Food  |  News & Politics

Trump Haters Are Finally Booking Reservations at Sushi Nakazawa

The Trump hotel is gone, and boycotters are ready for their long-awaited omakase splurge

The dining room at Sushi Nakazawa. Photograph by Scott Suchman

Sushi Nakazawa is arguably the best sushi restaurant in DC. Co-founded by a protégé of Jiro Dreams of Sushi’s legendary fish master, the omakase den is the city’s only Japanese spot that currently has a Michelin star.

But for the past four years, even many of Washington’s most hardcore nigiri devotees—the kind who will happily fork over $180 for perfect otoro and uni—refused to go there, simply because it happened to be in the Trump hotel. In June, however, the place became a Waldorf Astoria, and that former haven for the right-wing elite and MAGA red-hatters is no more. After years of boycotting, protesting, and making social calculations about anything remotely affiliated with the ex-President, now some Trump haters are finally giving themselves permission to eat at Sushi Nakazawa.

The restaurant says it hasn’t seen a major post-Trump bump in reservations, but it still seems clear that the way locals think about the place is changing: Ask around and you’ll find plenty of liberal sushi lovers looking to book seats for the first time. “Just walking into something that says ‘Trump International Hotel’ is basically against my religion,” says civil-rights attorney Paula Shapiro, who had sampled pretty much every omakase around town except that one. Even seeing the initial news of the sale wasn’t enough; she wouldn’t step inside until the Trump sign actually came down. Finally, while driving past the building recently, she and a friend noticed the name was gone. They booked a reservation right there in the car.

Neal Katyal, the former acting solicitor general of the United States, was another staunch holdout. He had dined at the restaurant’s original New York location, and “it blew my mind,” says Katyal, who has been following chef Daisuke Nakazawa for a long time. (After all, he notes, they both had cameos in Showtime’s Billions.) Yet that wasn’t enough to get him to the DC outpost’s sushi counter. Until now. “I’m thrilled to be able to walk into his restaurant in my hometown and not feel like I’m supporting anti-American, anti-constitutional institutions,” Katyal says.

Sushi Nakazawa co-owner Alessandro Borgognone tried his best, in the Trump years, to convince Washington’s lefty diners that his restaurant wasn’t political. “I do business with everybody,” he told Washingtonian ahead of the 2018 opening. (He declined to comment for this story.) “When you meet a true businessperson, they get along with everyone because they understand it’s business.” The restaurant even tried to distance itself from its own address, with a separate entrance in the back of the building that can’t be accessed from the lobby.

None of that mattered to many anti-Trumpers—even if avoiding a fancy sushi restaurant isn’t exactly the most biting form of political protest. “It comes from a place of feeling a tiny bit of power, when for a lot of the last four years, politically, I’ve felt pretty powerless,” says Ryne Duffy, a law clerk who plans to make a long-awaited reservation this summer in celebration of his fiancée’s birthday. “The ability to make a choice to avoid certain businesses, it felt like something concrete I could do.”

For Shapiro, the wait was worth it—“absolutely mouthwateringly decadent”—even with a final tab adding up to nearly $500 with premium drink pairings. When the staff asked what she was celebrating, she replied that she was toasting the fact that it’s no longer a Trump hotel. Shapiro says more than one staffer told her they felt the same way.

Meanwhile, the hotel’s other restaurant, BLT Prime—the only DC spot where Trump actually ate out while he was President—is slated to become the fine-dining destination Bazaar by José Andrés. The celebrity chef famously got entangled in a legal feud with the Trumps for pulling a previously slated restaurant from their hotel after the then–presidential candidate insulted Mexican immigrants. It’s hard not to see Andrés’s return as a clap-back at Trump—and an indication that DC has returned to relative normalcy now that the Trumpies have receded. As Katyal puts it, “I feel like equilibrium in the universe is restored.”

Jessica Sidman
Food Editor

Jessica Sidman covers the people and trends behind D.C.’s food and drink scene. Before joining Washingtonian in July 2016, she was Food Editor and Young & Hungry columnist at Washington City Paper. She is a Colorado native and University of Pennsylvania grad.