Though the District boasts a good number Thai restaurants, not many have menus that venture beyond pad Thai and other mainstays (though the suburbs are rich with variety for those willing to travel). Hoping to expand the scene are Bangkok natives Nat Ongsangkoon and Dia Khanthongthip, the husband-and-wife team behind Soi 38. The Foggy Bottom eatery, debuting April 15, is named after one of the largest night markets in the couple’s home city, and will offer a menu inspired by the street fare served there.
This isn’t to say you won’t find familiar dishes; the couple also own the nearby Thai Place, whose menu reads more mainstream. Still, Ongsangkoon says they want to introduce guests to lesser-known recipes they make for their family, as well as the Northern Thai specialties chef Mitchai Pankham prepared at his restaurant back home. You might start with herb-marinated grilled pork neck or crispy rolls stuffed with Chinese sausage and crab. For the most adventurous, there’s slow-cooked pork liver tossed with toasted rice, chilies, and mint; another preparation with crispy shrimp and cashews plays to tamer tastes. Catering to all palates is another market staple: an entrée of Thai fried chicken with vinegary chili sauce for dipping.
Ongsangkoon and Khanthongthip’s young son is gluten-intolerant, so you’ll find a number of wheat-free dishes labeled on the menu. A good place to start is curries—including gaeng nom, a light, fiery toss of shrimp, tamarind, and vegetables—and hot pots served over a live flame, such as a fragrant lemongrass version simmered overnight with bone-in pork spare ribs. Pankham’s Northern-style dishes lean heartier; think traditional khao soi, a curry egg-noodle dish topped with chicken legs, crispy noodles, and Thai pickles. Those in the know can also ask for off-menu specialties such as bacon-fat-fried rice topped with a runny egg, or beef boat noodle soup in cooler weather.
The restaurant’s decor also reflects the lively night markets, with dark walls covered in gold graffiti by Baltimore-based street artist Gaia. Dragons and elephants parade around the warmly lit space, while a dragon-ish eye peers out over the bar. Popular barman JP Caceres is behind the cocktails, including unusual sips such as shareable teapots of whiskey-tamarind punch, rum-spiked Thai coffees, and spicy Singapore Slings on draft.
Thai spots aren’t renowned for desserts besides mango and sticky rice, but here you’ll find a comparative wealth of options for finishing a meal. The kitchen churns its own ice cream, including dairy-free fresh Thai coconut topped with crunchy peanuts, and a Thai tea flavor. Plan to scoop the cooling sweets on a 52-seat patio in warmer weather.
Soi 38. 2101 L St., NW; 202-558-9215. Opening for lunch and dinner on April 15.
We’re longtime fans of R&R Taqueria—along with Guy Fieri and countless others—but the drive to the original, at a gas station in Elkridge, Maryland, isn’t for everyone. Luckily, fans can get a taste of chef Rodrigo Albarran’s Mexican cooking just steps from the Dupont Circle Metro with Mission, now open. Here’s what to look for when you head over this weekend.
Margaritas on the patio or beneath the skylight
Rodrigo, who still splits time between his two R&R locations and the new spot, partnered with Mason Inn and George owners Fritz Brogan and Reed Landry for the concept. The restaurant is a new move for all three—it’s much bigger in scope than a stools-only taqueria, and a departure from the duo’s booze-only bars. The three worked with their team to transform the seemingly subterranean former One Lounge space into a rustic Mexican eatery, sporting pristine white walls and dark wood floors. A large skylight—more like a sky-ceiling—above the bar allows plenty of sunshine, while you can catch direct rays on a 50-seat patio in warmer weather.
Tacos y hamburguesas
A larger space means a bigger menu for Rodrigo. You’ll find some similar dishes from the chef’s repertoire of Mexico City-style cooking, including fresh tortillas stuffed with pork carnitas and homey pozole. Still, the dinner-only (for now) menu includes many more options, including a variety of seafood specialties such as ceviche, soup stewed with whole clams, and crispy mahi-mahi tacos. Vegetarians can also do well here with poblano pepper-potato tacos and chiles rellenos, while meat lovers can opt for racks of ribs with adobe barbecue sauce and a fiery burger topped with über-spicy ghost peppers.
Pour-your-own tequila shots
Brogan points out that Mission is the first bar (see the drink menu) in DC to have Corona on tap, which you can sip alongside small or large pitchers of frozen margs and other Mexican-restaurant staples. But the 50-deep list of tequilas and mezcals is the star of the bar. All can be ordered in eight-ounce carafes for pouring your dining companions shots at the table.
Happy hour and late-night service
Night owls looking for a late dinner can drop in for the full menu until 11 on weekdays and midnight on weekends. After the kitchen wraps up, a deejay will play on certain nights, taking things back to the lounge days. Guests can also head up to the second-floor bar to sip margaritas into the wee hours. Happy hour runs between 5 and 7:30 and currently includes $3 Tecates and $6.50 house margaritas; more drink and food specials are in the works.
Looking ahead: lunch, bottomless brunch
No Dupont spot is complete without bottomless brunch, which Mission plans to launch this summer (bubbly and/or tequila to be determined). You’ll see lunch service debut earlier, as well as online reservations through OpenTable.
Mission. 1606 20th St., NW. 202-525-2010. Current hours (subject to change): Open daily 5 to midnight.
Veteran chef Bob Kinkead plans to debut Campono, his casual pizzeria, on Friday in the Watergate complex. Expect breakfast pizzas, hearty Italian sandwiches, ample outdoor seating, and more.
Ancora, the more upscale Italian sister restaurant next door, closed for renovations in February with plans to open around Labor Day. Kinkead goes decidedly more casual at the 55-seat pizza spot in the former Cup’a Cup’a space. The eatery will be open for breakfast through dinner, with self-serve dishes and a takeout menu. You might start the day with coffee and breakfast pastries, quiches, or egg-topped pizzas such as the carbonara, with pancetta and cream. Lunch and dinner bring wood-fired, Neapolitan-style red and white pies that can be ordered whole or by the slice. The sandwich lineup includes a number of Italian classics with various cold cut combinations or mozzarella and tomatoes, as well as hot subs stuffed with the likes of meatball Parmesan or beef brisket with onion agrodolce and horseradish. Vegetarians aren’t left out, with items like the “friarelli and cheese” sub, filled with broccoli rabe, peppers, avocado, and four cheeses.
All items can be carried out, but guests can also linger with their meal on a 40-seat patio in warmer weather. Making that option more enticing: beer and wine for sipping, and house-made gelato and sorbet for scooping through the summer.
Campono. 600 New Hampshire Ave., NW; 202-505-4000. Open daily 7 to 9.
Washington has no shortage of classic steakhouses, but a new breed of South American grills is giving the creamed-spinach set some competition. In addition to the longstanding chain Fogo de Chão are spots by independent restaurateurs such as Jose Garces’s upcoming Argentinian concept Del Campo and, as of next week, Toro Toro. We took a sneak peek at the cavernous pan-Latin eatery before its March 31 debut.
Restaurateur Richard Sandoval is an international name, with 35 concepts and counting from Denver to Dubai, where the original Toro Toro debuted. While not based in Washington, the Mexico City-born chef is in the process of making our city home to more of his restaurants than any other worldwide; the roster is on par with José Andrés’s, including Zengo, Masa 14, two El Centro D.F. locations, Ambar, the upcoming Mango Tree in CityCenterDC, and a still-unnamed casual Mexican eatery for Shaw. Those familiar with the group will recognize many Sandoval signatures at Toro Toro: the low-lit, untzy ambience, a lounge area for sipping cocktails—here a subterranean space equipped with a deejay booth—a weekend brunch that brings bottomless drinks and food, and equally bountiful, eclectic menus during lunch and dinner.
Chef de cuisine Steve Hartzell helms the kitchen, which turns out another Sandoval trademark: small plates melding flavors from South America, Asia, and beyond. (Fun fact: The name fittingly means both tuna in Japanese and bull in Spanish.) Guests can make a meal of dishes such as smoked guacamole, grilled seafood ceviche, various skewers and empanadas, and one of Hartzell’s favorites, the “causa toro toro,” essentially a sushi cake made of purple Peruvian potatoes topped with tuna tartare. Also playing on the East-meets-South theme is a wok station, which flash-cooks chorizo-studded chaufa rice (think Peru’s take on the Chinese staple) and crispy shrimp with pickled chilies.
Being a steakhouse, the other half of the menu is devoted to wood-grilled meats and seafood. Here, things get more locally minded and indulgent: Platters hold the likes of hefty Roseda Farms tomahawk steaks and whole racks of Pennsylvania lamb, while the swordlike “churrasco skewer” arrives laden with layers of steak, chorizo, lamb chops, and achiote-marinated chicken. Tables can also opt for the “rodizio experience” at dinner, which brings tapas, endless grilled meats, prawns, and side dishes for $79 per person. Lunchtime offers a more wallet-friendly express version: a $25 buffet boasting various salads, ceviches, carved meats, desserts, and more alongside the à-la-carte menu.
The eatery officially opens to the public on the 31st, but the lounge and late-night entertainment debuts on Saturday, April 5, with music from internationally known DJ Robbie Rivera. Think of it as a good way to work off that meat sword.
Toro Toro. 1300 I St., NW; 202-682-9500. Full hours begin in April (call for current hours). Lunch Monday through Friday 11 to 3. Dinner Sunday through Thursday 5 to 11 and Friday and Saturday 5 to midnight. Late-night dining Sunday through Thursday 11 to 1 and Friday and Saturday midnight to 2. Brunch Saturday and Sunday 10 to 3.
Steakhouses were once the darlings of the Washington restaurant scene, but there’s a new breed of meat-mongers in town: butchery/restaurants, where fresh cuts and cured meats flow between the market and sit-down eatery, offering a wider selection. Think of places like the Urban Butcher, Lebanese Butcher and Restaurant, the upcoming Parts & Labor in Baltimore, and now the Partisan, the newest spot from the Neighborhood Restaurant Group. Restaurateur Michael Babin just debuted his third Red Apron Butchery in Penn Quarter, and opens the adjoining 100-seat restaurant Wednesday.
By day you can drop into the Red Apron for English muffin-like breakfast tigelles, lunchtime sandwiches, and an array of take-home foodstuffs. Come evening the seating for the sandwich shop turns over to the Partisan, which expands to a red-hued bar area in back. Chefs Nate Anda and Ed Witt (formerly of 701 and 8407 Kitchen) have devised a menu (see sample menus below) that draws extensively from Red Apron’s lineup of local and sustainably raised smoked and cured meats, sausages, dry-aged beef, and whole-animal butchery (yes, you can split an entire roasted pig’s head for $75 if your dining companions are game).
You might start out by grabbing a pen and marking up the charcuterie list, as you would a sushi menu, picking from 30 items. The other menu is divided by proteins (beef, fish, etc.), vegetables, and sausages. Plates in each category range from snacks like barbecue pork rinds to smaller shareable portions such as 120-day-dry-aged beef carpaccio, pork kimchee sausages, and Scottish langoustines with lemon zest and Calabrian oil. At the other end of the splitting spectrum are larger platters, including that pig’s head and a half or whole fried chicken served with honey hot sauce. Pastry chef Tiffany MacIsaac delivers the sweet finish with desserts such as a fried bacon-apple pie or a ginger-beer ice cream float spiked with Fernet Branca.
The Neighborhood Restaurant Group made a national name for itself with the extensive draft beer program at ChurchKey, and expands the scope here to encompass wines and cocktails in the 20-plus-seat bar. Wine director Brent Kroll stocked the list with 50 by-the-glass options, half of which are on draft. The taps also pour spirits chosen by barkeep Jeff Faile, including Willett Pot Still Reserve bourbon, Amaro Nonino, and the unusual Bäska Snaps Malört, a bitter Scandinavian liqueur. Of course there’s always Greg Engert’s beers: There are 50 bottle options and another 17 drafts, with an emphasis on sour ales and saisons. So no matter where your drinking allegiance lies, the Partisan gives you plenty of options for bipartisan boozing.
The Partisan. 709 D St., NW; 202-524-5322. Open for dinner Monday through Thursday 5 to 10, and Friday and Saturday 5 to 11. The bar opens at 4.
The market/restaurant trend continues as Spike and Amy Gjerde, the husband-and-wife team behind Woodberry Kitchen/Artifact Coffee/Shoo-Fly, prepare to open their butchery/restaurant in Baltimore. If the name Parts & Labor sounds familiar in DC, it is: the Neighborhood Restaurant Group coincidentally picked the same moniker for its eatery attached to Red Apron Butchery Penn Quarter, before switching to Partisan (opening soon). The general concepts are similar—lots of meat!—but there are plenty of unique elements to look for at the Gjerdes’ new spot, set to gradually debut in Charm City’s Remington neighborhood by March.
The market, helmed by butcher George Marsh, will open first in the former car and tire repair shop (hence the “parts and labor” name). As with other Gjerde spots, the commitment to local farms and producers remains strong. Fresh cuts range from traditional (Liberty Delight Farms beef) to more exotic (goat from Many Rocks Farm), plus you’ll find a a lineup of pickled, cured, and smoked meats that capitalize on a nose-to-tail approach.
An adjoining 84-seat restaurant will debut in April with, yes, more meat. Diners can assemble meals from a variety of steaks and chops, 20 sorts of sausages, and roasted vegetables, or opt for “one-pot” dishes such as chili and stew. “Rustic cooking style” takes on a new meaning here; all the items will be prepared in a hearth built from reclaimed Baltimore cobblestones as a nod to traditional Mid-Atlantic cooking methods. To pair with all that food: beer from 24 taps, with a focus on Maryland brews. If you discover a new favorite, a growler-fill station will allow guests to take suds on the road.
Stay tuned for more details closer to the opening.
Parts & Labor. 2600 N. Howard St., Baltimore.
Few Washington restaurants are as iconic as Ben’s Chili Bowl, which opened on U Street in 1958. Founders Ben and Virginia Ali served their now-famous chili half-smokes through the race riots in the 1960s and during the Metro buildout that closed U Street, to presidents and policemen alike. Ben passed away in 2009, but Virginia still helps operate the restaurant, along with her sons, who are helping to expand the Ben’s name across the Potomac. The first standalone branch opens at 1725 Wilson Boulevard on Thursday (outposts already exist at FedEx Field and Nationals Stadium), with more to come in the next year.
“It’s a lovely area and a wonderful community,” says Virginia. “We want to become a part of that community like we have on U Street.”
The new Ben’s occupies one of the spaces in Colonial Village Shopping Center that once housed Ray’s Hell-Burger. While it’s not an exact replica of the original, key features carry over. A jukebox stands ready for dinner music, and the brothers built a counter so customers can mingle as they do on U Street. New to the eatery is outside seating, with 16 spots on the patio for chowing down on chili cheese fries in warmer weather. The brothers also teamed with local bakery Savannah Cupcake for a line of cupcakes, including flavors such as carrot, coconut-pineapple, and sweet potato pie.
The Arlington debut marks the beginning of a growth year for Ben’s, with an H Street spot expected to open later this year and another stadium-like kiosk planned for Reagan National Airport. Nizam Ali says Ben’s Next Door, the more upscale eatery adjoining the Chili Bowl, is also set for expansion, albeit a vertical one: A rooftop deck is on the horizon, with the working name Ben’s Upstairs. A couple of staples will carry over (or up), but Nizam says the family is “looking to do a whole new thing.”
Longtime Ben’s fan Bill Cosby helped welcome the Arlington location, cutting the ribbon at the opening ceremony. Considering all the celebrity endorsements and accolades the Chili Bowl has received over the years, from a James Beard Award to a visit from President Obama, we asked Virginia what she considers the greatest achievement.
“What floored me most was when we celebrated our 40-year anniversary,” she says. “It was just overwhelming for me to see people standing in line on a hot August day to come into Ben’s and buy a chili dog. I felt so overwhelmed that people cared enough. Somehow people know we care about them, and they care about us, and that’s very gratifying.”
Ben’s Chili Bowl. 1725 Wilson Blvd., Arlington. Current hours are 11 to 11. Breakfast coming soon.
The Georgetown waterfront is better known for its outdoor bars than for cuisine, but chef Fabio Trabocchi and his wife and partner, Maria, hope to change that sandals-and-T-shirt persona with Fiola Mare. The elegant 140-seat Italian seafood spot is their largest and possibly grandest to date, joining Fiola and more casual sister spot Casa Luca.
Water informs the vibe as well as the name. The window-walled dining room gazes out onto the Potomac River nearby, while a veranda—enclosed for winter—boasts jaunty blue cushions and warm wood like what you might find on an Italian sailboat. Images of ships float along the walls of two private dining rooms, including one outfitted with a 12-person private chef’s table fit for elaborate off-menu tasting dinners. Two bars bookend the restaurant, one closer to Key Bridge for sipping white-peach Bellinis and watching the sunset, and the other for grabbing a gin and tonic and heading out to the patio in warmer weather.
In Italian seaside-style Trabocchi’s menus change daily. You might pick decadent starts—this is Georgetown, after all—such as wild Belon oysters, Italian caviar, or a Mediterranean-style shellfish platter with Catalina sea urchin, razor clams, and swordfish tartare. Those in the mood for fresh fish can wander up to the open kitchen’s market counter, where whole Dover sole, branzino, Scottish langoustine, and more are weighed by the pound, grilled, and served tableside. Of course, there’s always pasta. Maine lobster ravioli, a Fiola staple, is an early special, alongside Amalfi-style spaghetti with clams and smoked-potato gnocchi with scallops, a dish we always sought out in Trabocchi’s Maestro days.
Even in gray winter months the bright space is a draw at lunch. The Maria Menu, a low-calorie and budget-friendly lineup inspired by the Mediterranean diet, includes three dishes for $24 such as black cod with a Tuscan seafood farrotto and passionfruit sorbet. More indulgent is an Italian-style lobster roll dressed in spicy Calabrese mayonnaise, which you can also find on the small bar menu in the evenings and during weekend brunch. Valet is offered during the latter so guests can avoid the Georgetown parking fray, making those Bellinis and lemon-mascarpone pancakes even sweeter.
Fiola Mare. 3050 K St., NW (entrance at 31st St. and the waterfront); 202-628-0065. Open for dinner Monday through Thursday 5:30 to 10:30, Friday 5:30 to 11, Saturday 5 to 11, and Sunday 5 to 9:30. Lunch Monday through Friday 11:30 to 2:30. Brunch Sunday 11:30 to 3.
It’s been a busy few months for the Neighborhood Restaurant Group, with the recent debuts of both Bluejacket Brewery/the Arsenal on the Capitol Riverfront and the Iron Gate in Dupont. Next up: the biggest and most ambitious Red Apron Butchery to date, joining sister shops in Union Market and the Mosaic District. While many of the old favorites grace the menu—including craveable sandwiches such as the meatball sub—there are plenty of new elements to look for when the eatery opens on Wednesday.
Tigelle breakfast sandwiches
The Penn Quarter location is the first to sell breakfast sandwiches, and they’re of a variety that’s virtually unknown in DC. Chef Nate Anda discovered Italian tigelle flatbreads while traveling in Tuscany, and imported molds to recreate the English muffin-esque rounds. The fresh breads are thinner and crispier than any Thomas’ creation, and Anda fills them with indulgent ingredients; think a “morning meatball” with redeye gravy, or a riff on the classic morning muffin slathered with maple butter and stuffed with house sausage, American cheese, and a fried egg. Completing the morning pickup: brews from Ceremony Coffee Roasters out of Annapolis.
Atomic Cheese Whiz and Vietnamese dogs
Yes, you’ll be able to order the Red Apron burger, offered here every day instead of just Friday. There’re also plenty of new options from Anda and co-chef Ed Witt, formerly of 701 and 8407 Kitchen. You might try a warm rare roast beef sandwich with house-made “atomic” Cheese Whiz and ranch aïoli or a rotating lineup of Red Apron hot dogs, like the Vietnamese-style spicy frank with Asian slaw and Thai chilies. Office workers who don’t have time to indulge in the “porkstrami” and a beer—or even wait for made-to-order items—can pick from a lineup of ready-to-grab cold sandwiches. Dinner is also a takeaway affair, with rotating items such as rotisserie chickens, racks of pork, and various side dishes.
The other half of the equation on D Street is the Partisan, the adjoining sit-down restaurant slated to open for dinner in a couple of weeks. During the day, half the restaurant’s dining room—about 45 seats—will be devoted to breakfast- and lunch-goers looking to linger over their sandwiches, bottled beers, or glasses of wine. The dining room will turn back over to Partisan in the evenings, but Red Apron’s butcher counter will remain open for ordering fresh cuts of meat and premade items from the deli case.
A chef’s pantry and a butcher case
Have you ever tried sweet potato vinegar? Now you can. A portion of the shop is devoted to the chefs’ favorite pantry items, including finishing salts and oils, spices, and culinary-nerd finds such as Rancho Gordo heirloom beans, Opinel folding knives, and Bathtub Gin preserves inspired by cocktails. Red Apron’s house rubs and brines are also available, and over in the refrigerated section you’ll find the full lineup of charcuterie and pâtés, sauces, stocks, and more. In the market for a giant hunk of dry-aged beef? Yes, you’ll find that too.
More to come
Once the shop is up and running, look for plenty of specials and new additions to the display case. Anda and Witt are currently working on a selection of fresh pastas. And of course, there’s that 80-plus-seat restaurant on the horizon, where you’ll be able to sample many of the meats Red Apron offers.
Red Apron Penn Quarter. 709 D St., NW. Open for breakfast Monday through Friday 7:30 to 11 and lunch Monday through Friday 11 to 2:30. Weekend menu hours are Saturday 9 to 2:30 and Sunday 9 to 5. Butcher counter hours are Monday through Friday 7:30 AM to 8 PM, Saturday 9 to 8, and Sunday 9 to 5.
Last year restaurateur Richard Sandoval announced plans to open Toro Toro, a pan-Latin steakhouse, at 1300 I Street, Northwest. The 140-seat space in Franklin Square will debut in March, joining local Sandoval eateries Masa 14, El Centro D.F., Ambar, La Sandia, and an upcoming Mexican spot in Shaw.
Those familiar with Sandoval’s restaurants will find similarities, such as a spacious outdoor area in the form of a 40-seat patio and a 70-seat lounge that hosts dancing on certain nights. The hedonistic brunch of bottomless brunch cocktails and small plates will be offered Saturday and Sunday, while you can also opt for the “rodizio experience” on weekdays with unlimited grilled meats carved tableside. Other dishes include ceviches, arepas, and other items meant to share.
Washington has always been known as a steakhouse town, but several restaurateurs are bringing Latin flair to the concept. Chef Victor Albisu spurred the trend with Del Campo’s debut last year, while Philadelphia-based restaurateur Jose Garces plans to launch an Argentinian-style version in the Loews Madison in the coming months. Better than “female-friendly” steakhouses? We think so.