I am lucky to have so many food lovers in my life. When the topic of regional food came up in the office today, a fellow Canadian casually mentioned a favorite treat, Beaver Tails. Our exchange inspired questions from our colleagues—to set them straight, we launched into a passionate description of what Americans call simply “fried dough.”
I’m also lucky enough to work with someone who is not only a ruthless hunter of the species foodia truckus, but finds (and remembers) all of the city’s best steals and deals. In today’s case, it was the former.
My lunch companion had her G-chat message set as a question: “Is a 25-minute walk worth it for a free lunch?” Always happy to walk around downtown in the sunshine, and ever a fan of the elusive free lunch, I signed up for her adventure. When we reached Roti, a brand-new transplant from Chicago, a very long line of frugal Washingtonians snaked through the restaurant and halfway down the sidewalk.
We were told it would be an hour or more before we got to the ordering counter. Scoffing, we decided to wait it out. (Rumbling stomachs will make you do crazy things.)
The sun was bright, people were friendly, and we had plenty of time to choose between the offerings of fresh, healthy-looking menu options. There were sandwiches—roasted meats, vegetables, falafal, or kabob meats wrapped in house-made pita or laffa, a thin and chewy bread. There were two salads, which we passed over quickly. And then there were the Mediterranean and Kabob plates, boasting more protein bang for our buck. (How can you tell we’re unpaid recently low-paid WHOO HOO! interns?)
We arrived at the ordering counter about 20 minutes later. So much for Mr. Roti’s pessimistic promise. Never underestimate the magical power of two hungry web-journalists.
After making our donations to D.C. Central Kitchen (kudos for Roti for merging marketing with community service) self-indulgently debating the merits of each option (knowing few others would put up with our OCD behavior), and spying on a group of women to see what they’d ordered, we both decided on the Moroccan Rice Bowl: Roti rice, topped with chicken or steak Roti, plus any additional three toppings and your choice of sauce. Worked for me.
The fast-casual restaurant was remarkably Chipotle-esque in its layout and logistics. The staff loaded us up with extra toppings when we asked, and smiled lots. The food looked fresh, and to be honest, kind of like some of the food I cook at home. At the end of the line, the cashier rang up our free purchases for inventory’s sake, and handed us cups for a free soda.
Back at work, we opened up our stylish little paper bags to find a satisfying, flavorful meal waiting inside. Neither of us could finish, and so we stashed our leftovers in the fridge. My selection (pictured at the top of this post), included rice and tender fire-roasted chicken (I swear I’ll order anything with that prefix). I choose baba ghanouj (excellent), red pepper aioli (decent), yogurt sauce (yummy), tomato-cucumber salad (passable), and roasted vegetables (very good). Tomorrow I’ll bring a pita and wrap up the leftovers.
Like I said, I’m lucky to have people around me who are so tuned into the goings-on of this city, from politics, to culture, to food. I can barely keep up with it sometimes, but it’s nice to know that someone’s looking out for my lunch-hour well being, and that sometimes there is such thing as a free lunch. You just have to know where to look.
Roti Mediterranean Grill
1747 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
*all pictures taken with my iPhone, please excuse the poor quality!