Tom Sietsema's annual Spring Dining Guide has a new format this year: It contains only restaurants that have opened in the last year or so. “There were so many new places, I couldn't help but use that as my theme this season,” Sietsema says. The list of 30 establishments is so fresh that two of the restaurants in Sietsema's personal top five haven't been open long enough to earn a full, starred review. “Some of the best restaurants in the bunch opened in just the past two months or so, but I wanted to be sure to include them in the collection,” he explains.
Here's the rundown of Sietsema's top 10 newcomers (restaurant names are linked to Sietsema's full reviews).
10. Old Maryland Grill (2 stars)
The most original restaurant in College Park encourages you to buy local. Look, then, for crab cakes built from the waters of the Eastern Shore (and just a hint of Old Bay) and coddies sure to slap a smile on the face of those who grew up on the rounds of fish and potato, fried to a shade of gold and eaten on a cracker (house-baked in this case). Small details make big impressions in the 250-seat sprawl, fused to the snazzy Hotel at the University of Maryland. 7777 Baltimore Ave., College Park. oldmarylandgrill.com.
9. The Tavern at Rare Steak and Seafood (2 ½ stars)
The bar below Rare Steak and Seafood downtown doesn’t fit the usual definition of a watering hole: Chef Marc Hennessy’s cooking, while made to cling to the ribs, takes pub grub to a fresh level. His salads are among the most enticing around, none more so than the bowl composed of hearts of palm, shaved carrots, halved grapes, creamy avocado and more. No dish exits the kitchen without a refinement or two: handmade noodles for the spaghetti and meatballs, enriched with burrata; and a green chili mac with slow-cooked, dry-aged pork that has “New Mexico” stamped all over it. 1595 I St. NW. raredc.com/the-tavern.
8. Unconventional Diner (2 ½ stars)
Its name speaks volumes. Pick a popular diner staple, and David Deshaies has probably tweaked it to some degree of finer in his two-part valentine to comfort food. By day, customers stream into the self-service cafe for delicious breakfast sandwiches, sweets and a chickpea stew so vivid it appears to be auditioning for a magazine cover. We’re talking elegant, bite-size chicken pot pies; meatloaf that incorporates Gruyere cheese for succulence and Sriracha for a blaze of a glaze; and miso-brushed salmon served with a fan of buttery sliced zucchini. 1207 Ninth St. NW. unconventionaldiner.com.
7. Chloe (2 ½ stars)
Boy, is it ever good to have Haidar Karoum cooking again, this time in a place all his own, making what he says he likes to eat, which is food you are apt to like, too — a lot. Chances are, you might have sampled the chef’s handiwork before; over the years, he has cooked at kitchens as diverse as Proof, Estadio and Doi Moi, and for brands including Michel Richard and Nora Pouillon. His greatest hits embrace cobia crudo, electric with Thai chiles and lime juice; a pâté with Bing cherries that any French chef would be proud to claim; and cod paved with crushed papadum and set in a sauce sparked with curry leaf, ginger and jalapeño. 1331 Fourth St. SE. restaurantchloe.com.
6. Maydan (2 ½ stars)
“I want to move in!” the woman sitting at the next bar stool gushes as she takes in the scenery at one of the toughest tickets in town. A fire pit in the center of the room has her wide-eyed, but she seems just as smitten by the rest of the space, a feast for the senses that’s meant to evoke the joyful chaos of a faraway bazaar. The restaurateur who brought us global small plates at Compass Rose, Rose Previte, has worked her magic again, this time in a former laundry with a menu that roams around Lebanon, Iran, Tunisia and beyond. Go for the shredded cabbage dazzled with mint and lemon, the coriander-massaged whole chicken, the eggplant with walnut sauce and whatever your server might be pushing, maybe a special of hummus topped with fiery shredded lamb. 1346 Florida Ave. NW. maydandc.com.
5. Little Pearl (3 stars)
Beaming servers present the small plates as if they were gifts. “Angel eggs,” says an attendant as he places a couple of light-as-air morsels on the table. Flavored like deviled eggs, their ivory exterior is made of meringue and disappears the moment it hits your tongue. The wit and the wonder behind each dish should come as no surprise; Aaron Silverman, the chef who brought us the no-reservations Rose’s Luxury and the glam Pineapple and Pearls, is behind this gem, a sunny cafe by day and a dreamy wine bar by night. 921 Pennsylvania Ave. SE. littlepearldc.com.
4. A Rake's Progress (not yet rated)
Name a dining trend, and this cavernous restaurant, on the second floor of the white-hot Line Hotel, likely embraces it. Some of the cocktails are mixed at the table, bread plays a starring role, a hearth in the open kitchen cooks much of the food and ... can someone get me a flashlight so I can read what’s for dinner? Still, the best meals in recent visits have paired pork belly and greens on a small plate, bouillon bobbing with minty rabbit dumplings and enough bone-in rib-eye for four, anointed with truffle butter and offered with a many-layered wedge of potatoes and blue cheese. The guiding light in the kitchen is Spike Gjerde, whose hyperlocal Woodberry Kitchen in Baltimore landed him a James Beard Award for best chef in the Mid-Atlantic three springs ago. 1770 Euclid St. NW. thelinehotel.com.
3. Del Mar (3 stars)
Few chefs enjoy the Midas touch of Fabio Trabocchi, whose see-and-be-seen Italian restaurants around Washington come with the advantage of terrific menus and top-flight service. The chef’s latest hit takes place on the Wharf and pays homage to the cooking of Spain, the origin of his equally savvy wife and business partner, Maria. Your first impression: What a sumptuous space! Then the food starts flowing from the visible kitchen, which counts a dedicated paella stove, and your attention is fixed on such riches (and rich they are) as blushing lamb chops arranged with fried artichokes and creamy Manchego sauce. 791 Wharf St. SW. delmardc.com.
2. Fancy Radish (not yet rated)
It’s “Hamilton” for vegans. Diners can thank the co-owner of the city’s best meatless restaurant for the umami-rich appeal of dan dan noodles that fill the mouth with flames and an avocado filled with pickled, “riced” cauliflower, sunny with turmeric. “I’ve got a carnivorous palate,” says chef Richard Landau. “But I’m a plant eater. This is a way to satisfy my cravings” — and, I would add, the appetite of anyone else who cares about fine food, regardless of their diet. 600 H St. NE. fancyradishdc.com.
1. Elle (three stars)
One of the owners, Nick Pimentel, is behind the Filipino phenom Bad Saint. Another principal launched Paisley Fig, the admired sweets seller. The top chef used to work at Blue Duck Tavern, and the drinks come from someone who shook and stirred at Columbia Room. Given all the talent involved, what’s to stop a memorable breakfast, lunch or dinner from happening? Not so long ago, people asking me what the District lacked heard “neighborhood restaurants.” A welcome wave of local gathering spots has changed my response, with Elle setting the pace not just in Mount Pleasant but also for the whole of Washington. 3221 Mount Pleasant St. NW. eatatelle.com.