This Recipe Combines 2 of the Greatest Foods
Mexican restaurateur ventures into Cuban territory
Alfredo Solis, the mind behind El Sol and Mezcalero, joined forces with Chef Joseph Osorio to tackle a new cuisine. Osorio’s Cuban godmother, Mimi, is the inspiration for the vibrant Little Havana. Her influence can be seen throughout the restaurant, including as a painting on the wall alongside paintings of Celia Cruz, the Nationals’ Gio Gonzalez, and multicolored cityscapes. The menu pays homage to traditional items like empanadas, ropa vieja, and lechon Caribe, while also inventing new takes like Cuban rolls, which feature the fixings of a Cubano sandwich inside an eggroll. Rum is the focal spirit at the bar, paired with tropical fruits and juices in Caribbean cocktails.
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 last year). Think abundant greenery, wood accents, and colorful tile. The menu centers on hummus bowls, with combinations like tomatoes, thyme tahini, and pine nuts, 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.
Middle Eastern cocktail bar settles in eclectic neighborhood
Chris Francke first started The Green Zone as a traveling pop-up, and now it's a full-fledged, two-story cocktail bar. His cocktail menu stars unusual drinks made with spices, nuts, and fruits often used in Middle Eastern cuisine, like apricots, pistachios, and dates. He also takes nonalcoholic staples like mint lemonade and adds booze for an extra kick. If cocktails aren’t your style, you can still expand your horizons with something from the beer and wine list, which includes selections from Palestine, Georgia, Lebanon, and Turkey. The street food bites are perfect late-night indulgences, especially the mana’ish, which is flatbread filled with za’tar, labneh, mint, cucumber, tomatoes, and olives. Head upstairs on the weekends to find a DJ and a bumping dance party.
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 dan dan noodles with zucchini and oyster 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 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 classic tuna mousse. 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 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.
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 and Pearls a cool two stars. Of course, it comes at a price. It’s $280 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 $180 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 delightfully messy lamb ribs.
Global small plates get an extra kick from house-made hot sauce
Neighborhood Restaurant Group’s Shaw outpost is helmed by chef Rob Rubba. The mouthwatering list of small plates is full of tough decisions. Favorites include Grandma Hazel’s zucchini bread with foie gras mousse, Korean-inspired gnocchi, and the steak tartare with Tater Tots, which is best enjoyed after mashing it all 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.
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 won two Michelin stars in the inaugural DC guide. The fantastical experience can run you upwards of $1,200 for two diners if you go all out, 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, Brussels sprouts 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, and a gumbo just like he remembers it from childhood. 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 pineapple, pickled beetroot, and lucky sauce.
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 kowloon buns, 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 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 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.
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.