D.C.’s most essential dishes of 2015

D.C.’s most essential dishes of 2015

Published on March 12, 2015

Seeking reader nominations for Washington’s essential dishes is a kind of editorial foraging that always uncovers an eyebrow-raising morsel or two. (Gas station tacos, anyone?) More often, taken as a whole, it provides a fascinating snapshot of how Washingtonians dine now.

Two years ago, we could be satisfied with a handmade Pop-Tart. Or bacon anything.

By 2014, our palates had become more sophisticated. We’d grown passionate about funk, smoke, bitterness and brine — preferably all stirred into one perfect bite.

This year, when we sifted through a stack of e-mails and tweets about burgers and noodle bowls and Korean barbecue, we were cowed by the diversity and global influences.

40 Eats galleries:
2014
2013
2012

As a wave of Lao, Filipino, Korean and Thai restaurants rolls into Washington, our 2015 list also packs more heat, more punch and so much more fish sauce.

We’re more adventurous, too, making regular meals of smelts, marrow and eel. We love the lowbrow and the local brew. If there is ever solid proof that we’re not a steakhouse-loving, expense-account town after all, this list provides it.

This year, we asked local experts in the world of food and drink to share their favorites. We also revisited previous lists to designate 10 dishes and drinks as D.C. classics. Beloved by readers and embraced by The Post’s team of food writers, these include the palak chaat at Rasika and pork and litchi salad at Rose’s Luxury, as well as Amsterdam Falafelshop’s falafel and Good Stuff Eatery’s toasted marshmallow shake.

Below, in no particular order, you’ll find those dishes and more of the eclectic eats that make it so rewarding to dine in Washington right now.

Play Video

The Brisket Champ at DCity Smokehouse. (Joseph Victor Stefanchik for The Washington Post)

The Brisket Champ at DCity Smokehouse

At the tiny-but-mighty Florida Avenue smokery DCity, the Brisket Champ sandwich starts with what The Post’s Tim Carman has called “master’s level brisket” — beef, smoked for hours with cherrywood and hickory, good enough to stand on its own. But when it comes to essential eats, Washingtonians love overkill, so this meaty masterpiece is stacked onto buttery, fat Texas toast and topped with vinegar-loaded house-made pickles and crispy buttermilk-battered onions. “The sandwich,” wrote Matthew Adinolfi of the District, “is just a great flavor combination of smoke from the meat, crunchy and salty from the fried onions and tart from the pickles.”
8 Florida Ave. NW. www.dcitysmokehouse.com. $9.25.

Galbi (marinated beef short ribs) and banchan (side dishes)at Kogiya.

Galbi at Kogiya. (Kate Patterson for The Washington Post)

Galbi at Kogiya

The long-held belief that the best ethnic cuisine can be found in questionable-looking establishments — gas stations, deserted motels — doesn’t hold true when it comes to this Korean barbecue joint that is both coolly designed and lauded for its food. Here, banchan flows liberally, but it’s the meat that brings spice-lovers from across the region. Ruby Roy noted Kogiya’s “modern clean rock-and-roll atmosphere” in her nomination of the beef short rib dish known as galbi. Owner Sylvia Cho credits the impeccable butchering skills of her chef, who she says delivers a galbi so soft, “it melts in your mouth.” Cooking it over an open flame adds just the right hint of smoke.
4220-A Annandale Rd., Annandale. www.kogiya.com. $30.

Mezze rigatoni at Red Hen. (Lavanya Ramanathan/The Washington Post)

Mezze rigatoni at Red Hen. (Lavanya Ramanathan/The Washington Post)

Mezze rigatoni with fennel sausage ragu at Red Hen

In New York and New Jersey, where chef Mike Friedman was raised, “rigatoni is the major staple pasta in every red-sauce joint in town.” At Red Hen, the house-made dry pasta is the vehicle for a slow-roasted tomato sauce, which Friedman spikes with garlic, butter and sausage that he makes with local pork, toasted fennel seed, pepper and floral fennel pollen. The appeal of this popular dish, which also can be ordered without sausage, is that it’s both familiar and unfussy, Friedman said. “There’s, like, this great simple, harmonious thing going on.”
1822 First St. NW. www.theredhendc.com. $17.

Toasted marshmallow milkshake at Good Stuff Eatery. (Lavanya Ramanathan/The Washington Post)

Toasted marshmallow milkshake at Good Stuff Eatery. (Lavanya Ramanathan/The Washington Post)

Toasted marshmallow milkshake at Good Stuff Eatery

40 Eats Classic / On the menu since: 2008.
Orders sold on a typical weekend: 1,000 (among the company’s five domestic restaurants).

Using s’mores as inspiration, former “Top Chef” contender Spike Mendelsohn torched marshmallows and blended them with milk to create this smoky-sweet treat. Fresh vanilla custard gives the shake a lovely, smooth texture that’s far superior to that of lesser milkshakes, but look closer: Those black flecks aren’t vanilla bean, but the charred marshmallows, flavoring every sip. That’s the idea, said Mendelsohn, who calls it “a campfire in your mouth.”
Various locations in the District and Virginia. www.goodstuffeatery.com. $5.95.

Unagidon, $18, is pictured.  It is barbecued eel served with sliced onions and a half cooked egg with donburi sauce.

Unagidon at Donburi. (Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post)

Unagidon at Donburi

Most diners who come through this sliver of a restaurant in Adams Morgan are bellying up to their first bowl of eel, a Japanese staple that doesn’t have quite the same following stateside. But it takes very little coaxing for this rice bowl to become a newcomer’s go-to dish. The unagidon bowl, nominated by Martin Rundle of the District, features fatty barbecued eel cooked and then fired with a blowtorch to give it a faint char; it’s piled onto a half-cooked egg, which spills even more richness onto the savory rice. Crunch and color come last, as the bowl is decked out with ginger, daikon and cucumbers.
2438 18th St. NW. www.facebook.com/donburidc. $18.

Play Video

Khachapuri at Compass Rose.

Khachapuri at Compass Rose

Walk through Compass Rose, and it’s impossible not to notice this dish on nearly every table, a cheese-and-egg-filled canoe that looks so good it practically beckons you to order it, too. That’s the Georgian delicacy khachapuri. The dough is filled with ricotta, feta and mozzarella, baked, then presented at your table piping hot, with a heart-stopping pat of butter and runny egg. “I’m almost embarrassed by how many times I’ve had it,” wrote Lacy Smith of the District. “It’s so rich and warm and delicious.”
1346 T St. NW. www.compassrosedc.com. $14.

The stuffed bone marrow with house bacon, chimichurri and apple butter, served by chef Marjorie Meek-Bradley at Ripple

Stuffed bone marrow at Ripple. (Katherine Frey/The Washington Post)

Stuffed bone marrow at Ripple

Like pork belly and offal, bone marrow’s moment has come and gone. But Ripple executive chef Marjorie Meek-Bradley can’t take her version off the menu without customers clamoring for it. The substance she describes as “like a gelatinous butter” is ideal for soaking up flavors, so Meek-Bradley mixes the marrow with bacon for saltiness and tops it with chimichurri for an acidic, herb-packed punch. Finally, a streak of apple butter adds a hint of sugar. “Sit at the bar, smear some on grilled bread, and enjoy with a nice glass of wine,” wrote Martin Rundle of the District. “My friend, who had never had bone marrow before, quite literally moaned out loud.”
3417 Connecticut Ave. NW. www.rippledc.com. $12.

Play Video

Falafel at Amsterdam Falafelshop. (Lavanaya Ramanathan/The Washington Post)

Falafel at Amsterdam Falafelshop

40 Eats Classic / On the menu since: 2004.
Orders sold on a typical weekend: 1,200 at the original Adams Morgan location.

A vacation to Amsterdam introduced Scott and Arianne Bennett to the Dutch fusion falafel that inspired their Amsterdam Falafelshop in Adams Morgan. The model they adopted was simple: Fry crunchy falafel to order — all chickpea, if you’re wondering — then hand it off to customers to fill their own pitas with baba ghanoush, pickled turnips, verdant jalapeno sauce or any of nearly 20 other spicy, garlicky toppings. They also stayed open past last call and quickly wooed the bar-going set away from jumbo slice with the promise of garlic cream. “The flavors were just so intense,” Arianne Bennett joked, “they cut right through the alcohol.” Amsterdam has been a D.C. dining destination ever since.
Various locations in the District, Maryland and Virginia. www.falafelshop.com. $5.55-$6.55.

Cotechino burger at Red Apron. (Lavanya Ramanathan/The Washington Post)

Cotechino burger at Red Apron. (Lavanya Ramanathan/The Washington Post)

Cotechino burger at Red Apron

It’s not Nathan Anda’s best-seller. It’s the sandwich he keeps on the menus of his growing empire of Red Apron Butchery shops because this complex little burger — topped with broccoli rabe — is one of his favorites. The cotechino burger (known at the D Street location as the Dino) starts with cotechino, a classic Italian sausage that’s 50 percent pork rind and 50 percent ground pork, lending the burger what Anda describes as an addictive, “unctuous” quality. Then comes that green broccoli rabe; Anda tempers its bitterness with the sweetness of roasted garlic and bite of Calabrian chilies, then tops it all with a slice of fontina.
Various locations in the District and Virginia. www.redapronbutchery.com. $8.

Margherita D.O.C. at 2 Amys. (Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post)

Margherita D.O.C. at 2 Amys. (Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post)

Margherita D.O.C. at 2 Amys

40 Eats Classic / On the menu since: 2001.
Orders sold on a typical weekend: 500.

Few pizzerias live up to the exacting standards of the Italian government, which dictates, to a slightly paranoid degree, the rules of Neapolitan pizza. Buffalo mozzarella, basil and a slightly charred crust are involved; do it right, and you have your D.O.C. designation. Do it wrong, and well . . . you may as well be just another New World hack. Since 2001, 2 Amys has not veered from the guidelines. But there’s a quality about this margherita pizza — with its warm, crunchy crust and milky, flavorful puddles of creamy mozzarella — that is somehow different and better than all the rest.
3715 Macomb St. NW. www.development.ginatolentino.com/2amys. $12.95.

Play Video

Kimchi ramen at Toki Underground. (Daniel Krieger)

Kimchi ramen at Toki Underground

40 Eats Classic / On the menu since: 2011.
Orders sold on a typical weekend: 150.

Sure, the mouth-puckering funk of kimchi can upend the balance so cherished by ramen purists, but Toki chef Erik Bruner-Yang’s kimchi ramen isn’t about subtlety or tradition. Its goal is “flavor overload,” Bruner-Yang said. To that end, his bowl of porky broth and chewy noodles features the spicy Korean pickled cabbage three ways: as a puree, a hot sauce and a garnish, each of which serve to make the soup, also swimming with biting greens, pork shoulder, and chili and black-garlic oils, as flavorful as it is fragrant.
1234 H St. NE. www.tokiunderground.com. $12.

Sakhoo yat sai at Doi Moi. (Lavanya Ramanathan/The Washington Post)

Sakhoo yat sai at Doi Moi. (Lavanya Ramanathan/The Washington Post)

Sakhoo yat sai at Doi Moi

On the streets of Thailand and Laos, the chewy, jiggly tapioca dumplings such as the ones served at 14th Street’s Doi Moi probably would come stuffed with pork. But chef de cuisine Deth Khaiaphone, a Laos native, instead fills his trio of sticky little pearls with a sweet-savory mix of preserved radish, peanuts and fried garlic, and tops them with sweat-inducing shards of potent red chili. You’re not missing anything: They’re vegan, and, to quote “Seinfeld,” they’re spectacular.
1800 14th St. NW. www.doimoidc.com. $7.

Gintonic at Estadio. (Kate Patterson for The Washington Post)

Gintonic at Estadio. (Kate Patterson for The Washington Post)

Gintonic at Estadio

40 Eats Classic / On the menu since: 2010.
Orders sold on a typical weekend: 150.

Gin and tonics seemed one-note — that note being juniper — before Adam Bernbach transformed the cocktail into a gussied-up herbal concoction at 14th Street small-plates shop Estadio. The secret to his citrusy, savory classic version (the one with Old Raj gin), is a house-made tonic, infused with the flavors of oranges, thyme and bitter bay leaf; it took so long to perfect, Bernbach recalled, that the drink didn’t make the cut for the restaurant’s earliest menu. These days, it’s a staple. Mixed with Old Raj, which has a tinge of saffron, it recalls Spanish flavors, and nope, you won’t detect even a hint of juniper.
1520 14th St. NW. www.estadio-dc.com. $11.

Play Video

Pork sausage, habanero and litchi salad at Rose’s Luxury. (Astrid Riecken for The Washington Post)

Pork sausage, habanero and litchi salad at Rose’s Luxury

40 Eats Classic / On the menu since: 2012. (Chef Aaron Silverman first debuted the dish in pop-ups held at his home.)
Orders sold on a typical weekend: 175.

Silverman’s salad is a Portuguese-influenced cacophony of herbs and texture: There’s mint and Thai basil; chewy, floral litchis; and smoky sausage (or, if you’re vegetarian, a soy substitute that won’t make you feel like you’re missing out). There are crunchy garlic chips and a delicate puff of whipped coconut milk. Stir it up, your server will insist. You should listen. What you’ll taste is greater than the sum of its parts.
717 Eighth St. SE. www.rosesluxury.com. $13.

Charcoal broiled chicken is slowed cooked over carbon vegetable charcoal at El Pollo Rico.

Charcoal-broiled chicken at El Pollo Rico. (Amanda Voisard for The Washington Post)

Charcoal-broiled chicken at El Pollo Rico

40 Eats Classic / On the menu since: 1988.
Orders sold on a typical weekend: 800-1,000 whole chickens per shop.

From early in the morning to long after dusk, the spits are turning at this family-owned Peruvian chicken chainlet that fans out from Wheaton to Woodbridge. Peruvian chicken, or pollo a la brasa, requires constant motion to ensure that the flames coming off the earthy charcoal lick each cumin-scented bird with the flavor of char. Balance it with a quick dip into the shops’ popular green sauce, known as aji, made with a blend of chilies, cilantro and garlic.
Various locations in Maryland and Virginia. www.welovethischicken.com. $5.80-$19.75.

Bub’s Italian Hoagie at Bub and Pop’s. (Deb Lindsey for The Washington Post)

Bub’s Italian Hoagie at Bub and Pop’s. (Deb Lindsey for The Washington Post)

Bub’s Italian Hoagie at Bub and Pop’s

Selected by Kyle Bailey, executive chef of Birch & Barley and the Arsenal

For Bailey, there is no better sandwich in the District than the Italian hoagie at Bub and Pop’s. The bread makes the difference, he wrote: It holds its own in a sandwich stacked with prosciutto, capicola, pepperoni, salami and provolone. And there are cheffy touches, too: house-made mayo; a relish made with hot pepper, sweet pepper and onion; a top-secret vinaigrette; and a hearty but non-traditional shaving of Pecorino Romano. “The meat-cheese-fixins’ ratio,” Bailey wrote, “is always on point.”
1815 M St. NW. www.bubandpops.com. $8 for a half sandwich; $14 for a whole.

Pho at Pho 75. (Lavanya Ramanathan/The Washington Post)

Pho at Pho 75. (Lavanya Ramanathan/The Washington Post)

Pho at Pho 75

40 Eats Classic / On the menu since: 1985.
Orders sold on a typical weekend: 300-400 per shop.

Pho 75 doesn’t do summer rolls or tofu or other frivolities. And, sorry, it also doesn’t cater to vegetarians. What it does particularly well is soup, regularly drawing a queue of fans for the complex beef broth laced with onion, clove, ginger and cinnamon. The secret, said Dung Phan, the restaurants’ general manager, is the way that soup is cooked, steeped with herbs and beef, for hours on end. Order one of the 17 varieties and get an overflowing bowl of broth over rice noodles and strips of steak, brisket or meatballs; it’s up to diners to pile on bean sprouts, basil and jalapeno. In Vietnam, Phan explained, pho is the food you turn to when you need fortification and nourishment. Funny, that’s true here, too.
Locations in Maryland and Virginia. No Web site. $6.95 regular; $7.95 large. Cash only.

Pumpkin curry at Thai X-ing. (Scott Suchman for the Washington Post)

Pumpkin curry at Thai X-ing

40 Eats Classic / On the menu since: 2008.
Orders sold in a typical weekend: 200.

Taw Vigsittaboot first served his sweet and fiery pumpkin curry on Halloween in 2008, he recalled, as a fun one-off to mark the season. After that, he’d offer it as part of his prix-fixe, multicourse meal only when the mood took him. Slowly, however, word got out about the addictive, buttery-textured gourd, and diners began booking their reservations, waiting politely through all the other courses, solely to taste it. So now every meal includes the red curry, made with sweet kabocha squash, coconut milk and a kick of chilies, lime leaves and lemongrass. There also are now two Thai X-ing locations; both developments have made it far easier to get your fix.
515 Florida Ave. NW; 2020 Ninth St. NW. www.thaix-ing.com. Fixed price, $30-$40 per person.

 The frito pie from Meats & Foods.

Frito pie from Meats & Foods. (Deb Lindsey for The Washington Post)

Frito pie at Meats & Foods

Yes, drizzling chili over corn chips and smothering it all in cheddar is elementary-level cooking, a skill you pick up to endure the dorm cafeteria or to lessen the repercussions of drinking one too many beers. In the South and in Mexico, however, chili and chips are serious culinary business. (See: Mexico’s obsession with Dorilocos.) At Meats & Foods, the lowly Frito pie is among the nostalgic junk-food basics given the gourmet treatment with chili that’s made with love — and rich, fatty beef. The Florida Avenue shop unveiled its Frito pie for New Year’s and people have been requesting it, off-the-menu, ever since.
247 Florida Ave. NW. www.meatsandfoods.com. $5.

Half chicken with dirty rice at Water & Wall. (Lavanya Ramanathan/The Washington Post)

Half chicken with dirty rice at Water & Wall. (Lavanya Ramanathan/The Washington Post)

Half chicken with dirty rice at Water & Wall

Selected by Amy Brandwein, chef of the forthcoming Centrolina

A mountain of fried chicken served on a bed of Cajun-seasoned, chicken-sausage-spiked dirty rice won a rave — and then a return visit — from Italian chef Brandwein. “The chicken is very tasty and moist, loaded with flavor,” she said. “Although it is called fried chicken, it doesn’t have a thick breading, but rather a delicious coating of interesting spices.” That’s because chef de cuisine Mike Johnson uses a sous-vide method to get the chicken tender, then fries it for just a few minutes, resulting in a bird that’s tender inside with a memorably crunchy skin.
3811 Fairfax Dr., No. 105, Arlington. www.waterandwall.com. $24. (Available at dinner only.)

Faux rib-eye at Corduroy and Baby Wale. (Kate Patterson for The Washington Post)

Faux rib-eye at Corduroy and Baby Wale. (Kate Patterson for The Washington Post)

Faux rib-eye at Corduroy and Baby Wale

A steak is a steak, right? Yet this piece of shoulder meat, playing dress-up as a hearty rib-eye, wowed food bloggers Brett and Rachel Gellman of Silver Spring, who deemed it not only a cut above the average steak, but also a bargain. Chef Tom Power of Corduroy and Baby Wale serves his 10-ounce steak two ways: At Corduroy, it’s pan-seared, served with potato puree and vegetables; at Baby Wale, it’s a little punk rock, grilled over charcoal and accompanied by fries. Power loved the curious cut enough to serve it at his 2008 wedding; the Gellmans are just as passionate about it, calling it “easily the most tender piece of meat we had in 2014.”
Part of a prix-fixe meal at the bar at Corduroy, 1122 Ninth St. NW. www.corduroydc.com. $30.
Baby Wale, 1124 Ninth St. NW. www.babywaledc.com. $24.

Play Video

Pork soup dumplings at Bob’s Shanghai 66.

Pork soup dumplings at Bob’s Shanghai 66

An herb-laden pork broth steeped with bones till it becomes almost gelatinous — hello, bone broth! — is the foundation of the Shanghai street-food staple xiao long bao (XLB). Bob’s in Rockville freezes that broth, mixes it with pork and tucks the cold mixture into the folds of a delicate purse of a dumpling. Steaming returns the frozen broth to a rich, gingery soup, but the dumplings don’t burst — until, that is, you take a bite. “They are just so delicate and flavorful and when they first come out, the soup is so warm and soothing,” wrote Ed Wallach of Bethesda. “My only problem is that they are so good. I can eat all six.”
305 N. Washington St., Rockville. www.tasty66.com. $6.50 for an order of six.

Healthy breakfast tacos at District Taco.

Healthy breakfast taco at District Taco. (Lavanya Ramanathan/The Washington Post)

Healthy breakfast taco at District Taco

An egg-white taco certainly seems well-intentioned. But at District Taco, there remains the task of loading it up. Ask for the potatoes, cheese and black beans, or if you’re like the reader who nominated the taco via Twitter, upgrade to bacon. Oh, and just get the flour tortilla already. Can you still say you ate something healthful? Maybe not, but trust us, it’s worth the calories: The dish, particularly when doused with the citrusy salsa verde, is the closest thing this town has to a Texas-worthy breakfast taco.

Various locations in the District and Virginia. www.districttaco.com. $3. (Add bacon or guacamole for $1.50 each.)

Crispy squid with basil at Thai Square. (Kate Patterson for The Washington Post)

Crispy squid with basil at Thai Square. (Kate Patterson for The Washington Post)

Crispy squid with basil at Thai Square

Thai Square’s crispy squid, topped with a thatch of flash-fried Thai basil, is so beloved that owner Sunthorn Rojural is reticent to give away its secrets; he’s worried that, even after 18 years of serving the dish, the competition might catch on. His secrets are safe here. Well, most of them. The restaurant manages to render soft what is so often rubbery by using young squid, which is cooked rapidly. “What makes it even better,” wrote Liz Coffin of Arlington, “is the crispy basil leaves on it along with garlic and chili peppers. MMM! A bit spicy but so good!”
3217 Columbia Pike, Arlington. www.thaisquarerestaurant.com. $16.95.

Som tum ka pi at Elephant Jumps. (Amanda Voisard for The Washington Post)

Som tum ka pi at Elephant Jumps. (Amanda Voisard for The Washington Post)

Som tum ka pi at Elephant Jumps

There’s a trend among ethnic restaurants to issue a kind of challenge to diners, in the form of the “authentic” menu. You are welcome to order from it, so long as you read through a few disclaimers about spice and substitutions. Still game? At Elephant Jumps, the “Serious Authentic Thai Cooking” menu lists a third papaya salad, a real-deal funky salad with shrimp paste that’s rarely trotted out for American diners. Also unusual: a side of pork rinds. Mix it together and sop it up with the rice. It’s unlike any papaya salad you’ve had before.
8110 Arlington Blvd., Falls Church. www.elephantjumps.com. $10.

Chocolate-chip cookie from Bread Furst. (Deb Lindsey for the Washington Post)

Chocolate-chip cookie from Bread Furst

It’s a chocolate-chip cookie, but a refined one, that drew a nomination from Lila Hill of Washington. Paired with a cool glass of milk, the crisp and none-too-sweet baked treat at Bread Furst had Hill dreaming of treats from her days growing up in Appalachia. It’s tradition that Jack Revelle, pastry chef at Mark Furstenberg’s Van Ness bakery, works hard to maintain as he improves upon the after-school classic: His cookie is made with organic flour, cultured butter and semi-sweet chocolate chips from a French chocolatier. “We elevate it,” Revelle said. But of the nostalgic factor, he added: “We don’t want to take that away.”
4434 Connecticut Ave. NW. www.breadfurst.com. $1.75.

Maine lobster ravioli at Fiola Mare and Fiola. (Scott Suchman for The Washington Post)

Maine lobster ravioli at Fiola Mare and Fiola. (Scott Suchman for The Washington Post)

Maine lobster ravioli at Fiola Mare and Fiola

Fabio Trabocchi has been making his luxe lobster ravioli for 15 years, since he was at the late Maestro in the Ritz-Carlton Tysons Corner. The pasta has garnered such a following that the chef can’t take it off the menu at Fiola Mare and Fiola without spurring a minor mutiny among his guests. Attribute its popularity to the rich, outsize pieces of lobster, which Trabocchi tucks into folds of delicate wonton to retain the crustacean’s top billing. Laced with a delicate sauce of lobster stock, ginger and chives, it is, wrote Susan Koch of Bethesda, “absolutely delectable.”
Fiola Mare, 3100 K St. NW. www.fiolamaredc.com.
Fiola, 678 Indiana Ave. NW. www.fioladc.com. Market price; currently $48.

Atlas Brew Works Rowdy ale. (Deb Lindsey for The Washington Post

Atlas Brew Works Rowdy ale. (Deb Lindsey for The Washington Post)

Atlas Brew Works Rowdy ale

Selected by Miles Gray, owner of Smith Public Trust

Though not technically dishes, cocktails and beer — or as we refer to them, liquid calories — are always welcome on our open-minded annual list. Given that our region has a booming craft-brewing scene, we’re not surprised Atlas Brew Works’s Rowdy rye ale drew a nod from Brookland bar owner Gray. Rye gives the Rowdy a peppery, spicy note, according to Will Durgin, Atlas’s head brewer, while the finishing hops add hints of grapefruit and pine. The result, said Gray, is a “delicious beer. Hoppy and aggressive yet very approachable.”
Currently available on draft in the District at the brewery, open weekends at 2052 West Virginia Ave. (www.atlasbrewworks.com); Old Ebbitt Grill (www.ebbitt.com), Bar Pilar (www.barpilar.com), Showtime Lounge (www.facebook.com/showtimebardc) and elsewhere. Cans available in select stores. Price varies.

The falafel burger, served at lunch at Zaytinya.

Falafel burger at Zaytinya. (Deb Lindsey for The Washington Post)

Falafel burger at Zaytinya

Only at lunch can you get Zaytinya’s crunchy falafel in jumbo form. The Lebanese-style falafel is patted into the shape of a burger and served on a soft, glossy olive-oil brioche, stacked with lemon-dressed cucumbers and tomato and smeared with hummus and garlic yogurt. There’s no iceberg on this meat-free dish nominated by Joy Harjani of Raleigh, N.C.: A layer of fresh mint kicks it all up.

701 Ninth St. NW. www.zaytinya.com. $11. Available only from 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. daily.

Play Video

Naem khao at Bangkok Golden and Thip Khao. (Lavanya Ramanathan/The Washington Post)

Naem khao at Bangkok Golden and Thip Khao

The herbaceous fried-rice salad naem khao is a Lao staple. But as Washington digs its fork deeper into the breadth of Asian cuisines, this dish, long at Bangkok Golden in Falls Church (and now at its D.C. sibling, Thip Khao), suddenly has new, spice-loving fans. Jasmine rice is mixed with coconut, rolled into balls and fried, then crushed and tossed with cilantro, scallions and sausage; to call it a salad is to downplay its sweet, garlicky and crunchy perfection. “This salad combines all that is right in the world: fried carbs, sausage and spice,” wrote Kimberly Van Santos of Arlington. “I love wrapping the crunchy mixture with a refreshing lettuce wrap and going to town.”
Bangkok Golden, 6395 Seven Corners Center, Falls Church. www.chefseng.com. $9.95.
Thip Khao, 3462 14th St. NW. www.thipkhao.com. $10.

Pasqualina tart at Del Campo. ( Lavanya Ramanathan/The Washington Post)

Pasqualina tart at Del Campo. ( Lavanya Ramanathan/The Washington Post)

Pasqualina tart at Del Campo

On the hunt for a meat-free offering for his sumptuous South American menu at Del Campo, chef Victor Albisu began with the greens-packed torta pasqualina (Easter tart) that Italian immigrants brought to Argentina and Uruguay generations ago. He turned the humble pie into a showstopper, charring kale, chard and spinach for complexity, and then layering them in a flaky pastry crust with rich bechamel, caramelized onion and smoked maitake mushrooms. It’s topped with a runny egg, then an avalanche of Parmesan. “Every time I get it, everyone around me oohs and aahs,” wrote Beth Weinstein of the District. “I think it is the best vegetarian dish in D.C.”
777 I St. NW. www.delcampodc.com. $16 at lunch; $26 for dinner.

Spicy beef noodle soup at A&J. (Lavanya Ramanathan/The Washington Post)

Spicy beef noodle soup at A&J. (Lavanya Ramanathan/The Washington Post)

Spicy beef noodle soup at A&J

A murky, blackish beef broth, rich with meat and spiced with anise, chili bean sauce and Sichuan peppercorns, serves as the vessel for the thick ropes of hand-pulled noodles that are the house specialty at Taiwanese restaurant A&J. It only makes sense to douse the Sichuan soup with fiery, garlicky Sichuan chili oil and to order a half-dozen small plates of mustard greens and scallion pancakes for pairing and sharing. The soup, wrote a Going Out Guide reader, is “the definition of Asian comfort food.”
1319 Rockville Pike, Rockville; 4316 Markham St., Annandale.
www.aj-restaurant.com
. $7.65.

Chocolate Onyx at Co Co. Sala. (Matthew Worden)

Chocolate Onyx at Co Co. Sala. (Matthew Worden)

Chocolate Onyx at Co Co. Sala

If you have a sweet tooth, Co Co. Sala’s Chocolate Onyx is the sort of sugarbomb that would satisfy a week’s worth of cravings: This gem-shaped pastry, rendered almost entirely in dark chocolate, is three blood-sugar-spiking desserts in one. Executive chef Santosh Tiptur begins with a brownie, tops it with crème brûlée and envelops the whole thing in chocolate mousse. Accompanying it are a side of dark chocolate sorbet and, for no reason at all, a bonbon. (Pro tip: The bonbon is ideal for stashing in your purse for later.) The Onyx, said food writer Shulie Madnick of Fairfax, was “the one dessert that blew me away this year (and I am not a dessert person in general).”
929 F St. NW. www.cocosala.com. $12.

Tuna and beet tartare at Rappahannock Oyster Bar. (Lavanya Ramanathan/The Washington Post)

Tuna and beet tartare at Rappahannock Oyster Bar. (Lavanya Ramanathan/The Washington Post)

Tuna and beet tartare at Rappahannock Oyster Bar

Selected by Violeta Edelman, co-owner of Dolcezza

For Edelman, this dish is as much about the ritual as the food. To indulge in this unorthodox tuna tartare-meets-beet salad, Edelman and her husband, Robb Duncan, regularly sneak away from Dolcezza’s factory for lunch dates at the nearby Union Market eatery. He gets a beer. She sips on sparkling rosé. They share the rare tuna, heightened with the acidity of oranges, horseradish and tiny fried capers. “We have two little girls so we rarely go out on dates,” Edelman said. “This meal elevates the work lunch and makes us feel we are on a romantic date. I always feel good after I finish it.”
1309 Fifth St. NE. www.rroysters.com/restaurants. $16.

The grilled pork banh mi sandwich from Banh Mi D.C.

Grilled pork banh mi at Banh Mi D.C. Sandwich. (Deb Lindsey for The Washington Post)

Grilled pork banh mi at Banh Mi D.C. Sandwich

This shop out on Virginia’s Route 50 is notable for two things: a menu that includes two dozen twists on the French-tinged Vietnamese sandwich and the intoxicating scent of baking baguettes that wafts your way as you walk in the door. The bread, warm and so fresh that it’s crunchy and soft at the same time, is the ideal vehicle for the red-hued pork, crunchy daikon, jalapeno, cilantro and rich Vietnamese mayonnaise that make up the No. 2. “So much of banh mi rests on the baguette,” wrote a Going Out Guide reader. “The bread here is absolutely perfect for banh mi.”
3103 Graham Rd., Falls Church. 703-205-9300. No Web site. $4.20.

Play Video

Palak chaat at Rasika. (Lavanaya Ramanathan/The Washington Post)

Palak chaat at Rasika

40 Eats Classic / On the menu since: 2005.
Orders sold on a typical weekend: 340 (between two locations).

More than once, we’ve reached the bottom of our bowl of chef Vikram Sunderam’s famous snack and found ourselves calling for the waiter: “Another round of the spinach, and can you hurry?” That’s the appeal and the curse of the North Indian palak chaat. One order, shared with a dinner date, never seems like enough. Sunderam laces his flash-fried greens with yogurt, sweet and tart tamarind chutney and a sprinkle of onion and pungent black salt, but it is the texture of the battered spinach — crunchy, light as air — that compels us to order seconds.
633 D St. NW; 1190 New Hampshire Ave. NW. www.rasikarestaurant.com. $10 at lunch, $11 at dinner.

Sapporo style shoyu ramen at Ren’s Ramen. (Camille Powell Kilgore/The Washington Post)

Sapporo style shoyu ramen at Ren’s Ramen. (Camille Powell Kilgore/The Washington Post)

Sapporo style shoyu ramen at Ren’s Ramen

Most of the ramen varieties offered at Ren’s are made in the Sapporo style, prepared as bowls of soup have been in Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost island, for ages. That might be why Ren’s shoyu ramen — a soy sauce-based ramen more typical of Tokyo — stands out. According to Ren’s sous chef, Lawrence Kao, the secret is stir-frying ground pork, garlic and the shoyu spices in scallion oil first to release their aromatics, giving this soup a headier flavor than the others. The rich pork broth is added next before it’s ladled onto those famed Nishiyama noodles. “Their miso is very nice, the salt tasty,” wrote Kelly Young of the District. “But the shoyu has a weight and heartiness, and frankly, addictiveness.”
11403 Amherst Ave., Wheaton. www.rens-ramen.com. $10. Cash only.

Fried smelts at Pop’s SeaBar. (Lavanya Ramanathan/The Washington Post)

Fried smelts at Pop’s SeaBar. (Lavanya Ramanathan/The Washington Post)

Fried smelts at Pop’s SeaBar

In a bright and beachy Adams Morgan bar where oysters rule, daring diners can opt for something less familiar: smelts, tiny freshwater fish with the mild flavor of a largemouth bass but with such rustic character that they rarely appear on restaurant menus. They arrive fried and tossed with vinegar-soaked peppers; for dipping, there is “Jersey sauce,” which chef John Manolatos describes as basically all the world’s great condiments blended into one. The mix of crispy smelts, tart pickled peppers and bright sauce, wrote Lyn Holland of the District, is “umami perfection.”
1817 Columbia Rd. NW. www.popsseabar.com. $7.99.

Burrata cheese at Republic. (Catherine Rytkonen)

Burrata cheese at Republic. (Catherine Rytkonen)

Burrata cheese at Republic

Burrata, the ultra-decadent globe of chewy fresh mozzarella encasing a center of rich cream, is on menus across the region. At Takoma Park’s Republic, the cheese is given a healthy(-ish) treatment that perfectly suits the neighborhood’s crunchy reputation: The burrata comes atop farro tossed with celery, lemon and basil. “I could eat this every day and not get bored,” Verratti wrote. “I can’t tell whether the flavor or the texture is more complex.”
6939 Laurel Ave., Takoma Park. www.republictakoma.com. $13.

The Buffalo chicken pizza from Pizza D’Oro

Buffalo chicken pizza from Pizza D’Oro. (Deb Lindsey for The Washington Post)

Buffalo chicken pizza from Pizza D’Oro

Selected by Thor Cheston, co-owner of Right Proper Brewing

Printable version: Download a PDF of 40 Eats so you can cross off the dishes you’ve tried.

Cheston works at one of the city’s favorite spots for upscale bar food, but when his cravings skew more lowbrow, he phones Shaw’s humble Pizza D’Oro for a pie topped with ranch dressing, chicken and house-made hot sauce that makes this pizza taste like D’Oro’s wings. It’s Super Bowl Sunday food Cheston says he orders more than he should. He wrote: “I love pizza. I love chicken wings. This is the perfect combination of the two.”
Pizza D’Oro, 717 T St. NW. www.pizzadorodc.com. $13.99-$18.99.

Editor’s picks

The 40 essential dishes of 2014

See the best dishes from last year

The 40 essential dishes of 2013

Readers select 40 new dishes you must try to call yourself a local.

Credits