Restaurant dishes

The 10 Best Restaurant Foods in the DC Area, According to Tom Sietsema


Many mouth-watering things passed my lips while dining in the area for my 22nd Annual Fall Restaurant Guide. These 10 dishes are the ones I can’t stop thinking about. Let the order begin.

Mushroom soup

The taste of a dinner Imperfect in the West End is a splendid amuse-bouche: a mushroom soup that gets its texture and depth from a multitude of ingredients – braised leek mash, cauliflower, guajillo pepper, dried porcini mushrooms, allspice , cream – and arrives in a delicate cut. Chef René Gonzalez says the liquid introduction, sprinkled with truffle and chive oils, sends a message: “Welcome home.” Glad to be here.

Celeriac fritters

Chef Rob Rubba says he wanted something fun to launch his $75 plant-based tasting menu at oyster oyster to Shaw. Sure enough, everyone smiles when diners pull a hot celeriac fritter from a towel pillow. The crackle of julienned fried celeriac is followed by the rush of creamy smoked tofu to the center of the golden orb. On the way with the show.

Tofu skin salad

Family History Explains Tofu Skin Salad ($12) at Mom Chang in Fairfax. Chief Peter Chang’s grandfather practiced Chinese medicine; her grandmother was a vegetarian. The couple lived in a part of Hubei province where many Buddhists lived, said the chief’s daughter, Lydia Chang. To make the popular appetizer, a block of tofu is braised for several hours in what looks like a spice cabinet: star anise, cardamom and licorice root, to name just a few pumps of flavor. Once the tofu is cut into pasta-like ribbons, it is smoothed with sesame oil or, even better, Sichuan chili oil, and garnished with cilantro and scallions.

Pan con tomato

The key to this seemingly simple snack to Spanish dinner in Bethesda: “good bread, good ripe tomatoes and excellent Spanish olive oil”, explains chef Daniel Lugo. Beefsteak tomatoes from the Farmer’s Market are shredded and slathered on bread – airy crystal pan, imported from Barcelona and twice grilled – then finished with a drizzle of olive oil and sea salt. Delicious on its own, the pan con tomate ($10) is headier paired with meaty Pujadó Solano anchovies ($10 more) from Spain’s northern coast. Indeed, combining the two is eating the best fish sandwich in the area.

Country pâté

There’s no flour, cream or egg in the Pâté Superieur à l’Armagnac ($18) at annabelle at Dupont Circle, where chef Frank Ruta chooses to pair his appetizer — developed and served during his White House years — with liver. Beef heart, kidneys and tongue weigh more richness; the offal is diced so recipients can see the pieces. Pistachios punctuate each slice of pork, topped with something marinated and set on a brushstroke of mustard glaze.


Thamee revels in the flavors of Myanmar but allows sous chef Jafar Umarov to express his Central Asian roots with a refined take on the samusa he grew up eating – at home and on the streets – in Tajikistan. The savory pastry ($7) evolves from several sheets of thin dough, brushed with butter, rolled into a log and cut into pieces, which are then layered, rolled and topped with diced potatoes and garam masala. An egg wash is brushed onto the packets before they reach the oven. Awesome on its own, the labor of love, which breaks like a good croissant, comes with a dunk (you decide) or a spread fueled with tamarind and fermented Chinese black beans.

Green bean tartare

Who said that a tartare had to be composed of meat or fish? The star Little Washington Inn in Washington, Va., demonstrates #greenisgood with a vegetarian alternative. Green beans from the property’s garden are minced, blanched, shaped into a patty with potatoes and capers, and finished at the table with spiced fried onions that suggest French via France. Rounding out the leafy treat (a selection from the $265 vegetarian tasting menu), toasted bread topped with tomato jam and a sublime tomato vinaigrette.

Slice of grandma’s pizza

I can’t make a 16 inch pizza tower from Happy gyro? Chef Johnny Monis offers an old-fashioned baked square — “what grandmothers could make in a home oven,” says co-owner Anne Marler — drizzled with a zesty vodka sauce and light applications of pecorino and mozzarella. While a square shares the sourdough profile of the entire pie, the former offers the springy, spongy texture of focaccia. Similar to the larger pizza, Grandma’s Slices ($6 each) are personally prepared by the top chef.

Lacquered duck confit

David Deshaies adores Peking duck, says “duck confit always sells” and combines cuisines as cleverly as Bob Woodward gets people talking. To Unconventional dinner in Shaw, the French chef offers confit duck legs ($27) treated with honey, with five spices and sesame seeds, and served with Korean-style chopped cucumbers, homemade hoisin sauce and steamed buns to wrap the bird. Asia meets Europe with every bite.

Hari Daiquiri

Bar ace Tom Martinez was inspired by his best-selling cocktail at the new Daru off H Street NE mint chutney, an Indian staple. The drink incorporates curdled and clarified kefir, which is turned into syrup; the eye-catching green base is courtesy of mint and cilantro, pureed just before serving dinner to retain their shine. Mix some Denizen white rum with three years of age on it, and you have a Hari Daiquiri ($14) – a lively cocktail that perfectly captures its restaurant.

Illustrated by Kristen Sgalambro. Design and art direction by Clare Ramirez.

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