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These D.C. restaurants had tough tables to score. Their takeout shows why.

Steak frites from Le Diplomate. (Laura Chase de Formigny/for The Washington Post)

One month, they were among the hardest reservations in town. The next, some of Washington’s most popular restaurants were scrambling to source ingredients and find the proper bags for takeout — to survive, really, just like their peers.

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If you’ve ever wanted to try the city’s best brasserie, most creative mom-and-pop or a beloved Middle Eastern retreat, now’s the chance, albeit from the distance of your home. And if you’re already familiar with Le Diplomate, Rooster & Owl and Maydan, you’ll be jazzed to know their food not only travels well, it tastes very much like the good old days.

The dish I can’t get out of my head right now might come as a surprise. Somehow, the French onion soup from Le Diplomate made it from 14th Street NW to my house tasting as if the classic comfort had just been spooned up by chef Greg Lloyd. The melted cap of Gruyere and provolone retained a stretch like taffy. A cushion of country rye bread made for a wonderful “crouton.” And the broth — veal and chicken stock seasoned with bay leaf and thyme — was everything you want from the slight twist on Gallic tradition.

Since the pandemic, Lloyd has had to trim his kitchen staff from almost 100 to 14 workers. Don’t expect to find the Eiffel-size menu Le Diplomate served in more carefree days. Still, what’s left includes plenty to like, with everything based on original recipes. “We want to do it right,” he says. Any order is better with a box of light cheese puffs and one of the best pieces of meat in recent memory, pleasantly ropy beef cooked the color you want and framed in french fries. Toasted slivered almonds carpet sweet-fleshed trout, propped up on a raft of green beans that retain some snap and smack of summer. The best way to dispatch chicken breast pounded to plate-size? In a pizza box, Le Diplomate discovered. Bronzed chicken Milanese is enhanced with a charred lemon half and add-ons of peppery arugula, grated cheese and tiny tomatoes packed separately from the hot entree.

I miss the chance to score one of Washington’s best bread baskets. The restaurant’s bakery, in Ivy City, has only recently reopened and is turning out baguettes. But Le Diplomate is baking croissants and focaccia on site.

Fear not, fans. The popular cheeseburger remains on the menu, for good reason. Weeknights, Lloyd’s crew serves an average of 150 of them. Weekends, the brasserie sometimes sells more than 300 a night.

1601 14th St. NW. 202-332-3333. Open for takeout 1 to 9 p.m. Monday through Wednesday, 1 to 10 p.m. Thursday and Friday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday. Delivery via Caviar and DoorDash. Entrees $16 to $35.

For two weeks in March, the owners of Rooster & Owl offered takeout, until they realized it felt “too rushed” and they needed to address a few issues. Like child care. And infrastructure. And steady supplies of ingredients. “Basically everything,” says Carey Tang, who oversees the innovative restaurant with her husband, chef Yuan Tang. So the couple closed their business for a month, relaunching in May with a four-course menu that Tang says allows him to “stay on brand” and offer diners something akin to what they might see in the dining room.

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Hence the soft, slightly sweet pineapple buns that launch a meal, a holdover from when the dining room was packed with customers. A fine little salad, one per diner, awaits in the bag, too. The delicate crunch of little gem lettuce is echoed by a dusting of sunflower seeds; buttermilk green goddess dressing is cool and bright.

Diners have the option of three main courses, a roster expected not to change as much as in the Before Times. Each entree casts a little spell on its recipient. Housemade ricotta cavatelli catches walnut pesto in its ridges. Lamb stew is lighter than it sounds, bright with peas and carrots, plus miso-flavored daikon. By cooking the vegetables separately before adding them to the tender spiced lamb, the chef avoids a mush. And how clever to throw in a side of tabbouleh fluffed up with farro. Brined fried chicken tempts you to lick your fingers, but focus instead on dipping a bite into the accompanying miso-honey and following it with a snappy pickle. Key lime pie decorated with raspberry swirls is a fitting finale. Cayenne, clove, black pepper — a little spice cabinet, really — add unexpected fire to the graham crumble crust.

Deliveries are handled by Skip the Line, a timesaving service that covers the D.C. metro area and charges customers for their orders based on their distance from the restaurant, starting at $12 within a two-mile radius. Think of it as way to support a good cause — Rooster & Owl — since money that would otherwise go to a big delivery app stays with the restaurant.

2436 14th St. NW. 202-813-3976. Open for takeout 5 to 8 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday. Delivery via Skip the Line. Four-course dinner $45 per person.

A lump formed in my throat standing in the alley outside Maydan, where customers are asked to text the restaurant on approach so orders can be brought outside. The weathered blue door is an unintentional tease. Designed to evoke a bazaar and distinguished with a live fire, the dramatic, high-ceilinged main dining room remains out of sight for all but the staff these days. Owner Rose Previte shares my pain. She misses seeing the space full of people, the happy buzz, the chance to welcome visitors. “Instagram posts get me through” the pandemic, she says, referencing online feedback from customers, whose connection “I so, so miss.”

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Maydan’s newish chef, Marcelle Afram, was only a couple months into the job when the restaurant, an ode to what she calls “Middle Eastern soul food,” ditched plates for plastic containers. “What a way to get to know each other, right?” says Previte, who had planned to accompany her recent hire on a research trip to Turkey in April. They never left Washington, but Afram did add some personal touches to the takeout menu, including a sumptuous scored graffiti eggplant that’s basted over heat with pomegranate molasses, tomato, cumin and fruity Aleppo pepper. (The cooks jokingly refer to the glaze as “barbecue sauce.”) The eggplant, heaped with sumac-red pickled onions, is half of a vegetarian combination that co-stars a head of brined cauliflower, gold with turmeric, striped with tahini and finished with za’atar. The order is like a fully cooked CSA drop.

That’s the beauty of the online menu. Maydan treats vegetarians and meat eaters like equals. The former are spoiled with some of the best spreads around, and the latter can graze away on a “spring picnic,” the contents of which include ground lamb seasoned with cardamom and sweet-smoky-sour Urfa pepper; chicken thighs brushed with toum, a potent whip of garlic, lemon and olive oil; blistered shishito peppers and more. Actually, everyone will want in on the dips, partnered with floppy, plate-size pita: hummus dusted with sumac, muhammara (red pepper and walnuts) and, new to the bunch, cacik (labneh, fermented scapes, breezy mint and feathery dill garnished with chopped cucumber). Just looking at the pale-green cacik seems to lower the temperature — yours if not the world’s.

Public special occasions have been canceled left and right since March, but “people still want to celebrate in their homes,” says Previte. Hence the large-format lamb ($85) and chicken ($65) dishes on the menu. By themselves, Maydan’s cocktails, captured in slender glass flasks, have the power to turn yet another day into “cheers!” The tequila-propelled Merchant’s Daughter treats the eyes to a vivid liquid sunset and the tongue to pomegranate, lemon and jalapeño. Let the buzz begin.

1346 Florida Ave. NW. Instead of ordering by phone, email Orders can be placed between noon and 3 p.m. for pickup between 5 and 8 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday. Delivery service expected soon. Spring picnic $35 a person; vegetable entree (for two or more) $35.

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