Is it just me, or did 2016 feel like we went 12 rounds with Floyd Mayweather Jr. — and the champ propped us up for the last six just to see how much punishment we could take?
The presidential campaign — in which vicious insults substituted for policy — was bad enough. But then there were the wars, the police shootings (and the shooting of police in return), the suicide bombings, the Aleppo orphans, the hate crimes, the videos of casual racism, a seemingly bottomless spiral of public madness.
And if that wasn’t enough to crush your soul, the gods decided to take Prince, too.
I did a lot of stress eating this year. I was grateful to do so in Washington, where our neighborhoods continue to reveal the riches that immigrants bring to America. These were my favorite haunts in 2016, in reverse order.
10. Shanghai Taste (1121 Nelson St., Rockville. 301-279-0806). Everyone, it seems, migrates to this Rockville outpost for the little bundles of joy known as soup dumplings, especially the pan-fried ones available Saturday and Sunday only. But chef and co-owner Wei Sun can impress with other dishes, too, including her garlic-sauce noodle soup; her shumai stuffed with sticky rice, mushrooms and pork; and her “salty crispy fish,” which I like to think of as the french fries of the sea.
9. Da Rae Won (5013 Garrett Ave., Beltsville. 301-931-7878). Beltsville has all the trappings of a great cheap-eats neighborhood. The suburb is diverse. Costs are low. Korean food, in particular, flourishes here, including this rewarding spot tucked into a strip center off Garrett Avenue. Fresh noodles are the house specialty. That thwacking you hear? It’s chef Hyeong Mu Choe pounding your noodles into shape for a bowl of jajangmyeon, an earthy and irresistible Korean comfort.
8. The Thai Cuisine (757 Hungerford Dr., Rockville. 301-838-4480. thethaicuisinerockville. com). There are two locations of the Thai Cuisine. The one you want is jammed into a Rockville strip center between a Filipino market and a Chinese dumpling house. This outlet caters to those who desire a more authentic Thai experience. The noodle soups are a highlight, especially the tom yum, which takes a basic vegetable broth and drugs it with a feverish cocktail of lime juice, dried squid, fish sauce, chili powder and other stimulants/ingredients that will rock your brain.
7. Texas Jack’s (2761 Washington Blvd., Arlington. 703-875-0477. txjacks.com). Barbecue is a sort of legacy member of Cheap Eats Nation. It still gets lumped into the category based on the perception that barbecue is an affordable pleasure for all, an echo from a time when meat and fuel prices were lower. But even if Texas Jack’s busts your weekend budget, don’t miss the chance to sample pitmaster Matt Lang’s succulent, smoky slices of moist brisket or his toothsome St. Louis-style spare ribs.
6. Beatesub Market and Carry Out (8201 Georgia Ave., Silver Spring. 301-448-1625). I’ve visited this casual, unassuming space twice since I included it in my list of best Ethiopian restaurants. I’m convinced Beatesub is pushing the cuisine in the right direction, at least in the American market. The place pays close attention to all aspects of the operation: the fragrant food, the breezy and contemporary Ethiopian ambiance, even the plating techniques, which venture beyond injera-covered platters.
5. Balaji Cafe (298 Sunset Park Dr., Herndon. 703-437-1267. balajicafe.com) This cafe isn’t much to look at, little more than a cavernous, cinder-block space with a (mostly) empty cooler along one wall. All the personality has been reserved for the food, featuring the vegetarian fare of South India. The cooks produce at least nine batters and doughs, including a fermented one that’s drizzled on a hot griddle and transformed into the lacy, crispy rava sada rosa. The gobi paratha is a denser, stuffed flatbread, ideal for ferrying butter, yogurt and nuclear-hot Indian pickles: The combination is a bite that borders on the spiritual.
4. Northwest Chinese Food (7313 Baltimore Ave., College Park. 240-714-4473). Until Hua Wang opened her quiet, off-kilter eatery in College Park — where “Chinese food” is usually caked in cornstarch and concealed in clamshell containers — locals had little opportunity to feast on the foods from Liaoning and Shaanxi provinces. The best of Wang’s dishes have a ridiculously wide blast zone, sending out shock waves of garlic, chili oil and smoky, aged Shaanxi vinegar. Among my favorites are the liang pi noodles, the spicy potato noodles and the tomato-and-egg noodles.
3. Pizza CS (1596-B Rockville Pike, Rockville. 240-833-8090. pizzacs.com). Pizzaiolo and co-owner Ankur Rajpara is a former project manager and marketer who’s living proof that there are second acts in American life. He’s become one of the finest Neapolitan pizza makers in the area. He and his team produce pies of exceptional quality, beginning with a two-flour dough that’s fermented nearly 48 hours. Try one, try ’em all.
2. Straw Stick & Brick Delicatessen (5111 Georgia Ave. NW. 202-726-0102. ssbdeli.com). Every time I drive by this craft-conscious deli, headed toward some other dining destination for the night, I sigh quietly and wish I could stop here instead, maybe dig into a barbecued pulled pork sandwich or an Italian sub or a muffuletta stuffed with house-cured salumi. Straw Stick & Brick’s owners, Jason and Carolina Story, have an Old World dedication to their charcuterie craft. You taste it in every bite.
1. El Sol Restaurante & Tequileria (1227 11th St. NW. 202-815-4789. el-soldc.com). It may be hard to believe, but there was a time in Washington when it was easier to score drugs than a decent taco on a house-made tortilla. The District now has a handful of good taquerias, but none that approaches El Sol. Led by siblings Alfredo and Jessica Solis, this intimate spot brings a chef’s refinement to Mexican street food and home cooking.