Food

These Are Washingtonian Readers’ Favorite Restaurants—Even During a Pandemic

Plus: your picks for to-go cocktails, fancy carryout, and more.

Season’s Eating The kitchen bounty at the Dabney, one of our readers’ favorite restaurants. Photo by Scott Suchman

We’ve been doing this survey—a chance to celebrate our readers’ favorite restaurants—for 43 years. This, of course, has been a year like no other. So while we still wanted to know who you think slings the best burger and breakfast, we also had some only-in-2020 questions.

What are the restaurant pivots you’ve most admired? Which outdoor dining setups do you find most alluring? What takeout feasts have been fit for a blowout birthday? And which closed restaurant do you miss the most?

Read on for the winners. Here’s hoping next year’s questions will be different.

Best New Restaurant

Kebabs at Albi. Photograph of Albi by Rey Lopez at Under A Bushel Photography

1. Albi, Navy Yard

Michael Rafidi’s long-awaited Levantine dining room opened just before the pandemic struck. It has managed to re­main excellent, whether for takeout shawarma or dine-in tasting menus.

Anju’s tornado potato. Photo by Scott Suchman

2. Anju, Dupont Circle

This fun—but (still!) impossible-to-get-into—Korean dining room has added fresh perks like brunch, takeout, and bottled sauces.

3. Mercy Me, West End

The Call Your Mother and Timber Pizza crew is be-hind this all-day cafe with pastries, bagel sandwiches, and a cute patio.

Best in DC

1. Le Diplomate, Logan Circle

For the second year in a row, Stephen Starr’s booming brasserie takes the top prize.

Maydan’s grilled carrots. Photo by Scott Suchman

2. Maydan, 14th Street corridor

BYO blanket to the gorgeous carpet-strewn patio outside Rose Previte’s Middle Eastern hot spot.

3. The Dabney, Shaw

Jeremiah Langhorne’s ode to Mid-Atlantic cuisine re­opened for indoor dining in October, with a four-course tasting menu.

Best in Virginia

1. Peking Gourmet Inn, Falls Church

A destination for (you guessed it) Peking duck—42 years and counting.

Dessert gnocchi at Ambar. Photo by Scott Suchman

2. Ambar, Clarendon

This Balkan small-plates spot will soon feature a parking lot that’s been convert-ed into an all-weather dining space.

Inn at Little Washington cheese expert Cameron Smith. Photo by Scott Suchman

3. The Inn at Little Washington, Washington, Virginia

Where extravagant tasting menus meet social-distancing tables of mannequins.

Best in Maryland

Dumplings at Bob’s Shanghai 66. Photo by Scott Suchman

1. Bob’s Shanghai 66, Rockville

The longtime favorite for soup dumplings, noodles, and small plates is doing only takeout for now.

2. Q by Peter Chang, Bethesda

Grandmotherly stews and glorious Peking duck are both draws at the Chang empire’s flagship.

3. Kuya Ja’s Lechon Belly,

Rockville

Javier Fernandez puts a fast-casual spin on lechon, the crispy-skinned hunks of Filipino-style roast pork.

Best Dish

1. Rigatoni with fennel sausage at the Red Hen, Bloomingdale

The Sunday-gravy-like pasta dish—with housemade rigatoni—has been on the menu since day one.

The Salt Line’s lobster roll. Photo by Scott Suchman

2. Lobster roll at the Salt Line, Navy Yard

You can get your lobster dressed with either warm butter or cool mayo.

3. “Bentley” pizza at Timber

Pizza Co., Petworth

A few streaks of spicy honey, plus sweet peppers, set this chorizo-and-soppresatta pie apart.

Best Restaurant Pivot

1. Komi to Happy Gyro, Dupont Circle

Johnny Monis and Anne Marler closed their rowhouse tasting room at the pandemic’s outset and replaced it with a mostly vegetarian joint (which serves the best gyro in town).

Fries at Ghostburger. Photograph of Ghostburger courtesy of restaurant

2. Espita Mezcaleria to Ghostburger, Shaw

The Mexican dining room is still putting out mole and mezcal, but it’s also home to a separate menu of cheffy smashburgers and cheesesteaks.

3. Beuchert’s Saloon to Fight Club, Capitol Hill

While the saloon is in hibernation mode, its chef, Andrew Markert, is getting creative with sandwiches.

Best Outdoor Dining

1. The Salt Line, Navy Yard

There’s plenty of space on the patio and a stunner of a river view.

Outside Le Diplomate. Photograph of Le Diplomate by Evy Mages

2. Le Diplomate, Logan Circle

The French-cafe vibe now extends to rows of “streetery” tables.

3. Barcelona, Logan Circle,

Cathedral Heights, and Reston

The fire-warmed patio at the 14th Street location has been nailing chilly nights for years.

Best for a Special Occasion

1. Le Diplomate, Logan Circle

The beauty of Le Dip is that it’s as suitable for a brunch with kids as it is for a bacchanalian night of seafood towers and Champagne.

2. Maydan, 14th Street corridor

The dramatic dining room is currently off-limits, but the restaurant has put together birthday- and wedding-geared to-go feasts.

Squash tortellini at Sfoglina. . Photo by Scott Suchman

3. Sfoglina, Van Ness and Rosslyn (downtown DC location temporarily closed)

Fabio Trabocchi’s pasta houses offer decadent twirls of housemade noodles—and, in Rosslyn, a stellar rooftop view.

Best Fancy Carryout

Pâté at Rose’s Luxury. Photo by Scott Suchman

1. Rose’s Luxury, Capitol Hill

The restaurant is offering a mix of its menu classics and newer creations—plus free delivery within 30 miles of the Hill.

2. Maydan, 14th Street corridor

Roast chicken, Syrian braised lamb, and clay-oven breads hold up nicely. (Just don’t forget the toum, a terrific garlic sauce).

3. Rasika, Penn Quarter and West End

Few things take out as well as Indian curries—and Vikram Sunderam’s are some of the best in the city.

Best Family-Style Carryout

Takeout at Unconventional Diner. Photograph of Unconventional Diner by Evy Mages

1. Unconventional Diner, Shaw

We can vouch for the deliciousness of the fried chicken with biscuits and gravy, sized for four.

2. Thip Khao, Columbia Heights, and Federalist Pig, Adams Morgan (tie)

Thip Khao boasts herby Laotian salads, tangy soups, and plenty of vegetarian and gluten-free options. Federalist Pig, the tiny barbecue carry-out, will soon have a sibling in Hyattsville.

3. Ambar, Capitol Hill and Clarendon

The generous $49 Balkan meals are centered around char-grilled meats and housemade sausages.

Best Takeout Cocktails

1. Capo Deli, Shaw

Home of the pandemic’s unofficial drink: the Fauci Pouchy.

2. Colada Shop, 14th Street corridor and the Wharf

Rum graces every cocktail at these Cuban-influenced fast-casual spots.

Service Bar’s gin and tonic. Photograph of Service Bar by Jeff Elkins

3. Service Bar, U Street corridor

The menu manages to satisfy a wide range of palates, from bitter-loving to booze-averse.

Best Breakfast

Call Your Mother’s bagels. Photo by Scott Suchman

1. Call Your Mother, Capitol Hill, Georgetown, Park View, and Bethesda

The hit bagel shop/deli in Park View has opened three locations in the last year, including a trolley in Bethesda.

2. Ted’s Bulletin, multiple area locations

Every outlet of this comfort-food place opens at 7 am daily.

3. Bethesda Bagels, Dupont Circle, Navy Yard, Bethesda, and Rosslyn

It’s got the full gamut of bagel and schmear flavors.

Best Weekend Brunch

1. Le Diplomate, Logan Circle

Perfectly poached Benedicts and day-friendly cocktails draw crowds from the 9:30 am get-go.

2. Ambar, Capitol Hill and Clarendon

Volume eater? For $39 you can have as many Balkan-accented plates (and mixed-berry mimosas) as you want.

3. Ted’s Bulletin, multiple area locations

The breakfast/brunch menu—and the sugary pop-tarts— are served all day long.

Best Bakery

1. A Baked Joint, Mount Vernon Triangle

Even the conventional sandwich bread at this bakery/breakfast stop—currently takeout and delivery only—is a standout.

Seylou’s raisin swirl. Photo by Scott Suchman

2. Seylou, Shaw

The breads are made with house-milled flours and whole grains, and baker Jonathan Bethony has added pizza to the menu a few times a week.

3. Firehook Bakery, Old Town and several DC locations

The 28-year-old chainlet offers an all-purpose menu of breads, muffins, layer cakes, cookies, and pies.

Best Restaurant Desserts

1. Le Diplomate, Logan Circle

Close things out here with a classic crème brûlée or chocolate pot de crème.

Pop-tarts at Ted’s Bulletin. Photo by Scott Suchman

2. Ted’s Bulletin, multiple area locations

Equal doses sugar and nostalgia.

3. Convivial, Shaw

The sweets at this French/American bistro are simple but beautifully crafted.

Best Pizza

1. All Purpose, Shaw and Navy Yard

The crisp-bottomed, deck-oven-baked pies are matched with beautiful antipasti.

A pie at Timber Pizza Co. Photograph of Timber Pizza by Jeff Elkins

2. Timber Pizza Co., Petworth

Daniela Moreira takes Neapolitan pizza in her own direction, with accents such as chorizo and smoked paprika.

3. Wiseguy, Chinatown, Navy Yard, Rosslyn, and Pentagon City

Big, boldly flavored New York–style pizzas, sold whole or by the slice.

Best Italian

1. Filomena, Georgetown

The landmark restaurant goes big with both its decor and its portions.

Rigatoni at the Red Hen. Photo by Scott Suchman

2. The Red Hen, Bloomingdale

The rustic-cool dining room is closed for now, but you can still get wine kits, roasts, and pastas delivered to your door.

3. Sfoglina, Van Ness and Rosslyn (downtown DC location temporarily closed)

Fabio Trabocchi’s less formal places—he’s also behind the grander Fiola and Fiola Mare—focus on housemade pastas.

Best Mexican

Tacos at Taqueria Habanero. Photograph of Taqueria Habanero by Evy Mages

1. Taqueria Habanero, Columbia Heights and College Park

Owners Mirna and Dio Montero mind the details of their tacos, sopes, and tortas. (Just beware the house-made habanero salsa.)

2. El Sol, Logan Circle and Vienna

The brother/sister team in the kitchen excels with traditional tacos and huaraches.

3. Taco Bamba, multiple Virginia locations

If the idea of a ramen-inspired taco intrigues you, this is your kind of place.

Japanese

1. Sushi Taro, Dupont Circle

The decades-old dining room shut down during the pandemic, but a takeout operation is thriving.

Vegan ramen at Daikaya. Photo by Scott Suchman

2. Daikaya, Penn Quarter

The well-packaged takeaway versions of their ramen bowls reheat nicely .

3. Raku, Cathedral Heights and Bethesda, and Rakuya, Dupont Circle

Home of creatively stuffed maki and a killer happy hour.

Chinese

Korean/Chinese bowls at Chiko. Photo by Scott Suchman

1. Chiko, Capitol Hill and Dupont Circle

A Bethesda branch of this hit “fine casual” Korean/Chinese spot is coming soon.

2. Tiger Fork, Shaw

Go for the fried rice at this night-market-inspired dining room in Blagden Alley.

3. Peter Chang, Arlington and Rockville

The dishes that made the Hubei-born Chang famous—cilantro-fish rolls, dry-fried eggplant, and balloon-like pancakes—are all here.

Thai

1. Beau Thai, Mount Pleasant and Shaw

When we’re in the mood for pad se eew, we hit one of these twin spots.

2. Baan Siam, Mount Vernon Triangle

The new iteration of Logan Circle’s mega-popular Baan Thai.

Little Serow’s crispy-tofu salad. Photo by Scott Suchman

3. Little Serow, Dupont Circle

The seven-course dinner is now packaged to go, and you can also get such menu stars as the fried chicken à la carte.

Vietnamese

1. Pho Viet, Columbia Heights

The spicy lemongrass broth has a loyal following.

2. Pho 75, multiple Maryland and Virginia locations

Fast, cash-only stops for bowls of “Vietnamese penicillin.”

Spring rolls at Four Sisters. Photograph of Four Sisters restaurant

3. Four Sisters, Falls Church

The kitchen skillfully handles a wide menu of vermicelli bowls, pho, and caramelized pots.

Korean

1. Anju, Dupont Circle

The menu pays homage to centuries-old fermentation techniques.

2. Chiko, Capitol Hill and Dupont Circle

Anju’s sister restaurants serve kimchee-laced stews and dumplings.

3. Kogiya, Annandale

The KBBQ destination now sells family-style meal kits, and you can get takeout meats raw or cooked.

Ethiopian

1. CherCher, Shaw and Bethesda

The lineup has both vegan stews and robust beef stir-fries.

2. Ethiopic, H Street corridor

The pretty dining room now offers cook-at-home tibs and wats.

3. Keren, Adams Morgan

It’s Eritrean, actually, and known for a great breakfast.

Burger

The burger at Duke’s Grocery. Photo by Scott Suchman

1. Duke’s Grocery, Dupont Circle, and Duke’s Counter, Woodley Park

The mega-burger is topped with charred onion, sweet chili sauce, pickles, and Gouda—and also available with an Impossible patty.

2. Lucky Buns, Adams Morgan

Alex McCoy’s pub puts international spins on burgers and fried-chicken sandwiches.

3. Good Stuff Eatery, Capitol Hill, Georgetown, and Crystal City

Skinny patties, big salads, and a justly famous toasted-marshmallow milkshake.

Sandwiches

A Sundevich baguette sandwich. Photo by Scott Suchman

1. Sundevich, Shaw

Kingston, Tehran, and Moscow are just a few of the cities the sandwiches nod to.

2. Grazie Grazie, the Wharf

The founder of Taylor Gourmet is behind this Philly-style hoagie shop.

3. The Italian Store, Arlington

Both locations offer hefty Italian subs and shelves of Italian imports.

Barbecue

1. Federalist Pig, Adams Morgan

Order heavily from chef Rob Sonderman’s specials board.

Barbecue at DCity Smokehouse. Photo by Scott Suchman

2. DCity Smokehouse, Bloomingdale

It’s now run by a catering company, but longtime hits such as the Brisket Champ sandwich remain.

3. Rocklands, Glover Park, Alexandria, and Arlington

John Snedden’s operation is in its 30th year.

Soul Food

A feast at Oohhs & Aahhs. Photograph of Oohhs & Aahhs courtesy of restaurants

1. Oohhs & Aahhs, U Street and Brightwood

Both the U Street original and the roomier Brightwood location serve the same generous portions (and great collards).

2. Henry’s Soul Cafe, Oxon Hill and U Street

Home of the area’s most famous sweet-potato pie.

3. Nu Vegan Cafe, Park View, Howard University, and College Park

Where plant-based ingredients meet comfort food.

Cheap Lunch

1. Falafel Inc., Georgetown, the Wharf, and Tysons

Nothing at this international string of falafel shops tops four bucks.

Greek Deli owner Kostas Fostieris. Photograph of Greek Deli by Evy Mages

2. The Greek Deli, downtown DC

Owner Kostas Fostieris is always behind the counter at this be-loved carryout.

3. Sweetgreen, multiple area locations

The salad chain that was started by three Georgetown grads now has more than 100 locations around the country.

Happy Hour

Cocktails at Chaplin’s. Photograph of Chaplin’s by Peter Stepanek

1. Chaplin’s, Shaw

Cocktail specials abound at this ramen spot.

2. King Street Oyster Bar, NoMa, Leesburg, and Middleburg

The dollar oyster deals continue.

3. Calico, Shaw

This sprawling garden is discounting takeout drinks for virtual happy hours.

Saddest Closure

1. Acqua al 2, Capitol Hill

You now have to fly to the Florentine original to get your filet with blue­berry sauce.

An appetizer at now-closed Momofuku CCDC. Photo by Scott Suchman

2. Momofuku CCDC, downtown DC

Restaurateur—and Northern Virginia native—David Chang pulled the plug on his CityCenterDC location in May.

3. Dolcezza, multiple area locations

The urbane cafes might be gone, but you can still find their seasonal gelato flavors at local grocery stores.

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