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Photo: Kait Ebbinger
Photo: Kait Ebbinger

DC Eats: Top 20 Spots of 2018

All year long, On Tap keeps locals in the know about the hottest new food and drink spots around town in our New & Notable column. Now, we’re looking back at the year in dining, which brought buzzy new restaurants each and every month. Global influences continued to land in DC, two hip hotels championed local talent, addictive favorites like hummus and bagels won hearts and stomachs, and beloved chefs expanded their empires. Amid dozens of openings in 2017, these 20 are the ones that cut through the noise and should continue to impress in 2019.

Elle

Ellē only has four letters in common with its 80-year-old predecessor, Heller’s Bakery. The new Mount Pleasant café and restaurant from the minds behind Paisley Fig and Room 11 has reimagined the bakery concept for the modern day. From morning until afternoon, linger over coffee, unusual pastries and hearty sandwiches. Don’t forget to grab a fresh baguette or a loaf of country sourdough to take home. The real magic begins during dinner, when Chef Brad Deboy turns out forward-thinking plates like grilled kimchi toast and charred sweet potato curry, showcasing fermentation, meticulous technique and one-of-a-kind ingredients. 3221 Mt. Pleasant St. NW, DC; www.eatatelle.com

A Rake’s Progress

The LINE Hotel might just be the most Instagrammed spot of the year. What used to be a neoclassical church has been beautifully renovated into a hotel with five distinct food and beverage options. Head up the stairs and you’ll find Spike Gjerde’s hyperlocal A Rake’s Progress. A wood-burning hearth is the focus, and the flames add flavor to small game like rabbit, quail and duck, as well as pork, squash and more. Many dishes are presented tableside and then carved or finished off at the centrally located carving station to give diners a show. 1770 Euclid St. NW, DC; www.thelinehotel.com/dc/venues

Sababa

After a quick set change, Ashok Bajaj opened SABABA in the space formerly occupied by Ardeo. The new restaurant’s menu focuses on modern Israeli cuisine, which has roots in both Jewish and Arab traditions. Dishes display influences from the Middle East, Turkey and Greece. Meals often start with salatim – small portions of salads and spreads to share – and then progress into hummus and small plates. The vegetarian dishes shine, from charred eggplant and roasted halloumi to fried cauliflower and Israeli salad. Kebabs and large plates are also available, like sumac- and onion-marinated steak and braised lamb shank. 3311 Connecticut Ave. NW, DC; www.sababauptown.com

Fancy Radish

Vegans and omnivores alike rejoiced when Vedge Restaurant Group out of Philadelphia planted their first restaurant in DC. While everything on the menu is completely vegan, owners Rich Landau and Kate Jacoby aren’t trying to push an agenda. They’re just serving vegetables. It’s the way they serve them that makes a splash. Each dish takes a humble piece of produce – like a radish – and elevates it with artful techniques and vibrant flavors. The menu strikes a balance between the refined cuisine at their flagship Vedge and the edgy street food at V Street, with small plates like trumpet mushroom “fazzoletti” and spicy dan dan noodles. 600 H St. NE, DC; www.fancyradishdc.com

Kaliwa

Restaurateur power couple Cathal and Meshelle Armstrong, known for Alexandria hot spots Society Fair, Hummingbird and more, opened their latest restaurant at The Wharf last spring. Kaliwa offers three Asian cuisines that are near and dear to the duo’s hearts: Filipino, honoring Meshelle’s heritage; Korean, as an ode to Chef Cathal’s Taekwondo training; and Thai, because it’s their family’s food of choice. The menu is divided into sections for each country, with milder flavors in Filipino dishes like Kalderetang Cordero, slightly spicier funky notes in Korean Jae Yuk Gui and super hot spice levels in Thai Nuer Pad Prik. 751 Wharf St. SW, DC; www.kaliwadc.com

Spoken English

Erik Bruner-Yang’s second project within the LINE Hotel is unlike any restaurant you’ve visited in DC. Spoken English is modeled after the Japanese Tachinomiya – a standing-room only restaurant where people stop by for snacks and drinks after work. The casual, communal concept is situated in the kitchen with two counters facing a wood-fired Grillworks oven, only accommodating between 12 to 16 diners at a time. The menu provides a choice between having a few bites, like skewers and small plates, or enjoying a full meal of whole roast duck and chicken yakitori. 1770 Euclid St. NW; www.thelinehotel.com/dc/venues

Mikko

The former chef to the Finnish ambassador opened his own café serving the food of his homeland. Mikko Kosonen got his start at his family’s restaurant in Stockholm and attended culinary school in Helsinki. In the U.S., he’s been cooking for diplomats, heads of state and royalty, but now he’s expanding his audience to include average Washingtonians. Nordic cuisine relies on simple preparations of ingredients like seafood, rye, mushrooms, berries and roots. The menu at Mikko is succinct but true to form, with specialties like house-smoked salmon, Finnish soups, Nordic pastries and Danish-style, open-faced sandwiches. 1636 R St. NW, DC; www.chefmikko.com

Pappe

Vipul Kapila never ordered lamb vindaloo in Indian restaurants in the DC area because he couldn’t find a version that lived up to the fiery dish he remembers eating growing up in Delhi. When he found a truly authentic rendition at a restaurant in Falls Church, he decided to team up with the chefs behind the dish to open Pappe and finally bring a neighborhood Indian restaurant to 14th Street. That vindaloo is a star curry on the menu, which also features popular dishes like butter chicken, vegetable samosas, fish chittnad and fire-grilled baingan bartha. 1317 14th St. NW, DC; www.pappedc.com

Poca Madre

To say Poca Madre is Victor Albisu’s passion project would be an understatement. The restaurant is a sincere homage to Mexico, celebrating the country’s history, culture, agriculture and cuisine. The menu is, simply put, an exploration of contemporary Mexican dining. But every aspect, from the sourcing to the recipes, tells a deeper story. Many ingredients are imported from Mexico to support local farmers, including sea salt, grasshoppers, cocoa nibs and dry maíz. The small plates and entrées put creative twists on traditions, like a corn risotto that conjures the flavors of elote and a shrimp and cuttlefish ceviche with flat noodles made from the two types of seafood. 777 I St. NW, DC; www.pocamadredc.com

San Lorenzo

Chef Massimo Fabbri, known and loved for his cooking at Tosca and Posto, opened his own restaurant in Shaw paying homage to his family and the cuisine of his home in Tuscany. The menu is succinct and simple, with classic Tuscan recipes and a few salutes to his time at Tosca. Start with antipasti like roasted calamari or fried squash blossoms, and be sure to sample the fresh pastas like tortelli stuffed with robiolina and black truffle complemented by a porcini mushroom sauce. Entrées range from a fish of the day to a New York strip. To finish, there’s a selection of traditional desserts like tiramisu infused with truffles and budino. 1316 9th St. NW, DC; www.sanlorenzodc.com

Gravitas

Matt Baker’s sophisticated restaurant is planted in the former Pappas Tomato Factory, which has been transformed into an urban oasis where minimalist fixtures, mossy accents and hanging terrariums are juxtaposed with original 1940s brick, windows and steel beams. Gravitas is the first tasting menu spot to hit the neighborhood with a selection of 15 dishes – half of which are vegetarian – that can be mixed and matched to create a custom experience. Baker focuses as much on sourcing as he does on experimentation, pulling ingredients almost exclusively from the Chesapeake Bay watershed. 1401 Okie St. NE, DC; www.gravitasdc.com

The Green Zone

After four years of popping up around town, this Middle Eastern cocktail bar found a permanent home in the diverse Adams Morgan neighborhood. The spices and ingredients showcased in the drinks are ones that are commonly found in the region’s cuisine but haven’t often been translated to cocktails. Some recipes are riffs on classic nonalcoholic beverages like the seasonal frozen mint lemonade spiked with vodka or gin. The signature creation is the Janissary Corps, made with Green Hat gin, pistachio, lemon and “silky magic.” The food menu consists of Lebanese and Levantine street food like falafel, hummus, spicy wings and mana’ish. 2226 18th St. NW, DC;
www.facebook.com/thegreenzonedc

Little Havana

Restaurateur Alfredo Solis expanded his portfolio to include more than Mexican (El Sol and Mezcalero). He teamed up with Chef Joseph Osorio to bring a splash of Cuba to Columbia Heights. A painted “neon” sign emulating the Miami Vice logo ties together the murals covering the walls at Little Havana, featuring Cuba’s colorful streets as well as some of the country’s cultural icons. Classic dishes like ropa vieja, vaca frita and empanadas are offered alongside modern interpretations like Cuban rolls – essentially a Cubano sandwich crossed with a spring roll. Of course, Osorio also makes a traditional Cubano, which he says is perfect thanks to his godmother’s lechon recipe. 3704 14th St. NW, DC; www.littlehavanadc.com

Little Sesame

The original iteration of Little Sesame was an instant hit, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the first standalone location opened with a line out the door that has continued to form each day during the lunch rush. Ronen Tenne, Nick Wiseman and David Wiseman are behind this wildly popular fast-casual hummus shop that serves up hummus bowls, pita sandwiches and seasonal salatim (vegetable sides). The hummus quite literally holds it all together, so its recipe was tweaked unto perfection. It’s enhanced by additions ranging from whole roasted vegetables and fresh produce to herbs and spices. 1828 L St. NW, DC; www.eatlittlesesame.com

St. Anselm

Joe Carroll, the man behind St. Anselm in Brooklyn, teamed up with restaurateur Stephen Starr and Chef Marjorie Meek-Bradley to bring the grill-centric restaurant to the Union Market neighborhood. While it’s often hailed as a steakhouse, St. Anselm is about more than beef. The cooking relies heavily on fire, with everything from Spanish octopus and Romano beans to a rack of lamb and a pork porterhouse hitting the grill that sits in the center of the open kitchen. When it comes to beef, the cuts are on the unusual side – like hanger steak and flat iron. 1250 5th St. NE, DC; www.stanselmdc.com

Reverie

Your Uber driver might have a hard time finding Chef Johnny Spero’s Georgetown restaurant. Reverie is tucked down a cobblestone alley in a historic building near the canal. Though the exterior is timeworn, the interior is minimalist and modern, taking after Nordic design. The cuisine follows suit, with dishes that skip overwrought techniques in favor of letting the ingredients speak for themselves. Spero refines his burger with misozuke and reimagines lovage as a granita accented with elderflower. Large-format dishes like crispy roast duck with licorice and fennel are meant to be shared. 3201 Cherry Hill Ln. NW, DC; www.reveriedc.com

Call Your Mother Deli

When Andrew Dana and the Timber Pizza team were trying to come up with a name for their new deli, they tossed around phrases that a Jewish grandmother might yell. Someone shouted, “Call your mother!” and thus the deli was born. The Boca-meets-Brooklyn shop is branded as “Jew-ish” rather than Jewish because while they are traditional in some ways by serving deli classics, they strive to put modern twists on expected dishes. Their bagels are the main event, with the production line and custom, wood-fired Marra Forni bagel oven front and center in the open kitchen. 3301 Georgia Ave. NW, DC; www.callyourmotherdeli.com

Officina

Chef Nicholas Stefanelli’s latest project is three stories of Italian culinary exploration, starting on the first floor with a market and café, continuing upstairs with a neighborhood restaurant and amaro library, and culminating on the roof with an al fresco terrace and private dining room. Stefanelli intended each concept to have its own personality and purpose, and to be visited at different times of day for different moods. The expansive space lives up to its name – Officina means workshop in Italian – as an epicurean hub where everything from pasta-making to butchery is done in-house. 1120 Maine Ave. SW, DC; www.officinadc.com

American Son

Global brand Eaton Workshop opened their hotel on K Street last fall, with all four food and beverage concepts led by Chef Tim Ma. The main attraction on the first floor is the street-facing American Son, where Ma presents American food through the lens of immigrants. The name is a reflection of Ma’s childhood, growing up in the 70s and facing discrimination as one of the only Asian families in Arkansas. His parents tried to help Ma assimilate throughout his upbringing, even introducing him as “my American son.” Some dishes pull flavors from Ma’s Chinese heritage, while others are influenced by international cuisines like French and Middle Eastern. 1201 K St. NW, DC; www.eatonworkshop.com/hotel/dc/food-and-drink

Philly Wing Fry

Philly cheesesteaks, chicken wings and waffle fries. The combination is a curious one, but for Chef Kwame Onwuachi, it’s simple: three of his favorite things in one meal. After opening Kith and Kin to critical acclaim, Onwuachi decided to revive his fast-casual concept Philly Wing Fry with locations in the new South Capitol Hill Whole Foods and Union Market. The menu is succinct, with sandwiches, tamarind-glazed confit chicken wings, waffle fries dusted with Ethiopian berbere spice and combo options. The crown jewel is the dry-aged Philly cheesesteak, but there’s also a vegetarian interpretation with crispy mushrooms. Whole Foods Market: 101 H St. SE, DC; www.wholefoodsmarket.com/stores/southcapitolhill // Union Market: 1309 5th St. NE, DC; www.unionmarketdc.com

Photos: Trent Johnson
Photos: Trent Johnson

A Day in the Life: Call Your Mother Deli’s Daniela Moreira and Andrew Dana

There’s a calmness to Andrew Dana and Daniela Moreira, a laidback vibe that you wouldn’t necessarily associate with a young couple running two businesses daily. The pair are the driving force behind Petworth’s Timber Pizza Company and the newly opened Call Your Mother Deli in Park View, adding to DC’s growing community of local foodie spots with a mom-and-pop, neighborhood feel. Their “Jew-ish” deli has garnered much buzz since its October opening with lines out the door every weekend, yet another new business putting Park View on the map. We sat down with Dana (founder) and Moreira (head chef and partner) to pick their brains about how they put their own spin on a Jewish deli, why their bagel shop is at the top of every local foodie’s brunch list, and what supporting the local community means to them.

On Tap: Why does Park View feel like the right fit for your second business together? How do you think the area is changing?
Andrew Dana:
I grew up in Mount Pleasant, so I’m very familiar with the neighborhoods. For a long time, I’ve said that DC has been great at opening big, fancy restaurants and hip, new restaurants. But what it’s not good at is the neighborhood staples that have been around for generations because it’s such a transient city. We were really attracted to [Park View] because there’s not a lot of other noise going on. It’s really residential. People are putting down roots. The funny thing about this building is we looked at it before we opened Timber and then we found this really cute, perfect spot up in Petworth. Then we started turning the wheels on this bagel idea and this was coming back on the market, so it seemed like it was a sign from the bagel gods that they wanted us to open [our deli here].

OT: I heard you had lines down the block and couldn’t keep up with the crowds the first week you opened, so you closed for a little bit to rework your menu. Were you surprised at the spot’s overwhelming success right out of the gate?
AD:
We truly thought this was going to be like a neighborhood bagel shop and we’d have to do a lot of wholesale and catering to make it work. The kitchen’s not really set up for there to be a 100-person line, and that’s exactly what happened the first weekend. We had to shut down for a couple of days and make the menu a little bit more manageable. We had to keep up with the demand. We had to trim the fat and just go with the best of the best.

OT: How’s the buzz been since then?
AD:
Every weekend, we’ve had a line out the door down to the alley. Now, we’re really proud of the menu. It’s much tighter and more concise.

OT: DC’s seeing a resurgence of mom-and-pop foodie spots in up-and-coming neighborhoods, and they’re wildly popular. Why do you think that is? Why does it feel important to be part of that scene?
AD:
I’m from here so what I want above all is just for DC to be awesome. I went to grad school in New York and lived in Brooklyn, and [when] you walk around there’s pizza shops that have been around for 50 years. I want my hometown to have that same vibe, so that is what it is at its core. And the food, Dani and I just do what we like. We like the staples: pizza, bagels. And if creating stuff we really like resonates with people and helps the neighborhood out, that’s awesome. There’s not some sort of bigger master plan. It’s make food that we really, really like in neighborhoods we like and be here for the people.

OT: Did you hesitate at all with the “Jew-ish” theme? How did you decide to walk the line between the authenticity of a traditional Jewish deli and putting your own spin on it?
Daniela Moreira
: I’m not even Jewish. I was like, “I don’t know anything about Jewish traditions or anything.” So I was scared.
AD: I like “Jew-ish” because I’m half Jewish. I [don’t] think that binds us to traditions. If somebody says, “Why don’t you have chopped liver or pumpernickel?” We’re like, “Oh, it’s ‘Jew-ish.”’ And I think Dani is selling herself short. I think what Dani likes the most is the creativity and reading a ton and doing trial and error, which she got to do. She didn’t have all of these preconceived notions of what a bagel had to be. She’s from Argentina. They don’t have bagels. It was fun watching her start from scratch and learn what a bagel was supposed to be. We probably went through 100 recipes – that’s no exaggeration. She became a scholar of the bagel.

OT: I read that you did lots of research, including some trips to NYC. Was iconic Jewish deli Barney Greengrass on the list?
AD:
We went to New York. We did go to Barney Greengrass, which was awesome. We ate so many bagels, it was ridiculous.

OT: You also brought in bagels from other cities, right? What motivated those choices and what areas did you draw inspiration from?
AD:
We had bagels flown in from Montreal. We actually went to South Florida because that’s where all the older Jews retire – Boca [Raton], Delray. We were sort of taking it all in. Actually, how we finalized our [bagel] recipe is every weekend, we would do a blind taste test [versus] New York bagels that we would ship in. We didn’t stop until we were consistently beating that taste test.

OT: What staples of a Jewish deli were important to you to maintain?
AD:
The Rihanna-Flex is sort of like your classic salmon bagel, which we actually didn’t have the first week. The first week we were open, we had a classic pastrami with mustard on rye bread that we were making. It was just so crazy, it was too much, so we said, “Alright, let’s do a pastrami brisket cheesesteak” [The Greenberg]. There’s nothing totally classic on there – all twists.

OT: What personal twists did you each take? Dani, can you walk us through some of the Argentinian influences?
DM:
Well, we opened with a soup. It was a South American vegetable soup. But again, we had to change the menu to make it easier for the kitchen to execute so we took it out for now. We have black and white cookies – alfajores – filled with dulce de leche. That’s super traditional.
AD: It’s one big ass cookie.
DM: There’s no bagels in Argentina, not at all.
AD: But we have a za’atar bagel, which obviously isn’t Argentinian, but that’s also not classic. And I think we arrived there because when Dani is thinking about bagel toppings, it’s not classic, classic, classic. She’s like, “I like za’atar. I like bagels. Let’s make za’atar bagels.”

OT: What has been the most popular bagel on the menu?
AD:
At the farmers market, people do love the za’atar bagels. They [usually] sell out. And in the shop, our bacon, egg and cheese or pastrami, egg and cheese with spicy honey [The Shyne].

OT: What’s your personal favorite, or the one you’re proudest of?
AD:
I love the Craig D. We made a nectarine cream cheese with fresh nectarines that we got from the farmers market. [It’s] sliced nectarines, jalapeno, bacon and potato chips, so it’s sweet, it’s salty, it’s crunchy. And now that nectarines are out of season, we use apples, so [it’s made with] apple cream cheese and sliced apples.
DM: The Amar’e. The Amar’e is a za’atar bagel with candied salmon cream cheese and then a salad of pea shoots, cucumbers and crispy shallots. It sounds healthy. It makes you feel better when you eat it [laughs].

OT: You’ve got pizza and bagels checked off the list, so what’s next? Do you have a dream spot you’d like to open, either as a team or individually?
AD:
I mean, we’re animals and we eat nachos all the time. I don’t know if that’s a full-scale concept or not. Woodfired nachos would be a real thing too. That’s going to be a ways off. [Running two businesses] is taking a lot of energy and focus. We’re hunkering down here for a little while.

OT: What do you guys like to do when you’re not working? Do you hang mostly in Park View and Petworth?
AD:
We live in Petworth. We like exercising, travel, eating of course. We go out to eat all the time. We work out a good amount. Travel – she just got back from Costa Rica [and] I just got back from New Zealand. We’re trying to pick up squash this year. She wants to take lessons.
DM: Yeah. It’s fun.
AD: I’ll start taking lessons when she can compete with me.
DM: We’re not really fun.
AD: Yeah, we’re not that fun.
DM: We just go to sleep, eat, and that’s it [laughs].

OT: What cocktail bars and restaurants are on your radar right now?
AD:
I love Indigo, the Indian restaurant in NoMa, [and] Don Juan’s in Mount Pleasant.
DM:
I love Amsterdam Falafel[shop].
AD: She’s a French fry fanatic. It’s pretty scary, actually.
DM:
Bars? No. We don’t really drink that much. I only drink once a year when I go back home and that’s enough for the whole year [laughs], so I don’t really go out to bars here.
AD: We were at Players Club yesterday, love Players Club. My two great loves in life are basketball and food, and they have pop-a-shot basketball, so I played like 25 times yesterday [and] ate some Shake Shack. Life is good.

To learn more about Call Your Mother Deli’s menu, check out www.callyourmotherdeli.com.

Call Your Mother Deli: 3301 Georgia Ave. NW, DC; www.callyourmotherdeli.com

[FIRST PAGE HEADER IMAGE] Photos - Trent Johnson