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Restaurants and bars are hurting. They’ve already lost months of sales, and are wondering when they’ll be able to reopen and what that will even look like. Whenever Washingtonians are coping with a bad breakup, agonizing over election results, or celebrating a job promotion, those restaurants and bars are there for them. During this tough stretch, it’s time to return the favor. City Paper asked District residents to pen letters of love and support to their favorite spots. —Laura Hayes
Letters were edited for length and clarity.
Dear Taqueria Habanero,
3710 14th St. NW
Hi, it’s me—three carnitas tacos and a side of rice and beans with extra green salsa. How’ve you been? I see you’re doing take-out now—that’s great, because I’ve missed you like a second grader misses recess.
When I first moved to D.C. for college, away from my Mexican American mother, my first order of business was finding a place to get Mexican food. That first year in D.C., I tried restaurant after restaurant. The food was OK, but none of it was Mexican food, not by a long shot. I gave up and spent my college career declaring that there was no authentic Mexican food to be found in the District of Columbia.
It wasn’t until I moved back to D.C. in 2015 that we became acquainted. Three bites in and I was a goner. I had finally found something to numb the homesickness. Since then, your food and margaritas have been with me through breakups, hard days at work, hangovers, and too many celebrations to count.
You love me for me, whether I’m in leggings or coming straight from work. The feeling is mutual. I don’t care that you’re almost always crowded and loud. I love your small outside tables; I love how the smell of the food hits you in the face the second you pull the door open; and, most of all, I love the mural that proudly announces “this food is 99 percent Mexican.”
Even though I sometimes cheat on you with your sibling down the street, you will always be my favorite. So, Habanero, mi amor, sigue luchando. I need you. Please don’t leave me with Taco Bell Cantina.
Dear The Pug,
1234 H St. NE
It was May 2013 when my wife and I first visited, having just moved to the neighborhood. You were dark and comforting, even if your surly bartender side-eyed us when we erroneously inquired about food. You’re the kind of place that reminds me of my dad. He grew up in a blue-collar neighborhood in Pittsburgh—a rough one, but the kind with a lot of heart. That’s what you are: no-nonsense, sometimes gruff, but always there.
You display holiday decorations year-round and random paraphernalia on the walls, but it’s clear, in most cases, that each item represents a memory for those who have inhabited your space. You’re a bar filled with a diverse group of people who likely walked in that first time because you’re close to their house. But we come back because you’ve become an extension of home—with more beer and lots of whiskey.
You’re where I went when my wife was traveling overseas, where I go after yardwork, before a fancy dinner, after an annoying day at work, after a good day at work, and even that time I had just finished shoveling out from the Snowpocalypse.
I’ve brought almost every houseguest to see you, including my 70+ year-old mother and my 22-year-old niece. All are welcome. You’re where we celebrated the Nationals’ World Series win with pizza, shots, and beer showers.
Seven years, a few Eurovisions, and countless Bud Lights later, you and your patrons have become our extended family. Not that you’d enjoy this sentimentality, but tough s—. Looking forward to seeing you again soon.
3226 11th St. NW
Whether waiting in line for hours or trying to snag an online reservation for months, a meal at Bad Saint is always worth the wait. The reward is always great food with gracious service.
For me, a resident since 1998, you made the District finally feel like home. Before you opened your doors in 2015, I loved living in D.C., but felt something was missing. It was a true sense of belonging to a community, and that’s what Bad Saint has done for me and many others.
From the sabong artwork adorning the walls to the tender tinola simmering on the stove, there’s a reason why eating at your restaurant brings many Filipino Americans to tears. When we step inside and bite into your food, we not only feel the love our families have showered upon us, but also gratitude for the work you’ve done elevating Filipino food and hospitality.
You put the best of Filipino culture on display, and have taught others about the complexity of who we are as a people. Your commitment to sharing the colonial past of the Philippines and showcasing the varied regional cuisines present in our thousands of islands provides a gateway for others to learn about the place Filipinos have in American history.
Let me also be honest: I am tired of cooking. I’m in desperate need of your delicious food set to Paula Abdul’s “Forever Your Girl” playing in the background. I know that Chef Tom [Cunanan’s] laptop is bursting with new recipes, including a savory, steamed murcon from Pampanga and a shredded and stewed bacalao from Cavite.
You have been a good neighbor to me and to the District, and we need you back. I will be waiting for you.
505 H St. NW
When I first moved to Washington five years ago, there was one thing I needed to find: a local bar. I used to be a heavy drinker, so I needed to find a place where I’d be just as comfortable alone with the bartender as I would with a group.
Many Hill staffers from Hawaii, where I came from, told me about Momiji. I went just a few nights after moving in, and I fell in love with your katsu curry. I remember putting on the ‘gram “Best katsu curry I’ve ever had.” That sentiment stayed with me. The dish became my go-to comfort for any day too long or challenging. Once I got to know the bartender and the rest of the family-run restaurant, you became the closest thing I had to a second home outside of work.
I quit drinking a year ago, but it wasn’t the good pours that kept me coming back. It was the hearty meals, sushi, and welcoming faces and voices of everyone there. I used to have anxiety over being the kind of customer to have an eating spot where the staff know my usual order. Not this time. It was like visiting family. I went back a few times when this whole thing started, determined to show my eager face. I wanted to let you know that I’ll keep coming back as long as I can.
Now you’re shuttered. “Temporarily closed,” your Instagram says. I truly hope this is all temporary, as all things are. But the warm welcome (and curry) I love won’t be forgotten, not as long as I’m around.
Dear Georgena’s (AKA The Players Lounge),
2737 Martin Luther King Jr. Ave. SE
Thank you for the great soul food, fun, and music that you have brought to Ward 8’s Congress Heights neighborhood for decades. I love your friendly atmosphere. It reminds me of the television show Cheers, where you can see all of the regulars from years gone by sitting at the bar, enjoying the food and conversation, and sometimes watching daytime game shows on TV.
Whether I’m there to have a sit-down lunch or take-out dinner, I’m bound to see a community leader from the neighborhood.
When they see me, the waitresses know I want the barbecued ribs, collard greens, and macaroni and cheese plate. This is the place for soul food lovers. If I’m not having a plate of ribs, I sometimes will order the jerk chicken, baked chicken, curry chicken, or fried catfish with a slice of cake.
I’m adventurous when it comes to eating. There have been a few times I’ve had the pig’s feet, smothered pork chops, and even the chitlins. Being from Texas, I enjoy eating authentic soul food and Georgena’s has it. At lunch I normally order the “very sweet” iced tea. In the evening, I’ll try a cocktail from the well-stocked bar while enjoying music from the DJ or live band.
The place is not fancy at all. It gives you a ’60s or ’70s vibe. They even have a jukebox. If you are ever east of the river, you must check out Georgena’s.
Dear Nanny O’Briens,
3319 Connecticut Ave. NW
Cleveland Park misses you and hopes your doors will open again soon. Sure, we miss your lip-smacking burgers, crispy tater tots, and delicious craft beers, but it’s your comfy confines we miss most of all.
Every time I pass by your shuttered doors, my heart sinks a little more. For the last decade, you’ve always been there for us. My daughter was born on a cold day in January, and we weren’t as ready as we should have been. After a long day of putting the finishing touches on Lily’s room, I’ll never forget walking into Nanny’s and about 20 patrons instantly greeting me in unison with, “Hi Daddy!”
About a year later, my wife, daughter, and I were the first ones in line to get in after more than 20 inches of snow fell. We all needed to get out, see some friends, and not have to cook. Naturally, you were packed with Cleveland Park residents, because you’re our second living room.
Whether it is Tuesday night trivia, wings on Wednesday, live music on Saturday, football Sundays in the fall, watching the Nats and Caps make history, or tap takeover events, you are always there. We miss your welcoming wobbling chairs, perfectly poured pints of Guinness, sarcastic and hilarious staff, and carousing with friends from the neighborhood.
—Jeff, Ashley, and Lilianna Lucas
Dear Hellbender Brewing Company,
5788 2nd St. NE
When I first meandered into you last year, I knew you were a place I could call home. The afternoon I spent solo at your bar, where locals introduced me to your beers and the area, finalized my decision to move to the neighborhood.
In that year, you have shown great compassion and warmth. You have prided yourself on sustainability, including clean-ups of the neighborhood. You have promoted local businesses, bringing pizza, tacos, and barbecue to an area best known for KFC and Taco Bell. You unite the neighborhood for knitting, book clubs, Dungeons & Dragons, play dates, pro sports (except that D.C. football team), and, of course, beer. You’re a place where, as a single woman, I can go anytime and feel welcome.
I can’t believe year five has brought about such changes! Just as you were popping up at Nats Park and on menus at bars with $$$ Yelp ratings, the world shut down. You have provided a beer oasis for those of us trapped in our homes, whether alone or with small children. You equipped neighbors with a rice cooker and rice, and now rice beer, with amazing foresight.
While I will continue to support this long-distance relationship, I yearn for the days when I could hear a live open mic, sample beers from your tap, and plan neighborhood cornhole tournaments or progressive parties. I hope we will be reunited soon, but until then, I will be dreaming of you in my hot tub with a can of Ignite.
Dear Stoney’s on L:
2101 L St. NW
I miss you dearly. It’s been almost two months since we last saw each other, but not a day has passed when I haven’t dreamed of wolfing down a grilled cheese and a Stoney’s Amber beer. It’s hard to imagine a world without you after we’ve spent so much time together, from random late-night happy hours and brunches when friends are in town to several birthdays and other holidays.
You were often the last place I ate and drank before getting on a plane for one of my many work trips, and sometimes the first place I wanted to go when I returned. I stepped off the plane craving fish tacos, a Reuben, or a Thunderbird Benedict.
We were always a strange match: you, a sports bar, and my husband and I, two quiet introverts who start paying attention to sportsball during the playoffs. But we love your late-night happy hours, which are surprisingly chill. We love that your playlists are what we’d sing at karaoke. We love when we walk in and Cara or another bartender will have our usual two pints of Amber waiting as we seat ourselves at the bar.
I know you won’t get through this unscathed—none of us will. But we hope you and your staff make it through. The minute the restrictions are lifted, we’ll be there, out on the patio if need be. And the Amber will never taste as good as at that moment.
—Nara and Louis Kwon
Dear All-Purpose Capitol Riverfront,
79 Potomac Ave. SE
I have lived in the District for 20 years, most of that time in Ward 7. As a native of northeast Pennsylvania, I was raised with outstanding and varied pizza options: sweet sauce (Sabatini’s), peppery sauce (Maroni’s), white pizza with broccoli in an enclosed crust (Colarusso’s), pan-fried (Pizza L’Oven), and Cebula’s. Cebula’s customers are known to ask for their pizza “extra scabby,” which means intentionally charred cheese. Businesses are small, friendly, and unpretentious. Everyone in the family has a favorite.
My husband and I first tried your pizza at the bustling Shaw location and lamented the fact that we had to travel across the city for pizza that good. I was thrilled when you opened the Capitol Riverfront location, and since then we have been near weekly customers, either eating in or getting delivery. Even before the public health emergency, we were able to have your pizza delivered to our house east of the Anacostia River.
During the week, we stopped at All-Purpose after work and ate at the bar. On weekends, we biked through Anacostia Park to enjoy your brunch. The hospitality of the staff is reminiscent of those inviting pizza shops from home and perhaps a little like old D.C. The aroma of the dough and sauce always takes me back to happy moments. All-Purpose reminds me of spending time with family, usually a spontaneous gathering, swapping stories and sharing laughter. I look forward to many more.