Young and Hungry

Atlantic Food Declares D.C. a Great Food City

Someone named Terrence Henry, a journalist who took an early "retirement" to eat his way through Buenos Aires, has just named the District as one of the great food cities in an essay published today on the Atlantic Food Channel. Henry does qualify his list by saying it's "personal," which probably explains why New York City and Paris aren't on it.

Henry has developed some criteria on what constitutes a great food city, and this is it:

For me, a great food city is a place that caters to all manner of the food-obsessed: vibrant street food, affordable ethnic and traditional dining, and highly-acclaimed (and more importantly, highly-respected by their peers) destination restaurants. It should have a connection to its seasons and soil (or sea, as the case may be). It should be a place that can alternately surprise and comfort, at any budget level.

Henry goes on to declare his personal list of great food cities, which, aside from D.C., include San Francisco and the Bay Area, Madrid, and Barcelona. I should note that he does have a caveat on his D.C. choice: It requires "a fair amount of effort" to seek out its pleasures.

So who is Terrence Henry and why should we care what he thinks?

I don't really know. According to the bio on his blog, Henry's a D.C. native, which may explain his favoritism. He's also been a regular contributor to a local food board, and his own blog is loaded with smart commentary on food and drink, with a heavy emphasis on Argentine fare, naturally. He clearly seems like a dedicated food man to me; he has as much right to publish his opinions as anyone.

He also has the honor of getting criticized.

Using Henry's own formula, D.C. doesn't measure up, at least not in the street food category. Yes, there have been some vibrant new additions to the scene, but the best street food still resides in the 'burbs, particularly in Ballston and Montgomery County, and even those require some serious determination to seek out. But I also think a great food city has one other feature that Henry didn't mention: Tourists come to town just to eat.

I have no data to back up my opinion, but I don't think D.C. has approached that watermark yet. We unquestionably have first-class restaurants and first-class chefs; people actively seek them out once they arrive here. But I suspect that the vast, vast majority of tourists come to D.C. for reasons other than food.

I, however, would fly to San Fran, Chicago, New York, Seattle, and a number of other American cities just to eat.

Maybe I'm wrong here. Chime in, folks.

Photo by the National Guard

  • Arlene

    Well, you omitted (for poetic license, I assume) the fact that he only adds D.C. with a caveat of "effort required". Furthermore, you unfairly color his essay as one that is making sweeping critiques about international cuisine. The list you cite is but a blurb in the essay, designed to give you background into his attitudes about dining in Buenos Aires, which he describes as homogeneous and flat.

    What most annoys me about critics complaining about D.C dining is how we always like to point out what we're missing. As someone who has spent a lot of time in the islands of Hawaii, Florida and Northern California, I have to say that I love the diversity of flavor, execution and price you can get here compared to those places. I get what he's saying. Why do we expect NYC and Paris wherever we go? That's what makes them NYC and Paris!

    Of course, do we really know we wouldn't come here just to eat? We already live here. You wouldn't be slightly curious about that crazy Jose Andres from that PBS show, or Michel Richard, or that Indian restaurant that Frank Bruni declared some of the best in the U.S? It just so happens we get a lot more of the type of tourist that is more interested in patriotic sights than city culture. That doesn't mean our food isn't good (great, even) or that people wouldn't come here to try it. We just happen to have some other cool shit too.

  • Michael Young

    Sounds like Mr. Henry was just trying to boost some attention to the DC food scene and did so with multiple caveats. Why is a writer from the city paper trying to discourage a perspective attempting to elevate discussion of DC food and fare? I do not have the luxury of just flying to any city to eat the food, but when my travels take me to the district I am usually very happy with the food and restaurant options.

  • Sam

    I think DC has a ways to go -- doesn't even come close to Portland, Oregon, talk about affordable options. The burbs are good for ethnic but LA, Chicago or Queens NY trounces them there too. But hey, with critics (like Tim) and fewer expense-account steak restaurants we could make big strides.

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