A Food Festival Previewing DC’s Hottest Restaurants Is Back This Spring

Here are seven exciting ventures popping up at New Kitchens on the Block in April.

Cranes chef Pepe Moncayo at NKOTB. Photo courtesy of New Kitchens On The Block by Albert Ting

Since its inception in 2016, New Kitchens on the Block has helped launch some of the biggest names in the DC dining scene. The annual food festival held at Edgewood culinary incubator Mess Hall has previewed over 60 forthcoming restaurant concepts, giving attendees a first taste of Michelin-starred dining rooms like Maydan and Jônt; popular fast-casuals (Call Your Mother, Rasa); and beloved haunts like Unconventional Diner and the Salt Line—and that’s just to name a few. 

Now, after a two year pandemic hiatus, NKOTB is roaring back like the ‘90s on Saturday, April 30. Founders Al Goldberg—the mind behind Mess Hall—and local food writer Nevin Martell call it “the ultimate pop-up.” 

“What can you give people that’s new? People want what they can’t have, and they can’t have access to a restaurant that’s not open yet,” Martell says. 

(Left) Centrolina and Piccolina chef Amy Brandwein and Angie Duran with Philotimo’s Nick Stefanelli. Photo courtesy of NKOTB by Albert Ting

Over the years, the organizers and participants have gone to wild lengths to recreate real restaurant experiences. Goldberg sourced a wood-burning oven for chef Amy Brandwein’s Piccolina preview; temporarily installed a mega-burner to power chef Katsuya Fukushima’s woks for Hatoba; and provided a giant paella pan for Pepe Moncayo of Cranes. Meanwhile this isn’t a sample-on-a-stick affair for the chefs—take Alex McCoy, who dished up full-size Lucky Buns burgers one year. 

“One of the most important things about the event is to allow restaurants to come through in their true authenticity,” Goldberg says. “It’s something we’re unwavering on. We want the chefs to tell their own stories through food and conversation.”

Tickets, which just went live, start at $85 for general admission and go up to $150 for early-access VIP plus a giant swag bag (note: proof of vaccination is required). All tickets include cocktails, beer, and food from seven new restaurant and bar ventures. Here’s who will be popping up on April 30—and who you should keep tabs on to launch exciting culinary projects soon. 

Shababi chicken from Marcelle Afram’s pandemic pop-up. Photograph by Farrah Skeiky

Shababi Diner

Ex-Maydan chef Marcelle Afram created smash hit Palestinian chicken pop-up Shababi in Alexandria during the pandemic—but that was just the beginning. They’re now securing space in DC for a Palestinian-American diner. Afram will pay tribute to both their American upbringing—their family owned a diner in Laurel—and Palestinian heritage with dishes like knafeh waffles, kofta, and that now-famous chicken.

Hill East Burger 

Longtime friends and Mess Hall alums Joe Neuman (Sloppy Mama’s Barbecue) and Chris Svetlik (Republic Cantina) are hopping on the smoked burger trend that’s currently all the rage with Texas pitmasters. The duo have teamed up for a burger bar on Capitol Hill in the former Wisdom space (1432 Pennsylvania Ave. SE). There and at NKOTB, you might find hearty patties like a smoked burger with poblano relish, smoked cheddar, and tallow mayonnaise. To drink: southern-leaning  cocktails like a Smoked Chilton—a relative of the rickey with smoked preserved lemons. 

Cenzo’s meatless meatball subs. Photograph courtesy of Cenzo’s

Cenzo’s Upper Westside

The New York-style Italian deli gets a plant-based makeover from the vegan masterminds behind Bubbie’s Plant Burgers and Pow Pow. Cenzo’s will take over the current Bubbie’s space in Dupont Circle (1829 M St., NW), when it moves to Adams Morgan. Chef Margaux Ricco, who recently launched vegan cheese company Vertage Foods with ex-Chipotle execs, plans to deliver the full deli experience. Yes, down to a case filled with mozzarella, pastrami, and pancetta—all plant-based and homemade—ready to slice by the pound. Also on tap: fresh pastas, sauces, pizza, and sandwiches like a meatless meatball sub (which you may find at NKOTB).

DC Vegan Botanical Bar

Add “vegan bar” to the list of new-wave, plant-based ventures opening soon. Starting May 1, DC Vegan owner Michael Jantz Moon is expanding his Dupont Circle “vegetable-forward” Italian-American restaurant (1633 P St., NW) with a deli upstairs and a new “botanical bar” down below. Drinkers will find housemade limoncello and herb-infused drinks in a plant-filled space. You’ll be able to sip versions at NKOTB, along with bites like calamari-esque crispy trumpet mushrooms. 

ToriSumi skewers. Photograph by Michelle Goldchain

ToriSumi Yakitori 

Chef Blake King worked in some of DC’s top kitchens before turning his talents to yakitori—and then trained for years under masters in Japan, learning the art (and language) surrounding charcoal-grilled chicken skewers. Eventually, he dreams of opening a neighborhood izakaya; in the meantime you’ll find his grills firing at pop-ups around town—Instagram is a good way to track—and succulent skewers in yakitori bentos at Hana Market on U Street. Look for treats like tsukune (homemade chicken meatballs) and negima (thigh and scallion) along with beers at the event. 

Your Only Friend

If you jumped on the pandemic sandwich craze, chances are you hit up Your Only Friend’s lengthy pop-up out of Blagden Alley’s Columbia Room (now closed). Creatives Paul Taylor and Sherra Kurtz are making a new Shaw home for their whimsical sandwich bar. The vibe will be similar to the OG: fun takes on fast food icons (love that McRib), riffs on ’80s and ’90s treats (Thanksgiving sandwiches, fancy Long Island iced teas) and crazy drinks that, according to Taylor, “feel wrong but it also feel so right” (i.e. a dill milk punch that’s like “drinkable tzatziki”). For NKOTB, they’re playing with a fun pierogi dish, among other things. 

Chef Omar Hegazi of Tawle. Photograph courtesy of Tawle


Rose Previte and the team behind Maydan and Compass Rose is expanding to the suburbs with a casual, eclectic Middle Eastern eatery. The first, helmed by Egyptian-American chef Omar Hegazi, will open in the Mosaic District this summer (911 District Ave., Fairfax). Its focus: kebabs, plus options for dine in, grab-and-go, and delivery.

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.