Wednesday, September 7, 2011

O'Tasty: An Ode to Hole-in-the-Wall Chinese Places

We've all had food from them before and most of us willingly.  For many of us, your author included, it was the first taste of "ethnic" food beyond Mexican.  I'm talking of course about Chinese restaurants.  Now for most of us Chinese restaurants come in two varieties: the all-you-can-eat buffet where sesame chicken, jello, and fried popcorn shrimp all seemed right at home with each other and the hole-in-the-wall place that probably served fried chicken wings (which came with a side of fried rice) and an assortment of unadventurous American food.  Not that the Chinese food was overly adventurous in it's own right.

I cut my teeth on the buffet places, but since coming to DC (and trying to manage my waistline a bit more earnestly) I've fallen in love with the hole-in-the-wall places.  Well, at least one hole-in-the-wall place, O'Tasty.  Over on Columbia Road near the AdMo Safeway, this place just called to me when I first moved to DC with few friends.  I had a ritual my first semester at grad school on Monday nights that went something like this:  Take metro home from work, call O'Tasty and order dinner, change clothes, pick up dinner, return home to eat dinner, do laundry and watch Bravo's West Wing marathon.  It got to the point they knew my phone number and without me saying a word I'd hear, "Hello my friend!  Would you like your usual tonight?" when I called.  In a city that didn't feel familiar it was a welcome greeting.

The food was always good, never great, and it remains that way today.  It's a pretty dirty place and sometimes my curiosity over what's really going on in the kitchen nearly takes over my loyalty to the place, but I keep living by my "dirt builds natural immunity" strategy and it hasn't let me down so far.  Over the years I've tried out some different things and my less consistent Chinese food consumption these days means I'm just another customer when I call or stop by, but I know as long as I live within their delivery zone there's only one place I'll order Chinese from.

Of course I've tried Chinese food from other places because of geography.  In the ill-advised year when I lived in Rosslyn there was a bland Chinese place up the hill at Courthouse, then there was the year in Petworth where the options seemed a bit too high on the dirty scale for even me.  Hell, I've even had my fair share of Panda Express, but I always come back to my favorite like a prodigal son who returns home.  And make no mistake about it, the woman who runs O'Tasty filled in for my mom on a couple occasions in those first few months.

If you haven't tried it already and you live in that area, I encourage you to give it a go.  You won't be wowed, but you won't be disappointed anyway.  When a Chinese place serves hamburgers, chicken wings, and shrimp fried rice you can't expect much more.

Recommendations:  Steamed Dumplings, Boneless Spare Ribs, Combination Lo Mein, Sesame Chicken, Gen. Tso's Chicken

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