Chef Tom Cunanan has parted ways with Bad Saint, the nationally acclaimed Filipino restaurant he helped open nearly five years ago. Under his culinary direction, the tiny Columbia Heights hotspot was named Bon Appetit’s No. 2 best new restaurant in America in 2016, but more importantly, helped bring Filipino cuisine into the mainstream. In 2019, Cunanan won a James Beard Award for best chef in the Mid-Atlantic.
“I think it’s just the perfect time. It’s been five years. We innovated and did so much already,” Cunanan says. “Working at a small restaurant, you start to become overambitious—you’d do more if you could. I’ve always made plans of what I wanted my next restaurant to be.”
To that end, Cunanan says he’s taking a break before trying to open his own place, a Filipino-French diner in DC. He envisions an all-day spot like Au Cheval, a diner-style bar in Chicago, but with Filipino breakfast and housemade sausages by day and street food-style chicken and hearth-cooked plates come evening.
Meanwhile, sous chefs Hannah Anderson and Andres Gutierrez have taken over the kitchen at Bad Saint under the guidance of co-owner Genevieve Villamora.
“They both have a strong grounding in what the restaurant’s about,” Villamora says. “And they both themselves are incredibly talented, hardworking, and very ambitious, so I feel like the back-of-house is in really good hands.”
Cunanan will act as an interim “creative consultant,” meaning he’s happy to hand over old recipes or help brainstorm new ones. “This is my first-born baby, I can’t just leave them high and dry,” he says.
The 24-seat restaurant, known for attracting lines hours before opening, closed for a few months from the beginning of the pandemic. Cunanan says he stopped taking a paycheck in late March, so more money could go to his staff. The restaurant reopened mid-June with a limited menu overseen by Anderson and Gutierrez. It’s since expanded its offerings to include dinners, Filipino pantry staples, farm boxes, wine packs, and more.
“We feel really grateful that we had such a successful time together and that we were really able to make our mark on the restaurant scene in town, but also in terms of really pushing people’s ideas of what they thought Filipino food was,” Villamora says. “It’s a very positive mutual separation, and we’re really excited for whatever endeavors he decides to devote his energy to from here.”
This story has been updated with comment from Cunanan and Villamora.