1319 Rockville Pike, Rockville; 4316 Markham Street, Annandale
Age: 26 years
A short story: It’s easy to think these cozy dim sum parlors are local, as they’ve been part of the scene for decades – Rockville opened in 1996, Annandale in 2000 – but the restaurants in northern China are part of the local scene. ‘chain. Alex Chang opened the first location in Taipei in the 70s and, after its success, brought a version to Los Angeles. Chang’s niece, Elaine Tang, and her family operate the Washington branches.
What we like: We often equate dim sum with traveling carts, but the action can come at the expense of freshness. Here, a variety of noodles, soups, dumplings and barbecue meats arrive piping hot from the kitchen. It’s a good idea to arrive early on weekends to avoid a queue, but thanks to pandemic-era changes, cash is no longer the only currency, and diners can even make themselves deliver dumplings or take away.
Biggest Hits: Spicy beef noodle soup; chinese fried chicken rice; spicy wontons; Beijing beef wrap; turnip puffs with bacon; hot garlic cucumbers.
815 Connecticut Avenue, NW
Age: 34 years old.
A brief history: DC restorer Ashok Bajaj-behind Rasika, annabelle, and six other venues – launched his empire with this elegant Indian dining room near the White House (hence the bold clientele, which has included four presidents). This year, Bajaj gave the opulent space a modern makeover.
What we like: Old-school sophistication (live piano, silent room, massive chandelier) meets classic repertoire of curries, catsand thalis. Longtime chef Nilesh Singhvi sets his dishes apart with top-notch ingredients and subtle yet creative twists.
Biggest Hits: Crispy Kale with Date-Tamarind Chutney; chicken makhani; Tandoori salmon; Lobster labdar; goat cheese kulcha.
1520 14th St., NW
Age: 12 years.
A brief history: Spanish restaurant Logan Circle was a collaboration between a deceased restaurateur and a visionary Marc Kuller (also behind Proof, one of DC’s first food-focused wine bars) and the talented Haidar Karoum, now chef/owner of Chloe at the shipyard. Kuller’s son Max runs the place these days, and more than a decade later, several Karoum dishes remain.
What we like: It’s the pinnacle of a neighborhood restaurant, with a delicious small plate menu that doesn’t change much (but enough that it never gets boring) and a cocktail list of slushitos and gin and tonics worthy a destination in itself.
Biggest Hits: Grilled calamari with salsa verde; mini pork belly sandwich; Indian spiced chicken with coriander labneh; minced steak with Valdeón blue cheese sauce; Manchego quince cheesecake.
332 Springvale Road, Great Falls
Age: 68 years old.
A brief history: Alsatian François Haeringer opened the original Francois’s house near the White House during the Eisenhower era. In 1976, he moved the successful restaurant to its current home, a half-timbered house that looks like something out of the old country. Haeringer died in 2010, and his son Jacques now runs the show.
What we like: Frilly decor isn’t for everyone, we admit. (If you can’t stand the sight of a placemat, dine in the pretty garden.) But we appreciate the time capsule of a menu, in all its canonical French glory. Long live Chateaubriand!
Biggest Hits: Roquefort and apple tart; roquefort salad; foie gras with Sauternes; lobster with tropical fruits and crab; Grand Marnier and chocolate soufflés.
2401 Pennsylvania Ave. NW
Age: 23 years.
A brief history: German-born chef/owner Robert Wiedmaier worked at JFK’s favorite restaurant, Le Pavillon, before taking over from legendary chef Jean-Louis Palladin at Watergate. Its Franco-Flemish flagship, named after his son Marcel, is an ode to European gastronomy.
What we like: While other luxury dining rooms were modernizing, hello natural wines; Goodbye tablecloths, Marcel’s is impeccably classic. Veteran waiters wear sharp suits, tables are adorned with Bernardaud china, and dishes featuring squab and Dover sole are covered in silver domes, if you leave the table. But that of Marcel is hardly archaic. Jennifer Castaneda-Jones, a rare female executive chef in the world of tasting rooms, oversees the multi-course menu.
Biggest Hits: Lobster bisque in crust; White sausage; mussel gratin; Époisses cheese course.
6775 Wilson Boulevard, Church of the Falls
Age: Ten years.
A brief history: This perpetually crowded Vietnamese dining hall, founded by Mai Lam; his cousin (and chief) Phuong Ho; and her mother, Xuan Tran, replaced the family’s more than two-decade-old jewelry store at Eden Center.
What we like: It’s the rare 100-course menu that’s strong in almost every way. Come for the conventional stuff (spring rolls, shaking beef) or feast on a sumptuous seafood fondue or homemade rice paper platter.
Biggest Hits: Clams sautéed with pork; banh xeo, crepe stuffed with rice flour; roast chicken marinated in garlic; vermicelli topped with grilled pork and shrimp; rice noodle soups.
11407 Amherst Ave, Wheaton
Age: 24 years.
A brief history: The brightest star of Wheaton’s small but vibrant Thai food scene is still this humble mall. Originally from Bangkok Krisana Suchotinuntarmed with recipes from his mother and grandmother, launched the restaurant in 1998 and expanded it to neighboring space in 2011.
What we like: Suchotinunt’s menu goes beyond Americanized Thai dishes. Its myriad salads (especially a famous mix of fried watercress and shrimp), expert fries, and well-rounded noodle dishes are worth crossing state lines.
Biggest Hits: stuffed chicken wings; grilled beef salad; grilled pork skewers; duck with chilli and lime or red curry; fried whole fish.
5455 Wisconsin Ave, Chevy Chase
Age: 46 years.
A brief history: Washington’s first sushi restaurant opened in Glover Park in the mid-1970s. In 1988, then-chef Daisuke Utagawa bought the place, and he runs it to this day, albeit in a larger Friendship Heights location. Some of the region’s best sushi chefs, such as Handry Tjan and Kaz Okochi, have come out of his kitchen.
What we like: The sushi menu, whether it’s a few weekday rolls or an array of sashimi, with alternatives that go beyond tempura and teriyaki. But also the drinks menu. (Utagawa has long argued that sushi tastes better with a glass of Burgundy.)
Biggest Hits: Tuna five ways; yellowtail believed; katsu pork ribs; white shrimp tempura; soft shell crab roll.
3715 Macomb Street, NW
Age: 21 years old.
A brief history: Neapolitan pizza has dominated the local scene for so long it’s hard to remember a time when pop-up pies were rare. But in the late 90s, Dupont Circle’s Pizzeria Paradiso was pretty much the only game in town. In September 2001, co-owner Pierre Pastan split up to open his own DOC-certified pizzeria in the shadow of the National Cathedral.
What we like: While the rustic pies are a draw, it’s a grazer’s paradise. Opt for the impeccably sourced salads and snacks from Pastan’s (anchovies from Sicily, sheep’s milk ricotta from Sardinia), and don’t miss the dessert or a sparkling Italian wine suited to the pizzas.
Biggest Hits: Eggs stuffed with green sauce; Vongole pizza with clams; Norcia pizza with salami and grilled peppers; ice cream.
2420 18th St., NW
Age: 28 years old.
A brief history: Owners Gebrehanna Demissie and Zenebech Dessu started their business as injera bakery near Shaw’s “Little Ethiopia” neighborhood, distributing flatbreads made with teff – the workhorse of Ethiopian cuisine – to businesses in the city. A welcoming restaurant followed, then moved to Adams Morgan in 2017. After a pandemic hiatus, the cozy space — overseen now by his son Michael Demissie — is going from strength to strength.
What we like: The flavor of Zenebech Dessu injera always shines alongside soulful stews and tipswhich can be accompanied by a well-made cocktail or a local beer.
Biggest Hits: sambusa; beef or lamb tips; vegetarian plates or combinations of meats; banatu (a tower of beef tibs, kitfo, yes cheese and egg).
This article originally appeared in the February 2022 issue of The Washingtonian.