DC’s First Full-Service Ukrainian Restaurant Opens in Capitol Hill

The former chef of NYC's Veselka offers a modern take on stroganoff, chicken Kyiv, and more.

Borscht at Ukrainian restaurant Ruta is served with rye bread and salo (pork lard). Photograph by Anna Volynets.

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Ruta, 327 Seventh St., SE.

Chef Dima Martseniuk has earned the nickname “Ambassador of Borscht.” As the former executive chef of New York’s famed Ukrainian restaurant Veselka, he’s cooked his home county’s signature beet soup for countless politicians and celebrities. He’s worked to get it recognized as a dish of Ukrainian—not Russian—origin. He’s even helped Ukrainian borscht secure a special designation “in need of urgent safeguarding” on UNESCO’s cultural heritage list—an effort fast-tracked by Russia’s invasion. Now, he’s giving DC a taste with the opening of the city’s first full-service Ukrainian restaurant, Ruta, near Capitol Hill’s Eastern Market. 

“It’s not an easy dish. It’s like 10, 15 ingredients, and it take like two, three hours to cook,” Martseniuk says. “The borscht has a soul. How much love you put in this dish is going to be your taste.”

His current vegetarian version at the restaurant—based off an older Western Ukrainian recipe—uses dried porcini mushroom for added richness. Diners can choose to add in beef. Down the line, he’s looking to also serve a version with grilled short ribs cooked into the stock. The soup is served with pampushka, a brioche-like garlic bread with dill, or toasted rye with spicy mustard and salo (pork lard). “It’s ten times healthier than bacon,” Martseniuk claims. “My doctor in Ukraine, he recommended to get one ounce every day.”

Potato pancakes with mushroom sauce at Ruta. Photograph by Anna Volynets.

Ukrainian food, of course, is much more than borscht. Martseniuk says he developed 150 recipes in preparation for the restaurant, but he’s launching with about 20 modern takes on traditional classics. The opening menu features chicken Kyiv, beef stroganoff, and holubsti (cabbage stuffed with mushrooms or ground beef and chicken). He’s also known for his potato pancakes—a repeated winner in New York’s Latke Festival—topped here with a mushroom sauce. 

Ruta—named after a flower with mythical status in Ukraine—opened two weeks ago with limited hours and menu, but stay tuned for a grand opening. Over time, Martseniuk hopes to add more global flare with influences from America, France, and Asia. Already, he’s offered a glimpse: Varenyky, pierogi-like dumplings, are stuffed with potato and sauerkraut—but also buffalo chicken. He’s also working on a burger that incorporates Ukrainian kielbasa and a sauce made with pickles, horseradish, and mustard. Eventually, he’ll add brunch, lunch, and even breakfast (think eggs Benedict on potato pancakes or a Ukrainian take on avocado toast).

For drinks, you’ll find a pina colada-like concoction that’s blue and yellow like the Ukrainian flag, along with a drunken sour cherry drink. “I did a lot of events for last year in DC, and this drink is so popular. It’s usually sold out,” Martseniuk says. He’s also preparing a horseradish-infused vodka. 

Martseniuk moved to the US from Ukraine in 2009 to learn English after studying economic international relations and working in a bank. On the side, he worked a kitchen job, sparking a love of restaurants that led him to Veselka, the 69 year-old East Village institution, where he became executive chef for seven years. Initially, Martseniuk planned to open his own restaurant in New York, but plans fell through because of Covid. Then he ended up in DC for a pop-up borscht dinner with members of Congress and ambassadors. 

“I saw the big support from Ukrainian community. I saw the big support from the Ukrainian embassy, support from government. And I checked—there’s really no Ukrainian restaurant in the DMV area,” Martseniuk say. (There is, however, a Ukrainian cafe and bakery in Adams Morgan called D Light.)

Martseniuk moved to DC about a year before the war in Ukraine. His brother and his parents are still there. He’s always been a promoter of his home country and its cuisine, but now that mission is amplified. “The same goals, just a few times stronger,” he says.

UPDATE: The grand opening is no longer slated for May 21. Stay tuned for the exact date.

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.