As a writer for the Dining Traveler, you can imagine that I love to travel largely in order to sample the delicious and authentic cuisines of other countries. Luckily, in DC we have a great deal of fantastic international fare so even if I can’t travel, I can sample the dishes of other countries in my own city. One of the cuisines that the city has been lacking for some time however is good, spicy Chinese food. Yes, there are great spots in Virginia and Rockville, but sometimes you just want to eat close to home. Luckily for me, right around the time that I was craving a meal of good Chinese food, a new Chinese restaurant opened in Shaw, Chao Ku. I immediately went for a visit and discovered that I now have a new favorite spot for Chinese food in Washington, DC.
Chao Ku and it is nestled among the row houses lining the 9th Street Corridor. The menu is small but full of gems. Indoors the venue is small but cute, with a casual, low-maintenance vibe. I went with a group of friends, and we vowed to share all our dishes so we could try as much as possible! We started out our meal with a tart pickle plate and a refreshing cucumber salad, to wet our palates, and then, moved on to the real stuff.
First and foremost the veggie dan dan noodles are absolutely essential to your meal at Chao Ku. The handmade noodles come in a spectacularly spicy, sesame oil-infused sauce, then sprinkled with loads of peanuts, shards of radishes, and spring onions. The chewy noodles just soak up the gorgeous sauce, and are a perfect contrast to the crunchy toppings. The dish is just so good. Another highlight is the mapo tofu, brutally spicy and bursting with flavor. The cubes of tofu soak up the sauce and just melt in your mouth. Be sure to eat the tofu with the mound of rice the dishes comes with, it will offset the heat a little bit! A cold beer will help as well, the restaurant has plenty you can choose from. For something with less heat try the Singapore noodles, which have more of a curry flavor than a heat index. Fragrant and warm, with notes of turmeric and cumin, with the addition of sweet, bright, crunchy vegetables like broccolini, it hits the spot.
The Verdict: Chao Ku is officially the new best cheap eats in the city. Reservations aren’t need for now; be sure to go before everyone discovers this spot and there is a line out the door! Note: after Dining Traveler Jessica read this draft, she made the beeline to Chao Ku, she concurs!