A Business Lunch Favourite: Teaism

Teaism is a DC chain known primarily for its tea, but also its economical yet tasty Japanese food. I can tell you it was the small expense that attracted me to it and made me note it down after seeing a brief write-up in Fodor’s. A sticker on the door noted its inclusion in Rachael Ray’s 40 Dollars a Day program on the Food Network, so I knew we had come to the right place.

Our visit was timed perfectly – we hit the restaurant just before the midday crowd arrived (the line inched out the door soon after we sat down), but were still privy to witness the bustling business they experience at lunch. The interior was warm – medium-tone wood counters wrapped around one side of the room, which displayed Asian-inspired art and calligraphy. The restaurant also benefited from a generous amount of natural light, much of it also being enjoyed by windowsill plants.

Iced Tea (Mack found it all right – refreshing, and not overly sweet)

The menu actually waivered more from their Japanese billing than I expected, offering some pan-Asian favourites such as Thai chicken curry, as well as some Western dishes, like sandwiches and burgers. Most entrees were $8-9, which we thought was fairly reasonable given its proximity to high traffic attractions (a guide called eat. shop. washington dc also mentioned their exceptional salty-sweet cookies – the site is worth taking a look for solid recommendations for DC and other major American cities). Orders were taken and picked up at the counter, which although worked out all right, caused some bottlenecking at the front of the restaurant.

My eyes were immediately drawn to the chicken udon soup ($8.50), primarily because of a recipe I read on the plane. The broth was a touch salty, but the consistency of the udon was perfect. I was also satisfied with the amount of chicken and vegetables included, which rounded out the meal nicely.

Chicken Udon Soup

Mack ordered a chicken bento box ($8.75), which contained fried chicken, rice, sweet potatoes and cucumber-ginger salad. He remarked that the meat was on the dry side, although the creamy potatoes made up for it somewhat.

Chicken Bento Box

While I’m not sure Teaism is unique enough to recommend to travellers (at least not this non-teahouse outpost we visited), it was a sleek restaurant that provided the needed reprieve from the sun and schoolchildren outside.

400 8th Street (and other locations)
Washington, DC
(202) 638-6010

Day 2 in DC: Conquering the Mall

We followed up our early departure with our earliest start on our weeklong itinerary (if you haven’t figured it out by now, I’m a planner – perhaps too much so, but it’s hard to fight the tendencies). We managed on our second day to see all the Mall had to offer, and though the distance between some of the monuments and memorials were shorter than I was led to believe, the cumulative amount of walking we did that day was extreme – I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone.

Until I started researching the attractions, I had no idea that you could physically enter the Washington Monument and take an elevator ride to the top – I really thought it was just something to admire from the outside. Much like many of the other tours in DC, however, tickets had to be obtained to partake in the tour. My one failing in planning this trip was starting too late – by that time, all of the advanced tickets available for our time period had been snapped up, which left us with one option – queuing for day-of tickets.

Guidebooks stressed the need to begin lining up as early as 7am in peak season to ensure a ticket. While we didn’t make it for 7, we were pretty darn close, and reached the Monument ticket office at quarter after. Though Mack was unconvinced that there would be other “crazy tourists”, there were about a dozen people ahead of us in line.

At the Monument!

It was a decidedly cool morning, but in hindsight, a nice reprieve from the humid afternoons that were to come. As the ticket office wouldn’t open until 8:30am, Mack had time to search for a Starbucks, using his handy Blackberry Google Maps application, and with the breakfast he brought back, made our wait a little more leisurely.

Mack on the Berry (photo #1)

When tickets started to flow, we were fortunate enough to snag passes for the very first tour that day at 9am. We explored the base of the monument before the tour, and from that vantage point, glimpsed two other attractions we would see later – the Lincoln Memorial and the White House.

Mack at the Monument

Yes, it was pretty cool to the touch

We joined our second line up that day when we saw that a line to enter the monument had formed. The affable security guard kept us entertained while we watched the Park Rangers set up shop for the day. We were glad we had the foresight to head to the line early, as the school groups started arriving – in hoards. These groups – hundreds of school children together – would converse en masse at all of the tourist attractions we would visit over the next few days. It’s definitely a hazard of visiting during the end of the school year, and worth avoiding if you’re planning a trip to DC.

Just after 9, we were waved through the doors, a security check, and eventually, ushered into the elevator. The fast-talking, good humoured Park Ranger that led us up was a fantastic guide, and helped make the Washington Monument one of our most memorable moments during our trip. He explained a bit of the history, teased us about looking down, and prepared us for the view we were about to take in. Although the viewing level wasn’t open-air, it was a great way to get visually oriented to the layout of the Mall so early on in our trip.

White House

Tidal Basin and the Jefferson Memorial

World War II Memorial, Reflecting Pool, and the Lincoln Memorial

It got even better on the elevator ride back to ground level – partway down, the Ranger slowed the elevator down, shut off the lights, and through the windows pointed out the different stones embedded in the monument that had been contributed by states and countries (he was bitter that his home state of California only had one stone included, versus New York’s three).

Next up was the World War II Memorial. While it was visually appealing, it was the least striking of the war memorials to me. I found out later that it was built around the already-existing fountain, which made me appreciate it more for the DC mentality of confluence.

World War II Memorial

Detail underneath the Pacific column

Past the Reflecting Pool, was the Lincoln Memorial, my absolute favourite.

Reflecting Pool with Lincoln Memorial in the background

The Lincoln Memorial is definitely meant to be seen in person – photos can’t capture the absolute scale and magnificence of the statue, his solemn and wise gaze staring out into the distance. I love the idea of Lincoln forever watching over Washington (as well as some of the most significant events in US history – with protests at his doorstep), and the union he helped create. I have to admit I didn’t know much about Lincoln until after this trip, where we came across several exhibits dedicated to his life.

Mack at the Lincoln Memorial

Lincoln Memorial!

The spot where Martin Luther King Jr. made his “I have a dream” speech.

The Korean War Veterans Memorial was one I had read about somewhat – with the number of statues and their reflections in the cool stone wall adding up to 38 – the parallel that divides North and South Korea. I didn’t think statues of life-size men could make a strong impression, but I was wrong – their distinct eyes and troubled expressions were hauntingly memorable. We learned later that the Korean Ambassador to the U.S. lays a fresh wreath to commemorate the war every Monday – without pomp and ceremony, but with constant remembrance.

Korean War Veterans Memorial

Our last stop before lunch was the Vietnam War Memorial. Even though I had seen photos, I didn’t realize until I saw it in person that it was cut into the ground. The names of the fallen, which overwhelm the viewer in relentless numbers as you walk past the panels, made every bit the impact I expected. The Parks Department added a name to the memorial this year, making the total 58,261.

Vietnam War Memorial (objects left at the base are collected daily and kept by the National Parks Service)

Cut into the ground (to signify the scar it left on the country)

We wandered away from the Mall and towards the cluster of office buildings, in the hopes of finding a dine-in restaurant favoured by those who worked in the area. While we were consulting our map, a lady asked us if we needed help, and when we expressed the need for a place to eat (not wanting to resort to a food court), she actually thanked us for not eating in food courts! I realized we were near Teaism, a local chain that specialized in tea and Japanese food, and headed there for some subsistence.

Satisfied with our meal, we headed back in the direction of the Mall and decided to check out the Old Post Office. We had been told the view from the tower was spectacular, and that it was a good alternative to the Washington Monument. We waited in line for about 15 minutes, and eventually made our way to the top.


Inside the Old Post Office

One view from the Old Post Office (J. Edgar Hoover FBI Building and Capitol)

Unlike the Washington Monument, the viewing deck was refreshingly open air, although steel cables barred the windows. But both Mack and I agreed that the experience wasn’t as noteworthy – or breathtaking – as the one we shared that morning.

Our first of many museum visits followed. The American Museum of National History (one of 19 Smithsonian Museums) was first up. All Smithsonian Museums (like all of the national attractions we were visiting) were free of charge, which meant the bulk of our expenses on the trip was food – a stark difference from our New York getaway two years ago.

In hindsight, we shouldn’t have made such an effort to tour every corner of the museum, as our tolerance for exhibits lowered as the week went on, but it was amazing to see the breadth of the collection. Highlights for me included Carrie Bradshaw’s laptop and C3P0 (both in the lobby of all places), the flag that inspired the “Star Spangled Banner”, and exhibit that explored Lincoln’s life and death. Mack really liked the photography exhibit of President Obama’s inauguration.

“I couldn’t help but wonder…”

Mack and C3P0


Not the flag that inspired Francis Scott Keyes, but it’s pretty darn neat

The teacup that Lincoln used before he was shot (I was fascinated with the mundane objects that become historical upon the unthinkable happening)

Mack would make a grouchy Lincoln

We had a bit of time to kill before our dinner reservation that night, so spent it resting up and doing some Mall watching (jogging has to be the official sport of DC). Once our feet had forgiven us, we hopped on the Metro, and walked a little around Chinatown before heading to Proof.

Chinatown Gate (it was a little decrepit, actually)

For whatever reason, all of the signs in Chinatown were bilingual…does DC have a Chinese population large enough to warrant such measures?

You can read Mack’s day 2 recap here.

DC Dive: Five Guys

I took it as a positive sign when I overheard our pilot and a airport worker discussing their craving for a burger from Five Guys. A Fodor’s recommendation, I singled out the DC area chain primarily because they were open until 11pm – and without guarantee that our flight would be punctual, I figured it was best to seek out late night options within walking distance of our hotel.

I had to laugh at the sign posted on the door, which although deals with a serious subject, seemed a little over the top.

Perhaps they should have had a radioactive icon below the text?

Five Guys would best be described as a dive, but the best kind of dive. Inside, we found a mixed crowd of young, old, and well-suited, and felt right at home with their well-worn wooden floors, dimly lit booths, and walk-up order counter, where kudos to the cashier – she had the “single/double, regular/cajun” questions down to a mechanized pat. I also loved the white board on the wall that let customers know where the day’s potatoes came from (Rexburg, Idaho, in our case).

Order counter

Free peanuts!

Like Harveys, burgers could be customized with any number of free toppings, including lettuce, pickles, grilled onions, grilled mushrooms, green peppers, and a variety of condiments. Our order, a bacon cheeseburger ($4.59), cheeseburger ($3.89) and cajun fries ($2.59) was nothing fancy, but hit the spot. I loved the pillowy bun, and the fries were crisp with just the right amount of kick.


Mack with a well-balanced meal

It was a great first meal in DC, but it would only get better from there.

Five Guys
1335 Wisconsin Avenue NW
Washington, DC
(202) 337-0400
Sunday-Thursday 11am-11pm, Friday-Saturday 11am-4pm

Day 1 in DC: Greenery and Georgetown

Day 1 in DC began with an early wakeup call– 5am to be exact. Early flights are my nemesis, but I suppose red eye flights (of which I have never had the pleasure of experiencing), would be worse.

Much needed wake-up coffee (speaking of which, I didn’t know there is now a Starbucks just a stone’s throw after security)

With no direct flights to Washington, we had a brief layover in Toronto, then were on our way to DC. The terminus at Washington Dulles Airport was a bit strange, as the boarding gates were not located in the same facility as the luggage belts and connection to ground transportation. We had to take a shuttle vehicle that carried us between buildings – it seemed like a terribly inefficient system, and though a metro line is in the works, it made us wonder why the terminal was designed that way to begin with.

We eventually made out way to the taxi stand, and driving into the city, what shocked us most was how green it was. Lining the beltways were trees in full bloom, while wildflowers and long grasses were monopolizing roadside spaces. I suppose it shouldn’t have been a surprise, but as it was snowing back in Edmonton that day, the full force of spring was difficult to imagine until we were able to immerse ourselves in it.

Our taxi ride into Foggy Bottom cost us a pretty penny ($60!), but had the benefit of a convenient and stress-free commute to our hotel. We had chosen the George Washington University Inn partly on price, and though it wasn’t the most economical accommodation we found, its proximity to a Metro stop was too attractive to overlook.

George Washington University Inn

We found it to be situated on a quaint street, just a few minutes away from the infamous Watergate complex (which, in addition to being a tourist attraction, also housed a Safeway), as well as the John F. Kennedy Centre for the Performing Arts. The colourful walkups that lined the street helped establish a feeling of home in the area.

Our neighbours for the week

Upon checking in, we found that we had been upgraded to a suite. This entitled us to a room with more space than we knew how to deal with – a large sitting room with a television and desk, kitchenette with stovetop, sink and fridge, and a separate bedroom and bathroom. Our only complaints about the room was the poorly designed bathroom that was significantly lacking in counter space, and hard-lined internet.


After a quick nap, we took advantage of our still-nimble feet (this would change in a hurry) and walked to adjacent Georgetown for dinner. Not connected by Metro, there was shuttle bus service available from two different stops, but at about 15 minutes away, we couldn’t justify waiting for a bus.

Georgetown was a happening place, even on a Monday evening – likely a mix of tourists, locals, and college students gearing up for graduation that week. We didn’t do much deliberate shopping, as we were fairly hungry at this point, but I did take note of shops such as Paper Source that I wanted to return to on a different evening.

Mack in Georgetown

Over the course of our wanderings, we stopped at IceBerry. I had read on a Chowhound thread that the frozen yogurt craze that hit LA and New York a few years back had finally reached DC. I couldn’t resist a cool treat that would hopefully tide us to something more substantial, as I wasn’t sure exactly how far our dining destination was located. Open until 11pm, it seemed to be a nice alternative to a coffee shop or an ice cream parlour, and based on the number of people inside, many agreed.

We ordered just one treat to share – a small strawberry (plain and chocolate were the other options) topped with blackberries. It totalled over $4, and at 95 cents a topping, each blackberry cost us over 20 cents.

Strawberry Frozen Yogurt from IceBerry

Though it was good to try, I have to say I prefer the pureed “real” fruit yogurt offered by Yogen Fruz– nothing ever replaces the textured crunch from strawberry seeds. That said, I wouldn’t mind such a yogurt parlour trend picking up in Edmonton – more late night options are a good thing.

Just as it was getting dark, we reached our desired location – Five Guys.

You can read Mack’s recap of day 1 here.