Great New Places to Eat
There’s a saying that when one door closes, another one opens. Last year was tough on local eateries, but some very exciting restaurant doors have opened in the past few months, including one inspired by a food truck, another by a 56-foot-long bunny, and others by cuisines ranging from French to Mongolian and Indian to Southern (grits, anyone?). So feast your eyes on our favorite new spots, and you’ll see why we think the food scene is looking very sunny-side up.
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1830 J St.
Mongo Mongo Mongolian BBQ - The site seems like it could be a gold mine for any casual, or casual-plus, restaurant—the southwest corner at 19th and J streets is a major midtown crossroads with popular food stops all around—which is why when the short-lived Garlic Shack stumbled and closed last October at that location, Jonathan Ng and his partners leaped at the opportunity.
They created Mongo Mongo Mongolian BBQ, which opened in early January and has become a magnet for comfortable dining with affordable, fresh food and, if you want it, very large quantities. Plus, summer warmth will make the large patio an even bigger draw. “This location is just awesome,” Ng says. “I can’t think of any corner on J Street where I’d rather have a restaurant.”
Besides the busy corner and, of course, the food, Ng thinks Mongo Mongo’s draw is that there’s nothing like it in the central city. For anyone new to Mongolian BBQ, it’s a simple concept. Fill your bowl from a buffet of noodles, veggies—spinach, broccoli, mushrooms, onions, baby corn and more—and proteins (chicken, lamb, beef, turkey and pork). Then you build your own sauce from Mongo Mongo’s range of options, including non-Asian styles like pesto, and hand it over for a fast grill on a hot, round griddle—the shape evokes the folklore of Genghis Khan’s soldiers cooking on their shields. Meals are all you can eat for about $11. (At lunch, you can also buy a single bowl for $8.)
The quirk for Mongo Mongo—besides being cash only—is that the buffet line and griddle are enclosed floor-to-ceiling in glass and people enter by pushing a big button near the door. That’s because the wall facing the J Street patio is a roll-up glass garage door, and when it’s open, the entire place becomes an outdoor restaurant. The bad news: health codes don’t allow outdoor kitchens.
“The glass wall [into the kitchen] looks kind of cool,” Ng says. “But sometimes people can’t find the button to open the door to get in.” No doubt they’ll figure it out soon, and the corner of 19th and J will be as hot as one of Mongo Mongo’s sizzling grills. —R.K.