Just like mom makes: comfort food in the District

Colonials Weekend has come and gone. That pot of homemade chicken noodle soup that mom left in your refrigerator sits empty, growing some sort of funky residue with the rest of your dirty dishes in the sink. Yet, as the weather grows chilly, you yearn for a taste of something warm and familiar. What’s a hungry student to do?

Look no farther than the wealth of heart-warming, soul-soothing comfort food available in D.C. With winter fast approaching and the stress of papers, exams and headache-inducing group projects weighing heavy on my mind, I set out to find the best of the comfort food restaurants in the area – the culinary equivalent of a bear hug. To my delight, this particular genre abounds in D.C., and I found it impossible to choose just one venue. Instead, I’ve chosen my top three “best bets” for any comfort food occasion.

Best bet if you’ve got cash to spare:

On the pricier side, Georgia Brown’s haute approach to low-country fare is worth breaking open the piggy bank. Executive chef Darrell Hughes serves up an impressive medley of down-home classics, true to the rich and sultry flavors of their southern originals, with a few refreshing twists.

Start with one of the savory appetizers. Cornmeal-crusted catfish fingers are fried to a satisfying crisp, and the accompanying sauce is infused with mango and mustard flavors. Stuffed with herbed cream cheese and hinting of citrus, fried green tomatoes evoke the earthy tang of summers past, a reminder of more carefree days.

Such appealing appetizers are a hint of the good things to come. Nothing’s more comforting than a genuine southern entr?e, and Georgia Brown’s does not disappoint. Seafood is a highlight of the menu, but vegetarians are greeted by a respectable array of options, led by saut?ed black-eyed pea cakes. Carnivores, meanwhile, will find sweet solace in southern fried chicken, made extra-rich by real buttermilk, as well as the sugar and spice pork chop, whose caramelized juices are a sweet preview of scrumptious desserts such as peach cobbler. Ultimate comfort side dishes including maple-whipped yams, mashed potatoes and collard greens round out the menu.

A twinkly oak tree motif graces the walls and ceilings of the restaurant, creating a sense of genteel serenity. The service showcases the meaning of southern hospitality. At 950 15th St. N.W., the southern splendor of Georgia Brown’s is just a brisk walk from campus.

Best bet if you like a little spice with your comfort.

While southern comfort food has its charms, Hard Times Caf? in Arlington, Va., demonstrates that the American West offers a plethora of tasty Tex-Mex treats.

For starters, try the renowned beer-battered onion rings, sweet and tender in their crunchy shell. Other favorites are the chili cheese fries and the bacon cheese fries, both oozing cheddar cheese. (No one ever claimed that comfort food was easy on the waistline, but Hard Times Caf? makes it well worth the caloric indulgence.)

The salads sound pleasant, but that’s not the reason you’re here. Go for a bowl of one of the authentic chilis for which the restaurant is famous. Hard Times Caf? offers four intriguing versions of the stuff: a beefy Texas chili, a sweeter Cincinnati chili, Terlingua chili (the spiciest of the bunch) and a surprisingly substantial vegetarian chili. All four chilis can be turned into various combinations of chili dogs and chili burgers.

For the snack food inclined, there is even a Frito chili pie option, covered with Fritos potato chips and doused in sour cream. For dessert, try the Hard Times root beer float, whose creamy vanilla ice cream and honey-sweetened root beer are reminiscent of childhood picnics and cookouts with family and friends.

Both the d?cor and the service are friendly and casual. Hard Times Caf? is a Metro ride away, directly across the street from the Clarendon stop at 3028 Wilson Blvd.

Best for a fun date:

Luna’s Grill and Diner caters to a hip, urban crowd, who, despite their cosmopolitan sensibilities, crave a little bit of home-cooked goodness every now and then. With a menu full of American classics and a health-conscious vibe, Luna’s is sure to impress even the most finicky date.

Hungry diners will appreciate the multitude of simply prepared appetizers available. You’ll find everything from a plate of fresh fruit to sweet potato fries and spicy chicken wings to spark your appetite.

Entr?e offerings will remind you of your favorite hometown diner. Steelers fans will root for the Pittsburgh style barbecue and coleslaw. Your mom’s meatloaf may just meet its match in Luna’s firm, yet tender meatloaf and gravy. The menu features daily specials, such as pan-fried catfish with hush puppies, as well as vegetarian daily specials including portabella parmigiana.

Open till midnight, Luna’s cozy atmosphere provides the ideal way to get a little cozier with that certain someone after a thought-provoking indie film at the nearby Cineplex Odeon Dupont movie theater. At 1301 Connecticut Ave. N.W., Luna’s Grill & Diner is an easy walk from campus, or a quick walk from the Dupont Circle Metro stop.

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