for something like pickles which is typically complimentary at most places.

When it arrived, I was not only impressed by the size of the entrée, but also the quality of the beef. The kitchen uses Hereford beef which is grounded in-house. When I bit into the burger, I couldn’t help but be enamored by the juiciness and flavor of the beef. While I asked for it to be cooked medium, it was clearly more on the medium rare side. Not that I had a problem with that.

What I did have a problem with, however, was the seasoning they used to prepare the beef. It was just too damn salty. I had to keep reaching for my water, in addition to my nicely-paired porter, since I was ingesting an overabundance of sodium. Had the kitchen laid off the salt, it would have ranked among the better burgers I’ve had in the District.

Tomato bisque soup, grilled cheese and bacon sandwich, and side side salad

Rachel ordered the Great Lakes Edmund Fitzgerald Porter, and the waitress bought out a bottle of Eliot Ness instead. She didn’t mind or complain as she likes both beers, but it was just a slight oversight by the busy waitress. Rachel was originally looking at the veggie burger but decided in the end on the soup, salad, and sandwich deal of tomato bisque, grilled cheese, and a side salad. It was ideal for someone like her who can never decide what to get. The grilled cheese and tomato soup undoubtedly hit the spot on a late Sunday evening. She opted for tomato instead of bacon in the sandwich, and the thick white bread was perfect for soaking up the bisque.

Overall, The Black Squirrel is a nice little hangout if you’re looking for some choice brews as well as some good bar fare to pair it with. I’m already looking forward to coming back and checking out their recently opened basement bar. If they are going to be tapping Canadian Breakfast Stout in the near future, you can rest assured I’ll show up within the hour.

The Black Squirrel is located at 2427 18th Street NW in the Adams Morgan neighborhood of Washington, DC.

The Black Squirrel on Urbanspoon

Palena Cafe Continues to Impress

17 Mar

It’s amazing that after living in Cleveland Park and routinely walking by Palena for several years, I’ve only been to the Cafe once, and that was about four years ago. I remember the food being excellent back then, particularly a delicate pasta dish I ate, but it was the famous roasted chicken and burger that I had always heard about. It was definitely on our list to return to, especially now that they expanded into the old Magruder’s space.

My friend Livya and I decided to try our luck and head to the Cafe for dinner on a Tuesday night. When we walked in, it was almost a shock to see that the old neighborhood grocery store space has been completely transformed into a dining room with an open kitchen in the rear. The front entrance is closed off for now, and the plan is to open a market there soon.

Palena Chicken

Since they do not take reservations, we hoped it would not be too much of a wait. Fortunately it wasn’t (that is once the hostess finally paid attention to us and remembered to get us a table). I have to admit, after reading some Yelp reviews I was prepared for the food to be excellent and for the service to be spotty at best. Unfortunately, many of them were right.

Once we did sit down, with only drink menus presented, our waiter finally came over with dinner menus and asked for our beverage order. We decided to each try a different cocktail, and I ordered the Stormy Monday. It comprised of El Dorado spiced rum, Domaine de Canton ginger liqueur, fresh lime, and Prosecco float. It was very refreshing and tasted like a refined margarita martini. It definitely hit the spot after a long day at the office.

After some debating, and a long absence from our waiter, I decided I had to try the famous roasted chicken, and added roasted sweet potatoes as a side. Livya ordered the burger, fries, and the Cafe Salad. Given that the Palena Cheese Burger was ranked among Food and Wine Magazine’s Best Burgers in the U.S., she couldn’t really go wrong.

Stormy MondayNow I had been told that the roasted chicken takes at least 30 to 45 minutes to prepare, but it felt even longer because we were sitting for quite awhile before we actually ordered. By the time our dishes finally arrived, we were starving. But I have to admit, it was well worth the wait.

I had never seen nor ate a more flawlessly cooked chicken, with crispy skin on the outside and perfect tenderness inside. Maybe it was the presentation, but this chicken was more refined and meant to be savored. At $16, this entree was a steal for basically half a bird with lemon braised greens. The entire dish had a lemon aroma to it and it was very comforting. The sweet potatoes were a nice complement, but didn’t stand out in their own right.

I was able to try some of the burger too, and I will definitely have to order that the next time I go. The meat was incredibly juicy, if not a little rare, and went perfectly with the buttered toasted bun and truffle cheese.

Spring Ahead Sundae

Of course, we had to get dessert, and we opted for the Spring Ahead Sundae. This shows how often some of the menu changes, since daylight savings was just this past weekend. It was a nice twist on a carrot cake sundae, with a scoop of carrot ice cream, one scoop of vanilla frozen yogurt, and then topped with shaved carrot ribbons, raisins, and nuts. It essentially tasted like carrot cake and proved to be light and refreshing.

All in all, we loved the food, and would definitely come back to sample something different. Brett happily ate my chicken leftovers at home since that dish is definitely meant for two people. I’m not sure if the service was just off that night, or if it’s to be expected. Considering we were there for three hours, it seemed a bit excessive at the time. This isn’t the Inn at Little Washington now!

Palena Cafe is located on 3529 Connecticut Ave in the Cleveland Park neighborhood of Washington, DC.

Palena on Urbanspoon

Hank's Tavern and Eats: Conquering the Hank Burger

4 Feb

While there are a plethora of burger options in the District (perhaps too many), one restaurant that is overlooked and, in our opinion, has one of the better patties in the DMV is Hank’s Tavern & Eats, located in nearby Hyattsville.

Rachel and I were looking for a place to grab dinner before the Maryland/Duke game in College Park on Wednesday evening, but knowing that most of the eateries situated along Route 1 would be jam-packed with Terps fans, we felt Hank’s would be an optimal venue given its proximity to the Comcast Center.

You might not know it, but Hank’s is actually under the umbrella of Chef Geoff’s restaurants. Located in the University Town Center next to the Regal movie theater, Hank’s Tavern & Eats features American comfort food in a laid-back atmosphere.

Hank Burger

Photo courtesy of Stacy Zarin-Goldberg www.stacyzarinphoto.com

They also have a great happy hour available in their spacious bar area. Running daily from 3pm to 7pm (and all night on Mondays and Tuesdays), customers can enjoy specials such as $3 drafts and $5 house wines.

Their best deal, however, is the $7 Hank Burger. Normally priced at $11, the Hank Burger is, at the very least, a half pounder stacked with lettuce, tomato, two thick strips of bacon, cheddar, and of course, a gigantic onion ring.

You’ll most likely be astonished at its towering size when it arrives, but for the price, you cannot beat it.

Oh, and it was pretty delicious, too. The Angus beef was juicy and flavorful, and while the bacon could have been a little crispier, Rachel and I had no problems finishing this behemoth of a burger.

We also decided to split a basil chicken salad since half a burger wasn’t going to cut it, at least for me. Just like the Hank Burger, the salad was a very generous portion, and given the reasonable price of $11.99, you’re definitely getting your money’s worth.

Served with greens, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, croutons, and large pieces of grilled chicken, this was definitely an entrée in its own right.

While the beer list isn’t too extensive, they do have Dale’s Pale Ale on tap and also featured Flying Dog Snake Dog IPA bottles for $3.95

All and all, it was satisfying meal before gametime. It certainly beets a dry, overcooked chicken sandwich at Comcast Center.

Hank's Tavern & Eats on Urbanspoon

Hank’s Tavern & Eats is located at 6507 America Blvd in Hyattsville, MD.

American Tap Room at Reston Town Center

31 Jan

After watching our friend referee Herndon High School’s basketball game, we grabbed some dinner at American Tap Room in nearby Reston. While Rachel has been to their Bethesda location for lunch before, this was my first-ever foray into the ATR brand.

We already had a reservation, so despite the busy Friday night crowd, we had no problems securing a table.

Crab Cakes

One of the gimmicks American Tap Room incorporates is electronically illuminated menus.

Now, these might be a great idea in theory, but when the house lights are already dim, my retinas were basically screaming in pain. Sure, I may sound like an 80 year old who was three hours late to the early bird special, but seriously, these menus were BRIGHT.

Maryland Crab SoupGiven the name of the restaurant, the drink list at American Tap Room did not disappoint. Their draft selection leaves a little to be desired, but as for bottles, I was impressed. And while they were out of Abita Amber, they at least had my beloved Turbodog in stock. Non-Montgomery County prices were a plus, too.

As for the food, well, it was underwhelming to say the least.

I wasn’t too hungry, so I opted for a turkey burger. Judging by the menu’s description, it sounded a lot more appetizing on paper than it did on the plate. Then again, I don’t typically order turkey burgers to begin with, but there was nothing listed that really stood out to me, so turkey burger it was.

It turned out to be very bland and tasted like it was cooked on a griddle instead of a grill given that I felt like I was chewing on some congealed fat and grease with each bite. I mean, we’ve cooked Trader Joe’s chili-lime chicken burgers at home that were much better than this.

American Tap Room's Illuminated MenuRachel ordered the single crab cake dinner and was a little surprised when her dish arrived with two crab cakes sitting on the plate. Now, she’s not one to complain about more crab cakes, but she certainly didn’t want to pay for two when she had only ordered one.

When she told the waiter the error, he acted like she had asked for two and wasn’t very apologetic. He didn’t bother bringing a new dish with just one, and said that he would just take the difference off the bill. That was fine (can’t beat a bonus crab cake, I suppose) but she should have received what she asked for, and there would not have been a problem in the first place.

Rachel and I came to the conclusion that this would be a great place for happy hour and to get some drinks with some friends, but that would be the extent of our visit. The food was very average, and if anything, I would just order some appetizers next time around.

American Tap Room on Urbanspoon

Nest Cafe: Beyond the Row

24 Jan

If you are in Bethesda and looking for a quiet spot away from the bustle of Bethesda Row, I would highly recommend Nest Café.

It is located on Bethesda Avenue on the other side of Arlington Road right behind Giant. While it is easy to overlook some of these places due to the proximity of the numerous restaurants found at nearby Bethesda Row, Nest is a great option for lunch, dinner, drinks, or brunch that won’t break the bank.

I met a few friends there recently and we had no problems getting a table since it wasn’t too crowded. Aside from their regular menu, they also offer daily specials as well as a “Bento Business Lunch.”

Bento Business Lunch

For $9.95, diners can choose a salad, soup, and half sandwich from several selections and is served in a three-square presentation for a complete lunch. If you are tired of Sweetgreen or Taylor Deli and want more of a sit-down meal, Nest is a great alternative.

I decided to go with the French onion soup, Senora salad, and grilled chicken sandwich combination. It was the perfect portion, and especially great for someone like me who can never make a decision on what to order.

The lunch and dinner menu at Nest is the same, with the highest priced entrees set at $14.95. They offer salads, sandwiches, brick-oven pizzas, and pasta entrees. Nest also has great weekly deals such as “Hump Day” burgers and fries for $5.95 (carry out only), half-price bottles of wine on Mondays and Tuesdays, and live music on Fridays and Saturdays.

One great feature about their brunch is their build-your-own Bloody Mary bar: you check off your ingredient selections on a sheet and the bartender then makes your concoction for you.

I have to admit that I sometimes forget about Nest myself given the location, but I’ll definitely be back, especially for their lunch special. It also will give me an excuse to stop by Cork 57 and see what seasonal beers they have in stock.

Nest is located on 4921 Bethesda Avenue in downtown Bethesda.

Nest Cafe on Urbanspoon

In-N-Out Burger: Best in the West

22 Dec

Rachel and I were in Los Angeles following Rachel’s annual meeting in Anaheim a few weeks ago. Of course, we had our fair share of California cuisine, but we closed out the weekend with dinner at one of the country’s greatest fast-food chains

You see, it’s not a West Coast trip without going to the legendary In-N-Out Burger.

In-N-Out Burger: Animal StyleThis was Rachel’s first experience with In-N-Out, so I took over ordering responsibilities to ensure she had a great meal as a first-timer.

I ordered two hamburgers, Animal Style of course, fries, and a soda. Total? $6.80. God Bless America.

For those not familiar with In-N-Out, they have a “secret menu” where you can customize what’s traditionally offered at the restaurant.

Animal Style burgers come with lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, grilled onions, and extra spread. The best part, however, are the patties that are cooked with mustard in them. Simply delicious.

As for Rachel’s reaction? Well, she immediately agreed how awesome everything tasted.

While the fries are not as good as McDonalds’ (let’s face it, they set the benchmark in french fries), In-N-Out’s burgers are tremendously superior to the patties served up at Five Guys (the closest thing we have seen to an In-N-Out on the east coast).

While DC has run rampant with burger chains, In-N-Out is still one of the country’s very best.

In-N-Out Burger on Urbanspoon