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An Attempt to Solve DC’s Casual Dining Conundrum
Restaurants & Bars

An Attempt to Solve DC’s Casual Dining Conundrum

Emily Murawski
about 3 years ago

Whenever I fly into Reagan National Airport to visit my parents (their condo is technically walking distance from the airport!), I know a chain of events is about to unfold—and that chain mostly involves debating, shrugging, online searches, and a lot of heavy, frustrated sighing. We are, of course, trying to pick a restaurant.

The issue, here, is we’re essentially looking for your meat-and-potatoes type of place, except without too many potatoes, and if that meat could be substituted for seitan, well then that would be perfect! We’ve got three conflicting forces at play: My mom prefers mild food, like grilled chicken or fish without too much seasoning; my dad, recently diagnosed as diabetic, should be avoiding carb- and sugar-heavy dishes; and, I am a vegetarian. Where does this leave us?

Well to start, within a short drive of the Arlington, Va. area, it seems we have an unusually high concentration of Mediterranean restaurants! Just a stone’s throw away, there’s Mezeh Mediterranean Grill, Vaso’s Kitchen, and one of my parents’ favorites for gyros: Souvlaki Bar.

And, throughout the D.C. area, fast casual Mediterranean chains keep adding locations: Zoe’s Kitchen has 10 locations in the area, and Cava has over 30. All these Mediterranean options do provide some overlap in this confounding Venn diagram: Gyros appeal to my mom’s Midwestern sensibilities, salad- and lentil-based bowls work for my dad, and falafel will do for me—but I can only eat so much falafel. And we all need variety!

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Looking beyond the Mediterranean, there are also numerous Southern restaurants (at least, numerous in the eyes of this Midwestern lady). While Southern food is delicious and amazing, these are certainly not going to check the low-carb, low-sugar box. I’m talking biscuits and barbecue, everything fried and honeyed. Po’ boys at Southside 815, barbecue fried chicken at King Street Blues, and shrimp and grits at Tupelo Honey Cafe—the carbs! The wonderful, horrible carbs! I can find options without meat, but we’re hard-pressed to cobble together any meals without a ton of breading or sugary sauce—a big no-no for my dad.

Pasta places are fine for my mom and me, bad for my dad. Indian and Thai would be spicy and interesting for my dad and me, but not so much for my mom. And when I’m not visiting, my parents are happy with their go-to spots which, more often than not, feature meat dishes. However, there are those rare, few places that cater to all three of our needs in a way that mimics the sun, the moon, and the earth aligning perfectly for a solar eclipse—and the first of these is Lost Dog Cafe.

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With countless sandwiches, salads, and pizzas, Lost Dog’s biggest strength lies in its menu size: not only do they offer over 50 variations of sandwiches, but you can also create your own. Salads take care of the low-carb requirement, and the numerous sandwich combinations easily handle my mom’s and my preferences; the Cowgirl or the Muttly feature grilled chicken breast, while Emory’s Portabello houses vegetables and cheese in a pita. With a name reflecting its owners’ passion (they opened a same-named animal rescue in 2001), Lost Dog has five locations around DC.

The celestial bodies align similarly at South China Restaurant. The restaurant itself is not much to look at, just a small, brightly-lit front room with a few booths and tables, but this family-run establishment cooks up some really flavorful Chinese food. Did you know that Moo Goo Gai Pan is just chicken and vegetables? My mom had not known this until she started going to South China, and now it’s her go-to entree. For my dad, there are plentiful spicy options, like shrimp with garlic sauce, and the last time I was there I ordered the eggplant with garlic sauce—delicious! The best part about South China? They are flexible to your dietary preferences. We always request fewer bowls of rice, since my dad is watching carbs, and if you don’t like water chestnuts, they’ll happily replace with another vegetable.

And, when all else fails, there’s always a good diner —and in Arlington, Va., that good diner is Bob & Edith’s. A place like this works for all three of us, because of the dish that is simple and satisfying, low-carb, and vegetarian-friendly (okay, ovo-vegetarian-friendly): eggs! Bob & Edith’s offers cooked-to-order omelets, and they run the gamut on all the other diner fare you’d expect: waffles, pancakes, egg sandwiches, burgers, and more. With colorful tabletops, wooden bench seating, and vinyl stools, they’ve got the classic diner vibe down pat.

Are eggs sort of a cop-out solution to this dietary puzzle? Oh, yes, definitely—but at some point, you have to just close out of the internet searches for “restaurant near D.C.,” get out that door, and enjoy a meal away-from-home with some of the people you love. Yes, concessions will be made, but if you’re willing to try some new places, you’ll be able to find some solid dining options, even amongst some pretty rigid dietary constraints!

South China Restaurant
Lost Dog Cafe
Vaso's Kitchen
Mezeh Mediterranean Grill (Crystal City)
SouvlakiBar Alexandria
Lost Dog Cafe - Alexandria
Tupelo Honey
Zoës Kitchen

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