Preserved marigold-topped oysters at Oyster Oyster by Laura Hayes

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Sorry, purveyors of white tablecloths and kitchen tweezers, but 2019 is not going to be your year. Ten of the most thrilling restaurants scheduled to open in the District this year are less about fine dining and more about fun and unabashed flavor. From a Korean pub that promises to bring the funk to a Trinidadian restaurant from an emerging chef, there’s a lot to look forward to. These restaurants already have us salivating, and they’re not even serving food yet. 

Anju

1805 18th St. NW

This forthcoming Korean pub and grill is like a phoenix, rising from the ashes of Mandu, which caught fire in July 2017. Damages were so severe that it forced the beloved neighborhood restaurant that helped introduce D.C. proper to classic Korean dishes to close. Rather than move on, co-owners Danny Lee and his mother, Yesoon, brought in Danny’s ChiKo business partners Scott Drewno and Drew Kim to add funk and fun. “Anju translates to food meant to be consumed while drinking alcohol,” Danny explains. The first floor will feature an open kitchen and a much bigger bar, where bartenders will sling infused soju paired with creative bar snacks. “We’re going to do whatever we think is fun and impactful,” Danny says. Upstairs, parties of six can reserve tables for a tasting menu that culminates in jeongol, Korean-style hot pot. There will also be a full menu of appetizers and entrees that combine traditional Korean food and modern twists on classics. “I’ve been doing a lot of research on centuries-old Korean dishes and preparations and finding ways to bring that on the menu,” Danny says.

Seven Reasons

2208 14th St. NW

Before Chef Enrique Limardo opens Seven Reasons this spring, he’ll go on a whirlwind research trip to Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru. “I’ll be spending time with several ancient tribes there to learn about their way of living and traditional cooking methods and their spiritual approach of paying tribute to their gods through food,” Limardo says. The chef, who has cooked in multiple countries and will lean on cooking techniques from China, Japan, and the Middle East, is best known in the region for his cooking at Baltimore’s Alma Cocina Latina. Washington Post food critic Tom Sietsema awarded the Venezuelan restaurant a 3.5 star rating in 2017. Limardo is partnering with first-time restaurateur Ezequiel Vázquez-Ger to open the South American restaurant on 14th Street NW. The menu will include small and medium plates, building up to family-style mains such a colossal Argentinian steak or a whole fish. 

Oyster Oyster

Location TBD

Three of the region’s best and brightest restaurant minds will ask D.C. diners to eat like they give a damn when Oyster Oyster opens. Chef Rob Rubba, formerly of Hazel, and sommelier-turned-restaurateur Max Kuller of Estadio bonded over a shared vegetarian diet and a Saveur article about how diners should eat to put the planet first. A standout dish Rubba served at a November pop-up featured a crepe enveloping hearty greens, oyster mushrooms, tofu skin, and yellow beet mole. A selection of oysters will accompany the plant-based menu. Many vegetarians eat oysters because they don’t have a central nervous system and thus don’t feel pain, but oysters are also filter feeders that work to clean up local waterways. “As a father having two young children, I have to care about the world,” Rubba says. “Through food we can make a lot of change.” Bar savant Adam Bernbach, formerly of 2 Birds 1 Stone, will create unexpected drinks that nod at nature with ingredients like mushroom-infused cognac and seaweed.

Photo of Adam Greenberg by Darrow Montgomery

Coconut Club

540 Penn St. NE

When Chef Adam Greenberg announced he would open Coconut Club in D.C.’s Union Market District, he called it “Urban Outfitters meets a Wes Anderson movie.” The gregarious first-time restaurateur says fun will be an indispensable ingredient in the 80-seat concept that asks diners to hang loose. “It’s island and vacation inspired small plates with some larger format ‘sharables’ paired with fresh fruit tropical cocktails,” Greenberg says. He took a research trip to Hawaii in late 2017 to fish for ideas. Expect dishes like spam fried rice cripsed on the flat top with a runny egg crown and three types of poke served with chips, nori, and lettuce wraps instead of rice. Greenberg tapped Dave Lanzalone to mix drinks, many of which will be served in rose gold disco balls.

Buffalo & Bergen

240 Massachusetts Ave. NE

Fighting for a stool at Union Market’s Buffalo & Bergen is competitive. A second location of the deli-meets-soda-fountain will help more Washingtonians access boozy milkshakes and bialis. Founder Gina Chersevani selected a Stanton Park address for a larger, standalone Buffalo & Bergen, which should open this spring. While the Union Market counter is largely a breakfast and lunch joint, Chersevani looks forward to introducing dinner fare on Capitol Hill. “We’re so comfortable in our luncheonette concept, we’re going to explore what a night time New York deli is,” she says. Expect rebooted classics like chicken cutlets and lasagna paired with the expertly crafted cocktails Chersevani is known for.

Hatoba

300 Tingey St. SE #170

If the Nationals make a deep postseason run soon, there will be a ramen joint where frozen fans can warm up with big bowls of broth and springy noodles in Navy Yard. The same team that brought D.C. Daikaya, Bantam King, and Haikan, is expanding outside of Northwest for the first time with Hatoba, opening this winter. The 80-seat restaurant with indoor and outdoor spaces will have a menu that somewhat diverges from its siblings, most notably with cold noodle preparations and ingredients from the sea. Brian Miller, the senior design director at Edit Lab at Streetsense, hopes to transport Washingtonians to one of Tokyo’s most sought after streets for foodies, Kappabashi, where you can purchase every piece of cooking equipment imaginable and the plastic food models that are ubiquitous in window displays in Japan’s casual restaurants. Look out for some salutes to Sapporo’s baseball team, the Nippon-Ham Fighters. 

Photo of Peter and Jeanine Prime by Chris Rim

Cane

403 H St. NE

If you had the great pleasure of scraping Chef Peter Prime’s guava rum grilled oxtails clean at Spark, you should be even more excited for the Trinidadian chef’s next venture coming to H Street NE. Prime is partnering with his little sister, Jeanine Prime, to open Cane in early 2019. When it opens, the 40-seat restaurant will serve breakfast and dinner. Lunch and late night service will follow later in the year. Here’s hoping the intoxicating smells of jerk seasoning, roti, oxtail, and curry fill the air and stick to your clothes, signifying to everyone that you just visited the Caribbean without leaving D.C. As the name implies, sugar cane will play a role in everything from decor to the rum-based drinks. 

The Imperial

2001 18th St. NW

Much like its sister bar, Jack Rose Dining Saloon, The Imperial will have three floors with varying vibes. “Imperial is a system of measurement, but it has a dual meaning,” says owner Bill Thomas. “We were trying to create something more opulent.” The first floor dining room and modern raw bar has a bright and glitzy color palette and plenty of natural light streaming in through the windows. To create The Imperial, Thomas combined three storefronts into one and dug deep underground to carve out a fresh lair for speakeasy Dram & Grain, which will migrate from Jack Rose. There will also be a rooftop adorned with lush greenery where guests can grab lunch during the day and party at night. While Thomas emphasizes that food is the focus at The Imperial, a rare vintage spirits collection will likely draw drink obsessives from across the region. Dram & Grain will be the first component to open in early 2019, followed closely by the rooftop and restaurant. 

Hanumanh

1604 7th St. NW

The mother and son duo behind Thip Khao in D.C. and Padaek and Sen Khao in Virginia are more than chefs and restaurateurs. Seng Luangrath and Bobby Pradachith act as emissaries, bringing the D.C. region a love and understanding of their native Lao cuisine. Their next project, Hanumanh, will open in Shaw this winter. Named after a divine monkey god, patrons should expect a boisterous atmosphere reminiscent of Laotian night markets. Pradachith says they’ll use grills similar to the ones used for Japanese yakitori to cook fish, meat, and veggies. Pounded salads featuring fresh herbs will compliment the charcoal-kissed side of the menu. “The concept is my mom’s interpretation of her hometown dishes,” Pradachith says. Hanumanh will have a more robust bar than the family’s other restaurants. Expect classic cocktails that fold in Laotian ingredients; a small beer and wine list; and a selection of non-alcoholic drinks like juices, milks, and teas, some of which will utilize ingredients from the kitchen to cut down on food waste. 

Stellina Pizzeria 

399 Morse St. NE

If you’re a fan of folded pizza and cones filled with fried foods, all with an Italian accent, look forward to Stellina Pizzeria, opening in early 2019. Former Lupo Verde partners Matteo Venini and Antonio Matarazzo split off to open something special of their own near Union Market. Venini, the chef, traveled to Italy and New York to weigh the merits of different styles of pie before formulating his own recipe. Pair a meal at Stellina with easy drinking Italian wines or a draft Negroni. The 88-seat restaurant will be set up to make it easy for customers to dine in or take food to go, just as it should be at any pizzeria that aims to please its neighbors.

Eatery tips? Food pursuits? Send suggestions to lhayes@washingtoncitypaper.com.