Thrillist: DC’s Best New Restaurants of 2016
“We’ve already established that DC’s food scene had a rockin’ year. New restaurants opened weekly, and the dish of the moment changed more frequently than Jennifer Lawrence’s hair. DC gained so many stellar spots this year that choosing our favorite new restaurants was more difficult than choosing a favorite player at the Puppy Bowl. But, we soldiered on and managed to select 15 spots that emerged as extra-shiny diamonds in a big pile of diamonds. Here are DC’s Best New Restaurants of 2016.
All-Purpose clinched the No. 1 spot in the Washington Post’s 2016 Fall Dining Guide, and for good reason. From the masterminds who brought you The Red Hen and Boundary Stone, this neighborhood Italian-American joint is thoroughly satisfying across categories. The pizzas are the perfect combination of sweet, savory, chewy, and crispy, but the Jersey-style baked eggplant Parm and the tuna mousse with salsa verde should not be overlooked. The lunch menu is a sleeper, with a simple-sounding Cape May pizza topped with Caesar salad that’s so crave-worthy it’ll make you wonder why salads aren’t always served on top of pizzas.
Bad Saint opened quietly and since then, it’s been anything but quiet. The tiny, no-reservations restaurant quickly became a local darling, with daily lines stretching down the block. It also won over the national and international food authorities, earning a Michelin Bib Gourmand award, a spot on Bon Appétit’s Hot 10 list, and a rave review from The New York Times. If you’re trying to snag a table, you’d best show up at least two hours before opening, or try your luck and check for last-minute vacancies around closing time. The hassle will be well worth it once you sink your teeth into traditional Filipino dishes like kinilaw, tapa with a runny egg, and ukoy.
Powerhouse restaurateur Ashok Bajaj granted a longtime wish of many Washingtonians this year: He opened a casual counterpart to Rasika. Bindaas moved into the former Bardeo space in Cleveland Park, where it offers a vast menu of vibrant Indian street food. You know it’s good because people who are deeply familiar with these dishes have been singing Bindaas’ praises. Even if you already have a pretty good grasp of Indian cuisine, chances are good that the menu here has something you’ve never tried, whether it’s avocado golgappa, goan pork pao, or shrimp uttapam.
DC gained three new Italian concepts from Chef Michael Schlow in 2016, tipping the balance of his restaurant empire to lean heavily in favor of the District. His coastal joint, Casolare, helped fill the dining void in Glover Park, slinging fresh and simple seafood like shrimp dressed with lemon, chilis, and breadcrumbs; mussels, clams, and calamari in a tomato broth; and swordfish on a pile of eggplant caponata. Beyond seafood, Mama Zecca’s eggplant is an absolute must try (it’s named after an actual Mama Zecca). Fried and pressed layers of eggplant are flanked with cheese, topped with tomato sauce, and baked to perfection.
Convivial is the brainchild of the lauded Chef Cedric Maupillier, whose cooking pays homage to the rich history of French cuisine while delighting diners with approachable and joyous dishes. The menu is categorized by temperature and protein, with both hot and cold fish, vegetables, and meat. Highlights include the zucchini roulade, the rainbow trout, and escargots in a blanket. The size of the majority of the plates is somewhere between small plates and entrées, so a meal can be enjoyed as a multi-course experience for one, or as a sharing bonanza. The cocktails lean classic, but are undeniably well-executed. The wine list, expectedly, has a healthy offering of French bottles, plus more from around the US.
Mezcal had a major moment in DC this year thanks to the talented team behind Espita Mezcaleria. The restaurant and bar puts the smoky, under-appreciated spirit in the spotlight, along with cuisine from Oaxaca and Southern Mexico. Certified Master Mezcalier Josh Phillips is the (very brainy) brains behind the operation. Megan Barnes, one of Thrillist DC’s bartenders of the year, masterfully carries out the task of interpreting a vast range of mezcals for beginners and experts alike. Chef Alexis Samayoa helms a culinary program built around a corn grinder that churns out fresh masa from heirloom corn imported from Mexico. That masa — about 80lbs of it per day — goes into flavorful tortillas, chips, sopes, and tlayudas that are complemented by deep moles and much more.
The dynamite team behind Daikaya was busy this year with the opening of not one, but two ramen shops. The first, Bantam King, was all about the chicken, featuring Chintan broth and fried chicken platters. The second, Haikan, has a focus on the bowls of noodles the team is known for, but they also branched out with excellent appetizers and intriguing cocktails. People went nuts over the mapo tofu poutine, which is exactly what it sounds like: spicy mapo tofu, ground chicken, and mozzarella curds piled on crispy french fries. On the drinks menu, the playful Wasabi Peas cocktail (gin, yuzu, snow peas, and wasabi) and the flashy Smoke Show (completed with a flaming piece of cedar) were hits.
Neighborhood Restaurant Group jumped on the Shaw bandwagon with the addition of Hazel from Chef Rob Rubba. The place has a downright impressive beer and wine selection, which features impossible-to-find brews, as well as pét-nat and orange wines. The mouthwatering list of small plates is full of tough decisions. Favorites include grandma’s zucchini bread with foie gras mousse, the hibiscus-cured fluke crudo, and the steak tartare with tater tots, which is best enjoyed after mashing it together with a wooden spoon (as per Chef Rubba’s recommendation). Fire Panda, the house-made hot sauce served in adorable bear-shaped squeeze bottles, is steadily building a cult following.”
See the rest of the picks HERE!
Featured photo of Casolare.