DC Eats: Top 20 Spots of 2017

The continued growth of the DC food scene in 2017 was studded with expanded global influences, boundary-pushing trends, game-changing construction projects and buzzy new restaurants that turned into instant classics. Chefs brought fresh flavors from Africa, Cuba, China, Korea, the Caribbean, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, India, Switzerland, Georgia, Hong Kong and more. “Fine casual” became a commonly used phrase. The long-awaited District Wharf finally came to fruition, bringing with it a handful of scenic waterfront eateries. Across the region, hot spots like a modern Parisian bistro, a sumptuous Spanish palace and a hip Asian food hall captured our fascination. While it seemed like there were new restaurants and wine bars cropping up every week, these 20 are the ones that cut through the noise and should continue to impress in 2018.


Chef Mike Isabella’s restaurant empire grew by leaps and bounds in 2017 with the opening of Isabella Eatery at Tysons Galleria and Requin at The Wharf, but perhaps the most enticing addition is his Spanish and Moroccan restaurant, Arroz, in the Marriott Marquis Hotel. The namesake ingredient takes center stage on the menu, with massive bomba rice pans decorated with seasonal vegetables, succulent meats and fresh seafood. To drink, there are cocktails flavored with piquant spices, three sangrias and sidra. The geometric patterns, gold gilding and deep colors are visually stunning, and the in-wall booths are elegant and inviting. 901 Massachusetts Ave. NW, DC; www.arrozbymic.com

The Block

This Asian food hall quietly opened in Annandale in late 2016, but has since become one of the buzziest hangouts in the DMV. The expansive space is home to six concepts: Pokéworks, which slings bowls and burritos with the wildly popular Hawaiian, marinated raw fish salad; Snocream Company, which spins avalanches of Taiwanese shaved ice; Munch, which sandwiches exotic ice cream flavors between donuts; Balo Kitchen, and its supply of Asian comfort food; Roots, with a focus on Thai street food; and The Block Bar, which offers bar snacks and booze. Instead of choosing one, try something from each and picnic at one of the large communal tables. 4221 John Marr Dr. Annandale, VA; www.facebook.com/theblockva


Rising star Ryan Ratino burst onto the 14th Street scene with a restaurant of his own last fall, just months after Ripple – his former home – closed. Bresca is billed as a modern bistro, inspired by the Parisian movement of “bistronomy” (a blend of the words bistro and gastronomy), which marries upscale French gastronomic cooking and the more vibrant, casual atmosphere of a bistro. Both the cuisine and the decor are as quirky as Ratino’s personality, with instantly popular dishes like truffle-kissed sea urchin linguini. Bresca means honeycomb in Spanish, so the motif is present throughout. 1906 14th St. NW, DC; www.brescadc.com


Chefs Scott Drewno (formerly of The Source) and Danny Lee (of Mandu) combined their areas of culinary expertise – Chinese and Korean cuisines, respectively – to create a fine casual concept that’s serving some of the most innovative and delicious food in the city, but at a surprisingly affordable price tag. The pair, along with their third partner, Drew Kim (of Matchbox Food Group), wanted ChiKo to be a place where they could let their creative fantasies run free. No reservations are needed to order a la carte, but there’s also a chef’s counter where you can sample most of the menu for just $50. 423 8th St. SE, DC; www.chikodc.com

Colada Shop

After the debut of this Cuban café and bar in Sterling, Virginia, the team opened a second outpost in the District, at the buzzy intersection of the U and 14th Street corridors. Those looking for a reminder of home or a taste of adventure can enjoy pastelitos, empanadas, croquetas, warm sandwiches, plantain chips, traditional sweets, strong coffee and wallet-friendly rum cocktails from minibar alum and Colada Shop partner Juan Coronado. The petite shop has a cozy space in the back to take a coffee break, and the counter in the front opens to a patio in the warm weather. 1405 T St. NW, DC; www.coladashop.com

Del Mar de Fabio Trabocchi

Fabio and Maria Trabocchi have added coastal Spanish fare to their previously all-Italian portfolio. The luxurious waterfront restaurant at The Wharf is dedicated to Maria, who has roots in Spain, and showcases the Trabocchi family’s culinary traditions from their home on the island of Mallorca. Meals often open with stunning seafood towers and jamón ibéricoaccompanied by crispy pan de cristal. Paella is a focus, and large pans of bomba rice are served tableside. The cocktail program puts an emphasis on gin and tonics, while the wine list features bottles from the major wine regions of Spain. 791 Wharf St. SW, DC; www.delmardc.com

Kith and Kin

Chef Kwame Onwuachi swallowed a bitter pill with the closure of the Shaw Bijou, but he made a triumphant return in less than a year with a new outlook and a fresh view – of the Potomac River – from his Afro-Caribbean restaurant inside the InterContinental at The Wharf. At Kith and Kin, Onwuachi is just doing what he loves: sharing his heritage by cooking authentic food. Several of the dishes are infused with family stories, like the peel-and-eat shrimp made with his mother’s spice blend. At the bar, many of the offerings are riffs on Caribbean, rum-based drinks. 801 Wharf St. SW, DC; www.kithandkindc.com


Sushiko in Chevy Chase upped their game at the end of 2016 with the addition of Kōbō, an eight-seat counter where intricate and artistic kappo tasting menus unfold. This restaurant-within-a-restaurant is helmed by co-executive chefs and brothers Piter and Handry Tjan, who hail from Indonesia but have an undeniable talent for Japanese cooking. Their meals are 12-15 course affairs that delight the palate with surprising dishes like spheres of flavored liquid and wagyu katsu sandwiches. The kappo menu also has a vegan alias on certain evenings, when the chefs recreate the flavors and textures of caviar, nigiri and meats using plants. 5455 Wisconsin Ave. Chevy Chase, MD; www.kobo-sushiko.com

Little Pearl

Pretty much anything Chef Aaron Silverman touches turns to gold, and his new coffee shop and wine bar continues that trend – literally – with shiny metallic accents flecking the chic, minimalist space. Little Pearl starts the day as a café, similar to the former daytime alter ego of Pineapple & Pearls. The menu includes sandwiches, salads, house-made pastries and gelato, espresso drinks, drip coffee, a few glasses of wine and caffeinated cocktails. After a quick set change, the wine bar opens for business, with a succinct selection of posh snacks like a crispy potato with spiced cod hollandaise and anchovy toast, plus two dozen or so wines by the glass. 921 Pennsylvania Ave. SE, DC; www.littlepearldc.com

Lucky Buns

Globetrotting Chef Alex McCoy has set up shop slinging internationally inspired burgers in Adams Morgan. The menu at Lucky Buns is just 12 burgers – six beef and six chicken – plus a few iterations of British-style chips and side salads. Each stack can be ordered with one patty or two, on a bun or over a green salad with farro. Many of the burgers take after cuisine from McCoy’s former ventures, like the Alfie’s Bun with pineapple, pickled beetroot and lucky sauce, and the hot fried chicken sandwiches. The rest pull flavors from Southeast Asia, Australia, the UK and beyond. 2000 18th St. NW, DC; www.luckybunsdc.com

Mason Dixie Biscuit Co.

This growing local biscuit company traded in their Union Market stall for a brick-and-mortar, drive-thru location. They renovated a former fast food spot and turned it into a space reminiscent of an old-fashioned diner or ice cream parlor, with vintage furniture and a retro color scheme. Chef and owner Jason Gehring expanded the menu to include biscuit sandwiches for breakfast and lunch, as well as fried chicken by the box or bucket. The entire menu breaks the fast food mold by eschewing preservatives and hormones in favor of fresh, local ingredients. 2301 Bladensburg Rd. NE, DC; www.masondixiebiscuits.com

Maxwell Park

One of DC’s favorite sommeliers struck out on his own with a playful and unpretentious wine bar. Brent Kroll recruited two young somm friends, Daniel Runnerstrom and Niki Lang, to be his partners at Maxwell. There’s an informality about the chalkboard bar where guests can doodle or write notes about their wine, but the wine list is taken very seriously. The 50 by-the-glass selections are divided into two categories: a monthly theme and a rotating list of the partners’ favorites. Kroll and his team are eager to please, so guests can always ask for a custom flight based on their preferences. 1336 9th St. NW, DC; www.maxwelldcwine.com


The single step through the arched gateway of Maydan seems more like a journey of thousands of miles. Owner Rose Previte’s two-story town square – a maydan – transports you to the bustling streets of Beirut, Tangier and Tehran. If it feels authentic, that’s because Previte and her team, including Chefs Gerald Addison and Chris Morgan, followed the path of the Silk Road through Morocco, Tunisia, Lebanon, Georgia and Turkey for more than a month to bring the recipes, culture and spirit of these countries back to DC. The centerpiece of the space and the menu is a towering, copper-hooded hearth where kebabs, vegetables, seafood and whole cuts of meat are kissed by flames before heading to the table to be swaddled with clay-oven, baked bread and tantalizing spreads. 1346 Florida Ave. NW. DC; www.maydandc.com


The power couple behind this French wine bar have impressive and complementary résumés. Sebastian Zutant was formerly a partner and the beverage director of Red Hen and All Purpose, while Lauren Winter is one of the design minds behind Edit Lab. Together, they’ve created a place that injects the essence of Paris into Brookland. The classy French décor in the bar pairs perfectly with wine curated by Zutant and hearty bistro fare from Chef Nathan Beauchamp. The wine list focuses on glasses and bottles from small and natural producers in France and Virginia, including Zutant’s own wine, which he makes at Early Mountain Vineyards. 3000 12th St NE. DC; www.primrosedc.com


Rasa has been a long time in the making, but the friendship on which it’s founded has been growing for even longer. Rahul Vinod and Sahil Rahman are the sons of longtime hospitality veterans Chef K.N. Vinod and Surfy Rahman, who are behind Indique and Bombay Bistro. The sons’ upbringing in the restaurant industry inspired them to create their own eatery, a fine casual spot intended to make Indian flavors modern, accessible and portable. Rasa serves up flavor-packed bowls piled high with tender proteins, spice-laden sauces, fresh veggies and unlimited odds and ends, over a bed of rice, noodles or greens. 1247 1st St. SE, DC; www.rasagrill.com

The Salt Line

This New England-style oyster and ale house is the latest from Chef Kyle Bailey and Long Shot Hospitality. The menu has all the expected seafood classics, like lobster rolls, clam chowder, Johnny cakes and clam stuffies, but there are a few breaks from tradition as well. Bailey is dedicated to sustainability in the kitchen, so he became the area’s founding member of Dock to Dish, which connects fishermen and chefs in a supply-driven sourcing system that often highlights underutilized fish. The nautical motif runs through the dining room, and outside, there’s a sprawling patio with a dedicated bar. 79 Potomac Ave. SE, DC; www.thesaltline.com


This luxurious shrine to seafood calls diners like the song of its mythical namesake. Robert Wiedmaier and his partner Brian McBride tapped a nautical-minded chef, John Critchley, to helm the kitchen. The menu casts a wide net, from raw seafood platters and caviar to crudo, filets and whole fish. Though many of the marine delicacies sit high on the ocean food chain, sustainability is top of mind for the team. They keep the menu small and flexible to accommodate shifts in availability of product from around the world, and from the waters in our backyard. 1515 Rhode Island Ave. NW, DC; www.sirenbyrw.com


After cooking in kitchens around the world, two native Swiss hospitality pros decided it was time to bring a taste of their home to DC. Swiss cuisine is a melting pot of flavors from France, Germany, Austria and Italy and Chef David Fritsche’s menu reflects this diversity, with a blend of bona fide Swiss dishes and European classics. Of course, the iconic raclette is offered year-round. The space is also an amalgam, as industrial accents are juxtaposed with marks of a chalet or farmhouse. The beverage menu from general manager Silvan Kraemer features Swiss schnapps, European wines and cocktails inspired by Switzerland. 1324 H St. NE, DC; www.stabledc.com


Supra is DC’s first Georgian restaurant from husband and wife team Jonathan and Laura Nelms. Though neither has roots in the Caucasus, Jonathan has a  long-held fascination with Georgia that began when he made friends with a Georgian exchange student in high school. Jonathan’s knowledge of Georgian wine, food and heritage is on display at Supra, along with the culinary talent of Executive Chef Malkhaz Maisashvili, who worked at acclaimed restaurants in Georgia before coming to the U.S. to cook at the Embassy of Georgia. Since the name of the restaurant means “celebratory feast,” meals include a multitude of courses, like a traditional supra. 1205 11th St. NW, DC; www.supradc.com

Tiger Fork

Despite its petite size, Blagden Alley saw a lot of action with openings last year, and Tiger Fork is still one of the buzziest. This Hong Kong hideaway combines old-school culinary traditions with flavors from Asia, Europe and the Middle East. Chef Irvin Van Oordt serves up modern street food, dim sum, Chinese BBQ and other classics in a setting that invites sharing. The dining room features an 18-seat communal table, which is ideal for the kitchen’s family-style dishes. The cocktail program takes a page out of traditional Chinese medicine’s book, with herbal teas and tonics that are meant to cure everything from a hangover to heartache. 922 N St. NW, DC; www.tigerforkdc.com

Correction: A previous version of this article listed “2000 12 St. NE, DC” as the address for Primrose; we regret this mistake. 

Lani Furbank

Lani Furbank is a freelance food, drinks, and lifestyle writer based in the D.C. area. She was born and raised in Northern Virginia, but stays true to her Welsh-Taiwanese heritage by exploring new places and experimenting with recipes from around the world. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @lanifurbank or read her work at www.LanisCupOfTea.com.