Anyone who has spent time in the Borderstan area knows that if you want to get good Chinese food, Great Wall Szechuan House on 14th Street NW is the place to go. And if you have a hankering for some spice in your life, the ma la menu items are a surefire source of happiness.
The owners of Great Wall, Mae Kuang and Yuan Chen, recently renovated the space, giving it a modern update that replaces the former hole-in-the-wall feel the restaurant has long been known as. Their recent renovations replaced the black-and-white floor tiles and drywall with exposed brick walls and floor tiles that resemble stones.
The normal Chinese food options (Kung Pao Chicken and other Americanized dishes) are better than most places in the area. But, you don’t go to Great Wall for just their normal items (unless you are me and cannot get takeout without ordering Crab Rangoon). You go for the heat. You go for the numbing, searing pain of ma la sauce chock full of Chinese peppercorns.
Ma La dishes are famous for their combination of high heat (think: chili peppers) with numbing heat (think: tingly peppercorns) that make your mouth tingle, burn, and crave more.
Favorite Ma La Dishes
The Ma La menu contains many winning dishes. My top three favorite dishes are presented as a F%ck, Chuck, and Marry:
- F%ck: Ma La Twice Cooked Pork. Like eating spicy, slow-cooked bacon in a delicious goopy sauce. It’s dirty, raunchy and ready to rock your world.
- Chuck: Ma Po Tofu. Don’t get me wrong, the dish is absolutely delicious (and one of my favorites). But it is also everyone’s favorite and one of the most popular dishes on the menu. Don’t be a poser.
- Marry: Ma La Kung Pao chicken. Believe me. I’ve ordered this dish probably at least 50 times. It is a keeper and can become your new life partner.
Great Wall Szechuan House: The Details
- Where Am I Going: 1527 14th Street NW (just south of Q Street)
- When Am I Going: Open Monday through Thursday from 11 am to 10 pm, and Friday until 10:30 pm. Open Saturday and Sunday at noon. Delivery available for orders over $15.00.
- Paycheck Pain: Not much. Entrees are around $8 to $11 and come with rice and fortune cookies.
- Say What?: The new space provides eat-in choices for diners in a relaxed atmosphere.
- What You’ll Be Eating: Spicy as hell Szechuan-style Chinese food.
We all know Borderstan has a ton of great food options, many of which are accompanied by a hefty price tag. But sometimes I just want a no-fuss, decent meal that is easy on the wallet. Well, there is no dearth of that either. Here are some of my favorite inexpensive places to eat in the neighborhood.
- Pica Taco – A small taqueria tucked away on Florida Avenue, their barbacoa and chorizo tacos, which are between $2.25 to $2.75 a piece, are amazing. They don’t skimp on the meat, and have simple but flavorful toppings. Excellent breakfast tacos too. If you haven’t been yet, it’s time.
- Great Wall Schezwan House – If you are looking for good Chinese food or spicy Szechuan, this is the place to go. I am a huge fan of their mouth numbing ma la chicken — $11 for a meal that is really two. This place is my go-to for Chinese. Oh, and their delivery service is insane. Food comes within 10 to 15 minutes and is piping hot. And when they say spicy, they mean spicy!
- Stoney’s – This is the quintessential neighborhood spot, with no attitude and a casual atmosphere. You positively have to try the fan favorite grilled cheese at Stoney’s. It is comforting, delicious, served with fries and is only $7.50! Wash it down with some draft Fat Tire, and your stomach will thank you, even if your thighs don’t. Luis has great things to say about their burgers too.
- Locolat café – I love this place. Although known as a chocolate spot, this little gem offers much more than sweet treats. Their savory waffles to which you can add a variety of toppings are incredible — crab cake on a garlic waffle, anyone? My favorite is the potato and chive waffle with grilled vegetables and cheese, which, coming in at $11 along with a salad is quite a meal. Rounded off with a glass (or two) of Prosecco and a dark chocolate truffle in their outdoor patio — heaven! If nothing, come here to drink their hot chocolate or try one of their 30 Belgian beers.
- El Rinconcito – If you want to stuff your face with awesomeness for $8, go here. This little hole in the wall Salvadorean neighborhood joint fills up quickly, and when you eat here, you will know why. They have an extensive menu, but do not be tempted to go for the familiar Mexican dishes – order from the Salvadorean menu instead. The pupusa combo platter — which comes with three pupusas (choose from beans/cheese/chicken/pork/loroco), yellow rice, pickled cabbage and beans, is fresh and authentic. If you are inclined to imbibe, they have a full bar with tasty margaritas and beers.
- Fast Gourmet – The Cubano sandwich here is one of the best things that has happened to me. Seriously. Delicious with pork, ham, perfectly melted cheese, mustard and pickles. Get the beer battered eggplant with that and make it a meal for $11. And if you are lucky, you might find their killer Tres Leches in the refrigerator. For more on Fast Gourmet, read Kim’s review of their signature Chivito sandwich.
- Shophouse Southeast Asian Kitchen – This is Chipotle’s second concept restaurant, and boy, am I glad they chose DC as the test market. Setup much like a Chipotle, the drill is the same -choose noodles or rice and then a meat, tofu or veggies, followed by tamarind vinaigrette or a red/green curry sauce. I have never liked tofu as much as I do here; chopped fine and sautéed with Thai chilies, turmeric and cumin. Along with the chilled rice noodles, charred corn, spicy red curry sauce and some crispy garlic and green papaya slaw for the finishing touches, you have a stellar meal for $8..
That just about covers me for breakfast, lunch and dinner, but where do you go for your favorite budget friendly fare?
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Opens Tonight at Lincoln
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo opens a four-week run at the Lincoln Theatre tonight on U Street. The theater has a four-week partnership with Landmark Theatres to show The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo; it runs through January 18. You can view the schedule and purchase tickets online. We will have more later this morning on Mayor Gray’s Tuesday press conference on the city’s plans for the venue when the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities officially takes over the theater on January 1.
Great Wall Szechuan House Reopens in Style
For those in search of A Christmas Story style Chinese feast, a fully renovated and reopened Great Wall Szechuan House on 14th Street NW may fit the bill. The Washington Post gives you a sneak peek into the new space — I covet that exposed brick. I am also coveting that pork dish. There are many restaurants battling for your dining dollars on that stretch of real estate, why not give Great Wall a chance in the new space and help pay off their bills?
Creative Space at Tranquil Yoga
Say what you will about DC regulations, at least they are enhance an ethos?* For owner of Tranquil Space, Kimberly Wilson, the requirements on spa and massage business literally opened space for Tranquil Space Labs inside the yoga studio. As Express (Washington Post) reports, the former spa room is now a space for creative thinking endeavors, which kicked off with holiday crafts and Prosecco. Clove-scented oranges and bubbly? My chi feels better already. (* indicates a reference to a personal favorite Big Lebowski reference and is not intended to support or condemn various regulations that may impact our many small businesses.)
What do We do During Layovers?
Credit the Onion for this gem. As you begin your holiday travel, stay safe and try not to be obvious in your eavesdropping on your seatmate’s family drama. I’m off checking out soda varieties in Connecticut and North Carolina!
Great Wall Szechuan House Getting Major Revamp
No, the Great Wall of China is not getting a makeover! But, first the important news regarding the major dining room revamp at Great Wall Szechuan House on 14th Street NW: The kitchen is open and they are making deliveries (verified by Borderstan Thursday night). The very basic, plain dining room is getting a total makeover and a member of the restaurant’s staff said they hope to reopen for in-house dining by early January, if not before.
Evans Introduces Promoter Regulation Act
DC Councilmember Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) introduced a bill to promote safety at events organized and sponsored by promoters. The press release from Evans’ office says The Reimbursable Detail Expansion & Promoter Regulation Act of 2011 would direct the Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA) to create uniform regulations governing promoters who organize and sponsor events in the District.
In addition, the bill would impact participation in the Metropolitan Police Department’s reimbursable detail program by requiring certain establishments to pay for adequate security unless they are granted an exemption by ABRA. For events involving promoters, extra security would be mandatory. The bill introduction comes a few weeks after the tragic shooting of Jhonte Coleman at a private event organized by a promoter and held at the Heritage India restaurant, just south of Dupont Circle.
Income Gaps Persists Along Racial Lines in DC
The Washington Post reports on new Census data that shows income disparity between whites and blacks in DC has widened over the years, while suburban counties have seen a narrowing of the gap. In 2010 DC whites earned $3.06 for every $1.00 in black income. Earlier this year, census figures showed that the African American population in the District dropped below 50 percent for the first time in decades. Experts quoted in the Post story cite the black middle class flight to the suburbs and the increase in young, professional whites moving to the city as the reason for the persistent income gap.