Photo: Rey Lopez

New and Notable: Hot Lola’s, La Betty, Punjab Grill and More

On Tap keeps locals in the know about the hottest new food and drink spots around town and the top culinary happenings of the month. Read on to get the inside scoop on what’s new and notable in the DC area.

New

Hot Lola’s
Open:
March 10
Location:
Ballston Quarter
Lowdown: Himitsu’s “sauce boss” Kevin Tien has entered the hot chicken game, but he’s put a Sichuan spin on Nashville’s spicy fried specialty. Hot Lola’s is one of the highlights of Ballston Quarter’s new food hall Quarter Market. The streamlined menu makes decisions easy: sandwich, tenders or “tenderdog.” Then the question is: how hot do you want it? The scale goes from zero to 10, or from not hot to too hot. The middle of the scale is perfectly manageable, but it only gets hotter from there. The pickles, slaw and sauces (like comeback sauce and secret sauce) add an extra punch of flavor to the already punchy chicken, and then you can add sides like crispy seasoned curly fries. Even if your mouth is on fire, you can feel good about eating at Hot Lola’s thanks to the 4 percent equity surcharge Tien has opted to add to every order. This goes to ensure a fair wage and health coverage for employees, both in the kitchen and at the counter. This pacesetting provision is something Tien hopes to scale and implement at all of his current and future restaurants.4238 Wilson Blvd. Level C, Suite 112, Arlington, VA; www.hotlolaschicken.com

La Betty
Open:
March 15
Location:
Mount Vernon Triangle
Lowdown:
The family behind Baked & Wired and A Baked Joint have expanded their portfolio to include a full-service restaurant. Chef and owner Teresa Velazquez saw a need for “feel-good food” in the neighborhood and decided she wanted her kitchen to be the place where people could come for a nostalgic, home-cooked meal, even if home is thousands of miles away. The space was designed to be cozy and welcoming, with warm woods and Turkish rugs. The menu is short and sweet, with less than 20 items between shareable starters, hearty main courses and family-style sides. The recipes are inspired by Velazquez’s German heritage and the food she grew up on. She learned to cook from her mother and grandmother and by the age of 12, she was regularly making dinner for her five siblings. The dishes at La Betty are simple and familiar, like corn dogs, deviled eggs, breaded chicken schnitzel with arugula salad, glazed ribs, currywurst and a roasted root vegetable galette. The beverage program is similarly concise and straightforward, offering just two beers, three wines, a cider, a draft cocktail and a few of spirits. The name of the restaurant is an homage to strong women – Velazquez says everyone has a Betty in their life. If you’re still confused, she’ll refer you to the Urban Dictionary definition.420 K St. NW, DC; www.la-betty.com

Punjab Grill
Open:
March 11
Location:
Penn Quarter
Lowdown:
People love to talk about how restaurants transport them to other places, but in the case of Punjab Grill, that idea is more literal than you would expect. The space is a slice of India that journeyed across the ocean to make it to Washington. Almost all of the design elements – walls, tables, floors, ceilings – were handmade in India, from the massive tile mosaics and the brass screens to 12,000 pounds of carved sandstone and semiprecious stones laid in marble like at the Taj Mahal. Everything had to be disassembled, carefully packed and shipped, and then reassembled upon arrival. After nearly two years of construction, the restaurant now invites guests into the opulent space for fine dining. The menu showcases the heritage of Punjabi cuisine while also experimenting with modern and global interpretations. You’ll find familiar dishes like palak paneer and chicken makhani alongside more unusual selections like jackfruit biryani and chana masala hummus. There’s also the even-more-luxurious Maharaja Menu fit for royalty, with a Punjabi version of Peking duck and a caviar service with tandoori naan. Take it one step further and book the private dining room – the Sheesh Mahal – where nearly every surface is covered in mirrors and food is served on Hermés dishware. 427 11th St. NW, DC; www.punjabgrilldc.com

Stellina Pizzeria
Open:
April 2
Location:
Union Market District
Lowdown:
You probably know them from Lupo Verde, but now Antonio Matarazzo and Matteo Venini have a spot of their own. “Follow the star” to find Stellina (little star) Pizzeria, an upscale, fast-casual concept where you can get to know the Southern Italian street food and pizza they’re dubbing neo-Neapolitan. The goal of the restaurant is to take their experience in formal dining and translate it to a casual atmosphere without sacrificing flavor or quality. Venini has developed his own style of pizza with an out-of-the-box dough that uses more water and ferments for almost three days, resulting in a lighter pie that’s easier to digest. He hopes this means you’ll eat more than one. Between traditional toppings and creative combinations, you’d be hard-pressed to choose just one anyway. Highlights include the schiacciata with mozzarella, mortadella, stracciatella and pistachios, and the cacio e pepe, which is the beloved pasta in the form of a pizza. The menu also offers street food classics like paper cones of fried vegetables and seafood, oven-fired paninis like il cuzzetiello stuffed with eggplant parm, and of course, pastas. The bright, colorful space includes a full bar, a small market, and a painting of Italian comedian and actor Totò wearing Dolce & Gabbana. 399 Morse St. NE, DC; www.stellinapizzeria.com

Notable

Kazoku Sundays at O-Ku
Location:
Union Market District
Lowdown: This chic Japanese newcomer recently debuted a family-style tasting menu available on Sunday nights. Kazoku Sundays is an eight-course meal that takes diners through izakaya-style dishes, sashimi and crudo, makimono (sushi rolls), an entrée, and dessert. It’s the perfect way to explore the entire menu at a surprisingly affordable price point. The chef changes the offerings regularly, but previous dinners have included edamame, marinated squid with wakame salad, wagyu beef gyoza, crispy vegetable egg rolls, pork donburi (rice bowl) and mochi ice cream. The menu is $35 per person. Drinks are not included.. 1274 5th St. NE, DC; www.o-kusushidc.com

New Location of TTT Mexican Diner & Buena Vida
Location:
Clarendon
Lowdown: Serbian restaurateur Ivan Iricanin ventured into Mexican cuisine in May of last year by opening Tacos, Tortas & Tequila and Buena Vida in Silver Spring. Now, he’s debuted a second location of the concepts in Clarendon, this time with acclaimed Mexico City chef Gerardo Vázquez Lugo at the helm. Vázquez Lugo is known for his cooking at Nicos, named one of Latin America’s 50 best restaurants. Like their Maryland sister restaurants, TTT and Buena Vida Clarendon are two levels of the same building. Downstairs, find Mexican street food – tacos and tortas – featuring house-made bread and tortillas. Upstairs, Buena Vida focuses on traditional, indigenous fare like aguachile, dry soup and shellfish pozole. Both offer beer and wine from Mexico as well as a wide range of tequilas and other agave spirits.2900 Wilson Blvd. Arlington, VA; www.tttdiner.com and www.buenavidaclarendon.com

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.