Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Grand Trunk Food Review

Fast food takes a radical (and very flavorful) turn at Grand Trunk in Penn Quarter. This Indian food upstart opened in January; and if first impressions are any indication, could fast replace Merzi as the best Indian food (adjusted for cost) this side of Rasika.

If you're planning a first visit, you'd be wise to "ready" yourself. Beginning with its bright red fa├žade, Grand Trunk tends to attack the senses. There's a lot going on inside (funky decor, multiple TVs, etc.) Thankfully, said attack on one's senses extends to the food, which does so in the best way imaginable (lots of flavors.)

The Grand Trunk Naan Burger

I wish I could say ordering was a breeze (printed menus are crowded & difficult to read) but odds are... whatever you choose is going to taste pretty amazing. I settled on their trademark burger, The Grand Trunk Naan Burger - Two patties of beef with cilantro, cumin, ginger, green chiles, mint chutney and onions, stuffed inside a tandoori naan. It's a great value at just $7.95 ($1.50 extra for cheese) and could easily feed two (the patties are side-by-side, not stacked.) It's also packed with flavor. So packed, in fact... you may never want to settle for a Big Mac again.

Garlic Fries

Unfortunately, it's also very messy. Ask for extra napkins: You're gonna need 'em. Toppings are incredibly fresh (the lettuce is greener than Ireland) and the beef... steps short of Heaven. I'm all for simplicity; but when it comes to a juicy burger, you can't go wrong with marinating from within. I literally can't wait to get my hands on another one.


Sides are affordably priced. Pakoras for $3.49, Garlic Fries just $3.25. The former were plenty tasty, but downright soggy. Especially in comparison to the incredibly crispy (triple-fried?) Garlic Fries. Both sides came in McDonald's-esque containers, but the similarities stop there. The fries are sensational... Top-5 material with lots of true garlic flavor. My only complaint? They're a tad bit greasy; but you have to expect some trade-off for all that crispiness. As for the Pakoras, I was confused as to what they were. I expected a mix of cauliflower, eggplant, onions and potatoes; but the majority were onions... resulting in what amounts to flimsy onion petals. Nice flavor (and sauce) but not enough to overlook the texture.

Cinnamon Sugar Naan

Orders are delivered straight to your table; and the same friendly server later delivered free samples of Cinnamon Sugar Naan (one of several sweet options, including $3 Cupcakes) to each table. It may look and sound like a simple dessert; but don't sell it short. Grand Trunk's naan is incredible, and the generous sample was a perfect mix of crispy, salty & sweet.

Grand Trunk's downstairs was under temporary construction; so everyone had to dine-in on the main level. If you're lucky, you got one of their cozy tables for two, complete with white & black tall chairs. If not (like me) you had to settle for a club chair with end table (the cute circular bar was already full.) With so many people (customers and servers alike) walking back & forth, in & out... it's a bit too distracting. Ditto for the noise level (high) and multiple TVs commanding your attention. The aforementioned bar creates a traffic jam before you get to the order area: The lunch rush must be insane.

That said, I'm eager to return to see the much ballyhooed downstairs, and try a few new dishes. I can live with sensory overload, if it means more of Grand Trunk's great flavors and generous portions. Who knows? I may even grow to like the almost-frantic feel inside. One thing's for sure: There aren't many (any?) places like it in downtown DC. That's more than enough reason to (heartily) recommend it.

Click here to see their full menu. Grand Trunk's website is still under construction (time to hurry?) Rumor has it, Grand Trunk will eventually be open 24-hours a day (very cool!) They already serve breakfast, yet another excuse to go back.

Atmosphere: B- (Either you love it, or hate it. I want to love it, but...)
Burger: B+ (Incredible flavors for a "fast food" burger.)
Fries: B+ (Garlicky delicious.)
Service: B (Very friendly, relatively speedy.)
Value: B (Mostly top-quality food... at fast food prices.)
Overall: B (I'm leaving room for improvement... Has A- potential.)