Vegetarian: Sticky Fingers
What began in 1999 as a vegan bakery run out of owner Doron Petersan’s kitchen has grown into a full-scale cafe serving grilled Daiya cheese sandwiches, veggie chili and soy BBQ nuggets. There’s no need to sacrifice flavor for health- and Earth-conscious dessert-scarfing: The cupcakes, in flavors such as red velvet and “bunny huggers carrot cake,” hold their own against any non-vegan recipes. Petersan’s newest project, the “Sticky Fingers’ Sweets” cookbook, is due out in February. K.A.
1st: Sticky Fingers, 1370 Park Road NW; 202-299-9700. (Columbia Heights)
2nd: Java Green, 1020 19th St. NW; 202-775-8899. (Farragut West)
3rd: Café Green, 1513 17th St. NW; 202-234-0505. (Dupont Circle)
We’d wager that chef Vikram Sunderam’s melt-in-your-mouth palak chaat (crispy spinach) with yogurt and date chutney has something to do with Rasika’s win. The swanky dining room and bar probably helped, too. Though the restaurant pulled off a three-peat in this category, we foresee new competition next year — from Rasika owner Ashok Bajaj himself. He plans to open Rasika West in the West End next winter. K.A.
Thai: Thai Chef
This perennial Dupont favorite packs two restaurants’ worth of cuisine into one menu and one space. Thai Chef is a Thai place serving classic noodles and curries, and a sushi place that embraces the American influence on Japanese cuisine (like the Maryland Roll, which has shrimp, avocado, crabmeat and Old Bay). K.P.K.
Seafood: Hank’s Oyster Bar
Chef Jamie Leeds brings the best of Maine to both Hank’s locations, which are either the swankiest lobster shacks ever or the most casual fancy fish places. Start with a selection of half-shell bivalves, then move on to the lobster roll, which is squishy and sweet. K.P.K.
1st: Hank’s Oyster Bar, 1624 Q St. NW; 202-462-4265 (Dupont Circle) and 1026 King St., Alexandria; 703-739-4265.
2nd: Kinkead’s, 2000 Pennsylvania Ave. NW; 202-296-7700. (Foggy Bottom)
3rd: Hook, 3241 M St. NW; 202-625-4488. (Foggy Bottom) Hook is temporarily closed due to fire.
Dukem captured our Best Ethiopian title by a wide margin this year (in 2010, it tied with Meskerem). Praised among Yelpers for its spongy, “not sour” injera (bread), Dukem also distinguishes itself with frequent musical performances. Its market, next door, sells Ethiopian spices and ingredients. K.A.
Sushi: Sushi Taro
Want a spicy tuna roll? Go to 7-Eleven. Want the best sushi in town? Head to Sushi Taro and experience the “kaiseki” style of dining, which is essentially the Japanese version of a chef’s tasting menu. Taking his cues from what’s in season, what looks good and whatever he feels like, chef Nobu Yamazaki creates sushi that will forever have you sniffing in disdain at your grocery store’s lame attempts. K.P.K.
Dim Sum: Ping Pong Dim Sum
Ping Pong has a different vibe than that of most restaurants serving these traditional Chinese teahouse snacks. It’s more upscale in price and atmosphere — but less intimidating for the uninitiated. Here, you order from a regular menu (or check off picks on a paper list), rather than selecting food on the spot from carts. K.A.
1st: Ping Pong Dim Sum, 900 7th St. NW; 202-506-3740 (Gallery Place) and 1 Dupont Circle NW; 202-293-1268 (Dupont Circle)
2nd: China Garden, 1100 Wilson Blvd., Arlington; 703-525-5317. (Rosslyn)
3rd: A&J, 1319-C Rockville Pike, Rockville; 301-251-7878. (Twinbrook)
Pho: Pho 75
None of this local chain’s storefronts are fancy, but that just makes slurping a meal feel more appropriate. Grab a chair next to whoever (if you can get a seat at all) and pick out which variety of this Vietnamese noodle soup you want. If you’re squeamish, get the flank steak; if you’re brave, add the tripe and tendon. And if it’s morning, drop by a Pho 75 for breakfast. K.P.K.
1st: Pho 75, 1721 Wilson Blvd., Arlington, 703-525-7355; 1510 University Boulevard East, Hyattsville, Md., 301-434-7844; 3103 Graham Road, Falls Church, 703-204-1490; and other locations.
2nd: Pho 14, 1436 Park Road NW; 202-986-2326. (Columbia Heights)
3rd: Minh’s, 2500 Wilson Blvd., Arlington; 703-525-2828. (Court House)
South/Central American: Oyamel
Oyamel is popularly known as “the grasshopper tacos restaurant.” Regulars regard it simply as a darn good place for Mexican small plates, ceviche and classic margaritas. A Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) menu, offered until Nov. 2, showcases drinks and dishes from the Mexican state of Michoacan. K.A.
1st: Oyamel, 401 7th St. NW; 202-628-1005. (Archives)
2nd: Casa Oaxaca, 2106 18th St. NW; 202-387-2272. (Woodley Park)
3rd: Taqueria Distrito Federal, 3463 14th St. NW (Columbia Heights) and 805 Kennedy St. NW (Georgia Avenue); 202-276-7331.
Middle Eastern: Zaytinya
Standout mezze (small plates) and a convivial atmosphere make José Andrés’ Zaytinya a hit with a wide swath of diners: tourists, families, first-daters and VIPs (Gloria Estefan, Rahm Emanuel, Michelle Obama). We’re intrigued by snail kibbeh (crispy potato-crusted snails, herbed ladolemono sauce and heirloom lettuce) and kri kri pide (flatbread with braised goat). K.A.
Cupcake: Georgetown Cupcake
The bitterest rivalry in all of D.C. — Georgetown Cupcake versus Baked & Wired — played out in our poll. But you could have predicted the winner just by eyeballing the lines outside. Georgetown Cupcake never disappoints in the create-a-spectacle-on-M-Street department. Its desserts — in flavors such as lava fudge and salted caramel — are unfailingly delicious and photogenic. Somebody should give these cupcakes a TV show. K.A.
1st: Georgetown Cupcake, 3301 M St. NW; 202-333-8448 and 4834 Bethesda Ave., Bethesda; 301-907-8900.
2nd: Baked & Wired, 1052 Thomas Jefferson St. NW; 202-333-2500.
3rd: Red Velvet Cupcakery, 501 7th St. NW (plus two locations in Virginia); 202-347-7895. (Gallery Place)
Pie: Baltimore Bomb
When someone tells us pie is healthier than cake, we rush them to the D.C. outpost of Baltimore’s Dangerously Delicious Pies for a slice of Baltimore Bomb. This basic chess pie — that’s a rich vanilla custard with a little cornmeal, for those of you without a Southern grandma — is heaped with chopped-up Berger cookies, a Baltimore staple consisting of vanilla wafers and chocolate ganache. The resulting cookie-chess sludge is healthier than cake only if that cake is made of lard. F.Z.
Dangerously Delicious Pies, 1339 H St. NE; 202-398-7437.
Brunch: Founding Farmers
Indecisive eaters, beware: This brunch menu is intimidating. Buttermilk pancakes come with any of three toppings. There are four glaze choices for the bacon and four versions of eggs Benedict, including Benedict Arnold-style (with sausage and black pepper cream gravy). Throw in a cocktail or two, and this could take awhile. K.A.
1st: Founding Farmers, 1924 Pennsylvania Ave. NW; 202-822-8783 (Farragut West) and 12505 Park Potomac Ave., Potomac, Md.; 301-340-8783.
2nd: Tabard Inn, 1739 N St. NW; 202-331-8528. (Dupont Circle)
3rd: Ted’s Bulletin, 505 8th St. SE; 202-544-8337. (Eastern Market)
Burger: Ray’s Hellburger
“Cult following” doesn’t begin to describe the devotion with which certain fans regard Ray’s Hellburger, the Michael Landrum eatery that’s garnered repeat visits from no less than President Obama. Hellburger was brazen enough to not bother with fries when it opened in 2008. That’s a distant memory now; these days, you can order skin-on or sweet potato fries. K.A.
1st: Ray’s Hellburger, 1725 Wilson Blvd., Arlington; 703-841-0001. (Rosslyn)
2nd: Good Stuff Eatery, 303 Pennsylvania Ave. SE; 202-543-8222. (Capitol South)
3rd: BGR The Burger Joint, multiple locations.
Frozen Treat: Dolcezza
This gelateria’s name may be Italian (for “sweetness”), but the vibe at its Dupont Circle outpost is pure Pacific Northwest — sturdy wooden tables, big windows and locally sourced ingredients. The gelato and sorbetto lineup at the three locations (Georgetown and Bethesda are the other two) changes as Dolcezza experiments with taste combinations, yielding never-before-seen-on-Earth flavors such as Lemon Ricotta Cardamom. F.Z.
Food Truck: Red Hook Lobster Truck
Food trucks selling cupcakes and pizza are a dime a dozen. There’s only one roving purveyor of lobster rolls, served two ways: Maine-style, with lemony mayo; and Connecticut-style, with butter. The crustaceans are shipped straight from lobstah mecca Maine. Though out-of-towners, they’ve been well received (witness the long lines that magically appear wherever the Red Hook truck anchors). For an extra taste of New England, order the clam chowder. K.A.
New Restaurant: Graffiato
Mike Isabella made a name for himself as head chef at Zaytinya before “Top Chef” put him in the big league. He opened his first restaurant, Graffiato, this year to mass fan hysteria. While his Italian-inspired tapas and pizza menu may be different each time you visit, you’ll always find something intriguing, such as pizza topped with duck egg and truffles. Graffiato is, as a hot spot is wont to be, loud and full of pretty people. A group will have a long wait for a table, so we suggest going with one or two friends who like the same pizzas you do. F.Z.
1st: Graffiato, 707 6th St. NW; 202-289-3600. (Gallery Place)
2nd: Estadio, 1520 14th St. NW; 202-319-1404. (Dupont Circle)
3rd: Yamas Mediterranean Grill, 4806 Rugby Ave., Bethesda; 301-312-8384. (Bethesda)
Restaurant Owned by a “Top Chef” Contestant: Volt
We hope Bryan Voltaggio takes his victory over his fellow local “Top Chef” alumni as a huge compliment: Volt, in Frederick, Md., was the only nominee in this category that requires an hour-long car ride from central D.C. That’s an indication of just how beloved Voltaggio’s locally sourced, seasonally inspired, hard-to-land-reservations-at restaurant is. Soon, though, you won’t need to travel beyond the Beltway for a Voltaggio fix: The chef plans to open a bistro in Chevy Chase Pavilion next spring. K.A.
Beer List: ChurchKey
The spacious bar above Birch & Barley boasts 500 bottled beers, 50 brews on tap and five cask ales. Beer director Greg Engert takes his job seriously; he regularly hosts tastings and beer-and-food pairings. All this devotion to drinks doesn’t go unnoticed, and ChurchKey is often packed with 20- and 30-somethings straight from the office. Stick around late on a Friday or Saturday night, and you might get first dibs on fresh-baked cookies made by Birch & Barley’s pastry chef, Tiffany MacIsaac. K.A.
French Fries and Late-Night Bite: Amsterdam Falafelshop
This Adams Morgan mainstay serves soft, warm bread wrapped around falafel patties and toppings from the veggie-and-sauce bar. As the healthiest late-night option on 18th Street, the vegetarian joint needed something greasy to attract the gin-soaked weekend clientele. Enter french fries, a staple of Dutch falafel shops. These come in a cone and meet all the criteria — crisp outside, soft inside, hot as the center of the sun. Also, the brownies will blow your mind — but not in a way that will get you arrested. F.Z.
Amsterdam Falafelshop, 2425 18th St. NW; 202-234-1969. (Woodley Park)
Fries, 2nd: Good Stuff Eatery, 303 Pennsylvania Ave. SE; 202-543-8222. (Capitol South)
Fries, 3rd: Brasserie Beck, 1101 K St. NW; 202-408-1717. (Metro Center)
Late-Night Bite, 2nd: The Diner, 2453 18th St. NW; 202-232-8800. (Woodley Park)
Late-Night Bite, 3rd: Osman & Joe’s Steak ’n Egg Kitchen, 4700 Wisconsin Ave. NW; 202-686-1201. (Tenleytown)
Pizza: Pizzeria Paradiso
There’s a good chance you’ve waited for a table at a Pizzeria Paradiso, since the three always-bustling locations don’t take reservations. There’s also a good chance your wait was worthwhile — you can’t find the spicy Atomica (with salami, black olives and mozzarella) or the Di Mare (with mussels, garlic and parsley) just anywhere. K.A.
1st: Pizzeria Paradiso, multiple locations.
2nd: Red Rocks, 1036 Park Road NW, 202-506-1402 (Columbia Heights) and 904 King St., Alexandria, 703-717-9873 (King Street)
3rd: Matchbox, multiple locations.
Coffee: Chinatown Coffee Co.
Chinatown Coffee Co. recently won a “latte art throwdown” against Big Bear Coffee for its baristas’ superior achievements in creating patterns and images in dollops of steamed milk. The café’s underground vibe and Intelligentsia-brand coffee will also have you buzzing. K.A.
1st: Chinatown Coffee Co., 475 H St. NW; 202-559-7656. (Gallery Place)
2nd: Peregrine Espresso, 1718 14th St. NW, 202-525-5127 (U St.-Cardozo) and 660 Pennsylvania Ave. SE, 202-629-4381 (Eastern Market)
3rd: Java House, 1645 Q St. NW; 202-387-6622. (Dupont Circle)
Sandwich: Pork Banh Mi at Sauca
The Sauca food truck flouts the rules with this grilled flatbread wrap (traditional Vietnamese banh mi are served in crusty baguettes). Inside are salty-sweet-and-spicy pork, crunchy pickled veggies and Thai peanut and coconut sauces. It’s also available at Sauca’s sit-down location in Arlington. K.A.
1st: The pork banh mi at Sauca, 4707 Columbia Pike, Arlington; 703-979-0020; find the truck at @wheresauca.
2nd: The Milano at the Italian Store, 3123 Lee Hwy, Arlington; 703-528-6266.
3rd: The BLT at Tonic, 3155 Mt. Pleasant St. NW; 202-986-7661. (Columbia Heights)
Liquid Dinner: Ramen at Toki Underground
A visit to ramen emporium Toki Underground is always occasion for internal conflict. “You cannot possibly eat any more,” says your stomach. “But there’s half a bowl left,” you tell it. “Just one more sip of fragrant broth, tender noodles, egg and whatever this crunchy thing is.” “That bowl is the size of the Mir space station,” says your stomach. “Take it home or you are going to throw up.” Toki also serves dumplings, in case you are the Hulk and need more food. F.Z.
Toki Underground, 1234 H St. NE; 202-388-3086.
Mac and Cheese: Eatonville
Eatonville’s extra-sharp cheesy pasta is baked to give it a gorgeous, crispy crust. Though it’s listed as a side, you can order two or three portions as dinner. F.Z.
Eatonville, 2121 14th St. NW; 202-332-9672.
Wine List: Proof
You could get drunk just reading Proof’s wine list, which is more of a wine phone book. With bottles priced between $35 and $10,500 (for a 1947 St.-Emilion Chateau Cheval Blanc), there’s something to fit any budget. The wine isn’t the only draw, though, as the seasonal menu is worth a trip even for the non-oenophile. Or even for people who don’t know how to pronounce “oenophile.” K.P.K.
Chef: Michel Richard
With the opening of Central Michel Richard in Las Vegas, Chef Richard — the Gallic mastermind behind Citronelle, Central and Michel at the Ritz-Carlton — officially belongs to the ages. Or at least the Strip. His food is at once serious and lighthearted, classical and nontraditional. (When was the last time you saw bok choi on a French menu?) He’s also known for his whimsical sense of humor — dishes at Citronelle include an escargot “porcupine” and “rubber ducky taking his bath,” a meringue duck filled with pineapple sorbet sitting on foam coconut “bubbles.” Chef Richard, you’re so fun! You make mealtime lots of fun! Chef Richard, we’re awfully fond of you! K.P.K.
Place to Go When Someone Else Is Paying: Komi
If someone in your circle has a thick wallet, call Komi a month ahead of time (no earlier!) to reserve a table (but not one for a party larger than four; they aren’t allowed!) for Johnny Monis’ $135-per-person tasting menu. Add $70 if you want wine pairings. Celebrating a birthday? Leave the camera at home, because photos aren’t allowed either! Looking for something off the menu? Good! There are no menus. You’re on a journey with no map. K.P.K.
By Katie Aberbach, Kristen Page-Kirby and Fiona Zublin