1700 New Jersey Ave. NW; 202-536-5636 and 3162 Mount Pleasant St. NW; 202-450-5317, beauthaidc.com.
Like that kid in class who gets all the A’s, Beau Thai — known for its bright flavors and reasonable prices — keeps racking up praise. Zagat called the Shaw location a “neighborhood gem,” Express’ dining editor raved about the hot and spicy pork noodle bowl ($10) and Washingtonian praised the green curry chicken ($12). Note: The Shaw branch is slated to move to Seventh and P streets NW later this year. M.C.
633 D St. NW; 202-637-1222 and 1190 New Hampshire Ave. NW; 202-466-2500, rasikarestaurant.com.
After four nominations, chef Vikram Sunderam finally took home his James Beard Award in May. The Mumbai native was named Best Chef Mid-Atlantic for his modern spin on Indian food at Rasika Penn Quarter and its sister restaurant, Rasika West End. At either, order the palak chaat ($11), a crispy spinach salad that’s every bit as good as Yelpers swear. Other standout dishes: white asparagus uttapam ($9), a pancakelike dish accompanied by coconut chutney, and the black cod ($28), marinated in dill, honey and star anise. R.S.
1503 17th St. NW; 202-462-8999, sushitaro.com.
Sushi Taro’s humble entrance — it appears to be the back door to a CVS — belies what’s inside: modern decor, impeccable service and high-end sushi. The innovative a la carte menu, which changes frequently based on availability, has a devoted following. Recent sushi offerings include Tasmanian ocean trout ($7.25), live chocolate clam ($11.95) and crystal crab ($7.50). If you have around $160 to spare, get a reservation at the six-seat omakase counter (the restaurant takes them a month out), where diners let the sushi chefs guide their culinary adventures. R.S.
2nd: Oya, 777 9th St. NW; 202-393-1400, oyadc.com.
3rd: Kushi (closed).
Hank’s Oyster Bar
Multiple locations; hanksoysterbar.com.
Don’t fall in love with any one thing at Hank’s Oyster Bar: Chef Jamie Leeds changes the menu daily depending on what’s freshest. “Our philosophy is to let food taste like what it is,” Leeds says. “We only work with very seasonal product.” Named after Leeds’ father, Hank’s — now with three locations in the D.C. area — is best known for beach food with a New England twist, like shrimp and lobster po’boys with Old Bay french fries, and inventive cocktails. H.S.
401 H St. NE; 202-675-2066, ethiopicrestaurant.com.
Owners Samuel Ergete and Meseret Bekele, a husband and wife team, traveled the world in search of the best Ethiopian restaurants and brought what they learned to their bright, modern space on H Street NE. Try pairing Ethiopic’s Signature Tibs ($18) — marinated leg of lamb served with sizzling peppers and onions — with tej, a traditional honey wine. Indecisive diners should just back away from the menu and share the seven-item vegetarian sampler ($35 for dinner). R.S.
Smoke & Barrel
2471 18th St. NW; 202-319-9353, smokeandbarreldc.com.
Barbecue enthusiasts, forget your unending debates over saucy wet ‘cue vs. the spicy dry kind: Smoke & Barrel serves both. The Adams Morgan beer and bourbon house is perhaps best known for its crispy smoked vegan wings, which executive chef Logan McGear admits “is something you normally don’t see at a barbecue spot.” He recommends pairing them with the jalapeno cheddar grits or the mashed potatoes. L.M.
701 Ninth St. NW; 202-638-0800, zaytinya.com.
D.C. has more than its fair share of tapas options, but the authenticity behind Zaytinya makes its Middle Eastern and Mediterranean small plates stand out. Chef Jose Andres’ extensive travels informed menu items like labneh (Lebanese strained yogurt), dolmades (stuffed grape leaves) and pastirma (a Turkish cured beef loin). The wine list also revolves around those regions, with bottles predominantly from Greece, Turkey and
The James Beard Award-winning chef owns more than 12 restaurants (and one food truck) in D.C. and beyond, including the city’s top “you have to go there” spots Zaytinya, Minibar, Jaleo and Oyamel. In Penn Quarter this fall, he’ll open China Chilcano, a Chinese-Peruvian fusion restaurant. In July, the Spanish-born Andres received the Outstanding American by Choice Award from President Barack Obama for his humanitarian work. H.S.
2nd: Mike Isabella.
3rd: Marjorie Meek-Bradley.
Ping Pong Dim Sum
1 Dupont Circle NW; 202-293-1268 and 900 Seventh St. NW; 202-506-3740, pingpongdimsum.us.
The sleek Asian chain’s weekend brunch offers diners two hours of all-they-can-eat dim sum or all-they-can-drink mimosas (with five dim sum dishes) for a flat $36. Ping Pong’s modern take on China’s small plates includes classics like honey barbecued pork buns and crispy duck spring rolls, as well as less-traditional treats like fried calamari, banana and chocolate spring rolls, and a tableside mimosa bar with three juice options. B.M.
Best late night
2425 18th St. NW; 202-234-1969 and 1830 14th St. NW; 202-232-6200, falafelshop.com.
There was once an Adams Morgan bartender who just wanted a decent dinner when
he got off work at 3 a.m. “As much as he loved jumbo slice, man cannot live on jumbo slice alone,” says Arianne Bennett, who, with that bartender, her husband Scott, started Amsterdam Falafelshop. Its 4 a.m. weekend closing time ensures that night owls and drunk eaters alike can enjoy the shop’s Dutch-inspired take on the fried chickpea fritters, topped with a variety of salads, pickles and sauces and stuffed inside warm pita. B.M.
Multiple locations; sweetgreen.com.
Three-time Best Salad winner sweetgreen launched a revamped menu last week, with new ingredient combinations, seasonal offerings (including a Brussels sprouts, turkey and cranberry mix straight out of Thanksgiving dinner) and grain-based salads. The menu sticks closely to the company’s real-food philosophy: “People feel like they know what they’re eating, they can trust the ingredients,” says co-founder Nicolas Jammet. B.M.
Best pizza and best vegetarian
Multiple locations; andpizza.com.
&pizza knows you want your pizza a certain way, and right away. The local chain lets diners select from three kinds of dough (most locations offer two, but Bethesda adds a gluten-free variety), three kinds of cheese, eight sauces and a bar full of toppings to create their perfect pies, baked in moments in a super-fast oven. &pizza, which launched in 2012, has grown super-fast, too: Its owners plan to add up to nine more DMV locations to the six already open. The gajillions of possible pizza configurations mean an &pizza shop is a safe space for vegetarians and vegans — we even did the math. Start with the 28 vegetarian and vegan toppings. Combine those with the three doughs, eight vegetarian sauce options (or go sauceless), three cheeses and your old Algebra 2 textbook and you’re looking at 83,499,642,288 ways to stuff your face full of meatless goodness. B.M. & A.G.
Multiple locations; taylorgourmet.com.
Taylor Gourmet is making D.C. a hoagie town. In fact, District residents probably called them “subs” until the first Taylor Gourmet opened in 2008, bringing its strange Philadelphia lingo along with thick rolls and Italian fillings. Even the sandwiches at the local chain are named for Philly streets and landmarks. Examples: The Ben Franklin Parkway is stuffed with breaded chicken, marinara and provolone; the Reading Terminal’s got roast beef, horseradish cream and caramelized onions. M.C.
Best independent coffee shop
2459 18th St. NW; 202-232-5500, trystdc.com.
The animal crackers that come with your coffee could alone be enough to make this Adams Morgan staple D.C.’s favorite coffee shop, but Tryst’s appeal goes beyond that. Grab a seat on a vintage couch, order a caffeinated beverage (or an alcoholic one — we won’t judge), log onto the free Wi-Fi and get some work done. Or just people watch. M.C.
Best food truck
“The food truck game is really hard,” says TaKorean founder Mike Lenard. So at his Korean taco truck, he keeps it simple. Pick a filling, such as bulgogi (beef marinated in a sweet, spiced soy-based sauce) or dak galbi (chicken marinated in sweet chili and soybean paste sauce). Add slaw and toppings, and that’s it. Plus, there are now brick-and-mortar locations at Union Market and Navy Yard. M.C.
Best kid-friendly restaurant
Multiple locations; matchboxfoodgroup.com.
It’s no surprise to see Ted’s Bulletin own this category for the second year in a row: Homemade pop tarts are the local chain’s most famous treat, and child-friendly classics — sloppy Joes, grilled-cheese sandwiches, tater tots — are on the main menu, making the children’s menu hardly necessary. Treats like Ted’s take on Hostess Sno-Balls (exclusive to its 14th Street location) will appeal to kids and nostalgic grown-ups alike. The milkshake list is so expansive — there’s even a PB&J flavor — parents may not even notice the boozy versions. L.M.
Multiple locations; krispykreme.com.
The past two years have seen the dawning of a doughnut scene in the city, with the opening of GBD, District Doughnut, and Astro Doughnuts & Fried Chicken, but our readers still prefer a 77-year-old classic. Krispy Kreme continues to seduce customers, especially when the “Hot Now” light on each shop signals that warm doughnuts await. While there are only three Krispy Kremes in the immediate area, more are slated to open in the next few years. H.S.
Best South/Central American
Earlier this year, Gabriela Febres was feverishly trying to figure out how to run her new food truck, Arepa Zone. “I actually bought ‘Running a Food Truck for Dummies,’” she admits. That didn’t prepare her and co-owner Ali Arellano for the immediate success of their Venezuelan fried corn pockets, stuffed with meats and cheeses in combinations like shredded beef, queso fresco, plantains and black beans. Sound good? Order the Pabellon. R.S.
Best frozen treat
Multiple locations; pitangogelato.com.
In a world of mash-ups and fusion cuisine, Pitango, which has three shops in the District and one in Reston, Va., bucks the trend. Its rotating menu boasts 20 straightforward, classic flavors, among them gianduja (chocolate hazelnut), stracciatella (vanilla chocolate chip) and pistachio. The sorbets include spicy chocolate, Bosc pear and quince. All this simplicity lets the high-quality ingredients — hard-to-find Italian pistachios, imported almonds — shine. B.M.
Jenna Huntsberger’s classic pies — in flavors like strawberry rhubarb, sea salt chocolate chess, and spicy Italian sausage and caramelized onion — have earned a second consecutive win for Whisked! The bakery, which also makes delicious cookies, doesn’t have a brick-and-mortar store, but regularly sells its flaky wares at local farmers markets and specialty food shops. Or sign up for its CSA to get a monthly or biweekly fix. B.M.
Read the rest of the Express Best of 2014 issue.