When people say Washington has finally become a restaurant town, what they really mean is that it’s finally become a chef-driven restaurant town. For years, the area has had an embarrassment of riches when it comes to mom-and-pop eateries founded by immigrants or by locals hungry for something cheap and good. Here are my favorites, in descending order:
1. Baan Thai
Located in an upstairs space that once hawked only Americanized sushi, Baan Thai has evolved into a destination for those who crave the authentic, clear-channel flavors of Thailand. 1326 14th St. NW. 202-588-5889. baanthaidc.com.
2. El Sol Restaurante & Tequileria
Siblings Alfredo and Jessica Solis, vets of Passion Food Hospitality kitchens, have combined the technical obsessiveness of a chef-driven restaurant with the unadorned charms of a family-run taqueria. 1227 11th St. NW. 202-815-4789. elsol-dc.com.
When Donburi opened in 2013, it introduced a serious counter-service Japanese restaurant to a neighborhood once known mostly for its cheap thrills. 2438 18th St. NW. 202-629-1047. facebook.com/donburidc.
4. Pizza CS
A certified member of the Associazione Pizzaiuoli Napoletani America, Ankur Rajpara keeps a tight focus on the pies at this five-year-old Rockville pizzeria. 1596-B Rockville Pike, Rockville, Md. 240-833-8090. pizzacs.com.
5. Northwest Chinese Food
Go for the spicy potato noodles — a glistening pile of strands ignited with chili oil, garlic and aged Shaanxi vinegar — and stay for everything else at this rare spot for Liaoning Province cooking. 7313 Baltimore Ave., College Park, Md. 240-714-4473. No website.
6. Chez Dior
The owners behind this suburban restaurant have made Senegalese cooking — a complex cuisine that draws from French, North African and Vietnamese cultures — at once approachable and irresistible. 5124 Baltimore Ave., Hyattsville, Md. 240-696-5907. chezdior.com.
7. Taco Bamba
Chef Victor Albisu recently opened a second location in Vienna with more space and a full bar, but I still love the Falls Church original for its agenda: delivering creative tacos to an area dominated by chains. It’s not a mom-and-pop, but it tastes just as vibrant. 2190 Pimmit Dr., Falls Church, Va. 703-639-0505. tacobambarestaurant.com.
8. Shanghai Taste
The wait can be interminable on weekends as diners line up for Wei Sun’s pan-fried soup dumplings, but I prefer the chef’s steamed variety, with their impossibly thin wrappers that somehow hold back a rush of stock enriched with pork skin. 1121 Nelson St., Rockville, Md. 301-279-0806. No website.
9. Banh Ta Deli
The Eden Center’s best banh mi shop was expected, as of press time, to reopen in early October with an expanded menu, similar to the one the owners used to execute at Green Papaya, the painfully underrated restaurant in Bethesda. 6783 Wilson Blvd., Falls Church, Va. 703-532-1069. No website.
10. Queen of Sheba
Increasingly overshadowed by its trendy Shaw neighbors, this unassuming spot has been producing some of the finest Ethiopian fare in the District for more than a decade. 1503 Ninth St. NW. 202-232-7272. No website.