For years, street food has had a presence on menus at fast-casual restaurants around Washington, including Amsterdam Falafelshop and G Street Food. That influence, though, has recently spread beyond the fast-casual realm, as more and more chefs and restaurateurs open street-food-themed spots.
But these newer restaurants represent a departure from what some of them are used to running. Chefs and restaurateurs say street-food menus allow them to hit the growing sweet spot between casual and fine dining, combining well-executed food with a relaxed setting. The concept gives them room for creativity while also attracting Washington's coveted young diners.
Want to sample some street food fare? Here's a rundown of a few current and future options.
Indian street food has long had a presence at Rasika, where chef Vikram Sunderam has featured the likes of ragda patties, kathi rolls and chaats. Rasika owner Ashok Bajaj always wanted to open a street-food restaurant, and Sunderam was eager to explore it. So the two opened Bindaas in Cleveland Park earlier this year.
Sunderam, who grew up in Mumbai eating the types of foods he's now serving at Bindaas, makes a version of bhel puri, a tangy crunchy dish with mango, as well as the Bindaas salad, inspired by street vendors who sell seasonal fruits seasoned with spices and salt. Sunderam also put a twist on his uttapam, or rice pancakes, by creating toppings that go beyond the traditional onions and tomatoes.
The chef said he wanted to slightly elevate street food in terms of flavors and neatness. “We're not taking away the fun part of it or the traditional part of it,” he said. Diners, in turn, have an opportunity to try more dishes thanks to the smaller portions, he said.
“I think we're lucky that people are taking it well,” he said.
3309 Connecticut Ave. NW.
Rose Previte was inspired to open her global street food restaurant in 2014 after spending three years traveling the world with her husband. They were always attracted to marketplaces and street vendors. “To me, it's a window into the culture of whatever country you're in,” she said.
The original menu was pulled straight from Previte's globe-trotting adventures, though now it has expanded to include additions from the staff. The wide-ranging fare covers such dishes as Venezuelan arepas, Hawaiian poke, Tunisian chicken skewers and Danish smorrebord. The restaurant also helped popularize khachapuri, a boat-looking Georgian bread filled with cheese, egg and butter that became something of the unofficial dish of 2014 in Washington.
One of Previte's favorite things about serving a street food menu is walking around the dining room and hearing people reminisce about their own travels. Of course, that can raise comparisons to what they ate abroad — especially when it comes to price. “This is a dish grandmas make in Georgia,” Previte said of the khachapuri. “On 14th Street, [diners] expect more than what grandma made.”
1346 T St. NW.
Todd and Ellen Kassoff Gray will unveil Manna, an Israeli street-food concept, in the Museum of the Bible when it opens in Southwest Washington in fall 2017. The restaurant, inspired in part by the time Kassoff Gray spent in Israel when she was younger, is meant to evoke the feeling of a market or bazaar you might find in the Middle East, Gray said.
While the menu is still in development, the idea is for diners to move between different stations, building their meal with grains (couscous, quinoa), hot garnishes (falafel, chickpea cassoulet, lamb meatballs), cold garnishes (pickled vegetables, dressings, lettuce, tomato) and sauces. Soups and flatbreads will be available, as well.
Israeli street food was particularly appealing to Gray because of its emphasis on vegetables, a characteristic shared with the vegan fare he has been offering at his downtown restaurant, Equinox. “You're always trying to explore the different avenues of cooking,” he said.
Coming to 409 Third St. SW.
When Nat Ongsangkoon and Dia Khanthongthip opened Soi 38 in 2014, they hoped to showcase the street food of their native Bangkok in a setting where people could relax and stay awhile. Some of the most famous Thai dishes, in fact, are actually street food, Khanthongthip said. Among them: pad Thai, kra pow and panang curry.
For chefs, part of the appeal of those dishes is that they can be easy to cook. Good food doesn't have to be complicated, Khanthongthip said. She said the concept appeals to diners because of its more casual feel.
“You don't need to have [a] tablecloth” for a satisfying restaurant experience, as long as the food and service meet expectations, she said.
2101 L St. NW.
Ten Tigers Parlour
Chef Tim Ma of Kyirisan is crafting an Asian street-food menu for Ten Tigers Parlour, a new lounge he expects will open in early December in the old Chez Billy space in Petworth.
Ma's definition of street food is “something that is ready that you grab and go” and full of flavor without being fussy or adorned with “pretentious garnishes.” At Ten Tigers, he can get a little more involved with building, say, a sauce. But when it's done, the plate will simply hold the dumplings and accompanying dip. Other items may include bao, satay and rice and noodle bowls.
“You can still do really cool, very intricate food” and focus on one good component on the plate rather than 10, he said.
Coming to 3815 Georgia Ave. NW.