Best of 2012: Dining

October 18, 2012


Seafood: Hank’s Oyster Bar

If we had any doubts about the legitimacy of the “urban beach food” genre, Hank’s Oyster Bar put them to rest long ago. Chef-owner Jamie Leeds packs her three locations with standout seafood dishes. Raw oysters on the half-shell are a must-order, as are the fried oysters (and other fried seafood specialties, for that matter). Fish entrees rotate seasonally, and you can count on some regular meat and veggie options if you’re not a piscivore. The newest incarnation of Hank’s, which opened on Capitol Hill over the summer, is home to cocktail guru Gina Chersevani’s Eddy Bar. K.A.

1st: Hank’s Oyster Bar, multiple locations.
2nd: BlackSalt, 4883 MacArthur Blvd.; 202-342-9101.
3rd: Pearl Dive, 1612 14th St. NW; 202-319-1612. (U Street)

Vegetarian: Busboys & Poets

No matter what your dietary needs, you’ll find something substantial and delicious at Busboys & Poets (and it’s not just hummus). The menu at the four locations is generous to vegetarians, vegans and gluten-free diners — perfect for such a community-minded business. Sure, you’ll find meatloaf and Hawaiian pizza on the menu, but even carnivores are likely to be tempted by non-meat items. Pesto lasagna? Grilled brie panini? Kalamata olive, tomato, spinach and feta pizza? Obviously, everybody wins here. K.A.

1st: Busboys & Poets, multiple locations.
2nd: Amsterdam Falafelshop, 2425 18th St. NW; 202-234-1969. (Woodley Park)
3rd: Java Green/Cafe Green, 1020 19th St. NW; 202-775-8899. (Farragut North)

Thai: Thai Tanic

Disregard Thai Tanic’s cheesy name, some say. We say, embrace it! The kitsch factor is just one reason to love this cozy Logan Circle spot (and its newer Columbia Heights sister, Thai Tanic II). Other reasons: The kitchen’s not afraid of spice, which enlivens standards such as pad thai; vegetarian options abound; and inventive cocktails beckon. K.A.

1st: Thai Tanic, locations in Logan Circle and Columbia Heights.
2nd: Beau Thai, 1700 New Jersey Ave. NW; 202-536-5636. (Shaw)
3rd: Thai X-ing, 515 Florida Ave. NW; 202-332-4322. (Shaw)

Indian: Rasika

Ashok Bajaj’s restaurant remains the reigning champ (four years and counting) in our Best Indian category. What keeps it on top? Consistency, says executive chef Vikram Sunderam. And the palak chaat, the addictive crispy spinach appetizer cited in just about every review ever written about Rasika. The restaurant’s airy West End location opened in March to immediate popularity. One dish that was non-negotiable at the new place: You guessed it, palak chaat. “We would have gotten in a lot of trouble” without it, Sunderam jokes. K.A.

1st: Rasika, multiple locations.
2nd: Tiffin, 1341 University Blvd. East, Takoma Park, Md.; 301-434-9200.
3rd: Masala Art, 4441 B Wisconsin Ave. NW; 202-362-4441. (Tenleytown)

Ethiopian: Dukem

A U Street staple, Dukem is D.C.’s favorite place to eat without forks. (Instead, you scoop up food with pieces of soft, slightly sour injera bread.) Try the tibs, a dish of lamb or beef sautéed with onion, rosemary, jalapeno and Dukem’s signature sauce. For those ambitious enough to re-create the experience at home, Dukem’s market sells Ethiopian spices and that amazing bread. C.E.

1st: Dukem, 1114-1118 U St. NW; 202-667-8735. (U Street)
2nd: Ethiopic, 401 H St. NE; 202-675-2066. (Union Station)
3rd: Meskerem, 2434 18th St. NW; 202-462-4100. (Woodley Park)

Barbecue: Hill Country

This country-blarin’ barbecue joint (with a sister restaurant in NYC) takes its culinary ’cues from central Texas. Meat is coated with a dry rub of kosher salt, black pepper and cayenne, then cooked low and slow over wood imported from the Lone Star State. “It just has the sweetest, softest, loveliest smoke,” says executive chef Elizabeth Karmel. “That’s where the signature flavor comes from.” K.A.

1st: Hill Country, 410 7th St. NW; 202-556-2050. (Archives)
2nd: Rocklands, multiple locations.
3rd: Red Hot & Blue, multiple locations.

South/Central American: Oyamel

Here you’ll find lesser-known Mexican ingredients such as grasshoppers, beef tongue, cactus and huitlacoche (corn truffle, a sort of plant fungus that’s often eaten in tortilla-based dishes like quesadillas). Oyamel takes its devotion to Mexican culture so seriously that it’s already looking ahead to this Dec. 21, the date ancient Mayans calculated as the end of time. Mark your calendar. K.A.

1st: Oyamel, 401 7th St. NW; 202-628-1005. (Archives)
2nd: El Tamarindo, 1785 Florida Ave. NW; 202-328-3660. (Dupont Circle)
3rd: Ceiba, 701 14th St. NW; 202-393-3983. (McPherson Square)

Middle Eastern: Zaytinya

Our little Zaytinya is all grown up! Celebrating its 10th anniversary this month, the Greek/Turkish/Lebanese small-plates restaurant continues to please. The menu changes seasonally; standouts available year-round include hunkar begendi (Turkish braised lamb shank) and kibbeh (Lebanese beef and bulghur wheat fritters). “There’s no fusion in what we do,” says head chef Michael Costa. “Most of the modernizing we do is aesthetic.” K.A.

1st: Zaytinya, 701 9th St. NW; 202-638-0800. (Gallery Place)
2nd: Lebanese Taverna, multiple locations.
3rd: Cava Mezze Grill multiple locations.

Pie: Dangerously Delicious Pies

This H Street NE shop and food truck (@ThePieTruckDC) have enabled Washingtonians to indulge in the fantasy of eating pie for every single meal. In this no-longer-unrealistic world of pastry bliss, you might enjoy a spinach-goat cheese quiche for breakfast, pork BBQ pie for lunch and steak chili pie for dinner. Leave room for dessert! There’s a slice of the Baltimore Bomb (vanilla chess, topped with Charm City’s signature Berger cookies) with your name on it. K.A.

1st: Dangerously Delicious Pies, 1339 H St. NE; 202-398-7437.
2nd: Baked & Wired, 1052 Thomas Jefferson St. NW; 202-333-2500.
3rd: Pie Sisters, 3423 M St. NW; 202-338-7437.

Cupcake: Baked & Wired

There have been many legendary matchups throughout history: David vs. Goliath; Harry Potter vs. He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named; Teddy vs. the Presidents; Baked & Wired vs. Georgetown Cupcake. Georgetown’s other favorite bakery has at last dethroned the pink-packaging behemoth on M Street, without a slingshot, a magic spell or a fake Phillie Phanatic. Try the Texas Sheetcake, a chocolate cupcake gilded with frosting while still warm, and the Flapjack, a maple-brown-butter cupcake topped with candied bacon. M.S.

1st: Baked & Wired, 1052 Thomas Jefferson St. NW; 202-333-2500.
2nd: Georgetown Cupcake, multiple locations.
3rd: Sticky Fingers, 1370 Park Road NW; 202-299-9700. (Columbia Heights)

Sushi: Sticky Rice DC

Dishes at Sticky Rice have names as intriguing as their ingredients. Try the Drawn-n-Buttered roll (with shrimp, crab and garlic butter), the Billy Goat’s Gruff (broiled yellow tail sashimi with goat cheese) or one of the many vegan and vegetarian options. Their signature Sticky Balls (shut up) can be filled with tuna and crab or veggies. And what’s a sushi feast without a bucket of tater tots and a cocktail on the side? Asian pear sangria, please! E.B.

1st: Sticky Rice DC, 1224 H St. NE; 202-397-7655.
2nd: Sushi Taro, 1503 17th St. NW; 202-462-8999. (Dupont Circle)
3rd: Kushi, 465 K St. NW; 202-682-3123. (Mt. Vernon Square)

Sandwich: Taylor Gourmet

This is where President Obama sat down in May to break bread and talk economics with small-business owners, including the shop’s leading men, David Mazza and Casey Patten. We can see why: Even if the sandwiches can’t single-handedly save the economy, they surely are inspiring. The gold standard is the Pattinson Avenue: roasted pork, broccoli rabe and provolone. Sesame-sprinkled hoagies are Taylor’s signature, so if you don’t have a need for seed, best reach for one of their six salads. M.S.

1st: Taylor Gourmet, multiple locations.
2nd: SUNdeVICH, 1314 9th St. NW. (Mt. Vernon Square)
3rd: Jetties, multiple locations.

Brunch: Founding Farmers

Of the lesser-known inalienable rights, the pursuit of brunch reigns supreme. Founding Farmers offers a weekend spread worth chasing, with red velvet and carrot cake pancakes and bacon that can be glazed four ways. Made-to-order beignets ($8) are supposed to serve two to three — on the assumption that the one who orders them cares to share. (We make no such assumptions.) Come federal holidays, the weekend brunch extends into Mondays, meaning you might have to put more “exercise” into exercising your rights. M.S.

1st: Founding Farmers, 1924 Pennsylvania Ave. NW; 202-822-8783. (Farragut West)
2nd: Tabard Inn, 1739 N St. NW; 202-331-8528. (Farragut North)
3rd: Busboys & Poets, multiple locations.

Burger: Five Guys

D.C.’s obsession with Five Guys is the result of a simple equation: a fully customizable menu multiplied by more area locations than we care to count. It’s America’s loss that our homegrown fast-food chain hasn’t yet reached the ubiquity of McDonald’s nationwide. At two patties thick (the default option) and with 15 free topping options (there are 250,000 possible combinations), the Five Guys burger is a juicy, messy meal that makes a Big Mac look like a small fry. R.G.

1st: Five Guys, multiple locations.
2nd: Ray’s Hell Burger, 1725 Wilson Blvd., Arlington. (Rosslyn)
3rd: Good Stuff Eatery, multiple locations.

Pizza: 2Amys

Blisters usually mean hard work and/or a need to rethink one’s footwear. The blisters on 2Amy’s Neapolitan pizzas’ crusts signal hard work and an oven that reaches 900 degrees F. Before entering the furnace, the dough rises for 36 hours. “It has a lot of time to relax and work really slowly into lots of flavor,” co-owner Peter Pastan says. Finished pies sport simple classic toppings — fresh mozzarella, pepperoni, olives and peppers, to name a few. M.S.

1st: 2Amys, 3715 Macomb St. NW; 202-885-5700.
2nd: Matchbox, multiple locations.
3rd: Pete’s New Haven Style Apizza, multiple locations.

Salad: Sweetgreen

This locally grown chain has sprouted 11 locations in the region, all the while amassing as many devotees as it has salad permutations. Locavores will delight in knowing where their kale or apples were harvested, and thirsty herbivores who prefer to swig a salad can try a Sweetpress juice for $6 or $7. Shrimp, chicken and tofu are the primary proteins on offer, and bacon lovers can ask for extra sprinkles. M.S.

1st: Sweetgreen, multiple locations.
2nd: Chop’t, multiple locations.
3rd: Cosi, multiple locations.

Late-Nite Bite: Ben’s Chili Bowl

Washington, you wouldn’t have it any other way. Since 1958, Ben’s has been one of the city’s favorite eateries at any time of day. But there’s nothing quite like fighting the late-night crowd for the snap and spice of Ben’s iconic chili-drenched half-smoke. Open until 4 a.m. on weekends, Ben’s also benefits from its proximity to U Street’s many bars and rock clubs, making it a pit stop for music fans, bands and garden-variety drunk people. R.G.

1st: Ben’s Chili Bowl, 1213 U St. NW; 202-667-0909. (U Street)
2nd: The Diner, 2453 18th St. NW; 202-232-8800. (Woodley Park)
3rd: Amsterdam Falafelshop, 2425 18th St. NW; 202-234-1969. (Woodley Park)

Indie Coffee Shop: Tryst Coffeehouse

With specialty beans, an artistic vibe and a “no corporate coffee” motto, this beloved Adams Morgan hangout has all the ingredients of a hipster paradise — except a hipster-heavy clientele. All sorts worship at Tryst’s copper-plated counter and lounge in its couches and armchairs. Stick around long enough and you can add a boozy kick to your latte, as Tryst moonlights as a bar. If the place didn’t close (between midnight and 3 a.m., depending on the day), we’d be hard-pressed to find a reason to leave. M.S.

1st: Tryst Coffeehouse, 2459 18th St. NW; 202-232-5500. (Woodley Park)
2nd: Big Bear Cafe, 1700 1st St. NW.
3rd:Peregrine Espresso, locations in Eastern Market, MidCity and Union Market.

Frozen Treat: FroZenYo

D.C.ers are DIY when it comes to dessert. FroZenYo gives customers their own bucket-size cup (you pay by weight) and lets them go wild. Sixteen rotating yogurt flavors offer the freedom to create your own delicious (or disgusting) dessert. Ever mixed maple bacon doughnut yogurt and peppermint yogurt? Now you can! Top your concoction with crushed-up Kit Kats, mochi, Cinnamon Toast Crunch or many other options. FroZenYo is what you make of it. B.M.

1st: FroZenYo, multiple locations.
2nd: Pitango Gelato, multiple locations.
3rd: Pleasant Pops, 1781 Florida Ave. NW; 202-558-5224. (U Street)

Bakery: Baked & Wired

This Georgetown standard has been around since 2001, before neighborhood rival Georgetown Cupcake was even a sprinkle in its founders’ eyes. Co-owner Teresa Velazquez is always trying to improve the recipes, she says, because “to me, nothing is really ever good enough.” Branch out beyond the 22 cupcake varieties to delights such as “hippie crack” (granola) and “muffins” (cupcakes without frosting). The Honey Badger, a brownie iced with chocolate and a brown-butter-and-pecan fudgelike frosting, is dangerously habit-forming. Even Velazquez was hooked after her first bite: “I said, ‘Oh my God, that’s the best brownie I’ve ever tasted.’” Agreed. M.S.

1st: Baked & Wired, 1052 Thomas Jefferson St. NW; 202-333-2500.
2nd: The Sweet Lobby, 404 8th St. SE; 202-544-2404. (Eastern Market)
3rd: Sticky Fingers, 1370 Park Road NW; 202-299-9700. (Columbia Heights)

Chef: Jose Andres

It’s tough to keep up with the boundlessly energetic Spaniard who brings us so many gastronomic wonders at his Think Food Group restaurants. If Andres is not in his own kitchens here in D.C., he’s lecturing at Harvard about the “science of soft matter,” hanging out with star chef Anthony Bourdain or representing America abroad as a U.S. “culinary ambassador.” His latest adventure: reopening his avant-garde, tasting-menu-only restaurant, Minibar, on Nov. 2 in a new, larger space (9th and E streets NW). K.A.

1st: Jose Andres of Think Food Group.
2nd: Mike Isabella of Graffiato (707 6th St. NW; 202-289-3600) and Bandolero (3241 M St. NW; 202-625-4488).
3rd: Ris LaCoste of Ris (2275 L St. NW; 202-730-2500).

New Restaurant: Toki Underground

Toki Underground is actually on the second floor. The contradictions don’t end there at this uber-hip H Street noodle house. A wood-beam ceiling tops a restaurant that’s a riot of graffiti and anime wallpaper, while Taiwanese-style ramen in a traditional “tonkotsu” broth gets topped with five-spice fried chicken, homemade sriracha sauce and other creative touches from Taipei-born chef Erik Bruner-Yang. He says he’s “honoring the tradition of making ramen,” while pleasing our modern palates. E.B.

1st: Toki Underground, 1234 H St. NE; 202-388-3086.
2nd: The Pig, 1320 14th St. NW; 202-290-2821.
3rd: Mintwood Place, 1813 Columbia Road NW, 202-234-6732. (Woodley Park)

Place to Go to Impress Someone: Komi

Chef Johnny Monis masterminds Komi’s $135 prix-fixe meal, which marches menuless from the kitchen and includes upward of 15 courses. Expect no shortage of surprises in the carousel of modern Greek small plates, which may include slow-roasted baby goat with pita and tzatziki, or foie gras and Wagyu beef-tongue gyro. Reservations are capped at parties of four to preserve an intimate feel and can be made only a month in advance. Komi is also closed on Sundays and Mondays, so getting that elusive reservation might impress your date even more than the dining experience itself. M.S.

1st: Komi, 1509 17th St. NW; 202-332-9200.
2nd: Rasika, multiple locations.
3rd: Proof, 775 G St. NW; 202-737-7663. (Gallery Place)

Place to Go With Someone Else Paying: Inn at Little Washington

If your date’s pockets are deep, demand a visit to the area’s most notoriously expensive restaurant, where chef Patrick O’Connell serves locally sourced classic French cuisine with a modern twist. Dinner starts at $158 per person for a six-course meal midweek, excluding beverages, taxes and tip; a high roller can easily spend a few grand. To get your money’s worth, request a behind-the-scenes kitchen tour (it’s gratis for diners). K.A.

1st: Inn at Little Washington, 309 Middle St., Washington, Va.; 540-675-3800.
2nd: Komi, 1509 17th St. NW; 202-332-9200. (Dupont Circle)
3rd: Citronelle; temporarily closed; 3000 M St. NW.

Food Truck (Sweet): Pleasant Pops

This ice cream truck for grown-ups serves sophisticated flavors — try honey lavender or Mexican chocolate — at farmers markets all over town. B.M.

1st: Pleasant Pops (@pleasantpops).
2nd: Curbside Cupcakes, 202-495-0986 (@curbsidecupcake).
3rd: Dangerously Delicious, 202-398-7437 (@thepietruckdc).

Food Truck (Savory): Red Hook Lobster Pound

Order a lobster roll Connecticut-style (poached in butter) or Maine-style (in lemon mayo), or tuck into a shrimp roll or whoopie pie. B.M.

1st: Red Hook Lobster Pound, 202-341-6263 (@lobstertruckdc).
2nd: Fojol Bros (@fojolbros).
3rd: TaKorean (@takorean).

Farmers Market: Eastern Market

Pick up fish, flowers or fancy cheeses in the South Hall six days a week. On weekends the market sprawls onto the sidewalks, where farmers hawk produce and artists sell their quirky wares. C.E.

1st: Eastern Market, 225 7th St. SE; 202-698-5253. (Eastern Market)
2nd: Dupont Circle Farmers Market, 20th Street NW between Massachusetts and Connecticut avenues; 202-362-8889. (Dupont Circle)
3rd: Mt. Pleasant Farmers Market, 3200 Mount Pleasant St. NW. (Columbia Heights)

Written by Katie Aberbach, Emma Beck, Christyn Enser, Rudi Greenberg, Beth Marlowe and Morgan Schneider.

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Holley Simmons · October 18, 2012