Courtesy of Ilili Restaurant/Rey Lopez
Courtesy of Leading DC
A bunch of ambitious new eateries, including the French-inspired Michele’s, reinforce D.C.’s reputation as a hot spot for international cuisines.
From an Italian place with 40-layer lasagna to a Latin-Mediterranean spot serving dim sum platters, these are the restaurants to book now.
After more than a year spent in survival mode, Washington, D.C.’s dining scene is once again thriving. In just the past few months, a dizzying number of new restaurants have opened all over the city, from trendy neighborhoods like H Street and Logan Circle to shiny developments like the Wharf and Capital Crossing. And they’re a more diverse group than ever.
Look beyond the steakhouses and power lunch spots and you’ll find that D.C.’s food landscape has always been international—a not-so-surprising fact when you consider the city is home to the largest Ethiopian community outside of Africa, plus a sizeable Salvadoran population. But 2021’s crop of new restaurants brings even more variety, including Mexican fine dining, gourmet Lebanese fare, and untraditional Indian cuisine.
Forget postpandemic dining trends like less-formal restaurants and vegan-leaning menus. For the most part, these new places are fancier, more ambitious, and decidedly omnivorous, perfect for that first meal out after too much takeout eaten on the couch.
Read on for our seven favorite new restaurants in D.C. and what to order at each one.
Opened in March, this polished waterfront spot comes courtesy of chef Kaz Okochi of Kaz Sushi Bistro and Lucas Irwin, who studied under Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto, so expect sophisticated takes on your favorite fish. Much of the produce is sourced locally and the seafood, whether farm raised or caught wild, is sustainable.
The obvious choice here is sushi, whether that’s a sashimi omakase or a specialty roll like the eponymous Nara-Ya (spicy salmon and asparagus, topped with avocado and black pepper, torched with a lemongrass-miso glaze, and finished with crispy quinoa). But don’t sleep on starters like the kani okonomiyaki and the smoked tuna zuke (presented tableside in a smoking cloche), as well as entrées like the duck breast with seared foie gras. And whatever you order, be sure to pair it with something from the extensive sake or Japanese whisky selection.
H Street NE
At Daru, chef Suresh Sundas serves what he refers to as “Indian-ish” cooking, which translates to inspired dishes like paneer pesto tikka with basil, green apple, and honey. Sure, there’s chicken tikka masala on the menu, but you’re here for the blue cheese reshimi kebabs with sour cherry sauce, and the wild mushroom biryani with apricot and seasonal raita. Bar expert Dante Datta mixes cocktails that feature an inventive blend of spices and flavors. Take, for example, the Monsoon Mood, made with gin, tequila, grenadine, artichoke-flavored amaro, and green chile.
Sundas and Datta met nearly a decade ago while working at Rasika West End and announced plans for their own restaurant in 2019. Due to a series of delays, however, they didn’t open Daru until this past August. While waiting out the pandemic, they built buzz by hosting pop-ups for takeout and cocktails at places like Thamee and the Green Zone. It worked, and now lines start building right when the restaurant opens at 5 p.m. and don’t let up all evening. Get there early or make a reservation.
At this “modern homage to authentic Mexican cuisine,” which opened in October, Oaxacan-born, Mexico City–based chef Alam Méndez Florián takes a fine-dining approach to his native fare—a concept that’s strangely rare in D.C. The menu combines Mid-Atlantic produce with Mexican cooking techniques and displays Florián’s deep appreciation for heirloom Mexican corn. (In fact, the “64” in the restaurant’s name refers to the number of known Mexican corn varieties.)
To cook his tortillas, Florián uses a gas-fired comal (a round, flat griddle common throughout Mexico), which also functions as the centerpiece of a six-seat bar where diners can opt for chef’s menus that include a variety of tacos. Start with appetizers like the fried shrimp corn quesadilla or steamed sweet corn tamal, before moving on to mains like a creative take on al pastor with octopus and pineapple relish.
Another October arrival, this inspired Italian restaurant impresses from the moment you walk into the soaring dining room. Not only are guests greeted by glittering chandeliers, terrazzo floors, and black-marble countertops, but there’s also a gold-plated pizza oven, a wood-burning grill, and a charcoal oven from coveted Barcelona producer Mibrasa. Chef David Deshaies, who also owns local favorite Unconventional Diner, is responsible for the food here, which includes that 40-layer lasagna you’ve seen all over social media. (Stuffed with beef sugo, truffle mornay, and truffle-infused Sottocenere cheese, it really is a marvel worth Instagramming.) Other must-try plates include the thin-crust Fuoco pizza with hot salami and sausage, and the bucatini alla carbonara, featuring a confit egg yolk for a modern twist.
Also in October, chef Philippe Massoud brought his refined Lebanese restaurant from New York to the Wharf, wowing the District with his modern meze and inventive dining room. Here, diners enjoy a mix of hot and cold small plates and shareable entrées in what looks like the courtyard garden of a Beirut home, complete with citrus trees, a fountain, hanging bird cages, and daisy tile floors. Don’t miss dishes like the steak tartare with mint and jalapeño, the grilled langoustines with turmeric salt, and the braised lamb shank with Lebanese dirty rice. Also worth trying is the hummus, which you can get topped with Chesapeake-inspired crab falafel. Pair it all with a saffron-infused Negroni or a glass of arak, a Levantine spirit with notes of licorice and peppermint.
Rounding out the October openings is Immigrant Food+, an extension of chef Enrique Limardo’s fast-casual spot near the White House. The Latin-meets-Mediterranean restaurant, housed in the Planet Word Museum, offers Immigrant Food’s fusion bowls during the day, but transitions to a more elegant menu come evening. Expect global options like chicken Milanesa, Thai steak, and Asian cauliflower, as well as dim sum platters with everything from tuna tartare and pork buns to Latin wontons and “almost kibbeh” with lamb, beef, and bulgur.
Cocktails are named for literary works associated with each of the seven continents (the rye-based Beloved from North America takes its name from the Toni Morrison novel), while the wine list features small, sustainable, women-owned producers from around the world. If you can, get a seat under the Bedouin-style tent that frames the wood-burning furnace once used to heat the historic building, or at the bar lined with book covers by famous immigrant writers.
Taking the place of American Son in the Eaton hotel is this November newcomer from chef Matt Baker of Michelin-starred Gravitas in Ivy City. At Michele’s, named for his late mother, he pays homage to his French heritage and upbringing in Houston and New Orleans with a menu of mashups like barbecue carrots with Creole spices, crawfish linguine with lobster butter, and a “banh mi” pâté en croute. There’s even a crudo inspired by that Texas favorite al pastor, with tajin-crusted hamachi, pineapple, guajillo dressing, and avocado mousse.
If you’re feeling fancy, grab a seat at the 10-person, marble-topped raw bar for local oysters, seafood towers, and classic caviar service. And be sure to save room for dessert—pastry chef Aisha Momaney, who also works with Baker at café and market Baker’s Daughter, is whipping up delights like caramel-apple cheesecake and a bananas Foster sundae with vanilla bourbon ice cream.
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