Young and Hungry

On Capitol Hill, Skipping Spike for Ba Bay Instead

Since I don't live on Capitol Hill, I try to indulge in the best the neighborhood has to offer whenever I'm passing through. During the last year or so, these mini-vacations have more often than not left me sitting in one of Spike Mendelsohn's outposts, whether it be stuffing my face with a Prez Obama Burger at Good Stuff Eatery or tackling a buffalo chicken slice at We, the Pizza.

Dear Chef Spike: I really do love the Good Stuff brand and the times we've had together, but I think it's time we start seeing other people. Like Ba Bay, which Young & Hungry colleague Scott Reitz visited last week for a bánh mì sandwich at the bar.

There's plenty to like at Ba Bay, which describes itself as an eatery specializing in Vietnamese street-food, is located in the old Locanda space at 633 Pennsylvania Ave. SE and is poised to be an attractive dining destination for Capitol Hill. The kitchen is run by former Sonoma Restaurant and Wine Bar chef Nick Sharpe, who got the gig after working with principal owner Khoa Nguyen back when the two were staffers at Vidalia under chef R.J. Cooper.

Wanting to figure out what the buzz was surrounding its opening a few weeks back, I stumbled into Ba Bay the other day to grab lunch. The restaurant's three-course prix fixe lunch menu caught my eye. I selected the pork loaf with maggi dipping sauce; a hot bowl of spicy pork-shrimp broth with thick rice noodles, Thai basil, pork loin, and shank; and a small sampling of banana cake with curried chocolate and peanut brittle. The really, really good news? This delicious adventure can be yours for $19.99.

The staff was not only courteous but engaged—a member of the waitstaff came out to ask me what I thought of the noodles, if I needed an extra-dose of sriracha, and if I needed a refill on my Avery IPA.

Dear Chef Spike, like I said, this is a separation, not a breakup. A trial run, if you will. I'm just not ready to settle down just yet, there's still a whole lot left on Ba Bay's menu that I want to get my hands on.

Photo by Andrew George

  • Mickey

    Well I think that Spikes burgers are not as tasty as five Guys and Five guys are cheaper in price.

    Ba Bay has become one of my favorite spots. I do think that once they find their groove, it will get even better! The Pho and the wings are phenomenal. they have an avocado milkshake on the dessert menu that is worth every spoonful!! check it out you will not be disappointed Service is good for a new restaurant and the staff are very friendly!1

  • VietnameseFood

    Ba Bay was disappointingly overpriced for its small servings - the complete antithesis of Vietnamese street food. For that reason, our family can't really afford it as a frequent / weekday dinner night out spot. Related minor observation: in a neighborhood full of families, they only have 2 high chairs.

  • James

    @VietnameseFood: Maybe if we're lucky, one day we can all eat large portions of cheap, boring, low quality food. Food Utopia, right?!

    My last trip to a DC Wendy's cost somewhere North of $7.50. Ba Bay has a fantastic banh mi at $9.00. It always irritates me when people knock local businesses for 'high' prices, especially when the establishments are reasonably priced. (3 course prix-fixe for $19.99 is overpriced? C'mon now....)

  • Keith B.

    Fuck you, James. There's plenty of small ethnic places that are cheap but not boring or low quality. If that's what you are getting when you buy "street food", you're doing it wrong.

  • James

    No. Fuck you, James

  • Huh?

    $9 Banh mi ?? good luck with that one... Thats 3 times what I pay for 2 great places in the DC area ....
    Stop sucking on his fedora, WE WILL LIVE ON WITHOUT SPIKE PEOPLE there is way better places than his spots, but I will give him props for his village fries and shakes.

  • gina a

    I haven't tried Ba Bay yet, but I am with vietnamesefood. I've been like a broken record on this issue for years. We've lived on the hill since '94 and have been waiting for that decent, reasonably priced place to eat with regularity on the hill for a family of five. Unfortunately, hillies are presented with a never ending stream of restaurants that overdo it on the ambience and prices for just okay food. Then they fail, (locanda, just to name one!) and then everybody tears their hair over why restaurants go under. I blame the landlords on the hill mostly, who are charging more than landlord even elsewhere in DC, so no easy mom and pop restaurant can get a foothold in the Cap Hill market. So, for my family, with kids who love Vietnamese food, we'll still head out to Arlington and Seven Corners to eat our fill of excellent Vietnamese cooking and not have to take out a second mortgage. Cava, any of the ubiquitous La restaurants, a pizza at We the, Szechuan House, Sanphan, Liberty Tree are all our standards, with the occasional splurge at Montmartre or 7th Hill.