This year was big. Shaw sprouted faster than a Jayson Werth Chia Pet. We got a Momofuku. Duffy’s came back from the dead. Fig & Olive poisoned people unapologetically. And RGIII lost his spot to Captain Kirk. But most importantly, we ate and drank really well thanks to newcomers and old standbys who’ve upped their game to keep up with what’s bright, shiny, and new. These are the places that brought their absolute best in 2015.
MakettoAddress and Info
H Street NE
Day can turn into night at Maketto because, unlike any other restaurant in DC, this H St NE hotspot has a sense of place. You can shop, caffeinate, clack away on a keyboard pausing for bites from a bao, have a cocktail come 5pm, then stay for a Southeast Asian dinner under twinkling lights in a courtyard worth every penny of that $20 valet ticket. Maketto’s genius is that it’s both a destination and a neighborhood hub. And then there’s the Taiwanese fried chicken, which deserves a bigger cult following than Chick-fil-A. Other creature comforts include fried oysters on a rolled egg omelette, wok-fried noodles, and a whole fried fish. Our deep dive on why we dig it.
Copycat Co.Address and Info
H Street NE
Choose your own adventure at Copycat Co. Make it a laid back bar where you blindly trust the bartender to make you something apropos. Or, use the treasure map-like menu as a syllabus. In addition to making drinks so good they disappear in seconds, Copycat Co. gives helpful primers on classic cocktails from sours to mules to smashes and beyond. Not only that, but the professor (er, owner) Devin Gong cites his sources so imbibers know where his cocktails originally came from. We dig this transparency, and the dumplings, too. Yes, there are Northern Chinese potstickers, bao buns, and skewers all priced at $4 or less. How’s that for drunchies? Sure beats soggy wings.
Port City Brewing CoAddress and Info
It’s impossible to ignore the shipload of love Port City Brewing Co hauled in throughout 2015, starting with the beastly honor of “Small Brewing Company of the Year” at the 2015 Great American Beer Festival. The Alexandria brewery also won more medals for individual beers than Michael Phelps before he went off the deep-end, including Ways & Means IPA, Optimal Wit, and Monumental IPA. Pay attention to the brewery’s fifth anniversary in February, because they’ll be releasing Colossal 5, a British-style old ale. We’re waiting with bated breath.
Best beer bar
BluejacketAddress and Info
Bluejacket is the whole package, so excuse us for picking a brewery that doubles as a beer bar. They take 2015 for a six-pack of reasons: the dramatic space, the envelope-pushing beers, the sour program, the food, the new bottle shop, and the service. One of summer’s great joys was sinking into cushy patio furniture with a full draft in hand. Beer director Greg Engert’s racing mind is always making interesting concoctions, from a sour blond ale brewed with local plums to a cask ale called Coaltown. Start with the beers that stick around: Forbidden Planet, Lost Weekend, and Mexican Radio. Or, get experimental off the bat. You win either way.
Best cocktail bar
Bourbon Steak LoungeAddress and Info
We recently had a chance to sit in on an internal cocktail meeting at Bourbon Steak and can report it was as serious as whatever goes down at NASA. Every drink is next level thanks to new lead bartender, Torrence Swain. Eggnog? Oh yeah, that’s coming in a National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation moose mug. Dirty martini? It has white truffles in it. Mule? They have six. You get the point. They’re also doing a heavy amount of tableside showmanship. Order the Scotch-based “Monkey Business” with brûléed bananas and, in the words of Andy Cohen, watch what happens live.
Best sandwich: The München Brötchen
Duke’s GroceryAddress and Info
If you prefer to dabble in dainty cucumber tea sandwiches, avert your eyes. In fact, go elsewhere because the sandwich of the year is a double-decker bus of chicken schnitzel with a one-way ticket to your stomach. The München Brötchen is a foreign passport with its Emmental cheese from Switzerland, spicy kraut made spunky with adjika hot sauce from Georgia, and Warsteiner mustard from Germany. Sliced garlic-dill pickles and applewood-smoked bacon complete the stack held together by a torta roll. Sure, every other plate flying out of the Duke’s Grocery kitchen is a Proper Burger, but maybe it shouldn’t be.
Best wings: Hog Wings
The ProspectAddress and Info
No brainer. Pork beats chicken as certainly as Rocky beats Drago in Rocky IV. The Prospect’s hog wings are made from pork shanks that are braised for 24-hours before being flash fried and coated in some serious sauces: Thai chili (pictured), maple mustard, cognac BBQ, and beyond. They have the same stickiness brought by chicken wings, but with much more payoff. Each order comes with four hog wings; see how many you can plow through during a quarter on game day.
Best burger: The White Label burger
Osteria MoriniAddress and Info
Why would you order a burger at one of DC’s best Italian restaurants? First, it tastes how victory feels. Second, it’s an off-menu special, so you’ll look like an insider in front of your friends when you order it. The secret is the wood-grilled patty made from a blend of short rib, chuck, and brisket. What goes on top barely matters because of the rich, gamey experience you’re already having, but just for good measure, Chef Matt Adler adds Emmental cheese, fennel, onions, whole grain mustard, and rosemary aioli.
Pete’s New Haven Style ApizzaAddress and Info
“You either like us or you don’t -- you can go on Yelp and see,” Pete’s owner, Joel Mehr, tells us. Joel, dude, we love you, and anyone worth a damn does, too. Traditional New Haven-style pizza calls for a charred crust, which gets mistaken for being burnt. But Joel would know: his wife and business partner Alicia Mehr hails from the Connecticut town that brings together Yale students and working-class Italians from Naples (hence the a-beets pronunciation of Apizza). That’s why all the pies are named for something New Haven-related, like the Boola Boola, named after the Yale fight song. The ingredients, along with that contentious crispy crust, make Pete’s special. If Joel wouldn’t feed it to his kids, it’s not going on your pizza. Quick tip: eat it from the crust instead of the front corner.
Compass CoffeeAddress and Info
Two Marines had a dream to put the motor oil coffee they drank during deployment behind them and bring the world the good stuff. Well, at least DC (so far). The consummate coffee shop now has two locations in Shaw (where else?) attracting DC’s creative class on dates, working, or just reading tweets. Nothing beats drinking a fresh cup of coffee or an espresso drink while taking in the sights and smells of the brewing and grinding process in the background. Speaking of beans, they offer nine blends in light to dark styles, plus three single origin coffee varieties from Guatemala, Ethiopia, and Brazil. And the food comes from Glen’s Garden Market -- a match made in hip DC heaven.
Best cheap eats
Bub & Pop’sAddress and Info
If Arlene Wagner is working the register, expected to get greeted like you’re arriving at the Four Seasons instead of a sandwich shop. It’s that kind of embrace that sets up the magic of Bub & Pop’s. Every visit brings a new surprise. Oh, the pickle of the day is dragon fruit? Sure. The Pop’s beef brisket has five-year aged Gouda from the actual Netherlands? Give it to me. The fried PB&J is dipped and fried like funnel cake and served with crème Anglaise? Why not. And those are just the usual suspects. Chef Jonathan Taub puts out crazy new specials every week like the Robert Lynch (pictured).
Best restaurant worth leaving the District for
YonaAddress and Info
YOLO, so you might as well commit to an all-ramen diet. Yona can help with its four styles of Japan’s greatest contribution to the culinary world: miso porky, tonkotsu, veggie, and umami-rich ja-jang. Each has its merits, so it looks like you’ll be making four trips across the river. Before you start slurping, get some small plates from Chef Jonah Kim including a simple mound of apples and radishes with roasted sesame miso butter, dry-fried wings, an uni waffle, and smoked hamachi. The drinks are simple: four cocktails, sake, six Japanese beers, and a handful of wines (because it’s Ballston). Take a look at your classy surrounding and you judge whether sake bombs are appropriate. (Please, no. Don’t.)
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Laura Hayes is a DC-based food, drink & travel writer who also contributes to Washington City Paper, Food Network, Arlington Magazine, and others. Her favorite story from 2015 was about how to get a taste of home in DC. Follow her on Twitter @BTMenu.
1. Maketto1351 H St NE, Washington
2. Copycat Co.1110 H St NE, Washington
3. Port City Brewery3950 Wheeler Ave, Alexandria
4. Bluejacket300 Tingey St SE, Washington
5. Duke's Grocery1513 17th St NW, Washington
6. The Prospect1214 U Street, Washington
7. Osteria Morini301 Water Street Southeast, Suite 109, Washington
8. Pete's New Haven Style Apizza1400 Irving St NW, Washington
9. Compass Coffee1535 7th St NW, Washington
10. Bub and Pop's1815 M St NW, Washington
11. Yona4000 Wilson Blvd Ste C, Arlington
12. BOURBON STEAK DC2800 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington
Maketto combines a restaurant, coffeeshop, bar, and clothing store into one massive, 6,000sqft venue on H Street NE. The 60-seat restaurant focuses on Cambodian and Taiwanese food for lunch and dinner, and if you're in the business of brunching, be sure to put the Sunday dim sum brunch on your bucket list. The retail store showcases international brands at upscale price points, and even if the merch is beyond your budget, the sheer variety is worth checking out. The second floor cafe serves Vigilante Coffee and bread from Frenchie's Bakery, plus a few pastries baked in house.
From Barmini graduate Devin Gong, hip restaurant/bar Copycat Co. combines craft cocktails with Northern Chinese bites like pot stickers, skewers, and bao buns. In addition to a permanent cocktail menu loaded with the classics, bartenders rotate through weekly (hand-drawn!) specialty menus featuring toddys, daiquiris, juleps, and more. Copycat is spread out across two floors: the first is for a quick beer and bao, while the upstairs is a relaxed lounge where you can unwind for hours.
Port City Brewery is a brewery that is run by a fourth generation Alexandrian. Not only can you enjoy the brewery for the brews but on Saturdays you can tour the whole facility for 20-30 minutes to see the process in its entirety.
With 20 beers on draught and another five cask beers, Bluejacket ought to be able to satisfy even the pickiest of your beer-drinking friends. Enjoy some snacks at the bar or save some room and wait until 5:30pm for short ribs or sweet potato gnocchi from Arsenal -- Bluejacket's in-house restaurant.
You're in for some monster sandwiches and burgers at this bi-level East London-inspired spot in Dupont. Take the Proper Burger, for example, which is stacked with two griddled patties and topped with a list of flavorful ingredients that includes smoked Gouda, charred red onions, and a Thai sweet chili sauce. Beyond the Proper, their chalkboard menu offers an array of tasty dishes -- from curries to homemade pastas -- that are all made from scratch in their cozy kitchen. The laid-back neighborhood-pub vibe lets you kick back while you sip on a craft brew or cocktail.
Guests at The Prospect are glowing, and, while admittedly it might be the light of the 40 HiDef televisions on display, we’d like to think it has something to do with the U Street bar’s shakeup of traditional pub fare. Here, loaded fries are laden with venison, Cheddar, green onion, and creme fraiche, and nachos are strewn with braised goat, feta, tomato, razel hanout, and cilantro, while “Handhelds” like the Jamaican jerk sandwich or the venison chili dog will lend you a sense of sophistication not typically associated with football Sundays. Featured signature cocktails are an Applejack Highball with brandy, lime, ginger, cranberry, and cider, and an Old Fashioned sweetened up with salted caramel.
This New York City transplant specializes in Italian cuisine from the northern Emilia-Romagna region. Expect house-made pasta dishes like braised wild mushroom rigatoni, simply grilled meats, and cured meat and cheese plates. Osteria Morini's dinner is perfect for date night, while its brunch, featuring ricotta pancakes and frittatas alongside signature pastas, has all the cheese and carbs essential to curing a hangover. The upscale Navy Yard spot is bright and airy with floor-to-ceiling windows and high factory ceilings.
Pete's, a casual pizza joint in Columbia Heights, has fast service and good prices. Pro tip: the full pies, rather than pre-cut slices, are best here. So you might need to bring some friends to share with. Or not.
Compass Coffee takes their brew seriously. At this minimalist space in Shaw, two former Marines roast their own beans on-site, with multiple blends and single-origin options to choose from. The team travels around the world to source beans from small farms, and their hard work pays off. This place has communal tables, and you might get a visit from the very approachable owners... or you can just buy a bag of beans so you can brew the perfect cup at home.
This charming mom & pop shop in Dupont Circle has a whole host of hearty hoagies at their disposal, like their traditional Italian, roast pork, or our favorite, Pop's Beef Brisket, with apple-horseradish cream, five-year-aged Gouda, and veal jus.
This minimalist-chic restaurant features a Japanese- and Korean-inspired menu that focuses on comforting bowls of ramen, including the customer-favorite Miso Porky, a flavorful pork miso broth filled with mushroom, kimchi, nori, bamboo shoot, pork, and a soft-boiled egg. The hot and cold small plates are noteworthy, too, like crispy wings with chili glaze and tuna poke. From the dishes' elegant presentation to the gorgeous wooden beams lining the space, Yona is a true thing of beauty in Arlington.
Bourbon Steak, located inside the Four Seasons Hotel, is a chic and modern restaurant brought to you by award winning Chef Michael Mina. It has a classy upscale hotel vibe, offering one of the most extensive selection of steaks, including dry-aged, grass-fed, corn-fed, and Japanese wagyu beef. However, it’s the kind of steakhouse where a trio of steak cuts can cost you up to three figures.