Snow and sleet couldn’t slow the District’s restaurant scene in February, as openings brought in more “orange-ish” chicken, a new soul-food destination and a decorated New York chef. Here are the highlights:
Chiko: The brainchild of award-winning chefs Scott Drewno (the Source) and Danny Lee (Mandu), Chiko’s mash-up menu of smoked catfish fried rice, “orange-ish” chicken and cumin lamb stir-fry dishes “redefines what it means to be a fast-casual restaurant,” wrote critic Tom Sietsema, in a three-star review. Communal tables and shiny metal bowls and trays make the space feel utilitarian while the food is anything but. After more than a year on Barracks Row, Chiko has expanded to a location in Dupont Circle, keeping most of its familiar Korean and Chinese dishes while adding items including “shrimp & toast.” Expect a new lunch menu, including Chiko’s famous bulgogi hoagie, a few weeks after the Feb. 15 opening. 2029 P St. NW.
District Soul Food: There’s finally a replacement for the shuttered Barracks Row staple Banana Cafe: District Soul Food, from the owners of Alexandria’s short-lived Two Brothers Soul Food. They’ve transplanted the Southern menu — oxtails, smothered turkey chops, fried catfish — to the Capitol Hill dining room, adding live jazz and R&B performances and a cigar lounge on the second floor. Happy hour runs daily from 3 to 7 p.m. and includes some potent drinks among the $5 beers and house cocktails, such as a Long Island iced tea. Pair those with crab fries — a pile of fries topped with lump crab and garlic butter — or crunchy Southern fried chicken wings. 500 Eighth St. SE.
El Bebe: The trend for taquerias and mezcalerias shows no sign of slowing — and neither does the demand for tacos and margaritas. The Metropolitan Hospitality Group, which operates the local Circa Bistro and Open Road mini-chains, has joined the party with El Bebe, a 75-seat restaurant and bar attached to the newest branch of Circa, near Nationals Park. It’s a loud, dark room with glowing chandeliers, large mirrors and custom street-art-style paintings by Miami artist Miguel Paredes. Go for the unusual tacos — such as spicy short rib bulgogi with peanuts, or pork belly with a bit too much slaw — or crispy battered shrimp. (There are burritos, enchiladas and quesadillas, too.) Atlas Brew Works’ fruity Tropic Thunder IPA is the highlight of a beer list that blends local craft brews and the expected Mexican cervezas, but most bargoers should try the margaritas (frozen or classic). As for the mezcal-heavy cocktails: The My Paloma is Smoking, with grapefruit and aperol, had flavor that was more impressive than the gimmick of using dry ice to provide the titular “smoke,” while the Hasta La Vista, made with chipotle-infused mezcal, promised more heat than it delivered. Happy hour, which runs from 4 to 7 p.m. weekdays, is disappointingly taco-free — $2 bowls of chips and salsa are the only food special — but it’s hard to turn down $6 margaritas. 99 M St. SE.
Pembroke: It’s been years since Dupont Circle had the same pull for diners as 14th Street or the Wharf do now, but the Dupont Circle Hotel’s reimagined restaurant should lure many back to the neighborhood, or just offer locals a place for a casual dinner. Washington Post critic Tom Sietsema was particularly taken with the lamb tagine: “[Chef Marlon] Rambaran braises together neck, shank and shoulder, which end up on a bed of saffron-perfumed couscous set off with apricots, figs, preserved lemons and toasted almonds. Each bite goes down like a sumptuous banquet.” And Sietsema says the dining room’s allure extends beyond your plate: “There’s no part of the Pembroke, outfitted with leather bar stools and coral couches, and set off with floor-to-ceiling windows, that doesn’t make for a fashion statement.” 1500 New Hampshire Ave. NW.
Rooster & Owl: Yuan Tang might not have the name recognition of some of the Food Network stars who’ve opened restaurants in the area recently, but his impressive résumé includes many Michelin stars, including New York City’s Jean-Georges, the Modern and Dovetail. His first solo outing offers four-course meals for $65 — a relative steal on 14th Street NW — and dishes that might include oxtails and rutabaga masquerading as “pot roast.” Don’t miss dessert from pastry chef Olivia Green, of Métier and Kinship of late. 2436 14th St. NW.
Roy Boys: Much of the pre-opening noise about Roy Boys, which replaces Tasty Burger in the Atlantic Plumbing building near the 9:30 Club, concerned its decor: paintings of hip-hop legends Biggie Smalls and Tupac Shakur turned into chickens. Chef Rock Harper was among the voices calling out Roy Boys for cultural appropriation. The restaurant’s owners — including Scott Parker of the G.O.A.T. and Don Tito, in Clarendon — decided to remove the offending murals. And now the attention might turn back to the fried chicken — normal or Nashville hot — and regional oysters. Oysters are $1 all night on Mondays. 2108 Eighth St. NW.