Haneeth at Saba
Taha Alhoraivi longed desperately for two dishes when he arrived in America on a student visa 15 years ago to attend Long Island University. One was haneeth (lamb over spiced rice), the other fahsa (a slow-cooked beef stew).
The fact that he didn’t know how to cook—the kitchen was solely the province of women—and was forced to subsist on bread, eggs, and cheese only exacerbated his ache for home. Eventually he prevailed upon his mother and sisters to teach him, initiating a long and tortuous process of research and experimentation at the stove.
Three months ago, Alhoraivi—armed with a master’s in business administration and years of experience as a regional manager at Pizza Boli’s—opened the superlative Saba, in Fairfax. Haneeth and fahsa are both on the menu, and in having to single out one dish for this column, I debated for days which one to choose; they’re equally wonderful. I decided to go with the haneeth, primarily because of its rice.
Haneeth is a dish of slow-cooked lamb and rice, and the putative star, hacked into four good-sized pieces, is everything you want it to be: The meat comes away easily from the bone, it’s rich and juicy, and most of the excess fat has been melted away in the braising. The rice, however, is even better. Each grain is distinct, fluffy, not the least bit oily, and so flavored by the juices of the meat that you think you’re eating something much more substantial than you are.
I’ve had the great privilege to eat some exceptional dishes this year, across a wide range of cuisines, cities, and even countries. But this was one of the most memorable and most rewarding.
Hot Mess at Frankly Pizza
There’s a lot to love at Frank Linn’s Kensington pizzeria: the twinkly patio stacked with chopped wood, the chilled rosé on tap, the simple but lovely salads—and happily, most of all, the pizza. Linn got plenty of practice toting his mobile pizza oven around to Maryland farmers markets over the last few years, and his pies are terrific. They’re Neapolitan-ish—cooked in a 700-degree wood oven—but not as delicate (or sopping wet) as their Italian-style counterparts can be.
The crust has great char and chew. I could eat it without any accoutrements at all. It holds up well to a thick smear of zesty tomato sauce with coins of pepperoni and a healthy handful of mozzarella. The true standout, though, is the Hot Mess, a sauceless round layered with intensely smoky bacon (you’ll see it curing behind the bar), pickled jalapeños that still offer plenty of heat, super-sweet caramelized onions, and a gooey mix of Gruyère, mozz’, and romano that serves to mellow the other ingredients.
I don’t live anywhere near Kensington, and there’s plenty of good pizza in DC, but a 45-minute car ride is a price I’d easily pay for that pie.
Chilito at Meats & Foods
Most restaurant owners would cringe at comparisons between their food and items at a mass chain, but not so at Meats & Foods.
“I don’t know if you ate at Taco Bell in the ’90s, but it’s basically their chili-cheese burrito,” said co-owner Ana Marin enthusiastically when asked about the “chilito” on the menu, which even shares a name with the Bell’s discontinued dish.
Analogies to TB end there. Marin and husband Scott McIntosh run the newish Florida Avenue corner shop, the first retail location of their sausage company, 13th Street Meats. Brats, chorizo, and their ilk are made with locally sourced pork, beef, and chicken. Even the look of the place is about as non-mass-produced as possible, with a concise menu and handful of stools for perching with a tasty griddled sausage tucked into a potato bun.
One of the few food options outside meaty links is the chilito, and the small snack alone makes me crave more visits. A warm, house-made flour tortilla is filled with spiced beef chili and gooey-in-the-best-way cheese. The molten wrap is well-proportioned and easy for a bite on the go, but probably best taken down on premises with a few dashes of Crystal hot sauce and a cold DC Brau.