It’s an urban legend among roommate disaster stories. Roommate #1 goes to neighborhood takeout joint. Orders smelliest thing on menu. Brings home, consumes half during Lost marathon, puts in fridge. Roommate #2 comes home, sniffs something rank, assumes rotten meat in fridge, throws out stinky leftovers. Passive aggressive notes ensue. Roommate tension escalates. Both move out. And it all started with a smelly dish.
DC has many choices of incredibly smelly, yet unbelievably tasty takeout. Everyone has come across this fare in some form. It’s the food with the stench that is embedded in your car during the five minute drive from the curry shop to your couch (car fresheners don’t come in Lamb Korma). The meal that when consumed at the desk causes coworkers’ eyes to water. The food that may smell better coming out than going in. But in the battle between taste buds and nose, taste triumphs. Meet the pungent posse of yummy DC takeout food.
Honorable Mention: O Jing A Bukom, Adam Express
This nondescript takeout place in Mt. Pleasant may look like any of the many forgettable Chinese joints that dot the DC landscape (sorry YUMS and Dannys). But one step inside this place and you are greeted with an extensive Korean menu, smiling owners, and the succulent stench of food. While everything in this tasty hole-in-the-wall has an aroma, only the daring need to order the stinkiest of all smelly foods: O Jing A Bukom. Broiled squid and vegetables sautéed in a spicy sauce with an odor more ferocious than the villain in Twenty Thousand Leagues. But man, is it good. The fresh chili spicy sauce is the perfect accompaniment to the perfectly grilled seafood. If the squid isn’t malodorous enough, Adam Express kindly includes a side of Kimchi (pickled cabbage) to raise the smelly stakes.
Adam Express, 3211 Mt Pleasant St NW, Washington, DC 20010, (202) 328-0010
4th Place: Garlic Knots, Valentino’s, Alexandria
New York pizza enthusiasts love Valentino’s for its authentic pies. But look beyond the main course for an appetizer that will surely singe the senses. This adored takeout joint takes pizza dough and bakes it with herbs, spices, olive oil, and Kilimanjaro-size mountain of garlic. Valentino’s creation heads a thousand knots into Garlic Land (Candyland’s much less profitable successor). The flavor is perfectly spiced, fragrant goodness, and the bread is warm and generously greasy, but the fumes give off a garlic sauna. Perfect for John Carpenter or Vampire Weekend fans, or for one of the Coreys in The Lost Boys. Not at all good for first dates.
Valentino’s, 4813 Beauregard St, Alexandria, VA 2232, (703) 354-8383
BRONZE MEDAL: Barbequed Brisket Sandwich, Rocklands
This small barbeque shack in North Georgetown is known for its original recipes and dripping carnivorous chow. But one sandwich stands out as having an almost offensive essence. One might think: how can brisket smell worse than, say, dogs’ breath after beef jerky? Well one whiff of this is so potently meaty, so salty, so incredibly cow that it puts you back in an 1800’s salted meat shack in summer. This beefy bouquet is brisket slow roasted to pungent perfection, served up on fresh bread with a generous helping of Rockland’s homemade barbecue sauce. If you’re imagining the standard sweet smell of grilled meat at an afternoon BBQ, this is not that. If you’re imagining a mixture of canned dog food, ripened spam and tuna brine, that’s much closer. The meaty smell lingers so long after brisket is in belly one would think they accidentally switched their shampoo for A1 (hey, it happens). Consuming this around a vegetarian is guaranteed to induce vomit. But for flesh- eaters, the brisket sandwich is downright delicious.
Rocklands Barbeque and Grilling, 2418 Wisconsin Ave NW, Washington, DC 20007, (202) 333-2558
SILVER MEDAL: Mix and Match Platter, Delhi Dhaba
This Indian carryout in Arlington offers a mix-and-match cheap combo of great stinky achievement. Butter chicken, lamb vindaloo, chicken tikka, tandorri, assortment of curries, gobi mutter…all dishes baring the ingredients to an offensive formula. It’s the gargantuan of gaseous smelling food combinations, and it’s also the most delectable. Delhi Dhaba’s knowledgeable staff will happily guide you to the right choice in assembling your platter, while the original recipes will get you a much needed Indian food fix. Unless you want to smell like your tasty takeout for the next week, at least three showers are recommended after consumption.
Delhi Dhaba, 2424 Wilson Blvd, Arlington, VA 22201, (703) 524-0008
GOLD MEDAL: Red Hawk Cheese Sandwich, Cowgirl Creamery
Please place clothespin to nose, and behold the smelliest sandwich of all sandwiches. Red Hawk Cheese is a triple-cream, washed-rind, fully-flavored organic malodorous marvel. Cowgirl Creamery offers a concoction featuring the fine cheese, a choice of meat or spread, enclosed by two pieces of Breadline bread. If you don’t mind pungent cheese, its creaminess and bold flavor make it one tasty lunch. Paired with warm bread, fresh meat and tasty spread, the sandwich is sensational. The cheese took home the Best-In-Show prize at the American Cheese Society’s Annual Conference. It’ll also take hold of your smell senses and take them to the rotten egg factory. Cowgirl Creamery has an ever-changing daily menu of a couple of items, so if you’re requesting the sandwich that really cuts the cheese, call ahead and see if it’s being offered. With the daily lunch selections running out as early as 1pm, head over early to get this crude- smelling creation.
Cowgirl Creamery, 919 F St NW, Washington, DC 20004, (202) 393-6880
A version of this article was originally published in the Onion A.V. Club