Pupusas at Pupuseria y Taqueria Rios
I recently asked David Chang, the celebrated Momofuku chef, what sorts of things he’s passionate about right now in the world of food. “I’m fucking infatuated with fucking Salvadoran cuisine,” he told me.
Two f-bombs in one sentence: now that’s passion.
Salvadoran isn’t a recent discovery for me—I’ve been eating it for more than two decades, now—but it’s not often I come across a plate as terrific as this one.
So, yeah, I’m pretty fucking infatuated, too.
Marian Rios runs the place, which occupies the former Suporn in Wheaton; one of her sisters, Lucia Ochoa, runs the kitchen. Ochoa is a master of the pupusa, the griddled, stuffed corn cakes that are a staple of the Salvadoran table.
Picture it: thick and warm and soft and rich, with the slightest crispiness at the edges, and not even a little—no, not even a hint—of grease.
Ochoa serves them with a yellow curtido (a cabbage relish) which you almost never find; most Salvadoran spots favor the easier-to-make white curtido. The color comes from pickling, and a heaping spoonful of the tangy, crunchy slaw makes each cheesy rich bite that much more delicious.
Now, the sad part.
I can count the number of other diners in the room in all of my recent meals here on one hand. And I wouldn’t need two of my fingers.
Go, please, and help these people out.
Sugar toad with Darden ham salad, okra blossoms, and green-tomato coulis at CityZen
My mom grew up in Connecticut, and as such, I grew up on a steady diet of dishes that are familiar to all New Englanders: baked beans with salt pork, lima-bean succotash, and a sandwich filling she called “ham n’ pickle.” That last thing—a mix of baked ham and dill pickles buzzed in the Cuisinart and mixed with a dollop of Hellman’s—was always my favorite, despite its rather disgusting appearance, which drew lots of grimaces from my friends whenever I unwrapped my lunch at school.
I know ham salad exists out there in the rest of the world, but I’ve never had it made from anywhere but my mom’s kitchen, much less in a deli or restaurant. So I was floored when my second course arrived at CityZen, the hushed dining room in the Mandarin Oriental Hotel. I’d ordered the sugar toad, a little-seen Chesapeake pufferfish I’d never tried before, and the tiny, lightly seared filets turned up atop a mound of—you guessed it— finely chopped ham salad. I’m sure Eric Ziebold makes his own mayo and he definitely didn’t use Honeybaked ham, but his version tasted uncannily like my mom’s. It was circled by a ring of grass-green tomato coulis, which had a sour tanginess that played a similar function as the pickles. It might not be for everyone—the friend sitting next to me didn’t love it—but for me, it cued one of those Proustian waves of nostalgia that you always hope for but rarely find, especially on a $90 four-course menu.
Steamed blue crabs from Wild Country Seafood
I discovered Wild Country Seafood thanks to my colleague Todd Kliman. The nondescript seafood joint outside Annapolis has topped his Where I'm Eating Now list for several weeks. Though the recommended soft-shell crabs are no longer in peak season, their hard-shell counterparts are worth the trip.
Many Chesapeake crab houses source their crustaceans from beyond the Bay, even in peak season. At Wild Country, the father-and-son watermen owners pluck fat crabs from the waters just beyond the storefront. There's a reason other establishments import their catch from the Carolinas and Texas: the harsh winter made for leaner traps this summer, and prices are high. A dozen jumbos cost $90 on my visit—a comparable cost to other Annapolis-area spots—but these were some of the heaviest, meatiest, most perfectly steamed blues I've had this summer. Discard the notion of tearing through ten shells just to get a cocktail's-worth of crab. I filled up after four, plus a few addictive, corn-studded hushpuppies and a side of tangy slaw.
If your ideal crab feast includes a pitcher of beer, consider taking your catch to-go, as I did. The few outdoor tables fill up quick on busy weekend afternoons, and there's no alcohol to speak of. Thankfully the crabs carry out just fine to a picnic table, and there's a liquor store nearby for grabbing a few cold ones.
Maine lobster and jumbo lump crab salad at Fiola Mare
Some of the best dishes at Fabio Trabocchi's ode to the sea are simple, yet bursting with flavor. Although market counter items like grilled dover sole seem most popular, we found that appetizers stole the show.
Imagine all of summer's bounty on a single plate: beautiful red and yellow tomatoes at peak ripeness, fresh crab meat, and tender lobster. Thin slices of cucumber nestled in between the seafood offers a welcome crunch, while edible flowers bring bursts of color to the dish. Their summer salad offers a sophisticated take on a classic Maine tradition.
All work and no play is not what Labor Day is about. Head out to one of the many Monday brunches around town—including a number of bottomless options—feast on unlimited crabs, find discount drinks, and more. If you're barbecuing at home, check out our collection of ten delicious summer recipes (including a very boozed-up watermelon).
4021 Campbell Ave., Shirlington
Both early and late risers can catch Copperwood’s brunch menu, which runs from 10 to 4. Light fare like egg white omelets and fresh oysters joins more indulgent eats (banana-beer pancakes, anyone?).
EatWell DC restaurants
539 Eight St., SE
Bottomless brunch runs from 10 to 2:30 at this Capitol Hill Italian spot, where free-flowing mimosas are just $12. Pair them with mascarpone pancakes, eggs Florentine, or pasta carbonara.
Richard Sandoval restaurants
All of restaurateur Richard Sandoval’s DC eateries, including Masa 14, both locations of El Centro D.F., Ambar, and more, will offer their regular all-you-can-eat-and-drink brunches for Monday fun-day.
While not brunch per se, Monday is the last day to try the Shack’s Labor Day special: a fried, corn batter-dipped hot dog, and a peach pie concrete for dessert.
901 Ninth St., NW
Who needs to leave the city when unlimited steamed blue crabs can be yours in Penn Quarter? The beer-centric restaurants hosts an Old Bay Day Party from 11 to 5 with endless crustaceans, jambalaya rice, corn, and more ($35 per person). Drinks are priced separately, and range from a bottomless bloody bar ($18) to draft brews. A corn hole tournament is also in the mix.
2700 Martin Luther King Ave., SE
Jazz musician Marcus Johnson, who’s also behind Flo Wine, launches the first FloFestDC on Monday. The food, wine, literature, and music festival runs from 10 to 6, with tickets starting at $45.
2009 14th St., NW
Call it a brunch and barbecue rolled into one. The 14th Street speakeasy swaps its moody decor for a live music-filled barbecue party from noon to 8, hosted on the back patio. Tickets are just $10, and include burgers, hot dogs, and barbecue chicken (boozy popsicles and cocktails are priced individually).
2323 18th St., NW
Literally go to Town in Adams Morgan for their Labor Day Staycation, which culminates on Monday with $3 bottled beers, $4 rails, $5 drafts, and half-price appetizers all day until 9.
At Oktoberfest’s oompah-blasting, sausage-sizzling festivals, local brewers try their hand at the traditional Bavarian lagers known as Märzen, a balance of subtle hops with smooth, sweet malts that goes down easy between rounds of boisterous song. Here are some of our favorites and where to find them.
Lost Rhino Brewing, Ashburn
This gold-medal winner at last year’s Great American Beer Festival in Colorado hews to traditional Oktoberfest style, with warm notes of toasted malts and a crisp finish. At Lovettsville Oktoberfest and Northern Virginia Fall Brewfest.
Mad Fox Brewing, Falls Church
This light-bodied, less filling Märzen leaves lots of room for bratwurst and sauerkraut. At Hoppy Oktoberfest, Mid-Atlantic Oktoberfest, and Northern Virginia Fall Brewfest.
Port City Brewing, Alexandria
Port City uses only German malts and hops and leaves its beer unfiltered, lending it a hazy complexion, full body, and deep flavors. At Mid-Atlantic Oktoberfest and Northern Virginia Fall Brewfest.
Corcoran Brewing, Purcellville
This brew from the owners of Corcoran Vineyards is a winemaker’s bright, floral take on beer’s hoppiness. For festivals, see facebook.com/corcoranbrewing.
Capitol City Brewing, DC and Arlington
Märzen meets smoky Rauchbier in this innovative brew that bursts with campfire flavor. At Hoppy Oktoberfest and Mid-Atlantic Oktoberfest.
This article appears in the September 2014 issue of Washingtonian.
Happy Friday, food truck followers! Start the holiday weekend right with food truck specials like beer-battered fish tacos and roasted pork sandwiches aboard DC Empanadas, and fruity pebbles macarons from PhoWheels.
Happy Thursday, food truck followers! It’s almost time for the long weekend, so start letting loose with specials like birthday cake cupcakes at Midnite Confections Cupcakery, and vegan lasagna aboard Woodland's Vegan Bistro.
Whether you're at the beach or on a staycation, Labor Day weekend is one of the best times to cook. The tomatoes are sweet, the berries ripe, the grill well-seasoned, and you'll find plenty of friends ready to drink and eat away the last days of August.
Here are ten of our favorite summertime recipes, including dishes from hot new restaurants, old standbys, and top food trucks.
We're addicted to this twist on the caprese. Buffalo mozzarella is marinated in a bright, citrusy blend of herbs and chilies that's also used to dress the salad. You'll never go back to balsamic again.
These deceptively potent tiki cocktails are simple to make and even easier to drink. Garnish them with little umbrellas and fruit for a beachy look.
Sure, these patties are griddled instead of grilled, but you can always tweak the cooking style if you're set on live flames. Just don't miss the American cheese, pickles, and "special sauce."
One of the best gazpachos in Washington can be found aboard José Andrés’s food truck. The silky soup gets its kick from sherry vinegar and its richness from quality Spanish olive oil.
Tacos? Good. Fried chicken? Gooood. Combine the two and you have the ultimate crowd-pleaser. Fennel slaw and spicy buttermilk dressing make for tasty toppings.
Channel your inner college kid and prepare to get tipsy off of this booze-infused melon. The main difference between now and the frat party days: quality vodka such as Belvedere—this is from a Four Seasons restaurant, after all.
An oldie but a great-y. This vegetarian/vegan appetizer requires little effort, but scores big in the flavor department.
Consider chef Haidar Karoum's dish perfect party food: Marinated chicken thighs can feed a crowd without breaking the bank, and most of the components can be made ahead. More important, it's delicious.
Skip the beef and try these juicy, rich patties kicked up with garlic, fresh mint, and cilantro. Feta takes the place of cheddar, and a topping of spinach, fennel, and more herbs brightens the burger.
Farm stands are overflowing with blueberries and blackberries, so it's prime time to whip up this divine cobbler. Serve vanilla ice cream alongside for the perfect summer dessert.
Flight club: Wine at Bourbon Steak beats basement boxing anytime. House sommelier Julian Mayor competes with Neighborhood Restaurant Group wine director Brent Kroll to see who can choose the best pairings for a five-course tasting menu, starting at 6. Reservations are $100 per person.
Dogs and drinks: Head to the Loews Madison Hotel with your four-legged friend for a "yappy hour" on Tuesday from 5:30 to 7:30. Treats and drinks for dogs and humans alike will be available, as well as items from local pet businesses such as Wylie Wagg and Barkley Square. Partial process go to City Dogs Rescue. Admission is free, but online RSVPs are encouraged.
Fly like a dog: The Daily Dish teams up with Flying Dog for a dinner on Tuesday at 6:30, where a five-course menu is served with five different brews ($65 per person). Reservations are required, and include giveaways like work by artist Jim Ritter and Washington Nationals tickets.
Women and whiskey: Join your favorite brown liquor-loving ladies at Roofers Union on Thursday for a Catoctin Creek whiskey tasting. Chef Marjorie Meek-Bradley pairs small plates with three of the local distillery's whiskeys, and Booze for Babes author Kayleigh Kulp will discuss the spirits alongside Catoctin co-owner Becky Harris. Tickets are $45 and include a copy of the book.
Have an "epicurience": Here's some food-loving fun for your Labor Day weekend. Epicurience Virginia, a food and wine festival cohosted by Saveur magazine, runs Friday through Sunday at Morven Park in Leesburg. The lineup of events includes local wine, beer, cheese, and cider tastings, chef demos, cookbook signings, and more. Tickets start at $85 for general admission, $125 for VIP.
Sweet tasting: RareSweets, the sugar shop set to open in CityCenterDC this fall, holds a pre-opening affogato tasting at La Colombe on Friday from 1 to 4. Drop by for the Italian specialty, which combines the shop's espresso with scoops of RareSweets's ice creams in milk chocolate, vanilla bean, dark caramel, and other flavors ($3 each).
Pie contest: The fifth annual Bake Bethesda Pie Contest goes down at 9 on Sunday morning at the Bethesda Central Farm Market. Kids, adults, and local culinary students can enter in their respective categories by Wednesday for a chance to compete. A panel of judges will choose the winner, and pie sampling begins shortly after (with a recommended donation to the Manna Food Center).
Happy Monday, food truck followers! Get out on this gorgeous day for specials such as barbecued jackfruit from Randy Radish, lobster- and crab-salad sandwiches aboard Feelin' Crabby, and beer-braised pork at CapMac.