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.


Hot Lola’s
March 10
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;

La Betty
March 15
Mount Vernon Triangle
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;

Punjab Grill
March 11
Penn Quarter
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;

Stellina Pizzeria
April 2
Union Market District
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;


Kazoku Sundays at O-Ku
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;

New Location of TTT Mexican Diner & Buena Vida
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; and

Photo: Greg Powers

New and Notable: Olivia, Vim and Victor, Urbano 116 and More

Open: January 10
Location: Penn Quarter
Lowdown: Restaurateur Ashok Bajaj has performed yet another extreme restaurant makeover. This time, Olivia replaced American brasserie Nopa Kitchen + Bar. Executive Chef Matt Kuhn is still running the kitchen, but his cooking is now influenced by flavors from Portugal, Spain, Morocco, Tunisia, Italy and Greece. The new restaurant takes its name from the Latin for olive tree, evoking Mediterranean imagery like round glass wine vessels hanging from the ceiling draped in fishing net, a whitewashed brick wall and a panel of wooden slats dotted with flower pots. The menu features spreads like tzatziki labne and roasted carrot hummus, as well as various small plates including creamy chickpea ravioli, classic dolmades, octopus carpaccio and chicken bastille – a savory Moroccan phyllo pastry. If you’re really hungry, consider a large plate like the Portuguese seafood stew or braised short rib tagine. The showstopper on the dessert menu is a grand hazelnut profiterole crowned with gold leaf. 800 F St. NW, DC;

Vim & Victor
Open: January 10
Location: Springfield
Lowdown: Since becoming a father, celebrity chef Spike Mendelsohn’s career has moved away from television, fine dining and fast casual concepts and into the wellness space. His latest concept at the St. James (a 450,000-square-foot sports and wellness complex) is a natural fit for the longtime hockey player. He’s distinguished Vim & Victor as a disruptor when it comes to food in the fitness scene, as it encompasses a grab-and-go counter, a full-service restaurant and a bar. Overseeing the dining option at this facility was a tall order to fill because it needed to provide something for everyone who might find themselves working out, watching their kid’s soccer game, getting a treatment at the spa, taking a dance class, training for an elite event or playing in an adult basketball league. The guiding philosophy for his menu is healthy, hearty and hydrating. That means you’ll find a seared salmon filet, an ancient grain salad and smoothie bowls alongside cauliflower nachos, a lobster salad toast, and a burger topped with American cheese and special sauce. The drinks range from wellness lattes and teas to smoothies and cold-pressed juices, plus cocktails, wine and beer. The counter menu offers breakfast sandwiches and pastries in the morning as well as personal pizzas and Beyond Meat sandwiches during the day. The St. James: 6805 Industrial Rd. Springfield, VA;

Urbano 116
Open: January 21
Location: Old Town Alexandria
Lowdown: Alexandria is now home to an authentic taste of Mexico City thanks to the arrival of Chef Alam Méndez Florían. The owners of Mason Social, Augie’s Mussel House and Catch on the Avenue crossed paths with Méndez Florían while on a research and development trip in Mexico City for their newest restaurant Urbano 116. Méndez Florían has been recognized by both national and international media for his restaurant, Pasillo de Humo, and he has cooked in Michelin-starred kitchens like Noma Mexico and Arzak in Spain. Here in the U.S., Méndez Florían is using imported ingredients like heirloom Oaxacan corn, which is nixtamalized, ground and turned into supple and flavorful tortillas. His menu borrows family recipes for complex sauces that take days to create, like black mole on grilled Cornish hen and pipián sauce on butternut squash. You’ll also find various tacos, zippy ceviches, saucy enchiladas, bar-friendly starters like grilled tlayuda and plantain molotes, and of course, fresh fried churros to be dipped in sauces like chocolate and guava cinnamon. Drinks heavily skew toward agave spirits and syrups, including Mexican spins on classic cocktails (think Mezcamule and Old Oaxacan). The space feels like an ode to luchadores, with murals and masks displayed prominently. 116 King St. Alexandria, VA;

Coconut Club
Open: January 25
Location: Union Market
Lowdown: If there’s one thing celebrity chef Adam Greenberg hopes you experience at Coconut Club, it’s fun. He may be an undefeated Food Network competitor with two decades of industry experience, but that’s not why he thinks his new restaurant and bar is worth visiting. He’s trying to recreate a simple kind of bliss: the way he felt drinking a frozen cocktail in a pool in Hawaii on vacation with his wife. The food and drink menus are playful but unfussy, with coastal small plates and island cocktails laid out on colorful patterns that mimic the bright and leafy mural on the wall. Dishes let the high-quality ingredients like fresh fish flown in from Hawaii overnight or local pasture-raised pork speak for themselves with simple but creative preparations. You’ll want to try the crowd favorites, which so far include the ora king salmon poke and the spam fried rice. Pair that with a frozen Mahalo at You Later cocktail or the Waking Up From a Disco Nap cocktail for two and you’ll instantly feel like you’re relaxing on a tropical beach. Instagrammers are welcome here, as evidenced by the social media handles and emojis accenting the menus, the whimsical serving ware (coconuts, plastic pineapples, sparkly disco balls) and the decals on the bathroom mirrors. Greenberg calls the concept “authentically me” and equates it to welcoming guests into his own home. Above all else, the chef wants anyone who walks into Coconut Club to find an escape and feel free to be themselves. 540 Penn St. NE, DC;


New Flavors at Hazel
Location: Shaw
Lowdown: After debuting global, Asian-leaning small plates to much acclaim, Hazel has changed its culinary compass to point towards the Mediterranean. Chef Robert Curtis took over the kitchen last summer and introduced his new direction this winter. Curtis worked internationally at Noma, as well as locally at Bourbon Steak and Restaurant Eve, before joining Neighborhood Restaurant Group to helm Hazel. The new menu he developed is inspired by a trip to Turkey to visit his fiancé. Each meal should begin with laffa flatbread topped with condiments like whipped tahini, smoked catfish and muhammara. The dishes, all intended for sharing, are laid out in four categories: Greens & Beans, Grains of Various Names, Animal Kingdom and Feast. Vegetables like roasted carrots, crispy potatoes and fried Brussels sprouts take center stage, complemented by Middle Eastern flavors ranging from harissa oil to za’atar. 808 V St. NW, DC;

Selva Pop-Up at El Techo
Location: Shaw
Lowdown: The trendy rooftop above Rito Loco has once again debuted a tropical pop-up to elicit vacation vibes and this time, they’re taking you to the rainforest. Selva is inspired by the Amazon with woven lanterns made from repurposed fishing baskets, a Mayan calendar wall mural and naturally, plenty of vegetation. The space has been upgraded with additional insulation to keep in the heat and make you feel like you’re in a balmy jungle. The food and drink match the mood with tacos, spicy chicken soup, breakfast nachos, hot cocktails and shareable spiked Jarritos served in skulls. A portion of the proceeds from Selva will be donated to the Amazon Conservation Team and other global organizations to protect rainforests worldwide. 606 Florida Ave. NW, DC;