DC's 11 most important new restaurants from Spring

Best May Openings DC
Washington DC

DC's 11 most important new restaurants from Spring
DC's 11 most important new restaurants from Spring

All Photos: Laura Hayes
All Photos: Laura Hayes

The global street food explosion (metaphorical explosion... calm down) dominated the restaurant openings this Spring, but that doesn't mean there weren't still plenty of mac and cheese sandwiches, fried baked potatoes, dive bars, and a whole lot of burgers to boot. Here are 11 places you’ve been missing out on -- get ready to fix that.

Compass Rose (info and address)
14th Street
Ever listen to David Greene on NPR’s Morning Edition? Well, he has a side job helping his wife run a so-cool-it’s-hot restaurant. Rose Previte and David have put together a menu of street food from their world travels, like the buzzed-about khachapuri -- a Georgian dish resembling a cheese, butter, and egg calzone. It’s more addictive than Double-Stuffed Oreos. Also spring for the deep-fried baked potato. Chef John Paul Damato is the one making magic in the kitchen, and the cozy brick setting resembles another florally named hotspot that rhymes with Moses Buxury.

Sona Creamery & Wine Bar (info and address)
Eastern Market
This new eatery doubles as DC’s first restaurant with an onsite creamery. They even have cheese caves for aging. Most importantly though, Sona’s the place to get Bruno’s Big Kid -- a grilled cheese sandwich stuffed with mac and cheese. They always have homemade bacon jam on hand, so get it on EVERYTHING. If you’re a wino, cash in on $6 glasses of wine available during happy hour from 4-8pm Mon-Friday.

STK (info and address)
Dupont Circle
Sure, they took a lot of flak for having hot girls pressing on temporary tattoos at their overstuffed opening shindig, but they’re open for business and everyone deserves a second chance. Perhaps the best way to do STK is to pull up a bar stool and make jokes about being really horny, given the bar décor. Order the Not Your Daddy’s Manhattan, a $12 treat made with Bulleit Bourbon, Zinfandel Port, and sweet and dry vermouth.

Soi 38 (info and address)
West End
There’s Americanized Thai food, and then there’s authentic THAI food with a twist. You’ll find the latter at Soi 38 -- a sleek spot serving the street food you’d find at a Bangkok night market… and fried chicken. Slide into a gold velvet booth under impressive wall art and start with slow-roasted duck rolled up in fried roti, or skewers of pork belly marinated in coconut milk. Some dishes pack five-alarm fire heat -- fortunately, cocktails from JP Caceres will help.

Lyman’s Tavern (info and address)
Columbia Heights
Because Columbia Heights needed a little slice of Montana, Lyman’s Tavern has arrived. The ranch-inspired bar may be the best Laundromat makeover the city has ever seen. Scratch that -- forgot about Le Dip. Nevertheless, it’s truly a passion project for Kevin Perone, one of the owners. One wall is lined with knickknacks he stored in Montana for 10 years while the other features old cameras, most of which he’s shot on -- including Super 8s! Stop in to play some pinball and order a shot of rye, because that’s what Kevin wants to pour you.

G Street Food (info and address)
McPherson Square
GSF is the Epcot of 15th St and the Singapore of DC. That’s because you can try cuisine from most corners of the universe, like German schnitzel, British bangers, Cambodian rice noodles, and Middle Eastern falafel. They call it global street food, but show us a street that serves this Singapore Chili Crab and we’ll move there. This is the first full-service concept from the G Street team, and full service = booze. Wash down some charred duck wings with some of the cheapest (non-dive bar) beer in town. Bonus: they do brunch!

TKO Burger (info and address)
Rhode Island Row
Allow us to remind you that burgers and boxing pack a one-two punch. Lance London’s TKO Burger serves up stacked burgers including one stuffed with mac and cheese and another topped with Southern goodness like a fried green tomato. Be sure to check out the boxing wall-of-fame as you wait to place your order. P.S. That order will get called out over an old-school boxing ring mic.

Dino’s Grotto (info and address)
Dino’s is back! The reimagined version of the shuttered Cleveland Park restaurant is a lot more fun. They’ve stepped up their drink program with an ever-changing and somewhat foul-mouthed cocktail menu (Swiss Strap-on anyone?) and more bar snacks. But, you can still get your favorites from Chef Dean Gold like his Free Form Lasagnette, which is loaded with bacon or his Trotter Tots, which are essentially pork and smoked mozzarella croquettes.

Handsome Cock (info and address)
U Street
The owners are STILL in a long, hard (sorry, had to!) battle to earn the right to have an exterior sign displaying their name, as their landlord wasn’t too happy with "Handsome Cock". What’s going on inside is innocent enough though -- just cheap beer and people playing board games while drinking whiskey. Or, combining them for a $6 shot-and-a-beer combo. Then there’s the highly Instagrammable mug shot wall. HC is another no-frills dive from the folks behind The Fairy Codmother located downstairs, and they serve a bit of bar food.

Toro Toro (info and address)
McPherson Square
See how long you can last with your "green means go" flip card face up at Richard Sandoval’s new Brazilian-style steakhouse. Men in black (but not Will Smith) will bring skewer after skewer of grilled meat to your table as a part of the full on "Rodizio Experience". Sure, it costs $79 dollars, but you also get to pick some small plates and sides. Get buzzed off some barrel-aged cocktails and a whole lot of pisco while you’re there, especially if you’re downstairs, where things get clubby.

City Burger (info and address)
Bethesda, MD
Mooooove over -- there’s a new beef slinger in town, and they’re bringing the Aloha spirit to Maryland. Pair a Pali Highway burger topped with caramelized pineapple, ham, spicy pickles, and chile mayo with a Lanai Pineapple shake. Or, if you’re hungry enough for the big leagues, get the City Stacked Bus topped with a rectangular block of fried cheese and pretty much everything else in the kitchen. You can trust these folks with your burger order because you know them from Food, Wine & Co. and Fish Taco.

Important note, don’t forget about those four new whiskey bars we just told you about.

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1. Compass Rose 1346 T St NW, Washington, DC 20009 (Logan Circle)

International flavors complement street fare that makes up the menu of this 65-seat eatery: from Georgia by way of a khachapuri (rich cheese bread) to America by way of mini-sausage corn dogs. This U St neighborhood tavern feels friendly and familiar but the menu is undeniably global. The cocktail program deserves a nod too for being creative but not overly confusing.

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2. Sona Creamery & Wine Bar 660 Pennsylvania Ave SE, Washington, DC 20003 (Capitol Hill)

This bistro that prides itself on its cheese selection and the decadent mac and cheese that you can either enjoy as a side or stuffed into the Bruno's Big Kid sandwich. If you go the side route, opt for the Sona burger as your main and thank us after you've bitten into a creation with caramelized onions, Scharfe Maxx, aioli, and bibb lettuce. We'll wait.

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3. STK DC 1250 Connecticut Ave NW, Washington, DC 20036 (Dupont Circle)

Expect a velvet rope experience when you step to this steakhouse that's replete with white leather lounges, DJ, and moody club lighting. Possibly seated by the glassed fireplace, you'll enjoy the steaks and even drinks like the Sterling Silver (Patron, St. Germain, fresh lime) or Green Intensity (Belvedere Vodka, fresh lime, and jalepeños), and try experimenting with sides like the Shrimp Rice Krispies or Parmesan Truffle Fries.

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4. Soi 38 2101 L St NW, Washington, DC 20037 (West End)

If you're wanting real, authentic Thai food, this is the place to be -- chowing down under a mural of creatures created by Baltimore street artist Gaia. The sweetness of Thai-American cuisine is spared here to give you the powerful Thai found on Bangkok's Sukhumvit Soi 38 avenue in dishes like kor moo yang (grilled pork neck in lime and chili sauce) and tom yum kradook moo (spicy lemongrass soup with bone-in spare ribs and chili).

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5. Lyman's Tavern 3720 14th St NW, Washington, DC 20010 (Columbia Heights)

Sliders, dogs, and tacos are the main staples at this Columbia Heights dive bar. Here you will find pinball machines, PBR on draught, local beers like DC Brau, National Bohemian, and Atlas Brew Works, and a good number of domestic bottles. If it gives you any idea of what the atmosphere is like, the casual bar features stuffed jackalope heads, cross-stitched signage, and retro decorations. Now with the addition of an outdoor patio space, hot dogs aren't the only dogs welcome at Lyman's ... in other words, bring your pooch.

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6. G Street Food 1030 15th St NW, Washington, DC 20005

If you've been a fan of their Montreal-style bagels and banh mis, you'll be happy to know G Street's McPherson Square location does dinner as well. The dinner menu features rabbit stew and Singapore Chili Crab, keeping up with the international injections of the other location's menus.

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7. TKO Burger 2350 Washington Pl NE, Washington, DC 20018

Brought to you by the man behind Carolina Kitchen, TKO Burger is filled with boxing memorabilia and tasty options like the Mac 'N Cheese Burger (featuring Carolina Kitchen's amazing mac), a soft shell crab burger, and the sweet potato tot-paired BBQ cheddar hot dogs.

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8. Dino's Grotto 1914 9th St NW, Washington, DC 20001 (Shaw)

Dino's Grotto is the kind of cozy Italian restaurant that breeds regulars. Its first location in Cleveland Park ran for nine years before closing in 2014. Shortly thereafter, the owners reopened Dino's 2.0 in Shaw. The menu is full of original crowd favorites like wild boar papparadelle, duck bolognese lasagna, and lump crab fettuccine. Though there are protein-based mains like duck breast and Tuscan pan-fried chicken, pasta is definitely Dino's speciality, so if you aren't avoiding carbs, the pasta-centric prix fixe dinner should be on your radar.

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9. Handsome Cock 1334 U St. NW, Washington, DC 20009 (U Street)

Besides having a name that caused a spat with the building's landlord (which is why you won't find the full name of this bar outside on any signage), this bar is a sweet, welcoming dive. Boardgames like Taboo, Monopoly, and Yahtzee help pass the time while you down cheap cans of PBR. Don't expect fancy cocktails, because you won't find them.

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10. Toro Toro 1300 I St NW, Washington, DC 20005 (Penn Quarter)

Take a culinary tour around Latin America at this steakhouse, where the sea bass is Chilean and the ribeye comes carved table side like they do in most Brazilian joints. A big fireplace and plush seating mean that it might take you a while to get up once you've settled in and loosened your buckle. Start your meal with crisp plantain chips dipped in smoked swordfish dip.

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11. City Burger 7015 Wisconsin Ave, Bethesda, MD 20815 (Bethesda)

The owners of Food Wine & Co. and Fish Taco have now set their hands on a classic: the hamburger. In this 15-seater they hand churn their own custard, and serve up patties with pineapple and ham (Hawaiian), or cheddar, pepper relish, onion, smoked bacon and BBQ sauce (Pit Stop). Make sure to grab the Rooftop Fries sprinkled with sea salt and rosemary.