The Post’s Joe Yonan On D.C.’s Food Scene, Favorite Local Spots

by May 2, 2011 at 7:52 am 2,141 0

Borderstan, Joe Yonan, The Washington Post, Dupont Farmers Market

At the Dupont Farmers Market: Joe Yonan is the Food and Travel editor at The Washington Post. (Luis Gomez Photos)

From Alejandra Owens of One Bite At A Time where she writes about food, cooking and even offers up some great recipes. You can also find her on Twitter at @frijolita.

Joe Yonan is the Food and Travel editor of The Washington Post and a fellow Borderstani. Having lived in the 17th Street area for five years, Yonan not only knows the neighborhood but also has a good sense of how it’s changed in recent years. He recently published his cookbook, Serve Yourself: Nightly Adventures in Cooking for One, which can be purchased at and local bookstores.

Owens: Let’s get the basics out of the way: what brought you to D.C? How long have you lived in D.C? When did you move to the neighborhood?

Yonan: I came to D.C. in fall 2006 to start the job as Post Food section editor, and moved right to 17th Street into an 800-square-foot condo.

Owens: In a recent “Morning Joe” segment on MSNBC, Mike Barnicle said no good ethnic food (including Italian food) is made south of Philadelphia. Some maintain that D.C. isn’t a legitimate “food city” — what do you have to say to naysayers?

Yonan: Mike Barnicle! Boy, there’s a blast from the past. You know he was at the Globe when I was there, right? Left in disgrace. Anyhoo, I think his definition of “ethnic food” is probably not the same as mine. In fact, it’s sort of a ridiculous term, isn’t it, when you think about it? We need to come up with something better: maybe global food?

Anybody who thinks D.C. doesn’t have good global food hasn’t eaten at Ethiopian places in Shaw or Vietnamese places in Falls Church. It’s true, we don’t have much of a Chinatown — I call it China-block — and there’s not this working-class industrial base that in Northeast cities like Philly, Boston, Providence, New York, etc. led to this plethora of mom and pop Italian places. But that’s just one definition of “ethnic food.”

Owens: What do you think the city lacks in terms of a food scene? Brick and mortar butcher shops (a la Red Apron’s new venture)? Ethnic grocers in various parts of the city? Good Mexican food? (Personal dig on DC there.)

Yonan: I wish more of the global markets and restaurants were downtown rather than in the suburbs, but that’s partly because I love walking and taking the Metro rather than driving (which I do by Zipcar because I don’t have a car). And yep, butcher shops and fishmongers would take things up several notches for us food-obsessed folks. Could we please find space for Wegman’s in the District? Honestly, don’t get me started on Mexican food. Don’t talk to me about Lauriol Plaza. I like Oyamel quite a bit, and Taqueria La Placita, and a few other places, but there’s room for a lot more.

Owens: How have you seen our neighborhood evolve as a food and drink destination? How do you think we shape up compared to other D.C. neighborhoods?

Yonan: Absolutely. The 14th Street corridor is just unstoppable, one of the best strips for eating in the city right now. And more keep coming.

Owens: What are your favorite place to eat in Borderstan?

Yonan: Now I hate you. You’re going to make me pick one? This interview is a minefield! It depends, of course, on what I’m after — a quick and easy weeknight dinner? Takeout? A splurge? Okay, I’m going to narrow it down to just two, because that’s how I roll. Quick/easy weeknight: Bar Pilar. Splurge: Komi. Duh.

Owens: Who do you think are the true pioneers of D.C.’s food scene?

Yonan: Oh, boy. All I can think of is whom I’ll leave out! Obviously, Jose Andres and Michel Richard are at the top of the list. Ashok Bajaj is a master. Michael Babin and the rest of Neighborhood Restaurant Group are super smart; it’s been great to have them in the hood at Birch & Barley and ChurchKey, where they’re cultivating their own pioneers in Kyle Bailey, Tiffany MacIsaac and Greg Engert. Fabio Trabocchi is back, and set to take the city’s Italian restaurant scene into the stratosphere.

Johnny Monis [of Komi] is, well, just an amazing chef. Cathal Armstrong and his team are responsible for some of the best food — and cocktails — in the area. I’d eat anything Frank Ruta wanted to cook for me, anywhere, anytime. Mark Kuller, Haidar Kharoum, Sebastian Zutant and the rest of the team at Proof and Estadio have exquisite taste. Diane and Khalid at Cork Wine Bar and the companion market have their fingers on the pulse of dining and shopping trends. I’m leaving out way too many. This answer is going to get me into trouble!

Owens: The term foodie – love it or hate it? Would you call yourself a foodie?

Yonan: Hate it. So diminutive. I don’t call myself a foodie, no. I’ve wondered for the longest time what the new term should be — foodist, maybe?

Owens: What’s your biggest pet peeve about dining out?

Yonan: Oh, God. There’s so many, it’s hard to choose. It might actually be something that happens before you even get to the restaurant: How inhospitable and unhelpful so many restaurant web sites are. Flash animation should be outlawed. When I go to a restaurant web site I want to very easily see a menu — a current, updated menu, please, and available on a simple Web page, not a PDF that you have to download.

And I want to easily see the contact information: address, phone, easy link to a map. I want those restaurateurs and their Web designers to think about what diners might be thinking and wanting when they log on: Not to be impressed by dancing mermaids or the like, but to easily get a real sense of what the experience is going to be like.

Borderstan, Joe Yonan, The Washington Post, Dupont Farmers Market,

Joe Yonan recently gave a cooking demonstration at the Dupont Farmers Market. (Luis Gomez Photos)


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