The Best Things to Eat in Puerto Rico
Traditional Mexican fare by way of California
The new tacos on the block are from a couple who recently moved to the East Coast from San Francisco. David Perez and Carolina McCandless named their first restaurant, Cielo Rojo (red sky), after one of their favorite mariachi songs and also their love of sunsets. Perez, a Mexico City native, is the chef, while McCandless, who was born in Chile and raised in Maryland, oversees operations. The menu is succinct, with a few starters like guacamole and queso fundido, a selection of tacos -- from classic carnitas to vegan drunken mushroom, quesadillas, and a hearty pozole.
An island escape with frozen drinks, spam, and seafood
Celebrity chef Adam Greenberg doesn’t mind if you consider his Union Market venue a bar, a restaurant, or a club. He just wants you to have a great time. The vacation vibes are strong thanks to plenty of tropical greenery -- draping down from above and painted on the walls -- as well as beachy cocktails like the blended ‘hell in mirin’ and what Greenberg calls the most crushable: the ‘yas queen’s park swizzle.’ The small plates feature lots of fresh seafood, like salmon poke and fish tacos, but don’t miss out on the spam patty melt or the large format spicy coconut chicken.
Metropolitan Hospitality Group debuts a Mexican locale
The group behind Circa, Open Road, and TRIO Grill has added a taco and tequila joint to the mix. Naturally, Él Bebe, which translates to ‘he drinks,’ offers plenty of tequila cocktails, frozen margaritas, beer, and wine. They also have an exclusive beer by Atlas Brew Works called Atlas Tropic Thunder IPA, a light, dry-hopped ale with hints of pineapple and passion fruit. The food menu hits all the highlights, with tacos, enchiladas, quesadillas, burritos, and platters. While most dishes put the focus on Mexican flavors -- like the carnitas taco or the mini empanadas, there are some unusual influences, as with the bulgogi taco with marinated short rib, gochujang mayo, Napa cabbage, and peanuts.
Shared plates meet tasting menus at this market-driven restaurant
This restaurant’s whimsical name is a nod to its co-founders’ dynamic. Carey and Yuan Tang operate on opposite schedules, but they always come together around the table. Carey, the Rooster, is the general manager and works in non-profit development during the day. Yuan, the Owl, keeps late hours as the executive chef. In their restaurant, they invite others to join them for a social dining experience that’s part shared plates and part tasting menu. Guests customize their four-course meal from a selection of vegetable-forward dishes and then everything is shared with the table. The menu relies heavily on the local market, which means it changes seasonally and lets quality ingredients shine.
Navy Yard & Union Market
Cheesesteaks with a side of wings and fries
The name of chef Kwame Onwuachi’s fast casual concept tells you all you need to know. They serve Philly cheesesteaks, chicken wings, and waffle fries. These are a few of his favorite things, so he put them all together to make one epic meal. The Philly Wing Fry box lets you sample all three dishes together (plus a fresh juice), and delivers one very satisfying food coma. If moderation is more your style, opt for the cheesesteak, which is made with dry-aged beef, smoked provolone, roasted garlic mayo, and both pickled pearl and caramelized onions in a beef-fat toasted bun. Don’t skip the side of fries, which are seasoned with Ethiopian berbere spice. Vegetarians, fear not: the spicy mushroom sandwich also hits the spot. Find it all in the new South Capitol Hill Whole Foods or Union Market.
A Jew-ish deli serving bagels, sandwiches, and more
You’ll notice this spot isn’t Jewish, but Jew-ish. That’s because on top of deli classics like bagels and schmear, there are also riffs on traditional fare, like whitefish croquettes and a Philly cheesesteak made with pastrami and brisket. The shop’s bagels are what draw lines down the block, and co-owner Andrew Dana says they’re the result of New York and a Montreal-style bagel having a baby. You can top the rounds with favorites like smoked salmon, cream cheese, and onion, or go crazy with a sandwich like the Rashida, with peanut butter, bacon, honey, and apples. To drink, you can get “just coffee,” which is what happened when Dana asked Lost Sock Roasters to make a version of 7-Eleven joe that actually tastes good.
Union Market District
A steakhouse that’s more than a steakhouse
While there’s no shortage of beef on the menu, St. Anselm isn’t just a steakhouse. Joe Carroll’s American tavern has come alive in DC with the help of restaurateur Stephen Starr and chef Marjorie Meek-Bradley. Everything centers around the grill that is prominently visible in the open kitchen. "Smalls" and "bigs" from the grill include clams with Chartreuse butter, artichoke hearts, lamb sirloin, and pork porterhouse. Cow cuts go beyond the typical steakhouse chops -- think flat iron and hanger steak. You don’t have to sip a bold Cabernet Sauvignon with your steak, either. Carroll encourages you to try pairing it with a light, chillable red or even a Chablis. The quirky décor adds to the unconventional vibe, with fraternal banners and taxidermy.
A beloved hummus shop returns in a permanent home
What started in the basement of the late DGS Delicatessen now has a life of its own as a fast-casual restaurant. Ronen Tenne, Nick Wiseman, and David Wiseman modeled the new Little Sesame after hummus shops and markets in Israel (where the team traveled for R&D). Think abundant greenery, wood accents, and colorful tile. The menu centers on hummus bowls, with combinations like chicken shawarma, herb tahini, pickled red onion, and fresh za’atar, or roasted cauliflower, tahini, everything spice, and green onion. There are also several pita sandwiches and a selection of salatim -- small, veggie-based sides. One thing you can’t miss? Dairy-free tahini soft serve.
A Japanese-inspired, no-reservations spot with standing room only
Erik Bruner-Yang and his team have brought the concept of the Japanese Tachinomiya to The Line Hotel with Spoken English. In Japan, these restaurants without seats are typically spots to swing by after work for drinks and snacks. Here in DC, Bruner-Yang has installed two counters in the kitchen where up to 16 guests can enjoy skewers, small plates, and family-style whole poultry. It’s meant to be casual, and guests are urged to share and mingle with strangers. The whole chicken yakitori is perfect for a group because its eight courses of different preparations of chicken, from liver mousse to bone broth. The bar offers sake, beer, and cocktails.
Taco Bamba’s famous fare finds a permanent home alongside upscale Mexican cuisine
District denizens rejoiced when Taco Bamba opened as a pop-up at Del Campo, and now the top-notch tacos are here to stay. The Chinatown space formerly occupied by Del Campo now houses Taco Bamba in the front bar and dining room, and an upscale contemporary Mexican concept, Poca Madre, in the back dining room and patio. Taco Bamba slings tacos for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, including an unusual combination, The Royale: a burger patty topped with Chihuahua cheese on a tortilla with lettuce and a mezcal thousand island dressing. Poca Madre transports the best ingredients from Mexico to elevate everything from the simple-yet-astounding made-from-scratch tortillas to noodles made from shrimp and cuttlefish doused in a zippy coconut milk sauce. The bar spotlights agave spirits in a variety of creative cocktails.
H Street Corridor
Philly transplant where vegetables reign
Philadelphia’s Vedge Restaurant Group has sprouted up in DC with a new concept that’s all about plant-based cooking. It takes after the elegant, chef-driven Vedge, which pushes the boundaries of vegetables, but it also has similarities to the street food at V Street. Expect the unexpected, with unique preparations that elevate produce, like rutabaga fondue or spicy dan dan noodles with Sichuan pepper and five spice glazed mushrooms. The bar is stocked with cocktails, draft beers, and natural wines.
Where ingredients from the Chesapeake region shine
Local food crusader chef Spike Gjerde of Woodberry Kitchen in Baltimore lets his culinary philosophy of sustainability take center stage at his first DC restaurant, A Rake’s Progress inside The Line Hotel. From the moment you take your seat and receive a menu kissed with a wax seal, the attention to detail is intensely apparent. Inside the menu, you’ll find an assortment of dishes, most of which come from the wood-burning hearth that runs all evening and then gently cooks potatoes in the dying embers overnight. Everything that hits your table, from the salt and butter on whole-grain bread to the trout on a log is sourced from the mid-Atlantic region. Even sparse citrus at the bar and sorghum (instead of sugarcane) in the desserts are from local suppliers. (Of course, there are rare exceptions, like coffee from Counter Culture and a few international wines, but these are subject to strict vetting.) Make a reservation and get ready for a performance, because many dishes are presented whole before being carved or prepared at the nearby carving station.
Jersey-style Italian eats that will take you to back to the shore
This neighborhood Italian-American joint comes from the masterminds who brought you The Red Hen and Boundary Stone. Simply put, eating here is like getting a hug from your nonna. Pizza is the focus, and the crust hits all the right notes, striking a balance between sweet and savory and crispy and chewy. Choose from more traditional Italian preparations, or American interpretations. But don’t overlook the ultra-comforting Jersey-style baked eggplant parm or the salumi. Always order dessert, because the sweet treats come from Shaw neighbor Buttercream Bakeshop.
Filipino gem that draws curious eaters from around the country
Bad Saint opened quietly, but 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 Appetit’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 a selection of unique Filipino dishes that change regularly.
Shell out for a night of upscale indulgence
With a name that nods to hospitality (the pineapple) and elegance (the pearls), it’s no wonder rockstar chef Aaron Silverman’s most luxurious endeavor is 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 $325 for a parade of courses, inclusive of beverages, food, tax, and tip. If you want to save a little dough, you can sit at the bar and get away with paying $150 for your meal (drinks are extra).
Carbs are king at this Mediterranean-leaning gathering place
This Michelin-starred restaurant from Komi and Little Serow alums has been turning heads since it opened. The peculiar 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, and showstoppers are found in the pasta and entree courses, with impeccable house-made noodles and composed plates.
Out-of-the-box techniques with a sky-high price tag
Already legendary, minibar still manages to up the ante over time. Chef José Andrés added a new jewel to his crown after his extravagant tasting menu experience was awarded two Michelin stars. The fantastical experience starts at around $800 for two diners with drink pairings, but you’ll get your money’s worth, with all the ooh-ing and ahh-ing over what can only be described as a culinary magic show. If you want a sample of minibar’s luxury without the price tag, you can always have a few drinks at barmini, the adjacent cocktail lab.
A cheap place for outdoor vibes, delicious Cuban sandwiches, and coffee
Mixology showman Juan Coronado and his team now have two locations of Colada Shop, one in Sterling, Virginia and one in the city. The urban outpost -- modeled after Miami's ventanitas -- is right in the middle of the hustle and bustle of the U Street and 14th Street corridors, but it’s a perfectly private hideaway to refuel with seriously strong coffee, flaky pastelitos, stuffed empanadas, Cuban sandwiches, and plantain chips. The craft cocktails here are on point, and their $8 price tag is a welcome change of pace around these parts.
Eccentric first-time restaurant owners delight diners with crudos, sherry, and more
Its name means secret in Japanese, but the word is out about Himitsu, a 24-seat no-reservations spot from first-time restaurateurs Carlie Steiner and Kevin Tien. The pair might be new to restaurant ownership, but together they have decades of experience under their belts from working at top establishments like barmini, Pineapple and Pearls, and more. Tien’s menu is Japanese-inspired with other Southeast Asian and Latin American influences, and zingy crudos stand out from the crowd. Steiner has managed to curate a beverage program that incorporates unusual Spanish products and esoteric wines, but is still approachable for the less adventurous drinker.
Restaurant-within-a-restaurant serving artistic Japanese tasting menus
One of the area’s hottest spots is just an eight-seat counter within Sushiko in Chevy Chase. The adventurous mini restaurant offers 12-15-course vegan and non-vegan kappo tasting menus, which change seasonally. Dining at this intimate counter is like a night at the theater, as the chefs unveil beautiful, unique creations like liquidy spheres of fruit and tofu with seaweed caviar. The vegan menu, served Tuesdays, runs you $130, while the non-vegan is available Thursday through Saturday for $160.
Fast, casual, irreplaceable Chinese and Korean fusion
When two of the city’s favorite slingers of Asian cuisine joined forces in the kitchen, magical things happened. Chefs Danny Lee (of Mandu) and Scott Drewno (formerly of The Source), along with Drew Kim (of Matchbox Food Group) formed the Fried Rice Collective to open ChiKo on Barracks Row. It may be a fast-casual joint, but the food is a far cry from a #boringdesklunch. The menu defies categorization, with Korean and Chinese influences and techniques blended together in ways that only Lee and Drewno could dream up. Standouts include the blue catfish fried rice, the double-fried chicken wings, and a rice bowl topped with Wagshal's chopped brisket. You can order a few dishes to try, or make the wise choice and sit at the counter to sample the entire menu for $50.
14th Street Corridor
A lively mix of flavors from across the Silk Road
Down an alley off Florida Avenue, Maydan’s unassuming façade hides a world of flavors, smells, and sounds that have landed in DC by way of the Silk Road. Rose Previte’s vision for Maydan was to create a space that embodies the restaurant’s name, a word used across cultures to mean town square. The attention to detail in the two-story space anchored by a massive copper hearth is beyond impressive, with patinaed walls, dangling greenery, and vibrant hues throughout. The meat, seafood, and vegetables come straight from the fire, and are met with fresh Georgian bread and spice-laden condiments and spreads from the Middle East, North Africa, and the Caucasus.
Spanish seafood on the Wharf from the Trabocchis
If you thought Fabio and Maria Trabocchi’s restaurants couldn’t get any more opulent, think again. Their latest waterfront property at the Wharf is a glass palace, filled with custom tile work, imported aquatic art, and hundreds of delicate vases. The menu features coastal Spanish cuisine inspired by Maria’s roots. Start with an epic seafood tower presented on a platter shaped like an octopus, then dig in to jamón, pan de cristal, and Mallorcan sobrasada, made according to Maria’s family recipe. The paellas are massive and served tableside for an added touch of class. Pair it all with an artfully infused gin and tonic or perhaps a drink served in a glass sea urchin.
Afro-Caribbean cuisine by the waterfront
After Shaw Bijou -- the restaurant closing heard round the world -- chef Kwame Onwuachi did some soul searching and made a triumphant return to the kitchen cooking food that represents his heritage. At his new digs in the InterContinental Hotel, he’s serving Afro-Caribbean cuisine like curried goat with fresh roti, wagyu short ribs coated in suya spice, and a seafood plateau with bigeye tuna kitfo. He also tips his hat to his family’s culinary traditions with peel-and-eat shrimp made with his mother’s spice blend. Cocktails are all about the rum, so you can toast to the Caribbean.
Towering burgers from around the world
In all of chef Alex McCoy’s global travels, he’s always managed to find a great burger. That’s the inspiration for Lucky Buns, which is influenced by the cuisine of Southeast Asia, the UK, and Australia. This compact burger shop has a laser focus, with an assortment of beef or chicken stacks, chips (aka British fries), and salads. You won’t find any basic burgers though. The buns are loaded with international flavors, like karashi slaw, Sichuan peppercorn spice paste, bacon XO jam, and masala harissa. Fans of McCoy’s previous projects will appreciate the Alfie’s Bun, with a runny egg, pineapple, pickled beetroot, arugula, lucky sauce, and pickled red onion.
Hong Kong street food and cocktails inspired by Chinese medicine
The minds behind The Fainting Goat have brought Hong Kong to Blagden Alley with Tiger Fork. Their menu puts a modern, global spin on street food, traditional dim sum, and Chinese classics, which are all served family-style to encourage sharing. The dining room has a long communal table where guests can savor chili tofu, cheung fun, dan dan noodles, and barbecue. The drinks take after traditional Chinese medicinal techniques that rely on on herbal teas and tonics, so it’s a great place to find some alternative flu therapy.
U Street Corridor
Hip bistro covered in honeycomb designs and serving crave-worthy pastas
Quirky doesn’t even begin to describe what chef Ryan Ratino and his team have going at their Michelin-starred hotspot on 14th Street. The restaurant subscribes to the Parisian movement of “bistronomy” (bistro + gastronomy), which is what you get when you cross upscale French culinary techniques with a casual bistro. At Bresca, that translates to imaginative takes on classic dishes and out-there decor. So far, the decadent rotating pasta dishes and the unique duck presse have stolen the show. The name literally means "honeycomb" in Spanish, so bees and hexagons are featured prominently inside the place. The interior is sophisticated but kooky, with goldfish heads, preserved moss, and Animorphs-like illustrations adorning the walls.
Seafood shrine that puts sustainability first *
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. Aquatic offerings rotate based on what’s available, but expect to find raw treasures like littleneck clams and Chesapeake Bay oysters, 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.
*Note: Whaley's is temporarily a shabu shabu pop-up this winter, but it's still worth checking out! They'll return to the regular menu after a couple months.
Hyper-local, hearth-fired fare from the Mid-Atlantic
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 hyperlocality 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 Michelin-starred kitchen come out of the massive wood-burning hearth, which is quite a presence in the dining room.