June 22, 2024


Food & Travel Enthusiast

Review | The 25 best new restaurants in D.C. offer a world of flavors

Here’s hoping you like French food, Asian flavors and brand extensions, because my spring collection of new places to eat brims with opportunities to taste the top trends of the past year or so.

If you’ve been following my restaurant rounds in and around Washington, you know your ravenous guide has been eating a lot of baguettes, hoisting more than a few chopsticks and frequenting spinoffs of popular dining establishments. (Thank you, José Andrés, Peter Chang and others.)

Are dining rooms more crowded these days? It sure feels that way, judging from all the hard-to-book restaurants — and the din within. “We missed gathering,” says Rose Previte, owner of the spirited new Kirby Club in Fairfax, Va., where the demand for group bookings represents “a new appreciation” among diners.

[The perfect restaurant doesn’t exist. Readers helped me create one.]

Sign of the times: Americans spent 20.7 percent more at restaurants than they spent on groceries last year, Axios reported last month. Given high prices in general, some people are opting to let others do the cooking.

LEFT: Stuffed Piquillo Peppers at the Bazaar by José Andrés. (Scott Suchman for The Washington Post) RIGHT: Bartender Fernando Granja mixes drinks at Amazonia. (Scott Suchman for The Washington Post)

Sorry to say, quiet restaurants are rarer than ever these days, prompting me to fantasize about ways restaurants could enhance the overall dining experience. Read on for my list of 10 suggestions, based in part on what followers have shared on my weekly online discussion.

The following list highlights my pick of the current crop — 25 young restaurants, half in the suburbs, where I’d be happy to go on my own dollar (dimes being so yesterday). If there’s a fresh face you don’t see, it could be the result of recent chef changes, the need for more time to prove itself, or simply because life is short and you deserve the best.

Filter for your dining preferences

1 Amazonia/Causa

The District

Mains $26 to $38 at Amazonia and $125 for six-course chef’s tasting menu at Causa.

Carlos Delgado says he wanted to “build a new way of Peruvian eating,” and that’s exactly what he’s accomplished with two restaurants under one roof in Blagden Alley, Amazonia and Causa. The former is a rakish bar and dining room with a jungle of an outdoor terrace on the rooftop and snacks including skewers. The latter — off the entrance and opening with a pristine display of fish — showcases a six-course tasting menu that your guide introduces as if it were a trip: “We’re going to touch on coastal cooking, then the Andes, and finish in the Amazon.”

Here’s what I love about the bar: pretty much everything? Drinks are not just balanced, they’re beautiful. The pisco-spirited Anticuchería, hinting of smoke and fruit, shows up in a terra-cotta vessel with spiced pineapple and a banana leaf. The kitchen gives fresh meaning to “bar food.” Skewered salmon belly melts on the tongue; a morsel of garlicky plantain topped with pork tallow becomes irresistible nigiri; and hearts of palm and creamy avocado make for a fetching salad when they’re carpeted with fried plantain coins. Throw in smart service and plush seating and you get a line outside before the door opens.

[Amazonia and Causa: Two delicious tastes of Peru under one roof]

Here’s what I love about the fine dining: Once a parade of exquisite small bites are cleared at Causa, Delgado makes it his mission to spend as much time as possible with his audience. Here he is, adding liquid nitrogen to yellowtail and sweet potato, a sparkling ceviche (and a reminder he once worked for José Andrés). Another course, Delgado explains the ancient practice of cooking layers of food underground over hot stones — pachamanca — as we slice into succulent Wagyu beef short ribs lapped with a reduction of black mint, beef stock and soy sauce and served with a modern whip of cauliflower. The list of piscos seems endless, like the varieties of potatoes in Peru, and you have to admire priorities like the newly acquired $15,000 dryer — just for aging fish.

Supplements can send your bill skyward, but even the base dinner here is as much a master class in Peruvian history and geography as celebration of one of the world’s finest pantries.

Here’s why you should book a trip to either attraction: Nobody in this country is cooking Peruvian at this level, with as much dedication and craftsmanship, as Delgado.

Dreams do come true at Amazonia and Causa — his and diners’.

920 Blagden Alley NW.



Amazonia: Dinner Tuesday through Sunday. Indoor and outdoor seating. Causa: Dinner Thursday through Saturday. Indoor seating.

Sound check: Amazonia—75 decibels/Must speak with raised voice. Causa—70 decibels/Conversation is easy.

2 Chang Chang

The District

Mains $26 to $120 (for shareable duck).

No sooner did Chang Chang open in Dupont Circle last fall than it became the top spot for Chinese in Washington. My only quibble is how long it took for the esteemed chef, Peter Chang, to feed the District as superbly as he’s done over the years in his many restaurants in Maryland, Virginia and beyond.

Dishes you’ve tried in other Chinese places taste like truer, elevated versions here. The delightful roar of Chang Chang’s kung pao chicken is matched by the pedigree of the star of the show — free-range chicken from D’Artagnan — and fried walnut prawns steer clear of the usual cloying glop thanks to a velvety glaze of condensed milk and orange juice. Wrinkly green beans tossed with pickled cabbage, part of some of the best takeout in recent memory, whisks me to Sichuan, the Chinese province famous for its bold flavors.

[Worth the wait: Peter Chang finally opens a Chinese restaurant in D.C.]

Dishes you can’t source anywhere else — duck “four ways” comes to mind — turn any night into a celebration. The spectacle is fired to order and takes 45 minutes to get to the table. Patience is rewarded by a platter of sliced, smoked, five-spiced duck, plus a ginger-spiked broth and a phyllo-swaddled pie stuffed with forbidden rice and shredded duck confit.

There’s no getting bored with the ever-evolving menu. For spring, the cooks have lightened the delectable, tongue-numbing tofu skin salad with cured cucumbers, and they’ve introduced a revivifying yellowtail crudo whose cool is underscored by julienne green apple and challenged by hot mustard. Co-owner and pastry maestro Pichet Ong says raw fish — yusheng in Chinese — symbolizes good luck. The crudo at Chang Chang definitely makes me feel fortunate.

Note that lunch is different from dinner is separate from takeout, and you really, really need to get your chopsticks around the knife-cut noodles strewn with crumbled pork and steamed clams. Ong calls the combination “surf and turf white Bolognese.” The plate, like his cakes, is sublime.

1200 19th St. NW.



Lunch and dinner daily. Indoor and outdoor seating.

Sound check: 75 decibels/Must speak with raised voice. Takeout and delivery. Accessibility: No barriers at entrance; ADA-compliant restroom.

3 Kirby Club

Fairfax, Va.

Mains $17 to $38

Opening chef Omar Hegazi, who was raised in Cairo, returned to New York recently. No need for a sad trombone, though. Before he left, he made sure his kitchen colleagues continued cooking as if he were still in the house.

Long story short: Kirby Club, brought to life by Rose Previte, the vision behind the popular Maydan and Compass Rose in Washington, remains a luscious source for dips, kebabs and “picnic platters” at the Mosaic District in Northern Virginia.

[Kirby Club adds luscious dips, kebabs and ‘picnic platters’ to Fairfax]

The menu acknowledges that the world is made up of some people who want their own plate of food and others who don’t mind competing for the last morsel of whatever on a platter.

Non-sharers will rejoice over the plates for one, featuring a variety of kebabs — chicken, lamb, oyster (mushroom) — that feel like a feast given the fluffy yellow rice, sumac-spiked onions and bright salad that accompany them. “Picnic platters” are a throwback to Previte’s childhood memories of Labor Day spreads with the Kirby Club, a Lebanese social group her maternal grandparents helped found in 1933 in Akron, Ohio. My ongoing fascination is the whole roast chicken, massaged with garlic, turmeric and oil and presented on a raft of flatbread with the aforementioned rice and salad, but also crinkle-cut fries sprinkled with za’atar and a rainbow of sauces.

But first, some starters. First among equals is the muhammara, dark with charred red peppers and sweet-tart with pomegranate. Then again, the falafel are also excellent snacks, flavored with the same coriander, garlic and onion the departed chef recalled from his youthful grazing in Cairo.

New to the script: lunch hours, and the possibility of couscous bowls and “handhelds” — lavash wraps stuffed with a choice of chicken shawarma, falafel with pickled eggplant or (mmm) juice-spurting beef-and-lamb kofta with melted feta cheese, tomato and the spark of pickled onions. Any wrap is better with a fistful of sumac-flavored pita chips.

The Kirby Club is personalized with a central bar, walls with mod colors evoking the 1970s and an album’s worth of Previte’s family photographs. “It’s always sunny here,” an attendant says of the vibe and the flavors. For sure, for sure, and the good times are expected to roll on this fall in Clarendon with a second location.

2911 District Ave., Fairfax, Va.



Dinner Tuesday through Saturday, lunch Monday through Friday. Indoor and outdoor seating.

Sound check: 82 decibels/Extremely loud. Takeout and delivery. Accessibility: Ramp leads to entrance; ADA-compliant restroom.

4 Joy by Seven Reasons

Chevy Chase, Md.

Mains $28 to $130 (for 38-ounce steak).

The name is perfect.

Look around. Yards of fringe in fiesta colors hang from the ceiling, masks enliven a wall near the bar, and the ace attendants sport whimsical jackets that could pass for paintings.

Listen. “There are no wrong choices,” a server announced one night.

Now taste. Pearly slices of swordfish splashed with smoky chile sauce fan across a crisp tortilla, making for the hautest (and hottest) tostada around. A lovely riff on lasagna showcases pink cooked prosciutto and a vivid mint-fresh pesto. Rice-stuffed tomato sounds plain in print, but what a glory going down! Grains tinted with green tomato mojo inside a peeled, roasted tomato served on a trio of sauces is an egg-capped Valentine to vegetarians.

[Joy by Seven Reasons gives diners lots to cheer, even a $65 sandwich]

In all, this is whimsical food (and drink) with serious talent behind it, foremost chef William Morles Gonzalez and his boss, Venezuelan chef Enrique Limardo, whose innovative Latin American restaurant in Washington, Seven Reasons, lends its name to this spirited dining draw in Chevy Chase.

“Have fun, get crazy, be sexy, enjoy,” requests the menu of the window-wrapped restaurant best-known for a truly “Colossal” $65 short rib sandwich that can easily feed three or four.

Leave it to Joy to turn a command into contentment.

5471 Wisconsin Ave., Chevy Chase, Md.



Dinner daily, brunch weekends. Indoor and outdoor seating.

Sound check: 77 decibels/Must speak with raised voice. Takeout and delivery. Accessibility: No barriers at entrance; ramp leads to dining room; ADA-compliant restroom.

5 Local Provisions

Sterling, Va.

Mains $15 to $34.

One meal in, I wanted to be a regular. This is a restaurant that (gasp!) bothers to answer its phone during service, responds to email, offers more than pasta to welcome vegetarians, makes top-shelf drinks at prices that won’t break the bank, lists steak on its kids menu and feels like a family-owned enterprise, — because it is.

Meet chefs Michael and Ally Stebner, partners in life and in business. He’s the smile you see circulating in the light-filled dining room; she’s the one minding the open kitchen. The couple’s menu marries trends (cauliflower piccata) and comforts (roast chicken), much of which pick up flavor from a charcoal grill.

[Local Provisions in Sterling is a mom and pop that checks all the boxes]

Open only since January, Local Provisions is the success it is thanks in large part to the years Michael spent in the fast-casual industry, where he worked for such admired brands as True Food Kitchen, Sweetgreen and Cava. Originally, the Stebners planned to open something similar in Sterling. Locals let them know they wanted someplace “to sit down and be comfortable,” says Michael. He and Ally changed course, acknowledging a full-service restaurant would better “feed our souls as chefs.”

Smart move. The appetizers alone would get my business. Fritto misto and grilled octopus look and taste like starters you’d find at expense-account places in Washington; rafts of house-baked bread slathered with tangy goat cheese, plied with slices of roasted squash and drizzled with spiced honey are meatless — and memorable. Further into the script are a juicy lamb burger jazzed up with pickled peppers and sesame focaccia; a zippy rigatoni Bolognese sized as if for two chowhounds; and a roast chicken that arrives nicely charred, with a bright olive relish and a bed of sliced potatoes that soak up the delicious pan juices.

A stack of booster seats near the restrooms affirms Local Provisions’ family-friendliness. But repeat visits have taught me the restaurant is just as good for date night, girls’ getaways and … well, name the occasion and this newcomer rises to greet it.

46286 Cranston St., Sterling, Va.



Dinner daily, lunch Thursday through Sunday. Indoor and outdoor seating.

Sound check: 77 decibels/Must speak with raised voice. Takeout and delivery. Accessibility: Slight ramp leads to entrance; ADA-compliant restroom.

The Bazaar by José Andrés

The District

Snacks, tapas and medium-size dishes $9 to $68

Thirty years after he first dreamed of opening a restaurant in the Old Post Office building in Washington, José Andrés presents the Bazaar by José Andrés, the splashiest addition yet to his local portfolio. Set in the Waldorf Astoria, it’s a gift to the city that made Andrés the chef and humanitarian he is today, the son of Spain says.

Your eyes won’t know where to focus. In one part of the opulent, second-floor dining room, a carver wields a knife like a surgeon on the cured leg of an Iberian pig fed a diet of acorns. In another, a server is whipping up a caipirinha from a silver bowl of liquid nitrogen, lime juice and the spirit cachaça. Multiple long tables reinforce the chef’s idea of the American Dream: “longer tables, not higher walls,” says the Man Who Needs No Introduction.

[The Bazaar by José Andrés is his dream come true in Washington]

The epic menu looks backward and forward but also lets diners savor the here and now. The late America Eats Tavern is recalled with dishes including the country’s daintiest chicken wings. Served on skewers, the deboned, pressed and fried wings are glossed with a rich hot sauce and finished with a cube of blue cheese. No need to lick your fingers, but you’re likely to smack your lips with every glorious bite.

The food, incorporating ideas from Jaleo, Minibar and the star chef’s other dining draws, comes in well-paced waves. Imagine an onion soup that’s by turns hot and cold in every spoonful, a “Philly cheesesteak” rethought with Wagyu beef and blimp-like “air bread” filled with a whip of cheddar cheese, and a salad of Japanese peaches and burrata arranged as if by an artist. Andrés is fascinated with frying and fritters. Spring for the sumptuous conch fritters — near-liquid with bechamel and onion in the center and light and golden as the best tempura outside.

Reservations aren’t easy, but price-wise, the Bazaar is one of the city’s more accessible special-occasion retreats.

1100 Pennsylvania Ave. NW.



Breakfast, lunch and dinner daily. Indoor seating.

Sound check: 71 decibels/Must speak with raised voice. Accessibility: Wheelchair users can enter the hotel via a ramp and reach the second-floor dining room via an elevator; ADA-compliant restroom.

Donsak Thai DC

The District

Mains $15 to $37 (sharing platter).

When a place has four owners and they all want to see their favorites on the menu, the list can stretch 75 dishes long. That’s the case at this Thai newcomer in Woodley Park, a neighborhood better known for its zoo and park than must-eat restaurants.

Happily, Donsak is a force for the delicious. Co-owned by Supisa Teawbut, a former manager at the nearby Beau Thai, and Boontom Ratana, previously the chef at Urban Thai in Arlington, the cozy storefront is named for the southern city in Thailand known for its seafood and includes a page devoted to Esaan cooking. It’s a style the chef, a native of northeastern Thailand, knows well.

[Donsak Thai Restaurant is required eating in Woodley Park]

Donsak performs the requisite paces for most Thai restaurants. You’ll find among the starters papaya salad, larb with plenty of chile heat, and steamed dumplings fat with crab, pork and shrimp. Little touches set this kitchen apart from the pack, though. Take the papaya salad, for which Ratana cuts the fruit by hand, so the pieces are irregular, and also fries raw peanuts instead of buying roasted ones in bulk.

The curries prove distinctive, too. Red curry with fried squash bobbing in spiced coconut milk and the Esaan-style, pull-no-punches water-based curry with Thai eggplant are first among equals. The dish I wouldn’t dream of missing here is a three-ring circus for the palate called nham kao tod: rice seasoned with herbs and curry paste, fried to a crackle then broken into pieces and tossed with julienne fermented ham, peanuts, onions and shards of fresh ginger.

Good news for nearby customers: Donsak delivers free within a 1 1/2-mile radius with a $20 minimum order.

2608 Connecticut Ave. NW.



Lunch and dinner daily. Indoor and outdoor seating.

Sound check: 75 decibels/Must speak with raised voice. Takeout and delivery. Accessibility: Ramp at the (heavy) front door; ADA-compliant restroom.

Hulu Skewer House

Rockville, Md.

Mains: $2 to $10 per skewer.

Picture a sea of tables, each inset with a grill, and a cadre of servers, each affixed to a tablet. Mix in the perfume of cooked meat and music blared at club volume.

A diner could be forgiven for mistaking the scene at Hulu Skewer House for a Korean barbecue. In reality, it’s a Chinese restaurant specializing in threaded seafood, meat and vegetables — ingredients warmed over custom-made electric grills with rotating spindles that take away the need for stir-cooking. Popular in China, where the novelty originated pre-pandemic, according to co-owner Shichao “Jonathan” Wang, the trend made its debut in Rockville on New Year’s Eve.

The two-floor, industrial-looking restaurant is the effort of eight friends who simply craved a place to “chill and have fun,” says Wang, who works for a bio-tech company. (Hulu is a nod to a Chinese animated series, Huluwa, which features eight central characters.) Aside from the noise, the dining room on the main floor is comfortable and stylish, dressed with broad tables and leather chairs that encourage lingering. There are multiple ways to dine — a la carte and combinations for two or four that include extras such as beef noodle soup — and one way to order: via QR code, which allows you to select in Chinese or English.

Part of the fun is watching dinner go from raw to ready (and sometimes, “wow!”). The rocking motion of the grill is hypnotic. Little fish cakes tan and puff up like marshmallows. Taiwanese sausages go round and round, sweating sweet juices. Bites of chicken, slick with chiles, let you know they’re ready by throwing their spicy scent in your direction. Dozens of options — red-tipped clams, sweet potatoes, pork belly, etc. — inspire repeat visits. Once the skewered items are cooked, they’re placed on a rack above the grill. Tiny forks are used to release the hot morsels from the skewers.

Servers are attentive about monitoring the tables to see that nothing gets overcooked, but less inclined to introduce diners to the condiments that appear on sleek gold trays. Pro tip: Sprinkle some of the cumin seasoning on the justifiably top-selling lamb skewers. You’ll want to round out your meal with something prepared by the kitchen — cooling chopped cucumbers garnished with cilantro, maybe, or split roasted eggplant showered with scallions and red pepper and finished with garlic sauce. Pass on the chewy pork dumplings, though.

More rotation can be enjoyed upstairs — in the form of songs — where the restaurant stocks six karaoke rooms and a full bar.

1488 Rockville Pike, Rockville, Md.



Dinner daily, lunch weekends. Indoor and outdoor seating.

Sound check: 76 decibels/Must speak with raised voice Takeout. Accessibility: No barriers at entrance; ADA-compliant restroom.

Il Piatto

The District

Mains $19 to $35.

Owner Hakan Ilhan followed fancy French with casual Italian last year on the site of the former Mirabelle near the White House. “Our values have changed,” he told me after switching cuisines and lowering prices. The demand for fine dining was more than met by the city’s supply, he added.

Inside or out? It’s a toss-up when the weather’s on your side. Il Piatto (“the dish” in Italian) offers one of the most tempting outdoor dining spaces around. Bordered with greenery and shaded with umbrellas, the alfresco seating takes in the steeple of St. John’s Church and the top half of the Washington Monument: dinner and (a bit of) a show. Inside, Ilhan retained almost everything from Mirabelle but the linens on the tables: capacious semicircular booths, burgundy leather panels, lots of brass trim and lighting that’s as arty as it is practical.

[Il Piatto is a looker with pastas priced to please in downtown D.C.]

A change of guard in March finds Sfoglina veteran Francisco Vargas in the kitchen, but the price of main courses unchanged. They still average an agreeable $26. Nothing on the all-day menu is likely to send you to Google Translate. But much of what I liked in the opening days continues to please me now. The juicy meatballs, showered with filings of parmesan, are rolled from ground beef loosely held together with milk-soaked bread and egg and warmed in fresh tomato sauce. The fried calamari sport a clingy buttermilk batter and get a nice charge from a garnish of pickled vegetables. Lamb chops marinated with rosemary and garlic are my go-to meat, and ravioli stuffed with spinach and ricotta comes draped in a creamy tomato sauce.

New to the script: pasta primavera, an ode to the season whose headliners include artichokes, asparagus and green olives.

900 16th St. NW.



Lunch and dinner daily. Indoor and outdoor seating.

Sound check: 72 decibels/Must speak with raised voice. Takeout. Accessibility: The double set of doors at the entrance are heavy; ADA-compliant restroom.

Ingle Korean Steakhouse

Vienna, Va.

Mains $16 to $46.

Some restaurants grow on you over time. Others, like this marble-paved newcomer in Vienna, seduce you the moment you step inside. Ingle’s booths and banquettes are the color of toffee, its granite tables preset with crystal wine glasses. Rare amid the Korean competition, a greenery-topped bar mixes distinctive cocktails. Owner James Jang says he envisioned the restaurant as “a place I could bring my parents for a special occasion.”

Their good fortune is ours. The focus is on beef — four cuts per order and about a pound of meat for two diners — rounded out with dishes to share. Ingle’s steak tartare, topped with mustard seeds and batons of Asian pear, is terrific. But given the likelihood of grilled beef to follow, you might want to ease in with seafood: some of the best steamed mussels around, gathered in a butter-kissed broth, or folds of salmon sashimi hidden within a racy cabbage salad.

[This new Korean steakhouse masters the grill — and everything else]

On with the show! All the tables are dressed with brass grills, which a server swabs with a chunk of tallow so the incoming meat doesn’t stick. Sometimes, a thick slice of radish goes next, creating a rest stop for the pieces of cooked beef, which a server keeps separate, so there’s no confusing, say, short ribs from rib fingers. For the sake of comparison, try both the plain and marinated kalbi, the latter of which crisps as the seasonings caramelize. The kitchen’s delicious dips are an opportunity to compare and contrast and graze the night away. Want to bring your own wine? Corkage is $30 a bottle (although staff is known to overlook charging beyond one flask from outside).

The owner’s secret weapon is his sister, Evelyn Jang, who came to Ingle with a gilded résumé, having worked at some of the most hospitable restaurants in the United States and Seoul. She’s back in Korea now, but her know-how lives on in servers who can answer any food question, napkins folded just so and the door held open as you depart — admirable touches from start to finish.

8369 Leesburg Pike, Vienna, Va.



Lunch and dinner daily. Indoor and outdoor seating.

Sound check: 72 decibels/Must speak with raised voice. Takeout and delivery (reduced menu). Accessibility: No barriers at entrance; ADA-compliant restroom.

Jiwa Singapura

McLean, Va.

Mains $15 to $56.

The single dish everyone encourages you to order in the curvy dining room with the marble-fronted open kitchen is salted egg shrimp, and it comes from the chef’s wife and general manager. If you’re anything like me, you’ll be glad to make the acquaintance of lightly cooked seafood draped with a curtain of pureed brined duck eggs and evaporated milk, festooned with fried shallots and scallions. Catch the Thai chile heat and the garlic punch in the combination? It’s a personal statement, and a delicious success, coaxed from just six or so ingredients.

Welcome to Jiwa Singapura, an uncommon taste of Singapore from Spain native Pepe Moncayo, who lived and loved in the faraway city-state before relocating to Washington to open the Spanish-Japanese Cranes. The newcomer, set off with a swarm of glass “orchids” suspended from on high, unfolds in the glitzy Tysons Galleria and more or less lives up to it’s English translation: “the soul of Singapore.”

[A top chef brings a sublime taste of Singapore to McLean]

Salted egg shrimp keeps good company. Take chicken rice — sliced poached chicken paired with rice cooked with aromatics in chicken fat for a creamy mouthfeel — a national obsession found in restaurants humble and haute throughout Singapore. Bundled like a gift in banana leaves, a mash of dorade, lemongrass and chiles makes for a memorable steamed fish cake. Beef rendang isn’t worth the 30-minute wait, but I wouldn’t think of dining here without getting the chili crab, a feast that involves pillowy milk buns — and a bib and plastic gloves. (Messy? For sure. Memorable? You bet.)

Niceties including a box for purses and rests for silverware suggest you’re in a fine-dining lair. In fact, you’re in a suburban mall, dining like they do in Singapore: extremely well.

2100 International Dr., McLean, Va.



Dinner Wednesday through Sunday. Indoor and outdoor seating.

Sound check: 77 decibels/Must speak with raised voice. Takeout. Accessibility: Elevator access to the restaurant; ADA-compliant restroom.


The District

Mains $43 to $62.

So many rules! En route to the restaurant, a text message from L’Avant-Garde warns me tables are held just 10 minutes; at the table, a host greets my party with “You have the table for two hours.” Meanwhile, a senior suit on the team engages us with all the warmth of Lurch. Charm is not the newcomer’s strength.

Turn your attention to the menu. Printed in both French and English, which is either on point or pretentious, the list gathers all sorts of dishes to make you glad France native chef Gilles Epié came to Washington. Born in Brittany, Epié trained under some of his country’s most revered chefs — Roger Jaloux, the longtime chef de cuisine for the legendary Paul Bocuse; Alain Senderens, another founding father of nouvelle cuisine — and received a Michelin star for his work at Le Pavillon des Princes in Paris when he was just 22.

[L’Avant-Garde is raising the bar for French dining in D.C.]

The experience shows in dish after dish. If bread is attached to anything, get it. My first taste of Epié’s cooking was a little globe of puff pastry atop a maritime “bouillabaisse” of John Dory and other fish, a soup that includes tender macaroni and a rouille teasing with harissa. A little kitchen magic produces his signature duck foie gras beignet, an orb with a shell, made from a beer batter, that crisps in the fryer and breaks open to reveal both solid and liquid foie gras. Spoonfuls of port wine reduction give the dish gloss and sweetness. Thicks slices of peppery chateaubriand, staged atop crisp potatoes Anna, are dressed up with a colorful garland of vegetables cooked just so. This is the place to ease in with a jade gimlet that lives up to the promise, marvel at how a few pristine ingredients — scallops, bone marrow and black truffles — can impress, and finish with a rich chocolate souffle.

The interior is equally beguiling. Ribs of wood stretch across the walls. Gold domed lights illuminate the luxe, semicircular booths. Save for the zinc bar, L’Avant-Garde is free of French restaurant stereotypes. And everything you touch shows thought. A marble coaster supports your cocktail, for instance.

Maintain expectations, enlist the help of the gracious sommelier, and you’re in for a night to remember. Keep in mind, though, you’re here for the food, not any hugs.

2915 M St. NW.



Dinner Tuesday through Saturday. Indoor seating.

Sound check: 70 decibels/Conversation is easy. Accessibility: Ramps available but entrance is narrow; ADA-compliant restroom.

Le Clou

The District

Mains $29 to $64

Like the new Petite Cerise, this French upstart in the Morrow hotel is open three meals a day. As with the young L’Avant-Garde, the service can take a back seat to some of the singular sensations emerging from the open kitchen. If you’re looking for the city’s best lobster thermidor, an omelet for dinner, or Paris-Brest for dessert, Le Clou has you covered.

All three Gallic comers have in common a top chef, in Le Clou’s case, Nicholas Stefanelli, best known in Washington for his Italian cooking at restaurants including Masseria. The chef likes to remind us his training is French and burgundies are his passion. Allow me to pronounce his poulet rôti as good as his pastas.

The day-to-day cooking is executed with flair and consistency by chef de cuisine Nico Cezar. Count on the omelet at Le Clou always to be rich with French butter, tangy with crème fraîche and gilded with caviar. The only thing different about the excellent sweetbreads might be a change of accessories for the season: creamed fava beans instead of wintry cauliflower and shaved truffles. The steak frites deserves better than frozen fries, but I love to know about a place that offers frogs legs.

Set off the hotel lobby, the airy dining room mixes comfort with chic. Baby-blue chairs and brown leather banquettes front the swirled marble tables, and a recently arrived champagne cart feels like the appropriate fizz. In its short life, Le Clou has emerged as a destination restaurant.

222 M St. NE.



Breakfast and dinner daily. Lunch Monday through Friday. Brunch weekends. Indoor and outdoor seating.

Sound check: 73 decibels/Must speak with raised voice. Accessibility: No barriers at entrance; ADA-compliant restroom.

Little Vietnam

The District

Mains $16 to $22.

Sad news first: The little restaurant with the big flavors in Petworth stopped offering my choice dish, the cigar-shaped, anchovy-laced, off-the-menu chicken Caesar wrap. Too labor-intensive, a server told me.

A spring visit nevertheless found reason to cheer: some fresh additions to the menu, including pearly poached shrimp and breezy mint on a sauce made refreshing with coconut milk and lime, and gingery noodles, cooked in duck fat brown butter and paired with sauteed bok choy and pea pods scattered with frizzy fried shallots.

[Little Vietnam is a good thing in a small package in Washington]

The venture features a clutch of talent who worked for the D.C.-based Daikaya Group in a shoe box that seats 22, including a handful of stools looking into the open kitchen. Claustrophobes need not apply. The menu is equally concise, just 10 dishes last time I was in. Count me a big fan of the steamed dumplings filled with juicy ground lamb that’s warm with black cumin and sharp with lemongrass, as well as the banh xeo, a turmeric-tinted crisp crepe packed with shrimp, ground pork, mung beans and bean sprouts smoky from the wok.

The otherwise neighborly restaurant comes with an easy-to-resolve flaw: noise. I can’t make this up: At my last dinner, “The Whispers” were screaming. Glass half-full: Umbrellas on the patio signal the option of dining alfresco.

828 Upshur St. NW.

No phone.

No website.

Dinner Tuesday through Saturday. Indoor seating.

Sound check: 82 decibels/Extremely loud. Accessibility: The snug space is not conducive to wheelchair use..


Silver Spring, Md.

Mains $16 to $25.

You get what you ask for here. “Spicy means spicy,” says Mandalay owner Kyaw “Joe” Myint.

Sure enough, the fried jasmine rice mixed with shrimp and sour mustard greens I request “spicy” is packed with dynamite in the form of roasted Thai red chiles. Ground before it goes into the dish, the TNT is invisible to the eye. But the tongue immediately detects a bonfire, which hotheads will appreciate.

Launched by Myint’s parents in 2000, Mandalay shuttered in 2021 and reopened nine months later, with delivery and takeout. Recently, the dining room reopened with limited hours (11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday for lunch and 5 to 8:30 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday for dinner). “I don’t have the staff” to do more, says Myint, who also halved the number of seats in the bare-bones restaurant to 40.

The owner’s wife is Mandalay’s chef, Latt Naing, who relies on Myint family recipes. Recent delivery and in-person takeout showed care in the packaging — pieces of cardboard separated cold and hot dishes — and encouraged future orders from the epic list. Among the hits were green tea leaf salad, lightly crunchy with cabbage, yellow peas and roasted garlic; a standout curry marrying tender chunks of pork and pickled mango; and sliced beef in a cilantro-punched tomato curry. The doughnut-like gram fritters are fluffy sops for the sauces, including the onion-laced, fish-based mohinga, a dusky gold soup eaten with rice noodles and considered the national dish of Myanmar (also known as Burma).

Myint’s parents are retired but make occasional stops. “They make sure we’re doing the right thing,” their son says with a laugh. “If not, we hear about it.”

930 Bonifant St., Silver Spring, Md.



Lunch Tuesday through Sunday, dinner Tuesday through Thursday. Dinner takeout only Friday through Sunday. Indoor seating.

Sound check: 68 decibels/Conversation is easy. Takeout and delivery. Accessibility: No barriers at entrance; ADA-compliant restroom.

Our Mom Eugenia

Arlington, Va.

Mains $18 to $44.

The more the merrier when it comes to where we can explore Greek food whipped up by Eugenia Markesini Hobson. With her two sons, Phil and Alex, the executive chef introduced a third branch of the family’s popular chain-lette to Shirlington in March. Even when it’s raining, the newcomer feels sunny, a sense propelled by chalk-white walls, greenery snaking around the room, splashes of blue and a couple murals capturing Mom’s home island in western Greece.

My initial taste of the chef’s cooking — fingers of fried cod with skordalia and a juicy teepee of skewered lamb, beef and chicken — was at the original Our Mom Eugenia, launched in Great Falls in 2016. (A second location opened in Fairfax in 2020.) My latest sampling, in Arlington, whisked me back in time and spoke to the owners’ philosophy: “Consistency is our No. 1 goal,” says Alex.

[Greek cooking just like Mom made (because Mom actually made it)]

Dish after dish in Shirlington continues to make me feel like a guest in Eugenia’s home. You’ll want some spreads, offered with warm pita, to start; fish roe whipped with lemon juice and olive oil — a maritime cloud — is a must. A cold day is countered with lemon-kissed chicken soup, and any time is a good excuse for the succulent baked chicken or mixed grill, each morsel of lamb, beef and chicken cooked as if by its own minder.

Don’t eat meat? The vegetarian platter brings together spanakopita so crisp you hear the phyllo shatter, beets splashed with balsamic vinegar and dusted with crushed pistachios, and creamy gigante beans sauced with tomato. The sampler, including baby eggplant scattered with pine nuts and fresh mint, makes a nice appetizer for two. Whole branzino comes with a field of vegetables — crisp green beans, dill-flecked carrots, lemony roast potatoes — and a little ceremony as the grilled fish is proffered on a tray and deftly filleted by a manager.

Attention, event planners: Two semiprivate nooks — one near the front window, the other in the rear — are designed with small parties in mind and show off the handiwork of New York artist John Tsombikos, the sons’ brother-in-law. The 78-seat dining room can also be divided in half to carve out space for larger functions. Another 24 seats dress up the front patio. Without a reservation, I’m content with a stool at the convivial bar.

No matter where you find yourself, though, Our Mom Eugenia tastes as if Eugenia were stirring the pot.

4044 Campbell Ave., Arlington, Va.



Lunch and dinner Tuesday through Sunday. Indoor and outdoor seating.

Sound check: 74 decibels/Must speak with raised voice. Takeout and delivery. Accessibility: No barriers at entrance; ADA-compliant restroom.

Peter Chang

Columbia, Md.

Mains $20 to $50.

Does Peter Chang ever sleep? Is he really two people? I only ask because the onetime Chinese Embassy chef recently launched another restaurant — No. 14. His latest draw unfolds in the Merriweather District in Columbia, Md., and is small by the native of Hubei province’s usual standards, just 75 seats in the blond dining room and 56 items on the menu.

Quality and flavor infuse almost every dish. The dumplings are the sort you wish every dim sum parlor offered. “Grandma’s” noodles reverberate with the racy heat of chile oil, minced garlic and tongue-numbing Sichuan peppercorns. The vegetable dishes — snappy and smoky green beans, cabbage and Chinese yam seasoned with five-spice powder — are a testament to the reverence the Eastern school of Chinese cooking has for produce. If there’s a miss on the menu, it’s the wan Peking duck with its oil-drenched, kinda-crisp skin. That means more stomach space for crowd-pleasers like the scallion bubble pancake made famous by Chang’s wife, chef Lisa Chang, and shredded pork with spicy garlic sauce.

[Peter Chang’s restaurant empire expands to Columbia, Md. Lucky diners.]

The common thread among the sundry Chang restaurants is steadiness. The family-owned enterprise overstaffs in preparation for future restaurants and as a way to advance loyal employees. If the latest Peter Chang tastes as if the busy star were in the kitchen, it’s because chef Yabin He, who cooked with Chang back in China decades ago, is a great mimic

6000 Merriweather Dr., Columbia, Md.



Lunch and dinner daily. Indoor and outdoor seating.

Sound check: 80 decibels/Must speak with raised voice. Takeout and delivery. Accessibility: Small enclosed foyer at entrance; ADA-compliant restroom.

Petite Cerise

The District

Mains $28 to $58.

Another month, another French restaurant. One thing that separates this fresh face from the pack is what it excludes — French onion soup, for instance.

“A lot of places do that already,” says chef-owner Jeremiah Langhorne, heretofore best known for the Dabney, his love letter to the Mid-Atlantic.

[Yet another French spot in D.C., Petite Cerise charts a personal course]

Fewer places are making buckwheat crepes filled with salami and goat cheese, a fond memory of the chef’s from a food market in Rennes, or lavishing so much love on sauces. Grilled mussels get cloaked with a ruddy choron sauce zapped with threads of chorizo; asparagus comes with a bowl of frothy hollandaise and whipped cream; and braised chicken arrives in a swell of cream, morel mushrooms and vin jaune, the “yellow wine” with a flavor similar to sherry. “A little extra sauce is almost like an extra dish,” says Langhorne, who buys good baguettes for dispatching the liquid riches.

What’s not gleaming white subway tile seems to be friendly green paint; half-curtains dress up the windows, and mirrors and copper molds hang on the walls. The two-story restaurant was designed with a European sensibility. The only snails here are in the logo, subtle encouragement for patrons to take it slow, says the chef.

Main courses alternate between cozy grand-mère combinations and subtler French notions. One of the more joyful “plats” is black bass staged for the season with bright green peas, downy lettuce and sunny drops of lemon puree on the delicate fish.

The noise can be cruel, especially upstairs. The upside is a bistro that’s open from morning to night, and dishes you won’t find at the competition.

1027 Seventh St. NW.



Dinner Tuesday through Saturday, breakfast and lunch Tuesday through Sunday. Indoor seating.

Sound check: 83 decibels/Extremely loud. Accessibility: No barriers at entrance; ADA-compliant restroom.


The District

Three courses $75, four courses $90.

India remains my favorite journey. In between visits, though, I rely on restaurants including Rania to get my (modern) fix.

No two reservations are ever alike; chef Chetan Shetty, the former talent at Indian Accent in New York, is constantly finessing his menu. He says appearances are important to him. A gold bowl showcases typically humble Parsi chicken: minced thighs, warm with curry leaves and coriander, supporting a “nest” of shoestring potatoes crowned with a delicate poached egg dusted with a red chile blend. Prick the egg and you get a sunny gravy. Taste is crucial, too. Braised lamb fairly swells with green chiles, ginger and cilantro. Along with yogurt and pickled onions, the shredded meat packs a thin chickpea pancake, folded over the luscious filling like a taco.

[Rania delights with some of the most inspired Indian cooking in D.C.]

Patrons select three or four courses from among a handful of appetizer-size options per course. Go big, then, and find room for the sweet, roe-garnished Maine scallops, presented on two sauces that call for naan: one yellow and flavored with coconut, the other white, foamy and seasoned as if by the sea.

Ingredients you might not expect from an Indian kitchen make their way to the broad marble tables. Oysters, for instance, show up with foamy, chile-and-fenugreek-spiked butter. And the chef is working on a rhubarb dessert. When I spoke with him recently, Shetty was in Mexico, shopping for ideas.

Rania translates to “queen” in Hindi and Sanskrit, which explains the regal cooking and the posh interior, including arched booths and slots in the gold chairs for purses and slim bags. Did I mention that the top-notch themed drinks arrive in illuminated glasses? This is a fine-dining restaurant that also likes to have fun.

427 11th St. NW.



Dinner Tuesday through Saturday.

Sound check: 70 decibels/Conversation is easy. Accessibility: No barriers at entrance; ADA-compliant restroom.

Sari Filipino Kusina

Annandale, Va.

Mains $12 to $22.

Supreme Barbecue in Annandale is history, but its legacy lives on at this fast-casual Filipino storefront, whose co-owner Paolo Dungca kept the smokers that flavored the previous occupant’s menu. “Such a pure art form,” the chef says of barbecuing. “It’s nice playing with temperatures.” (Juan and Jeremy Canlas, the father and son behind Supreme Barbecue, are Dungca’s business partners.)

The hand-me-down equipment helps explain the haunting notes in kare kare, a Filipino stew that’s thick with peanut sauce, tinted with annatto oil and bulked up with vegetables, on my visit, Chinese long beans and okra. Commonly made with oxtail, Sari uses beef brisket that’s cured for 18 hours before being smoked over wood. Per tradition, the stew is accompanied by bagoong alamang, salty fermented shrimp paste. “Filipinos love it. Try it first,” a staff tells my posse. The condiment infuses the stew, which Dungca remembers eating on weekends as a child, with welcome funk. (His grandmother used inexpensive tripe as a base.)

Customers order at a counter, grab a table in the brightly lit dining room and wait for the food to be dropped off in paper and plastic, since there’s no dishwasher. Smoked chicken wings cured with garlic and paprika and glazed with an adobo thinned with coconut milk require lots of napkins, but it’s the flavor you remember, not the mess. More prime eating comes by way of chicken cooked in a paste of lemongrass, scallions and Sprite — a much-used tenderizer back home, Dungca says of the soda. The most popular dish on the list is the Filipino street food staple sisig, pork hash made extra crunchy at Sari with fried pig ears and pork rinds in the heap and balanced with sides of fragrant jasmine rice and a bright tomato-cucumber salad.

Sari Filipino Kusina enjoys a double meaning, says Dungca, who grew up in Manila and went on to cook at the much-missed Bad Saint and Kaliwa at the Wharf. Sari references both sarimanok, a Filipino bird symbolizing good fortune, and the sari-sari convenience stores of his homeland. Hence the little bodega in back of the restaurant, several shelves of snacks and staples — banana ketchup, prawn crackers, the rolls called pandesal — familiar to Filipinos.

Dungca shares a mouthwatering update with fans: His next opening will be Hiraya on H Street NE in the District. Look for an all-day Filipino diner on the ground floor, where the double burger on the ube-purple bun featured at his onetime food stall Pogiboy is expected, and an upscale experience on the second story, possibly as soon as June. The chef says the name of the future restaurant is ancient Tagalog for “fruit of one’s hopes and dreams” and also references another youthful memory, a popular children’s TV show.

6920 Braddock Rd. Unit J, Annandale, Va.



Lunch and dinner daily. Indoor seating.

Sound check: 72/Must speak with raised voice. Takeout and delivery. Accessibility: No barriers at entrance; ADA-compliant restroom.

St. James

The District

Mains $16 to $60.

“When I go back home, I’m struck by the lushness,” says Jeanine Prime, a native of Trinidad. “You see green everywhere.”

You see the color of life everywhere in her breezy Caribbean restaurant, too: in the gleaming front of the bar, on the plant-filled shelves behind it, and in dishes including callaloo, the moss-colored soup, thick with spinach and collards, cooked with coconut milk and garnished with sweet crab.

[St. James brings on the Caribbean fun and flavor]

St. James is named for the energetic nightlife district in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad’s capital, a buzz replicated here by sunny servers, sassy jerk wings and rum-fueled drinks. It was a joy to return recently and encounter the same delicious steamed buns, filled with juicy spiced pork, that I recalled from last May, and to be introduced to some fresh ideas, including slow-roasted duck leg. A refined version of a homestyle dish, the duck, warm with curry, cumin and chiles, is an example of the menu’s “modern Caribbean” tagline.

I appreciate the recent addition of “medium” plates, too (oxtails, crab and dumplings). It’s a way for groups to sample a range of island flavors, says Prime.

Oh, the salt fish fritters are dense as golf balls and the servers, while friendly, have a tendency to snatch plates before we’re done with them (one actually plucked a companion’s knife and fork from his hands). But the sticky plantains, tossed with candied ginger, prove a welcome side dish, and the sponge cake soaked in rum, best eaten with banana ice cream, is reason to hang after entrees are whisked away.

2017 14th St. NW.



Dinner Tuesday through Saturday. Indoor and outdoor seating.

Sound check: 84 decibels/Extremely loud. Takeout and delivery. Accessibility: No barriers at entrance; ADA-compliant restroom.

Thompson Italian

Alexandria, Va.

Mains $13 to $40.

The owners of the popular Thompson Italian in Falls Church were scouting locations for a Tex-Mex restaurant when they came upon the space for the original Hank’s Oyster Bar in Old Town Alexandria — and promptly decided it was better suited to a second branch of their proven concept.

For Tex-Mex to happen, Gabe and Katherine Thompson wanted a lot more outdoor space, which the King Street quarters lack. The couple were also reminded of the West Village spots they opened together in Manhattan and figured the 25 minutes or so separating two Italian restaurants in Northern Virginia meant they wouldn’t compete with each other.

The owners didn’t have far to look for a chef. The clear choice was Lucy Dakwar, who had worked with Gabe Thompson at L’Apicio in New York and helped opened the original Thompson Italian in 2019. (“I packed my weekend bag and never left,” says Dakwar.)

Her menu isn’t a clone of what’s cooking in Falls Church. The chef’s fresh ideas include lamb meatballs, kicky with Aleppo pepper and staged on a tomato sauce enriched with pecorino, and stretchy stracciatella cheese paired with roasted carrots. The heirloom vegetables are topped with what looks like strips of blond bacon but is in fact wrinkly, melt-on-the tongue guanciale, while the cheese acquires its freckles and subtle smokiness from Urfa chile flakes.

Pastas, which make up the bulk of the script, are made in-house. Lemony bucatini blackened with squid ink and tossed with sweet scallops sees the most action from my fork, and I appreciate the light crunch from toasted breadcrumbs. New to the script is spinach-tinted mafaldine tossed with a sauce of leeks, wine and coconut milk, a fine vegan option. Dakwar plans to add a few representatives of her Palestinian heritage. Down the line might be shish barak, a take on lamb ravioli with yogurt sauce.

The clean design of the original carries over to the owners’ new spot, which opens with a long stretch of bar leading into a couple of dining rooms decorated with mirrors and art on butter-colored walls and lighted to flatter the assembly.

The bar weighs in with a liquid curiosity: a vodka gimlet flavored like cacio e pepe. The expected hit of lime juice is accompanied by notes of (pink) peppercorn and parmesan. Sip it fast. As the combination warms up, it suggests a plate, not a glass, is in order.

1024 King St., Alexandria, Va.



Dinner daily, brunch weekends. Indoor and outdoor seating.

Sound check: 75 decibels/Must speak with raised voice. Takeout and delivery. Accessibility: The restaurant has a wheelchair lift from the patio entrance to the main dining level. ADA-compliant restroom.

Virginia’s Darling

Alexandria, Va.

Mains $21 to $30.

It’s forever cherry blossom time in the small dining room, where a canopy of dogwood flowers dress the ceiling and a pink neon sign behind the bar trumpets the name of the place. Chef-owner Nicole Jones says she cooks “what I’d do if I had friends over,” which means a crumble of lamb, feta cheese and mint affixed to the side of their bowl with tahini, and sole meunière that brings to mind a top French restaurant.

The all-female service staff is friendly and efficient. “I tell them to treat guests like revered family members,” says Jones — and they do, reminding me that hospitality is as much a reason to pick a restaurant as what’s on the menu, recently updated to include a spinach salad made springy with peas and asparagus as well as strawberries and cashews, and cavatelli adorned with lemon ricotta and arugula pesto. The wine list is a celebration of female producers, which is great, but I’d appreciate more selections for under triple digits, pricing that seems at odds with the cozy small-plates theme.

[Virginia’s Darling throws my kind of dinner party in Alexandria]

The place has its quirks. Lobster scattered on fries that taste out of a bag? No thanks. Most of the tables are the size of hubcaps — too small for a full dinner — and the kitchen can overdo it with the salt shaker. The upsides are good cocktails, not-too-sweet carrot cake and the adjoining Mae’s Market & Cafe. Named for the chef’s great-grandmother, it’s the source of meals to go, hummus from Little Sesame, ice cream sandwiches in fun flavors like banana pudding — things you crave from morning to night.

277 S. Washington St., Alexandria, Va.



Dinner Tuesday through Saturday. Indoor seating.

Sound check: 85 decibels/Extremely loud. Takeout. Accessibility: Wheelchair users can access the dining room through the entrance to Mae’s; ADA-compliant restroom.

Woodberry Tavern

Baltimore, Md.

Mains $19 to $65 (for rib-eye).

The pandemic prompted the owner of Woodberry Kitchen, the barn-size tribute to the Mid-Atlantic, to rethink his vision. The biggest change? “We turned the restaurant into an event space and the event space into a restaurant,” says Spike Gjerde, the James Beard Award-winning Baltimore chef.

Woodberry Tavern, a former private room, is where diners can now book one of 22 seats for dinner five nights a week. Knotty wood paneling punctuates the soaring brick walls, and amber votives cast a warm glow. The original gratis “welcome” board is no more. Now, you pay for the spread that threatens to spoil your appetite with, most recently, local charcuterie, cheese puffs, sliced apple, a tiny jar of smoked trout dip and more. Thoughtfully, the menu prices have been cut to compensate.

[Woodberry Tavern thinks big in a small space in Baltimore]

The original Woodberry Kitchen gave diners a menu the size of a poster. The tavern is a much shorter read, but no less delicious. Welsh rarebit is reimagined as a “vase” of grilled spelt bread capped with mustardy beer cheese. Slicing into the construction reveals a boiled egg and ham inside. You don’t have to be a vegetarian to appreciate the carrot tartare, a brilliant orange mash seasoned with coriander, bay leaf and white soy sauce. The homier entrees — fried chicken, pork schnitzel — call to me most, although the vegetable curry, shot through with fresh ginger and sopped up with roti, represents a delectable, if different, change of course. And if you like oysters, spring for the fried, raw and roasted Ruby Salts from the lower Eastern Shore of Virginia.

The beauty on the buffet? That’s a Lady Baltimore cake, an old-fashioned confection that deserves more play on dessert lists. Service is pleasant enough, if less welcoming than at my reunion. When a restaurant adds on a 23 percent service charge, a diner ought to be reminded when the check is dropped.

2010 Clipper Park Rd., Baltimore.

No phone number.


Dinner Wednesday through Sunday. Indoor and outdoor seating.

Sound check: 75 decibels/Must speak with raised voice. Accessibility: No barriers at entrance; ADA-compliant restroom.


Silver Spring, Md.

Mains $25 to $50.

Looking through the window of the main bar on a recent spring night, I’m counting the many reasons this 11,000-square-foot successor to the long-running Mrs. K’s Toll House is such a hit with neighbors.

The expansive lawn — illuminated with string lights and dressed with clusters of tables and chairs, a gazebo and garden — seems to cater to every demographic you can think of (young families, moms night out, business guys, what appears to be a reunion) and no one’s waving for a check or drumming their fingers on the table, waiting for food.

Experience has taught me that if there are kids in a party, their meals come out whoosh! But everyone gets VIP treatment here. Indeed, it’s service-with-a-smile starting at the host stand, throughout brunch or dinner, and when the check lands (and your minder, bless her, let’s you know service is included).

My most recent taste of the place, from the owner of Takoma Beverage in Takoma Park, included a perfect gimlet; a raft of toast spread with smoked trout dressed with pickled onions and walnuts; a plate of golden fried chicken with a crock of chunky potato salad, and a burger that would have been better without the slice of ice-cold cheese in its center. Not every selection is a rave, but that still leaves plenty to like on the list — and off. Did I mention the downstairs tavern hosts live music Wednesday through Friday nights? Zinnia knows what you want, and delivers.

9201 Colesville Rd., Silver Spring, Md.



Dinner Wednesday through Sunday. (The cafe offers breakfast, lunch and brunch.) Indoor and outdoor seating.

Sound check: 79 decibels/Must speak with raised voice. Takeout and delivery. Accessibility: No barriers at entrance; ADA-compliant restroom.


Woodberry Tavern in Baltimore recently began charging for its “welcome” board. The above review, and the restaurant’s price range, have been adjusted to reflect this change.