Best Thing I Ate: Wagyu Beef Belly Empanadas, Serrano Ham Sandwiches

Our favorite dishes from the past seven days of dining.

Two of the best things we ate this week came from the fiery kitchen of Jose Garces’s Rural Society. Photograph by Jeff Elkins

Todd Kliman

Empanadas Tucamana at Rural Society

Jose Garces, the gifted Philadelphia chef, has arrived in town with his much-anticipated Rural Society. It’s an Argentinian steakhouse, all smoke and swagger.

Everything is big and rich: the cuts of beef, the glasses of red wine, the flashy young things at the bar. So far, for me, the biggest inducement to return to the restaurant is small and rich. For one of two varieties of empanada on the menu, Team Garces has bypassed the traditional (and expected) filling of ground beef and raisins in favor of braised Wagyu beef belly.

Imagine eating a plate of short ribs so tender you barely need to chew, and with a sauce so concentrated and intense it stamps itself on your brain. Now imagine that tucked inside a tender, faintly sweet pastry. Don’t sleep on the small pot of chimichurri. You’ll need it. The salsa, made loose, is there to provide brightness, acidity and heat and bring the robust flavors into something resembling balance.

As far as I know, the chef has no plans to open a food truck in DC, which is too bad. These portable pies are just about the perfect street food. Though if you were to eat two of them, you’d be napping at your desk before long.

Ann Limpert

Corn and crab fugazza at Rural Society

John Stewart might have lobbed a hilariously lethal argument against Chicago-style deep-dish, but man, I love the stuff. Growing up here, we had the pies at Armand’s, which didn’t resemble anything you’d find in the Midwest—their fat, bready crusts were covered with thick blankets of mozzarella dotted with tomatoes—but they’re mostly gone by now. If you’ve got a craving for deep-dish, your options are pretty limited.

So what does any of this have to do with Rural Society? Turns out, deep-dish pies are a thing in Argentina too. They’re called fugazza, and the ones Garces’s team makes are fashioned from a cushiony focaccia crust baked in a cast-iron skillet, which gives it fantastically crusty edges.

The rectangle pies might lack the messy, gooey decadence of a pepperoni pizza at Lou Malnati’s—toppings are carefully applied, and you can taste the hint of rosemary in the focaccia—but they’re terrific. I especially loved the summery version with crab, creamy corn, and a sprinkling of Asiago cheese, which the server pushed as a starter. But I say, grab a pisco cocktail at the bar and make it dinner.

Anna Spiegel

Salamanca sandwich (Serrano ham and pan con tomate) from the Tortuga Truck

When it comes to sandwich-centric food trucks, José Andrés’s Pepe often features prominently in the conversation. This isn’t without merit; the gazpacho is my favorite in the city, brick-and-mortars included, and those croquetas taste as good on the sidewalk as they do in the restaurant. Still, as I discovered this week, the tortas aboard the Virginia-based Tortuga Truck can give Pepe’s bocatas a run for their money (and do in the literal sense, priced at $8.50 instead of $11 to $13).

You might be disappointed if you’re expecting the thick, overstuffed Mexican sandwiches. The menu puts a twist on the traditional version with an international lineup of flavors, and airier ciabatta-like bread. These innovations are for the better, especially if you’re looking to head back to work instead of to bed. My favorite torta is the least traditional: a Spanish-style Salamanca, where tomato bread is layered with smoky Serrano ham, aged Manchego, aïoli, and a jumble of arugula tossed with sherry vinegar. It’s flavorful and bright, an unexpected treat in an otherwise bland Tysons Corner office-scape. For a more classic torta, try the Guadalajara, stuffed with crispy chicken, chipotle, avocado, Chihuaha cheese, and pickled jalapeños.

Nelson Billington

Crispy squid salad at Rose’s Luxury

Everything I’ve tried at Rose’s Luxury has been delicious, so choosing one dish to highlight is a challenge. Warm biscuits with an usual, yet divine, ash butter began a satisfying meal. Usual suspects such as a pork-and-lychee salad and a tender brisket topped with a pinch of sea salt were devoured. But the best small dish of the evening was a crispy squid salad. The well-seasoned and perfectly fried squid was nestled below a refreshing summer salad of radishes. It paired beautifully with the tartness of the lime juice and sweetness of the avocado. Each plate’s preparation brought back memories of a summer on the sea. The retro neon sign hanging on the wall downstairs with the words “awesome” still rings true at this Barracks Row gem.

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Ann Limpert
Executive Food Editor/Critic

Ann Limpert joined Washingtonian in late 2003. She was previously an editorial assistant at Entertainment Weekly and a cook in New York restaurant kitchens, and she is a graduate of the Institute of Culinary Education. She lives in Logan Circle.

Food Editor

Anna Spiegel covers the dining and drinking scene in her native DC. Prior to joining Washingtonian in 2010, she attended the French Culinary Institute and Columbia University’s MFA program in New York, and held various cooking and writing positions in NYC and in St. John, US Virgin Islands.