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Where Foodies Shop

Want a four-star meal at home? First you need great ingredients—and you’ll find them all in our guide to the area's best butchers, bakeries, cheese shops, farmers markets & more

By Todd Kliman, Ann Limpert, & Anna Spiegel.
Photographs by Scott Suchman. Food Styling by Lisa Cherkasky

Meat & Charcuterie


Butchers and Delis

Jamie Stachowski of Stachowski's Market

Fun Fact

135 pounds

Average amount of “porkstrami”—pastrami-spiced pork—that the three Red Apron Butcher shops sell each week for their most popular sandwich

Canales Quality Meats and Canales Deli

225 Seventh St., SE; 202-547-0542

This fixture inside Capitol Hill’s Eastern Market has an impressive array of steaks and chops behind the counter. Best known for grass-fed Black Angus beef—porterhouses, hangers, pot roasts—the shop also offers four kinds of pork ribs and 34 varieties of sausage, which range from D’Artagnan game links (including decadent and delicious duck with Armagnac) to house-made chicken sausage with habaneros and tequila. One counter away from the butcher stand is Canales Deli, which focuses on charcuterie and sandwiches.

The Organic Butcher of McLean

6712 Old Dominion Dr., McLean; 703-790-8300

With its topiaries, jaunty striped awning, and elegant French doors, this store looks more like a stylish boutique than a butcher shop. Among the mostly local and organic meats, look for a wide range of game—quail to elk to venison—along with English back bacon, house-made beef jerky, bison steaks, and custom ground beef (you can determine the fat content). Also available: whole sides of beef, around 300 to 400 pounds and butchered into chops and other cuts. It sounds daunting, but at $3.99 to $4.99 a pound it’s a deal—especially when friends go in on it with you.

Red Apron Butcher

8298 Glass Alley, Fairfax; 703-676-3550

Part artisanal butcher, part trendy cafe with a spiffy wine-and-beer roster, this sprawling shop in the Mosaic district (sister stores are at DC’s Union Market and in Penn Quarter) is an ode to all things meaty. Chef/butcher Nathan Anda is curator of the house-made charcuterie, fashioned from humanely raised animals. We love the classic marbled rib eye and the secreto, a Spanish pork cut similar to a skirt steak. The rotisserie chicken and novelties like ’nduja, a spreadable pork sausage, are also worthy of attention.

Society Fair

277 S. Washington St., Alexandria; 703-683-3247

The butcher case at Cathal Armstrong’s Old Town emporium—which also includes a bakery, wine bar, and gourmet shop—overflows with eye candy for the meat lover. House-made confits, pâtés, and charcuterie (cotechino and the all-beef rindswurst, for example) share space with oven-ready porchetta, pork shoulder, flatiron veal and beef steaks, and organic poultry. Innards and offal are plentiful, as is organic game such as antelope and squab. And there’s duck fat plus an array of stocks to fill your larder.

Springfield Butcher

6310-B Springfield Plaza, Springfield; 703-245-0111

This old-school butcher offers a nice selection of meats and poultry at reasonable prices in a glass case that seems to go on forever. Steaks are hand-cut and sausages made in-house; there are oven-ready items, too. Beyond the familiar steaks and poultry, the shop gets kudos for its extensive lamb lineup, including five kinds of chops plus items such as veal bones for stock, whole ducks, and buffalo. And for those who’ve always hankered for that Southern specialty “turducken” (chicken stuffed inside duck inside turkey), this is the place.

Stachowski’s Market

1425 28th St., NW; 202-506-3125

Jamie Stachowski was one of the early adopters of house-made charcuterie, and the breadth of offerings at his snug Georgetown deli/butcher shop is testimony to his passion. Draws include kielbasa, duck pâté en croute, rabbit pâté, and various boudins. The roster of meats is heavy on beef: coulotte roasts, hanger steaks, and a prime-rib dinner to go are among the highlights. And though digs are small, people come from miles away to lunch on the four-meat Italian grinder, Italian sausage with onions and peppers, and liverwurst on rye.

Three Little Pigs

5111 Georgia Ave., NW; 202-726-0102

As its name suggests, this small butcher is devoted to all things pork. House-made charcuterie is a mainstay, and the owners go beyond the usual suspects with such offerings as smoked trotters; saucisson sec; landja, a spicy German link; and African biltong, a kind of jerky. Pâtés, pork rinds, and duck confit deserve applause, too. Can’t wait to get home? There are sandwiches to eat there—we go for the pulled pork on a cheddar-jalapeño bun.

Urban Butcher

8226 Georgia Ave., Silver Spring; 301-585-5800

Whole-animal butchery and free-grazing heritage breeds are the hallmarks of this hip market/restaurant. Look for house-made terrines and sausages along with unusual cuts like ox brisket and pig tails. Dry aging is a given, and both beef and pork (Red Wattle and Tamworth are among the breeds) get the treatment. The store isn’t for the faint-hearted: There’s a good chance a whole suckling pig will be staring up at you from the meat case.

Wagshal’s

4855 Massachusetts Ave., NW; 3201 New Mexico Ave., NW, 202-363-5698

Wagshal’s has been a DC institution since 1925. With the opening of a gleaming new shop/restaurant on New Mexico Avenue, the store is expanding its offerings. Wagshal’s has long been known for its USDA Prime beef and Euro-style sausages. Ever on trend, both stores are now selling Ibérico de Bellota loin chops and other products from the famed Spanish pigs. The new location has an indoor/outdoor cafe as well as stylish glass cases filled with meats and prepared foods, plus a gelato bar. And yes, the terrific brisket sandwich has made the trip, too.

— Cynthia Hacinli

Cheese


Cheese Shops

Jill Erber of Cheesetique

Fun Fact

3,650 Days

Length of time (or more) that Hook’s Ten Year Cheddar, the oldest cheese at Cheesetique, takes to age

Arrowine

4508 Lee Hwy., Arlington; 703-525-0990

The wildly diverse, value-driven selection at this wine shop/cheese counter, not to mention the well-versed mongers manning it, makes it our favorite shop for a dairy fix—and education. Skip the usual Manchego and Gouda for more esoteric varietals. Do you like Brie? Try the Italian Langhe Castelbelbo. In the mood for Gruyère? Go for sharp L’Etivaz Reserve. While the shop stocks some domestic producers, such as Connecticut’s Cato Corner Farm, the collection skews European, with an especially large Swiss Alpine–style assortment.

Balducci’s

10323 Old Georgetown Rd., Bethesda; 301-564-3100

If you’re after not only quality but also quantity, visit this gourmet grocer’s location in the Wildwood shopping center. The sprawling cheese display would be unapproachable to a novice were it not for the smart staff who can speak to the nuances of each slab and its ideal wine pairing. The impressive range includes a handful of Washington-area producers and a section dedicated to imported Parmigiano-Reggiano and its brethren.

Cheesetique

2411 Mount Vernon Ave., Alexandria, 703-706-5300; 4056 Campbell Ave., Arlington, 703-933-8787

The cheese cases at Jill Erber’s colorful shop/wine-bar hybrids are packed with a vast selection that balances well-known names (Jarlsberg) with little artisan producers (Georgia’s Sweet Grass Dairy). Look for such unusually flavored choices as chocolate-stout cheddar and white Stilton with blueberries. No matter your choice, you’ll leave having learned a thing or two: Not only is the staff extremely knowledgeable, but the signs adorning each cheese offer history, tasting notes, and serving suggestions.

Cork Market & Tasting Room

1805 14th St., NW; 202-265-2674

At the back of this rustic wine-focused shop—a spinoff of Cork Wine Bar across the street—a nicely curated cheese case holds both domestic (California’s Humboldt Fog) and European (France’s Fromage de Meaux) artisanal standbys. There’s no shortage of cheese-plate accessories, including San Daniele prosciutto, baguettes and crackers, cornichons, mustard, and jams. We’re partial to the bourbon-stoked Charlito’s Cocina fig “salami,” house-made tomato-and-caramelized-onion jam, and duck rillettes.

La Fromagerie

1222 King St., Alexandria; 703-879-2467

Except for Italian Parmigiano-Reggiano, owner Sebastien Tavel carries only American small-batch cheeses in his tidy Old Town shop/cafe. That means he has the area’s most robust stock of locally made cheeses, including lesser-known Mountaineer from Meadow Creek Dairy and Caromont Farm’s Esmontonian. A blackboard behind the counter offers budding cheeseheads a quick primer, with pithy descriptions—semisoft is “pliable, earthy, melting”—as well as wine suggestions.

Red White & Bleu

127 S. Washington St., Falls Church; 703-533-9463

Most of this shop’s space is dedicated to wine and beer, but it’s also a worthy stop for the makings of a great cheese plate. The corner case holds an often-changing lineup that skews domestic and spans both coasts—from Midnight Moon, a smooth goat’s-milk Gouda from California, to salty Black & Blue by Maryland’s FireFly Farms. Round out your spread with outstanding allspice-spiked Nola salami from Oregon’s Olympic Provisions and a box of Firehook Bakery’s Mediterranean sea-salt crackers, one of our favorite vehicles for cheese.

Sona Creamery and Wine Bar

660 Pennsylvania Ave., SE; 202-758-3556

This two-month-old storefront is a full soup-to-nuts cheese operation: On one side of the space, there’s a stainless-steel tank for making the stuff along with two aging rooms; on the other side, you can shop for cheese or try it in a lineup of sandwiches and small plates in the dining area. The cheese counter, overseen by award-winning cheesemaker Kathryn Carter, is particularly good for lovers of the stinky stuff, with lots of blue and washed-rind options. This spring, Carter is adding a few house-made offerings, such as cheddar curds. Feeling inspired? A DIY cheesemaking kit is $25.

—Kate Nerenberg

Seafood


Seafood Shops

Whole snapper and rockfish, ready to take home at River Falls Market.

Fun Fact

$25

Cost of a single Carabineros shrimp, regarded as one of the best prawns on the market, at BlackSalt

America Seafood

4550 Lee Hwy., Arlington; 703-522-8080

Despite its shopping-plaza location, this fish market/cafe evokes a beachside seafood shack. Crawfish jambalaya, smoked-scallop salad, and lobster bisque are among the go-to take-home offerings. Fresh seafood from the market can be fried, blackened, or grilled and eaten at tables on the patio. (We love the fried shrimp with cocktail sauce.) Meanwhile, one of the wraparound glass cases is stocked with soft-shells (in season), flounder, sole, oysters, clams, Maine lobsters, and salmon from sources ranging from Boston to Key Largo.

BlackSalt Fish Market

4883 MacArthur Blvd., NW; 202-342-9101

The glistening seafood on a bed of ice is the first thing you see when you walk into this restaurant/fish market, which boasts the best, most varied collection of wild and sustainable catches in town. We rely on it for staples such as salmon and Chilean sea bass but also seek out lesser-seen finds like tilefish, John Dory, and whole yellowtail snapper. Shrimp comes in a few varieties—we like the Texas brown shrimp for their sweetness—and there’s an array of boutique oysters and caviar plus excellent ready-to-sauté crabcakes. Give the staff a little notice and they’ll clean shrimp and shuck oysters for no extra charge.

The Fishery

5509 Connecticut Ave., NW; 202-686-1068

This Chevy Chase DC fish market/grocery has a wide following. One reason? You can get a complete meal here. There’s a small produce section plus shelves filled with pantry staples, including Asian noodles and condiments. Still, the biggest draw is the seafood, which is varied, fresh, and often wild-caught. In spring, look for shad roe; in early summer, soft-shell crabs are the thing to get. And some nights, the shop cooks up a take-home Shore dinner with lobster and clams.

Fish in the Hood

3601 Georgia Ave., NW; 202-545-6974

You could take home a pound of fish and cook it yourself, but why would you when this takeout-friendly shop/cafe will do it for you? Choices are many and include porgy, trout, rockfish, red snapper, and croaker. Get them expertly fried in a delicate cornmeal crust or broiled with sweet butter and a spicy rub. There are crabcakes and an unusual take on fried clams—opened and fried in the shell—plus sides including candied sweet potatoes, collard greens, and mac and cheese. Eating in is more of an option in warm weather—there are a few tables outside, but only two in the shop.

River Falls Market

10124 River Rd., Potomac; 301-765-8001

It’s all about relationships at this seafood shop. Fans rave about ultra-fresh fish and shellfish sourced from day-boat fishermen and sustainable seafood farms. Rockfish, bluefish, and Spanish mackerel are caught in Deale, Maryland; oysters arrive from the Patuxent River; and from May to October, steamed crabs are hauled in from Harris Crab House on Kent Island. The shop is probably best known for its colossal (and terrific) lump crabcakes—you can buy them cooked or uncooked. Beyond seafood, you’ll find high-quality meats, chocolates, and wine.

Whole Foods

Multiple area locations

Sustainability, responsible farming, and careful sourcing are all part of this grocery chain’s approach to selling fish. Though the size of the seafood section varies from store to store, offerings are usually diverse. You might find cod and haddock from Gloucester, Massachusetts; salmon from Seattle; and striped bass from the Mid-Atlantic. There’s a wide array of prepared foods, from steamed shrimp with extra-spicy cocktail sauce to trout pâté to crabcakes (spring for the more expensive jumbo-lump version; the standard ones tend to taste fishy). Bonus: The counter folks will devein shrimp, shuck oysters, and skin and debone whole fish.

— Cynthia Hacinli

From the Farm


CSAs to Try

The family-run North Mountain Pastures

Fun Fact

12,000 Acres

Area farmed by FreshFarm Market vendors in 2013

Big White Barn Produce

bigwhitebarn.com

Chef Bryan Voltaggio is among the members of the CSA at this Frederick farm, which grows produce for his restaurants. Packages might feature fruit, veggies, jams, and baked goods. Pickup locations include DC, Bethesda, Rockville, and Frederick. Seasonal shares, which run 16 weeks, are $550 for weekly pickups, $275 for biweekly.

Bull Run Mountain Vegetable Farm

bullrunfarm.com

Veggie-filled shares from one of Washington’s oldest CSAs range from “pecks” designed for single cooks to “bushels” that feed four. Drop-off points include DC’s Cleveland Park, Dupont Circle, and Capitol Hill and, in Virginia, Arlington, Alexandria, Centreville, and Manassas. Summer shares, which run 19 weeks, range from $485 for a weekly peck to $1,295 for a weekly bushel; fruit and eggs cost extra.

Earth Spring Farm

earthspringcsa.com

This farm, one of the area’s most varied CSAs, puts out vegetable shares with options for fruit, eggs, milk, meat, and even pickles. Pick up your goods at multiple locations in DC, Maryland, and Virginia. Seasonal weekly shares, which run 25 weeks, are $625 for small shares, $750 for large.

North Mountain Pastures

northmountainpastures.com

This family-run Pennsylvania farm offers customizable meat CSAs with options for humanely raised cuts of beef, pork, lamb, and chicken. Pick up your share at the Takoma Park Farmers Market or Silver Spring FreshFarm Market. Seasonal shares, which run once a month for five months, range from $451 for a small share (9 pounds a month) to $868 for a full share (20 pounds a month); for extra, you can add on bones and cured meats.

One Acre Farm

oneacrefarm.com

New to the CSA scene? This farm in Boyds, Maryland, offers $150 trial memberships to newcomers for four consecutive weeks. Pickup locations include Capitol Hill, Rockville, and Potomac. If you like it, you can sign up for the rest of the season. The full-length summer share is $660 for 22 weeks.

Potomac Vegetable Farms

potomacvegetablefarms.com

Trummer’s on Main chef Austin Fausett and wife Morgan, a sommelier at DC’s Del Campo, love planning dinners around produce from this grower. Farm locations in Vienna and Purcellville offer an array of produce plus add-ons such as eggs, flowers, and bread. Alternatively, you can pick up shares at multiple Northern Virginia locations. Summer shares run 16 weeks and range, depending on size, from $352 to $672 for weekly farm pickups, $400 to $720 for weekly off-site pickups.

Smucker Farms

smuckerfarmsdc.com

Pick up weekly boxes filled with produce—plus sometimes eggs and cheese—from organic Lancaster County farms at this artisanal market (2118 14th St., NW). Shares are $300 for 11 weeks. For $25 to $30 extra each week, you can add on two bottles of wine.

Star Hollow Farm

starhollowfarm.com

This family farm offers a great plan for those with CSA-commitment phobia: Members pay a $300 fee and can use this credit whenever they want to choose produce, dairy products, and jarred goods from an online store. Order on Wednesday for pickup at the Saturday Adams Morgan farmers market (18th and Columbia rds., NW).

Want to explore more options? Search the CSA directory at localharvest.org.

Sweets & Bread


Bakeries

A collection of The Swiss Bakery's European-style breads.

Fun Fact

860 pounds

Amount of Domino confectioners’ sugar Bayou Bakery went through for its beignets in March

Baked & Wired

1052 Thomas Jefferson St., NW; 202-333-2500

This tiny Georgetown bakery with a hippie streak is a mecca for lovers of all things sugary. The oversize cupcakes draw the long lines—and when it comes to the German-chocolate and chocolate-satin varieties, it’s easy to see why—but we’re just as enamored with the rest: flaky honey-pecan bars, dense brownies, and a cherry pie that would make Twin Peaks’ Dale Cooper swoon.

Bakehouse

1407 T St., NW; 202-299-9042

If you tend to crave savory over sweet when it comes to breakfast pastries, look no further than this Logan Circle shop, which excels with sausage-cheddar biscuits and bacon-and-Gruyère-laden brioche. That’s not to say sugar fiends won’t be satisfied—whoopie pies, brownies, and blueberry muffins are fine, too.

Best Buns

4010 Campbell Ave., Arlington; 703-578-1500

Prefer your breads dolled up with things like poblano chilies and cheddar, or raisins and pecans? This Shirlington shop—owned by the Great American Restaurants group, which is also behind the nearby Carlyle—is your place. It handles the simple stuff well, too, whether a robust sourdough round, a sandwich-friendly ciabatta, or a baguette-like epi bread. On the sweeter side, look to the miniature lemon bundt cakes and red-velvet cupcakes.

Buzz

901 Slaters La., Alexandria, 703-600-2899; 818 N. Quincy St., Arlington, 703-650-9676; 300 Tingey St., SE, 202-524-4989

If you’re looking to fill the table at a bridal or baby shower, Tiffany MacIsaac’s pretty, whimsical treats might be just what you're after. Still, we don’t need a special occasion to indulge in her homier creations: tart Meyer-lemon pies, cream-filled riffs on Hostess cupcakes, and cinnamon buns.

Heidelberg Pastry Shoppe

2150 N. Culpeper St., Arlington; 703-527-8394

You can see the German influence everywhere here—in the mustard selection on the grocery-section shelves, in the bratwurst on the lunch menu, in the oversize salted pretzels. As a rule, the kitchen is stronger with breads—especially its various rye loaves—than with confections. One notable exception: the wonderfully flaky, cinnamony apple strudel.

LeoNora Gourmet Bakery

1108 N. Irving St., Arlington; 571-527-0445

The jam-laced raspberry tart we came across at this pink-painted Clarendon bakery is reason enough to make a stop, and the éclair is a close runner-up. (The bready madeleines, however, are skippable.) Beyond desserts, the ovens put out nicely bronzed challah loaves and super-buttery croissants.

Saint Michel Bakery

5540 Wilkins Ct., Rockville; 301-770-5090

This hidden-away, cash-only shop is the kind of place that might inspire you to plow through an entire box of breakfast pastries after you’ve sworn to have just one. (We’re powerless against the raisin swirls and chocolate-almond croissants.) Baguettes and soft miche loaves are standouts in the bread baskets. And don’t miss the canelés, thimble-shaped cakes that crackle like crème brûlée when you take a bite.

The Swiss Bakery

5224 Port Royal Rd., Springfield, 703-321-3670; 9536 Old Keene Mill, Burke, 703-569-3670

There might not be a better white bread around than the fluffy Swiss-cheese-crusted version served at these busy bakery/sandwich shops, which excel at Alpine-inspired loaves. The dark wurzelbrot, made with wheat flour and rye, is a heartier pick, and great with a simple slathering of butter, while the zopf, an eggy, challah-like braid, is perfect for plain or French toast.

Beer, Wine & Spirits


Beer, Wine & Spirits

Calvert Woodley Fine Wines & Spirits in the Van Ness neighborhood.

Fun Fact

$1,995

Cost of the most expensive bottle of wine, a 2011 Coche-Dury Corton-Charlemagne white Burgundy, at Calvert Woodley

Ace Beverage

3301 New Mexico Ave., NW; 202-966-4444

It claims to be DC’s oldest liquor store, but Ace doesn’t appear des-tined to descend into dotage. The staff works hard to keep up with trends. You won’t find a more extensive selection of bourbon, scotch, rye, rum, and mezcals in the area, and amateur mixologists will rejoice over the specialty bitters. Wine, geared to connoisseurs, is thoughtfully chosen.

Addy Bassin’s MacArthur Beverages

4877 MacArthur Blvd., NW; 202-338-1433

The shop where Robert Parker once trolled the aisles, schooling himself in the finer points of structure and length, is still an education. There may not be another wine store in the area with a selection as deep and complete as this one, particularly when it comes to Bordeaux and Burgundy. Merely to walk the aisles and solicit the expert staff for advice is akin to paging through a wine guide. The stock of wines from Italy, Germany, and California is vast, too.

Arrowine

4508 Lee Hwy., Arlington, 703-525-0990; 2175 K St., NW, 202-785-0785

Doug Rosen’s shop prides itself on carrying lesser-known vineyards and small-quantity producers, though the 2,500 bottles include something for everyone (and at every price). Sign up for the weekly e-mail blasts, which alert you to good, inexpensive wines to purchase by the case or half case. And don’t miss the weekly winetastings; Bill McKinney’s Italian tastings are especially insightful.

Calvert Woodley Fine Wines & Spirits

4339 Connecticut Ave., NW; 202-966-4400

Residents of the Van Ness neighborhood regard this quaint old shop as a sort of gourmet grocery, a place to pick up meats and cheeses and stock the liquor cabinet. It also functions as an excellent little wine shop, with a good selection of Bordeaux and an unexpected stash of Riesling, including a number of picks from importer Terry Theise’s fine portfolio.

Leesburg Vintner

29 S. King St., Leesburg; 703-777-3322

Mike Carroll’s store can’t compete with some of the heavy hitters on this list when it comes to inventory. But this is one of the friendliest wine stores around, with a winning, small-town vibe and—the reason it earns a spot in our roundup—one of the area’s best selections of Virginia wines. If you want to acquaint yourself with the pleasures of, say, Glen Manor’s Hodder Hill or Barboursville Octagon, this is your place.

Old Line Fine Wine, Spirits & Bistro

11011 Baltimore Ave., Beltsville; 301-937-5999

The building once housed a Circuit City, which should give you an idea of the size of this shop. It’s the scope of the selection that makes it a standout— in particular the extensive collection of gins, rums, whiskeys, and bourbons.

Paul’s Wine and Spirits

5205 Wisconsin Ave., NW; 202-537-1900

This is a small place, and the inventory is far from extensive, but it has the sort of wines you won’t find in the big suburban wine superstores, with a concentration on interesting finds in the $10-to-$50 range. Look for smaller wineries from France, South America, and California. And don’t bypass the marked-down bottles, which are almost always good deals.

Planet Wine & Gourmet

2004 Mount Vernon Ave., Alexandria; 703-549-3444

Most wine shops exist to move product; this one really does seem to want you to learn what’s in the bottles—and have a good time doing it. The $15-and-under section, packed with interesting varietals and lesser-known labels, is a great inducement to explore. And the Wednesday and Saturday winetastings lend the inviting space the feel of a cool, cozy party. The shop adjoins the Evening Star Cafe, owned by the same restaurant group; for a $10 corkage fee you can open any bottle you purchase at dinner.

Rodman’s

5100 Wisconsin Ave., NW, 202-363-3466; 5148 Nicholson La., North Bethesda, 301-881-6253; 4301 Randolph Rd., Wheaton, 301-946-3100

If you didn’t know that these quirky gourmet groceries carry wine and beer, then you’re about to make an important acquaintance. Nearly every major wine region in the world is represented on the shelves; there’s even a good selection of Greek wines. The beer roster isn’t exhaustive, but you’ll find an impressive array of microbrews, imports, and Belgians. And you can nearly always count on helpful, friendly, informative service.

Schneider’s of Capitol Hill

300 Massachusetts Ave., NE; 202-543-9300

If this cramped, high-ceilinged emporium doesn’t have it, then you can pretty much be sure no one does. And there’s more than what the eye can see; check the online catalog for wines not on display (the store recently purchased the late Georgetown restaurant Citronelle’s 5,500-bottle cellar). The staff isn’t just knowledgeable but also among the nicest in the business—and has even been known to pop a cork and offer a taste of a bottle under consideration.

Pantry


Stocking Your Pantry

Ah Love Oil & Vinegar.

Fun Fact

9,892 miles

Approximate distance Muntok white peppercorns traveled from Indonesia to the Spice & Tea Exchange in Georgetown

Ah Love Oil & Vinegar

2910 District Ave., Suite 165, Fairfax, 703-992-7000; 4017-B Campbell Ave., Arlington, 703-820-2210

Whether you’re after chocolate balsamic vinegar to drizzle atop strawberries or bacon-flavored olive oil to amp up a carbonara, chances are you’ll find it in these shops dedicated to oils, vinegars, artisan pastas, finishing salts, and other gourmet goodies. Oils and vinegars are sourced all over the world—there are cubes of French bread for tasting the wares—and owner Cary Kelly is full of ideas on ways to use them. Our current favorite is the honey/ginger white balsamic on, well, everything.

Cornucopia

8102 Norfolk Ave., Bethesda; 301-652-1625

Ebo Selmy’s cafe/shop is a love letter to Italy. Shelves hold jams, Baci chocolates, and imported sauces. At the counter are Italian cheeses, Di Bruno Brothers cheese spreads (we like the provolone-and-Chianti variety), and such salumi as paper-thin prosciutto di Parma and Italian-style pastrami. (Selmy makes these into excellent sandwiches, too.) Among the frozen main courses and pastas, our favorites are eggplant lasagna, spicy peperoncino spaghetti, and porcini-mushroom sauce. Throw in a few pignoli cookies and a pint of house-made gelato and you’re ready for a dinner party.

Hana Market

2004 17th St., NW; 202-939-8853

This rowhouse Japanese market may be small, but it covers a lot of territory. Check out the board’s listing of weekly produce, which might include yuzu, daikon, mustard spinach, and enoki mushrooms. Shelves are stocked with Kewpie mayonnaise, sushi rice, okonomiyaki flour (used to make savory pancakes), and somen (ultra-thin white noodles). In the freezer, marvel at the astonishing variety of mochi.

The Italian Store

3123 Lee Hwy., Arlington; 703-528-6266

Italian expats go to this market/cafe when they're after products from home—Pomi crushed tomatoes; panna, a light cream for penne alla vodka; or guanciale for carbonara. The lineup of cheeses, meats, olive oils, vinegars, pastas, and pantry staples is well edited, and the selection of Italian wines is especially good. The store is known for stocking hard-to-find items, and if we don’t see something, the staff will try to order it for us. New York–style pizza is served by the slice, but it’s the subs that generate long lines.

Sapore Oil & Vinegar

660 Pennsylvania Ave., SE; 202-544-4133

With glossy wood floors and black shelving, this handsome Capitol Hill shop evokes a winery’s tasting room. Oils and vinegars from all over the world are the focus, ranging from classic 25-year-old aged balsamics to chipotle-infused avocado oil, and tasting is encouraged. Among our favorites are the fig-infused vinegar to drizzle on practically anything and the smoked Engine 18 olive oil named for a nearby fire station. Spices and spice blends, jams, tapenades, pastas, and infused salts round out the selection.

Spice & Tea Exchange

1069 Wisconsin Ave., NW, 202-333-4540; 320 King St., Alexandria, 571-312-8505

You’ll find pantry items you never knew you needed at these stores, which carry all manner of salts, spices, sugars, and seasoning blends. We love to flavor whipped cream with bourbon-and-black-walnut sugar, sprinkle bacon salt on eggs, and build curries using the complex garam masala. There are pots and jars for storing as well as salt, pepper, and spice mills to make the most of your purchases.

—Cynthia Hacinli

Prepared Food


Prepared Foods

Chef Anne Alfano of Little Red Fox.

Fun Fact

150 Chickens

Number of rotisserie Bell & Evans birds that Dawson’s Market often sells during its weekly Tuesday special (an all-natural bird for $5.99)

Balducci’s

6655 Old Dominion Dr., McLean, 703-448-3828; 600 Franklin St., Alexandria, 703-549-6611; 10323 Old Georgetown Rd., Bethesda, 301-564-3100

One of the first specialty food chains in Washington (originally operated as Sutton Place Gourmet) is still a favored source for cheeses, olive oils, and other culinary finds. As at the New York original, Italian items are a strong suit. We love the dried Rustichella pastas, fresh sausages, and sliced-to-order cured meats. Another perk: prepared meals that taste more indulgent than quick-grab, such as wasabi salmon or New England–style ham.

Dawson’s Market

225 N. Washington St., Rockville; 240-428-1386

At this locavore hub, the prepared-food case caters to many a diet, including vegan, low sodium, and gluten-free. The options change often, and we’ve found a lot to like: beach-shack-like crabcakes (made with shreddy backfin, but with good flavor), a decadent square of Buffalo-chicken lasagna, and creamy red-cabbage coleslaw. Swing by the cheese counter for loads of local picks, such as the Stilton-like Blue Suede Moo from Keswick Creamery.

Glen’s Garden Market

2001 S St., NW; 202-588-5698

Grocer Danielle Vogel celebrates the “eat local” ethos at this 10,000-square-foot emporium near Dupont Circle. Meats and dairy, produce, and pantry items come from the Chesapeake Watershed, with a few exceptions for spices and other farther-flung necessities. Locally made pastas and sauces make quick meals, as do sandwiches stuffed with house-smoked meats, thin-crust pizzas, and roast-chicken dinners, all created by former 1789 pastry chef Travis Olson. A small cafe serves beer and wine for the dine-in crowd.

Little Red Fox

5035 Connecticut Ave., NW; 202-248-6346

The feta dip, sprinkled with fresh thyme and rosemary and glistening with green olive oil, is the first clue this shop minds the details when it comes to takeaway. On chef Anne Alfano’s ever-changing dinner menu, we fell hard for just-spicy-enough sweet-potato curry studded with cashews and for juicy roasted Amish chicken whose leftovers made great tacos. The shelves are crammed with local treats—quiches from Whisked!, bottles of Capital Kombucha, and growlers that can be filled with beers on tap—along with the kitchen’s own hot sauce.

Seasonal Pantry

1314½ Ninth St., NW; 202-713-9866

Ever wish everything on the table was homemade? This specialty market, which turns into a reservations-only dinner table at 8, lets you live that dream. Owners Ali Bagheri and Daniel O’Brien offer all manner of pantry staples made in-house—tomato and lemon confits, ketchup, pickled okra, seasoned salts—on the wooden shelves. In the cooler, we go for oyster and chicken pot pies, meatballs, and Bolognese. Rounding things out are fresh and dry pastas, produce from local farms, and charcuterie.

Vace

3315 Connecticut Ave., NW, 202-363-1999; 4705 Miller Ave., Bethesda, 301-654-6367

If you’re short on time and looking to defrost dinner, some of your best bets can be found at these Italian-American markets. Load the freezer with meat-filled ravioli or cheese tortellini, along with flavorful red sauces. Or swing by for one of the terrific pizzas, with zesty sauce ladled atop the cheese.

Wegmans

Multiple Maryland and Virginia locations

The dinner options at these mega-groceries can be daunting. Our strategy? Skip the buffets of sticky Chinese food and go for the American classics—kosher roast chickens, to-go trays of shrimp cocktail, family-size packs of Buffalo wings, and made-to-order subs. Don’t miss the bakery section, with its rich jalapeño-cheddar bread and delicious éclairs.