2022 Spring Dining Guide

The dining room at Shoto in Washington. (Scott Suchman for The Washington Post)
The dining room at Shoto in Washington. (Scott Suchman for The Washington Post)

One restaurant is a casual extension of a four-star dining destination. Another honors immigrants with fusion food and cocktails. A third draws one of the most diverse crowds around with its meatless menu and stylish digs.

The one thing all the establishments in this year’s spring collection of 25 new restaurants share is a sense of purpose, having opened during a pandemic. For that alone, they deserve a round of applause. Happily, though, they’re all making the Washington area a more diverting place to eat and drink. More beautiful, too. I can’t recall a spring with better-looking dining rooms, which seem full of life (and noise!) as more of us flock indoors to refuel.

LEFT: Pastry chef Marcel Anderson at the Henri in Washington. (Scott Suchman for The Washington Post) RIGHT: Wild Icelandic cod at Melina in North Bethesda. (Scott Suchman for The Washington Post)

After I wrote about the uneven state of service earlier this year, I thought it only fair to ask restaurant professionals how guests might work on their performance. Read on for suggestions on being a better diner. (Note to the expense account crowd: Remember to take the itemized receipt home if you need it. Asking for the list after the fact can be a serious chore for time-strapped staff.)

Each review is followed by the usual details — price ranges, sound checks, accessibility information — to help you decide whether to book or not. Given the changing situation with the pandemic, you’ll want to connect with the restaurant directly for current information on their safety protocols. The good news, recently delivered by Anthony S. Fauci, President Biden’s chief medical adviser, is that the United States is finally “out of the full-blown explosive pandemic phase.”

Here’s hoping you find some new favorite places from the latest crop, which starts with my Top Five picks. And that, fingers crossed, next year’s dining guide won’t even have to mention the “p” word.

1 Mariscos 1133

Mains $14-$29.

The latest draw from siblings Alfredo and Jessica Solis contains everything we want from a neighborhood restaurant: service that treats diners like investors, a long menu that highlights seafood but takes other flavors into account, a cozy dining room dressed with pandemic-friendly booths and prices that encourage frequent visits.

[Mariscos 1133 offers great seafood — and so much more]

The list of appetizers alone runs to nearly 20 dishes. The stars include a trio of handmade blue corn tortillas piled with marinated tuna, shaved red onion and avocado and lashed with a creamy citrus emulsion. “Let the party begin!” the colorful first course seems to say. Shrimp threaded on sugar cane skewers arrives with a smoky pineapple relish and a scoop of rice made fragrant with fresh coconut; whole scored flounder — fish enough for two — benefits from a marinade of garlic, lime juice and onions and a coating of flour seasoned with paprika before it hits the fryer.

The chefs wanted everyone to feel welcome, Alfredo Solis says. Plus, “my sister likes meat and chicken.” So the main courses include juicy skirt steak served with a neat stack of crisp yuca, stinging chimichurri and a choice of beans (go for charro beans swollen with the flavor of their porky broth). Jerk chicken might not register precisely Jamaican — there’s loads of cilantro in this version — but it definitely passes the deliciousness test. Birria tacos are packed with beef braised with chiles and not a little cinnamon. You decide how to use the customary hot consommé — as a dip or a sip.

No part of the experience gets overlooked. Almost two dozen wines are offered by the glass, and the cocktails, like the cooking, consider the expanse of Latin America. Toast your dinner — and this winner — with a pisco sour, caipirinha or piña colada.

1133 11th St. NW.



Dinner daily, brunch weekends.

Mains $14-$29.

Sound check: 77 decibels/Must speak with raised voice.

Indoor and outdoor seating. Takeout, no delivery. Accessibility: No barriers at entrance, but the interior is snug; two tables are designated for wheelchair users, who have access to an ADA-compliant restroom.

outdoor, takeout

2 L’Ardente

Shareable mains $48-$135.

Washington is awash in casual Italian restaurants and expense-account Italian venues, which makes L’Ardente particularly welcome. The newcomer, part of the $1 billion Capitol Crossing development, combines the best of both worlds, on and off the plate.

[L’Ardente, an Italian stunner, combines fun and finesse]

The top chef’s mantra: “Keep it simple but elegant,” says David Deshaies, also the talent behind Unconventional Diner. Wooden farm beams and Murano glass chandeliers share the sky-high ceiling, and pastas span goat cheese ravioli and a 40-layer lasagna that’s garnered more ink than some entire restaurants ever get. One of the first things you see when you enter the main dining room is a wood-fired grill whose dancing flames help explain the Italian name of the restaurant — “burning,” as in passionate — and the succulent char of the whole chicken.

The aperitif with the best sense of humor is “duck hunt”: a duck-filled raviolo suspended in a froth of duck jus, cream and foie gras and presented in a little cup with … toy duck legs. The playfulness continues with a risotto that comes with quote marks around it, since minced calamari stands in for the expected rice. Lobster stock mixed with seafood lends the dish its maritime flavor and creamy texture. My new favorite seat fronts the marble counter in the rear, where I can thank the pizzaiolo in person for his masterly margherita.

Every aspect of your visit supports the owners’ good intentions. The restrooms are dressed with coat hooks and full-length mirrors, the tiramisu hides inside a globe of chocolate that’s ignited at the table, and the check is presented in a little gold crown with Italian candies. Sold!

200 Massachusetts Ave. NW.



Dinner daily.

Shareable mains $48-$135.

Sound check: 75 decibels/Must speak with raised voice.

Indoor seating. Takeout and delivery. Accessibility: A small lift at the host stand allows wheelchair users to access the dining room. Restrooms are ADA-compliant.

takeout, delivery, vegetarianfriendly

3 Melina

Mains $20-$44.

When he was looking for a chef for his modern Greek restaurant in North Bethesda, Dimitri Moshovitis knew exactly who he wanted: Aris Tsekouras, whose koulouri, or sesame sourdough, reminded the restaurateur of the bread of his youth. “So much love into something so simple,” recalls Moshovitis, a founder of the fast-casual Cava chain.

[Melina, from the team behind the fast-casual Cava, is already one of Montgomery County’s best]

Bread turns out to be just one of the chef’s talents at Melina, named for Moshovitis’s 13-year-old daughter. His beef tartare and grilled octopus are special, too. The former is raw beef shot through with minced pickled cabbage, pickled mustard seeds and cured lemon — ingredients associated with Greece’s traditional stuffed cabbage. The latter, brightened with a parsley puree, comes with an elusive floral note: vanilla, which the chef adds as a contrast to the salinity of the octopus. The best kebab in recent memory is ground lamb pulsing with cumin and fenugreek and garnished with burnt onion ash.

The meal that transports me to Sunday in Athens is the lamb neck. Plied with roasted red peppers, the feast is served in the folds of parchment paper with pinches of nutty kefalograviera cheese and trailed by side dishes including fried potato and pickled onions. The idea is to make your own gyros with the help of oregano-freckled sourdough pita.

A lot of thought has gone into the restaurant, dressed with faux olive trees, roomy booths with mirrors at eye level and theater-length white curtains in the floor-to-ceiling windows. Kudos to whoever thought to stock the restrooms with changing tables — black ones, to match the walls.

905 Rose Ave., North Bethesda, Md.



Dinner daily.

Mains $20-$44.

Sound check: 70 decibels/Conversation is easy.

Indoor and outdoor seating. No takeout or delivery. Accessibility: No barriers at entrance; ADA-compliant restrooms.

outdoor, quiet, vegetarianfriendly

4 Kismet Modern Indian

Mains $22-$34.

The eyes have it at Kismet in Alexandria, a spinoff of the posh Karma Modern Indian in Washington.

Take a look around. One wall is illuminated with what appear to be flickering candles; a broad ramp leads to a handsome raised bar, its stools arranged as if by a choreographer.

[Kismet Modern Indian adds an artful touch to Alexandria]

The food, from chef Ajay Kumar, is just as fetching. Grilled cubed sweet potatoes, seasoned to make your tongue turn somersaults, are stacked to form an orange pyramid on a plate dressed up with dots of white (yogurt), green (mint chutney) and red (tamarind sauce). A jazzy salad of puffed rice tossed with green chile and date chutney is presented in a little gold cornet. Kumar’s focus on presentation comes naturally. “I’m an artist,” says the Indian native, who paints landscapes and abstracts when he’s not in the kitchen.

Karma and Kismet are linked by a handful of dishes (lamb kebab, palak paneer), but the offshoot was designed to be less formal. A few seafood selections underscore Kismet’s proximity to the waterfront in Old Town. Grilled snapper, lit with Kashmiri chiles and tamarind, is not so hot you can’t appreciate the naturally sweet fish. If the food here tastes notches better than at some of the competition, it’s explained by whole spices that are ground in-house and the use of ingredients such as fresh coconut rather than bagged. Considering main courses hover around $24, the chef’s impulses are commendable.

111 N. Pitt St., Alexandria, Va.



Lunch Friday through Sunday, dinner Wednesday through Sunday.

Mains $22-$34.

Sound check: 77 decibels/Must speak with raised voice.

Indoor and outdoor seating. Takeout and delivery. Accessibility: A ramp leads to the entrance; a second ramp inside leads to ADA-compliant restrooms

outdoor, takeout, delivery, vegetarianfriendly

5 Shoto

Mains $34-$48.

It’s the splashiest spot to open in Washington in years. No matter where you settle in the Japanese restaurant conceived by Arman Naqi, there’s something to ooh and ahh over. Behold the installation of hundreds of rocks, plucked from an active volcano and suspended overhead! The 25-foot ceiling pays homage to Japanese basket weaving, and one entire wall is green with preserved ivy, interspersed with faux fires.

[Shoto is a sight for weary eyes, and a must for Japanese food fans]

“We wanted to give a transforming experience,” says Naqi, who was born in London and raised in Bethesda. He includes food and drink in that mission statement. The kitchen is watched over by chefs Alessio Conti and Kwang Kim, whose long menu includes fetching, one-bite tacos (picture salmon blended with wasabi mayo cradled in a potato chip shell), dishes treated to the clean heat of binchotan (spring for the pork ribs shiny with a barbecue sauce flavored with bonito) and sushi cut with the precision of a Savile Row tailor. (Kim has worked with some of the best in the business, and his attention to detail, including weighing the salt and the sugar for his sushi rice, shows.) Dislike making decisions? Let the talent take charge by ordering omakase, five courses of whatever Conti and Kim think is best at the moment. An upgrade fits in wagyu beef, caviar and truffles.

Naqi relied on international connections to recruit staff. Your savvy server might hail from Italy; the engaging bartender shares that he’s from Hungary. Does the team play favorites? Reports from the field suggest VIPs get the red carpet treatment while unknowns are rushed through dinner. On a happier note, the audience on any given night might be the most diverse of any crowd in Washington right now. “Kanpai” to that.

1100 15th St. NW (entrance on L Street NW).


No website.

Dinner Monday through Saturday.

Mains $34-$48.

Sound check: 82 decibels/Extremely loud.

Indoor seating. No takeout or delivery. Accessibility: The front door is heavy, but attendants assist with opening it. A seat at the bar and two seats at the chef’s counter are designated for wheelchair users. Restrooms are ADA-compliant.

La Bise

Mains $28-$36.

Sit in the dining room to the right of the entrance, the one with the pumpkin-hued banquettes and blue trim, and you can almost imagine yourself in Paris. A ravishing blow-up of a photograph of Notre-Dame gives you the sense you’re viewing the medieval cathedral through a window — a feeling that’s only enhanced by a bottle of chateauneuf-du-pape.

[La Bise adds a fun French touch to downtown Washington]

Michael Fusano replaced opening chef Tyler Stout in December, and while Fusano is best known for his Italian prowess, having last worked for Fabio Trabocchi, he’s French-trained and has a French Canadian mother. At La Bise (“the kiss”), Fusano seduces diners with a block of marinated, crisp-skinned pork belly — ringed in a creamy whip of peas and ramps and sharing the circle with earthy freekeh — and butter-poached monkfish, festooned with ribbons of carrot and supported with crumbled merguez. (Didn’t foams go the way of suits at the office? The chef’s dishes suggest otherwise, and make use of things that would otherwise have been tossed.) The single best entree might be spice-crusted duck breast and confit leg arranged with a slice of buttery layered potatoes, comets of rhubarb puree and a sweet-tart brushstroke of port-splashed tamarind sauce. Let the swiping begin!

Individual souffles are enjoying their 15 minutes of fame right now. One of the best of the billowing pleasures can be found here, near the White House, in a flavor (raspberry) that honors the season and with a flourish (pink peppercorn crème anglaise) that gilds the notion. Meanwhile, “strawberries and cream” undersells itself, given the many lovely flourishes supporting the duo: tarragon madeleine, refreshing pineapple sorbet and ginger cream. After it hits the table, the dessert, like CNN Plus, proves short-lived.

800 Connecticut Ave. NW.



Dinner Tuesday through Saturday.

Mains $28-$36.

Sound check: 73 decibels/Must speak with raised voice.

Indoor and outdoor seating. Takeout, no delivery. Accessibility: No barriers at entrance; ADA-compliant restrooms.

outdoor, takeout

Los Compañeros

Mains $9-$26.

Johnny’s Half Shell, the beloved seafood restaurant created by chef Ann Cashion and John Fulchino, is no more, a victim of the pandemic. In its place in Adams Morgan is a Mexican outpost, from the same owners. Anyone mourning the loss of the best gumbo in Washington should know the Mexican seafood soup at Los Compañeros scratches a gumbo itch with pearly shrimp, sweet crab and cod bobbing in a bowl of shrimp stock seasoned with dried herbs, sliced serrano and cayenne.

[Diners have a friend in the new Los Compañeros in Adams Morgan]

There’s more where that deliciousness comes from: Tacos stuffed with asparagus and Jerusalem artichokes, garnished with a crumble of fresh white cheese, say spring has sprung, and the hot new cocktail, the one the bartender says you must try, balances mezcal, honey infused with toasted cumin and a spritz of Scotch. Long live the Beekeeper! Grilled chicken thighs also raise the bar, thanks to a dry rub and brushstrokes of vinegar and oil. Johnny’s served a model crab cake. Los Compañeros does, too, although its sweet crab bound with housemade mayonnaise omits Old Bay seasoning and rises from a Veracruz sauce spiked with pickled jalapeño juice.

An outsize painting of Frida Kahlo, two zinc counters bridging inside and out, and signage from the owners’ restaurants past and present, including Taqueria Nacional, add up to a festive setting for carne asada, first-rate churros and most recently, brunch service.

“You get a side of neon with your rice and beans,” cracks Fulchino, still the host with the most.

1819 Columbia Rd. NW.



Dinner Wednesday through Sunday, brunch Sunday.

Mains $9-$26.

Sound check: 80 decibels/Must speak with raised voice.

Indoor and outdoor seating. Takeout, no delivery. Accessibility: Wheelchair users can call ahead for a portable ramp at the entrance; restrooms are not ADA-compliant.

outdoor, takeout

Dolce Vita Coastal Mediterranean Cuisine

Mains $42-$68.

At a time when many restaurants are pinching pennies to control costs, Dolce Vita welcomes diners with flowers on tables and a bread basket trailed by a trio of spreads: hummus, red pepper and black olive for eating with brioche, focaccia and other house-baked items. Nearly 20 mezze launch the menu, and the entrees include a showy lamb shank served on a slab of tree. A row of raised tables set in an alcove allows occupants privacy and a view of the goings-on. “Perfect for Instagram!” says a host, one of many enthusiastic caretakers at Dolce Vita.

“We want to make people happy,” Washington restaurateur Med Lahlou says. He sees such extra touches as flowers and bread as a way to help diners forget two years of chaos. The son of a French mother and a Moroccan father, Lahlou sees Dolce Vita as a way to “do my heritage” with an assist from Greece, Italy and Spain. His mentor was Greek, he says, and his sister’s husband is from Spain.

[The new Dolce Vita looks like a blast from the past. Its owner just wants diners to be happy again.]

Yes, that’s a lot of ground to cover. Menu descriptions only hint at what to expect. Spanakopita takes the shape of an egg roll, for instance, but it’s still flaky pastry encasing molten spinach and feta cheese — in finger-food form. Piquillo peppers stuffed with crab take a moment to identify when the appetizer is delivered; the scarlet centerpiece is hidden beneath a lacy round tuile, stained black with squid ink.

Some theater rewards the recipients of the two best entrees, both cooked in a wood-stoked oven and sized to share. When a cloche is lifted, smoke clears to reveal brilliant roasted rainbow carrots hugging nearly a pound of chive-freckled lamb shank, its flavor ramped up with a paste of harissa, garlic and paprika.

Simpler, but no less sublime, is whole dorade baked in a salt crust that the chef seasons with Moroccan spices to infuse the fish with flavor. The dorade is freed from its sarcophagus at the table, filleted and served with confit peewee potatoes and artichokes. The restaurant’s walls come with murals of famous sunny coastlines; the fish does a nice job of completing the thought.

1610 14th St. NW.



Happy hour Monday through Friday, dinner daily.

Mains $42-$68.

Sound check: 75 decibels/Must speak with raised voice.

Indoor and outdoor seating. No takeout or delivery. Accessibility: Wheelchair users can push a button outside, signaling staff to bring a portable ramp; restrooms have grab bars, but sinks are positioned high.

outdoor, vegetarianfriendly

Era Wine Bar

Larger plates $18-$52.

The couple behind this bright light in Prince George’s County don’t sound like your typical restaurateurs. Michelle Grant comes from the technology sector, and her husband, Ka-ton Grant, is an engineer/physicist. “I always wanted to do something outside my training,” says Michelle. “To explore my passion,” adds the D.C. native and grape nut.

Visitors will find 50 wines by the glass and a global roster of dishes (tandoori wings, lamb sliders) in what was once a sewing machine factory. Grant says she was aiming for “old-world characteristics and new-world charm” in the 60-seat dining room, which is outfitted with comfortable leather chairs, broad marble tables, Mexican tiles and clay wine pots from the former Soviet republic of Georgia.

Grant, whose parents are from Zambia, has trained her cooks to follow family recipes or directions for dishes she fell in love with on her travels. Hence, a menu that highlights the spice route of yore, and snacks including spicy, beef-filled samosas that Grant originally made but now buys from Swahili Village in Beltsville. “They taste most like my family’s,” she says of the hot pockets accompanied by tamarind and green chile sauces. Spain is well-represented by a zippy stew of chickpeas, crushed tomatoes and slivered garlic infused with smoked paprika; Italy is referenced with torta della nonna, a sublime custard tart topped with pine nuts. Era makes a terrific burger, too, built around Creekstone Farms beef, a seeded toasted bun, caramelized onions and mushrooms braised in red wine. Grant suggests pairing the beast with a beauty of a pinot noir from Brazil.

Era beckons to its neighbors in ways large and small. Wines focused on small producers from beyond the usual regions can be explored in three-, six- and nine-ounce pours. A “king’s table” in the restaurant’s cellar can accommodate parties of up to 16. And Grant, who has an 21-month-old daughter named Leila, was thinking of new moms when she placed a chair in the restroom.

3300 Rhode Island Ave., Mount Rainier, Md.



Tuesday through Sunday, brunch weekends.

Larger plates $18-$52.

Sound check: 69 decibels/Conversation is easy.

Indoor and outdoor seating. Takeout, no delivery. Accessibility: No barriers to entry; ADA-compliant restrooms.

outdoor, takeout, vegetarianfriendly, quiet

The Henri

Entrees $28-$46.

Chef Frederick De Pue is betting people are hungry for space to entertain with his latest restaurant, named for a beloved Belgian grandfather and conveniently located near the National and Warner theaters. Fully half of the Henri, which opens as a public bar and 60-seat dining room, is devoted to private events in the back. Four large rooms, named for the four seasons, and two smaller venues, Dawn and Dusk, claim their own sleek oval kitchen, bar and custom-written menus.

[The new Henri downtown is a real crowd-pleaser, with room for privacy]

The chef did his homework before opening in February, asking prospective clients what they wanted: Nothing stuffy, they told him. The maiden menu combines familiar staples (steak frites, crab cakes) with flights of fancy (cauliflower “couscous,” suckling pig crepe).

The spare but stylish main dining room would look at home in Brussels. The focal point is a $50,000 Bonnet rotisserie in the exhibition kitchen, although the whimsical collection of brown lights suspended from the ceiling are just as seductive. (Recycled cardboard has never looked better.)

That porcine wrap is wonderful, by the way. Slices of piglet stuffed with herbs and slowly cooked on the spit are bound in a delicate chestnut crepe that’s topped with raw onions and lime — a racy foil to the rich pork. Sauteed turbot filet, strewn with herbs and shiny with butter, arrives with fluffy-centered chickpea fritters. Of the meat dishes, my preference is for lamb, brushed with Dijon mustard and presented as tangy pink slices. The sides go beyond the usual suspects to include kale, fried to a wisp and splashed with a champagne-raisin dressing. Desserts are pretty but forgettable; drinks show flair and balance.

1301 Pennsylvania Ave. NW (entrance on 13th Street NW).



Dinner daily, lunch Monday through Friday.

Entrees $28-$46.

Sound check: 77 decibels/Must speak with raised voice.

Indoor seating. Takeout and delivery. Accessibility: No barriers to entry; ADA-compliant restrooms.

takeout, delivery

Immigrant Food Plus

Shareable mains $21-$38.

By day, Immigrant Food is my kind of fast-casual, offering sandwiches, salads and bowls that mix cuisines from around the globe and slip important messages into the experience. While you’re eating Madam VP’s Heritage Bowl, a salute to Kamala Harris’s Indian and Jamaican heritage, you can take little quizzes printed on the bottom of your coaster. (Spoiler alert: Emma Lazarus wrote the sonnet on the base of the Statue of Liberty.)

The latest branch of the local mini-chain goes by the name Immigrant Food Plus, partly as a nod to its host, the Planet Word museum, but also because of what it becomes at night: a softly lit, full-service restaurant with top-shelf drinks and entrees that pair novelty with sophistication.

[Immigrant Food Plus elevates the museum dining experience]

Chicken Milanesa might have Italians scratching their heads but also scraping their plates. The golden crust relies on ground cassava versus breadcrumbs for its crunch; a topping of fontina cheese and tomato sauce slips berbere, the warm Ethiopian spice blend, into the meld. Thai steak is true to its words — sliced beef cooked the color you ask, dappled with crushed nuts and a bacon-laced chimichurri — and served with a semicircle of fragrant rice topped with microgreens. The same bartender who whips up a delightful, rye-and-peachy “Beloved,” honoring author Toni Morrison, might also steer you to a snack of Venezuelan tequeños that taste like an upgrade of mozzarella sticks and arrive with a teasing dunk of ground peanuts and garlic.

Listen to what you’re told. The staff is likely to pitch the “dim sum experience” for $25 a person. Take the plunge or miss the biggest thrill on the menu: “world bites” — plantain-filled “Latin” wontons, tiny tuna tacos bound with shiso leaves, steamed bun crammed with shredded pork — presented in a three-tiered bamboo steamer.

925 13th St. NW.



Lunch and dinner Tuesday through Sunday.

Shareable mains $21-$38.

Sound check: 75 decibels/Must speak with raised voice.

Indoor and outdoor seating. Takeout, no delivery. Accessibility: The (heavy) front door is preceded by a slight slope; ADA-compliant restrooms.

outdoor, takeout, vegetarianfriendly

Magpie and the Tiger

Large plates $29-$63.

A fan of the late, Japanese-inspired Himitsu in Petworth can’t help but compare it with the new, Korean-accented Magpie and the Tiger. The former, with Kevin Tien in the open kitchen, served food as clever as it was delicious. The latter, starring Caleb Jang, who helped open Himitsu, is doing something similar, but different, and in the same small storefront once occupied by Himitsu.

Translation: Jang can cook. This is clear the moment his lightly cured salmon alights on your table. Bites of the fish are arranged with diced Asian pear and brilliant purple radishes on a dashi broth practically reverberating with kimchi juice — a pool that turns magenta when lemon juice is added. Equally beautiful is a caramelized sweet potato festooned with pickled Fresno chiles, crisp little onion rings and diced jalapeño; the tuber arrives on a puddle of coconut milk, lime juice and ginger syrup that elevates the eating. To the moon!

[At Magpie and the Tiger, a young chef shows a flair for flavor]

Magpie and the Tiger references Korea’s national bird and the belief, stemming from folklore, of the tiger’s protective character. While there’s plenty of innovation here — the bread is a cracker-y style of focaccia stuffed with cheese and scallions — Korea-philes will recognize dishes including the whole rib kalbi accompanied by the jazzy “umami” rice, as well as kkanpunggi, Chinese-Korean fried chicken cloaked in a sauce that mixes pleasure with pain (hello, chile oil).

The bill shows up inside a cookie tin alongside sewing items, a touch Jang attributes to the habit of legions of practical, repurpose-minded Korean mothers. Here, the gesture is accompanied by delicate butter cookies. Ha! And sweet.

828 Upshur St. NW.



Dinner Wednesday through Sunday.

Large plates $29-$63.

Sound check: 75 decibels/Must speak with raised voice.

Indoor seating. No takeout or delivery. Accessibility: The snug entrance and compact dining room are not conducive to wheelchair users.



Mains $22-$48.

I glance up from my cilantro gimlet and sparkling tuna tostada to catch Alam Méndez Florián, onstage in his open kitchen, pouring wine into a pot and singing along with the restaurant’s soundtrack. The Oaxaca native, who’s also behind the esteemed Pasillo de Humo in Mexico City, evokes a happy host at a dinner party.

[Maiz64 brings Mexican flair — and smothering service — to Logan Circle]

Just as buoyant is the dining room. Maiz64 opens with front windows that capture a blue-tiled cooking area and moves on to an interior whose mammoth communal table is parota wood in the shape of the state of Minnesota, or so it struck this native from his stool at the bar. Opposite the kitchen, a rainbow of corn cobs poking out of braided husks is displayed in acrylic frames along the wall. The accents, including a yellow neon depiction of corn alongside the great table, signal the restaurant’s theme without resorting to the design equivalent of bullhorns.

The food brims with personality. We’re encouraged to make tacos from the plump, pibil-marinated chicken breast, shored up with fennel salad and oregano-sprinkled potatoes, and I order lobster and mussels mostly for the fact the seafood attraction comes with a soothing mussel tamal, swollen with the flavor of the lobster-epazote bisque in the bowl. Do yourself a favor and pair dinner with a bottle of Mexican wine that makes you wonder why we don’t see more of it in the States.

You’ll be tempted to scrape your plate clean, but refrain. No place offers finer to-go bags than this, one of the best Mexican restaurants in town.

1324 14th St. NW.



Dinner daily, brunch weekends.

Mains $22-$48.

Sound check: 80 decibels/Must speak with raised voice.

Indoor and outdoor seating. Takeout and delivery. Accessibility: A step at the entrance necessitates the use of a portable ramp, stowed near the bar; restrooms are ADA-compliant.

outdoor, takeout, delivery, vegetarianfriendly

El Mercat Bar de Tapas

Tapas $5-$25, paella $14-$38.

It’s a family affair at this shout-out to Mercat de la Boqueria, the must-see maze of food stalls and eateries in Barcelona. In the kitchen is Georges Rodrigues, late of Boqueria in Washington. At the bar is his brother-in-law, Wendel Alves. Like the design? Credit for the red shutters framing painted alleyways and the handsome wall of wine goes to the chef’s wife, Wanessa Alves.

[El Mercat Bar de Tapas brings a dash of Spain to Rockville]

If you’ve been grazing on small plates for a while, there’s probably little on the menu you haven’t seen. Tortilla Espanola? Fried calamari? The gang’s all here, along with luscious cod croquettes and chorizo and green salsa on toasted bread — the best open-face sandwich for miles. There’s a single main dish, paella, albeit in four guises. The most dramatic pan is the most delicious: bomba rice, stained black with squid ink and decorated with grilled calamari and sunny aioli. To spoon is to swoon.

Resist filling up on tapas. Desserts are simple but sublime. Churro “rellenos” are fat with fillings of caramel or chocolate, and the “burnt” cheesecake delivers a heady taste of San Sebastian.

101 Gibbs St., Rockville, Md.



Dinner daily, brunch weekends.

Tapas $5-$25, paella $14-$38.

Sound check: 81 decibels/Extremely loud.

Indoor and outdoor seating. Takeout, no delivery. Accessibility: No barriers at entrance; ADA-compliant restroom.

outdoor, takeout, vegetarianfriendly


Mains $24-$90.

Knowing where Matt Baker has been helps explain the eclectic menu. Born in Houston, the chef spent a lot of time in New Orleans, home to his mother, Michele. Baker’s French training at culinary school in Miami was put to delicious use at his upscale Gravitas in Washington.

His latest attraction unfolds in the Eaton hotel downtown, where hamachi crudo, pork crepinette and a Flintstonian grilled rib-eye compete for diners’ attention. But first, a cup of artichoke velouté, a gift from the kitchen that keeps alive the memory of his late, soup-loving mom.

[At Michele’s, all roads lead to something that tastes good]

Who needs pizza when there’s tart flambee, its thin, puff pastry crust a canvas for caramelized onions, creme fraiche, sliced potatoes and gooey Gruyere? A star among appetizers is the razor clam ceviche arranged with marcona almonds and juicy grapes and haunting with smoked Spanish paprika. Any meal is enhanced with brioche flavored with scallions, chives, garlic and sesame oil, a nod to the Chinatown of Houston.

The food is served by gracious people in a dining room that seems suited to the times, with comfortable booths hugging the walls. Baker’s biography frees pastry chef Aisha Momaney to offer a souffle and a sundae, and prompted a recent addition to the script: a seafood-focused, 14-course, $185 menu served at a 10-person chef’s counter. Baker is calling it Lorraine’s, a reference to his mom’s actual first name.

1201 K St. NW.



Dinner Wednesday through Sunday.

Mains $24-$90.

Sound check: 73 decibels/Must speak with raised voice.

Indoor and outdoor seating. Takeout, no delivery. Accessibility: Automatic doors make it easy to enter; restrooms are ADA-compliant.

outdoor, takeout, vegetarianfriendly

Patty O’s Cafe & Bakery

Mains $19-$38.

The key to the perfect Greek salad? Practice, practice, practice. Chef Devin Bozkaya says it took more than 100 tries to achieve a version that delighted his discerning boss, Patrick O’Connell, ahead of its debut at the casual spinoff of O’Connell’s acclaimed Inn at Little Washington.

[Patty O’s Cafe and Bakery unfolds in ‘the land of make-believe’ in Washington, Va.]

Some of the dishes at Patty O’s are revivals of food served earlier in the life of the Inn, but were tucked away as tastes grew more sophisticated: pepper-edged rare tuna paired with a cool scoop of cucumber sorbet, roast chicken with Grand Marnier-glossed carrots, butter pecan ice cream served with warm caramel sauce. Other selections underscore the cafe theme, including curry-colored, currant-sweetened chicken salad filling a croissant worthy of Paris, and that Greek salad, an upgrade made with the help of Turkish goat’s milk feta cheese, a sherry-based dressing and oil-cured kalamata olives.

The cafe, whose front patio offers a view of the charming hamlet, takes its menu, but not itself, seriously. A country theme prevails; a mural of barn dancers hangs in the bar and water pitchers are shaped like cowboy boots.

The adjoining bakery is the source of wonderful breads and desserts. Be sure to take home a loaf of seed-flecked multigrain bread and a slice (or more!) of the best carrot cake you’re likely to find anywhere.

389 Main St. Washington, Va.



Lunch and dinner Friday through Tuesday.

Mains $19-$38.

Sound check: 72 decibels/Must speak with raised voice.

Indoor and outdoor seating. No takeout or delivery. Accessibility: No barriers to entry. Bar includes a lower counter for wheelchair users. ADA-compliant restroom.



Mains $19-$26.

Did the United Nations buy out the place? There’s no more diverse restaurant around than this lively, plant-based restaurant in Bethesda (Bethesda!) that checks off a bunch of appetites. We’re talking sushi, pizza, pasta and links to co-founder David Lee’s Chinese heritage. The chef’s supple, spinach-filled dumplings splashed with chile oil and Sichuan peppercorns are a blast to eat.

[Planta in Bethesda shines a light on vegetables]

Planta acknowledges local affection for crab with an Old Bay-seasoned dip that swaps cooked hearts of palm for seafood (it’s convincingly delicious) and makes a star out of broccoli with the help of a deep-fryer and peanut and sweet chile sauces. Find time for florets given the “bang bang” treatment. Pizzas have improved every visit. My current pet is the pleasantly chewy “bianca” dressed with rosemary potatoes, olives, onions, capers and a flourish of chile oil. As for pastas, I like the simplicity of lumaconi draped in a tomato sauce made sweet and velvety with coconut milk.

Light streams into the corner space, whose smart couches, parked near the windows, offer prime people-watching and whose bar is awash in shiny green tile. Custom-made botanical wallpaper turns a section of dining room into a cross between a garden and a gallery.

Service is as steady as the room is diverse. Planta trains its staff for a minimum of two weeks and retains workers with carrots including health insurance, gym discounts and referral bonuses. The chain’s care and feeding of employees seem to pay. Servers seem to have memorized the makeup of every dish and respond to design questions with ease. The cool water glasses? “They’re made by Fortessa.”

4910 Elm St., Bethesda.



Dinner daily, lunch weekdays, brunch weekends.

Mains $19-$26.

Sound check: 78 decibels/Must speak with raised voice.

Indoor seating. Takeout and delivery. Accessibility: No barriers to entry; restrooms are ADA-compliant.

takeout, delivery, vegetarianfriendly

Quattro Osteria

Mains $22-$30.

Ambiance — difficult to convey with takeout or delivery, as we all learned during the past two years — accounts for much of this Italian newcomer’s enormous appeal. As the co-owner Giovanni Ippolito says, “We’ve put the vibe inside the restaurant.”

[Quattro Osteria puts fun on the plate and in the room]

The tone is set at the entrance, a door from India dating to the 19th century, and pops up seemingly everywhere else in the place. Look up. Bird cages double as chandeliers. Sit down. The landing spots include two seats that look directly into the kitchen and a larger table, shiny with lacquer, created from a slice of an old tree from West Virginia. A glance around the dining room finds cocktails revealed from beneath smoke-filled cloches and empty gold frames dressing up the brick walls — homage to designer Gianni Versace, who adored gold and frames, but also a way to get diners to focus on their dinner. “I don’t like mirrors or TVs,” says Ippolito, who thinks they “detract from the experience.”

The restaurant promises an “alternative” Italian experience and delivers. Ask for charcuterie, and the folds of mortadella and prosciutto arrive on custom-made, wood-and-wire displays that bring to mind clotheslines strung between buildings — precisely the image Ippolito recalls from when his grandmother hung out the wash back in his native Naples. A collection of vintage plates makes every dish a looker. The hits include pistachio-crusted rare tuna poised over vanilla-scented cauliflower puree; the most memorable pasta remains risotto, pale green with asparagus and set off with morsels of poached lobster and tufts of its foam.

The prize for presentation goes to the tiramisu, dropped off in the top of an espresso pot — another escape from reality, in a room rich with diversions.

600 Florida Ave. NW.



Dinner Tuesday through Sunday, brunch weekends.

Mains $22-$30.

Sound check: 86 decibels/Extremely loud.

Indoor and outdoor seating. Takeout and delivery. Accessibility: No barriers at entrance; ADA-compliant restroom.

outdoor, takeout, delivery

The Restaurant at Blue Rock

Four-course dinner $99.

I can’t decide what’s more curative, the steaming mushroom “tea” that eases diners into dinner or the view of pond, vineyard and mountains from a table near the window. Whatever, I’m glad to be back at the Blue Rock in Washington, Va., after the inn’s $2 million refresh, a makeover that encompasses a casual, 20-seat tavern and a reservation-only, 32-seat restaurant watched over by executive chef Bin Lu, late of the acclaimed Pineapple & Pearls in The Other Washington.

[The Restaurant at Blue Rock reopens with a new look — and a talented new chef]

Regarding diners and preferences, “there’s no one size fits all,” says the chef, 36. Lu’s four-course dinner gives patrons options, typically something traditional (a salad, a steak) and something daring (foie chantilly tart, aged duck atop a sauce made dark and delicious with blood sausage). There are no ordinary moments. That salad might involve seasonal vegetables and two sauces in a nest of greens; the savory tart is basically chilled whipped foie gras topped with a dark cocoa glaze in a pastry crust — a pie like no other. Pastas are particularly distinctive. Sourdough cavatelli teamed with shrimp, clams and mussels suggests “bouillabaisse” when finished with a sauce that fuses saffron, cream and flavors of the sea.

Looking for a small party space in the countryside? The 12-seat, low-ceiling private dining room beckons with botanical wallpaper and wood rafters that let you pretend you’re supping al fresco.

The restaurant’s nearby competitor is the revered Inn at Little Washington. Intimidating? The chef says his aspiration is to have his customers leave thinking, “Overall, I’ve had a great night.” And that they do, view included.

12567 Lee Hwy., Washington, Va.



Dinner Thursday through Sunday.

Four-course dinner $99.

Sound check: 65 decibels/Conversation is easy.

Indoor and outdoor seating. Takeout, no delivery. Accessibility: Wheelchair users can enter from the rear of the restaurant or request a ramp to navigate the step in the dining room; ADA-compliant restroom.

outdoor, takeout, quiet, vegetarianfriendly

Roberto’s Ristorante Italiano

Mains $28 to $46.

Allow me to introduce you to my new favorite mom-and-pop, named for longtime Washington chef Roberto Donna and owned by his wife, Nancy Sabbagh. He’s the talent behind the best risotto for miles and the guy carving a whole chicken on a roving food cart. She’s the smile and the “buona sera” presiding at the host stand.

[Roberto Donna is doing what he does best at Roberto’s in Vienna]

It’s always Throwback Thursday in the dining room, which gathers food enthusiasts, many of whose history with Donna dates to his glory days at Galileo in Washington, and servers who know the audience from way back then.

For the most part, Donna is cooking to the tune of the season rather than resurrecting greatest hits, although (hot tip) he keeps in his freezer meat-filled agnolotti del plin should anyone inquire about the signature pasta.

The bread basket could pass for a bakery, filled as it is with twig-like grissini, tender focaccia, an Italian roll that tastes like a flaky croissant flavored with Parmesan and sometimes even slices of pizza. Lasting impressions are also made from squash blossoms swollen with ricotta flavored with lemon zest and breezy mint; scallops hiding behind a veil of black lace (well, fried squid ink batter); and roasted venison dappled with a glossy reduction of barbaresco and balsamic vinegar.

Credit Sabbagh and her family for the distinct look of the place. Colorful Venetian masks and a collection of glass “bon bons” grace the walls; the owner’s mother made a “permanent” loan of the whimsical Chihuly chandeliers, while a niece designed the logo and the plates evoking Miró over the fireplace.

Roberto’s looks like it tastes: great.

144 Church St. NW, Vienna, Va.



Dinner Monday through Saturday.

Mains $28 to $46.

Sound check: 74 decibels/Must speak with raised voice.

Indoor seating. Takeout, no delivery. Accessibility: No barriers to entry; ADA-compliant restrooms.

takeout, vegetarianfriendly

The Salt Line

Mains $27-$45.

Well-shucked oysters, fluffy Parker House rolls, a comfortable room staged with nautical mementos: Just about everything that helps pack ’em in at the Salt Line in Navy Yard can be found at its young spinoff in Ballston. Really, the only ingredient missing from the original is a water view, although if you squint from a table inside, you can imagine boats and waves beyond the already-popular outdoor patio.

Why Ballston? “It’s always about the neighborhood,” says chef-partner Kyle Bailey. The combination of corner location and foot traffic makes for “a cool spot.” Picture lots of white subway tile, an upturned boat dangling from the ceiling, roomy sea foam-colored booths and an antique harpoon over the semi-visible kitchen. The interior almost begs you to order a bowl of chive-speckled clam chowder — lightly creamy but thick with tender clams and potatoes — and some stuffies, whose lemony sausage-and-baked-clam filling would benefit from a crisper surface.

Hired from Boston, Chile native Matt Singer has personalized the menu with dishes including lightly torched mackerel crudo, splashed with ponzu sauce and garnished with Lilliputian onion rings, and housemade tagliatelle dressed with butter-poached squid. The entree rocks with the help of a red pepper cream sauce and crunch from breadcrumbs and crushed hazelnuts seasoned with paprika and saffron. Singer also heaps golden fried scallops on a split buttered bun. So sweet!

Salt Line’s terrific roast beef sandwich acknowledges the many sources for such on the North Shore of Massachusetts. The version here is built from rosy shaved meat, American cheese, horseradish-spiked mayonnaise and a toasted onion roll. The beast, also zingy with barbecue sauce, comes with a choice of a salad or fries. Let your bad angel prevail; the hand-cut, twice-fried potatoes are terrific.

Maryland, specifically Bethesda, is poised to welcome a Salt Line as early as eight months from now, says Bailey, although a year is more likely — you know, supply chain and all.

4040 Wilson Blvd., Arlington.



Lunch weekdays, dinner daily, brunch weekends.

Mains $27-$45.

Sound check: 74 decibels/Must speak with raised voice.

Indoor and outdoor seating. Takeout, no delivery. Accessibility: No barriers at entrance; ADA-compliant restrooms.

outdoor, takeout

El Secreto de Rosita

Mains $25-$35.

First, you’re greeted by a server in a flowered shirt who possesses the kind of enthusiasm generally reserved for family reunions. Then, you’re ushered into a dining room that reminds me why green is my favorite color. You could be forgiven for thinking the place is a garden center, given all the hanging plants; grass-colored wallpaper takes up lots of space, too. The floors are partially covered with rugs, the soft chairs invite you to sink in, and, yes, those are photographs of the owner’s grandparents from Ecuador on the wall.

[El Secreto de Rosita seasons its pan-Latin menu with charms galore]

Mauricio Fraga-Rosenfeld says he designed the room, a tribute to the grandmother who raised him on the family avocado farm, so that “something happens in every corner.”

I dig what’s happening on my plate. Rings of fried calamari seasoned with paprika, black pepper and cumin pop with the help of sliced jalapeños in the mix, its accompanying aioli sharp with lemon and vinegar. A mixed seafood ceviche combines raw tuna, corvina, shrimp and more with spicy, citrusy “tiger’s milk” that lightly cures the fish and electrifies the salad. “Do me a favor?” a server says when he drops off dinner. “Enjoy your food.”

An easy ask. Earlier in his career, executive chef Cristian Granada, a native of Colombia, was a sous-chef at the Palm. That’s a carnivore’s cue to try lomo saltado: chunks of rib-eye that pick up a sear and smoke from their time in a wok and show up at the table with glossy peppers and soft onions atop a fistful of sliced, fried potatoes that soak up the juices like a sponge. Heartier still is a short rib the size of a brick, served with a sauce made with beer and cilantro and rounded out with pinto beans and oiled rice. Whatever you order is better with a proper pisco sour from the handsome bar, set off with yellow stools and tilted mirrors.

Deep story brief: El Secreto de Rosita is as easy on the tongue as the eyes, a hacienda full of good taste.

1624 U St. NW.



Dinner Tuesday through Sunday, brunch weekends.

Mains $25-$35.

Sound check: 80 decibels/Must speak with raised voice.

Indoor and outdoor seating. Takeout and delivery. Accessibility: No barriers at the entrance, but wheelchair users can’t access the basement restrooms.

outdoor, takeout, delivery

Thai Chef

Mains $15-$19.

The owners asked their designer to re-create a Thai night market inside their Rockville restaurant, and Wirat “Pop” Assawamahasakda over-delivered by filling the lofty dining room with a tuk tuk parked near the entrance, carousel horses, even a movie marquee to evoke Bangkok’s famous Scala theater. Thai Chef is a riot of color, and its ability to slap a smile on your face when you walk in is akin to the discovery of a $5 bill in a coat pocket.

Knowing what to order sustains the mood. Catfish dry curry — fried fillets ignited by their coat of chile peppers, galangal, coriander and more — should be mandatory eating, along with jiggly tapioca-and-rice flour “cakes,” bite-size blocks veined with chives and served with a soy sauce dip. Garlic fried rice provides a trumpet blast of garlic and yellow squiggles of scrambled egg amid the greaseless grains, whose topper of fried shrimp isn’t necessary to enjoy the dish. Misfires such as a soggy green papaya salad can be smoothed over by the engaging service at Thai Chef, a spinoff of the same-named restaurant in the District.

Delays in opening meant lots of time to train staff, who got to try everything on the menu, “including the cocktails,” says Chalisa Fitts, who owns the business with her parents. The sustained practice results in attentive hospitality.

Another secret weapon is the drinks list, a passion project for the Bangkok-born Fitts. The gimlet infused with Thai basil makes a breezy companion to the cooking, and Crazy Thai Lady — a blend of rum, tequila, pineapple juice and aromatics including lime leaves — reveals the family’s sense of humor. Crazy Thai Lady, says Fitts, is “just what my dad calls my mom.”

29 Maryland Ave., Rockville, Md.



Lunch and dinner daily.

Mains $15-$19.

Sound check: 74 decibels/Must speak with raised voice.

Indoor seating. Takeout and delivery. Accessibility: No barriers to entrance; ADA-compliant restroom.

takeout, delivery, vegetarianfriendly

Tremolo Bar

Small plates $8-$90.

Even if I didn’t know Jarad Slipp was behind this wine bar/cocktail lounge/small plates space, the sign outside the Middleburg newcomer would draw me in.

“Wine is now cheaper than gas,” the message read on a recent weekend. “Drink, don’t drive!”

Slipp, the former estate manager at RdV Vineyards in Delaplane, Va., brings a world of expertise and wit to the 40-seat Tremolo Bar, a two-story vision in white. In an earlier life, the owner patrolled the dining rooms at CityZen in Washington and Restaurant Gordon Ramsay in London. A Culinary Institute of America graduate, Slipp knows his way around the kitchen, too. Did I mention he’s also a master sommelier? His new roost launched after plans to open “a fancy restaurant” fell through early in the pandemic — “not the time to put millions” into a dining project, says the owner.

Tremolo Bar offers 75 wines by the glass, half-bottle and full flask; highlights classic cocktails (“No hipster drinks that take 25 mins to make,” declares the list); and features a short but wide-ranging menu that takes into account snackers (Thai fried peanuts, a lemony rocket salad) and people who might want something more substantial (see: lobster mac and cheese and duck confit).

Worth the journey? You bet. Off the top of my head, I can’t think of another single venue that can deliver by the glass Chateau Latour Bordeaux; a Prohibition-era, chartreuse-colored Last Word as balanced as a scale; and juicy meatballs formed with local lamb.

Amazingly, there’s no stove here. Slipp and staff rely on fast-cooking TurboChefs to make a crab dip — rich with cheeses including cheddar and fontina and flanked with brioche “soldiers” for dipping — and cubed potatoes and bacon in bubbling Taleggio cheese. The beauty prize goes to a bowl of hummus artfully paved with Fresno chiles, charred Brussels sprouts and fried shallots.

The owner initially aspired to fancy. This customer is glad he settled on fun with high standards.

19 E. Washington St., Middleburg, Va.



Lunch and dinner Wednesday through Sunday.

Small plates $8-$90.

Sound check: 73 decibels/Must speak with raised voice.

Indoor seating. Takeout, no delivery. Accessibility: Slight step going into entrance; the restroom, reached by stairs, is on the second floor.

takeout, vegetarianfriendly


Mains $15-$31.

High inside the Watermark Hotel in Tysons, Wren is pretty much the restaurant I encountered when it started serving food and drink in basically an extension of the 11th-floor lobby.

That’s a compliment. Consistency isn’t easy, and it’s only harder during a pandemic. Tokyo chicken still gets its kicks from soy sauce, ginger, garlic, sake — a long list of flavoring agents applied a day before the thigh meat is served, each nugget crisp from a dusting of tapioca and cornstarch. Tangy dark green pickles in the bowl are the pause that refreshes between each bite. Marinated pork belly continues to swell tender bao buns, inside of which are also tucked carrot matchsticks, cucumber slices and jalapeño.

[The Japanese-inspired Wren restaurant flies high in Tysons]

Chef Yo Matsuzaki says he’s “cooking food I like to eat,” mostly small plates typical of an izakaya, or Japanese watering hole. I like what the chef likes, including miso-splashed cod, a shareable entree paired with smoky grilled shishitos. “I want sweetness, sourness and saltiness” on every plate, says Matsuzaki, who finishes the fish with threads of sweet fried leek. This being a hotel restaurant, there’s a hamburger, and it’s an impressive one. Wren uses wagyu beef for the patty, which arrives on a toasted brioche bun with hand-cut french fries dusted with Japanese chile pepper. Really, the only miss recently was a bowl of oily flash-fried Brussels sprouts lit with mustard.

The oval bar, illuminated as if by a moonbeam and ringed with metal fringe on top, is the heart of the setting and the source of some serious liquid pleasures, including such revivifying combinations as matcha, Japanese whisky, yuzu and honey syrup. Ask for the “Incredibl-y Calm Hulk.”

1825 Capital One Dr. South, Tysons, Va.



Dinner daily.

Mains $15-$31.

Sound check: 72 decibels/Must speak with raised voice.

Indoor and outdoor seating. Takeout, no delivery. Accessibility: Wheelchair users can easily reach the restaurant via an elevator on the fourth or fifth floor of the parking garage; restrooms are ADA-compliant.

outdoor, takeout, vegetarianfriendly


Editing by Joe Yonan and Jim Webster. Production and photo editing by Jennifer Beeson Gregory. Design by Clare Ramirez.