Were you worried there wouldn’t be a fall dining guide this year? Join the club.

The pandemic has wreaked havoc on the restaurant industry. Since spring, when I wrote about how much is lost without restaurants, a number of favorite dining destinations have closed for good. Gone but not forgotten: America Eats Tavern, Momofuku CCDC and Poca Madre, among other taste makers.

A year like no other calls for a different dining guide. While it might seem ticklish to toast the restaurant scene, and some businesses are in flux as this issue goes to press, what better way to honor the community than by showcasing some of its best representatives?

With safety in mind, I focused on takeout and delivery for this year’s collection, although I also sampled outdoor seating when it was available. In only a few cases did I venture inside to eat, where noise has gone the way of handshakes and communal tables. Most restaurants were visited multiple times, and in recent months.

The following establishments not only have consistency and good taste in their favor, they shine a light on the way forward. Long may they serve us.

No restaurants to view

2019
Top 10

Moses Krishnarajan and Venkatesan Krishnan (Laura Chase de Formigny)

Amber Spice

Curries, kebabs and kofta burst with color and flavor

Entrees $13 to $24

I’ve been here

Read More

Beautiful Indian food is also some of the most delicious around

Keep in mind that the chefs used to cook at the nearby Curry Leaf in Laurel, and order the haleem. Lentils, cracked wheat, chicken and warm spices add up to a fabulous golden porridge. Note that Saravan "Sam" Krishnan and his brother Venkatesan, or "John," also put in time at the now-dark Udupi Palace in Takoma Park, and ask for a dosa. Fashioned from rice and lentils, the crisp golden scrolls are some of the best in the area. Spiced potatoes, cabbage and carrot compose one of nearly a dozen rousing fillings. Come to think of it, there’s not much I can’t recommend at this Indian restaurant, inviting in orange accents and set off with ornate screens that you don’t get to see until the owners reopen their dining room. Anywhere else, the chile-fired lamb kebabs might be a signature; here, they go unfinished only because the rest of the food is so compelling. I’m thinking of velvety, sweet-hot Goan shrimp curry, and purple eggplant in a cloak of gravy that resonates with tamarind, peanuts and coconut.  It would be easy to feast just on vegetables. Arranging the takeout for a group portrait on my kitchen counter this summer, I was struck by the beauty of the spread. The forest-green spinach kofta next to the dusky gold aloo gobi alongside the shocking red paneer chili begged for a frame. Better still, the vibrant buffet delivered on the palate. The flaky paratha, meanwhile, has become my choice mop. You will eat as if it’s Thanksgiving — too much, too fast — and love every minute.


13524 Baltimore Ave., Laurel, Md.

301-477-4828

Lunch and dinner Wednesday through Sunday

Entrees $13 to $24

Takeout and delivery via DoorDash and Uber Eats. Takeout also available via phone.

2019
Top 10

Brussels sprouts and apple kimchi (Dixie D. Vereen)

Anju

The menu is a concert of hot Korean wrap and funk

Entrees $17 to $32

I’ve been here

Read More

Chef Danny Lee says Asian food travels well. His certainly does.

Who needs flowers in the house when there’s carryout from Anju? The unpacked contents from the Korean hot spot in Dupont Circle brighten a room as surely as any bouquet. Consider just the ssam board, DIY tacos assembled from ribbons of rosy marinated short rib and ruffles of spring-green lettuce (ssam is Korean for "wrapped"). The board’s multiple parts span magenta pickled radishes, bronzed garlic that spreads like butter, white steamed rice and red ssamjang, the thick and spicy paste made with garlic, onion, sesame oil and more. To look at ssam is to take in a rainbow. "Asian food travels well," says co-owner Danny Lee, whose mother, Yesoon Lee, the traditionalist in the kitchen, is staying home for the duration of the pandemic. His sentiment is mine as I unwrap steamed pork dumplings, as supple and juicy as I’ve had them in the restaurant, and devour a fiery kimchi teeming with shredded Brussels sprouts and crisp apple. Never mind that the signature twice-fried chicken, accompanied by sweet-spicy gochujang and Alabama-style white barbecue sauce, is apt to cool down en route. "I eat cold chicken all the time," says Lee. For the full Anju experience, though, you have to order aged kimchi. Thirty days’ time makes for a pleasantly funky ferment. Specials have produced hits, too, including thin sweet potato noodles topped with jumbo lump blue crab from Maryland. The stir-fry (japchae) nicely balances heat with sweet.  Anju encourages outdoor dining with a four-course menu ($65) served at four tables distanced from one another with plants. "It’s your own party," says Lee.


1805 18th St. NW

202-845-8935

Dinner daily, brunch weekends.

Entrees $17 to $32

Reservations required. Takeout via Toast, Caviar and DoorDash. Delivery via DoorDash and Caviar

2019
Top 10

Terrine of rabbit, olives and eggplant (Deb Lindsey)

Annabelle

Chef Frank Ruta is cooking so much more than an expert tuna melt

Pastas $25 to $26, entrees $28 to $36

I’ve been here

Read More

Annabelle serves the familiar with finesse

Shocked to see a tuna melt on a menu from former White House chef Frank Ruta? The headliner says customers of his late Palena raised their eyebrows when he put a hamburger on its list. ("It’s a sandwich," he says, recalling the original outcry.)  The chef’s point: People want food that’s familiar right now. Besides, his melt is built with tuna confit, housemade mayonnaise, thick Pullman bread and Gruyere, which bubbles after a moment under the broiler. The $8 appetizer is familiar and finessed, just like so much of the rest of Ruta’s handiwork at the youngest restaurant in the realm of the prolific Ashok Bajaj.  Summer beans and julienned peaches are slicked with a dressing of chile oil, lime juice and sesame seeds, plus some crunch courtesy of dried shallots and garlic. Pan-roasted lamb loin is nearly upstaged by its dagger of red kuri squash, flavorful from a braise of lamb trimmings and saffron. Clams, fluke and squid gather in a sublime take on bouillabaisse whose broth, delicately spiced with ginger and lemongrass, is all goodness and light. Having experienced the chef’s food both as takeout and on Annabelle’s patio, I have to say I prefer the latter on a fair night — on china in Dupont Circle, at a table enclosed by a white fence, with a cameo by the gracious Bajaj.


2132 Florida Ave. NW

202-916-5675

Dinner Wednesday through Sunday.

Pastas $25 to $26, entrees $28 to $36

Takeout via Caviar, DoorDash, website or phone. Delivery via DoorDash and Caviar

2019
Top 10

Beef sambosa (Deb Lindsey)

Aracosia

Afghan flagship is full of heart and heartiness

A la carte entrees, $14.50 to $42

I’ve been here

Read More

Inside and out, Aracosia provides a dashing retreat

Bring on the cold weather. I know just what I’m having the moment I have to pull on a sweater: lentil soup from one of the best Afghan restaurants in the area (the other standard bearers being Aracosia’s siblings in Springfield and Washington).  The strapping bowl from the dashing McLean retreat brims not just with the expected beans, but with minced beef, dried dill and streaks of yogurt. Two of us shared the lot as an appetizer for $10 and stopped only because the soup had competition (spinach-stuffed fried turnovers: lovely) and we needed room to accommodate our main courses, including a truly special special of lamb and okra in a tomato stew kicky with garam masala.  Outside, on a semi-enclosed walkway strung with lights and as tasteful as indoors, is a great place to feast on minty leek-and-scallion dumplings and chicken combined with fistfuls of greens and punched up with cilantro. Expect a serious wine list, an herb-packed hamburger, pistachio cake for dessert and cosseting service.  My last dinner concluded with snifters of amaretto on the house, a gesture the restaurant sometimes extends to diners who order alcohol, says owner Omar Masroor. Aracosia feels like the family business it is.


1381 Beverly Rd., McLean, Va.

703-269-3820

Lunch and dinner Tuesday through Sunday.

A la carte entrees, $14.50 to $42

Takeout and delivery via Door Dash, Grubhub, Uber Eats and the restaurant (range is within three miles, minimum of $50, $10 fee). Takeout also available via phone.

2019
Top 10

Chef Jeeraporn Poksupthong (Scott Suchman)

Baan Siam

Chef Jeeraporn Poksupthong serves inspired Thai

Entrees $15 to $17

I’ve been here

Read More

Baan Siam gets it all right

There’s not a bite out of place at this youthful retreat from the owners of the late Baan Thai. If it weren’t for the pandemic and my wish to eat under the radar, I’d be tempted to high-five chef Jeeraporn Poksupthong. To taste her tender pork shoulder, sharp with ginger and the beneficiary of a curry paste made from scratch, or her zesty chicken and glass noodles presented in banana leaf, is to experience some of the best Thai food around.  Every meal should start with the simply billed pineapples bites. Rooted in royal Thai ceremony, the snack crowns juicy yellow fruit with little balls of chicken shaped with roasted peanuts, fermented radish and palm sugar. Make room as well for the water spinach, softly crunchy and punchy with chiles and garlic sauce.  See the big domed oven inside? It’s a leftover from the previous occupant, Alba Osteria. The chef hopes to cook whole fish and suckling pig in the space sometime soon. The most fanciful finish is coconut ice cream showered with wok-roasted peanuts, strewn with threads of egg yolk sweetened with simple syrup and dropped off in a coconut shell.  Baan Siam, whose handsome dining room I can’t wait to spend time in once it’s safe, goes the extra mile. Perch on the patio and you get bug spray along with your hand-sanitizer — scented, like much of the cooking, with lemongrass.


425 I St. NW

202-588-5889

Lunch and dinner Tuesday through Sunday.

Entrees $15 to $17

Reservations recommended, via Tock. Takeout via Toast or phone. Delivery via the restaurant ($3 charge within a two-mile radius).

2019
Top 10

Jerk chicken with sides (Deb Lindsey)

Bammy’s

Waterfront cocktails, jerk chicken and more add up to a day at the beach

Entrees $14 to $20

I’ve been here

Read More

Take a staycation by going to Bammy’s

Need a getaway? Reserve a patio table at the waterfront Bammy’s and hope for good weather. Between the reggae and the Caribbean food from the guys who made Maydan such a draw, time spent at the addition to the Navy Yard is just what the doctor ordered.  Unwind with a drink and some snacks. A Coloring Book swirls together hibiscus, fresh ginger and a choice of spirit (go for smoky mezcal) and is best paired with a plate of craggy conch fritters, veined with red pepper bits. Throw in an order of bammies, too, made with ground cassava and fried to a pale gold. The flat, crisp-chewy cakes blossom with a dollop of red pepper jelly.  Co-owners Gerald Addison and Chris Morgan went through 50 iterations of jerk chicken before they found their ideal. The prize starts with an allspice cure, continues with a marinade shocked with Scotch bonnet peppers, and moves on to a slow smoke over pimento wood, a stint on a grill and a few minutes in the oven. The result is skin that’s crisp throughout and improved only with a bit of the chefs’ jerk sauce, whose heat sneaks up on you like an O. Henry ending. There’s more to explore: whole scored fried sea bass festooned with carrots, red peppers and onions that taste like they’re plugged in to an electric socket — a beauty of a Jamaican escovitch — and saucy curry goat heaped over steaming rice and peas. Trust me when I tell you: Bammy’s goes down like a day at the beach.


301 Water St. SE, Suite 115

202-599-2400

Dinner Wednesday through Sunday, lunch weekends.

Entrees $14 to $20

Takeout via Toast. Delivery via DoorDash.

2019
Top 10

Wine director Alissa Diaz talking with diners (Scott Suchman)

Centrolina

Chef Amy Brandwein’s corner of CityCenter is an ode to Italy

Pasta and entrees $24 to $42

I’ve been here

Read More

An endearing Italian meal, served upscale alley-fresco

Heat lamps and blankets are the new endearments at this beloved Italian fixture in CityCenter. Because outside chef Amy Brandwein’s restaurant, along an alley of upscale shops, is a magical place to find yourself, sipping on a well-made cocktail, poking into an artful appetizer or twirling housemade pasta on your fork.  Dinner commences with a temperature check and slices of ciabatta and focaccia from Piccolina, the restaurant’s casual offshoot across from where you’re socially distanced from fellow diners. The dishes sound familiar but ooze flair. Chicken liver mousse appears as creamy tufts on shards of toasted bread, along with bits of roasted peach that signal summer. Fritto misto suspends steaming cod and red snapper in rings and balls of tempura, a golden catch finished with Fresno chiles. Duck leg cooked to a shattering crunch in the wood oven and arranged on dandelion greens with roasted plums and pickled shallots is as sublime as you’ve ever encountered, here or abroad. I’ve also yet to meet a pasta I haven’t loved here. Lately, I’m crushing on slender maccheroni tossed with crumbled braised goat, green olives and lemon zest. The service is every bit as engaging as the food, and the only thing you miss by sitting outside is the chance to say "grazie mille" to the woman watching over the kitchen.


974 Palmer Alley NW

202-898-2426

Dinner daily.

Pasta and entrees $24 to $42

Takeout and delivery via Caviar, DoorDash, Tock, Toast or phone.

2019
Top 10

Apple cobbler (Scott Suchman)

Clarity

Your best meal could be in a parking spot or dining pod

Dinner entrees $24 to $36, tasting menu $77 (not available for takeout)

I’ve been here

Read More

Chef Jon Krinn has the will — and the grill — to keep Clarity fresh

Even though I’m eating in the restaurant’s parking lot, beneath a tent, it feels like old times when I’m handed multiple menus for dinner, drinks and smoked dishes from a new outdoor kitchen and Argentine grill.  Chef-owner Jon Krinn addressed the pandemic by giving customers what they were accustomed to — lots of options, expanded in spring to include a cigar "bar" to the side of Clarity — and making frequent adjustments to his proactive strategy. Thus there’s no getting bored, always something fresh to experience.  His page-long "Manhattan Project" allows imbibers to mix and match spirits, vermouths and bitters to create one-of-a-kind versions of the classic cocktail. The goods from the grill include head-on prawns splayed on a fruity quinoa salad and lamb steak atop a warm bed of grilled corn, portobello mushrooms and zucchini. Apple cobbler with marjoram ice cream? Yes, please.  Patrons opting for inside tables are separated from other parties by yellow curtains; come cold weather, Clarity is expanding to the second floor of the building, where a bunch of private offices will become dining pods.  Krinn says, "I want to be the best part of someone’s day." What always appears to be a full house — well, full as defined by safety protocols — suggests diners are digging the lot he’s delivering.


442 Maple Ave. E, Vienna, Va.

703-539-8400

Lunch Tuesday through Friday; dinner daily.

Dinner entrees $24 to $36, tasting menu $77 (not available for takeout)

Reservations required. Takeout via phone.

2019
Top 10

Chef Marcelle Afram (Scott Suchman)

Compass Rose

Think of your meal as the world tour of takeout

Kebabs $15 to $16, sides $5 to $8, Tigris tour dinner $70 (for two); seven-course Tour of the World dinner $90 (for two)

I’ve been here

Read More

Order dinner from Compass Rose and you might have tomorrow’s lunch

Just because you’ve been grounded during the pandemic doesn’t mean you can’t travel. It’s easy enough to do when you order a "tour of the world to go" from Compass Rose, the little restaurant with the big heart and the best way I know to cure any wanderlust. Shrimp in a sassy "cocktail" of tomato, lemon juice, black pepper and ginger salutes Mexico while China feels closer with every forkful of crisp green beans blasted with chile paste and finished with yuzu juice. Owner Rose Previte thinks of Argentina when she slices into the bavette set off with bold, cumin-laced chimichurri, Argentina being home to asado and the country where the restaurateur spent her honeymoon.  The itinerary embraces seven generous courses and can be tailored for vegetarians. "I’m trying to be more conscientious about what I eat," says chef Marcelle Afram, who also oversees the popular Maydan. Dig her kachumber, a restorative salad and hat tip to India. And yes, the tour includes khachapuri, the shallow Georgian bread bowl that helped put Compass Rose on the map of food lovers. The signature is packaged in what looks like a pizza box and comes with instructions for reheating the cheesy raft at home and finishing it with an egg yolk, butter and zataar spice.  The amount of food in the $80 spread for two could easily feed another two mouths. "Everyone tells us it was their meal the next day," too, says Previte.


1346 T St. NW

202-506-4765

Lunch and dinner Wednesday through Sunday, brunch Sundays.

Kebabs $15 to $16, sides $5 to $8, Tigris tour dinner $70 (for two); seven-course Tour of the World dinner $90 (for two)

Private patio table available, reservation required. Takeout via Tock or phone. Delivery via DoorDash.

2019
Top 10

Croque madame (Laura Chase de Formigny)

Convivial

Pandemic pivot spurs a surprising revival

Dinner entrees $17 to $38

I’ve been here

Read More

Generosity is the driving spirit in Convivial’s kitchen

Cedric Maupillier concedes he wasn’t getting a lot of traffic at his contemporary French-American outpost in Shaw even before the pandemic bounced customers from his dining room.  "I was looking at rebranding," focusing more on classic fare, even changing the restaurant’s name, says the chef. Then the coronavirus started dominating headlines, and he was forced to rein in anything more ambitious than survival. As he put it, "Imagination and creativity face a wall."  Really, chef? Because your name, more than almost any other, comes up in practically every conversation I’ve had with food fans about great takeout. Your cooking, from rustic pork pâté to elegant omelet, not only travels well, it demonstrates how lucky the city is to have you at the stove. Maupillier, who spent six years cooking for the legendary Michel Richard, believes in braises and makes a compelling case with his Moroccan chicken, served beneath a protective and delicious cover of chicken jus flavored with cinnamon, coriander and cumin. Layer on citrus peel and green olives, and suddenly you’re hungry for "Casablanca." The entree, accompanied by a carton of couscous and slivered almonds, was sufficient to become lunch for two thereafter. "I don’t want to be stingy," says the chef. "People appreciate leftovers the next day." He’s onto something: generous portions of serious cooking.


801 O St. NW

202-525-2870

Dinner daily, brunch weekends.

Dinner entrees $17 to $38

Takeout via Tock or phone. Delivery via Caviar, DoorDash, Uber Eats and Skip the Line.

2019
Top 10

Chef Frederik De Pue (Laura Chase de Formigny)

Flamant

Dinner as an evolving experience in Annapolis

Tasting menu $75; entrees $46 to $54, serving two

I’ve been here

Read More

Flamant’s tasting menu is an exercise in efficient extravagance

Frederik De Pue initially responded to the pandemic by opening a market based out of his restaurant and selling high-quality ingredients, such as LeBlanc hazelnut oil and Creekstone steaks, along with prepared meals. Only in July did Flamant reopen for dining, and then with a four-course, $75 tasting menu. The switch from a la carte limits waste and "creates an experience," says De Pue. Diners decide between a couple of choices per course for all but the snacks, a trio of which are built from what the chef has on hand.  My "experience" won’t be yours; Flamant’s menu changes monthly. Chances are, you’ll like whatever De Pue and team whip up. My visit featured grilled prawns and sweet scallops napped with two sauces — one fruity with mango and raisins, another lobster bisque enriched with sun-dried tomato — and staged with julienned snow peas that offered welcome crunch. The most striking dish of the night arranged grilled broccolini around a cool-with-mint salad of summer peas and pickled shallots. Green on green, the wreath looked as inviting as it tasted.  Flamant’s crushed-stone front patio is ready for winter with a new gazebo and heat lamps, says De Pue. Another reassuring detail is the plastic shield over the cloth mask worn by whoever serves you. "Please rest assured that behind the mask, there is a big smile on our faces," promises the restaurant’s thorough opening guidelines.  Good news for Washingtonians. Next year around this time, De Pue hopes to open Henri, an 8,000-square-foot establishment named after his late Belgian grandfather, near the Warner Theatre. The front will feature a rotisserie and 60-seat bistro. The back will showcase eight private dining rooms with varying seating capacities, each with a custom-tailored menu and a view of a second kitchen. Sounds hopeful to us.


17 Annapolis St., Annapolis

410-267-0274

Dinner Thursday through Saturday.

Tasting menu $75; entrees $46 to $54, serving two

Reservations recommended, through Tock. Takeout Wednesday via website. Delivery Friday via website.

2019
Top 10

Bresaola (Deb Lindsey)

Girasole

The bounty of hunt country, served amid the trees

Entrees $29 to $35

I’ve been here

Read More

‘Surrounded by the sun’ is the name and the setting

I rediscovered a chill pill this summer that doesn’t involve a prescription. It’s dinner alfresco, here in The Plains. The first few moments alone compensate you for having made the trek to Virginia hunt country and the patio of the family-run restaurant, where the background music is spun by a fountain, a handsome stone chimney rises nearby, and the surrounding trees and bushes hint at the possibility of lemon, figs, kumquats and more on the Italian menu.  Meet the owners: Lydia Patierno is the welcoming mistress of ceremonies outside and in. Her husband and co-owner, Louis, is responsible for the brio on the plate. Scarlet folds of house-cured bresaola ring a fluff of ricotta striped with local honey, and agnolotti stuffed with spinach and ricotta are positioned just so on their pool of cream sauce. Calamari fritti capture the ideal: greaseless, crisp, garnished with fried parsley and sunny with lemon. One reason to order chicken here is to taste how good the products are from nearby Upperville and Warrenton. Another is their preparation. Generous grinds of cracked pepper and a brick to press the chicken super-close to the heat reward the recipient with a blast of spice and an entree that crackles when you bite down.  While Patierno feels obliged to retain crowd-pleasers, specials are a way to keep his cooks interested. Their engagement is likely to grab your attention, too. In Italian, Girasole translates to both "sunflower" and "surrounded by the sun." Anyone who has been to the Patiernos’ restaurant might also know it as tranquil and tempting.


4244 Loudoun Ave., The Plains, Va.

540-253-5501

Dinner Tuesday through Sunday.

Entrees $29 to $35

Takeout via phone, no delivery.

2019
Top 10

"Steak" and cheese (Deb Lindsey)

Happy Gyro

Happy Gyro adds pizza and pork to an otherwise vegetarian menu

Sandwiches $12 to $14, large pizzas $32

I’ve been here

Read More

The four-star team behind Komi takes on Greek diner food

The talent behind fine-dining Komi is making pizza, and it’s awesome. Did you expect anything less from Johnny Monis, who personally bakes each 16-inch, char-kissed beauty? Since his Greek standard-bearer opened in 2003, he has been tinkering with pies, says his wife and business partner, Anne Marler. "Thousands of tweaks later," she emails, "it seemed like the right time to debut to the public." Right on — and right in my mouth slide slices of the round wonder decked out with salami, chopped okra and sweet onions.  During the pandemic, the owners resurrected at Komi their popular, plant-based pop-up, Happy Gyro, featuring Greek diner-style creations. One of multiple marvels is a tiny taco whose dark filling, hidden beneath shredded lettuce, is a ringer for ground beef. Playing the meaty role, however: ground black walnuts imbued with a housemade version of Old El Paso taco seasoning. What the staff calls "green toast" yields a thick lawn of dark greens, warm with dried chiles, and juicy sungold tomatoes arranged like chorines atop housemade semolina sourdough. Avocado toast has nothing on this sensation. Lately, I’ve been killing two birds with one stone by ordering simultaneously from Happy Gyro and the owners’ neighboring Thai eatery, the winning Little Serow. A mouthwatering "reuben" that swaps in shaved celery root for corned beef, and velvety shrimp curry, tingling with galangal and lemongrass, is my idea of a stellar double-feature.


1509 17th St. NW

No phone

Dinner Tuesday through Saturday.

Sandwiches $12 to $14, large pizzas $32

Takeout via website. Delivery via Skip the Line.

2019
Top 10

Shrimp curry and rice (Deb Lindsey)

The Hitching Post

53 years, and still a Southern charmer

Sandwiches $12, entrees $14 to $29

I’ve been here

Read More

Eating at the Hitching Post feels a lot like home

My lifeline throughout the pandemic is owned by a native of Guyana who bought it from a Black couple who opened the place 53 years ago and still live above the shop. Wisely, Barry Dindyal kept Al and Adrienne Carter’s Southern theme — fried whiting and $14 lamb chops enjoy a serious constituency, after all — while expanding the menu to include the Indian food Dindyal grew up eating.  His cooking is careful and consistent. Count on crisp fried chicken, a shrimp curry that pulses with ginger and side dishes of distinction. Steak fries are cut by hand and sprinkled with paprika; collard greens get their personality not from pork and vinegar but from garlic and onions. (Yep, the Southern staple is vegetarian.)  The ambiance feeds me as well as the kitchen. Customers tend to acknowledge the assembly on the porch when they walk up the stairs, and Anita Baker and Marvin Gaye have a way of loosening up the audience — much like the $4 beers and $6 cocktails on Monday, when happy hour stretches from 4 p.m. to last call.  Did I mention the crab cake sandwich is all about the crab and the lemon cake is pure sunshine? Hitching Post, promise me you’ll keep the lights on forever.


200 Upshur St. NW

202-726-1511

Dinner daily and lunch weekends.

Sandwiches $12, entrees $14 to $29

Reservations recommended. Takeout via phone. Delivery via Uber Eats.

2019
Top 10

Mannequins in the dining room (Laura Chase de Formigny)

Inn at Little Washington

Chef Patrick O’Connell maintains a destination for star gazers

$315 per person

I’ve been here

Read More

The inn that Michelin loves is still upping its game

News bulletin from chef Patrick O’Connell: "We’re at 99 percent capacity" in the guest rooms above and around the esteemed restaurant that remains one of a handful of Michelin three-star establishments in the country to remain open in the pandemic.  People who had been planning to celebrate special occasions in Europe and elsewhere are booking domestically instead. "We just got a couple in from Chicago," he told me last month. "They drove straight here," knowing they could crash before dinner, says the amazed and grateful chef.  Even after more than four decades, the Inn at Little Washington manages to up its game. This year’s showstoppers included chanterelles wrapped in country ham and presented as tempura, lobster mousse cloaked in savoy cabbage and staged like a comet tail, and a small chocolate globe with a center of hazelnut mousse that ran yellow with persimmon sauce when cut with a spoon. The food is both recognizable and wonderful, and vegetarians are treated like most honored guests.  From my flower- and linen-dressed table next to a koi pond in the tented garden, I marvel at the honey-lit interior rooms and the focused attention one dapper gent pays to his female companion. On closer inspection, they turn out to be mannequins, convincingly set up with bread on their plates and wine in their glasses.  "Trust me," says the country’s most famous innkeeper. "The wine is gone by midnight."


439 Main St. Washington, Va.

540-675-3800

Dinner Wednesday through Monday.

$315 per person

2019
Top 10

Flauta with jamon (Laura Chase de Formigny)

Jaleo

Have a paella party delivered, and keep the pan

Small plates $3 to $26, large plates $60 to $65, paellas $50 to $65, tasting menus $35 or $55

I’ve been here

Read More

Make your dining room feel like José Andrés’s flagship

Maybe it was the cloud of garlic I inhaled when I cracked the lid of the buttery sauteed shrimp. Possibly it was the sting of the orange gazpacho, poured from a slender plastic flask, or the broad metal pan used to ferry the seafood-scattered paella from Penn Quarter to my doorstep.  Whatever the detail, takeout from Jaleo, among my hall of fame picks, places me back in the dining room, alive with color and energy in happier times. (Even outside, or on the phone, Jaleo lives up to its English translation: commotion.)  One of the finest combinations of bread and filling in town is the epic flauta with slices of serrano ham or rugged chorizo, swaddled in paper and practically begging to go on a picnic. And one of my favorite tapas here remains the sherry-dressed salad of sliced fennel, green apple, crisp walnuts and manchego cheese — the perfect foil to José Andrés’s beloved fried foods. Conversation slows when spoons meet flan; the king of custards warrants a worshipful reaction. Can’t decide which of the dozens of dishes to try? Let the $55 tasting menu of classic and contemporary tapas — a dozen or so small plates — help out.  P.S. Return the paella pan and you get $10 off your next meal. Me? I’m logging on to Jaleo’s website for tips on how to make paella a la Andrés.


480 Seventh St. NW

202-628-7949

Lunch and dinner daily.

Small plates $3 to $26, large plates $60 to $65, paellas $50 to $65, tasting menus $35 or $55

Takeout and delivery via DoorDash, Caviar and Uber Eats. Takeout also available via phone. To order alcohol with your meal, use GoTab.

2019
Top 10

Roast chicken and sides (Laura Chase de Formigny)

Kinship

Chef Eric Ziebold’s takeout is worth the travel

Entrees $20 to $40

I’ve been here

Read More

Kinship moves the celebration to your table

Eric Ziebold sounds surprised when he hears the distance some people travel to taste his packaged cooking. "They drive 30 minutes for takeout, each way. That’s a lot," says the chef.  He’s giving his clientele delicious incentive for putting some miles on their cars. Sure, you can roast a chicken at home. But would yours rival his masterpiece, whereby brioche crumbs, garlic and lemon are slipped under the skin and the chicken is accompanied by chunks of potato sauteed to an audible crisp (and better than any carryout french fries of late)? Salmon rillettes come with a topper of bright orange roe, and dessert is likely to be something you don’t bake yourself: Tender corn cakes fancied up with peach salsa, cilantro meringue and sweet basil pistou was summer in every spoonful. Indeed, some of the most bespoke takeout from the past seven months has come from Kinship, whose offerings embody the spirit of the restaurant, which the chef thinks of as "celebrating at the dinner table" with people you care about. Keep Kinship in mind for date night or a special (small) gathering, but also for the occasional crowd-pleasing comfort, one night short rib enchiladas. Recipients might have to play sous-chef and reheat something, but any directions are easy to follow and the color-coded packaging keeps you from mixing up garnishes. Have you heard? Ziebold and his wife and co-owner, Célia Laurent, quietly reopened their luxe, four-star Métier below Kinship last month — yet another reason to venture forth.


1015 Seventh St. NW

202-737-7700

Dinner Wednesday through Sunday.

Entrees $20 to $40

Reservations required. Takeout via Tock or phone.

2019
Top 10

Papa B's fried rice (Deb Lindsey)

Kuya Ja’s Lechon Belly

That shatter you heard is a pork belly skin in Rockville

Sandwiches, bowls and combination meals, $7 to $13

I’ve been here

Read More

Pork is the star, but there’s a lot going on at Kuya Ja’s

Owner Javier Fernandez’s advice for struggling restaurants: Keep it simple and "no shortcuts," says the chef, whose signature double-roasted pork belly remains every bit as garlicky and noisy as I remember it from my first heady encounter. (The crackle comes from the mahogany skin.)  The Philippine hot spot closed in April and reopened in June, although for takeout only. Fernandez wants staff and customers alike to be safe, so just one customer at a time is allowed inside the snug storefront.  Lechon, its richness best cut with the house vinegar sauce, is by no means the sole attraction. I’m equally enamored of the slender lumpia, stuffed with ground pork and shrimp; sisig, the funky and fiery stir-fry of pigs ears, headcheese, Thai chile, garlic and cane vinegar; the pale-green, super-moist pandan cake made by the chef’s sister; and some of the best fried rice for miles, this bowl enriched with crab fat and longanisa,  sweet sausage that’s made on site and that Fernandez plans to sell.  To keep things interesting for everybody, Kuya Ja is selling Filipino soup kits, featuring weekend specials (whole fried snapper with peanut curry) and offering the occasional kinamot. Sixty dollars gets you 10 courses, served on a banana leaf. Designed for two, the feast can easily feed four — a bountiful bargain.


5268-H Nicholson Lane, Rockville, Md.

240-669-4383

Dinner Wednesday through Sunday, lunch weekends.

Sandwiches, bowls and combination meals, $7 to $13

Takeout and delivery via website.

2019
Top 10

Spicy jumbo shrimp with snap peas (Deb Lindsey)

Mama Chang

The whole menu is back in play, and it’s still fantastic

Family-style entrees $16 to $40

I’ve been here

Read More

Order a lot from the Chang family and find your favorite

The family behind the best Chinese restaurant in Northern Virginia briefly pared back its menu in March, only to bring the whole show back when customers asked. Which is a long way of saying pretty much everything on the menu created by chefs Lisa and Peter Chang is something you don’t want to miss. My favorite green beans, deep-fried and strewn with pickled cabbage, come from this kitchen, as does my choice Hunan-style chow mein, springy noodles tossed with tender chicken and black beans and warm with jalapeños. Small plates capture big pleasures. See: fingers of fried flounder served in a little skillet of red chiles, black beans and celery, and the crisp, bao-shaped "pancake" packed with chives. Meanwhile, the family-style dishes — steamed pork belly alternating with slices of smoked tofu atop a mound of pickled mustard greens, shiny purple eggplant piled atop spicy garlic sauce — are the definition of mass appeal.  Hot tip from the owners’ daughter, Lydia: "People should ask about the specials." Inquire and the response might be rabbit in a hot-and-numbing sauce with sliced lotus root and velvety strips of seaweed.  Ninety percent of the restaurant’s business now is takeout; the minority of customers find potted plants atop tables to maintain social distance. In or out, the food rocks.


3251 Old Lee Hwy., Fairfax, Va.

703-268-5556

Lunch and dinner daily.

Family-style entrees $16 to $40

Takeout and delivery via Uber Eats. Takeout also available via phone.

2019
Top 10

Family taco night dishes (Deb Lindsey)

Muchas Gracias

A special pop-up becomes a permanent fixture

Entrees $17 to $21, $49 for family platter

I’ve been here

Read More

Chef Christian Irabien’s glorious tacos come with a side of good will

The supple tortillas derive from fresh masa (and a hand press), and the spicy margarita is true to its word. But the white rice is enjoying plenty of attention from chowhounds, too. "We joke that we cook a lot of garlic for a little rice," says Christian Irabien, the Mexican-born muse behind this charming pop-up turned permanent fixture in Upper Northwest. A former cook at Oyamel, Irabien has partnered with the neighboring Buck’s Fishing & Camping and Comet Pizza to establish a business with the mission of helping local farms and immigrant workers.  The taco hovering an inch above the rest, short rib birria, starts with a mole — chocolate, chiles and enough allspice and cinnamon to channel Christmas in the air — and ends with a glorious heap of soft beef, set off with crimson dragonfruit, on your plate.  Specials can be spectacular. In honor of Independence Day in Mexico last month, Irabien featured chile en nogada, a roasted poblano pepper stuffed with a treasure trove of ingredients — ground beef and pork, tomatoes, walnuts, peaches, onion — and pooled with a creamy walnut sauce. See a pupusa on the list? Seize the chance to taste a role model. With just four stools at the bar and no more than six seats on the sloped patio, this may be the hardest reservation in town right now. Muchas gracias for takeout!


5029 Connecticut Ave. NW

202-244-5000

Lunch Tuesday through Friday, dinner Wednesday through Sunday.

Entrees $17 to $21, $49 for family platter

Patio seating. Takeout via website, phone, Tock, Caviar or DoorDash. Delivery via Caviar and DoorDash.

2019
Top 10

Naem khao Thadaeu (Deb Lindsey)

Padaek

Definitive Laotian food is worth a return trip

Entrees, $14 to $22

I’ve been here

Read More

Chef Seng Luangrath makes dishes her way, and you’ll love it

Seng Luangrath is uncompromising. "I make food the way I like it," says the co-owner of Northern Virginia’s premier Laotian outpost, as well as Thip Khao in Washington. "I don’t tone it down for anyone." Right on, chef. Her papaya salad prompts beads of sweat on one’s brow, and her bouncy pork sausage, made with sticky rice, is deliciously sour after a spell fermenting in the cooler. In her native Laos, cabbage is used as a scoop and a cover. Luangrath prefers the texture and taste of fresh collard greens, which she puts to use as DIY wraps for lightly fried catfish, rice noodles and julienned ginger. Just removing the aluminum cover of the vivid assembly, including tomatoes and dipping sauce, is enough to slap a smile on my face.  There’s nothing I don’t crave seconds of on the menu. But if there’s one dish I never leave off an order, it’s crispy fried jasmine rice tossed with scallions, cilantro, peanuts, coconut and fried tofu — meatless and marvelous. Then again, I also always fit in the ropy caramelized beef jerky, ignited with ginger and best enjoyed with its stinging red sauce. See what I mean? The only way to experience Padaek is over and over.


6395 Seven Corners Center, Falls Church, Va.

703-533-9480

Lunch and dinner Tuesday through Sunday.

Entrees, $14 to $22

Takeout via website, phone or DoorDash. Delivery via DoorDash.

2019
Top 10

Summer salad with burrata (Deb Lindsey)

Rooster & Owl

In the hands of chef Yuan Tang, the familiar is still fabulous

Three-course dinner $75 per person, a la carte entrees $25 to $43

I’ve been here

Read More

A streamlined menu maintains all the sophistication

During Phase 2 of reopening in Washington, the sophisticated mom-and-pop made some changes to reflect how many customers prefer to dine these days. The hallmark four-course menu was shortened to three dishes, and the entrees became larger and more familiar.  Fear not, fans. Openers are as diverting as ever — the fried pig’s ear salad continues to wow — and the price of admission still includes the signature pineapple buns. The way chef Yuan Tang defines it, "familiar" is another way to say fabulous. His rib-eye, for instance, hails from Seven Hills in Virginia and enjoys a salt cure before it’s pan-roasted and served with two terrific toppings: a puree of herbs and a whip of hollandaise and brown butter. Salmon also feels like something special with a veneer of falafel and a dilly sidekick of sliced cucumbers and yogurt. "Roasted potatoes," on the other hand, sound routine; a reduction of chicken stock and red wine finds them going, going gone.  Pastry chef Olivia Green keeps pace with Tang by offering an elegant chocolate tart packaged up with lemon chantilly, cherry compote and pistachios, and a slice of English-inspired Bakewell tart with garnishes of blueberries and cornflake "crunch."  Of course, the takeout containers are all marked with what’s inside them. Rooster & Owl is all about making it easy for you to enjoy the restaurant, even if you’re not actually inside.


2436 14th St. NW

202-813-3976

Dinner Wednesday through Sunday.

Three-course dinner $75 per person, a la carte entrees $25 to $43

Reservations recommended via Resy. Takeout via Tock and phone. Delivery via Tock and Skip the Line.

2019
Top 10

Eggplant lasagna and other dishes (Deb Lindsey)

Rose’s at Home

If you liked dinner, just wait till tomorrow

$90 per person for two nights of meals, $120 per person for three nights of meals ($40 to $45 per meal)

I’ve been here

Read More

Chef Aaron Silverman’s dinner package is a subscription

The mind-set shared by all Aaron Silverman restaurants: "The food has to be craveable," says the visionary behind Rose’s Luxury, Pineapple & Pearls and Little Pearl on Capitol Hill. Rose’s at Home, the chef’s novel approach to delivery, drops two or three night’s worth of three-course dinners at once, and they’re the kind of dishes that fit the company ethos.  Pork al pastor with saffron-colored rice and terrific black beans is a fiesta in every bite; watermelon salad, garnished with dried kalamata olives, is a refreshing opener for rigatoni alfredo scattered with sweet peas. Order the three-day subscription and you get a dinner’s worth of greatest hits from Rose’s Luxury. Who doesn’t want more litchi salad with sausage and habanero in their lives?  Not only is the food unlike anyone else’s, it’s packaged as if it were a gift — right down to a note card inviting you to listen to a curated playlist. Everyone wins: More meals with one stop has the delicious advantage of leaving a smaller carbon footprint.


715 Eighth St. SE

202-695-2694

Takeout and delivery Monday through Saturday via Tock.

$90 per person for two nights of meals, $120 per person for three nights of meals ($40 to $45 per meal)

Order by 11 a.m. the previous day.

2019
Top 10

Mannequins in the dining room (Deb Lindsey)

Rumi’s Kitchen

A warm Persian treat moves in near the convention center

Entrees $19 to $42

I’ve been here

Read More

There’s a poet’s grace on every plate

Chef-owner Ali Mesghali hoped to introduce his Persian retreat, a dashing extension of his culinary brand in Atlanta, in March. The pandemic delayed its debut until August. "This is the way the world is right now," he says. "How can we make it work?"  Success springs from dish after dish in a dining room patrons share with a fleet of mannequins helping to enforce social distance. The welcome includes warm-from-the-clay-oven flatbread and sabzi, a plate of fresh herbs, radishes, walnuts and feta for grazing — yours even when you order takeout. Nowhere else in town will you find finer kashk badenjoon or ghormeh sabzi. The first is an appetizer of fried mashed eggplant, bright with mint and sweet with fried onions. The second is a world-class stew coaxed from fistfuls of herbs cooked down to a thick green bog and completed with tender morsels of beef and kidney beans.  Mesghali sweats the details. His basmati rice is fluffy as can be (ask for the pilaf with cherries), yogurt is distinctive with pickled shallots from his native Iran, and the napkin-bundled silverware is tagged with a verse from the 13th-century poet and mystic, Jalaluddin Rumi, whose spirit suffuses the experience.


640 L St. NW

202-900-9106

Lunch and dinner daily.

Entrees $19 to $42

Reservations recommended for indoor; patio is first come, first served. Takeout via website or phone. Delivery via DoorDash and Caviar.

2019
Top 10

Assortment of sushi (Deb Lindsey)

Sushi Taro

Omakase is on hold, but Sushi Taro is still turning out gems

Rolls $9 to $16, entrees $19 to $57

I’ve been here

Read More

D.C.’s standout sushi spot is now takeout only

Fans of the standout Japanese restaurant in Dupont Circle were crushed by the news that Sushi Taro would do only takeout following the pandemic. Chef Nobu Yamazaki says the second-floor location "didn’t feel safe" for in-person dining and probably wouldn’t welcome back visitors until a vaccine becomes available. For now, then, admirers of his singular omakase staged at an oak counter in the rear will have to be content with memories of the refined feast.  The better update: The selection of Japanese fish is "expanding by the week" and reflected in the daily specials, and the kitchen now offers housemade delicacies for purchase. If you’re looking for a jar of snapper cheek mixed with miso paste, your search can stop here.  Highlights from recent pickups include melt-on-the-tongue king salmon sushi, restorative snapper broth with a delicate fish cake, and colorful bara chirashi, half a dozen or so cuts of fish "scattered" like jewels on a bed of sushi rice.


1503 17th St. NW

202-462-8999

Dinner Tuesday through Sunday, lunch Tuesday through Friday.

Rolls $9 to $16, entrees $19 to $57

Takeout via Toast. Email special orders (omakase, etc.) to sushitaroTOGO@gmail.com

2019
Top 10

Burrata agnolotti and chicken to go (Scott Suchman)

Thompson Italian

There’s an art to the consistent fare

Dinner entrees $15 to $20

I’ve been here

Read More

Salad for one? A tray of pasta to share? It’s all here.

The pork meatballs are as fiery as ever, salads are created with the season in mind (cucumber tossed with cashews, smoked pecorino and chiles made summer more bearable), and dessert is as considered as everything that precedes it. Thompson Italian, watched over by chefs Gabe and Katherine Thompson, is as consistent as they come.  New to the lineup: supper trays to go, a response to customers who are increasingly inclined to travel or entertain at home, says Gabe. His contributions to the trays include chicken Parmesan and baked rigatoni and to the regular menu cover Arctic char framed in whatever vegetables are starring at the market and housemade pastas such as gemelli draped with basil-brightened pork ragu. Katherine excels at sweet endings. A cup of her dreamy tiramisu or chocolate budino feels like happy days are here again.  Can I be honest? I miss the arty dining room, but not the crowds that packed it.


703-269-0893

Dinner Wednesday through Sunday.

Dinner entrees $15 to $20

Takeout and delivery via DoorDash, Grubhub and Uber Eats. Takeout also available via website and phone.

2019
Top 10

Chef David Deshaies with his daughter, Vikki (Dixie D. Vereen)

Unconventional Diner

Traditional diner food takes some surprising twists

Entrees $16 to $28

I’ve been here

Read More

At Unconventional Diner, service spills out along the street

It’s called unconventional for good reason. Note just the meatloaf, glazed with sriracha and slightly creamy with Gruyere, a nod to the French background of chef David Deshaies. His food has more twists than "Parasite," but it always makes sense and it never fails to please, which explains why I rushed to write about it early in the pandemic.  Few chefs offer such comforting life lines. His buttermilk-brined, paprika- and mustard-warmed fried chicken is all-American and definitely noisy, its crunch explained by the use of potato and corn starches. The entree’s sidekicks — buttery, pull-apart biscuits, a slaw as bracing as a cold shower on a hot day — prove the chicken’s equal. Seafood? Spring for the sweet lumps of crab scattered over a tangle of linguine stained black with squid ink. The little cup in its box is crab bisque — you know, to gild what’s already gold. Don’t eat meat? Don’t miss sous-chef Leena Aly’s Lebanese fried rice, a swirl of color and crunch, lentils and almonds, inspired by mujaddara. Tack on dessert, if only to see what cheesecake tastes like as a ripply cloud spun from whipped cream, cream cheese and lemon. Surprise! The white tufts run red with raspberry coulis when pierced with a fork.  Quality is matched by quantity. Deshaies says he doesn’t like to see blank spaces in his takeout containers. A dinner from this big-hearted restaurant, whose seating now spills onto the street, is almost guaranteed to result in tonight’s midnight snack or tomorrow’s lunch.


1207 Ninth St. NW

202-847-0122

Brunch and dinner daily.

Entrees $16 to $28

Reservations required for indoor dining; patio first come, first served. Takeout via Tock or phone. Delivery via DoorDash.

Tom Sietsema

Tom Sietsema has been The Washington Post's food critic since 2000. He previously worked for the Microsoft Corp., where he launched sidewalk.com; the Seattle Post-Intelligencer; the San Francisco Chronicle; and the Milwaukee Journal. He has also written for Food & Wine.

Credit

Production and photo editing by Jennifer Beeson Gregory, design and development by Madison Walls.

Share