So, it's the last week of 2010, and if the Aztec calendar is anything to go by, we all vanish like a cosmic blip in another year. This also means that every website will be rolling out its "Best of 2010!" lists this week, so in the spirit of saying goodbye to a fairly sucky year that everyone seems glad to be over with, here's my own list.
Best and Worst of 2010, or, a list that will make sense to no one but me
Best/Worst Thrift Store:
Since the economy tanked in 2009, there's been a resurgence of thrift and resale stores in the metropolitan area, and more use of the gag-worthy word "recessionista" than I care to remember. I have sort of a love/hate relationship with the whole upscale resale thing because a lot of the resale stores that sprung up in the past year aren't really all that great, and many of the newer ones charge as much as you would pay for new clothes on sale, which defeats the purpose.
But one that is pretty awesome is Labels Exchange on Mount Vernon Avenue in Del Ray. The owner, Monique, is really friendly, and the store is well-organized in a unique underground space next to Blueberry Art Gallery (both stores opened in other locations on Mount Vernon and moved last summer). Labels Exchange has a great selection of new and vintage clothes, takes consignments, and has enough cool finds at good prices to make it worth visiting often.
Worst thrift store? Elinor Coleman's Vintage Mirage, although technically a vintage store, definitely wins the dubious honor of worst thrift store, from overcharging for mass-produced labels and mistagging items (faux leather belt without tag labeled as a real leather Betsey Johnson is just one example).
Best/Worst Noodles and Dumplings
Ever since eating the most delicious spicy noodles in a shack underneath the train station in New York City's Chinatown last January, we've been on a quest to either find or replicate them. Alas, we haven't had much luck (the spicy hot pot at Uncle Liu's, if you pour sesame oil sauce all over it, comes the closest) but by happy accident we found the excellent A and J Restaurant in Annandale. A and J is a bare-bones operation that consists of one small dining room and doesn't take credit cards or reservations, but the spicy beef soup is insanely delicious and the tiny, tender dumplings are awesome. It's also cheap, with the most expensive item on the menu being about ten dollars. Prepare to slop delicious broth all over yourself.
Worst Chinese food in the area goes to China 1 on Route 1 in Alexandria (and I'm pretty sure that first review in fake). Having never cooked Chinese food myself, but eaten a ridiculous amount of it in my lifetime, I will say that I think it's very hard to make excellent Chinese food, but pretty easy to make mediocre but edible Chinese-esque food. China 1 makes epically terrible, to the point of inedibility, food that can only by a stretch of the imagination be called Chinese. Their dumplings are, bar none, the worst dumplings I've ever tasted, clumsily made with a thick, pasty, gooey skin and a wad of dubious meat that looks like dog kibble inside. I'd rather eat Mrs. Lovett's meat pies.
Best/Worst Pizza Place
Alexandria finally gets a good pizza place! Pizza Paradiso just opened up on King Street, and we've already been four times. Paradiso serves up Neapolitan-style pizza with charred crusts, little sauce, and inventive toppings. They also have an extensive beer, wine, and coffee menu. The little pizzas are expensive but worth it. Just avoid their non-pizza offerings.
Conveniently enough, the worst pizza place is right across the street. Bugsy's Sports Bar is an Old Town institution, but I think it's more for its cheap beer and many TVs than food. The pizza is limp, greasy, and smothered in mediocre cheese and sad toppings.
Best, Now Worst Bar
Sadly, the award for best and worst bar goes to the same place: Eventide. Under the inimitable Steve's stewardship, Eventide offered inventive, delicious drinks, painstakingly selected liquors, and the company of the consummate bartender. Unfortunately, Steve recently departed Eventide, and without him, it seems likely that Eventide will revert to one of the cavernous yuppie watering holes that line Clarendon Boulevard. Besides, any place that would let Steve go without a fight is lame.
Best Candy Store
Sugar Cube remains my all-time favorite, from bulk favorite like Swedish fish and sour belts to an impressive selection of licorice, beautiful hand-made truffles, retro candy, gift boxes, gourmet chocolate, and even sugar-free candy. The sizeable store is run by friendly sisters Kim and Alyssa who know their candy and run a cute blog. Sugar Cube even offers a free weekly tasting session on Saturday afternoons to try new products.
Best Ice Cream That is Not Ice Cream
Technically speaking, it's frozen custard, but Del Ray's The Dairy Godmother continues its winning streak. Godmother has three daily flavors (always chocolate and vanilla, plus one flavor of the day) as well as a selection of sorbets, although they deep-sixed their baked goods case to make way for ice pops. They still sell ice cream cakes, sandwiches, and truffles, though. My personal favorite is their coconut cream custard, Thai coffee ice pop, and the almond ice cream sandwich - a slab of frozen almond custard sandwiched between two squares of almond sponge cake. Their website lets you print out a monthly flavor forecast, or get one of their cutely named sundaes, a milkshake, or a malt. But be prepared for a wait, especially in the summer, the line can snake all the way around the back of the store.
For amazing gelato, you'll have to go to Georgetown and hit up Dolcezza. Dolcezza serves gelato, an ice-cream-like confection that has less air than ice cream and a denser texture. Dolcezza uses local, organic, seasonal products (and has the overly-precious website to prove it), which I don't care about - I would eat delicious gelato even if it was served on the back of a dead baby seal that was trundled down from the Arctic in a Hummer. The gelato is expensive, but mind-meltingly delicious, and make sure to try the fruit flavors, too - grapefruit and blood orange are particularly good.