It’s a shame I work in Chinatown on weekdays, because on the weekends I subconsciously avoid going anywhere near the Verizon Center. And there happen to be some great brunch options in the Penn Quarter area.
I’ve always compartmentalized Zengo as a happy hour spot because of the delicious menu and lively post-work crowd. But after we were escorted to our table for brunch last Saturday, it was evident that happy hour is not the only time this restaurant is packed.
My 16-year-old cousin, Alex, was visiting colleges in Washington that weekend, which also happened to be her first time traveling without her parents. I definitely got “cool points” for bringing my artsy, walking urban dictionary, 1,000+ followers on Instagram, teenage cousin to such a hip spot.
I practiced responsible older cousin etiquette by consuming only two passion fruit mimosas instead of indulging in the bottomless deal. But, we couldn’t help but note that we were likely the only ones in the lively restaurant practicing such restraint. I don’t blame them— it’s hard to beat $39 for free flowing drinks and unlimited small plates.
Speaking of imbibing, I’d never tasted a passion fruit mimosa before and I was pleasantly surprised! They were much lighter and fresher than your typical mimosa. It got us wondering, where do passion fruit come from? Can you eat the whole fruit? How do we know they’re passionate? I digress.
What I love about Zengo is that you can order in rounds, so we started with four dishes and built on that order as we went, depending on our appetites as the meal progressed. Lucky that Alex is a mini foodie in the making, because the menu is definitely adventurous.
Alex is a big fan of edamame and I didn’t have the heart to tell her the truth about soy at that moment. So, we ordered the grilled edamame and ate every single last one of them. We loved how a simple plate could be so flavorful, just by simply charring the pods.
The shrimp ceviche was interesting. We were immediately turned off by the presentation, which was a few dinky shrimp in a bowl filled with what almost looked like curdled milk. We could hardly find the charred pineapple that was listed on the menu, so we lost interest pretty quickly.
Alex had never tried a steamed bun before, so after trying to describe it to her, “you know, it looks like a mini Pac-Man!” I insisted we order it, despite her aversion to eggs. It ended up being one of the more memorable plates from the meal. She described it as “a great option for people who don’t love eggs, because they were fluffy and tasted like cheese.” See? Foodie in the making.
We ordered plantains because it felt right, but after a few bites we moved on as they ended up being way too sweet for our liking. In retrospect, the plantains would have been a great dessert order, especially since Zengo doesn’t offer a separate dessert menu for brunch.
The lobster chipotle grits caught our eye, because lobster always does. The dish was basically a lobster bisque mixed with grits. So if that’s your thing, this is for you. It was hearty and filling, probably not the best thing to order in our second round.
Last but not least, the achiote-hoisin pork arepas was our favorite dish. We actually skimmed over the unfamiliar words on the menu and only ended up ordering it because we saw it go by and promptly inquired with our waiter. The pork was tender and dripping with sauce, but still fit perfectly atop the crispy corn masa, finished with a dollop of creme fresca. We wished we had ordered this first, so we had more room for seconds. Nonetheless, it was a delicious, savory way to end our brunch.
I took the last sips of my passion fruit mimosa, Alex took a selfie, and off we went to visit GWU, continuing our hard sell for attending college in D.C. As if brunching with me on the weekends wasn’t reason enough.
The Bitches say: B. Whether you’re celebrating a birthday, looking for a fun, boozy brunch, or trying to spend some QT with your teenage cousin, Zengo is a solid spot, with an unbeatable unlimited food and drink deal.
781 7th St. N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20001
Zengo serves brunch Saturday and Sunday from 10am to 3pm.