If you're walking down H Street NW toward Gallery Place/Chinablock and see a large crowd gathered on the sidewalk, chances are you've come across Matchbox. Matchbox is known for its wood-fired pizzas, mini burgers, and, perhaps most of all, its long waiting times for tables. They don't take reservations, so your best bet is to have an early dinner or go during an event at the Verizon Center when people are inside the arena watching the Caps or the Wizards. They also recently opened a second location on Capitol Hill which I've heard is larger and doesn't have such long waits.
So why is Matchbox so popular? Is the food that good? Well, the food is pretty good but I think its popularity is also a function of its location and price range. As we've said before, DC is lacking in mid-range restaurants. Matchbox is reasonably priced, has a fun atmosphere, and is located in a very popular part of the city for tourists and locals alike.
Once you've made it to your table, try a couple of the famous mini burgers. They come in groups of 3, 6, or 9 and you can add cheese if you'd like. The tasty little burgers come with a huge heap of onion strings. The whole platter is topped with a dusting of Parmesan cheese. It's not health food, but it's tasty.
The pizzas can be ordered small (10") or large (14") and Matchbox features a variety of specialty pies. If you like spicy food, we recommend the Fire and Smoke, which will leave you grasping for the water glass with its combo of fire roasted red peppers, Spanish onions, chipotle pepper tomato sauce, garlic puree, fresh basil, and smoked gouda. It's unlike any pizza we've ever tried: smoky, spicy, with a touch of sweet from the gouda.
If you're a thin crust pizza lover, then Matchbox is for you. The wood fire oven leaves a crispy, slightly charred crust. Sometimes it's a bit too thin for my taste. I like my pizza a bit doughier. On this trip we also ordered the Q Special, which sports grilled marinated chicken, portabella mushrooms, roasted red peppers, zesty tomato sauce, and mozzarella cheese. The ingredients were fresh and the chunks of chicken were generous, but compared to the Fire and Smoke it tasted a bit bland.
If you're not in a pizza mood, the menu features salads and sandwiches too. There is a full bar with some great beers on tap and an interesting cocktail menu. On this occasion we were treated to a free bite of dessert: chocolate brownie with caramel sauce. Hopefully this wasn't a preview of their dessert menu because the brownie was really dry (but can you really criticize free dessert?). We were too full to order dessert, but previous trips to Matchbox indicated that the regular menu items are better. Still, this is a pizza joint and you should go for the pizza.
Second Thoughts from B
I've been particularly impressed by the pizza scene in DC, and Matchbox is one of the better options. It is a great place to go with a group for its variety, casual atmosphere, and good value.
The flavors of the pizzas tend to be bold (see: Fire and Smoke) and the crust is crispy. J tends to like a more flavorful crust and sees it as a main ingredient of a pizza. That is why she prefers 2 Amy's or Pete's. For me, the crust is more a vehicle to get the toppings into my mouth and if it tastes good in its own right, all the better. This is probably why I love the Fire and Smoke. Not to be bothered with crust, this pie has a pleasing (yet pretty intense) smoky burn which is contrasted nicely with the gouda. The burn isn't hot for hotness sake. Instead it is fully flavored. And thank goodness for the gouda. Like a cool glass of milk after a Man v. Food Challenge, it sooths the mouth and gets you ready for that next bite.
I'd be remiss not to comment on the mini burgers. They are so much a part of Matchbox that many of the waiters have t-shirts that simply read, "3.6.9." J and I have a running joke about how much I love sliders, but the truth of the matter is that I'm only luke warm on the general concept. Yes, they are cute but they are also usually flawed. You see, the part of a burger that I particularly love is the middle-most bite, where the meat is juiciest. Sliders are all edge. It is rare that you'll find one that is as juicy as its big brother, although it can be done. Co Co. Sala comes to mind. So how does the much talked about Matchbox version stack up? I'd say that among the edge-like miniburgers, they are among the best. Still, I'd rather save room for pizza.