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Sochi 2014: Where to drink (and eat) like a Russian in DC

"A lesser czar would feel right at home" in Russia House

Mari Vanna's "babushka chic" interior

It’s not New York or San Francisco, but over the last decade, Washington has become a gateway for immigrants. More than a million foreign-born people call the D.C. metro area home.
That includes about 10,000 Russians. And while the Soviets aren’t as visible as the region’s Latino or Ethiopian populations, they’ve still made their mark on the city’s food and booze scene. As Sochi gets ready to kick off the 2014 Winter Games, you can eat like a Russian (or like a former member of the U.S.S.R.) by hitting up one of these D.C. dives.
The Classic
Russia House, 1800 Connecticut Ave. NW, 202-234-9433

There’s a reason ritzy Russian expats hang out at Russia House on Saturday nights. A lesser czar would feel right at home among the crushed velvet seats, flickering chandeliers, and more than 90 vodkas (many infused). Capitals star Alex Ovechkin has been known to sip a martini here. Curl up with a cocktail, a beer (Russia House offers nine varieties straight from St. Petersburg), or a vodka flight. If you’re lucky, you’ll catch a Russian opera singer or piano player performing the classics.
A Russian Export
Mari Vanna, 1141 Connecticut Ave. NW, 202-783-7777
Here’s your first clue that Mari Vanna’s got the goods – the website is in Russian (though English is just a click away). Mari Vanna is something of a chainlet, with outposts in St. Petersburg, London, and New York. The restaurant specializes in what the Washington Post describes as “babushka chic” – Faberge eggs and Russian dolls mingle with Soviet album covers. Eat like a Russian by noshing on the pickled vegetables, caviar, and blini. Naturally, you can wash it all down with one of their many vodkas.
Off the Beaten Track
Silk Road Bistro, 607 Reisterstown Rd., Pikesville, Md., 410-878-2929
Odds are, you’d have trouble placing Uzbekistan on a map, never mind naming its regional specialties. But if you’ve already sampled the Russian classics, Silk Road Bistro is worth a try. It’s an Uzbek restaurant where, on a given Saturday afternoon, a group of rowdy Russians might be celebrating someone’s birthday (with countless bouquets of flowers, high heels, and vodka) next to Central Asians quietly enjoying some plov (a rice dish with carrots, dried fruits, and meat). At Silk Road, try the eggplant salad (fried eggplant, tomatoes, garlic and herbs), lagman soup (with noodles and beef), or the kebab.

Secret Georgian
Levante’s, 1320 19th St. NW, 202-293-6301
Levante’s, in Dupont Circle, bills itself as a Mediterranean restaurant. But if you call ahead, you can request food off of the “secret” Georgian menu. Georgian cuisine revolves around walnut oil, eggplants, pomegranates, and cheese, mixed up and transformed into the ultimate comfort food. Ask for the khinkali – dumplings filled with meat and broth or potatoes – or the khajupuri (delicious cheese bread, sometimes served with an egg on top).

Read more articles by Amanda Erickson.

Amanda Erickson is a senior associate editor at The Atlantic Cities.
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