We’ve already established that DC’s food scene had a rockin’ year. New restaurants opened weekly, and the dish of the moment changed more frequently than Jennifer Lawrence’s hair. DC gained so many stellar spots this year that choosing our favorite new restaurants was more difficult than choosing a favorite player at the Puppy Bowl. But, we soldiered on and managed to select 15 spots that emerged as extra-shiny diamonds in a big pile of diamonds. Here are DC’s Best New Restaurants of 2016.
All-Purpose clinched the No. 1 spot in the Washington Post’s 2016 Fall Dining Guide, and for good reason. From the masterminds who brought you The Red Hen and Boundary Stone, this neighborhood Italian-American joint is thoroughly satisfying across categories. The pizzas are the perfect combination of sweet, savory, chewy, and crispy, but the Jersey-style baked eggplant Parm and the tuna mousse with salsa verde should not be overlooked. The lunch menu is a sleeper, with a simple-sounding Cape May pizza topped with Caesar salad that’s so crave-worthy it’ll make you wonder why salads aren’t always served on top of pizzas.
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Bad Saint opened quietly and since then, it’s been anything but quiet. The tiny, no-reservations restaurant quickly became a local darling, with daily lines stretching down the block. It also won over the national and international food authorities, earning a Michelin Bib Gourmand award, a spot on Bon Appétit’s Hot 10 list, and a rave review from The New York Times. If you’re trying to snag a table, you’d best show up at least two hours before opening, or try your luck and check for last-minute vacancies around closing time. The hassle will be well worth it once you sink your teeth into traditional Filipino dishes like kinilaw, tapa with a runny egg, and ukoy.
Powerhouse restaurateur Ashok Bajaj granted a longtime wish of many Washingtonians this year: He opened a casual counterpart to Rasika. Bindaas moved into the former Bardeo space in Cleveland Park, where it offers a vast menu of vibrant Indian street food. You know it’s good because people who are deeply familiar with these dishes have been singing Bindaas’ praises. Even if you already have a pretty good grasp of Indian cuisine, chances are good that the menu here has something you’ve never tried, whether it’s avocado golgappa, goan pork pao, or shrimp uttapam.
DC gained three new Italian concepts from Chef Michael Schlow in 2016, tipping the balance of his restaurant empire to lean heavily in favor of the District. His coastal joint, Casolare, helped fill the dining void in Glover Park, slinging fresh and simple seafood like shrimp dressed with lemon, chilis, and breadcrumbs; mussels, clams, and calamari in a tomato broth; and swordfish on a pile of eggplant caponata. Beyond seafood, Mama Zecca’s eggplant is an absolute must try (it’s named after an actual Mama Zecca). Fried and pressed layers of eggplant are flanked with cheese, topped with tomato sauce, and baked to perfection.
Convivial is the brainchild of the lauded Chef Cedric Maupillier, whose cooking pays homage to the rich history of French cuisine while delighting diners with approachable and joyous dishes. The menu is categorized by temperature and protein, with both hot and cold fish, vegetables, and meat. Highlights include the zucchini roulade, the rainbow trout, and escargots in a blanket. The size of the majority of the plates is somewhere between small plates and entrées, so a meal can be enjoyed as a multi-course experience for one, or as a sharing bonanza. The cocktails lean classic, but are undeniably well-executed. The wine list, expectedly, has a healthy offering of French bottles, plus more from around the US.
Mezcal had a major moment in DC this year thanks to the talented team behind Espita Mezcaleria. The restaurant and bar puts the smoky, under-appreciated spirit in the spotlight, along with cuisine from Oaxaca and Southern Mexico. Certified Master Mezcalier Josh Phillips is the (very brainy) brains behind the operation. Megan Barnes, one of Thrillist DC’s bartenders of the year, masterfully carries out the task of interpreting a vast range of mezcals for beginners and experts alike. Chef Alexis Samayoa helms a culinary program built around a corn grinder that churns out fresh masa from heirloom corn imported from Mexico. That masa -- about 80lbs of it per day -- goes into flavorful tortillas, chips, sopes, and tlayudas that are complemented by deep moles and much more.
The dynamite team behind Daikaya was busy this year with the opening of not one, but two ramen shops. The first, Bantam King, was all about the chicken, featuring Chintan broth and fried chicken platters. The second, Haikan, has a focus on the bowls of noodles the team is known for, but they also branched out with excellent appetizers and intriguing cocktails. People went nuts over the mapo tofu poutine, which is exactly what it sounds like: spicy mapo tofu, ground chicken, and mozzarella curds piled on crispy french fries. On the drinks menu, the playful Wasabi Peas cocktail (gin, yuzu, snow peas, and wasabi) and the flashy Smoke Show (completed with a flaming piece of cedar) were hits.
Neighborhood Restaurant Group jumped on the Shaw bandwagon with the addition of Hazel from Chef Rob Rubba. The place has a downright impressive beer and wine selection, which features impossible-to-find brews, as well as pét-nat and orange wines. The mouthwatering list of small plates is full of tough decisions. Favorites include grandma’s zucchini bread with foie gras mousse, the hibiscus-cured fluke crudo, and the steak tartare with tater tots, which is best enjoyed after mashing it together with a wooden spoon (as per Chef Rubba’s recommendation). Fire Panda, the house-made hot sauce served in adorable bear-shaped squeeze bottles, is steadily building a cult following.
Mt. Vernon Square
After CityZen closed, Chef Eric Ziebold launched two new fine-dining gems. Kinship may be the slightly less upscale sibling, but it doesn’t leave much to be desired. The a la carte menu is organized by three categories: craft, which celebrates a culinary technique; history, which recreates classic dishes or foods that Ziebold discovered while traveling; and ingredients, which highlights unique products. There’s also a list of indulgences, or luxury items, like Ossetra caviar and white truffle risotto. Be sure to make a reservation, because Kinship is now benefitting from the Michelin bump after earning its first star.
Fearless husband and wife team Tim and Joey Ma opened their first restaurant in the District this year, and it showcases everything we love about Chef Tim Ma’s signature style of blending Asian flavors with classic French techniques. The homey Kyirisan is a family endeavor through and through -- even the name is a combination of Chinese words that represent the Ma’s three children. While the vibe is familiar, the menu is innovative, pushing boundaries with dishes like the savory black truffle congee with natto, egg yolk, and duck confit; and the sweet chocolate mousse cake with veal marrow rocky road ice cream, marrow tuille, and cherry bourbon jam. The addictive créme fraîche wings are a crowd favorite. Kyirisan recently earned a Michelin Bib Gourmand award, so the good news is you can actually afford to eat here.
With a name that nods to hospitality (the pineapple) and elegance (the pearls), it’s no wonder rockstar Chef Aaron Silverman’s luxurious new endeavor was a smash hit. You don’t even have to wait in line, like at Silverman’s eldest child, Rose’s Luxury. The elaborate, wonder-filled tasting menu wowed Michelin -- they awarded Pineapple & Pearls a cool two stars. Of course, it comes at a price. It’s $250 up front for 13 courses, inclusive of beverages, food, tax, and tip. In case you don’t have a stack of cash lying around for dining expenditures, try the casual coffee bar that serves sandwiches, pastries, and espresso drinks during the day.
Chef Marjorie Meek-Bradley (of Top Chef fame) opened a new sandwich shop in Shaw, and she just left her posts at Ripple and Roofers Union to focus solely on it. The legit house-cured pastrami is the real MVP, but there are also smoked chicken and veggie sandwiches, as well as a brisket platter. Diners can opt for a signature sandwich or go wild and build their own with a choice of filling (pastrami, smoked chicken, or smoked portobello), vessel (milk bread, rye, gluten-free, or a bed of greens), toppings (coleslaw, sauerkraut, Comté, or avocado), and sauces (spicy dijon, mustard, mayo, or Thousand Island). Word to the wise about the brisket: There’s a limited supply each day, so make sure to get there while the getting’s good.
The newly Michelin-starred restaurant from Komi and Little Serow alums has been turning heads since it opened, and it was one of 50 nominees for Bon Appétit’s best new restaurants list. The quirky name is a nod to co-owner Jill Tyler’s childhood home, the US Virgin Islands, where locals distinguish between goats and sheep based on the position of their tails. (Tail up goat; tail down sheep.) The menu devotes an entire course to creative bread preparations, but the showstoppers are found in the pasta and entree courses: leaning layers of goat, kale, anchovy, and noodles are topped with salsa verde in the goat lasagna; and delightfully messy and tender lamb ribs are made for two.
A champion of Mid-Atlantic cuisine, Chef Jeremiah Langhorne opened The Dabney with a mission to define the region’s culinary identity. He’s doing that by focusing on hardcore hyper-locality in the kitchen. For all the extreme measures he goes to, there’s no sacrificing flavor just because you won’t find imported olives or Alaskan king crab on the menu. His dishes sing the praises of seasonal ingredients that can be grown or foraged in the area. Most of the food prepared in the now-Michelin-starred kitchen comes out of the massive wood-burning hearth, which is quite a presence in the dining room.
The menu at Whaley’s reads like a love letter to the water, which makes sense since this oyster bar has a front row seat on the Anacostia River waterfront. Aquatic offerings rotate based on what’s available, but expect to find raw treasures like little neck clams, Chesapeake Bay oysters, and day boat scallops, as well as small, medium, and large seafood towers that beg to be Instagrammed. As an added bonus, the River Keeper oyster from Rappahannock River Oysters is sold exclusively at Whaley’s, and a portion of the proceeds go to restoring the Anacostia. The restaurant also turns all their shells over to the Oyster Recovery Partnership to be used for breeding new oysters.
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1. All Purpose1250 9th St NW, Washington
2. Bad Saint3226 11th St NW, Washington
3. Bindaas3309 Connecticut Ave NW, Washington
4. Casolare Ristorante & Bar2505 Wisconsin Ave, NW, Washington
5. Convivial801 O St NW, Washington
6. Espita Mezcaleria1250 9th St NW, Washington
7. Haikan815 V St NW, Washington
8. Hazel808 V Street NW, Washington
9. Kinship1015 7th St NW, Washington
10. Kyirisan1924 8th St NW, Washington
11. Pineapple and Pearls715 8th St SE, Washington
12. Smoked & Stacked1239 9th St NW, Washington
13. The Dabney122 Blagden Alley, Washington
14. Whaley's301 Water St SE Suite 115, Washington
15. Tail Up Goat1827 Adams Mill Rd NW, Washington
All-Purpose brings together some pedigreed partners: the teams behind the dynamite Red Hen and neighborhood bar Boundary Stone. Together, they’ve created an Italian-American, red sauce-inspired joint, serving everything from eggplant parm and antipastis to house-made charcuterie. And don’t miss the pizzas: the dough goes through a three-day fermentation process that yields a naturally rich flavor and a crispy crust.
This tiny 24-seat Filipino restaurant made waves in the restaurant world when it opened in 2016, earning a Michelin Bib Gourmand award, a spot on Bon Appétit’s Hot 10 list, and a rave review from The New York Times. Bad Saint's family-style dishes are hard to describe: they're traditional but different from all other Filipino food that classifies as traditional. The menu -- split between vegetables, fish, and meat -- changes often, but expect to find ukoy shrimp fritters, ceviche-like kinilaw, and air-dried cured beef with a runny farm egg. Getting a table at the no-reservations spot is historically not easy (on peak nights, you have to stand in line for more than an hour) but the experience is worth it.
The decor at Cleveland Park's Bindaas, a chic and colorful space with light pouring in and modern art on its walls, matches the equally vibrant menu of surprisingly light Indian street food. James Beard Award-winning Chef Vikram Sundaram focuses on Indian delicacies that are relatively hard to come by in the samosa-heavy landscape of American Indian restaurants. You'll find sandwiches like the soft-griddled Goan pork sausage pao, uttapam rice pancakes, and savory chaat snacks like puffed rice with raw mango and masala popcorn on the menu. Indulge in a refreshing craft cocktail while you're here, like the Silk Road, reminiscent of a whiskey sour and sweetened with mango.
Helmed by award-winning restaurateur Michael Schlow (Conosci, Alta Strada), Casolare serves a seafood-centric menu of time-honored Italian fare like grilled octopus, house-made pasta with clams, and branzino with roasted tomatoes, olives, and capers. The menu has Schlow's signature touch of elegant simplicity, with dishes that simultaneously comfort and impress. Beyond seafood, the baked eggplant appetizer, featuring layers of fried eggplant, cheese, and tomato sauce, is a must-try.
Chef Cedric Maupillier has taken his native French cuisine to the next level at this upscale Shaw restaurant. The menu is an exposé of crave-worthy but affordable plates like escargot pigs-in-a-blanket and ravioli stuffed with seasonal veggie purées. As far as cocktails go, expect to sip on minimalist drinks and European wines.
Decked out with street art on nearly every wall, Espita Mezcaleria is a serving up Southern Mexican fare and more than 85 mezcals with a hint of hipster flare in Shaw. Alongside excellent cocktails, the menu features everything from tacos and ceviches to seven different kinds of mole (go for the beef short rib option). There are a few shareable plates, too, like seared octopus with salsa, smoked barley, fried pabalo, and roasted cauliflower.
From the superstar team behind Daikaya and Bantam King, Haikan is a sleek ramen shop whose noodle bowls feature Sapporo-made noodles and the house's signature chicken, beef, and pork Chintan broth. The menu branches out with intriguing small plates like the fan-favorite mapo tofu poutine, which proves that mozzarella curds and spicy tofu are a surprisingly tasteful pair, especially when piled on crispy French fries. You'll find equally interesting cocktails on the menu, like the gin-based Wasabi Peas and the flashy Smoke Show, completed with a flaming piece of cedar.
Headed up by one of our 2016 chefs-to-watch, Rob Rubba, Hazel is a warm and inviting space featuring artisan tableware, and offers an outstanding menu with influences stretching from Japan to South America. If you're in the mood to share, you and at least one other guest can opt for the Duck Duck platter, Rubba's specialty: peking-style duck, crispy wings, confit fried rice, and mixed greens. Or, if you really can't decide, go for the Chef's 7 and let the kitchen bring you its choices.
A Mt. Vernon Square venture from Chef Eric Ziebold, Kinship boasts an à la carte menu divided into three categories: "Craft," which celebrates a culinary technique; "History," which recreates dishes that Ziebold discovered while traveling; and "Ingredients," which highlights unique elements in the food. There’s also a list of luxurious indulgences, like Ossetra Caviar and white truffle risotto, as well as an expertly curated global wine list. Be sure to make a reservation, as Kinship benefits from the Michelin bump after earning its first star.
From husband-and-wife duo Tim and Joey Ma, Kyrisan showcases Chef Tim Ma's signature style of blending Asian flavors with classic French technique. The restaurant's name is a combination of the Chinese words that represent the Ma's three children, and the spot offers an appropriate familial vibe. The innovative menu pushes boundaries with dishes like savory black truffle congee with natto, egg yolk, and duck confit; and crowd-favorite créme fraîche wings.
From Aaron Silverman of Rose’s Luxury, Pineapple and Pearls is a luxurious dining experience that nods to hospitality and elegance. The Capitol Hill restaurant opened in 2016 and was awarded two Michelin stars soon after, a recognition that should come as no surprise given Silverman's opening mission to reinvent fine dining. The 13-course tasting menu doesn't stick to one theme, instead, it features an array of avant garde courses that bounce between light and heavy. Dinner here comes with a heavy price tag, but there is a casual coffee bar in the front that serves sandwiches, pastries, and coffee during the day.
Smoked & Stacked is bringing Shaw some much-needed pastrami sandwiches. The breakfast and lunch spot is inspired by both Chef Marjorie Meek-Bradley's California upbringing and her adoptive New York taste. Breakfast options include the clean-eating Cali Girl made with cured salmon, a fried egg, avocado, and sprouts, and the New Yorker, featuring thick & smoky pastrami, a fried egg, comte cheese, and hot pepper jelly. Build your own sandwich at lunch or keep it simple (but heavy) with the pastrami and Dijon mustard Stacked.
Chef Jeremiah Langhorne opened The Dabney to showcase Mid-Atlantic flavors, and he's doing that by focusing on hyper-locality in the kitchen. His food tastes fresh and earthy, and while the menu changes with the seasons, you can expect rustic small plates like charred cabbage, grilled scallops, and whole BBQ Beaver Creek quail, as well as family-style meals like grilled black bass and chicken & dumplings. Most of the food in his Michelin-starred open kitchen emerges from a massive wood-burning hearth, which is easy to spot from the country-chic dining room.
It would be a damn shame if Whaley’s, which is located next to the Anacostia River near Navy Yard, didn't excel at fish and seafood. Fortunately, the venue has earned well-deserved praise for its raw bar, featuring pristine oysters, littleneck clams, poached shrimp, and its shellfish towers, available in small, medium, and large (a.k.a. way too much for less than four people) sizes. Crudo and appetizers are just as focused on the nautical, with a fluke sashimi and the blue crab salad shining brightest. While you’d be a fool to turn down Whaley’s preparation of softshell crab with romesco and charred tomatillo, a Virginia pork chop and a hanger steak are available, for those who prefer four legs to two fins.
This Michelin-starred Adams Morgan restaurant from Komi and Little Serow alums offers a funky Caribbean-meets-Mediterranean menu that'll encourage you to expand your culinary horizons. Admittedly, some of Tail Up Goat's dishes are wacky (goat lasagna with kale and anchovies), but they work. A portion of the menu is dedicated to creative bread preparations, like seaweed sourdough and bialys with trout roe, but the pasta and entrées are the real showstoppers. Try the cavatelli with spicy pork belly ragu and the tender lamb ribs... then savor the taste, you might never come across flavors this unique again.