We know D.C. Get our free newsletter to stay in the know.

Food and drink is the most anticipated Best of D.C. category in 2022. Our writers have scoured the city for all the tastiest treats, and while you’ll see us celebrate new spots and formal feasts in the picks below, we’ve also saved space for some old classics.

(Yes, we’re honoring D.C.’s oldest restaurant. No, we won’t apologize. Old Ebbitt forever and ever.)

Scroll through our picks to find ideas for your next meal and a good cup of coffee or just enjoy the tantalizing photos of pastries and ice cream. Your eyes—and your stomach—will thank you.

To see what readers selected in Food and Drink categories, click here.

A foie gras terrine inspired by peanut butter and jelly from Rooster & Owl Credit: Nevin Martell

BEST TASTING MENU THAT WON’T BREAK YOUR BANK (BUT WILL BLOW YOUR MIND)

Rooster & Owl

Chef Yuan Tang calls his food casual fine dining. I call it happy food because his dishes are ebulliently flavored, plated with exuberance, and nod to tradition while joyously upending it. Offered as a four-course, choose-your-own-adventure at only $85 a person, it’s also the best-priced tasting menu in town. Ideas for dishes are grounded in the season and sourced from across the globe and the kitchen team. Late summer favorites: a PB&J-inspired foie gras terrine layered with Concord grape gelee and hazelnut butter on Pullman toast; yucca tots and esquites-vibed dip; a lamb gyro in crackly falafel crust complemented by tzatziki-ish sauce; and ranch-accented fried chicken. Standouts from the new fall offerings include rustic pork and beef meatballs on a bed of creamy, Parmesan-y polenta amped up with mustard cream sauce, and potato gnocchi next-leveled with uni butter. Tang keeps diners of almost all eating regimens in mind, so each course includes a vegetarian, pescatarian, meat-centric, and gluten-free option (vegan options are not available). If you’re still feeling hungry or want to try something else on the menu, any dish can be added for $10. Got the urge to splurge? The restaurant recently began offering caviar service ($120 for a 20-gram tin) filled out with brown butter steam buns, celeriac creme fraiche, daikon, pickled shallots, and grilled scallion oil. It sounds like the kind of extravagance that would definitely make me happy. —Nevin Martell
2436 14th St. NW. roosterowl.com

BEST SNEAKY SANDWICH SPOT 

Marty Clark’s Uptown Sandwich Shoppe

Take a peek inside Bloomingdale’s unassuming DC Mini Supermarket, and you’ll find a small staff huddled over a griddle. The heavenly smell of eggs and grease wafts toward you. It might be a surprise that a place with a name like Marty Clark’s Uptown Sandwich Shoppe is, in fact, located near the register of a convenience store alongside the chips and candy, but don’t let the unconventional setup scare you off. Marty Clark’s, which opened this summer, whips up a heavenly breakfast sandwich or a gut-buster of a hoagie. With scrapple and chopped cheese on the menu, there’s plenty of influence from other Northeast cities for transplants to enjoy. Just don’t order from here on a weekday if you’re hoping to do anything but sink into a meat coma after lunch. —Alex Koma
1828 First St. NW. martyclarks.com

An ice cream cone from Mt. Desert Island Ice Cream Credit: Darrow Montgomery

BEST “ICE CREAM WEATHER IS ANY WEATHER” SHOP

Mt. Desert Island Ice Cream

An ice cream doesn’t always sound right. But an ice cream from Mt. Desert Island Ice Cream does always sound right. The Maine-based business has managed the difficult task of maintaining an impressive lineup of both wild and classic flavors without sacrificing the consistency of the ice creams. Their naming system is also fairly straightforward, forgoing cutesy names for things like Blueberry Sour Cream Crumble and Butterscotch Miso that tell you exactly what you’re getting. And for the names that might get lost in translation—Brigadeiro is a personal favorite—the scoopers are more than happy to give you an explanation and a sample.

The shop made the switch to window service only during the pandemic and has held on to that service model since. While you miss out on the fun of examining the tubs in the freezer in front of you, the walk-up service means long lines will move quickly and their Mount Pleasant Street location makes for a perfect ice cream cone stroll. 

The international map of Mt. Desert locations is a testament to its success. They first opened in Bar Harbor, a town on Mount Desert Island, Maine, a seaside town close to Acadia National Park that draws in huge swaths of tourists. A successful first year led them to open a second location on the outskirts of town, which then-President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama even visited. With one more Maine location opening in Portland, their Mount Pleasant spot, and an international shop in Matsumoto, Japan, Mt. Desert Island is slowly taking over the global ice cream community. —Camila Bailey
3110 Mount Pleasant St. NW. mdiic.com/washington-dc

BEST BAKERY WE WANT TO HATE BUT CAN’T

Tatte

Let’s get one thing straight: I am not a fancy coffee person. I went to college in Boston, where I developed a dependency on “lahge regulahs” from Dunkin’ Donuts. Starbucks’ holiday drinks do not fill my heart with joy. And yet the honey halva latte from Tatte, the Boston-born bakery chain that’s opened eight local outposts in two years is a flavored coffee drink I just can’t seem to quit, even if it costs nearly $6. The prices—$17 for two pastries and a latte, $19 for a plain coffee and a turkey sandwich—seem excessive and the shirts and mugs they sell, emblazoned with the phrase “dream every day” are embarrassingly twee. I’m better than this, I think, as I walk past its quaint patio tables and lines of young adults in wide-legged pants. But then I think about the latte. And the pillowy sandwich bread. And its Israeli-influenced brunch fare that is both savory and filling. Before I know it, I’m lining up with the hordes, crossing its transfixing, hexagonal tiled floor, and ordering the best toad-in-a-hole I’ve tasted (the eggs are cracked in the middle of a Jerusalem bagel, a flatter, chewier cousin to the New York bagel). I’m not pleased with myself—and I’m definitely not putting this on the ’gram as other customers do—but I am satisfied. —Caroline Jones
Multiple locations, tattebakery.com/washington-dc/

Beau Thai’s massaman curry Credit: Darrow Montgomery

BEST COMFORT CURRY

Beau Thai’s Massaman Curry

Three years into the pandemic, takeout isn’t quite as important as it was in 2020. But some places have not forgotten the art of creating consistent comfort food to enjoy in your finest sweatpants. Beau Thai, a micro-chain with locations in Shaw and Mount Pleasant, is one of them. Specifically, their recent addition of Massaman curry, essentially a beef stew with classic Thai flavors and plenty of peanuts, is as reliable an option as any, particularly if you’re looking to order something other than just the same old Thai takeout standbys. At just $16 for a generous portion with plenty of beef, it’s hard to beat value-wise, too. With the onset of colder nights ahead, this is the place to turn when you want to warm up. —Alex Koma
3162 Mount Pleasant St. NW and 1550 7th St. NW, beauthaidc.com

Pickle pie at Tigerella Credit: Darrow Montgomery

BEST THING TO HAPPEN TO THE WEST END

Tigerella

Foggy Bottom, Georgetown, and Glover Park are not known for their plethora of good and affordable restaurants. You might find one or the other, but likely won’t find both. That’s why it was so exciting when Mount Pleasant staple Ellē announced it was opening a sister restaurant in Foggy Bottom’s Western Market. (It’s like Union Market but covered in George Washington University students.) With its eclectic menu of personal pizzas (baked in genuine Pizza Hut personal pizza pans), pastas, toasts, sandwiches, and small plates, unique cocktails, and delightful wine list, Tigerella is the answer to area residents’ date night dreams. Although it’s tucked away in a food hall, which can feel decidedly unsexy, the team has actually created a dreamy environment of brick, dim lights, and cafe tables that feels like you’re dining in a cafe in Rome. —Sarah Marloff
2000 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. tigerelladc.com

20 Bello Credit: Darrow Montgomery/File

BEST HOT SAUCE CREATED BY A DMV RAPPER

Bello Burn

Local rapper 20 Bello is well known for his scintillating lyrics and magnetic stage presence, as well as organizing showcase events that give other area musicians the opportunity to perform in front of packed venues. He’s famous for coining the ubiquitous term “DMV,” and now he’s being recognized for creating a high-quality gourmet hot sauce brand he calls BelloBurn. Born and raised in Northwest, 20 Bello now resides in the Maryland suburbs on several acres of fertile land. Thanks to the pandemic significantly slowing the music industry, he had free time to grow various types of vegetables on his sprawling property. He jokingly referred to himself as “Farmer Bello” on social media. At harvest time, his crop of hot peppers was particularly bountiful. On a whim he began experimenting with different hot sauce recipes. The original BelloBurn formula is a savory concoction of jalapeños, habanero, and ghost peppers combined with honey, lime, and other proprietary ingredients. “My peppers are organically grown without any pesticides or chemicals,” he says with pride. “Each pepper is picked fresh, charred, and simmered to perfection.” BelloBurn hot sauce was so popular that he released a new kicked up version, created with Carolina reaper peppers, called the Kill Switch, named in honor of Killa Cal, a fellow rapper and go-go performer. The BelloBurn brand also expanded to include On Muvaz All Purpose Sauce, Lemon Pepper Honey Jalapeños Sauce, Sweetbaked Lit Infused Sauce, and a limited edition BelloBurn Jerk Sauce. “All of those hot sauce bottles on your neighborhood grocery aisles with the same old appeal and same boring taste,” says 20 Bello. “Have you ever seen anyone get excited about buying hot sauce? BelloBurn is here to change that!” —Sidney Thomas
belloburn.com 

A bagel from So’s Your Mom Credit: Darrow Montgomery

BEST BAGEL EXPERIENCE

So’s Your Mom 

Sure, Call Your Mother might have the best topping combinations if you’re looking for a D.C.’s best bagel sandwich, and Bullfrog might have perfected their bagel texture, but So’s Your Mom, the classic Adams Morgan deli that’s operated for more than 45 years, provides patrons with an experience that can’t be found at D.C.’s other bagel shops. There’s something about paying cash for a simple bagel and schmear, immediately getting flustered by the very brisk and direct cashier, and walking away with a plain brown bag that makes you feel connected to the days of bagel yore. 

When talking bagels, District residents will get shut down pretty quickly by any New Yorker, and rightfully so. But So’s Your Mom replicates the bodega energy in a way that other D.C. corner stores don’t. Your morning bagel might not make it to the Instagram feed, but at $3.50 for a bagel and cream cheese, you won’t regret a morning stop at So’s. If you’re feeling extra wild, splurge on the lox spread for $0.45 more.  —Camila Bailey
1831 Columbia Rd. NW.

Piccolina’s bombolone Credit: Nevin Martell

BEST DOUGHNUT WITH AN ITALIAN ACCENT

Piccolina

The humble doughnut is a global superstar. No matter where you go in the world, a version exists, from pillowy French beignets and Spanish churros sparkling with granulated sugar to spherical puff-puff in Western Africa and Japanese an-doughnuts stuffed with red bean paste. Italy’s version is the bombolone, a puffy round that sometimes arrives simply dusted with confectioners’ sugar, but the best ones are bursting with sweet fillings. That’s the way executive pastry chef Yesenia Jarquin makes them at Piccolina, chef Amy Brandwein’s fetching Italian café in CityCenter DC. Building on a recipe perfected by opening pastry chef Caitlyn Dysart, Jarquin crafts brioche dough enriched with plenty of eggs and butter, which is shaped into rounds and fried every morning. After being tossed in cinnamon sugar, she plumps up the Italian accented doughnuts with fillings such as vanilla pastry cream, Nutella, lemon curd, and tiramisu mousse. For the fall, she’s packing one with seasonally requisite pumpkin spice cream. If you want to score a bombolone, go early: Only two dozen are made every day. —Nevin Martell
963 Palmer Alley NW. piccolinadc.com

The exterior of Thip Khao Credit: Darrow Montgomery

BEST RESTAURANT IF YOU’RE CRAVING UMAMI

Thip Khao

Umami, one of the five basic categories of taste, is the element that makes food taste satisfying. Unlike sweet or sour, umami’s profile is more complex and difficult to describe. It is often referred to simply as “savory” or more simply put, “deliciousness”.

One of the best sources of umami is fish sauce, which also happens to be one of the main ingredients in jeow som, the multipurpose, everyday dipping sauce that is considered a staple across Laos. It should come as no surprise, then, that your best bet for satisfying an umami craving in D.C. is at Columbia Heights’ Laotian mainstay, Thip Khao. 

Thip Khao’s kitchen is helmed by one of the leaders of Laotian cuisine in the United States, Chef Seng Luangrath, who learned to cook at a refugee camp after fleeing Laos during the Vietnam war. Before Thip Khao, Luangrath, who is one of the founders of the Lao Food Movement, was the executive chef at a no-frills Laotian/Thai eatery in Falls Church called Padaek, which rather fittingly translates to fish sauce in Laotian. “In a Laotian household, if you serve your family a dish that doesn’t have fish sauce, they’re probably going to be upset,” she says.

Fish sauce is featured prominently throughout Southeast Asian cuisine, most notably in Thailand, but Luangrath shares that Laotian fish sauce is typically unfiltered, giving it a thicker consistency as it carries bits of fish and herbs that are otherwise separated during the filtration process, rendering it funkier and more complex. If you’re feeling particularly bold, the chef recommends ordering the Tam Muk Houng, a papaya salad that features fermented shellfish paste, chili, and the always required jeow som. Another recommended dish for umami lovers is Naem Khao, crispy coconut rice deep fried and coated in jeow som, peanuts, scallions, and herbs served with lettuce wraps and an optional serving of sour pork. —Alexa Kasner
3462 14th St. NW. thipkhao.com

BEST LATE NIGHT “I NEED SOME REAL FOOD!” SPOT

Old Ebbitt Grill

It doesn’t matter what time of day it is, I’m always ready for a three-course meal. There are plenty of restaurants throughout the city where I can do this. When I get this thought late at night, though, Old Ebbitt Grill comes to mind. 

Yes, Old Ebbitt is a bit of a touristy spot, with it being right by the White House, but that’s the last thing I’m concerned about when I’m hungry. Old Ebbitt just always serves some damn good food. To know that I can get that damn good food at 1 in the morning makes me extremely happy. 

I don’t order a typical “after hours” meal either, especially with their late night menu being the size of a regular dining menu at other restaurants. I’m getting a serving of their white wine mussels and soaking the sauce with the toasted house bread. Their steak or fish entrees are always grabbing my attention. Of course, I will get a dessert, too, usually their creme brulee.

I’m absolutely taking advantage of the late night oyster happy hour, which runs 11 p.m. to 1 a.m every night throughout the entire restaurant! Mix and match their oysters for $2 each, served as a half and full dozen. Did I once sit at their bar and inhale two dozen oysters and wash it down with a glass of riesling? I absolutely did! No shame in my game.

Old Ebbitt, that classic D.C. spot, is pretty reliable when it comes to filling your belly. It’s even more reliable when you want more than tacos and pizza late at night. —Crystal Fernanders
675 15th St. NW. ebbitt.com

BEST MEAL SERVICE FOR WHEN YOU DON’T WANT TO COOK

La Dinette

Adulting is hard and achieving work-life balance is nearly impossible. Something has to give. When you feel you don’t have time to cook dinner for you and your family, that’s where La Dinette comes in. The meal delivery service was founded earlier this year by 38-year-old Chloé Revuz, a mother of two who often felt overwhelmed fulfilling her desire to put delicious, nutritious food on the table while keeping up with her job as a program manager for a subcontractor to USAID, a position she subsequently left to focus on La Dinette. A longtime home cook, she leans into her Swiss upbringing and love of French cuisine to create ready-to-heat-and-eat dinners featuring an appetizer, entrée, and optional dessert. Delivered on Tuesdays and Thursdays, customers can subscribe for weekly or biweekly meals (non-vegetarian or vegetarian) or purchase them as one-offs. Recent starters included rich poblano cream soup and tabbouleh salad, while lasagna, chicken pot pie cradled in a buttery crust, and a variety of quiches starred as main courses. In addition, Revuz offers brunch packages, pastries, and cakes on an a la carte basis. To be ecologically mindful, meals are delivered in an insulated cooler bag with reusable dishware, which you return when receiving your next meal. Revuz currently only delivers to the 20002 and 20003 zip codes, which includes Capitol Hill, Navy Yard, and the area around Union Station, but plans to expand based on demand. If you live outside this radius, meals can be picked up at Mess Hall, where she prepares the food. Either way, adulting just got a whole lot easier. —Nevin Martell
703 Edgewood St. NE. ladinettedc.com

BEST BOTTOMLESS BRUNCH WITH BUILD-YOUR-OWN MIMOSAS

Bodegon

I will admit, I do not dine out enough on the weekends like I want. However, when I do, I make sure the brunch has a bottomless option. As we know, bottomless brunch is a sport in the DMV.

Of the few brunches I’ve had this year, Bodegon won my heart. Spanish tapas are the name of the game here. They offer an “unlimited brunch experience” that includes brunch items and select cold and hot tapas. Some brunch items are excluded from the deal, but are available a la carte. 

The gambas al ajillo, shrimp sauteed with olive oil, lots of sliced garlic, and piri-piri peppers, are essential. The peppers and garlic infuse the olive oil, making it perfect for bread dipping. The garlic was cooked so well, I ate it on its own. The cured and marinated anchovies with Basque pepper will make you question whether your hate for anchovies is genuine. The French toast with salted caramel toffee made me moan a little bit. And of course, there’s the obligatory patatas bravas, crispy potatoes topped with garlic aioli and a spicy sauce. I read on the internet that it’s the law to order these, by the way. 

For an additional $20, you get bottomless mimosas. Choose between orange, pineapple, cranberry, or mango juice. Don’t be confused when your server brings over a four-ounce cup of the flavor you asked for. It’s just the juice. A bottle of sparkling wine is right behind it so you can make your drink. I’ve always loved the idea of this, and it’s even better when there’s more than one type of juice at the table. Bodegon is sticking to the bottomless option by offering an additional bottle of the bubbles once the first one is finished.

Bodegon will have you leaving the restaurant full and ready to take on Sunday Funday. Brunch runs until 3 p.m. —Crystal Fernanders
515 8th St. SE. bodegondc.com

BEST CREATIVE BENTO BOX

Cranes

Going out for a nice lunch these days can be … challenging. So many restaurants simply aren’t offering it anymore or only offer it a few days a week. When it is available, choices are often limited and skew towards mainstream crowd-pleasers that can feel less than inspired. There are rational reasons for all these issues—staffing shortages, diminished foot traffic at lunchtime as people continue to work from home, and supply chain issues impacting operators’ ability to consistently source quality products at reasonable prices—which continue to be a huge stress on the well-being of restaurants and the people who run them. 

Despite all that, you still sometimes want to treat yourself to an exemplary meal in the middle of the day. Lucky for you, there’s the tasting menu-level bento box at Cranes. Six compartments come filled with a satiating array of artfully conceived small bites hewing toward the restaurant’s Japanese focus. A recent selection featured mushroom kombu broth with fairy-size enoki mushrooms floating in its umami-rich depths, a pork skewer lacquered with black vinegar soy glaze, soft shell shrimp tempura, and a squash burrata salad sweetened with a touch of honey. “It’s fine dining in a very small box,” says chef-partner Pepe Moncayo. “You can experience the restaurant in 30 minutes.”

Available only on weekdays at lunch, the bento is a steal of a splurge at only $45. —Nevin Martell
724 9th St. NW. cranes-dc.com

BEST NO FRILLS POUND OF COFFEE

Harrar Coffee and Roastery 

In the morning, I rarely want coffee I could imagine an aficionado calling “tart” or “crisp” or “herby.” I don’t want to pretend my coffee is wine with a personality or encounter notes of lemon and musk. What I want is something simple, easy, and drinkable, which is why I always go for a cup brewed from Dark Harrar beans, at Harrar in Park View: It’s coffee that tastes like coffee.

Harrar roasts all their beans in small batches at its storefront, and their dark bean “Dark Harrar” tastes rich, dark, and slightly sweet. The packaging calls the Dark Harrar “chocolate and berries.” It’s completely inoffensive, a delight to drink, and I’m now one of those people who wakes up excited for my coffee, bells-and-whistles free. 

Harrar’s storefront is nondescript, easily missed on Georgia Avenue NW, and though they have some tables, it’s normally pretty empty. If visiting the store is too inconvenient, Harrar has a coffee subscription service that allows you to select your beans of choice and the frequency with which you receive them. Subscribing saves you 15 percent. 

If you’re looking for a flavor adventure, or you’re a third wave coffee snob, skip it. But for the rest of us, Harrar roasts a damn good, no-frills, pound of beans. —Isabel Adler
2904 Georgia Ave. NW. harrarcoffeeroastery.com

BEST RESTAURANT FOR FEELING EUROPEAN

Kafe Leopold

Somehow, every time I open Instagram, it feels like someone else I know is on an enviable European getaway. If you are feeling similarly and if spending three hours drinking an espresso on a sunny day in Vienna isn’t in your near future, fear not! Situated in Georgetown’s idyllic Cady’s Alley, Kafe Leopold offers you the opportunity to feel instantly transported to Europe in the heart of D.C. 

In the spirit of Austrian konditorei, Kafe Leopold is equal parts upscale restaurant, bar, bakery, and cafe. The design is, however, a slight departure from the traditional cozy and ornate spots you’ll find on the Continent; the decor is strictly minimalist with swirling orange leather seats providing vibrant pops of color among the all-white interior. Everything listed on the extensive menu is labeled in German with descriptions in English provided below, adding to the overall feeling of dining abroad. Some menu highlights include assorted tea sandwiches and traditional Viennese apfelstrudel. Plus, breakfast is served until 4 p.m., so you can enjoy your morning pastries well into the afternoon in true European fashion. For coffee aficionados, you’ll have the chance to sip on Viennese coffee by Julius Meinl in the brand’s signature red cups. If breakfast’s not your thing, the menu offers a range of plates for later in the day, from salads and pastas to steak, in addition to a sizable selection of beer for you to “prost!” your evening away in the restaurant’s dreamy courtyard until that trip to Austria finally materializes. —Alexa Kasner
3315 Cady’s Alley NW. kafeleopold.business.site

BEST DESSERT FOR DINNER

Gravitas

Some days I’m like, “Fuck it, I’m having dessert for dinner,” because some days are just that bad and dessert always makes me feel good. That’s why I love the bimonthly sugar-forward dinner experiences pastry chef Aisha Momaney is hosting at Gravitas, each with five themed sweet courses preceded by savory canapes. The debut dessert-for-dinner soiree in August celebrated mid-Atlantic fruits of the moment: raspberries, peaches, pluots, and cherries. Next up, an homage to products from Vermont, including many from her parents’ home outside Brattleboro, such as burnt honey, wild mint, and, naturally, maple syrup. A guilty fall favorites night showcased riffs on a pumpkin spice latte and caramel macchiato, as well as funnel cake accompanied by apple cider sorbet. Tickets for the sweet soirees are $90 per person, with an optional wine pairing, though you can also order coffee, espresso, or a cold glass of milk a la carte. The next dessert dinner on December 4 will focus on holiday classics, including Momaney’s takes on hot buttered rum and a Yule log. —Nevin Martell
1401 Okie St. NE. gravitasdc.com

BEST ALMOND PAIN AU CHOCOLAT 

Saku Saku Flakerie

Every bite of the almond pain au chocolat from Cleveland Park’s Saku Saku Flakerie hits pleasure sensors in the brain—sweet, fat, crunchy, smooth. Its thin butter layers crumble all over the table, as any self-respecting lamented pastry should. Its filling is sinful; the marzipan is goey, approaching gelatinous, and the chocolate stays sweet and smeary, even at room temperature. There is nothing challenging about this pain au chocolat, nothing sophisticated or fussy. It’s a rare gem of a pastry.

I’d never order differently at Saku. I’ve been burned there too many times before, first by a lumpy lemon loaf, then by a forgettable cruffin and an average pain au chocolat sans almond. As my roommate put it, “Why mess with perfection?” So I stick to my tried and true, and I would travel a good distance just to get my hands on one.

Though the pastry stands alone, Saku Saku’s flagship location, which shares space with what used to be Trattoria Al Volo, is worth stopping by. They have a charming garden hidden in the back with small tables and chairs. I hold off for sunny days so I can eat there, under the vines, and feel European. If you’re downtown, Saku Saku also has a location at the Building Museum. —Isabel Adler
3417 Connecticut Ave. NW. sakusakuflakerie.com

BEST SHRIMP AND GRITS

City Tap House

Shrimp and grits are a staple for pretty much any and every brunch spot in D.C. I can gladly say that I’ve never had a bad bowl of it. But City Tap House’s version of this classic has set the standard for any other place I’ve visited.

Disclaimer: Sugar doesn’t go in grits! Savory grits only! Now that that’s out of the way, these smooth white cheddar grits are cooked so well that they don’t leave too much of a gritty feel as you eat them. While I don’t mind head-on shrimp, City Tap House serves them headless, making it easier to dive right into this meal. The meal is topped with a heavy drizzle of Cajun beurre blanc (aka yummy butter sauce), and two sunny-side up eggs. It’s also available on their dinner menu, sans eggs. 

There’s one thing that sets City Tap’s shrimp and grits apart from others—a few spoonfuls of braised collard greens served with it. I had to question if there was someone’s grandma in the kitchen. The ham hock added the right amount of smokiness and richness. They are also tender without being mushy. I could honestly eat a bowl of these on their own. But pairing it with sauteed shrimp, cheese grits, butter, and eggs is the match I didn’t realize was missing in my life. 

The only negative thing I can say about their shrimp and grits is that the serving could be larger. By that, I mean I’m greedy and want more. But City Tap House’s version had me licking the bowl clean. Ha ha, I’m serious. —Crystal Fernanders
Multiple locations, citytap.com

BEST FRENCH FRIES

Aboveground

In my opinion, food halls should exist in airports and nowhere else. Almost everything in a food hall is worse than the same food at a restaurant, and the waits can be longer. Yet in a recent moment of weakness I found myself at Union Market, wonderfully, powerfully drawn to some french fries. Oily, crispy, buttery, hot as you can stand it, Aboveground’s fries draw me through those overcrowded doors again and again. 

These fries don’t let you forget they are potatoes, and, if you didn’t believe it already, they will convince you that potatoes are the perfect food. They are hefty, perfectly cooked wedges. They are tender, they have bite. They are salty, but not overwhelmingly so, sweet in a nuanced and natural way. They elevate the french fry form without getting fancy.  

The fries come out triple cooked, practically still bubbling from the fryer. You get to order sauces to dunk them in, necessary to cool them enough to shovel them in your mouth—I recommend the curry mayo, but curry ketchup and tartar sauce are also options. 

Aboveground is a small and  gimmicky-even-for-a-food-hall stand near the entrance. It’s all British themed: a poster of the Queen (RIP), Aero Chocolate, a little telephone booth, all on full display. The place is plastered in Union Jacks, and British phrases, and you have to order them as “crisps” instead of fries. And yet, I’ve been known to tolerate the triteness and ride the bus alone to Union Market just for a french fry dinner. —Isabel Adler
1309 5th St. NE. abovegrounddc.com

BEST BOSSAM BOX

bangbop

Bangbop has a pork bossam box that has become part of my regular diet. Bossam, a popular dish in South Korea, consists of steamed pork wrapped with different vegetable leaves, and topped with various sauces and garnishes. Think of lettuce wraps, with some guilt, but in a good way. 

To me, what really makes a bossam box is how the protein is prepared. Bangbop’s pork belly is poached with spices until tender. When it’s ready to be served, the belly is sliced and lightly broiled. I’m a sucker for pork belly, and this one is the reason I will not eliminate pork from my diet. Wrap a slice of the juicy pork belly in lettuce or a perilla leaf—the flavor reminds me of a mild mint and basil.

The fun parts of this bossam box are the rotation of house-made garnishes, each served in one-ounce containers. Two are always available and I always ask for an extra serving of both: The ssamjang is their spicy garlic bean paste, and the saeu-jeot is a brined baby shrimp sauce. Both sauces are definitely an acquired taste, and are match made for the pork belly. 

Spicy kimchi, whole garlic cloves, and sliced jalapeños are other offered garnishes. I finish eating bangbop’s bossam box with strong breath, but the meal is more than worth it. And it’s healthy, I tell myself, because it’s essentially a lettuce wrap. (Also, I may or may not be the reason bangbop serves their bossam box with a side of rice.) —Crystal Fernanders
2800 10th St. NE. bangbop.com