Mapping the Unmappable: The Borderstan Restaurant Scene

by April 17, 2012 at 10:00 am 1,555 2 Comments

Kim, Vu, Borderstan, restaurants

Kim Vu’s poster-sized map of restaurants in the Borderstan area. (Kim Vu)

Borderstan welcomes a new food writer to the team, Kim Vu. A DC resident since 2005, he works in international development by day. He also has his own food blog, DC Wrapped Dates. Follow him at@dcwrappeddates or email him at kim[AT]

My roommate and I are notoriously bad at making decisions on where to eat dinner. And for the last seven years or so, we’ve gone through the same process each time. We’ll play the game of seeing who can say, “I made the decision last time” first (no matter who actually did), then we’ll start throwing out things we don’t want (“dude, we ate Chinese last week”), until one of us gets hungry enough to break the Mexican standoff and just goes with the time-tested “let’s walk until we see something.”

This would be fine if the indecision didn’t predominantly end in us scarfing down an embarrassingly large bag of McDoubles and twenty-piece chicken nuggets.

So when we moved with a third friend into a house in Borderstan last year, I set out to make our lives (and heart health) a little bit easier. Needing a project, I decided to make a handmade poster-sized map of the area’s restaurant corridors. Sure, there’s always Google Maps. But it never shows every restaurant, except for when you zoom in to myopic levels, and it probably forgets all of the hole-in-the-wall pizza shops and takeout places.

And what better way to celebrate my arrival in the neighborhood than getting to know its food? My inner 5th Grade art teacher even took over with flashes of interesting albeit difficult-to-implement ideas: “Ooh, all of the restaurant’s should be logos from their business cards! I can fill the residential space with pictures from the neighborhood! This is gonna be great!”

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“This was a terrible idea,” I say to my other roommate. She gives me a mixed smile, half bemusement, half why-are-you-taking-up-half-the-dining-room-table. “There are just so many.” Sitting there, I realize I have bitten off more than I can chew. In my mind’s eye, I had only imagined 50, maybe 60 stops, but the actual number was in the hundreds. Everyone can rattle off the big ticket restaurants on 17th Street: Komi, Little Serow, Annie’s, Level One… but what about the tucked away Chinese carryout place that my friend Mike swears by? Hell, what about McDonalds?

But perhaps more problematically, I have essentially signed up to map the unmappable; by the time I finish the map, like some sort of food hydra, restaurants will shutter and debut, making my creation instantly passe. Indeed, the moment I finish collecting 14th Street is the weekend Pearl Dive Oyster Palace finally opens. The physical act of walking through all that Borderstan has to offer makes this effort like the scene in Vegas Vacation where Chevy Chase tries to plug all the holes in the dam wall; I literally just can’t keep up.

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Months have gone by and the map sits on the table, taunting me with its incompleteness. I’ve visited basement bars and Thai restaurants and ice cream shops; one manager at an unnamed lounge actually interrogates me as to why I want their business card. I’m forlornly updating the map when my roommate finds me, and peers over my shoulder at the map. “Oh, hey,” he says, pointing at a spot, “I didn’t know there was a restaurant there.” “Oh yeah, it opened like a couple months ago. It’s got this really cool setup…” And I decide, at that moment, it doesn’t really matter if it remains unfinished. It matters that in the last few months, I’ve walked all over this area I call home, learning all the ins and outs and exploring all the nooks and crannies of Borderstan.

“Screw it,” I say to my roommate, “You want to go to Taylor for a sandwich?”

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