Matchbox: Best dinner with friends

The 77-degree weather certainly didn’t hurt the hip atmosphere of this Chinatown eatery when I ventured there for dinner last week.

At only 15 feet wide and three stories tall, Matchbox is a vintage pizza bistro that opened its doors five years ago to rave reviews. The idea for Matchbox began in 2002 when friends Drew Kim and Perry Smith (along with two brothers, Mark and Ty Neal) discovered a building on H Street that was the former home of a Chinese grocer. According to Matchbox’s website, www.matchboxdc.com , the building was vacant for so long that it had a six-foot tree growing in it.

Despite the space’s poor conditions, a year later Matchbox was born. Also, last fall, Matchbox expanded to two adjacent buildings to allow 150 more seats as well as an outdoor deck.

The restaurant was very New York, tall and thin and pushed seemingly like a puzzle piece into a crowded row of businesses on H Street. Techno music emanated from the doors that were flung open to beat the early spring heat. There was a definite 20-somethings crowd there as well as families and plenty of Washington Capitals fans there for a 7:05 p.m. hockey game. Since the restaurant is in such close proximity to the Verizon Center, I’d recommend calling ahead for wait times or allowing plenty of time for your dining experience.

The restaurant’s downstairs bar was crowded with the usual after-work crew and the next two floors were bustling with people. The tables were all unique, with two tiny matchboxes encased in them. My table had two Dirty Girls brand matchboxes of its own. When the waiter handed my friend and me menus, we were amazed at the hard-backed matchbox shape.

For an appetizer, I chose their signature 3.6.9 mini burgers. They seemed to be the most popular, as waiters were rushing hurriedly around with plates and plates of the small beef patties. Ours came with a generous tub of ketchup and a heaping portion of some of the best onion rings I’ve ever tasted.

Since Matchbox is advertised as a vintage pizza bistro, my friend and I ordered the pepperoni pizza, with double pepperoni, mozzarella cheese and zesty tomato sauce. I’m not usually partial to a softer crust, but this thin-crust, oven-baked pizza was absolutely delicious. The taste was spicy yet sweet and the pepperoni on top was cooked to perfection.

Other menu items include burgers, sandwiches and salads, as well as heavier fare such as steak, grilled salmon and filet mignon. Matchbox also offers a brunch and “late night bite” menu as well as “quittin’ time” happy hour specials from 5 to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday.  The restaurant is open until 1 a.m. on Friday and Saturday for drinks and late-night bites, and Sunday brunch is from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. For more information on Matchbox, visit its website.

Overall, my friend and I completed our dining experience in only an hour. Dinner didn’t feel particularly rushed or painfully slow and our waiter was very attentive. Matchbox takes reservations for parties of six to 13 guests. Call 202-289-4441 or e-mail reservations@matchboxdc.com. Bring plenty of friends and be prepared for a hip, fun dining event.