Exterior of Oyster Oyster in Shaw
Oyster Oyster in Shaw Credit: Rey Lopez

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A bevy of resilient restaurateurs found a way to bring their bars, restaurants, and shops to fruition during year two of a global pandemic, even if that meant making their debut in a takeout box or persevering through long delays. The 10 most memorable newcomers are wide-ranging but share a common desire to delight and comfort D.C. diners in 2021.

Photo of Chef Danielle Harris by Sub/Urban photography

Little Food Studio
849 Upshur St. NW, littlefoodstudio.com

The commercial stretch of Upshur Street NW in Petworth is on the upswing again thanks to newcomers like Little Food Studio from Chef Danielle Harris. She only needs a couple hundred square feet to bring D.C. unforgettable grab-and-go breakfast sausage rolls and towering sandwiches slathered with house-made spreads. Make a habit of ticking off items on the sandwich menu, which features between-the-bread beauties named after Harris’ family members. She urges more people to try the Burnetta with mortadella, burrata, pistachio, and Castelvetrano olive cream, but City Paper named the Lynne the best sandwich in D.C. It’s stacked high with hot capicola, hot honey, gorgonzola, and arugula. There are vegetarian options too, like the Nichelle with marinated eggplant, mozzarella, pesto, tomato cream, and arugula. Little Food Studio is open for breakfast and lunch and boasts a full menu of espresso drinks. No seating. Order ahead online.

Photo of the spicy Neapolitan ragu over bucatini at Caruso’s Grocery by Stacey Windsor

Caruso’s Grocery
914 14th St. SE, (202) 661 0148, carusosgrocery.com

Chef Matt Adler answered the call for comfort and nostalgia with the opening of his Italian American restaurant next to The Roost on Capitol Hill. There’s something about sinking into a red leather booth to do battle with mounds of pasta and dramatic cheese-pull chicken parmigiana that is so satisfying. Adler isn’t riffing on anything. His recipes honor the classics and at a time when nothing is certain, the familiar is welcome. Try the mozzarella in carrozza, spicy Neapolitan ragu-coated bucatini, and trout piccata. A big glass of Chianti is an obvious compliment to the cuisine, but $10 cocktails that reach back in time are also a hit. Sip an espresso martini, cosmo, or antipasti dirty martini. If you can’t get a reservation, note the bar and a few high-top tables are set aside for walk-in customers. Only indoor dining is available, but the full menu is available to-go.

Photo of Maria Bastasch at Disco Mary by Jennifer Chase

Disco Mary
124 Blagden Alley NW, discomary.com

A Mary statue mosaicked in shimmering tiles greets you when you ascend the stairs to Maria Bastasch’s brainchild, Disco Mary. The long-term pop-up commandeered the Punch Garden and Spirits Library at Columbia Room in Blagden Alley. A menu of “apothecary cocktails” reflects Bastasch’s infatuation with herbalism and plant medicine, but there won’t be a shaman beating you over the head with information about the healing ingredients in your drink. Try the “Influencers in the Wild” with dragonfruit, schisandra berry, lemon balm, and lime or the “Dope Kaleidoscope” with pumpkin spice, coconut milk, aquafaba (from chickpeas), apple cider vinegar, hemp oil, and a petite pot leaf garnish. Customers can specify whether they’d like booze in their drink or not. It’s part of Disco Mary’s goal of proving there’s more than one way to party. A short menu of plant-based snacks from Chef Elena Venegas are fun to graze on like a bright and acidic heart of palm ceviche. The bar takes reservations and seating is available indoors or on an enclosed patio.

Photo of potatoes cooked in mushroom and truffle butter with dried onion and miso at Oyster Oyster by Rey Lopez

Oyster Oyster
1440 8th St. NW, oysteroysterdc.com

Oyster Oyster is racking up local and national accolades after only six months of operating in its intended form—an intimate, tasting menu restaurant that celebrates nature’s bounty. Even Michelin broadcasted that the new Shaw restaurant will appear in its guide. Chef Rob Rubba and restaurateur Max Kuller put on a show that sells how plant-based cuisine has a promising and necessary future. It’s appropriate that the exterior of the restaurant looks like a terrarium. The menu changes with the seasons, which for Rubba means about six times a year. Call on beverage director Sarah Horvitz for the perfect pairings. Dinner is $75 and paid in advance so you can bounce after your last bite. Indoor dining only. Proof of vaccination required.

Photo of pumpkin achari at Daru by Laura Hayes

Daru
1451 Maryland Ave. NE, (202) 388-1848, darudc.com

The District had to wait a long time for Daru. Partners Dante Datta and Chef Suresh Sundas initially planned for a late 2019 opening, but didn’t welcome a customer until this summer. The delays added to the anticipation. Thankfully, for lovers of big flavors and warm hospitality, Daru is worth the wait. Some of Sundas’ best “Indian-ish” dishes are the Nawabi duck kebab, achari pumpkin curry, za’atar-dusted naan, and gulab jamun for dessert. A trip to the downstairs kitchen reveals a traditional clay tandoor and heavenly spells of hundreds of spices. The cocktails fold in ingredients from the kitchen or otherwise compliment the food. Ask which drinks bartender Courtney Taylor-Daniels developed, like the Scotch-based “Spice is Nice,” and start there. Indoor seating only during winter, but you can order food to-go. Proof of vaccination required. 

Photo of POGI-O-Catfish at PogiBoy by Laura Hayes Credit: Laura Hayes

PogiBoy
1110 Vermont Ave. NW, (202) 681-7516, pogiboydc.com

A number of chefs who are accustomed to plating food on fine china found inspiration in fast food this year. No one pulled it off better than PogiBoy Chefs Tom Cunanan and Paolo Dungca. When their stall opened inside The Block in January, it was an immediate fount of Filipino-American guilty pleasures. The fried chicken stands out because it’s coated in tamarind powder; the burger patties are thin, crispy, and served on Grimace-colored ube buns; and the Bloomin’ Onion-esque appetizer is addictive thanks to the chili-crab fat mayo. The chefs are constantly adding new dishes to the menu like a crispy crab and shrimp patty sandwich, making return trips as rewarding as they are joyful. PogiBoy is open for lunch and dinner except for Mondays and Tuesdays. You can order ahead online to save time and there are tables inside the food hall and outside on the sidewalk to chow down.

Photo of L’Ardente’s 40-layer lasagna by Laura Hayes Credit: Laura Hayes

L’Ardente
200 Massachusetts Ave. NW, (202) 448-0450, lardente.com

We’ll spare you another spiel about the merits of the 40-layer lasagna and how it’s made because there’s more to love about David Deshaies’ latest restaurant that opened in the new Capitol Crossing development in October. The French chef who was Michel Richard’s right-hand-man has tried on Italian and it fits. Order the fuoco pizza topped with pomodoro, hot salami, sausage, smoked scamorza, red onion, pickled peppers, and mint and a glass of wine at the bar or swing for an all-out meal by trying the bucatini alla carbonara or a risotto dish that ditches arborio rice in favor for diced calamari topped with king crab. Deshaies says he spent the most time nailing the recipes for the lasagna, Caesar salad, and tiramisu. Try those too. If looks are your thing, this dining room is a stunner. Perhaps that’s why Deshaies and his business partner Eric Eden dubbed their restaurant “glam Italian.” Currently L’Ardente serves dinner nightly, but lunch is coming soon. Indoor seating only.

Photo of Jean Paul Sabatier behind the bar at Jane Jane by Jennifer Chase Credit: Jennifer Chase

Jane Jane
1705 14th St. NW, (202) 481-2166, janejanedc.com

You’re invited to the coolest retro cocktail party in town. All you have to do is walk through the doors at Jane Jane and hope to be lucky enough to score a seat at the snug bar that opened at the end of the summer. Jean Paul Sabatier, Ralph Brabham, and Drew Porterfield wanted to bring a sip of Southern hospitality to 14th Street NW and named their bar after Brabham’s mother who can host a party with no notice in North Carolina. While there are a number of playful original cocktails like the “Crop Top,” one of the best facets of Jane Jane is the sheer number of classic cocktails on offer organized by their base spirits. If you’ve ever wondered what goes into a “Corpse Reviver #2” or a “4th Regiment,” class is in session. There are only a limited number of snacks like pickled okra and pimento dip to pad your stomach, making Jane Jane an ideal stop before or after dinner. Don’t miss their “Golden Hour” happy hour from 5 to 7 p.m. on weekdays. Indoor and outdoor seating is available. Proof of vaccination required.

Photo of City-State Brewing Founder James Warner by Laura Hayes Credit: Laura Hayes

City-State Brewing
705 Edgewood St. NE, citystatebrewing.com

With a limited amount of appropriate real estate available, it’s a big deal when a new brewery opens in D.C. proper. The former freight rail warehouse that houses James Warner’s love letter to the District is a great place to spend an afternoon trying different styles of beers while watching various locomotives whiz by. Most beers pay homage to D.C. like the 8 Wards Independent Pale Ale, Blossom Kolsch, and NEDC Hazy Pale Ale. City-State also frequently collaborates with notable Washingtonians, which keeps things fresh. They released Big G’s Flavor From the Pocket with local actor and founding Backyard Band member Anwan “Big G” Glover in November. City-State also counts Chef Eric Adjepong as an investor. There are plenty of beer garden-style tables to spread out on and play board games. A few outdoor benches overlook the MBT Trail in the Edgewood neighborhood. There’s no kitchen on site, but food trucks and caterers frequently sell munchies. Proof of vaccination required.

Photo of assorted donuts from Donut Run by Laura Hayes

Donut Run
6904 4th St. NW, (202) 506-3264, donutrundc.com

Takoma’s vegan donut shop opened on Jan. 2 just in time to poke holes in Washingtonians’ New Year’s resolutions. Owners Shawn Petersen and Nicole Dao have been drawing District residents to the top edge of Ward 4 ever since with flavors like French toast, pineapple upside cake, matcha, cookies and cream, and blueberry cake. Donut Run is at its best on holidays, when they fry specials like sufganiyah for Hanukkah or “key lime slime” for Halloween. Weekends still draw lines and potential sell-outs, so target a Monday or Tuesday morning if you want maximum variety and an in-and-out experience. There’s drip coffee available, but pros know to visit Lost Sock Roasters across the street for caffeine.