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The Ultimate DC Guide To Impressing Your Visiting Parents
November 20, 2013 | 9:00AM

Now, you are young, and you’re living in DC. This usually means that wherever your parents are-they WILL want to visit, at least a little more than if you, say, lived in someplace they perceived as less historically significant, or cultured. Which means, by default, you will be entertaining your parents in DC a little more than if you, say, lived in someplace they perceived as less historically significant, or cultured. And maybe, just maybe, you will run out of ideas of what to do with them. That feeling can be summed up as:

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Lucky for you, we have this tried and tested guide to impressing your parents in DC, right here, ready for you and all those long holiday weekends ahead. TRUST US, this is hundreds of DC parent dinners and experiences speaking here.

We’re going to break this down into following categories:

  • GENERAL VISIT TIMING PLANNING TIPS (yes, there is more to DC than Cherry Blossom season)
  • DAYTIME ACTIVITIES : brunch, general sightseeing, cultural institutions, lunch + shopping
  • NIGHTTIME ACTIVITIES: dining (with some useful subcategories), bars, theatre, music venues etc
  • WHERE TO STAY

and last but certainly not least:

  • IMPRESSING ON THE CHEAP (it is ok, we understand/our 23 year old selves can relate. Actually, who are we kidding, our 33 year old selves can relate too)

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GREAT TIMES TO PLAN PARENTAL VISITS DURING:

Sure, Cherry Blossoms seem like the obvious choice but a. you do it once you’ve done it always and b. for every different kind of parent, there is a different perfect time to visit. So consider these time frames:

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DAYTIME ACTIVITIES

BRUNCH

Parents (and by parents I mean MOTHERS) love brunch. It fills them with this feeling of being urban and glamorous and all sorts of other stuff, even if they are not (but also if they are). Especially because it gives both her AND YOU a chance to have a drink early on and ease up the tension.

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Start your day with them with a good brunch experience and you’ve won half the battle. Our awesome 2013 Brunch guide deals with this point of interest pretty well, so here are some solid recommendations:

  • KENNEDY CENTER ROOF TERRACE – $35 gets you a drink plus unlimited access to house specialties such as prime rib, raw seafood bar, seasonal gourmet salads, as well as traditional breakfast foods, including made-to-order omelets and homemade scones, muffins, and danishes, all served in the chef’s impressive kitchen, as well as a whole separate dessert room.
  • CASHION’S – One of the classiest brunches around. Not cheap per se but a great value through sheer serenity and relaxation. I recommend sitting at the bar, ordering an aperol spritzer (or 3) and digging into the hash.
  • MINTWOOD – Mintwood is just that perfect combination of classy-yet-casual-enough AND very delicious that the parents respond to very well. They recently took the sunchoke soup off the brunch menu, but the rest of the menu is still top notch.
  • LE DIPLOMATE – the key to going to Le Diplomate with your parents is going during daytime. Why? Because it gets pretty loud there during peak dinner hours and loud is not good when it comes to parents. So show up early (bonus: Brunch is served both Saturday and Sunday), order some eggs and some fresh seafood and let your Mother enjoy the fact that she feels like she is part of a movie, just for one meal.

  • TABARD INN – you don’t really need us to explain why parents love Tabard, right?
  • DINO – an old school Italian eatery in Cleveland park that is both parents friendly AND affordable: $25 Italian style brunch with bottomless mimosas and Bloody Marys
  • RASIKA / RASIKA WEST END – In our opinion, Rasika and Rasika West End are always on top of our dinner-with-parents reservations list, SO it only makes sense that taking them here for brunch would do wonders for your “favorite offspring” cred. For Mother’s Day $45 gets you a three course meal, with items like spiced lamb minced with poached eggs and straw potatoes and sweet yogurt, and date tamarind chutney, spiced potato patties with chickpeas already having us water at the mouth.
  • BIRCH & BARLEY - Kyle Bailey’s dishes are what classy yet comforting brunch dreams are made of (house brined hash with duck eggs, kale caesar salads and more) but Tiffany MacIsaac’s pastries are absolutely worth blowing all your and your Mother’s diet resolutions on: the warm brioche sticky buns (see photo by Jeff Martin below) with brown sugar caramel, pecans and cream cheese are in particular to die for.

 

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 GENERAL SIGHTSEEING

Now, a big reason why your parents are proud of you living in DC (aside from the fact that they’re still clinging onto that dream of you becoming the youngest president or the first female defense secretary or just finishing up law school and making bank in some non-economy-affected big firm with massive government contracts) is that to their friends at home it implies that you live in a big, cultured, fancy city.  Now, no one needs to know that you actually BARELY make it to any museums because they’re swarmed by tourists on the weekends, but here is a handful of surefire stops on the sightseeing circuit (if you can, take a week day off for these).

  • Obviously the Smithsonians but also must sees include:
  • ALL THE ACTIVITIES LISTED ON TOP AS GOOD TIME FRAMES TO PLAN YOUR PARENTS VISITING and ALSO ALL THE ACTIVIES LISTED AT THE BOTTOM AS FREE AND CHEAP.
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  • The National Gallery of Art + Sculpture Garden + Ice Rink + Hirshhorn – this is like the ultimate fine art afternoon in the city. Bonus-it is all free, can involve hot chocolate, and taking photos of your parents in that Leo Villareal light tunnel at NGA is photo album bragging rights gold.
  • The Butterfly Pavillion + Minerals Wing at the Natural History Museum – always cool, mostly gender neutral and also great for pictures.
  • The Phillips Collection – the Phillips Collection is great because, unlike the Smithonians, it is manageable and intimate and yet still feels very much like a world class museum through and through.

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  • Corcoran – for parents that are fans of world class photography and emerging, DC artists.
  • National Geographic Building – it will make your parents feel like they raised you into a good, curious, intelligent human being that still maintains a childlike sense of wonder.
  • Spy Museum and Newseum – a little read-y but guaranteed entertainment for at least a full afternoon. Great gift shops AND an excuse for you to nerd out over James Bond or Anchorman. You’re welcome.
  • National Building Museum – one of DC’s most impressive buildings, and some of the most thought provoking shows.
  • Hillwood – I am yet to meet a Mother who wasn’t obsessed with Marjorie Merriweather Post’s Estate, Faberge Eggs, amazing gowns and all.

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LUNCH + SHOPPING

There are really only a handful of neighborhoods you can actually go shopping in the area, and Moms will love it. There is no mall, no rushing around, and if you have just one parent in town it is a great pasttime. So, check out these lunch + store itineraries:

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NIGHTTIME ACTIVITIES

There’s really only two types of parents in the world: those who want to do stuff with you at night and those who are completely happy to just let you be after the sun sets because they can find their own ways of entertaining themselves. Sadly, when they are visiting, the former are likely to become the latter. Dinner and/or theatre or a show tends to take care of business, though sometimes you can and should throw some drinks in. So, lets go:

DINNER

Now, your parents will have probably done some basic research into the dining universe of DC and it probably began, reached middle ground and ended with Jose Andres. And that is fine and totally valid. But here are some other suggestions, both celebrity chef and other potential categories of interest related.

Things to keep in mind that parents DEFINITELY CARE ABOUT:

  • Loudness levels. Sadly, people get deafer as they get older and having to yell at them in order to have a conversation will not be awesome.
  • Service. Service. Service.
  • Being mentally prepped for what awaits them: discuss fanciness levels, dress code and/or trendiness in advance. They will feel comfortable ANYWHERE as long as they know what lies ahead.

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Famous Chefs

In 2013, everyone watches TOP CHEF, MASTER CHEF, WHATEVER CHEF shows, and as such, they LOVE THEM a good celebrity chef. Now, you may be super pumped about what some amazing local talent is doing but a CELEBRITY CHEF to your parents means one of these things: s/he was on TV (preferably Bravo), s/he won a James Beard award (which they found out about as part of his Bravo appearance), there is a cookbook your Mother owns, AND THE PRESIDENT AND THE FIRST LADY ATE THERE. Blessedly POTUS and FLOTUS dine out a lot so that angle is easy but otherwise, here’s what is on offer:

  • JALEO, ZAYTINYA or OYAMEL – Parents love Jose Andres, and that is a stone cold fact. Whether they’re in the mood for Spanish, Mexican or Mediterannean small plates, any of these three will do a great job. Plus-the cocktail programs are outstanding. (photo: Greg Powers & Audrey Crewe for Oyamel)

 

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  • Kapnos - a little more formal than Graffiato and also less loud in the dining room itself, this IS the place for your Mom and Dad to experience Mike Isabella at his finest.
  • Central - Michel Richard’s American-with-a-twist-dining is a great stand-by when it comes to parental dining decisions in a pinch. Just those feathery cheese breads they serve are worth the trip.
  • Bearnaise – Spike Mendelsohn has your steak frites needs covered. Which is great because parents love steak frites almost as much as they love Top Chef.
  • The Source - Parents may want to go for the Wolfgang Puck name above the title, but they’ll want to return for Scott Drewno’s cooking.
  • RANGE - Bryan Voltaggio’s expansive, ambitious Chevy Chase flagship is exactly the kind of place that the parents anticipate a celebrity chef owning plus the seven kitchens scenario eliminates the worry of even the pickiest of parents.  Bonus: stopping by the Civil Cigar Lounge afterwards with your Dad and packing a box of sweets to go for your Mom.

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Money Is No Object:

Whether there is something to celebrate or not, it is always nice when you or your parents decide to REALLY, REALLY treat yourselves. The list below involves restaurants where the bill will come out to $100 or more per person (sometimes even close to $200 depending on your ambition levels) but it will be well worth it. I am also a big fan of throwing one of these into the mix if you want to make sure your parents never ever worry about you financially ever again (so, sort of a double edged sword).

  • KOMI - whether with parents or not, Johnny Monnis’ James Beard award winning tasting menu is literally our first choice for any situation where money is no object. Mentally prepare yourself for three hours of gastronomical vacation and start saving up for the next time straight away. After all, if this place is good enough for Michelle Obama on her birthday, it is good for us on any occasion.
  • Blue Duck Tavern- RAMMY winner for best fine dining this year. Well deserved.
  • Proof- I take my Mother out to dinner every year for her birthday. I’ve lived in DC for ten years now so we’ve made our rounds across the dining universe and she still mentions the dinner we had at Proof as one of the best times we ever had. The service is impeccable, the wine pairings lovely, and the food is exactly what your parents expect from a fine dining experience. Just don’t go during a Caps game.

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  • Rasika (tasting menu) – just sitting at the bar at Rasika and gorging on Palak Chaat feels like a culinary holiday, but ask for the tasting menu (there IS a vegetarian option too) with wine pairing and let them make all the decisions for you. You won’t regret a single one.
  • Cityzen - Mandarin Oriental is a teeny bit of a pain to get to, but the good news is Cityzen makes you not want to leave (lower budget tip: do the bar prix fixe menu)
  • Bourbon Steak - Simply the best meat eating, and one of the more inspired drink menus in town. Also, very popular during White House Correspondent’s week, so prime people watching often comes rolled into the price.
  • Restaurant Eve -  Old Town Alexandria is parental catnip, in my humble opinion and nothing crowns it better than a tasting menu meal at Restaurant Eve. Go during holiday season for a nice stroll through the Christmas light lit King Street and swing by PX for a proper cocktail afterwards.
  • Fiola - For your money, the best Italian fine dining this city (and beyond) has to offer. Fabio Trabbochi won the Rammy for Chef of the Year this year, and he earned it. Also, the desserts, omg the desserts:

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Old School DC:

Sometimes your parents want to feel like they’re visiting some rarified, wheeling-and-political-dealing DC version of you they romanticized in their heads. And sometimes, it is nice to pretend that you ARE that person. Here are some great choices for those evenings:

  • Old Ebbit Grill - a classic in every way
  • Oval Room- Any Ashok Bajaj’s restaurant (Rasika, 701, Bibiana, Ardeo/Bardeo, Bombay Room, NoPa etc) is a surefire parental hit, but the Oval Room has that DC power spot vibe (while serving actually gorgeous, inspired interpretations of classic power meal dishes)
  • Tabard Inn - the cozy front room, the lovely garden, the maze like interior-Tabard Inn screams expensive secrets at every corner.
  • Angler’s Inn – a little bit of a drive out of DC towards Great Falls, but upstairs there is a room with a leopard carpet where the Kennedys used to throw dance parties for themselves.
  • Iron Gate - DC’s oldest restaurant just got an amazingly lovely revamp, with both a la carte and tasting menu dining. Read our whole first look here.

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For the Adventurous Parents:

  • Little Serow - Komi’s Thai little sister is amazing. However it does NOT accept reservations and one thing that your cool, adventurous parents still should not be doing is standing in line for forever. So, here is a pro tip: providing your parents love truly spectacular, spicy food and gorgeous settings, show up early, put your name down, get an estimated seating time (they’re pretty good at that) and plan your evening around that fact. Little Serow is the main attraction of any night, not the supporting player.
  • Estadio - Spanish small plates are seemingly everywhere these days but Haidar Karoum still makes his special with unexpected flavor combinations and exotic touches and the beverage menu manned by Adam Bernbach is head and shoulders above any of comparable restaurants.
  • Doi Moi - same team as Estadio, only South East Asian. If you ever worried if the same people could do Spanish and Asian well, trust us, there was no need to worry.

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  • Daikaya - the izakaya menu on top is one of the more adventurous menus in town, and the downstairs ramen operation is a great comfort food option.
  • Rose’s Luxury- The newest addition to Barrack’s Row is getting all the buzz and rightfully so. A true individual, it is a delight for all the senses (also, a welcome respite from the insanity that dining in NW has somehow become this year). If it is still on the menu definitely get the popcorn soup. -SL

For the Not-so-Adventurous (but still Cool) Parents:

  • Matchbox- Great pizzas, food everyone can relate too and affordable too. If your parents really only eat All American all the time, this is a great gateway into more ambitious dining to come.
  • 1789 - an institution.
  • Founding Farmers and Farmers Fishers Bakers – the farm-to-table DC behemoth just got a cookbook out so you can grab one of those from your parents and they can make all their favorite, new, in-season dishes from home now too.

  • Equinox- Todd Gray’s seasonal menu is always on point and deceptively simple.
  • Brasserie Beck- a great brasserie menu goes a long way. Roast chickens and good steak frites are not alienating to anyone and yet you can still gorge on curry mussels and all the grilled octopus in the world if you want to.
  • Birch & Barley - the very definition of lovely, upscale casual American dining in DC.

BARS

Now, lets get something straight: getting a drink with your parents is totally fine, encouraged and can be pretty awesome. Things to keep in mind: GO EARLY (really, never ever go to a bar after 9pm with your parents, EVER); KNOW YOUR CUSTOMER (ie parents); MAKE SURE FOOD IS AVAILABLE. If you keep these three points in mind, and avoid anywhere too crowded and too small (BEING ABLE TO SIT DOWN STRAIGHT AWAY IS IMPERATIVE, which is when coming early places really comes into play) you’re GOLDEN. Now, for the suggestions….

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For the Sophisticated Drinking Parental Palate:

  • 2 Birds One Stone - the lovely new cocktail bar below Doi Moi is a chill haven of fancy punches, twee but serious cocktail menus and gives your semi hip Dad a chance to make a Portlandia bird joke or two.
  • Jack Rose  - Do you parents enjoy bourbon, whiskey, scotch and/or drinks made with any of these items? Taking them to this whiskey library EARLY (I will keep reminding you of this) is heaven. 5pm or so is the golden hour.
  • Columbia Room - want to show off yourself and your newfound grown-up sophistication levels a little yet not alienate your parents at all ? Problem solved.
  • Room 11 - Small, intimate, delicious. It is a neighborhood bar your parents wish they had when they were your age.
  • Bourbon Steak - one of the most sophisticated cocktail menus in town, manned by one of the most capable cocktail teams in town, with fire pits and blankets on top.
  • POV - Still the best cocktails with the best view in the city.

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For the Beer Lover:

  • Churchkey - No need to explain this, right? And yet, I will. My Dad used to design breweries and distilleries for a living. Now that he’s retired he paints and hangs out with me a lot. But he still really knows his stuff. So, one of my favorite things to do with him is to show up at Churchkey JUST AS THEY OPEN, get a good seat at one of the booths and play the taste-test game with him there.
  • Kramerbooks- the beer menu is solid and non-intimidating, the books are a great distraction and there is always pie.
  • Birreria Paradiso -A great, quiet corner to enjoy some brews.
  • Bluejacket- chances are, the craft beer scene is not super duper hoppin’ wherever your parents are visiting. So take them to this NRG brewery + restaurant and see their jaws drop at the sight of 20 custom beers and 5 casks on hand. Plus, I hear there is a baseball stadium nearby.

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For the Wine Lover:

  • Sonoma - a perfect respite after doing some fun Hill stuff like visiting the Library of Congress or right before checking out a show at Folger
  • Barcelona Wine Bar  - the newest addition to the 14th street (see our full first look here) is a little bit of a jungle during peak hours but it is also a great fire placed, heat lamped place to go and pretend you’re, well, in Barcelona and not in DC with your visiting parent.

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  • Veritas Wine Bar - a totally underestimated piece of wine heaven in north Dupont
  • Cork - a great option in terms of taking your parents to 14th street for wine and dinner but not actually dealing with most of the stuff that taking your parents to 14th street involves these days. Great brunch too.
  • Vinoteca  - great during warm months, what with the bocce, wine specials, and that lovely garden.

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Your own stand-bys-but Parent Friendly – if planned well:

  • A & D Bar - relaxed, not crowded, and sophisticated enough that your parents start feeling good about you living in an “up-and-coming” neighborhood (even if they consider that term to be a dirty word, don’t judge them)
  • Satellite Room - fun parent fact: they enjoy silly things like boozy milkshakes as much as you or me, they really just need an opportunity to exercise that right. The Satellite Room gives them that opportunity. Once again-COME EARLY. (I will never not be reminding you of this, sorry)
  • Saint-EX – early.  (yep, I said it again)
  • Bistro Bohem  - coffee shops are mostly pointless but Bistro/Cafe Bohem is a great mix of food/coffee/light wine and beer options all the while offering that loose feeling of wordliness you parents are probably looking for when visiting you in DC.
  • Napoleon- I am yet to meet a grown woman who doesn’t turn into a teenager at the sight of a champagne cocktail. Come for happy hour and make your Mom twice as happy for half the price. Also, a very parent (and foreign parent) friendly brunch.

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THEATRE

The best thing about taking your parents to the theatre is that it is a great excuse for YOU to go to the theatre. Keep in mind what their tastes are like and either go fool-proof old school or throw a Shakespeare-without-words or Martin MacDonaugh curveball their way. Either way, make sure it is something you enjoy too. Here is a solid list of theatres to consider:

Old School-ish

  • Kennedy Center- whether it is the NSO Pops, or the latest ballet or the buzziest musical, Kennedy Center is pretty much Impressing Your Parents in DC 101
  • Shakespeare Theatre Co-  because Michael Kahn and his team do a terrific job of keeping the classics current and relevant while still giving your parents a true sense of what world class theatre feels like every step of the way.
  • Folger - the lovely historic setting, the impressive guest stars (Vanessa Redgrave and all) and plays both classic and classically probing. Also, a fabulous literary series.
  • Arena Stage -Arena Stage’s shiny building plays host to some of the most high profile visiting performers (Maurice Hines! Kathleen Turner!) and most succesful new plays in town (Janis just made it onto Broadway)
  • National Theatre – for those visiting blockbuster productions and soon-to-be-blockbuster productions (like the current run of IF/THEN with the one and only Idina Menzel, doing prep before taking on Broadway)
  • Signature - probably the best musical theatre programming in the city

New School

  • Studio - some of the best young-yet-established playwrights’ works find their home in DC at Studio
  • Woolly Mammoth- never easy, always rewarding, Woolly is the place to go if you’re looking for a play to DISCUSS with your parents afterwards
  • Synetic- the home of Shakespeare without words, it is theatre like you or your parents have not experienced before
  • Round-House - great contemporary plays, and a wicked dark sense of humor.

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MUSIC VENUES

Now, your parents grew up on some of the finest rock’n'roll and folk and pop music ever made. You don’t need to explain to them why going to shows is amazing. What you do need to do is MAKE SURE THEY ARE ABLE TO SIT while they’re enjoying said show. On that note, keep these venues in mind when considering taking your parents out to a musical experience:

  • Lincoln- thank you IMP for starting to book basically one of the most perfect parent music destinations that we can be excited about ourselves. From Neko Case for Halloween to Colin Meloy and Laura Marling, you’re doing it right.
  • Howard- come for Ronnie Spector, Lindsay Buckingham and more, stay for the lovely space, amazing sound system and a great sense of DC history.
  • Strathmore - wherever we can see David Byrne and St. Vincent together is where we and our super cool parents will be together, always.
  • Warner - whether it is seeing Cyndi Lauper or YES or Esperanza Spalding, the golden main room of Warner makes any experience special. If you’re lucky, you may be able to score a once-in-lifetime experience, like seeing Eartha Kitt that one time before she dies or similar.

Esperanza Spalding @ the Warner Theatre on 4/22/2013. Photo by Jason Dixson Photography.

  • Lisner - both Birchmere and WPAS do some booking here so expect to see more of Anoushka Shankar, Matt Kearney and the like…
  • The Hamilton – Great jazz, bluegrass and folk programming. Bonus: a delicious meal can be part of the experience.
  • Sixth and I – Frankly, any show at Sixth and I is classy, delightful and memorable enough for your parents to experience. We’ve been to Jose Gonzalez, M. Ward, Antony and the Johnsons, Destroyer, Devendra, Mum, Bill Callahan and more here and all were perfect.

 

WHERE TO STAY

No need for descriptions here, just make sure their needs are met. Always keep in mind: the location, the things that actually matter to them (amenities, service, meals-in-house for convenience etc) and then let them choose

DC Institutions

Fancy

On-The-Budget Enough but Parent Friendly

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IMPRESSING ON THE CHEAP

Now, as we mentioned before-money does not necessarily buy those brownie points. A thoughfully planned itinerary for your parents, no matter if you’re spending $500 or $5 or $0 dollars should still have the same effect. OBVIOUSLY taking them to the Smithsonian is a no-brainer but below you’ll find some other choices both dining and activities related.

ACTIVITIES:

Jazz in the Garden | Photos by Azeez Bakare

FOOD:

  • Pizzeria Paradiso- delicious food, a beer menu to impress any Dad and convenient locations in Dupont and Georgetown.
  • Ted’s Bulletin – breakfast or lunch are great moments for budget impressing and Ted’s with their cute spins on classics is perfect for that. Plus, your Mom can buy a bunch of those homemade pop-tarts and take them home as adorable and affordable gifts from her visit.
  • 2 Amys -the best pizza in town, a great low-key small plate brunch AND right next to the Cathedral.
  • Ramen round – during winter season,it is perfectly acceptable and charming and even sometimes adventurous seeming to take your parents out for giant bowls of $10 soup. Please use our PHO and RAMEN guides accordingly.

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So, that’s all we got for now. Go forth and conquer those parental needs AND please leave your suggestions in the comments. We plan to update this pretty regularly.

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  • furbekah says:

    sadly, pretty people closed a few months ago and its sister store (zoubeck) is closing as well.