Only in Georgetown, with its long history and international influence, can you grab an authentic Vietnamese meal and tour a sprawling and architecturally impressive museum just down the street. Still, so much of Georgetown’s historical, cultural and culinary potential exists unknown to students. Enter Simply Banh Mi and the Dumbarton Oaks House and Garden. These two unlikely partners collide to form an exciting excursion that is foreign, historic and secluded just six blocks from campus.
As a self-proclaimed expert on the Washington, D.C. pho scene, I can confidently assert that Simply Banh Mi is the best anywhere. This no-frills location on Wisconsin Avenue provides the perfect setting for indulging in an authentic Vietnamese experience. Brother and sister duo, John and Diana Tran, opened this shop with a simple goal: delivering the Vietnamese food their mother, “Mama Tran,” had raised them on.
Not only do they succeed in doing this, but they do so at an exceptional price — $7.50 per sandwich — and with a personal, homey flare that isn’t found elsewhere. Upon entering, you will find owner and founder John Tran taking orders, waiting tables, in the kitchen and cleaning dishes, all with a smile and zeal that is scarce in contemporary dining. The employee’s dedication is admirable, and the environment they create is friendly and welcoming.
As their name suggests, they whip up Banh Mi, French-influenced Vietnamese sandwiches, masterfully. If you decide a sandwich is in your future, you have plenty of options, but I suggest the barbeque pork belly, lemongrass pork or chicken. The barbeque pork belly has a savory and rich flavor that is complemented by the plentiful portions of fresh cilantro, cucumber and carrots that line the sandwich. Likewise, the lemongrass pork and chicken are crispy and tender with a perfect smokey and citral balance in each bite.
Too often, a stale or otherwise scanty baguette offsets an otherwise quality sandwich. Simply Banh Mi avoids this pervasive deficiency with their sterling baguettes that embody the soft dough and crispy crust that defines French bread.
Simply Banh Mi is multi-talented as its pho is equally as impressive as its banh mi. This iconic Vietnamese soup has exploded in popularity in the United States, and for a good reason. These brothy, hearty bowls of delectable vermicelli noodles and tender meats leave you satisfied without feeling gorged or guilty.
In D.C., pho is plentiful and reliably delicious at a number of locations. Simply Banh Mi distinguishes itself from the area’s abundant competition with its conspicuously delicious broth, which is flavorful without being excessively oily, a common tactic employed by pho restaurants to offset a lack of effort. Consequently, you’ll finish your meal here without the greasy or filmy feeling that ruins a meal. If you order pho, I must insist on their beef brisket. Chicken, though excellent as well, simply can’t match the flavor that beef brings to the pho. If you are not a meat eater, they have a vegan option as well. Their bowls are massive and meats plentiful, all for the astonishing price of $7.50, or $8.50 for the lemongrass beef.
At Simply Banh Mi, you can order a quality appetizer and entree without breaking the $10 barrier. Throw in a bubble tea or a smoothie, and you still will find it hard to exceed $15. While dining out in Georgetown often involves overpaying and leaving hungry, Simply Banh Mi provides a respite from this aggravating proclivity.
Georgetown’s inexpensive exploration doesn’t end with Simply Banh Mi. After a hot and hearty meal, a relaxing walk in the brisk winter air will most definitely complete the evening. After your meal near the corner of Wisconsin and Q Street, I recommend adventuring just two blocks north to the astonishingly beautiful and equally underrated Dumbarton Oaks House and Garden.
This sprawling and secluded historical estate is, at first, entirely hidden as you walk along R Street. Upon entering, however, a massive colonial revival mansion greets you before you make your way into the seemingly endless expanse of immaculately-maintained gardens. Lavish lawns, extensive terraces and intricate fountains decorate the property. Furthermore, a neighboring park and hiking trail flank the estate, adding to the uncanny sense of seclusion. The vast open space is welcome after eating at Simply Banh Mi which, though excellent, is limited in seating and can feel a bit cramped.
This experience is not only close by and surprisingly underrated, but it is also completely free during its Winter Season, which lasts until March 14. After that, Georgetown students will pay only $5. This fee can be disappointing in a city that has an exuberant supply of free museums and historical exploits, so I recommend taking advantage of this property before mid-March.
Nothing better attests to the diversity and rich history of Georgetown than an authentic Vietnamese meal coupled with a walk through a historic 20th-century estate. Embracing this diverse spirit is part of being a Hoya, so take advantage both of what’s foreign and newer to D.C. and what’s historic but never boring.
Hal Rogers is a sophomore in the College. Exploring Eateries will appear in print and online every other Friday.