H Street Life – April 2017

The vegetable okonomiyaki, a savory pancake served at Conbini Cafe.

It’s not just the plants in your garden that are popping up their heads this time of year. New businesses are sprouting along the H Street NE corridor, and two classics recently staged returns.

A Trip Off the Beaten Path Leads to a Japanese Treat
Even if you find yourself out in the H Street NE corridor on a regular basis, there’s a good chance you might not yet have discovered the joys of Conbini Cafe (https://twitter.com/uzu9dc). It’s easy to miss the new cafe, which offers Japanese comfort food. To find it you must venture the couple of blocks over to Florida Avenue NE and step inside Shopkeepers (1231 Florida Ave. NE, www.shopkeepersgallery.com). Shopkeepers is a lifestyle boutique that sells clothing, ceramics, journals, and assorted other stock.

In a rear corner you’ll find Conbini, which is a Japanese term for a convenience store. There’s a single long table and a counter for seating. The menu is simple but can vary a bit by the day. When I stopped by on a recent Saturday the list included oyakodon (chicken, eggs, onions, dashi, soy sauce, and benishoga over white rice, $11), a vegan Japanese curry over rice to which you can add pork belly, chicken, extra veggies, or cheese ($10), and three varieties of okonomiyaki ($11-14), a savory pancake topped artfully with sauces.

The fridge is stocked with containers of fresh tofu, kimchi, and pickled ginger. Bags of mochi, udon noodles, and flavored Kit Kat bars and boxes of Pocky line other shelves. You can even pick up scallions, daikon radish, nagaimo (a white yam), and lemongrass.

Shopkeepers and Conbini are open Wednesdays through Sundays from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Chef Hiro Mitsui has been opening up earlier some recent weekends to offer breakfast, and Conbini hosts the occasional evening event that calls for extended hours.

Turning Natural Keeps It Fresh
Do the rising temperature and sunny days have you craving something fruity and refreshing? Stop by the recently opened Turning Natural (1380 H St. NE, www.turningnatural.com), a new juice bar that also sells health food and vegan items. This is the third outpost for owner and founder Jerri Evans. In preparation for the opening, the exterior of the building got an eye-catching paint job that will make it hard to miss. The inside is well-lit and brightly colored as well, with a bookshelf cut in the shape of a tree adorning one wall.

The juices and smoothies ($6.25 for the 16-ounce size) make a refreshing treat, and many boast fun and memorable names like the Green Latifah (a juice blend with apples, ginger, and fennel) and the Happy Hemp (a smoothie with mangoes, pineapple juice, spirulina, hemp protein, and spinach). Two other customers were enjoying their wheatgrass shots ($2) when I visited.

Turning Natural offers a salad bar every day from 11:30 a.m. until about an hour before closing time. Grab one of the ready-to-go items, including the protein-packed chickpea salads ($5). The spinach and veggie patties ($2) are portable and popular. Opt for the black bean burger ($6.85) when you’ve built up a more substantial hunger. The waffles ($5.50) come topped with fresh fruit and maple syrup (plus a sprinkle of powdered sugar if you like).

There are plenty of dessert offerings, many vegan, to appease your sweet tooth. Turning Natural also offers multiday juice and smoothie clean packages. Limited indoor seating is available. The shop is open 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., Monday through Friday, and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday. It is closed on Sunday.

Taylor Gourmet Reopens Original H Street NE Location
For months, the Taylor Gourmet (http://taylorgourmet.com) at 1116 H St. NE languished. With the shop having closed for renovations in mid-2016, neighbors had begun to question whether the location would ever reopen. But in late March the original home of Taylor Gourmet welcomed customers again. The Taylor team also announced that Jacob Hunter of Dirty South Deli has joined as their new culinary director. Look for him to bring fresh energy to the menu while leaving the favorites untouched. The spring menu hadn’t been released at press time, but I’m told it features Taylor Gourmet’s first hoagie built around roast lamb.

Chupacabra Comes Out of Hibernation
With winter now behind us, Chupacabra Latin Kitchen & Taqueria (822 H St. NE, www.chupacabradc.com) has opened its doors for the warmer months. Chupacabra wins raves for the tacos, which include the classics as well as temptations like the Borrego del Fuego (tender leg of lamb made fiery with habanero and spices) and the vegan Primavera (filled with squash, eggplant, and chipotle black beans), priced at $3.43 each. But the tacos aren’t their only game. Order up a Cubano ($7.50), a chicken tortilla soup ($5.50), or a burrito filled with ropa vieja (shredded beef, peppers, onions, sofrito, and plantains, $8). The Pan con Huevos Rumberos (scrambled egg, avocado, pico de gallo, and cheese on a nine-inch loaf, $7.50) might be the perfect breakfast sandwich, but you can order it anytime.

The covered patio is open, and Chupacabra’s fired up the outdoor heaters to chase away the chills. For now the hours are 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., Thursday through Sunday, but starting in mid-April there will be longer hours, and seven days a week. Brunch will return with the full operating hours.


For more on what’s abuzz on and around H Street NE you can visit my blog at http://frozentropics.blogspot.com. You can send me tips or questions at elise.bernard@gmail.com.