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The 40 most essential D.C. restaurant dishes of 2016

(Jeff Rogers for The Washington Post)
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What was the single most memorable dish you ate in the past year?

That’s the question we put to a broad survey of the Washington area’s chefs, restaurateurs, mixologists, food writers and other culinary cognoscenti in compiling our fifth annual list of the most essential eats in and around the nation’s capital.

Because the food community is tightly knit, with once-and-former collaborators ever eager to reciprocate praise among industry friends, all submissions were to be presented anonymously.

The resulting nominations spanned our rapidly maturing dining scene, with time-tested deep cuts joining stunning newcomers and inviting curiosities — head-on horse mackerel isn’t the most common menu item — from across the menu, and the globe. The Washington Post independently reviewed each dish to affirm its presence on the list, which is presented in no particular order.

Dear Michelin inspectors (who have recently started combing Washington’s restaurants for the first time): You might want to start here.

Checklist: How many of these dishes have you tried?

Fried chicken and bread at Maketto

Never before has D.C. had so many diverse options for juicy, crispy fried chicken, but based on the size of this Taiwanese fried chicken platter, you might think Erik Bruner-Yang is serving ostrich. The large-format dish can easily feed three. Take a bite and your first impression might be the dish’s sweetness, but hold tight: It won’t be long before you feel the unmistakable numbing spice of Sichuan peppercorns. It’s served atop slices of French bread to sop up the sauce, which gives it a chicken-and-waffles vibe.

Maketto, 1351 H St. NE. 202-838-9972. $26.

[Maketto review: The H Street hangout looks, acts and tastes like a party]

Gougères at Garrison

These bite-size cheese puffs constitute a bread basket worth both the cash and the calorie splurge at chef Rob Weland’s Barracks Row restaurant. The baked-to-order gougères are tender, light and airy, with a bit of crunch from the dustings of poppy seeds and flaky salt that adorn them. Restrain yourself from eating all dozen at once, because they make an ideal vehicle for scooping up every last bit of sauce and vegetables from the rest of your meal.

Garrison, 524 Eighth St. SE. 202-506-2445. $8.

Garrison review: A chef finds his groove on Barracks Row

Wonton soup at the Source

We’re pretty sure this will be the most expensive bowl of wonton soup you’ve ever had, but it probably will also be the best. Determined to upgrade the watery broth of the Chinese American staple, the Source executive chef Scott Drewno has created a 20-hour “triple stock,” which is built in layers with chicken, pork and beef. Rich in color and flavor, it’s poured tableside over a hearty array of egg noodles, cilantro, scallions, roast pork, shrimp and pork dumplings and a tea-and-soy-sauce-poached egg. And, yes, given the price, it’s enough for two to share.

The Source, 575 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. 202-637-6100. $16.

The Source review: Renovations brighten the room — and the menu

Torchon of white mushroom at Kinship

Leave it to chef Eric Ziebold to substitute mushrooms for foie gras in a classic French dish, without us even missing the fatty liver. His torchon feels and tastes just as decadent, thanks to a generous amount of butter pureed into the mix that also includes caramelized garlic and onions. Served in a round along with house-made brioche, celery root and mushroom salad and huckleberry gastrique, this dish has earned its way to bestseller, and long-term, status.

Kinship, 1015 Seventh St. NW. 202-737-7700. $14.

Kinship review: The welcome return of a favorite chef

Fried chicken ‘coq au vin’ at Convivial

French native turned American citizen Cedric Maupillier has merged the best of both countries in his fried chicken “coq au vin.” It’s one of the stars of his menu at the buzzy Convivial in Shaw, the first restaurant where the chef can call himself majority owner. Based on a traditionally long-braised dish but inspired by Korean fried chicken, the poultry here is double-fried for a super-crispy crust. Along with mushrooms, shallots, garlic, potatoes and bacon, it’s covered in a reduced-wine glaze that allows the chicken to maintain its signature crunch.

Convivial, 801 O St. NW. 202-525-2870. $18.

Convivial review: Cedric Maupillier brings diners on a delicious voyage

Shafout at Marib

If it’s your first time at the Yemeni restaurant Marib, don’t miss the shafout, a chilled appetizer with layers of buttermilk, chopped almonds and walnuts, spring onion greens, mint leaves and lahoh, a spongy flatbread similar in texture to Ethiopian injera. The combination of flavors is incredibly rich and refreshing at the same time, and just the thing we crave on a muggy summer day.

Marib Restaurant, 6981 Hechinger Dr., Springfield. 703-376-3388. $8.95.

The Pimiento at Cheesetique

Pressed to ooey gooey perfection between slices of sourdough in a panini grill, the Pimiento features owner Jill Erber’s riff on the classic Southern pimento cheese spread (also available to go in the shop), with the namesake peppers, mayo and a mixture of coarsely grated cheese, including a spicy habanero for extra heat. Jazz it up with chicken or bacon if you must, but why mess with perfection? The Pimiento has been on the menu since Cheesetique opened 12 years ago, and its legions of fans should rest well knowing Erber has no plans to remove it, calling the sandwich “one of our classics that we could never take away.”

Cheesetique, 2411 Mt. Vernon Ave., Alexandria. 703-706-5300. 4056 Campbell Ave., Arlington. 703-933-8787. 800 N. Glebe Rd., Arlington. 703-566-9189. $11.

Lamb ribs at Tail Up Goat

Let your inner Flintstone out as you attack the pile of lamb ribs at Tail Up Goat. Chef Jon Sybert uses the less-well-known Denver cut of the ribs, which are slow-cooked to fat-rendering tenderness for about four hours before they’re rubbed in a spice blend, grilled and served with sumac onions and such seasonal garnishes as fresh fava beans and preserved lemon. The dish, which serves two or more, has proved “much more popular than we thought it would be,” Sybert said. Meaning: It’s a keeper.

Tail Up Goat, 1827 Adams Mill Rd. NW. 202-986-9600. $44.

Tail Up Goat review: Expert hosts turn dinner into a flavorful party

Peking duck at China Wok

Before you take a single bite of the signature Peking duck at China Wok, you get to enjoy a show. Wang Wen Fang, the elegant 85-year-old chef behind the double-cooked Long Island duck, will roll his cart into position and proceed to put on a master knife-skills class, methodically breaking down the bird into legs, thighs, breast meat and skin. Once his performance is finished, you’ll have the honor of rolling up skin and flesh in a steaming homemade pancake slathered with a wine-infused hoisin sauce and garnished with aromatic strips of green onion. You’ll marvel at the man, his duck and your good fortune to experience both.

China Wok, 8395 Leesburg Pike, Vienna. 703-893-4488. $34.95 for a whole duck; $17.95 for half.

China Wok: The student has surpassed the master in making Peking duck

The Sofie at Buredo

Two things inevitably will happen when you order a Sofie at Buredo: One, the seaweed wrapper for your sushi burrito will not hold, spilling its densely packed filling onto your table or, more likely, yourself. Second, you will hunt down every Sriracha mayo-slathered morsel of tempura shrimp, avocado, pickled cabbage and carrot to make sure nothing gets left behind. This sushi log may have structural weaknesses, but its flavors are expertly engineered to balance crunch and creaminess, sweetness and spice. Think of it as the futomaki version of the five-napkin burger and embrace the messiness.

Buredo, 825 14th St. NW. 202-670-6770. $11.75.

Buredo’s sushi burritos are over the top, in a very good way

Ayote con queso pupusa at Pupuseria El Comalito

Split apart your pupusa at El Comalito and witness a miracle of kitchen science: an impossibly thin masa shell that somehow contains a thick, molten layer of mozzarella and Salvadoran cheeses studded with tiny bits of ayote, a mildly flavored green squash. The kitchen prepares every pupusa by hand, and the women here (always women) have honed their skills into an art form. That griddled, eggshell-thin masa casing allows the squash and cheeses to have their say, while perfuming the air around the filling with a sweet corn fragrance. Garnish the pupusa with some fermented cabbage called curtido and a little watery salsa, and you’ll be eating like a Salvadoran, right in the D.C. suburbs.

Pupuseria El Comalito, 1167 University Blvd. E., Takoma Park, 301-445-2225. $1.95 per pupusa.

Where are the best pupusas in the Washington area?

Pan-fried soup dumplings at Shanghai Taste

Available only on Saturdays and Sundays, the pan-fried soup dumplings (sheng jian bao) at Shanghai Taste are more like a genetic mutant of the traditional XLB (xiao long bao) dumplings than a subspecies. The skin on these pan-fried behemoths is thicker, yeastier and chewier than its steamed cousin: It’s a soup dumpling crossed with a fluffy Chinese pork bun, and when drizzled with a ginger-black vinegar condiment, the sheng jian bao delivers a rare combination of sensations: crustiness, meatiness and soupiness. It’s little wonder that disciples of these pan-fried beauties willingly make pilgrimages to Rockville every weekend.

Shanghai Taste, 1121 Nelson St., Rockville. 301-279-0806. $6.95 for six.

[Shanghai Taste review: The virtuoso of soup dumplings]

Lechon asado at Mi Cuba Cafe

The roast pork doesn’t look like much. In fact, the meat may look less appetizing than whatever sides you order with it, especially if you order the arresting congri rice, stained with water used to cook the accompanying black beans. But don’t be fooled by lechon asado’s rustic plating. The pork shoulder is marinated with mojo — the bitter-orange-and-garlic sauce at the heart of Cuban cooking — before it’s roasted, chopped and topped with a tangle of grilled onions. Rich with rendered fat and studded with crispy bits, this lechon asado is pig roast supreme.

Mi Cuba Cafe, 1424 Park Rd. NW. 202-813-3489. $10.95 for the pork and two sides.

[A sparkling taste of brilliant island cooking at Mi Cuba Cafe]

Khao soi gai at Baan Thai

Part Northern Thai noodle soup and part edible art, the khao soi gai at Baan Thai is a big bowl of bottomless delights. Chef Jeeraporn Poksupthong, better known as P’Boom, starts by pounding her own curry paste, a potent fusion of shrimp paste, turmeric, ginger, black cardamom, dry chili and shallots. The spirited funk of her curry creeps into every corner of the dish, combining with the coconut milk, fish sauce and palm sugar to heighten the pleasures of the chicken thighs and the egg noodles prepared two ways, including a clutch of fried strands that erupt from the bowl, as haunting as an Alberto Giacometti sculpture.

Baan Thai, 1326 14th St. NW. 202-588-5889. $14 per bowl.

[The exquisite Baan Thai hides in plain sight at Tsunami Sushi on 14th Street]

Gordita carnitas at El Sol Restaurante & Tequileria

It takes a big flavorful stew to penetrate a gordita’s crackly and chewy masa armor, and El Sol has the perfect one: a dense tangle of pork slow-cooked in a copper pot with lard, garlic, bay leaf, oranges and evaporated milk. The kitchen adds some cactus paddles to give the filling a slippery vegetal note. Garnished with cilantro and fresh cheese, the carnitas mixture not only will poke through its protective shell, but it also will lodge itself in your long-term memory, where the gorditas will forever provide happy thoughts, long after you’ve finished the last crumb.

El Sol Restaurante & Tequileria, 1227 11th St. NW. 202-815-4789. $5.

[El Sol review: The best taqueria in Washington by a long shot]

Maitake mushroom tacos at Espita Mezcaleria

Frying maitake mushrooms turns the almost-flowery caps into a light, satisfyingly chewy vegetarian filling for Espita’s house-made corn tortillas. The tacos’ robust pop of flavor, however, comes mostly from the few simple toppings: sour shards of pickled onion, a verdant leaf or two of cilantro and a drizzle of citrusy and mezcal-laced tomatillo salsa. Three harmonious bites and you’re ready for more.

Espita Mezcaleria, 1250 Ninth St. NW. 202-621-9695. $10 for two; $14 for three.

[Espita Mezcaleria review: A new contender for D.C.’s best Mexican restaurant?]

Scallion bubble pancake at Peter Chang

The dense, flat scallion pancake, staple of so many Chinese restaurants, has been nudged aside by a flashier foodstuff: scallion-flecked puffs that arrive at your table roughly the size of soccer balls. No diner can resist oohing a bit over the bubble pancakes at Peter Chang. Served with a mild curry sauce, they’re the Sino equivalent of tortilla chips at a Mexican restaurant — crunchy, savory and excellent for kicking off a meal.

2503-E N. Harrison St., Arlington; 20A Maryland Ave., Rockville. $6.

[Peter Chang review: A master's cooking, times two]

Bialy from Bullfrog Bagels

Popular almost exclusively in New York, the bialy hails from Poland and tastes like an English muffin and a bagel had a baby. It’s soft, slightly sour and excellent toasted with cream cheese, but not as much of a carb-bomb as its more robust, rounded cousin. Some fret that it’s on its way to extinction. That should be reason enough to replace your morning bagel, at least once, with Bullfrog’s bialy, which is as close to New York-style as it gets.

Bullfrog Bagels, 1341 H St. NE. 202-494-2609. $1.50.

[Where to find a good bagel in the Washington area]

Chef Andrea’s Hometown Ravioli at Villa Mozart

Andrea Pace, the chef-owner of the delightful Villa Mozart in Fairfax, is an ace with pasta. No dish surpasses his crescent-shaped rye ravioli with fresh spinach and mountain cheese, a reminder that the maestro hails from a part of Italy where German is spoken.

Villa Mozart, 4009 Chain Bridge Rd., Fairfax. 703-691-4747.$19.

[Villa Mozart review: Impeccable food trumps indifferent service]

Quinoa avocado salad at Nazca Mochica

Ancient grains are showing up on more menus, and Nazca Mochica chef Roberto Castre makes a spectacular salad from quinoa tossed with all sorts of delicious supports: creamy avocado, toasted Marcona almonds, cubed mozzarella, fresh mint and more. A dressing adds welcome tang, and although you can eat the salad as is, it’s more fun when bundled into lettuce leaves and eaten like a taco.

Nazca Mochica, 1633 P St. NW. 202-733-3170. $14.

[Nazca Mochica review: Proof that Peruvian food means more than seviche]

Hazelnut milk chocolate tortino at Osteria Morini

Alex Levin likes to tinker with the filling in this warm, light yet luscious dessert. The executive pastry chef’s latest iteration sets a high bar, using a hazelnut milk chocolate that leaves a certain jarred hazelnut chocolate spread in the dust. The cake is served on a swath of dulce de leche, with vanilla gelato.

Osteria Morini, 301 Water St. SE. 202-484-0660. $12.

[Osteria Morini review: Elevated eating on the water]

The Mr. Chips from Dirty South Deli

Good pulled pork doesn’t require much in the way of accompaniment: some vinegary barbecue sauce, perhaps, or a bit of coleslaw. But if you want to solidly debunk that whole “less is more” theory, order a Mr. Chips sandwich. Dirty South Deli eschews minimalism, piling up juicy pulled pork, pickled jalapeños, a slice of nutty manchego cheese and cilantro on a buttery brioche bun, with a citrus mayo that really ties the whole thing together. It’s spicy, sweet, sour and, best of all, sloppy. No wonder it has a bit of a cult following.

Dirty South Deli at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, 1250 New York Ave. NW. Find food truck locations at $11-$13.

Breaking the Curse at Roofers Union

“Top Chef” fans may remember cheftestant Marjorie Meek-Bradley’s “Breaking the Curse” — so named because desserts are usually a mark of doom for the show’s competitors — that gave the chef an early win on the show. It’s a sweet-and-salty pistachio sponge cake served with saffron-poached oranges and topped with a dollop of Greek yogurt mousse. In the second episode, “Top Chef” judge Tom Colicchio said it all: “I like everything about Marjorie’s dessert. There was a little bit of sweet, the savory in there, a good amount of crunch. It was really well balanced.” We agree.

Roofers Union, 2446 18th St. NW. 202-232-7663. $6.

[Roofers Union review: ‘Top Chef’ puts the spotlight on Marjorie Meek-Bradley]

The Grill Room Burger at the Grill Room

When a burger craving strikes, it’s easy enough to bury it with any old patty layered with sauces and bacon and, heck, why not even an entire stack of fried portobellos? This is not that burger. This is a connoisseur’s burger, where the beef is the star and the sparse toppings — a barely there slice of truffled cheese and a thin veneer of house-made mayo — are intended to enhance, rather than steal the show from, the main attraction. It’s roughly the same burger chef Frank Ruta has been making since his Palena days, and it’s an icon that’s never been better.

The Grill Room, 1050 31st St. NW. 202-617-2424. $22.

[The Grill Room review: A new reason to go, thanks to Frank Ruta & Co.]

Shrimp buns at Momofuku CCDC

It’s a compliment, not an insult, to compare Momofuku CCDC’s shrimp buns to fast food. After all, the restaurant’s founder, David Chang, has waxed rhapsodic about White Castle and chicken fingers, and he started a fried chicken chain in New York. Bite into Chang’s shrimp buns, and your first impression will be their fast-food-like simplicity: the pillowy bao bun, the spicy mayonnaise, the pan-fried shrimp patty and iceberg lettuce, the ultimate signifier of drive-through fare. Broken down to its base elements, it’s instantly familiar as a fancier McChicken sandwich, both interesting and comforting at the same time. Order them and have a happy meal.

Momofuku CCDC, 1090 I St NW. 202-602-1832. $13.

[Momofuku CCDC review: For the shrimp buns and servers, the wait is worth it]

Fish and chips at the District Fishwife

Tucked into the back of bustling Union Market, the District Fishwife cooks up fresh seafood, including a classic fish and chips offering, for midday market-goers. Beer battered and deep fried to crispy, flaky perfection, strapping pieces of fresh Pacific cod are paired with equally golden-brown wedge chips — otherwise known as fries, for those of us on this side of the pond. The resulting basket is paired with a tangy, house-made tartar sauce for dipping and a refreshing apple slaw for crunch.

The District Fishwife at Union Market, 1309 Fifth St. NE. $13.

Whole aji sashimi at Izakaya Seki

Dozens of sushi counters in the Washington area offer sashimi, but few are presented as dramatically as the seasonal aji tataki (horse mackerel) at Izakaya Seki. Chef Hiroshi Seki serves the fish with head and tail intact, with the meat of the belly exposed for devouring. But the meal isn’t over once the sashimi is consumed: The server takes the leftover bones to the kitchen, where they are coated and deep-fried before being brought back to the table. For true Japanese authenticity, you’re supposed to finish the crispy bones.

Izakaya Seki, 1117 V St. NW. 202-588-5841. $27.

[Izakaya Seki review: For Japanese delicacies, it’s the real deal]

Cacio e pepe at Rose’s Luxury

For being so silky, Rose’s Luxury’s version of this classic Italian pasta dish has less butter than you’d expect. “The pasta starch thickens the sauce as opposed to the butter,” says chef/owner Aaron Silverman. (That’s not to say it’s low-cal.) The dish is a delicate dance between fat and salt that, much like a smooth negroni, requires precision. “There’s really only two ingredients” — cheese and pepper — “so the ratios have to be perfect,” Silverman says. Because it lacks any seasonal ingredients, you’ll likely find the cacio e pepe on the menu year-round. But in case you don’t see it, don’t be afraid to ask for it: The kitchen might just pull off some fancy footwork and oblige.

Rose’s Luxury, 717 Eighth St. SE. $13.

[Rose’s Luxury review: Yes, you’ll have to stand in line. Yes, it’s worth it.]

Roasted chicken thigh at Nido

The chicken thigh isn’t the most popular dish at this hidden gem up Rhode Island Avenue. But that doesn’t ruffle chef Aaron Wright’s feathers. “We cut the thigh from whole chickens, so if it became really popular we’d go crazy finding uses for the other pieces.” The dish begins with two skin-on thighs lightly seasoned and seared. They’re then braised in the oven while an a jus is made from chicken stock, wine, aromatics, coriander, peppercorn, thyme and lemon. Preserved lemon and castelvetrano olives are added. “The flavors bounce off of each other and the sauce gives it sweetness and depth.”

Nido, 2214 Rhode Island Ave. NE. 202-672-285. $11.

[Nido review: A bright perch in a hungry neighborhood]

Ampalaya at Bad Saint

A funny thing happened when chef Tom Cunanan put this dish starring bitter melon on Bad Saint’s opening menu: A lot of people ordered it. “I’m surprised how popular it is,” Cunanan says of the piquant Filipino delicacy. To make the fruit more palatable, Cunanan salts it for 30 minutes and squeezes it through a towel, which cuts the bitterness. It’s then toasted in a wok with garlic, shallots, ginger, red onions and tomatoes. Fermented black beans are simmered with lemon peels, ginger and whole garlic and tossed with the melon mixture. An egg is thrown in seconds before the plate hits your table.

Bad Saint, 3226 11th St. NW. $9.

[Bad Saint review: A Filipino restaurant packs big tastes into a small package]

Green Monster pizza at Timber Pizza Co.

If a slice of New York-style pizza and a slice of Neapolitan pizza bumped crusts, the result might look something like Timber’s pies. The mobile pizzeria — with a brick-and-mortar restaurant coming to Petworth in mid-June — churns out non-traditional flavor combinations atop a bagel-like crust that’s both chewy and crispy. “We use olive oil, sugar and a combination of flours in our dough,” says co-founder Andrew Dana. “Adding fat adds a little crispness.” The Green Monster eschews marinara sauce for pesto and comes topped with zucchini, kale, feta and mozzarella. “We’re absolutely not traditional Italian,” Dana says. “We never have been and we never will be.”

Timber Pizza Co. is set to open at 809 Upshur St. NW in mid-June; find the mobile truck at $12.

Uni waffle at Yona

Check your propriety at the door before ordering this dish at Yona. “Some people get a fork and knife, and I’m like just use your hands, get in there,” chef-owner Jonah Kim says. On the menu since Day One, this stunner is composed of a waffle smeared with taramasalata (a cured carp roe spread) and topped with onions, eggs, chives, caviar and uni. “It’s a good balance of ocean flavors and a bunch of different textures,” Kim says. Kim fluctuates between West and East Coast uni, meaning you may notice subtle differences each time you inevitably order it.

Yona, 4000 Wilson Blvd., Arlington. 703-465-1100. $16.

[Yona wins with kitchen artistry and warm hospitality]

Rolled wagyu skirt steak at Del Campo

Skirt steak is one of the most flavorful cuts of beef, which makes it so unfortunate that it’s often thought of as little more than fajita fodder. Chef Victor Albisu’s Del Campo gives the cut its due. The 12-ounce filet is sourced from wagyu cattle prized for their marbled meat, which Albisu then submits to smoke and flames before layering it with dijon mustard, burnt onion jam, rosemary, parsley and Parmesan cheese. He then rolls the cut like an umami-soaked rug into a thick wad that would make someone instantly rich if it were made of $100 bills instead of bovine decadence.

Del Campo, 777 I St. NW. 202-289-7377. $52.

[Review: Del Campo]

Merveilleux at Un Je Ne Sais Quoi

Dupont Circle bakery Un Je Ne Sais Quoi, opened in March by French natives and spouses Aude and Francois Yann Buisine, specializes in merveilleux. The snowball-like Franco-Belgian pastry (translation: “wonderful” or “marvelous”) consists of whipped cream or ganache sandwiched between layers of meringue, all covered in another layer of whipped cream and chocolate flakes or other adornments, such as nuts, crumbled meringue or even cookie crumbs. Flavors include chocolate (dark or white), speculoos (the Belgian spice cookie), violet and coffee.

Un Je Ne Sais Quoi, 1361 Connecticut Ave. NW. 202-721-0099. $2.50-$5.

This wonderful Franco-Belgian pastry should be Washington’s new go-to dessert

Tres leches cake at Caramelo Bakery

The tres leches cake is the top seller at Caramelo Bakery. And no wonder: Its tender cake is made even more delicate when doused with a sauce of evaporated milk, condensed milk and vanilla, plus a hint of coconut. Sandwiched between the layers are pineapple and strawberry jams, and whipped cream, which also provides the smooth white topping. Despite the rich list of ingredients, this dessert won’t overpower you with cloying sweetness. Its appeal, however, will overpower your restraint should you vow to have only a little.

Caramelo Bakery, 11301 Georgia Ave., Wheaton. 301-942-9330. $2.95.

Jaipori paneer dosa at Woodlands

Cooks at this no-frills South Indian vegetarian restaurant transform house-made paneer cheese into a flavor bomb, thanks to a proper dose of green chilies, cilantro, turmeric and mustard and cumin seeds. In addition to mint-cilantro chutney, the mixture fills one of the restaurant’s fantastic dosas — rice and lentil crepes cooked on a grill top until crisp and golden. You’d think that would be more than enough on its own. The accompanying sides of coconut chutney and sambar (a tamarind-spiked lentil stew) prove otherwise.

Woodlands, 8046 New Hampshire Ave., Langley Park. 301-434-4202. $11.95.

Bloody Butcher corn bread at the Dabney

The name is pretty gruesome, yes. Even though Bloody Butcher sounds like a nickname for a slasher pic villain, it refers to a type of red heirloom corn that has been grown in the United States since 1845. The corn’s Virginia ties make it a perfect fit for chef Jeremiah Langhorne’s Mid-Atlantic restaurant. The griddle-cooked corn bread, served in a cast-iron skillet, is more savory and dense than what many of us are accustomed to. But what makes this particular corn bread so special is that the corn’s famously crimson hue carries over: Instead of a sweet, yellow, cakelike corn bread, this one is studded with flecks of maroon.

The Dabney, 122 Blagden Alley NW. 202-450-1015. $10.

[The Dabney review: Bringing Mid-Atlantic cuisine to life]

Pork chop at the Riggsby

At the cozy hotel hideaway that is the Riggsby, Michael Schlow’s ode to cocktail parties of the 1960s, there’s something about ordering an enormous slab of meat that just enhances the Rat Pack vibe. Go for the Heritage Farms pork chop: double-cut, enough to feed two, and served sliced and fanned, with bone-in ribs. It comes in a shallow pan with potatoes, spicy pork sausage and hot cherry peppers. And jus. Oh, the jus. Ask your server for preemptive seconds of the bread — you’ll need it for sopping up that divine, peppery gravy.

The Riggsby, 1731 New Hampshire Ave. NW. 202-787-1500. $28.

[The Riggsby review: Old Hollywood meets New Washington]

Jajangmyeon at Da Rae Won

It’s listed on the menu as “noodle with fresh black bean sauce,” which tells a newbie to Da Rae Won next to nothing. The dish is the Korean equivalent of pizza in America: It’s comfort food. It’s delivery food. It’s food borrowed from another country. Adapted from a Chinese dish, jajangmyeon is little more than noodles covered with a fermented, caramelized black-bean sauce. But at Da Rae Won, chef Hyeong Mu Choe prepares the noodles fresh for every bowl. How do you know? You can hear him thwacking the dough against the counter, hard and authoritatively. The dish hits your palate in much the same way.

Da Rae Won, 5013 Garrett Ave., Beltsville. 301-931-7878. $8.50.

[Why Beltsville is the D.C. area's best cheap-eats destination]

Pan-seared scallops at Kyirisan

You wouldn’t normally think of pairing seafood and ice cream, a combination that sounds as if it were designed to gross out even the most open-minded gourmand. But at Tim Ma’s Kyirisan, the disparate elements create a delicious twist on familiar flavors. Ma’s perfectly seared scallops arrive in a deep bowl atop fragrant coconut risotto and — this is the kicker — a scoop of basil ice cream, which melts into the grains to form a sticky, savory support for the mollusks. It takes only one bite for “weird” to become “wow.”

Kyirisan, 1934 Eighth St. NW. 202-525-2942. $16.

[Kyirisan offers striking new looks and tastes in Shaw]

-- Words by Alex Baldinger, Becky Krystal, Emily Codik, Holley Simmons, Lavanya Ramanathan, Maura Judkis, Fritz Hahn, Emily Featherston, Tim Carman, Tom Sietsema, Bonnie Benwick, Kara Elder and Caitlin Moore

Want more essential eats? Look back on previous installments: 

• 40 dishes every Washingtonian must try in 2015

40 dishes every Washingtonian must try in 2014

• 40 dishes every Washingtonian must try in 2013

• 40 dishes every Washingtonian must try in 2012