Foie Gras Tacos
The bar-snacks menu at this opulent French restaurant near the White House holds many (relatively) affordable treasures. Perhaps none is more innovative, more delicious—and more evocative of chef Keith Bombaugh’s Alinea training—than these foie-gras-stuffed “tacos” served in a shell of dehydrated bananas. The presentation, over a bed of roasted pistachios, isn’t just for show—it’s two bar snacks for the price of one. 900 16th St., NW.
What’s a creamy smoked-fish spread fit for a Jewish deli doing on chef Tae Strain’s nouveau Korean/American menu? “I always think of bagels and smoked fish—it’s so delicious,” Strain shrugs. The dip is made with double-smoked Carolina trout plus cream cheese, sour cream, crème fraîche, and lemon. Smoked trout roe and pickled red onions elbow through the richness. It’s served with the kitchen’s fabulous bing bread, but we could eat this stuff with a spoon. 1090 I St., NW.
Can’t decide between Maryland’s two great crab soups—sherry-spiked cream or zesty tomato-vegetable? You don’t have to at this Annapolis-area crabhouse, which lets you go halfsies in the same bowl. Both are superb renditions packed with sweet local meat, but here the sum is greater than the parts. 700 Mill Creek Rd., Arnold.
You might think it’s just a plate of ham, but at this glittery Spanish dining room, the deliciousness is in the details. Cinco Jotas ham is made from pigs fed acorns and grass and is aged for 36 months. Carvers who’ve had months of training slice the meat and fan it on candle-warmed “volcano” plates so the fat melts just so. Simple but unforgettable. 791 Wharf St., SW.
This Nepalese destination serves five kinds of momo (dumplings). Our favorite order: the ones filled with yak. Ground up and spiced with coriander, cumin, garlic, ginger, and Nepalese black pepper, the very lean protein is surprisingly tender. While the pan-seared momo could stand on their own, they’re even better with the trio of cilantro-mint, spiced-tomato, and roasted-tomato sauces. 3807 Mount Vernon Ave., Alexandria.
Assembly is required for this Indian street snack—and that’s part of what makes it so fun. First, fill the crispy wheat shell with potatoes and chickpeas. Next, dress it with diced red onion and tamarind chutney. Then fill the bite-size vessel with cool, spicy mint broth. Pop the whole thing in your mouth—quickly!—for a burst of flavor and crunch. 4078 Jermantown Rd., Fairfax.
This riff on a cheese plate is the sleeper hit at this bakery by day/restaurant by night. The golden slices of focaccia made with sourdough levain prove that Ellē knows its bread. But the toast only supports the real star: maple-marinated Greek feta topped with a quenelle of brown butter that’s emulsified with more maple. Dehydrated oil-cured black olives add the perfect salty crunch. 3221 Mount Pleasant St., NW.
Hummus With Spiced Beef
Chef Haidar Karoum got this hummus recipe from his dad, a passionate home cook. When the family entertained, he’d amp up the chickpea dip with buttery almonds, paprika, olive oil, and sautéed beef. Karoum follows the same winning script here but does his father one better by adding a side of snowshoe naan. The trick to the tangy, stretchy Afghan-style flatbread: a dough made with yogurt instead of water. 1331 Fourth St., SE.
Fresh Lily Dan-Dan Noodles
Szechuan food has long been popular in Washington, which means we’re not lacking for bowls of numbingly peppery dan-dannoodles. Peter Chang sets this version apart with pickled cabbage, chewy house-made noodles, and a wildcard: lily bulb, a slightly bitter root used in Chinese medicine to help with sleep. Ironic, because it makes these noodles practically jump with flavor. 4500 East-West Hwy., Bethesda.
Hay-Smoked Gnocchi With Crab
Chef Fabio Trabocchi has been hay-smoking ingredients for more than a decade—it’s a technique he first employed at the long-gone Maestro. For this Venetian-inspired dish, he cooks gargantuan live Alaskan king crabs, then uses the stock for sauce and tosses the meat with gnocchi. Another showstopping touch: The dish is served in the crustacean’s shell. 3050 K St., NW.
If you’re new to Uyghur cuisine—which blends Central Asian and Turkish flavors—laghman noodles are a perfect introduction. At Eerkin’s, the strands are stretched to order and smothered in spiced gravy, stir-fried vegetables and chilies, and morsels of lamb. 4008 University Dr., Fairfax; 2412 Wisconsin Ave., NW.
The trick to Massimo Fabbri’s rendition of this Tuscan staple is to start with whole rabbits. He roasts the bones, then makes a white-wine-fortified stock, amping up the meaty sauce. Wide ribbons of pappardelle are, of course, handmade, and the whole thing is finished with fresh thyme, Parmesan cheese, and olive oil. The only effortless step? Polishing it off. 1316 Ninth St., NW.
Like much of the menu at this Shaw bistro, this brunch staple is a collision of the traditional and the forward-thinking. Chef Cedric Maupillier uses an Alsatian blueprint for the eggy tart, packing it with leeks, onion, nutmeg, and Gruyère. But he bakes the quiche in a thin, footlong rectangle. The result means more buttery crust and more bronzed edges to fork through. “In your country, you have Subway,” Maupillier says. “At Convivial, we have quiche.” 801 O St., NW.
Chef Naresh Advani’s vegetarian southern Indian cafe is known for its house-made breads, but we never miss this brilliant bowl of rice. Pilau grains and split lentils are tempered with a handful of aromatics—mustard seeds, turmeric, whole red chilies, fresh curry leaves—plus a squeeze of lemon juice. Make it a meal with yogurt, pickles, and pappadam. 298 Sunset Park Dr., Herndon.
The best way to taste the brilliance of Tony Conte’s pies is through a simple Margherita. The char-pocked crust puffs up to hold a pristine sauce of Bianco DiNapoli tomatoes plus basil and lush mozzarella. 12207 Darnestown Rd., Darnestown.
Chef Erik Bruner-Yang has always dreamed of having a chicken-yakitori restaurant. In the meantime, this parade of gallinaceous delicacies is his next-best thing. The multi-dish meal might include sausage-stuffed wings, soy-glazed skewers, crackling skin chips, and decadent liver parfait. The best comes last: the most comforting cup of chick-en broth we’ve tasted. 1770 Euclid St., NW.
It was the last place we expected to mentally transport us somewhere beachy, but this strip-mall dining room came through. Plump shrimp are fried until the batter just about shatters, then are tossed with fried shallots, roasted chilies, and cilantro. Finally, the mess is piled atop tamarind, also known as nature’s sweet-and-sour sauce. 8110-A Arlington Blvd., Falls Church.
Duck al Pastor
Chef Victor Albisu reimagines his favorite street taco, swapping out pork for marinated duck roasted in duck fat, chipotles, and, for a touch of citrusy sweetness, Jarritos pineapple soda. Fork apart the tender bird and fashion DIY tacos with cilantro, shaved onions, pineapple salsa, and warm corn tortillas. 777 I St., NW.
Salmon . . . really? Hear us out. This little-seen cut is meaty and rich with fat, which is deliciously drawn out with a turn on the grill. At this Union Market–area hot spot, chef Marjorie Meek-Bradley is happily surprised that the collar, simply dressed with salt, pepper, parsley, and garlic butter, often outsells the more familiar salmon steak. Wise move, diners. 1250 Fifth St., NE.
It’s rare that we get excited about anything fast-casual—unless we’re at this Filipino counter operation. Chef/owner Javier Fernandezmakes porcine magic, wrapping pork tenderloin in pork belly, then roasting it slowly to render the fat and upping the heat until its mahogany skin is so crisp you could use it to slice through paper. You can get it in a sandwich or a bowl, but we like it on its own with a side of rice. 5268-H Nicholson Ln., Rockville.
Trout on a Log
Come to Spike Gjerde’s Line hotel restaurant for dinner and you’ll start to notice little trails of smoke wafting around the room. Those are from servers presenting tableside this still-cooking cut of fish on a smoldering piece of wood. When it makes its way to your plate, the filet is paired with a seasonally changing sauce—say, hot-sauce hollandaise or lobster cream. 1770 Euclid St., NW.
Chefs Chris Morgan and Gerald Addison had talked about putting a turmeric-golden chicken on their menu, but they were still playing with the recipe when Morgan encountered a hole-in-the-wall rotisserie in Marrakesh. He called Addison in DC: “Dude, I found the chicken.” They’ve since managed to replicate the dream dish, down to the bed of flatbread that soaks up all its slow-roasted juices.1346 Florida Ave., NW.
Lemon Meringue Pie
Forget stiff diner slices. This dessert—which is based on a recipe from the 19th century—is made to order with frozen lemon cream, toasted meringue, and fresh blueberries. It’s a summer favorite but on the menu year-round. 3139 M St., NW.
Vegan desserts can seem more Living Without than indulgent. Not so for chef Kate Jacoby, who loves rich chocolate sweets. Her ultra-fudgy chocolate cake is set off with a chicory-cookie crust plus barbecue pecans, torched marshmallow, and coconut-soy graham-cracker “ice cream” that’s creamier than the actual stuff. 600 H St., NE.
Even carrot-cake purists will fall for pastry chef Paola Velez’s Greek-inspired sundae. Instead of thick cream-cheese frosting, she combines whipped cinnamon-and-salt-accented mascarpone with warmly spiced cake. Carrot “spoon sweets” (think marmalade) add a little citrus , while black-walnut gelato makes it extra creamy. The cherry on top? A nest of katafi, crunchy threads of phyllo dough. 1734 N St., NW.
Crab Bánh Mì
José Andrés is a wizard at elevating humble fare—Krispy Kreme doughnuts, chicken shawarma—to otherworldly at his avant-garde tasting bar. Our current favorite: a three-bite rendering of a Vietnamese sandwich in which an apple meringue serves as bun, and crab, bright herbs, and crab mayonnaise make up the filling. 855 E St., NW.
This article appears in the December 2018 issue of Washingtonian.