Credit: Darrow Montgomery
Credit: Darrow Montgomery

Whatever you want to call them, the bars, restaurants, shops, and food stands featured in the 2017 Food Issue are a little different. 

Instead of celebrating or spilling gold all over the same old spots that draw lines and garner press clippings, we dug a little deeper and begged a lot harder to get writers to reveal their go-to haunts that they would prefer stay under wraps.

The restaurants featured have little to no professional public relations backing, and we’ve broadened our usual coverage area to include a bit of the ’burbs because of the memorable meals that lie a short distance away.

From a gas station that serves sent-from-the-islands jerk chicken and an unlikely Indian-spiced burger downtown to $10 sushi in an office building and a gift shop that sells Vietnamese pho, we present 50 underrated places to eat and drink. —Laura Haye

Credit: Laura Hayes

Restaurant: Sospeso

1344 H St. NE; (202) 827-3123;

The Atlas District is having a big year when it comes to landing restaurants and bars, but the all-day eatery that opened with considerably less fanfare is the one most deserving of attention. Sospeso from Mike Rosato is one of those unicorn locales willing to stay open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, serving food that leans on Mediterranean flavors. Chef Lauren Sanders makes bagel-shaped simits for breakfast that, once smeared with mascarpone ($3.50), best any bacon, egg, and cheese. The best selection at lunch is the porchetta sandwich worth its $15 price tag because it overflows with roasted pork, salsa verde, and crispy pork skin. Top dinner draft picks include a whole fried fish for two ($30) and the grilled octopus with warm potato salad and sumac onions ($13). “Octopus is so hot right now,” Rosato says. To drink, try house-made vermouth over ice or wine from countries just entering the industry. Visit for all night “Haperitivo Hour” for steals like $4 vermouth, $3 arancini, and $5 wine. The restaurant, named for the Italian concept of paying-it-forward, is trying to bring the feel of a Mediterranean cafe where guests are free to let lunch blur into dinner.  —Laura Hayes

Bottomless Brunch: Via Umbria

1525 Wisconsin Ave. NW; (202) 333-3904;

D.C. is a competitive market when it comes to bottomless brunch, but there might be one spot that even the most diehard brunchers haven’t snuffed out. The midday meal at Georgetown’s newish Italian market Via Umbria costs $35 and includes free-flowing prosecco and a three-course Italian brunch cooked in front of you in an open kitchen. Seating is communal, and platters of fresh, buttery pastries are first to arrive along with the brunch bubbles. Then, the chef’s counter is piled high with salads, cheese boards, antipasti, and more to enjoy buffet-style. Afterwards, choose from one of many entrees, including frittatas, house-made pastas, and breakfast sandwiches. Brunch concludes with desserts like chocolate cake, freshly made tarts and pies, and more pastries. All the while, your glass is never empty. Try it before it goes from underrated to overbooked. —Priya Konings

French Fries: Impala

1358 H St. NE; (202) 733-3427;

After the Women’s March, with 20,000 steps and counting on my app, I dragged myself back to H Street NE, hungry and exhausted. I just wanted fries and a beer, but there wasn’t a seat to found at the American and European pubs and bars I passed. But then I found a lone bar stool at Impala. Normally, I’d dig into their stellar guacamole and tacos, but my heart was set on fries. I braced myself for disappointment as they’re usually kid-menu fare at most Mexican places, but my single-minded pursuit led to me to a hidden gem. Impala’s French fries arrived crispy and golden in a basket. They aren’t skinny strings or overwhelming wedges, but just slightly wider than a pencil. The canola oil-fried fries crunch on the outside and burst with an intense potato flavor when pierced. I polished them off quickly and vowed to skip the sports bar in favor of a repeat performance on future nights that call for beer, fries, and baseball. —Justin Weber

Corner Store: Kazanchis Carry Out & Grocery

1616 14th St. NW; (202) 450-4476

There aren’t many places in D.C. where the advertised price isn’t always the final price. Kazanchis Carry Out & Grocery on 14th Street NW is one of them. “Come back and I’ll find you a nice price,” says the man manning the register when I bypass all the bongs to buy my usual bag of Haribo candy. He tells me they did a major revamp about a year ago. The shelves are lined with regional treats like Philly’s Tastykake Krimpets and cool sodas like Pineapple Fanta and Jarritos Tamarindo. But it’s not all European candy and the best flavors of Ben & Jerry’s, Kazanchis carries the staples too, like cereal and milk. But what people may not know is Kazanchis has a glass-encased cigar shop in the back for your celebratory needs. —Laura Hayes

Way to Pretend You’re Eating Breakfast on the Lower East Side: La Mano Coffee Bar

304 Carroll St. NW; (202) 417-6266;

Planted across the street from the Takoma Park Metro station, La Mano Coffee Bar is a must-stop for commuters during the week and a convivial hangout for families and young couples on weekends. Though the strong coffee and warm service are undeniable draws, don’t underestimate the tractor beam-like pull of the smoked trout sandwich. The filling is reminiscent of smoked whitefish salad—a staple spread at New York City’s bagel shops and delis. A smattering of capers complement the fish’s pronounced brininess, while lemon juice, mustard powder, black pepper, and shallots brighten up the mashed filets, ensuring the sandwich isn’t too salty or too smoky. A couple of tomato rounds, a few peppery arugula leaves, and a thin schmear of cream cheese complete the sandwich that arrives on the bagel of your choice sourced from Bethesda Bagels or Whatsa Bagel. Owner Javier Rivas swears by the pumpernickel-plain swirl. One bite and you’ll be transported to the Big Apple. —Nevin Martell

Breakfast Tacos: Pica Taco

Multiple locations,

Why is it so damn hard to find decent breakfast tacos in This Town? While D.C. isn’t Austin when it comes to breakfast tacos (duh), there are some decent options if you know where to look. Taqueria Nacional at 14th and T streets NW is certainly an underrated breakfast taco gem, but it doesn’t hold a candle to Pica Taco. For just $2.50, you get a savory corn tortilla with scrambled eggs, tomatoes, green peppers, onions, cheese, and beans, and can load up on a meat of your choice for $1-$1.25 more. There are many theories about what makes the perfect breakfast taco—loading up on toppings, the right hot sauce, variety of vegetables, etc.—but I’m firmly in the camp of “the simpler, the better.” And it’s the delicious simplicity that makes Pica Taco’s breakfast tacos reign supreme. —Matt Cohen

Place to Eat Papa John’s Pizza: Ivy City Planet Fitness

1406 Okie St. NE; (202) 768-8300;

I know what you’re thinking: This is a joke, right? The only purpose for prose about partaking in pizza in this purple palace of perspiration has to be parody, not persuasion. I, too, used to be like you. But then I sampled Papa John’s in the foyer of the Ivy City Planet Fitness during its free pizza night (the first Monday of the month). After a round of the Planet’s signature 30-minute, full-body workout and a 12-minute ab circuit, you might as well build up those muscles with pepperoni protein and get your carbs in while your metabolism is still cranking. A $10 monthly membership and free pizza are friends not foes, and your fellow P-fitters would probably agree. This is a no-judgment zone, so don’t forget to grab some free tootsie rolls and make it back for bagel Tuesday (the second Tuesday of every month). —Justin Weber

Brunch Deal: Le Grenier

502 H St. NE; (202) 544-4999;

Typically, there are two kinds of brunch: the fancy, very British affair similar to a high tea that’s perfect for Mother’s Day, and the shitshow of early twenty-somethings guzzling bottomless mimosas. Le Grenier bridges the gap and serves French decadence at an unbeatable price. The $19.95 brunch special nets you an entree, a glass of Champagne, and your choice of a savory appetizer or dessert, not to mention piping hot bread to whet your appetite. Some brunch specials feel limited, but Le Grenier’s menu has a bevy of French delights on offer, including Croque-Monsieurs, crepes, and pâté. Dieters beware: It’s hard to resist the more decadent options from the appetizers and desserts sections. Just go with it: C’est la vie. —Stephanie Rudig

Ramen: Ren’s Ramen

11403 Amherst Ave., Silver Spring; (301) 933-3725;

Ask Daikaya partner Daisuke Utagawa where he goes for ramen, aside from his own shops, and he’ll tell you Ren’s Ramen. Unknown to most downtowners, Ren’s Ramen is a tiny hole in the wall located off of Georgia Avenue in Wheaton with 26 seats, no alcohol, and a cash-only sign on the door. But don’t let the unassuming look of the restaurant deceive you: Ren’s Ramen has some of the heartiest, most satisfying ramen in the D.C. area. The shio broth is rich and salty, while the miso broth is creamy and intensely savory. Springy, chewy noodles are shipped directly from Sapporo and topped with bamboo shoots, scallions, garlic, and nori seaweed. It’s worth the trek to check out this hidden ramen venue because, as Utagawa says, “You only get three meals a day!” —Priya Konings

Jamaican: Pimento Grill

4405 Bowen Road SE; (202) 582-6595,

Long queues are not just for Rose’s Luxury and Bad Saint. During the lunch or dinner rush, the line goes out the door at Pimento Grill. This to-go restaurant at the southernmost edge of Fort Dupont is located in a busy retail strip. Parking and seating may be limited, but most neighborhood residents appreciate popular dishes like the callaloo and codfish, jerk chicken, oxtail, coco bread, and beef patties. For first timers, try the brown stew chicken served with rice and peas, cabbage, and fried plantains. The sauce is rich in flavor and brings slight heat that can be tamed with a variety of house-made juices, including cucumber ginger, carrot and lime, or sorrel-spiked lemonade. —Tim Ebner

Winery Grub: Butter Chicken at Narmada Winery

Narmada Winery, 43 Narmada Lane, Amissville; (540) 937-8215;

Spicy vegetable korma, crisp papri chaat, and creamy butter chicken are on the small plates menu at Narmada Winery, an hour’s drive from D.C. in Rappahannock County. Winery owners Sudha and Pandit Patil source the dishes from Bombay Café in Fairfax. Flaky vegetarian samosas with tamarind chutney are available during the week, while the other Indian options are offered on weekends only. Chill a bottle of Midnight, Narmada’s off-dry Chambourcin, or opt for the winery’s signature white—Mom, with hints of tropical fruit—to cool down your fiery food order. Winemaker Sudha also released a citrusy Chardonel Reserve 2015 in May and aged it on the lees for a creamy finish. Try any of these selections with your curry order. —Jessica Strelitz

Mac and Cheese: Evolve

341 Cedar St. NW; (202) 882-8999;

Most people are suspicious of a vegan mac and cheese because cheese is an essential ingredient. But it turns out vegan mac and cheese can actually best the original at Evolve Vegan Restaurant in Takoma Park. Here, a nutty, garlicky, cashew sauce coats the noodles instead of anything from a cow. The sauce is sinfully rich and creamy, and the dish is baked to perfection with a brown, crusty top that is sprinkled with loads of paprika and oregano for added flavor. Try it as it is intended (as a side dish) or skirt the system and get it as a main course. —Priya Konings

Credit: Darrow Montgomery

Sushi: Sushi Express

1990 K St NW #400; (202) 659-1955;

Yoshifumi Yasuoka’s fingers are faster than even the most seasoned stenographer. It helps that Yasuoka is seasoned himself—he’s been rolling sushi for more than 30 years. Find him behind the counter at Sushi Express tucked into a K Street NW office building where a line of Japanese expats and sushi lovers in the know can start to snake with popularity at lunchtime. The no-frills restaurant boasts prices from another era. Where else does an eel and cucumber or shrimp tempura roll run $4? But to maximize value at the humble eatery that plates on plastic, opt for one of the combinations that cost $11 with tax for a choice of two items plus soup or salad. It’s also a strong move to order the homestyle bento box to try a little of everything for about the same price. In need of some brownie points at the office? Bring a few mochi balls back from your visit. Open Monday-Friday from 11 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. or Saturdays from 12-4 p.m. —Laura Hayes 

Credit: Darrow Montgomery

Place for Oysters: El Sol Restaurante & Tequileria

1227 11th St. NW; (202) 815-4789;

“You’re ordering oysters? In a taqueria?” Those were the shrill words of my mother as I confidently requested the oysters al carbon from our server. Admittedly, oysters are a dicey move at any street-food spot no matter the culinary tradition, but I had done my research and knew that Chef Alfredo Solis had cooked at such well-regarded spots as Acadiana and Fuego Cocina y Tequileria. My faith paid off. The local oysters are grilled then broiled with a sprinkle of Parmesan before being served warm alongside slices of soft, house-made bolillo bread perfect for sponging up every drop of chipotle butter swimming in the half shell. (This oyster dish is also offered at Solis’ new Columbia Heights restaurant, Mezcalero Cocina Mexicana.) Pair it with a frosty bottle of Modelo Especial and follow it up with a bowl of Pozole Rojo, and you’ve got yourself one hell of a lunch. —Rina Rapuano 

Credit: Laura Hayes

Gas Station Food: Jamaican Jerk Chicken

1230 New York Ave. NE; (240) 559-7961

Don’t freak out when you have to slip $5.99 to a gas station attendant on the other side of bullet-resistant glass to secure your order of Jamaican jerk chicken. Once you pay inside, look for the tent and grill along the side of the Mobil gas station on New York Avenue NE near Ivy City. You’ll need to summon the chef from his puff-puff-pass hangout behind a fence to come and fire up your food. Sometimes they have a full menu of coco bread ($2), goat curry ($10.99), and mac and cheese ($4), but jerk chicken is often the only thing on the menu. And that’s fine because it’s plentiful and has that coveted contrast of moist meat and crispy skin. Watch as the chef piles chicken breasts, thighs, and wings into a plastic container and tops it with either a spicy or mild sauce. “Americans usually don’t get the hot sauce,” he warns. Ask yourself, “What Would Jonathan Gold Do?” Then tell him to bring the heat. When cruising in or out of the city, look for the sign advertising “Jamaican Cuisine” from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. —Laura Hayes

Date Night: Beer at Town Center Market with Pizza from Dumm’s Pizza

4705 Queensbury Road, Riverdale; (301) 277-9271; &

4704 Riverdale Road, Riverdale; (301) 277-2208;

When it comes to dating in the District, there’s no shortage of options: Free museums! Trendy restaurants! Nature! But if you’re getting sick of all that, or just looking for something a little more low-key, consider Town Center Market in Riverdale Park just northeast of Hyattsville in Prince George’s County. Not only does Town Center Market boast one of the best booze selections in the D.C. area, but it also features a great selection of craft beers on draft and an excellent patio—overlooking Riverdale Park’s iconic train tracks—to consume said beers. Bonus: It’s right around the corner from the excellent Dumm’s Pizza & Subs, which completes the date night trifecta of beer, pizza, and train-watching. —Matt Cohen

Thai Food in a Grocery Store: Duangrat’s Oriental Food Mart

5888 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church; (703) 578-0622

Duangrat’s Oriental Food Mart takes some explaining. Nestled in a strip mall behind another strip mall in Falls Church, Duangrat’s Oriental Food Mart is a nondescript Asian grocery that resembles many like it in this Virginia Southeast Asian enclave, but it is chock-full of harder-to-find Thai ingredients like kaffir lime leaves and galangal root. It also shares a kitchen with two Thai restaurants from the same owners. When you enter, one of the first things you’ll see is a white board with a handwritten menu. These are available from a small takeout counter in the back right corner and, while it shares a kitchen with its two sister restaurants, the menu is different. Here the dishes are prepared for Thai diners whose palates are accustomed to more intense heat and spice. There isn’t any seating or service to speak of, but it’s affordable and you can get some shopping done at the same time, making it a welcome detour when visiting the culinary paradise that is Falls Church. —Brian Oh 

Credit: Laura Hayes

Burger: The Grand Trunk

641 Indiana Ave. NW; (202) 347-3293;

Don’t decide to try Grand Trunk’s naan burger on a whim. Calendar it because you’ll need to bring a lobster bib to protect yourself from the meal that’s as messy as the set of Double Dare. The downtown Indian restaurant’s signature burger ($13.95) features two identical halves of freshly baked naan hugging fiery beef patties spiked with ginger, cumin, green chilies, onions, and cilantro. Things get sloppy because, in addition to the mint chutney already smeared on the burger, the tray arrives with three enticing dippers like creamy yogurt and sweet tamarind. You can add cheese, but scrap it so you can better taste the other components and order a mango lassi to tame the heat. —Laura Hayes

Ethiopian: Balagger Restaurant and Bar

3813  S. George Mason Dr., Falls Church; (703) 379-7799;

Ninth Street NW may be still known as “Little Ethiopia,” but Virginia and Maryland have become hubs for this East African immigrant community. A 20-minute drive to the Skyline area of Falls Church takes you to a lengthy strip mall, the Build America Plaza, that is filled front and back with storefronts marked by signs in Amharic and English. This unassuming suburban development has restaurants, bars where men talk shop while exhaling hookah smoke, and shops selling spices, bags of injera, and tea sets bearing colorful Coptic Christian designs. Hidden in the back is Balagger Restaurant and Bar. Founded by Eshetu Silie in 2013, this casual eatery offers live music on weekends. Balagger distinguishes itself by serving all-teff injera (sour, spongy bread) shipped from Ethiopia for $2.50 extra in addition to the hybrid teff and wheat version of injera common at most Ethiopian restaurants. The vegetables and meat atop the injera at Balagger are spicier and more plentiful than those at some spots in the District. Silie says Balagger is a transliterated Amharic word that means both “countryside” and “common man,” and his venue delivers an atmosphere that conveys both. —Steve Kiviat

Butchery in the Burbs: Butchers Alley

4961 Bethesda Ave., Bethesda; (240) 855-0121;

Just a block away from the bustled-up Bethesda Row, this boutique butcher feels both sophisticated and small town. Walk in to find cured hams hanging from a rack and a cold case rich with circles, triangles, and squares of gourmet cheese from around the globe. Stroll deeper into the back to find a butcher’s counter, its glass cases packed with antibiotic-free beef, Duroc pork, and free-range chicken. The freezers contain delicacies: duck, quail, squab, Cornish game hen, rabbit, foie gras, oxtail, and lamb bacon. It’s easy to pull together a meal thanks to local produce, bread, and prepared sides like truffled mac ’n’ cheese and potatoes Dauphinoise. For dessert, pick up a pint of Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream. Staffers are eager to educate customers on a cut of meat or a less familiar protein or offer cooking tips and recipes, and you can special order anything not on hand. —Nevin Martell 

Credit: Darrow Montgomery

Pho: Abe’s Cafe & Gift

733 13th St. NW; (202) 791-0307;

I have bad news for noodle slurpers—if you want the best pho downtown, you’re going to have to come face-to-face with Donald Trump. Thankfully, it’s only a cardboard cutout, one of many choice items in the gift shop section of Abe’s Cafe & Gift. Breeze past Donald (or flip him off) and head to the cafeteria, where you’ll find amazingly aromatic pho with silky noodles and fresh, crisp herbs and sprouts. For vegetarians, the tofu is perfectly baked, fluffy on the inside, and crispy on the outside. The condiments are covered too—Sriracha, hoisin sauce, and lime wedges come with your order. They have hefty rice plates, breakfast sammies, and omelettes on the menu too, but so far I’ve been unable to resist the siren call of the pho. —Stephanie Rudig

Italian Deli: Vace Italian Delicatessen

Multiple locations;

Italian-Americans transplanted from New England will gripe for days (OK, years) about how there aren’t enough real Italian delis in D.C. Once you’ve experienced unfettered access to freshly sliced mortadella, real Italian cookies from Brooklyn, pizza that tastes like Nonna baked it, and aromatic, crusty Italian bread, it’s tough to realize you’ve been cut off. For all you addicts, Vace is the dealer you’ve been looking for. It’s been around for 40 years and remains my absolute favorite place for a slice and a sub—more so than its larger, slightly more expensive cousins, The Italian Store and A. Litteri. The Italian sub comes on either a hard or soft roll (go hard), spicy or not spicy (go spicy), and with lettuce and tomato. While you’re there, pick up a square of the spinach pie, a slice of mushroom pizza, some imported Nutella, refrigerated sauces and pastas for dinner, and maybe a gasket for your stovetop espresso maker. —Rina Rapuano

Restaurant to Roll Deep: Sol Mexican Grill

1251 H St. NE; (202) 808-2625;

The more D.C.’s restaurant scene continues to boom, the more hosts laugh in my face when I dare to ask if there’s a table available for more than two. Sol Mexican Grill is the antidote. If you’re rolling deep on an H Street NE bar crawl, this is the only place to fuel up. I’ve watched in amazement as they completely rearranged their patio to accommodate more than 12 people in the middle of a Saturday rush in about two minutes. Unlike some trendier restaurants in town, the tables are spaced so that a long table for a group isn’t too awkward to move around, and you don’t have to sit in your friends’ laps. The margarita pitchers and appetizers make for easy sharing, and the staff is cool with splitting checks. —Stephanie Rudig

Cookie: Wisemiller’s Grocery & Deli

1236 36th St. NW; (202) 333-8254;

It can be easy to miss the cookie counter inside this crowded deli, which is typically known for greasy sandwiches like the infamous “Chicken Madness.” But don’t forget to order their crushed Oreo cookie on your way out the door. D.C.’s most underrated cookie sits in a small case that’s right next to the cash register. Georgetown students know it’s a must for a quick afternoon snack or sugar fix, and the price is right—each cookie is just a $1, meaning supplies can and do run out. But the real reason this cookie is so coveted is its mix of doughiness and crunch. The cookie dough is soft and gooey while the crushed Oreos deliver snap. It’s better than any run-of-the-mill chocolate chip cookie, making it well worth a visit to this out-of-the-way, student deli. —Tim Ebner 

Credit: Darrow Montgomery

Italian: Osteria Al Volo

1790 Columbia Road NW; (202) 758-0759,

Think of Osteria Al Volo as Pasta Mia 2.0. The restaurant opened last year and replaced an Adams Morgan institution known for serving heaping bowls of pasta on the cheap. Pasta Mia was beloved by many, but Osteria Al Volo is far better because co-owners Daniele and Matteo Catalani take Italian comfort food one step further by focusing on quality and local ingredients. Dishes like fettuccine bolognese and pappardelle topped with a roasted lamb ragu shine because the pasta is homemade and rough cut, which helps the sauce to stick to every nook and cranny of the noodles. The Catalanis are also using family-inspired recipes and sourcing ingredients from local farmers markets, where their pasta products are sold too. Unlike other “elevated” Italian restaurants (read: expensive and overrated), Osteria Al Volo has kept with the Pasta Mia tradition, serving bowls of pasta that are decidedly cheaper ($15-$18 per bowl). —Tim Ebner

Summer Beer: Grain Batter, Brookeville Beer Farm

20315 Georgia Avenue, Brookeville; (301) 260-1000;

Not long after Brookeville Beer Farm opened its doors last summer, head brewer Kenny Borkmann took an unexpected shipment of soft winter red wheat. With it, he added lemon balm from the lady who does their flower arrangements, local honey, hops from the farm, and pilsner malt to create a unique brew. Inspired by traditional Belgian table beers, Grain Batter goes against most warm weather trends. Instead of strong citrus or fruit flavors, a preponderance of hops, or the face-puckering sourness of a gose, Grain Batter is a clean, easy-drinking beer. Borkmann even compares it to a soft drink. It’s easy to put away several pints on a hot day, eating snacks from the pizza oven or a food truck and watching packs of near-feral children roam the farm while their parents drink. This year’s edition won’t be out until July because the brew depends on when the farmers harvest the wheat. But it’s worth the wait and the long drive into the rural outskirts of Montgomery County. —Matt Terl

French Toast: Murry & Paul’s

3513 12th St. NE; (202) 529-4078

Murry & Paul’s is an authentic, honest-to-god diner that’s hidden in plain sight in Brookland. There’s even a poster of Pope Francis hanging by the cash register of this cash-only, breakfast and lunch diner known for consistency in both food and service. It’s time tested too. Murry & Paul’s opened in 1964, and the wood paneling, rusted diner stools, and harsh florescent lighting are all original. The real reason people come here is for the French toast special. While most think of French toast as sweet and sugary, Murry & Paul’s version is more savory. The batter is mostly egg with just a touch of cinnamon and a helping of butter. The dish comes with your choice of two eggs and meat for just $7.95. Go for bacon and eggs over easy, so that the runny yolks soak deep into the buttery bread. —Tim Ebner

Deli: Deli City

2200 Bladensburg Road NE; (202) 526-1800

The breakfast club meets daily at Deli City on Bladensburg Road NE. There are the early risers—usually WMATA employees who work next door at the bus depot, followed by the nine-to-fivers, who are in a rush to catch a quick bite. Eventually an older, retiree set files in. Those who aren’t pressed for time typically go for two or three refills on coffee as they slowly peruse the newspaper. Regardless of which camp you’re in, you’re here because Deli City is known best for its hot pastrami, corned beef, and roast beef sandwiches. But don’t overlook breakfast specials like the corned beef hash, bologna omelette, and hot salmon cakes. Whether breakfast or lunch, order from Delores Lewis, who has been working there for more than 40 years. She knows most customers by name and will be happy to recommend a few deli essentials to sample. —Tim Ebner

Korean-Chinese: Jang Won Korean Chinese Restaurant

4210 John Marr Dr., Annandale; (703) 354-1950;

It’s easy to get sidetracked in Annandale if you’re unfamiliar with the ins and outs of Korean cuisine. Honey Pig Korean barbecue and Bonchon fried chicken lure many. There are cute Korean cafes with bubble tea and bing-soo too. But practiced Korean diners know a diet staple is always jja-jang-myun, the kind of dish for which each has a fiercely guarded favorite shop. The Chinese-Korean noodle dish comprised of thick wheat noodles in a viscous-fermented black bean sauce is comfort food. The sauce is thick and savory, loaded with pork and vegetables, and is typically complemented by cucumber and zucchini for a fresh contrast. It’s simple, hearty, and deserving of more attention. Typical accompaniments for jja-jang-myun include other popular Chinese-Korean dishes like tang-su-yuk (deep fried, breaded pork in a sweet and sour sauce) and jjam-ppong (a spicy Korean chili-flavored soup served with shrimp and clams). Jang Won is one of numerous Chinese-Korean shops, but for your money it’s the best. —Brian Oh

Way to Eat at High-End Restaurants: Don’t Drink

Ordering a drink is a natural thing to do when you hit a high-end restaurant—a nice bottle of red with your steak, a bomber of high-test Belgian ale with your moules-frites, or a complicated artisanal cocktail with your pork belly kale totchos. It completes the experience. But the best way to dine out well more frequently is to do your drinking before you leave home. Part of that is down to basic finances: A good drink costs about as much as an appetizer, often more than a small plate—and it’s rare when tables stop imbibing after one round. (The easiest way to see the impact of not drinking is to sip water at Little Serow—at $49 per person before tax and tip, the meal feels like the bargain that it is.) Skipping booze improves meals in other ways: You get a clearer taste of the food that you’re paying so much for, and you remember it the next day. —Matt Terl 

Credit: Darrow Montgomery

Fried Food: Capitol Hill Crab Cakes

1243 Good Hope Road SE; (202) 678-5000;

Capitol Hill Crab Cakes isn’t on Capitol Hill. It’s actually just over the bridge in Historic Anacostia. It’s also more than just crab cakes, which are worth the trip alone because they’re meaty and lightly breaded instead of greasy. But the fried chicken might be even better. Try the Marion Barry fried chicken sandwich made with crispy, perfectly seasoned thigh meat and pair it with the best thing on the menu—the crab fries. Topped with a house-made sauce and seasoned with a secret recipe, you’ll be persuaded to polish them off without regret. Take your food to go or eat there, but check out the local art on the walls. —Jenny Splitter 

Credit: Darrow Montgomery

Korean: Kalorama Deli

2343 17th St. NW; (202) 483-2190

By the time my bibimbap arrives, I’m so delighted that it doesn’t really matter how the food tastes. Kalorama Deli, at the intersection of 17th Street and Kalorama Road NW, charges $1.55 for a small coffee and $0.60 for package of Haribo Roulette gummies, meaning you can get both caffeine and candy for the price of one allegedly gourmet coffee at a second-wave or third-wave cafe. And it’s strong coffee. With no shelves or tables clogging the middle of the deli, the space at Kalorama Deli is bright and uncluttered. The menu is split into a Korean section and an American section, and customers (who present as regulars) mix and match—a crab cake sandwich with a side of mandu dumplings (both satisfying). My bibimbap has a mild flavor, comes with spicy gochujang, and introduces a surprise layer of shredded lettuce. —Alexa Mills

Credit: Darrow Montgomery

Tacos: Taqueria Los Compadres

3213 Mt Pleasant St. NW; (202) 248-3227;

The tacos at Taqueria Los Compadres are legit Mexican street style. The tortillas are homemade, the fillings and toppings are varied, and the accompanying salsas are fresh and tasty. Add to that an unassuming atmosphere, and you’ve got yourself a winner. 

From the tender meat of the al pastor or the chipotle-steeped chicken tinga to the chewy lengua or the Jalisco-style stewed barbacoa, these tacos are delicious. They’re made by a sweet old lady named Doña Rosa, who has been slinging tacos here for 15 years. (Some of you may remember her from the “apartment taco restaurant” in Columbia Heights where she would throw down a key for guests to come up to her converted living room to dine.) Don’t sleep on the vegetarian options like huitlacoche (corn fungus) or squash blossom. The hefty tacos run $3-$4 a piece, and you can tell they are made with love. —Aparna Krishnamoorthy

Bar: Bin 1301

1301 U St. NW; (202) 506-7716;

Ever been impressed by a one-man band? Me too. Bin 1301 is in the capable hands of general manager, beverage director, and executive Chef Chad Cortner, who describes his friendly hang as the “classy dive bar of wine bars.” He uncorks insane deals on easy-drinking glasses of wine for $8-$13, and all-night happy hour on Mondays features full pours of vermouth for $5 and wild mushroom panini for $6. During the rest of the work week, happy hour stretches from 5-8 p.m. But the best night to visit is Saturday, when live Latin jazz acts play sans cover charge. “I have the opportunity to help keep alive what made this neighborhood great in the first place,” Cortner says. There’s a full menu of food, and Cortner gets a little help from local purveyors: Ivy City Smokehouse provides the smoked fish while Stachowski’s is responsible for the lion’s share of the charcuterie. Bin 1301, though wine-focused, even has a bangin’ selection of beer and cider. —Laura Hayes

Food Truck: Rock Creek Food Company

Two lunch-seekers considered the food truck options in West End on a recent afternoon. “What kind of food truck is that?” one asked, eying the one on the corner of 25th and L streets NW. “I think it’s a sausage truck,” the other guessed. The Rock Creek Food Company truck could use an explainer. It sports a logo with the name Rock Creek Food Company, which it goes by on social media, but the side of the truck says Curb Canteen in even bigger letters. As for the menu, our “I think it’s a sausage truck” guy is basically right. On offer are grilled sausages, either pork or chicken, served on either a baguette slathered with two sauces and topped with pickled slaw or in a quinoa salad with colorful in-season vegetables. For the sausage-averse, vegetarians, and gluttons, the concise menu has lately been rounded out by gnocchi, feta fries, and a chilled yogurt soup. This truck’s concept may be vague, but don’t let that be a barrier to some of the best cooking on wheels in the District. —Zach Rausnitz

Happy Hour: Fox and Hounds

1537 17th St. NW, (202) 232-6307;

After a long day at work and an inevitable 5 p.m. national news dump, many of us are looking to drown our sorrows fast and furiously. Speed and price are key here, so avoid the crowds on 14th Street NW, and instead head to Dupont to Fox and Hounds. From 4-7 p.m., they offer $2 off beer, house wines, rail drinks, and certain menu items, but the rail drinks are the real steal. Order a whiskey ginger, for example, and you’ll be presented with a darling mini bottle of Canada Dry alongside a full-to-the-brim goblet of whiskey. You’ll have to mix it yourself, and you’ll have to drink down some of your spirit before you can even add the soda. In the course of an hour or two, and under $20, you can get blitzed enough to forget whatever fresh hell the day brought. Go ahead and line your stomach with bar food staples like nachos and mozzarella sticks while you’re there. —Stephanie Rudig

Pizza: Pizza CS

1596-B Rockville Pike, Rockville;  (240) 833-8090;

If part of the point of Neapolitan pizza is the simplicity—only flour, yeast, salt, and water for the dough—Pizza CS has the no-fuss experience to match. Customers order at the counter and seat themselves. Located near the back of a Rockville Pike strip mall, it’s in one of those suburban sweet spots with a Metro station within five minutes by foot and also ample free parking. Pies like a classic margherita and a dozen white pizza options boast thin crusts that are soft on the inside with some char outside. They’ll reliably satisfy a craving and are reasonably priced at $10-15 for 11 inches. Too few D.C.-area pizza joints are both accessible and take their craft seriously, and Pizza CS stands out. —Zach Rausnitz

Microbrewery: Franklins

5123 Baltimore Ave., Hyattsville;; (301) 927-2740

Before D.C.’s great brewery boom began a few years ago, the common myth was that there were no breweries around. But true hop heads know: Franklins in Hyattsville has been brewing killer beer since the early ’00s and—spoiler alert—it still does. Situated in the neighborhood’s quaint main drag on Route 1, Franklins isn’t just a great microbrewery, it also serves up delicious homestyle pub fare, and even has a toy store (you know, for the kids). But its robust beer list is what deserves the most accolades. There are nearly 20 beers on tap at all times from IPAs to stouts to sour ales, and more. And if you don’t have a chance to try them all, you can always get some growler fills to go. —Matt Cohen

Bar Food: Lyman’s Tavern

3720 14th St. NW;  (202) 723-0502;

Lyman’s Tavern has earned many accolades for a variety of reasons: cheap booze, pinball, and the fact that you can drink for free on your birthday. But one overlooked aspect of Lyman’s worth shouting about is its food. What makes the grub so good is that the tavern seems to understand just what pub food should be: Not too fancy or high concept, but something a bit more than just burgers and fries. At Lyman’s, you can get an array of well-dressed hot dogs, various sliders, tacos, subs, and more. I’m particularly fond of the Latin-tinged Lyman’s Dogs topped with tangy curtido and creamy queso salvadoreño, as well as the Not-So-Baby Grilled Cheese, which is essentially a gruyere grilled cheese on a cheddar-crusted potato roll. The best part? All the food is accompanied by Utz chips or cheese balls. —Matt Cohen

Outdoor Drinking: Capital Fringe Courtyard

1358 Florida Ave. NE; (202) 737-7230;

Patios and rooftops are so plentiful in D.C. that they inspire listicle after listicle, but most aren’t quite as funky as Capital Fringe’s courtyard space. It’s easy to miss passing by on Florida Avenue NE, but it lends itself to hidden gem status. The space is decked out with several cool murals, colorful chairs, hanging lights, and a pee-wee stage. In addition to a solid draft list and prosecco on tap, the bar specializes in simple, refreshing cocktails for $7-$9. They’ll even let you request your own cocktail made from the ingredients on hand. With all of Capital Fringe’s programming, there’s a good chance you’ll stumble upon something weird yet awesome like the recurring neighborhood craft night. Maybe you’ll even spot the members of the experimental jazz band Sun Ra Arkestra sashaying through post-show. —Stephanie Rudig

Vegan Bar Food: Galaxy Hut

2711 Wilson Blvd, Arlington, VA;  (703) 525-8646;

Here’s what’s amazing about the menu at Arlington’s beloved hang Galaxy Hut: Lovingly scripted below the sandwich list are the magic words, “All can be prepared with vegan meat and/or dairy substitutes.” Now, there’s somewhat of a longstanding rift between Washington City Paper’s vegetarian contingent and meat eaters, and it’s that the meat eaters think that “fake meat” (i.e. soy protein substitute) on sandwiches is bullshit. They’re wrong, and Galaxy Hut is proof. Simply put, its vegan cheesesteak made with soy protein instead of red meat is probably the best sandwich I’ve ever had, full stop. And the high praise doesn’t stop there. All of the vegan versions of its sandwiches—the crispy chicken, Cubany, and Reuben—are all good. Take that, meat eaters. —Matt Cohen

Condiment: Green Sauce at El Pollo Sabroso

1434 Park Road NW and 3153 Mount Pleasant St. NW;

When you order a rotisserie chicken at El Pollo Sabroso, your plate comes with two small cups of sauce, one yellow and creamy, the other green and slightly more runny. They’re intended to dress up the plain protein, but the spicy green offering, made from a blend of cilantro, lime, and jalapenos, can take anything from drab to fab. I’ve added it to everything from quinoa bowls, steaks, and salads to eggs and crackers. Unlike pesto or chimichurri, the dominant flavor here is the smoky heat from the jalapeno, and it lacks the other sauces’ oiliness. Replicating it at home is basically impossible—believe me, I’ve tried. You’re better off adding a four-ounce side of it to your chicken, then leaving it in your fridge and adding it to whatever strikes your fancy. —Caroline Jones

Credit: Darrow Montgomery

Indian: Pansaari

1603 17th St. NW; (202) 847-0115,

This self-described “third-space café,” cooking school, and brunch spot tucked beneath a six-story building on 17th Street NW is not only a neighborhood gem but also a crown jewel of Dupont dining. Descend a set of stairs to the underground venue and you’ll be greeted by a rainbow of colorful furniture, rugs, and spice jars. On a recent weekend afternoon, chefs were turning out tasty chaats and several kinds of Indian breads, including poori and paratha. The paratha flatbread was divine and the chicken served with it on special had just the right amount of tang. Pansaari’s regular chai (served hot for $2.50) is soothing and cardamon-heavy, one of several teas on the menu. It’s spicy enough to clear the most aggressive of allergies, which is fitting. In Hindi, “punsaari” can mean “a community spice seller,” “a local grocer,” or, “a source for Ayurvedic remedies,” according to the owners. Brunch is served Saturdays and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. —Andrew Giambrone

Latin Food: Las Placitas

1100 8th St. SE; (202) 543-3700

Not to knock the bougie artisanal tacos that you’re likely to find around the District, but I often find myself longing for something more like the neighborhood Mexican joints of my childhood, with heaping piles of rice and beans, little cups of sour cream and guac, and some salsa that’s watery in a good way. Las Placitas delivers with its amazing mix of Mexican and Salvadoran offerings, as well as the delightfully random art and cozy vibe. The fried plantains are perfectly caramelized, the enchiladas are gloriously gooey, and the pupusas are to die for. The service is always super friendly and attentive, keeping the margaritas and chips and salsa coming from the second you sit down until the check comes (and even after). —Stephanie Rudig

Credit: Darrow Montgomery

Street Cart: Hot Dog Cart at 7th and G streets NW

According to the proprietor of the hot dog cart at 7th and G streets NW, hers is one of only three in the city that possess a griddle. The slab of heated metal doesn’t seem all that important, but it makes all the difference for a street hot dog ($2). Instead of just pulling a dripping wet dog from a pool of lukewarm water, she splits it down the middle, leaving it ever-so-tethered, and then places the flat side on the griddle, holding it down with a bacon press for about three minutes. It’s then deposited into a soft bun and topped between the two halves. You’re left with a steaming hot frank that beats most others you’ll find on corners or at the ballpark—and plenty of cash left in your pocket. —Darrow Montgomery, as told to Caroline Jones

Secret Date Spot: Giovanni’s Trattu

1823 Jefferson Pl. NW; (202) 452-4960;

Sometimes you want to slip in and out of dinner without anyone seeing. And no, I’m not just talking about the Ashley Madison set. A journalist might want discuss a lead with a source over linguini. A worker bee seeking a new job on the sly might want to chat up a potential boss over bucatini. Giovanni’s Trattu has provided a hidden dining den for four decades. Descend a set of stairs and discover a mirrored dining room and menu that call out to Venice. All that’s missing is a guy in a gondola. At dinner, go hard on the garlic bread ($4.50); house-made cannelloni stuffed with ham, veal, and vegetables ($19.95); veal saltimbocca made fragrant with white wine and sage ($24.95); and a rum-soaked baba cake for dessert ($7.50). Wash it all down with Chianti. —Laura Hayes

Credit: Darrow Montgomery

Lunch: Saint’s Paradise Cafeteria

United House of Prayer for All People, 601 M St. NW; (202) 789-2289

The sweet menu items are luscious, and the salty ones unmistakably so at Saint’s Paradise, a cafeteria in a sunken-level room attached to a large church. The soul food cuisine is not only tasty but also generous in serving size and a great value. A meat plate with two sides is only about $10, a vegetable plate of three sides is $7.50, and dessert is $2.50. Just-right collard greens, black-eyed peas, and whiting fish come in serving sizes best described as “heaping.” For dessert, choose from 3-inch slices of cake or banana pudding with a glorious layer of Nilla wafers on top. The mac and cheese, a dish restaurants everywhere struggle to pull off, is executed perfectly with a browned top crust and a blend of cheeses. Coffee is just $0.85 a cup and comes with packets of powdered Nestlé Coffee-mate. Go alone or with friends for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. —Alexa Mills 

Credit: Laura Hayes

Wings: Purple Patch

3155 Mt Pleasant St. NW; (202) 299-0022;

In case there’s any doubt, Mount Pleasant’s Filipino restaurant goes the extra mile for guests in its dining room perched above its basement bar, printing custom “welcome” signs for every reservation. Seated at one of the only unclaimed tables accented by fresh cut flowers, I order wings that deserve a lot more appreciation. The fried calamansi chicken wings served with papaya salad ($8) are sweet, sour, sticky, and crispy. They best the other wing flavors like white miso or adobo. Chef/owner Patrice Cleary (a former U.S. Marine) says she uses concentrated calamansi juice to enliven them. If you like the distinct taste of the “citrus fruit of the Philippines,” pair your wings with the bar’s calamansi cocktail. —Laura Hayes

Credit: Darrow Montgomery

Sandwich: A Baked Joint

440 K St. NW; (202) 408-6985;

Finding a sandwich that will appeal to vegetarians and meat eaters is tough, but A Baked Joint’s fried green tomato sandwich ($10) pleases both. It starts with thick slices of toasted sourdough, baked in house, that are slathered with tangy and salty pimento cheese, then topped with cornmeal-crusted tomatoes. The combination of ingredients yields a bite that might make your mouth pucker, but it’s so texturally interesting that you can’t stop eating it. And while most vegetarian sandwiches lead with roasted vegetables that taste too healthy, this one oozes cheese and feels like a gluttonous treat. A Baked Joint’s location, hidden between construction sites in the lobby of a Mount Vernon Triangle apartment building, also adds to the sandwich’s underrated nature. Guests form block-long lines at its Georgetown sister bakery, Baked & Wired, for cupcakes and other confections but don’t turn out for sandwiches in such high numbers, making it accessible and delicious. —Caroline Jones

Dive Bar: Trusty’s

1420 Pennsylvania Ave. SE; (202) 547-1010;

Lost in the eternal dive bar debate is the genuine article known as the neighborhood bar. And Trusty’s, near Barney Circle, qualifies as both. Far enough down Pennsylvania Avenue SE to be inconvenient for college kids and tourists, with jumbo oil cans for lamps, a deconstructed school bus as an upstairs bar, exposed wiring, ventilation, brick and timber walls, and 50 percent of its bar menu featuring cheese, you could be in Upstate New York or rural Wisconsin and not know. There are three draft beers, numerous cans, and Jameson shots—drink options that don’t clutter the mind. The clatter of a spatula on a bar-adjacent griddle with cooking oil flowing from squeeze bottles signals that the food—burgers, cheesesteaks, nachos, and chili—is coming out hot and fast. And Sharkey, a Capitol Hill native who mans the bar and alternates sound on dueling TV channels when Jeopardy is on, lets you know that even non-regulars are welcome. —Jeffrey Anderson