DC’s Hottest Tables Now
For decades, people bemoaned the lack of dining options in our nation's capital. How could a city with such diverse populations offer only cookie-cutter steakhouses, chain outposts and a smattering of good Ethiopian restaurants? Now a slew of innovators has revitalized the culinary landscape with new-wave Taiwanese, Filipino, Indian and New American spots to complement the District’s longstanding stalwarts (they’re there, so long as you know where to look). As Election Day approaches, contributor and patriot Emily Saladino explores 9 stars in DC’s booming restaurant scene.
Emily Saladino is a journalist and recipe developer in New York City. She has covered food, drinks, travel, and culture for Bloomberg, BBC, Travel + Leisure, and others. A former professional cook, she graduated from the International Culinary Center. She is currently the Editor in Chief of VinePair.
It’s a testament to the caliber of Rose’s Luxury that patrons will (happily!) wait upwards of two hours to dine at the wildly popular Capitol Hill hot spot. Named Bon Appetit’s restaurant of the year in 2014, and recently succeeded by a tasting menu-only joint, Pineapple and Pearls, Aaron Silverman’s southern-accented, globally inspired New American bistro is still swinging. The shareable plates change seasonally, and might include spaghetti pistou with garlic scapes and blue crab, seared romaine with a duck egg and buttermilk dressing, and pickle juice-brined fried chicken. The buzzy farmhouse-style space opens for dinner only and doesn’t accept reservations, so expect Sqirl-style queues along the sidewalks at 5:00 p.m. nightly.
With only 24 seats assembled in the sort of narrow space a realtor might call “intimate,” an evening at Bad Saint feels like a rollicking dinner party hosted by friends with serious kitchen cred. Helmed by a crew of local chefs and restaurateurs with a shared love of Filipino flavors, the tiny kitchen serves inventive and classic dishes span gingery greens, sausage-studded lumpia and rice noodles with shrimp, soft-boiled egg and crispy chicharrones. Bad Saint doesn’t accept reservations or seat groups larger than four, so come to Columbia Heights on the early side (doors open at 5:30) and let the good times roll.
When it comes to dining out, the word “local” is arguably overused. The Dabney, a year-old restaurant in a 19th-century Shaw rowhouse, provides a delicious counterpoint. The seasonal New American spot sources 95 percent of its ingredients from the mid-Atlantic, delivering truly local cuisine and making good on a similarly overused sister hyphenate, “farm-to-table.” Dishes vary, and include the likes of roasted beets with smoked scallops and Virginia peanuts, or family-style pork loin with summer bean chow-chow. The bar menu includes an impressive selection of cocktails, fortified wines and area-sourced beer and hard cider.
The Red Hen
The penultimate neighborhood restaurant, Bloomingdale’s The Red Hen is proof that sizzle and steak need not be mutually exclusive. Designed by Edit Lab at Streetsense, a DC-based firm that also renovated the Beaux Arts Jefferson Hotel, The Red Hen occupies a rustic-industrial space with exposed brick walls, farmhouse-chic wooden tables, and an open kitchen serving homemade pastas like saffron paccheri, Italian-accented mains and salads, and a wide-ranging wine list specializing in biodynamic and organic bottles.
Located above an H Street storefront, Toki Underground has a breezy vibe that belies its snug quarters. Walls of the hip Taiwanese ramen joint are lined with colorful graphic art, slim counter seats, and jars of pickles and spices, under which enthusiastic slurpers sip sake and stiff cocktails. The open kitchen turns out classic, curry and kimchi-studded noodle soups, plus dumplings, stinky tofu and pork buns.
Arguably the world’s most elegant red-sauce joint, 30-year-old Georgetown institution Filomena counts U2’s Bono, George H.W. Bush, and (pre-vegan) Bill Clinton among its fans. Are the doily-bedecked tables, complimentary crystal snifters of Sambuca, and tuxedoed wait staff a little much? Absolutely. But Filomena is also undeniably fun, and the aproned Nonnas toiling away in the kitchen turn out irresistibly good plates of homemade gnocchi, paper-thin veal marsala, and tender meatballs beneath slices of melted Parmesan.
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Top Chef alum Mike Isabella’s Graffiato vaguely resembled a nightclub when it debuted in 2011 (thronging crowds, throbbing soundtrack), but, like Joseph Gordon-Levitt, the bi-level Chinatown stalwart has blossomed with age. The Mediterranean-leaning menu includes stellar housemade pastas, charred and dressed seasonal vegetable dishes, and some of the city’s best pizzas (the man nicknamed “Jersey Mike” could turn any clam pie skeptic into a believer). The tunes are still blasting, but the sleek, industrial space now feels equally suited to power lunches and friendly neighborhood hangs.
From the white baby grand piano near the entrance, to after-dinner whiskey and cobra coffee in the lounge, Bombay Club is an old-school icon. Restaurateur Ashok Bajaj, who also helms the District’s two Rasika restaurants, has maintained this White House-adjacent power spot for nearly 30 years, pausing for a $600,000 refresh in 2009. While tourists swarm the Mall outside, Bombay Club’s white tablecloths are perfectly creased, and the sunlit dining room in a perpetual golden hour. The menu spans Indian culinary traditions, and includes intricately spiced duck kebabs, 16-hour dal makhani, and a surprisingly genteel Sunday brunch buffet where the Champagne is bottomless, and reservations strongly recommended.
Housed in a tiny, 28-seat basement (chef Johnny Monis and wife Anne Marler also helm Komi, the modern Greek spot upstairs), Little Serow brings the heat to buttoned-up Dupont Circle. Fiery Northern Thai dishes are served in seven-course, family-style tasting menus — and, like at Mom’s house, the kitchen does not offer substitutions. Those with open minds and palates are rewarded with spicy shredded catfish, roasted plums beneath dried shrimp, and Mekhong whiskey- and dill-spiked pork ribs, all yours for less than $50 per person.
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