1110 N. Glebe Rd., Ballston
There’s a lot going on at this sunny Spanish newcomer in Ballston—a Mediterranean-style raw bar, daily happy hour, lunch shop with quick-grab sandwiches and salads, and outdoor seating for 100. The one thing you won’t find: tapas. Chef Josu Zubikarai highlights homestyle dishes from his native Spain, such as seafood paella or chicken braised in white wine and garlic, and leaves the sharing for large-format dishes such as roast suckling pig for two. Head in through Wednesday, March 11 for a 20 percent soft-opening discount.
1610 14th St., NW
The name means “under” in Italian, but that’s the only European trait of this subterranean American bar/restaurant from the Ghibellina team. Chef Keith Cabot crafts a menu of smoked ribs and brisket, house sausages, and seasonal vegetables, along with a few carnivalesque treats like chef-y Cracker Jacks and a caramel apple dessert. Live jazz, blues, and neo soul play nightly as a tribute to the former occupant, the HR-57 jazz club, while cocktails also take musical cues. We have our eye on the Groover with gin, pineapple, and Dolin Blanc vermouth.
212 Ellington Blvd., Gaithersburg
The growing Downtown Crown development is home to this handsome, copper-hued brewpub, outfitted with a 92-seat patio in warm weather. The third location—and first outside the Chicago area—for the Pour House keeps in line with the flagship theme: beer, and lots of it. Drinkers can pick between 90 globally-sourced drafts (which include several local names), and pad the stomach with midwestern eats like Chicago-style dogs, pretzels with beer cheese, and pickle chips. Watch out a goblet-sized bloody Mary, garnished with various meats, cheeses, and vegetables and a Slim Jim "stir stick."
20470 Exchange St., Ashburn
Bryan Voltaggio expands to Virginia with a third branch of his diner concept (there's a Frederick flagship and spinoff in Baltimore). Many signatures remain the same, including fried chicken baskets, thick shakes--boozy and kid-friendly--and breakfast all day. Keeping in the theme of comfort fare with a twist, the kitchen added items like a pepperoni burger with avocado and a fried egg, hearty French onion soup stewed with short ribs, and a veggie riff on a Reuben made with smoked, pastrami-spiced beets. A fourth branch in Richmond is coming soon.
728 N. Henry St., Alexandria
Mason jar lamps light the bar at this neighborhood-oriented gastropub in Alexandria's Parker-Gray neighborhood, opened by four local friends who wanted a casual place for eats and drinks. The spot isn't no-frills; former Bourbon Steak sous-chef Joseph Lennon helms the kitchen, and turns out dishes like mussels steamed with beer and bone marrow butter, or rockfish with winter citrus. Still there's plenty to keep potential regulars happy--a thick burger and fries, small-kids menu, and bar that stays open until 2 from Thursday to Saturday.
1901 L St., NW
Washington gets the first branch of this Manhattan-based grilled cheese shop outside New York. True to its name, the menu centers around melty sandwiches, from classic American on white to patty melts and spiffed-up versions stuffed with the likes of pepper jack, slaw, and fried chicken. Rounding out the all-day selection are tater tots, tomato soup, and shakes, as well as a custom-designed Abita beer for more adult tastes.
2010 Crystal Dr., Crystal City
Arlingtonians get a new space to work and play thanks to this loft-like bar/restaurant from the owners behind Buffalo Billiards and Penn Social. Patrons are encouraged to linger with laptops and local Zeke's Coffee during the day thanks to wifi and plenty of outlets, while numerous arcade and table games like Ms. Pac Man, Golden Tee, and Jenga make for a playful evening. A simple menu of sandwiches, soups, and snacks is served throughout.
11825 Grand Park Ave., Rockville
Rockville's burgeoning Pike & Rose development now contains two California-inspired eateries from the Lettuce Entertain You restaurant group and chefs Jeff Mahin and Francis Brennan: Summer House Santa Monica, which opened in January, and sister pizza joint Stella Barra. The latter takes its cues from Los Angeles, with a warehouse-like interior and menu of thin-crust pies topped with kale and roasted garlic, or house-made pork sausage, mozzarella, and fennel pollen. Anyone looking to eat like an aspiring Hollywood star (on a splurge night) can go for a lighter-carb "thin sin" crust.
3050 K St., NW
It may not feel like beach-y weather, but you wouldn't know it inside this jaunty, nautically-themed eatery on the Georgetown waterfront. The menu draws from the ocean and boardwalk, with lobster and shrimp rolls, grilled fish, duck confit corn dogs, and a robust selection of rums. Once the weather warms diners can relax on an outdoor patio, while seafaring patrons can order boat delivery service to their vessels.
Reubens are the best classic sandwich to turn vegetarian, hands down. Griddled rye, sauerkraut, melty Swiss, Russian dressing--who cares what else you put in there? All right, a few smoky slabs of corned beef or pastrami make for an addictive combination. But if you're vegetarian, or just overloaded with meat after this long winter, these riffs hit the spot.
Pastrami-spiced tempeh Reuben at DGS Delicatessen
1317 Connecticut Ave., NW
DGS makes one of the best Reubens in the city, and the meatless version isn't too far from the original. The kitchen treats tempeh the same way it does pastrami: rubbing it with mustard, black pepper, and coriander, smoking it until tender, and stacking it on buttery rye with local No. 1 Sons sauerkraut and Swiss. House-made Russian dressing spiked with pickle juice drives the flavors home. Try it any time of day in the deli, or take it to-go from the lunchtime counter.
Smoked beet Reuben at Family Meal Ashburn
20470 Exchange St., Ashburn
Chef Bryan Voltaggio loves a classic Reuben, but as he says of his new meatless riff: "If my doctor told me I couldn't have pastrami anymore, this would be the cure." The kitchen pressure-cooks beets to intensify their flavor, smokes the rounds, and crusts them in pastrami spice. The sandwich is finished with kraut and Meunster, plus an umami-rich version of thousand island kicked up with soy.
The Reuben is also served in DC at G by Mike Isabella during the second round of the Sandwich Madness competition, where guest chefs compete to make the best creation. If you're not in the mood for beets, Isabella crafts a tasty wild mushroom version that's a staple on shop's menu.
Portobello Reuben at Ris
2275 L St., NW
This is one of our favorite veggie Reubens around, even besting some of the meat and fish dishes on chef Ris Lacoste's menu. The sandwich is comfort food at its best: a hearty roasted 'shroom, tangy Russian dressing, and bright slaw, all heaped on rye that tastes like it's griddled with a generous amount of butter.
Vegan "tofu Reuby" at the Randy Radish
Food truck locations in Virginia (@therandyradish); 506 Shaw Rd., Sterling
Taking the meat and dairy out of the equation definitely makes for a different sandwich, but this self-described "compassionate cousin" of the Reuben still delivers the salty, spicy, creamy notes we crave without any animal-related products. Baked tofu is infused with spices for a corned beef-like flavor, and topped with caramelized kraut and a smoky house dressing before getting stuffed between slices of toasted marble rye.
Grilled veggie Reuben at Corned Beef King
Food truck locations in Maryland (@cornedbeefking); shop inside Exxon at 18000 Georgia Ave., Olney
Though the King (a.k.a. chef/owner Jon Rossler) reigns true to his name, he can still whip up a vegetarian version that deserves its own crown. Unlike most meatless riffs that pick one beef substitute, here you'll find marinated eggplant, zucchini, seasonal squash, and pickled cabbage atop toasted nine-grain bread. The sandwich isn't particularly healthy--all those veggies lay under a blanket of melted Swiss, Provolone, and creamy Russian--but it's one of the tastier ways to eat your vegetables.
6387 Leesburg Pike, Seven Corners Center, Falls Church
Forget the name; this isn’t a Cantonese restaurant, it’s a Szechuan restaurant, and one of the best in the area, maybe the best. The chef is Liu Chaosheng, who also operates Uncle Liu’s Hotpot in Falls Church, China Jade in Rockville, and Mala Tang (with co-owner Owen Molovinsky) in Arlington—an empire that makes his the preeminent name in Chinese cooking in the area. I’m a fan of the latter restaurant, in particular its array of excellent small plates, but I’m giving HKP the nod for its versatility and its value. All the staples of the Szechuan canon are here—cumin lamb, dan dan noodles, ma po tofu—and the kitchen works with such deftness that you’re not just hit with wave after wave of heat, but can taste the thrilling interplay of hot and numbing, of pungent and smoky. Timid souls are advised to dip their toes into the roiling water with the Chengdu-style Kung Pao chicken, which is hotter, yes, than the dish you know, but also more focused in its flavors.
755 Hungerford Dr., Rockville
The Chinese name is not China Bistro, it’s Mama’s Dumplings. That’s not to say if you don’t order dumplings, as a good friend of mine did recently on a visit, you’ll be sorry (his crispy beef was a cut above the norm), but you won’t be tapping into what makes the place special. The dumplings are as supple as you can expect from wrappers that don’t aspire to be thin and delicate. An order brings a dozen steamed bundles in the shape of tied kerchiefs, generously packed and juicy (go for the shrimp-and-chive or the pork-with-dill), and eminently satisfying. And be sure to fill your tiny saucers with black vinegar and dumpling sauce, and dip liberally. I also like to get a bowl of the excellent cold sesame noodles, with its smoky, pungent chili sauce, and an order of garlicky cucumbers.
2227 University Boulevard W., Silver Spring/Takoma Park
Amazing? No, not amazing. But consistent, mostly delicious, always filling, and on top of all of that, a stupendous value in an area that is stupendously overpriced. The dish to come for—the dish you can’t leave without ordering—is the shrimp dumpling soup, a dish that has changed not at all in two decades, and thank god for that. The dumplings are small and delicate, packed to bursting with shrimp, pork, and water chestnuts, and with subtle notes of white pepper flavoring the mix, and the broth has unexpected depth for something so clear. Among the entrees, don’t miss the beef hot pot, laced with black pepper. It’s what pepper steak can only dream of tasting like.
2700 New York Ave., NE
There are some dishes at this crummy motel restaurant that will astonish you, they’re that good. You may find yourself saying something like, "I’ve never tasted ma po tofu like this, ever, anywhere." Your expectations will begin to rise, like the heat in your system; you’ll become giddy at the thought that everything that comes after will be as terrific as that ma po tofu. It won’t be. For every two dishes that knock you out, there will be another one that will leave you wondering what the hell they did with the cook who made your ma po tofu. We haven’t even gotten to the service, which, on a good day, is gruff, forgetful, and negligent. But that ma po tofu. That fish in spicy soup. That double-cooked pork. That lamb with cumin.
305 N. Washington St., Rockville
The proprietor, Bob Liu, used to own Bob’s Noodle 66, which, in its day, in the early aughts, was one of the most dependably delicious spots in Rockville’s unofficial Chinatown. It slid so precipitously after Liu left the restaurant that it became irrelevant. When Liu returned to the scene a couple of years ago, he made big moves, shifting Bob’s Noodle 66 to a spot around the corner, and installing Bob’s Shanghai 66 in the old Bob’s Noodle space. Confused? Don’t be. The restaurant to remember is Bob’s Shanghai 66, which has found a wonderful groove after a slow start. My most recent visit was full of gems. Go for the bean curd and pork—the long, thin bands of curd have the slipperiness and chew of great noodles, and the saucing is delicate and tight—and a plate of tiny shrimps in a surprisingly balanced sweet-and-sour chili sauce.
10160 Fairfax Blvd., Fairfax/718 N. Rolling Rd., Catonsville
You know that ballplayer who either smacks a home run or manages a weak single, and only rarely produces a result in between? That’s what eating at this elegant strip-mall restaurant is like. Fortunately, the mushroom casserole with pork (best not to study its long, dark tadpole-like fungi), or a plate of silken strips of fish fillet in a tight and spicy bean curd sauce, or Divine Incense Mint Pork (chewy-crunchy strips of pork belly with fried mint) are so memorably good as to make you forget all about those dishes that did nothing for you.
1200 East-West Hwy., Silver Spring/Takoma Park
Pluck one of the long strands from your noodle bowl, and you’ll see a thick end and a thin one. Don’t ask what gives with the irregularity; be grateful. The lack of uniformity tells you that nothing comes from a package, which is just what you would hope to find in a place that bills its noodles in its name. Each bowl, here, features the genuine article, hand-rolled and hand-pulled, and with just the right heft and chew. My favorites are the pai gow, the noodles tossed in a heady stew of ground pork, bean sprouts, and mustard greens, blitzed with ground peanuts, and dashed with smoky chili oil; or a Northern Chinese preparation called mahjong noodles, in which a thick tangle of noodles, cucumbers, carrots, and bean sprouts is drenched in a rich sauce of peanut butter and sesame paste. The dumplings, alas, are merely good, not great.
"Arctic blast" sounds more like a Gatorade flavor than a weather condition, but it feels pretty real when you step outside. Today's high may reach a balmy 19 degrees, with predicted record low temperatures. Thankfully, bars and restaurants can help fight the cold—read on for new happy hours, warming recipes, and places to sip by the fire.
Get paid to eat food.
You know it's insanely cold when a restaurant pays guests to eat. So goes it at California Tortilla all day on Thursday. The burrito chain includes a free order of chips and queso with any purchase, and gives customers an extra 10 cents in honor of the negative-9 chill this morning. A penny for your thoughts, and a dime for braving the blast.
Warm up with hearty, spicy dishes.
Steamy Thai soups. Cassoulet. Sizzling platters of Filipino sisig. If you need to thaw out, check out these 11 belly-warming dishes guaranteed to fight the freeze.
Explore a new happy hour.
Negative temperatures are a great excuse to warm up your liver at a new happy hour. Derek Brown—just named among this year's James Beard semifinalists for Outstanding Beverage Professional—launches his first-ever happy hour at Eat the Rich centered on local spirits, wine, and beer ($5 to $7), plus $1 Rappahannock River oysters (Monday through Friday, 5 to 7). Other newcomers include "social hour" at City Perch ($4 to $7 drinks and food; 4 to 7), and a hot cocktail happy hour at Nopa through February with hot toddies, mulled wine, and spiked cocoa (4 to 7).
Find a drink by the fire.
The only one thing better than hot drinks on a cold night: said cocktails by the fire. We found eight awesome spots to sip by live flames, including happy hour deals to keep things extra toasty (or toasted).
Don't feel like leaving the house? Crank up the heat, turn on the oven, and pick from one of the many hearty dishes from Washington eateries. We love the spaghetti squash and zucchini Parmesan from True Food Kitchen (a healthier alternative to chicken Parm), Mike Isabella's lamb chili, Thai chicken curry from the Source, Vidalia's classic mac 'n' cheese, and a staple on all of chef Jeff Black's menus: Addie's mussels with garlic, tomato, and a touch of butter.
Indian lime pickle
Happy-hour fried chicken skins
Free filtered water
Haute scrambled eggs
Meticulously crafted piña coladas
Crowd-funding your dream restaurant
Coravin (A contraption that extracts wine without uncorking the bottle)
Pickled watermelon rind
Happy-hour tater tots
$8 bottles of Pellegrino
Beet and chocolate desserts
Dogging on piña coladas
Living walls of herbs
Fancified candy bars
Starting a food truck
Wine on tap
This article appears in the January 2015 issue of Washingtonian.
Washington welcomed a bounty of new restaurants this year, representing the full dining spectrum: casual neighborhood joints and fine dining destinations, celebrity chef-driven concepts and ethnic eateries. These 14 newcomers are just as varied, and each claimed spots on this year’s 100 Very Best Restaurants list. We’re looking forward to seeing what 2015 brings.
5335 Wisconsin Ave., NW
Chef Bryan Voltaggio’s dressy Italian within Range came as a surprise—the team only gave a few hints about its Valentine’s Day debut. The menu proved exciting as well, with creative spins on traditional dishes. Nonna never made calamari Bolognese or mortadella whip with fresh focaccia, but we’re happy to eat it here.
7421 Maple Lawn Blvd., Fulton
One of the most transportive culinary experiences can be found in this palatial Indian restaurant in Howard County, equipped with matching fireplaces on the veranda and a stately library in which to dine. The kitchen does its part equally well, serving refined dishes such as almond-crusted lamb chops and chickpea stew.
1346 T St., NW
You’ve likely heard about Rose’s khachupuri, the rich and buttery Georgian cheese bread that has food lovers talking (or rather silently stuffing their faces). Still, this eclectic neighborhood restaurant is anything but a one-dish wonder, with a global range of hits like Korean pork ribs and grilled duck hearts.
828 Upshur St., NW
Great things can come in small packages, as evidenced by this cozy 25-seat spot from restaurateur Paul Ruppert and former CityZen chef Makoto Hamamura. The French-Japanese menu pushes boundaries—hay-smoked tuna tataki, scallops with chorizo dumplings—but the vibe remains that of a relaxed neighborhood eatery.
931 H St., NW
The biggest celebrity-chef arrival of 2014 was Daniel Boulud’s CityCenterDC brasserie, and as our critics discovered, the opening months didn’t live up to the hype. Still, there’s a buzz in the dining room, and reason to believe the kitchen is on the upswing with plates like a superb coq au vin and crispy, pancetta-wrapped trout.
1330 U St., NW
One of the most exciting culinary trends in Washington over past couple of years has been the increasing number of top-quality neighborhood restaurants. Chef Nathan Beauchamp, formerly of 1789, pairs seasonal ingredients and classic technique with a casual vibe at this gastropub, where a laid-back crowd tucks into mussels with pumpkin and lemongrass, or terrific goat Bolognese.
3050 K St., NW
The highest-rated newcomer on our 100 Best Restaurants list took the fourth slot, and still boasts the hottest tables in town nearly a year after opening. Chef Fabio Trabocchi’s seafood is unparalleled in Washington—if not much of the culinary landscape—both in creativity (try “under the sea” with shellfish and foie gras) and freshness.
8296 Glass Alley, Fairfax
Chef RJ Cooper’s Mosaic District eatery isn’t as high-minded as sister venture Rogue 24, but offers enough inventive riffs from both the kitchen and bar to keep guests on their toes—and coming back for more. Many of the soulful dishes come by way of the South, such as chicken-fried quail and oyster stew with artichokes.
1401 T St. NW
An entire room devoted to Italian charcuterie and cheeses is one of the many draws at this charming 14th Street newcomer. Drop by the warmly lit bar for a board of salumi e formaggi and excellent cocktails made with Italian liqueurs, or head upstairs to the brick-walled dining room for craveable cacio e pepe pasta.
1324 H St., NE
Chef Carlos Delgado’s Atlas District Peruvian didn’t open with the fanfare of some others on this list, but the 24-seat eatery is one of the better arrivals of the year. Start with a deftly crafted rum cocktail and make a meal of small plates, such as pristine ceviche or potatoes topped with crab and avocado.
709 D St., NW
The market-restaurant hybrid trend saw a number of additions this year, and this hotspot attached to Red Apron Butchery in Penn Quarter is among the best. Drinkers and carnivores do equally well, with meaty dishes like a roasted pig’s head for two, inventive cocktails, and an impressive selection of wines.
3900 Pickett Rd., Fairfax
This strip-mall Yemeni restaurant is a testament to how eclectic and exciting Washington’s dining scene has become. Chef/owner Tahia Alhoraivi concocts rich, aromatic rice dishes such as haneeth, made with braised lamb, and ethereal fresh breads.
11315 Fern St., Wheaton
Don’t want to wait in line at Little Serow (sixth on this year’s list)? You’ll find similarly fresh flavors and bracing heat at this no-frills spot, for almost half the price. If you don’t live near Wheaton, specialties such as crispy whole fish or roasted pork over egg noodles is worth the trip.
1926 14th St., NW
Boston chef Michael Schlow joined the 14th Street restaurant boom comparatively late—his funky pan-Latin joint opened in June—but that doesn’t stop diners from packing the graffiti-filled dining room. Tequila drinkers find an impressive selection behind the bar, while vegetarians can do surprisingly well; we love the cabbage salad with salsa verde, roasted beets and yogurt, and falafel-esque edamame tacos.
A few high-profile restaurants—and regular names among the 100 Best Restaurants—didn't make the list this year. Here's why.
1226 36th St., NW; 202-965-1789
Talented chef Anthony Lombardo recently moved on from this Georgetown institution and 1789’s kitchen is suffering from the change. Prices have escalated (entrées hover around $40), while the level of consistency and execution have declined. One exception: the well-crafted desserts.
575 Pennsylvania Ave., NW; 202-637-6100
Four years ago, the easygoing brilliance of this pan-Asian Wolfgang Puck restaurant earned it the number-three ranking on this list. Those days seem long gone. The cooking on a recent visit was tired and sometimes careless, and the service was alternatively disengaged and negligent.
1990 M St., NW; 202-659-1990
The staff exudes charm and the bread basket is still a winner at Jeffrey Buben’s Southern dining room. That’s the good news. The bad: Our meal began with too-sugary cocktails, moved on to entrées that were either bland or oversalted (but always heavy), and ended with cloyingly sweet pies.
Blue Duck Tavern
1201 24th St., NW; 202-419-6755
Sebastien Archambault, an enormous talent, exited the kitchen last January, and his replacement, former Eola chef Daniel Singhofen, has since gone, too. The new arrival at this Park Hyatt property is Ryan La Roche, and while there were bright spots on our most recent check-in, the lingering impression was that of generic hotel dining—overpriced and only intermittently exciting.
A neon "awesome" sign is tacked to the wall of the dining room at Rose’s Luxury—and Washingtonian readers couldn’t agree more. The Capitol Hill insta-hit, which doesn’t take reservations and commands three-hour waits most nights, racked up awards for both best restaurant and best new restaurant in our 37th reader survey.
But not everything’s coming up Rose’s. You also showed affection for under-the-radar spots like Yamas, the wallet-friendly Bethesda Greek place that recently opened a second location near U Street, and 2 Birds 1 Stone, a basement cocktail lounge that serves intricate drinks to the booming sounds of Chrissie Hynde and Cheap Trick.
With a cookie-slinging food truck, a Laotian restaurant within a restaurant, and diner-style burgers, this list proves that awesome comes in many flavors.
1. Rose’s Luxury, Capitol Hill.
Aaron Silverman’s shareable plates run both Southern (smoked-brisket sandwiches) and Southeast Asian (pork-sausage-and-lychee salad).
2. Fiola Mare, Georgetown.
Trabocchi’s latest dining room marries luxe seafood—spiny lobster, wild turbot—with a sparkling waterfront view.
3. Gypsy Soul, Merrifield.
RJ Cooper turns out slicked-up Southern fare: “red neck” cheesesteaks, chicken-fried quail, and four kinds of mac and cheese.
1. Rose’s Luxury, Capitol Hill.
The most exciting restaurant debut of last year is as hot as ever.
2. Le Diplomate, Logan Circle.
Still one of the city’s buzziest places for seafood plateaux and steak frites.
3. The Inn at Little Washington, Washington, Virginia.
Patrick O’Connell’s haute-bucolic cottage serves fanciful treats like a “tin of sin” layered with American caviar and peekytoe crab.
1. Komi, Dupont Circle.
Johnny Monis’s tasting-menu destination is readers’ celebration spot of choice for the seventh year in a row.
2. Le Diplomate, Logan Circle.
This rollicking French bistro is filled with cozy nooks for sharing sparkling Vouvray and crème brûlée.
3. The Inn at Little Washington, Washington, Virginia.
Have a big birthday or anniversary coming up? It’s hard to find a more pampering place than this opulent getaway.
1. Yamas Mediterranean Grill, Bethesda and U Street corridor.
The snug Bethesda taverna recently brought its gyros and souvlaki to DC.
2. Dino’s Grotto, Shaw.
Dean Gold shuttered his Cleveland Park trattoria, Dino, earlier this year, then quickly resurrected it in Shaw with happy-hour specials and a late-night menu.
3. Little Serow, Dupont Circle.
Forty-five bucks gets you seven family-style courses of Johnny Monis’s fiery Thai cooking.
1. Shake Shack, Dupont Circle, Gallery Place, Nationals Park, and Tysons.
We, too, love the skinny, special-sauce-laden patties at New York hit maker Danny Meyer’s chain.
2. Good Stuff Eatery, Capitol Hill, Georgetown, and Crystal City.
Whimsical burgers (we go for the Prez Obama, topped with Roquefort, bacon, and onion marmalade) share space with ultra-thick milkshakes.
3. Ray’s to the Third, Rosslyn.
The menu from the late, great Ray’s Hell-Burger lives on here, and owner Michael Landrum has added grilled cheeses, too.
1. Founding Farmers, Foggy Bottom and Potomac.
The sprawling menu rips many pages from the Americana cookbook, including New England-style pot roast, fried chicken and waffles, and shrimp ’n’ grits.
2. Ted’s Bulletin, Capitol Hill, U Street corridor, Merrifield, and Reston.
All-day breakfast channels the diners of yore, while vintage Three Stooges episodes play on TV.
3. Ripple, Cleveland Park.
This narrow restaurant’s menu runs all over the map, but the best finish—warm-from-the-oven chocolate-chip cookies—is as red-white-and-blue as it gets.
1. 2 Birds 1 Stone, Logan Circle.
Fancifully illustrated menus show off Adam Bernbach’s oft-changing lineup of stiff punches and 15-minute cocktails.
2. The Passenger, Shaw.
Throwbacks such as the Blood and Sand mingle with creations like the Banksy, a mix of rye, allspice, and lime.
3. PX, Old Town Alexandria.
Washington’s first speakeasy-style bar is overseen by Todd Thrasher, who has a pharmacy’s worth of dropper bottles holding house-made bitters.
1. Ray’s the Steaks, Courthouse.
Michael Landrum’s low-key, value-driven restaurant is a respite from all the Wagyu-slinging expense-account dens.
2. Bourbon Steak, Georgetown.
DC’s most ambitious steakhouse specializes in posh comfort food, including truffled dinner rolls and a $68 lobster pot pie.
3. BLT Steak, downtown DC.
Massive hunks of dry-aged beef and a lavish raw bar are the draws at this cushy, classic law-firm favorite.
1. Cork, Logan Circle.
Come for the rightfully famous avocado toast, stay for the generous flights of Euro wines.
2. Vinoteca, U Street corridor.
A terrific daily happy hour—with 15 wines for $5 each—plus a Mediterranean-inspired patio and bocce court keep the mood high.
3. Screwtop, Clarendon.
Have an afternoon to kill? This wine-and-cheese stop is open all day Tuesday through Sunday.
1. Little Serow, Dupont Circle.
Lines stretch down the block for Johnny Monis’s chili-laden homage to northern and northeastern Thailand. Prepare to tank down plenty of Riesling to soothe the spice.
2. Thai X-ing, Shaw.
Taw Vigsittaboot is now serving his multi-course prix-fixe menus in a bigger, BYOB space across from the 9:30 Club.
3. Bangkok Golden, Falls Church.
Skip the spring rolls and pad Thai—you can get those anywhere—and turn straight to the Laotian menu. Don’t miss the vividly flavorful crispy-rice salad.
1. Ted’s Bulletin, Capitol Hill, U Street corridor, Merrifield, and Reston.
Sugar highs run rampant at these retro bakery/restaurants, which serve up rainbow-sprinkled pop tarts and frosted doughnuts.
2. Matchbox, Capitol Hill, U Street corridor, Penn Quarter, Merrifield, and Rockville.
Kid-friendly sliders and pizza—and the industrial spaces are loud enough to drown out any tantrums.
3. 2 Amys, Cleveland Park.
The Lego crowd streams into this busy pizzeria every night around 5:30.
1. 2 Amys, Cleveland Park.
High-quality ingredients—buffalo mozzarella, house-made charcuterie—set Peter Pastan’s pies apart from the Neapolitan-style competition.
2. Matchbox, Capitol Hill, U Street corridor, Penn Quarter, Merrifield, and Rockville.
This mini-chain gets creative with many of its wood-fired pies—we like the Fire & Smoke, a zesty mix of roasted peppers, chipotle tomato sauce, and smoked Gouda.
3. Pete’s New Haven Style Apizza, Columbia Heights, Friendship Heights, Clarendon, and Silver Spring.
Pizza the New Haven way—not too thin, not too thick, and scattered with toppings like fresh clams and chopped garlic.
1. Rasika, Penn Quarter and West End.
Chef Vikram Sunderam won the James Beard Best Chef Mid-Atlantic award this year for his complex curries and brightly flavored chaats.
2. Bombay Club, downtown DC.
Starched linens, a tinkling piano, and leafy potted palms imbue restaurateur (and Rasika owner) Ashok Bajaj’s first dining room with Old World elegance.
3. Spice 6, Hyattsville.
You can customize wraps, rice bowls, and naan pizzas with an array of curries and chutneys.
1. Sushi Taro, Dupont Circle.
This is the place to venture beyond the tuna roll and sample unusual finds like salt-grilled yellowtail jaw and soft-shell turtle.
2. Izakaya Seki, U Street corridor.
Chef/owner Hiroshi Seki’s masterful small plates are paired with an impressive sake collection*.
3. Daikaya, Penn Quarter.
Hunker down over a big bowl of porky ramen or head upstairs to the izakaya for skewers and fusiony small plates.
1. Fiola, Penn Quarter.
Big-spender ingredients—Alba truffles, seared foie gras—are celebrated at this sleek dining room, but there are dining deals at the bar.
2. Dino’s Grotto, Shaw.
The kitchen puts out DC Brau-braised brisket and a wild-boar chili dog along with more traditional pastas and roasts.
3. Olazzo, Bethesda and Silver Spring.
With its red-sauce spaghetti and vintage family photos cramming the walls, these bring a bit of Little Italy to the Maryland burbs.
1. Oyamel, Penn Quarter.
José Andrés shrinks chilaquiles, ceviches, and tamales into small plates at his color-splashed dining room.
2. El Centro D.F., Georgetown and U Street corridor.
Richard Sandoval’s darkly lit hangouts have some of the area’s biggest selections of tequila and mezcal.
3. Fuego Cocina y Tequileria, Clarendon.
Spiffed-up versions of cantina classics—chiles rellenos, queso fundido—from the team behind DC Coast and District Commons.
1. Baked & Wired, Georgetown.
Oversize cupcakes, lovely fruit pies, and even bacon-flavored dog biscuits draw lines at this snug shop.
2. Bread Furst, Van Ness.
Mark Furstenburg’s airy bread bakery is now hosting dinners featuring former Palena chef Frank Ruta.
3. Firehook Bakery & Coffee House, multiple DC and Virginia locations.
The coffee-slinging bakeries are popular for breakfast runs, while the catering arm turns out office-party-friendly cookie platters and layer cakes.
1. TaKorean, @takorean.
This Korean taco truck is still on the road but also has permanent homes in Navy Yard and Union Market.
2. Red Hook Lobster Pound, @lobstertruckdc.
Want your top-split bun stuffed with warm buttered lobster or lemony mayo-bound lobster salad? Always a tough call.
3. Captain Cookie & the Milkman, @captaincookiedc.
The Nutella cookies with milk are our workday pick-me-up of choice, too.
1. Taylor Gourmet, multiple area locations.
These Philly-inspired hoagie shops are now offering cheesesteaks, too.
2. Sundevich, Shaw.
Baguette sandwiches take inspiration from cities like Seoul, Istanbul, and Kingston.
3. G by Mike Isabella, U Street corridor.
Wood-roasted meats (goat, suckling pig, lamb) from Isabella’s next-door taverna, Kapnos, are showcased in sandwiches here.
1. Le Diplomate, Logan Circle.
Hey, you might even run into Joe and Jill Biden.
2. Compass Rose, U Street corridor.
A brick-lined hideaway with shareable plates inspired by street food from around the world.
3. Jaleo, Penn Quarter, Crystal City, and Bethesda.
While away the night over platters of jamón Ibérico and Spanish cheese alongside carafes of sangría.
This article appears in the December 2014 issue of Washingtonian.
*This post has been updated from a previous version.
Tofu with cilantro root and peanuts at Little Serow
About halfway through the seven-course Thai menu at Johnny Monis’s tiny, no-reservations destination, your mouth will likely be searing from chili overload. Then this dish arrives, a fairly straightforward preparation with lime, cilantro, red onion, and peanuts. As with many of the dishes here, those flavors seem like they’re in Technicolor—but then you taste the richly creamy, crunchy tofu, a gift that (finally) soothes your palate.
Little Serow, 1511 17th St., NW.
Causita cangrejo at Ocopa
It’s a measure of chef Carlos Delgado’s talent that crab is only a character actor in this picture-perfect arrangement of canapés. Top billing ought to go to the potatoes, whipped to a fluff with lime and the Peruvian yellow-pepper paste known as aji amarillo. Though they could easily stand alone as a side dish, they provide a perfect platform for thin-sliced avocado, delicate crab, and the tiniest, sweetest peppers you’ve ever seen.
Ocopa, 1324 H St., NE; 202-396-1814.
Faux rib eye and fries at Baby Wale
This charcoal-grilled “faux” rib eye, fashioned from two different cuts of shoulder meat, is one of the best steaks you’ll find in Washington for less than $30—and one of the best steaks, period. Points for the rich, shallot-flecked wine reduction. And for crispy fries that actually taste like potato.
Baby Wale, 1124 Ninth St., NW; 202-450-3311.
Frisée salad with duck gizzards at Bastille Restaurant & Wine Bar
For this sly twist on the French salad of frisée aux lardons—frisée tossed with bacon and a coddled egg—chef Christophe Poteaux substitutes duck gizzards cooked in their own fat. There’s obviously nothing wrong with rendered bacon, but the gizzards, with their gamy intensity and meat-like heft, elevate the familiar to the memorable.
1201 N. Royal St., Alexandria; 703-519-3776.
Fried quail with grits at Gypsy Soul
In these parts, there may be no finer expression of Southern comfort than chef RJ Cooper’s exuberant riff on chicken-fried steak. The accompaniments are just as good as the tender brined and battered bird: creamy grits, a rich gizzard gravy, and tangy collards.
Gyspsy Soul, 8296 Glass Alley, Fairfax; 703-992-0933.
Fruits de mer plateau at Le Diplomate
In a town now swimming with decadent shellfish platters, this bistro rendition stands above the rest with bracingly fresh, meaty shellfish—thick king crab legs, citrus-marinated fluke, briny Belon oysters—plus superb house-made sauces such as horseradish-packed cocktail, rémoulade, and mignonette for dipping.
Le Diplomate, 1601 14th St., NW; 202-332-3333.
Chicken himmapan at Thai Taste by Kob
If you’ve grown bored with too many mail-it-in preparations of Kung Pao chicken, think of this dish—a long-ago Thai-Chinese mash-up—as a thrilling alternative. It’s rare to find a stir-fry as addictive as the grease-free toss of crunchy battered chicken, toasted cashews, and chili paste.
Kob, 11315 Fern St., Wheaton; 301-942-0288.
Lamb-brain karahi at Khan Kabob
If you’re squeamish, don’t think of them as brains. Think of them as curds, or scrambled eggs, sizzled in a fragrantly zesty sauce of tomatoes, onions, garlic, chilies, and ginger. With fabulous, sesame-seeded naan for scooping.
Khan Kabob, 4229 Lafayette Center Dr., Chantilly; 703-817-1200.
Uni panini at Barmini
In truth, this small sandwich at José Andrés’s whimsical cocktail lounge (adjoining Minibar) amounts to about three bites. But what bites! The meringue-like bread, so light as to be insubstantial, is simply there to hold together the lobes of uni, or sea urchin; thin slices of avocado; and crushed corn nuts.
Barmini, 855 E St., NW; 202-393-4451.
Charcuterie pizza at Vin 909 Winecafé
This Craftsman-style bungalow slings the best pizzas in the area, and of all those we feasted on here this past year, this is the one that made us want to pick up the phone and invite everyone we know to come over and taste. Topping a pie with soppresatta, mortadella, and wild boar might have spelled doom for other pizza makers, but this is miraculously not overly rich. And the glorious crust—thin, crunchy, and salty—is never lost amid all the meat.
Vin 909 Winecafé, 909 Bay Ridge Ave., Annapolis; 410-990-1846.
Butterfish three ways at Sushi Sono
The plate of flayed fish arrives with a skewer through its midsection. On either side of it are nigiri—with (yes, buttery) white fish layered atop a pad of rice and garnished with ginger and green onion—and sashimi. When you’re done, the server will take away the carcass, returning it five minutes later hot from the deep fryer. Salt the bones and munch ’em like popcorn.
Sushi Sono, 10215 Wincopin Cir., Columbia; 410-997-6131.
Gnocchi with crab, fenugreek, and snap peas at Komi
It’s hard to best the tasting menu’s most climactic course—a platter of roasted goat or suckling pig—but these velvety gnocchi manage to do it (chef Johnny Monis played with the pasta formula for seven years before putting it on the menu). Although the sweet blue-crab topping is available only during crustacean season, the ethereal pasta often makes a showing with different accompaniments.
Komi, 1509 17th St., NW; 202-332-9200.
Malt sundae at BLT Steak
Gratis popovers and gargantuan portions make saving room for dessert difficult at this power steakhouse. Still, you don’t want to miss the playful old-fashioned sundae with malted ice cream, crunchy cocoa nibs, whipped cream, and a cherry on top.
BLT Steak, 1625 I St., NW; 202-689-8999.
Beef-and-cheddar sandwich at Red Apron Butcher
Banish all thoughts of gray cold-cut roast beef and picture instead juicy, crimson slices of steak. Now add a riff on Cheez Whiz that actually tastes like aged cheddar and a slathering of ranch-dressing-seasoned mayo. There you have it: the stuff of frat boys’ (and our) dreams.
Red Apron Butcher, Union Market, 1309 Fifth St., NE, 202-524-6807; 709 D St., NW, 202-524-5244; 8298 Glass Alley, Fairfax, 703-676-3550.
Basque stew at Restaurant Eve
Imagine a bouillabaisse—a dish, by the way, that chef Cathal Armstrong has mastered in his decade in the kitchen here. Now make it heartier and lustier, with a richer stock and more garlic, and punchier with the addition of espelette peppers. On a cold winter’s day, there are few dishes we crave more.
Restaurant Eve, 110 S. Pitt St., Alexandria; 703-706-0450.
Fish and chips at the District Fishwife
For her take on the pub staple, Fiona Lewis often eschews the usual cod and goes for the more flavorful blue catfish from the Chesapeake. Like the rest of the fish sold at her seafood counter, it’s supremely fresh. And its sheath—a beer batter fried to a golden-brown crackle—accentuates rather than obscures it.
District Fishwife, Union Market, 1309 Fifth St., NE; 202-543-2592.
Garlic and shiso fried rice at Izakaya Seki
Just as it’s customary to end a Japanese kaiseki tasting with rice, we can’t leave a freeform parade of chef Hiroshi Seki’s stellar small plates without an earthy bowl of grains sprinkled with toasted garlic and bright slivers of citrusy shiso.
Izakaya Seki, 1117 V St., NW; 202-588-5841.
Mushroom tacos at Chaia
Some of the best tacos in Washington are coming from this farmers-market stand, where fresh corn tortillas are griddled to or-der, then stuffed with a kaleidoscope of vegetables. Our favorite is the mix of local mushrooms, tangy feta, and salsa roja.Thursdays at the White House Fresh Farm Market (810 Vermont Ave., NW) and Sundays at the Dupont Circle Fresh Farm Market (20th St. and Massachusetts Ave., NW).
Crabs at Wild Country Seafood
This Eastport seafood shack serves the best crabs in the Chesapeake, harvested by the father-and-son watermen owners. Massive, crispy soft-shells come at a bargain $14.95 for two, while pricier hard crabs are the heaviest and sweetest we’ve found.
Wild Country Seafood, 124 Bay Shore Ave., Annapolis; 410-267-6711.
Loukamades at Cashion’s Eat Place
John Manolatos dabbles in a variety of cuisines on this Adams Morgan bistro’s new small-plates menu, but these Mediterranean-style yeast doughnuts—on the menu for eight years—hark back to his childhood, when he cooked at the annual Saint Sophia’s Greek festival. The fried dough is dressed up with cinnamon-spiked yogurt and honey.
Cashion's Eat Place, 1819 Columbia Rd., NW; 202-797-1819.
Haneeth at Saba
This Yemeni standard is a lamb dish, but in this instance in name only. The reason you keep picking at the plate long after you’re full is the rice. The chef, Taha Alhoraivi, makes sure that every grain is fluffy and that the juices of the slow-cooked meat have penetrated them to the core.
Saba, 3900 Pickett Rd., Fairfax; 703-425-1130.
Lobster with citrus and crab at L’Auberge Chez François
Inside this Old World cottage, you’ll find such antique recipes as Châteaubriand, venison with roebuck sauce, and, most memorable of all, this gently poached lobster dish. The plump and sweet crustacean is stuffed with lump crab, then bathed in an elegant vermouth-butter sauce. A scattering of grapefruit and orange segments cuts through the richness.
L'Auberge Chez François, 332 Springvale Rd., Great Falls; 703-759-3800.
Pineapple Express pizza at Graffiato
Mike Isabella’s Italian spot gives the ho-hum Hawaiian pie—typically made with canned pineapple and lackluster meat—a winning makeover using country ham, charred slices of sweet fruit, scallions, mozzarella, and Virginia-made Korean hot sauce.
Graffiato, 707 Sixth St., NW; 202-289-3600.
Corn with Manchego and lime at Estadio
Amazing corn in December? Not gonna happen. Luckily, Haidar Karoum’s deconstructed elote (Mexican street-style corn) comes back every summer. We can’t wait for the mix of super-sweet kernels, cilantro, and grated Manchego bound with aïoli and a good dose of chili powder.
Estadio, 1520 14th St., NW; 202-319-1404.
“Under the Sea” at Fiola Mare
Fiola Mare is the steakhouse of seafood places, and you can think of this big, bountiful bowl of languoustines, clams, mussels, prawns, and fish (with a lobe of foie gras, just to luxe it up a little more) as the piscatory equivalent of the cowboy cut—the big-ticket item on a menu of expensive indulgences. It also happens to be the most fully realized expression of chef Fabio Trabocchi’s globe-spanning ideal, a seamless synthesis of Italy, France, and Japan.
Fiola Mare, 3050 K St., NW; 202-628-0065.
Maple custard at the Red Hen
Picking a favorite on chef Michael Friedman’s rustic Italian menu is tough, so let’s just say the best way to finish is with this silky maple custard topped with roasted hazelnut crumble. Get an order of house-made amaro, the bitter after-dinner sipper, alongside it.
Red Hen, 1822 First St., NW; 202-525-3021.
Duck, Duck Dog at Haute Dogs & Fries
When fusion goes wrong, it goes very wrong. But these whimsical dog joints nail it by marrying two of our favorite things—Peking duck and hot dogs—inside a toasty, buttery bun. The dogs are split and crisped on the griddle, then slicked with hoisin and laid with sliced cucumbers and scallions. The result is a little salty, a little sweet, and ridiculously good.
Haute Dogs & Fries, 610 Montgomery St., Alexandria, 703-548-3891; 609 E. Main St., Purcellville, 540-338-2439.
This article appears in the December 2014 issue of Washingtonian.
Sure it’s cold, but not too cold to sit at an outdoor bar—bundled up under a blanket, of course—and sip spiked cider. A few bars and restaurants embrace the notion, equipping their al fresco spaces with heat lamps, faux furs, fire pits, hot cocktails, and other elements to keep you warm and drinking outdoors through the winter.
Historic sipping at the Iron Gate
1734 N St., NW
Starting Monday, December 8, guests at the historic Dupont restaurant can try out new patio furniture under the century-old wisteria vines, warmed by fire pits, heaters, and creative hot cocktails such as the absinthe-spiked Bourbon Diversion, or the Hot Doctrine with chamomile tea, St. Germain, and honey liqueur. Drop in for a party on opening day from 5 to 7 with canapés and two cocktails ($35 per person). There's also a lovely fireplace inside the dining room.
DIY cider bar at A Bar + Kitchen
2500 Pennsylvania Ave., NW
The Avenue Suites’ outdoor bar is outfitted with two fire pits, four area heaters, and blankets. The menu features $5 s’mores kits, a customizable hot cocoa bar, and a DIY cider station where barkeeps can add bourbon or rum ($6).
Winter terrace at the Capella/Rye Bar
1050 31st St., NW
The canal-side terrace of this elegant Georgetown hotel readies for winter with heat lamps, blankets, and a new hot beverage and food menu. Guests can order s’mores, mini soup servings like quail consommé served in a French press, and a rye-ginger toddy fashioned with Darjeeling tea.
Atmospheric toddies at Old Angler’s Inn
10801 MacArthur Blvd., Potomac
Get away from the city at this historic stone restaurant, with an outdoor beer garden warmed by a fire pit and heat lamps Friday through Sunday. Steamy drinks include a ginger toddies and citrus ciders.
Mulled wine at Dacha
1600 Seventh St., NW
Just because summer is over doesn’t mean this popular Shaw beer garden is packing it in. Drinkers and their dogs can hang under gas heaters (fun fact: they’re imported from Australia), grab blankets, and drink spiced mulled wine to stay cozy. Note that hours are shortened to Friday through Sunday.
Reservations by the fire at Bourbon Steak
2800 Pennsylvania Ave., NW
While you may need to get to other bars early to stake out a space at the fire pit, anyone can call ahead to this Four Seasons Hotel restaurant and reserve a spot by the flames. Faux-fur blankets, lamps, and hot cocktails can turn up the heat for anyone who doesn’t score a rez.
Prost! at Biergarten Haus
1355 H St., NE
Few beer gardens are open year round, but you can clink steins anytime at this H Street spot. In addition to giant beers and Fireball hot cider, heaters and live flames keep things toasty.
Warming fire pits at Westover Beer Garden & Haus
5863 Washington Blvd., Arlington
It’s b.y.o. blanket at this Arlington market’s beer garden, but snagging a spot by the fire should do the heating trick. Another way to warm the limbs: plenty of beer, and you’ll find it here with six draft lines and more by the bottle.
Lounging at Poste
555 Eighth St., NW
The Kimpton Hotel restaurant rolls out the blankets, heaters, and fire pits as long as temperatures stay above 42 degrees, Thursday through Saturday. Look for fun steamy drinks such as bourbon-caramel cider.