Metro Weekly

Late Night Feeding

It's 1 a.m., Do You Know Where Your Diner Is?

Photography by Michael Wichita

Brain: We’re drunk, we’re tired, we’ve spent too much money. The night is now over. Go home.

Stomach: Uh, ahem? Down here? Yeah. I’ve been processing domestic beer all night. I’d like a non-toxic substance, thank you very much. We’re stopping for chili cheese fries on the way home.

Brain: Noooo, we’re not stopping for chili cheese fries. We’re brushing our teeth, flossing and going to bed. There were pretzels on the bar, you should have spoken up then.

Stomach: I wasn’t hungry then. And what is up with this gum? Did that come from some other guy’s mouth? How about we don’t swallow that next time.

Brain: Okay, who’s in charge here, hmm? You think running a central nervous system is easy? What do you do besides cramp up and secrete too much acid at really inopportune moments?

Stomach: Hey Brain, you remember that little incident on the Metro last week when we suddenly really needed to find a bathroom? Like, crisis-level need? I can make that happen again. At the beach. On the golf course. Anywhere.

Brain: You wouldn’t.

Stomach: Try me.

Brain: Ooooh, you’ll pay for this Stomach! When you least expect it! Fine. So what do you want, Annie’s or Ben’s?

29 Diner (a.k.a. the Tastee Diner)
10536 Lee Highway (Route 29)
Fairfax City, Virginia

Open 24/7

Fuel Factor: The decaf’s not bad, and the crab cakes taste like they’re straight out of Ocean City. But even the Pope knows salsa ain’t marinara sauce. When in Rome, don’t order Tex-Mex.

Service Me: Though some might call it unprofessional, we found that having a server who stands in the middle of the restaurant to watch Conan on the TV makes for a very flag-downable waitress — during the commercial breaks, anyway.

Who’s Who: Suburban seniors on fixed incomes seeking food priced for privatized Social Security. Drifters staring listlessly and glassy-eyed at the Keno monitor. Teens with no dexterity or charisma discussing the Dexterity and Charisma of their D&D characters. An ennui-stricken, jarringly suburban, mildly depressing crowd.

Make Room: We’ve encountered better ambiance in hospital cafeterias. The counter area would have been fine, but we were seated in the decidedly un-scenic overflow seating section by ourselves. Sucks to be a smoker.

The Damage: At $10.95, the crab cakes were pricey, indeed. Most of the menu is firmly in the single digits, however. The affordable nature of this place is probably its best asset.

Nutshell: A big disappointment, especially for a place so hyped for its local historical significance. Guess things ain’t what they used to be.

Afterwords Café
1517 Connecticut Avenue NW

Open: Mon.-Thurs, 7:30 a.m. to 1 a.m.
24 hours on weekends

Fuel Factor: Unapologetically yuppie. Afterwords is the sun-dried tomato of late night dining. The antipasto is big and bold, if a little heavy-handed on the seasoning. You’ll need a doggie bag.

Service Me: Curt, but far from negligent. When our food was delayed, our server kept us in the loop. We empathized with the luau pig roast getup they’re forced to wear and left a generous tip.

Who’s Who: Pseudo-sophisticates on a post-Gazuza nosh after too many sloe gin fizzes. Drunk academics trying to pass off some George Will quote they heard on NPR as their own. Liberal arts T.A.’s and Roll Call readers. In the very wee hours, some VelvetNation come-downs.

Make Room: A cute little greenhouse-like space where you can stargaze through the glass roof. Plenty of gap between tables.

The Damage: Both arms, both legs, first and second born and six months indentured servitude.

Nutshell: Too primped and postured for our half-drunk, post-party states. We don’t want to use inside voices.

American City Diner
5532 Connecticut Avenue NW

Open: Mon.-Thurs., 7 a.m. to 11 p.m.
24 hours on weekends

Fuel Factor: The omelets are a little slice of artery-crippling heaven. The waffles are a little slice of roof insulation. Stick to the eggs.

Service Me: Becky Becky Bo Becky, sharing your crossword with us was above and beyond. 42 Down — ACD’s fabulous graveyard-shift waitress, five letters, starts with BÂ…

Who’s Who: Hard to say. A herd of beige collegiate types peppered with the occasional Hyattsville goth. The theme-oriented classic movie night pulls a crowd, we hear.

Make Room: Check your elbows at the door. Love the Ms. Pac Man and the Big-style fortune telling machine, but we’re tripping over circa ’56 Coca Cola memorabilia and flashing neon clocks. The ambiance is a bit much. You’re a classic diner. We get it. Thank you for sharing.

The Damage: Minimal. $4.95 for the waffle, rocketing all the way up to a whopping $6.95 for the bacon cheeseburger.

Nutshell: A tad too self-consciously vintage, like Urban Outfitters opened up a diner. You half expect them to be hawking retro baby tees emblazoned with Flo and the words “Kiss My Grits. ”

Annie’s Paramount Steak House
1609 17th Street NW

Open: Mon.-Wed., 11 a.m. to 11:30 p.m.
Thurs., 11 a.m. to 1:30 a.m.
24 hours on weekends

Fuel Factor: The appetizers are simply irresistible, but leave room — the steak menu alone takes up a full page, and what delicious loins they are. Pick the London Broil or the Middle East Sirloin.

Service Me: You want service? You got service. Four appetizers, four entrees and way too many drinks tripped our waiter up not in the least.

Who’s Who: Theater queens clutching playbills fawn over Holly Twyford’s latest performance. Bears in overalls maul the prime rib. Club twinks roll their eyes. At the bar, butch softball players divide their attention between On Our Backs and the Redskins game. A loyal as heck clientele. If you’re queer, you’re here.

Make Room: Tables out front on a glassed-in porch offer a desirably distracting view, with big, comfy booths in the back.

The Damage: Greater than most, but for the grub you’re receiving, we say let it slide. Steaks run low to mid teens, appetizers are mostly between five and seven. Go ahead, get your splurge on. You deserve it.

Nutshell: Annie’s has been, and will continue to be, around forever if they just keep on doing what they’re doing.

Ben’s Chili Bowl
1213 U Street NW

Open: Mon.-Thurs., 6 a.m. to 2 a.m.
Fri., 6 a.m. to 4 a.m.
Sat., 7 a.m. to 4 a.m.
Sun., Noon to 8 p.m.

Fuel Factor: Screw the Arctic Refuge — plant a well in these grease vats and siphon enough crude to get your 8-MPG Ford Excursion from here to Manassas. A cardiac arrest that comes with cheese fries and a pickle, this is how late night food should be.

Service Me: Order at the counter, find your own table, and somehow the food-runner knows where you are. A system of beautiful chaos that runs more smoothly than the ones in most fancy restaurants.

Who’s Who: Kaffa House hempheads. State of the Union hip hoppers. Jim Graham. Tony Williams. Velvet Lounge gutterpunks. Preppy, steroidal G-town crew boys. Freaky deaky artists. Federal big shots and their big shot friends. And just about everyone else.

Make Room: Eatery anarchy. The space is such that the line at the counter bottlenecks at the front door. Kitchen noise and customer noise combine to create a triple decibel din. People eat standing up, balancing their plastic baskets of onion rings on their palms. Rowdy, disorderly and loud. The anti-Afterwords. Just what we’re looking for.

The Damage: Negligible. Fine dining for the shoestring consumer with food that’ll sit in your stomach for days.

Nutshell: Ben, we commend you. The Chili Bowl is a grade-A B-Grade restaurant.

The Diner
2453 18th Street NW

Open 24/7

Fuel Factor: Half greasy spoon, half bruchetta-ized. Standard diner fare mixed with Bon Appetit-caliber cuisine (Did Mel’s serve portabella mushrooms? Don’t think so). Guppification is alive and gay in Adams Morgan. Microbrew, anyone?

Service Me: Friendly, but inaccurate — three times. We’re not on inkwells and birch bark anymore, guys. Grab a Bic and write down that order. To be fair, a mo-peddler named Debbie has rocked our world, veggie omelet-wise, several times in the past.

Who’s Who: Black Catters in vintage “Atari ” tees, Pumas, black hornrims and ironic haircuts wax faux-philosophic and misquote Jung. Haiku hipsters brood over Mead Composition notebooks, stare at the ceiling and feign transcendence. Georgetowners slum it. Madams Organ blues heads waft in, slam down a burger, return to Madams Organ.

Make Room: Formerly an auto body shop, the soaring ceilings and hanging lamps suggest a Gillespie-era Grand Central. Couples claw it out at the host stand for a streetside table. The booths you could live in for years.

The Damage: Bargain basement, though the pancakes have shrunk even as the price has gone up (yeah that’s right, we noticed). Lushes take note: they’re making up their overhead on the drinks. Unless you’re a fat cat, leave the liquor alone.

Nutshell: For all its spotty service, pricey bevies and scenester posturing, we keep coming back. A big, fat hunka classic pre-fab Americana.

Georgetown Café
1623 Wisconsin Avenue NW

Open: Mon.-Thurs., 9 a.m. to 6 a.m.
24 hours on weekends

Fuel Factor: For Middle Eastern cuisine fetishists, there’s no better place for a big chunk of baba ghanoush and some tahini, except for Iraq maybe, but who wants to go there?

Service Me: Park at the counter for easy access to a server. The tables are cozy, but you can expect to get up often to ask for more water or ketchup or whatnot.

Who’s Who: It’s the Breakfast Club but without Ally Sheedy, which, of course, is no fun at all. The princess sitting behind us spent fifteen minutes selecting the ultimate ring tone. Lots of Georgetown communications majors dropping 35 grand a year on a world-class higher education who couldn’t tell you what a Hoya is to save their lives.

Make Room: A small space with few adornments, this feels a bit like a Vermonter’s kitchen ten years ago. We’ll take it over the American City Diner malarkey any day.

The Damage: Recommended for those whose apartments are advertised as being “affordable luxury. ”

Nutshell: This one gets a shrug and a resounding “eh. ” The food is tasty enough, but the knuckle-dragging frat boys who pour in from The Tombs at last call are entertaining for about three seconds.

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