A good takeout restaurant offers more than a warm meal. It comes to the rescue on nights when cooking or eating out feels too tiresome — especially when the temperature is frigid, and dinner must be had in pajamas. Maybe it's the mom-and-pop shop doling out cheesy pupusas around the corner, or the pizza spot that is absolutely worth driving to. Whatever it is, there's something comforting about a to-go place that's reliable and unfussy in its own special way. Here, we share our favorites.
The secret is out about Indigo, which means that the tiny bungalow of a restaurant is usually uncomfortably cramped with bodies clambering for Indian classics done right. That's why I prefer to get my order to-go rather than vying for a seat. Although Indigo offers delivery through such apps as UberEats, picking up in person means I can shamelessly load up on gratis chutneys at the sauce bar. I was heartbroken to learn that plans for a second (closer-to-me) location in Brookland fell through this year, but I'm still happy to make the trek out to Northeast — the food is so filling, one order typically yields two days' worth of meals.
My go-to order: The butter chicken ($12) may seem like an obvious choice, but Indigo's sauce is perfectly sumptuous without being oily, coating the tender chicken with a velvety blanket of ginger, garlic and cream. — Holley Simmons
243 K St. NE. 202-544-4777.
When my husband and I were deciding where to live in the District, proximity to abundant takeout was a heavily weighted factor. It's no surprise we landed in Mount Pleasant, with its wealth of Thai, Lao, Peruvian, Vietnamese, Cuban, Mexican, Ethiopian and Salvadoran joints within a radius of a few blocks. But it's the latter that the neighborhood is most known for: There are several pupuserias on Mount Pleasant Street NW alone, and neighbors all have strong opinions about which one is best. For us, it's Ercilia's, the straightforward Salvadoran takeout spot at the corner of Mount Pleasant and Irving streets. The biggest perk? The food's still warm by the time we make it home and fire up our latest Netflix binge-watch.
My go-to order: The pupusas are made to order with a zippy curtido. Add plantains or an order of crispy fried pork and yuca to a trio, and you'll have dinner for two that costs about $10. — Maura Judkis
3070 Mount Pleasant St. NW. 202-387-0909.
The nearly ubiquitous line at the counter — and in good weather, out the door — of pitmaster Rob Sonderman's Adams Morgan barbecue joint is kept moving with military precision, and a smile, by a staffer who circulates around the small dining room passing out paper menus. Carryout regulars like me know to check the list of rotating specials, as well as the updated tally of what's already run out that day, handwritten on a sheet of butcher paper by the register. That's your most important tip: If you want to make sure there are still pork spareribs or chicken on hand, get here early. Like all good things, the perfectly seasoned and smoked meats coming out of Sonderman's gas-enhanced, wood-burning chamber of mysteries don't last forever.
My go-to order: The Texas Ranger ($12.50), a generous sandwich of sliced brisket and fried onions on Texas toast, and a side of crispy Brussels sprouts. — Michael O'Sullivan
1654 Columbia Rd. NW.
Everyone loves to feel like a rock star, rolling up to a hot nightclub and walking in while the crowds in line look on, wishing they could be so cool. In D.C., the takeout equivalent of that experience is at Toki Underground. Almost seven years after the tiny ramen joint opened on H Street NE, customers are still willing to wait an hour or more for seats at peak times. The faster — and easier — way to get your fix is to call ahead and place a to-go order. While others are cooling their heels, your food will be ready in about 20 minutes. Pro tip: If you can't wait to dive in, grab a bar stool downstairs at the Pug and enjoy the ramen with a cold beer.
My go-to order: The hot, funky kimchi ramen ($15) ordered "kaedama" (with extra noodles) and with a blast of Toki Endorphin Sauce, which melds with the ramen's kick of pickled ginger. — Fritz Hahn
1234 H St. NE. 202-388-3086.
The term "Habesha" is an umbrella, a way to describe the various ethnic groups hailing from the northeast corner of Africa. Here in Washington, however, it's an insider's phrase, a badge of pride and kinship among Ethiopians and Eritreans. There is no better name for Shaw's forever-busy carryout Habesha, which seems to double as both restaurant and community center for the city's East Africans. Inevitably in line at the counter are cabdrivers, couples and young, second-generation Ethiopians with ombre hair (and, yes, a few culinary tourists, too). It's where I go when I want to be where the action is, at least while I wait the few minutes for food to emerge from the open kitchen. The market, thankfully, keeps late hours and buzzes with energy from morning late into the night.
My go-to order: The deluxe veggie combo is delivered in a heaving tinfoil baking dish packed to the brim with two chickpea-based shiros, potatoes swimming in berbere spice, collard greens and tomato salad, plus a sack of pillowy injera. It's just $13.95 and can feed three. — Lavanya Ramanathan
1919 Ninth St. NW. 202-232-1919.
14th Street Cafe Asian Bistro
There's nothing Parisian or Bohemian about this place, but its bistro designation holds up when you consider the quality of the ingredients and the mastery of the wok-wielding cooks. Vegetables retain their crunch and color. Stir-fried meats are charred and tender, never tough and chewy. The food — mostly Chinese-American classics such as beef with broccoli and sweet-and-sour chicken — is always piping-hot. Before it opened two years ago, my wife and I were constantly experimenting with Chinese takeout spots near Logan Circle. Now the search has ended. We place an order, which never takes more than 20 minutes, about every other week.
My go-to order: The Sichuan beef noodle stew ($10.95) is my favorite. The noodles are packaged separately, so you can control how many you add to the savory, crimson-colored beef broth spiked with chile oil. — Gabe Hiatt
1416 14th St. NW. 202-588-0695.
Founded by a pair of reggae musicians who traded in their rock-steady beats for a charcoal grill, Just Jerk serves up a different slice of Jamaican life: wood-smoked chicken rubbed with a lusty blend of herbs and spices, a mixture better known on the island as jerk seasoning. Most D.C. jerk shops bake their birds in the oven. Just Jerk smokes its chickens over lump charcoal, adding a layer of flavor to dark meat already pulsating with allspice and Scotch bonnet peppers. The only thing better than this bird may be the accompanying rice and beans, which lounge at the bottom of a flimsy foil take-away container packed tight with food. The rice and beans absorb every last drop of the fragrant juices that manage to escape the chicken.
My go-to order: Jerk chicken platter, dark meat (small for $9.25, large for $12.50.) — Tim Carman
9005 Lanham Severn Rd., Lanham. 301-459-5375.
Some food writers have 9-year-olds who eat anything. Where to go when your kid eats pizza but inherited an insistence on quality? Pete's Apizza may not be as sexy as, say, a ramen shop, but as a former New Yorker, it's become the go-to pizza joint for me and my son. It's my Platonic ideal of a neighborhood pizza place, serving pies available by the slice with a thin and blistered crust and a brush of bitingly tangy, fresh sauce. Bonus points for bold and flavorful salads and antipasti, locally sourced ingredients and house-made gelati.
My go-to order: The spicy Staven pie ($9-$26) with pepperoni, hot sausage, roasted garlic, caramelized onions and hot cherry peppers is my favorite. Even if you love cheese, try a loaded pie without — you'll be amazed. — Mary Beth Albright
Growing up in the middle of Nowhere, Texas, I lived too far for even the local pizza chain to show up at our doorstep. Takeout wasn't much of an option, either. Moving to the U Street Corridor was an embarrassment of riches, and my constant companion has become DC Noodles — a carryout spot with a predominantly Thai menu that I call upon, sometimes twice a week. The wide range of offerings means it can please most palates, but it also has some interesting gems. Best of all, when I call ahead, the food's always ready by the time I arrive.
My go-to order: The drunken noodles ($13-$16) ordered with chicken, and which come with still-crunchy green beans, bell peppers and onions. Other standbys are the green curry noodles ($15-$16) and the stir-fry beef ragu ($16). — Savannah Stephens
The day after we moved to Brightwood Park, my husband and I stumbled upon Sunrise Caribbean, a cheery little spot tucked away on upper Georgia Avenue NW. What brought us back the very next day (and several times since) is the food from chef and co-owner Alisa Plaza. The menu features specialties of Trinidad and Tobago, plus Plaza's vegan takes on those classics. Sunrise has its devoted followers — you might find several dishes sold out on any given day — but ask what else you should try, then take comfort from whatever's dished up. Before you leave, be sure to grab a few bottles of the unlabeled house-made drinks from the refrigerator case. The red sorrel ($3) and cloudy yellow ginger beer ($4) are crowd-pleasers, but my favorite is the bracingly bitter mauby ($3). Once home, we usually spike them with a little rum — you know, for extra warmth.
My go-to order: The brown-stew chicken ($9) and curry goat ($13) with sides of rice and beans, mac-and-cheese, collard greens and cabbage. — Kara Elder
5329 Georgia Ave. NW. 202-291-2949.