The 7 New DC Restaurants You’ve Gotta Try in 2021
Amid considerable logistical hurdles, a number of excellent new openings arrived in the District last year
Now that we’ve finally crossed the finish line into 2021, the time has come to catch our breath and take in our new surroundings. Indeed, the dining scene in our nation’s capital has gone through quite a few changes, from the closing of some of the city’s most beloved restaurants to the (hopefully temporary) shuttering of seven iconic Hilton Brothers bars.
Yet, in a year that was aptly and frequently called “unprecedented,” new restaurants were somehow able to spring up around the city as well. Like daisies in the sidewalk cracks, these new establishments persevered, pivoted and somehow managed to bring us incredible food and beverages served from takeout windows, in ghost kitchens, on makeshift outdoor patios or delivered straight to our homes.
Additionally, we have much to look forward to in the new year as highly anticipated new restaurants make plans for their 2021 debuts. Washingtonians can expect everything from the opening of a Japanese food hall called Love, Makoto to a brand new Peruvian restaurant by Carlos Delgado, Chelita, opening soon in Blagden Alley. The same duo behind the wildly popular Seven Reasons is cooking up a Latin-Mediterranean concept called Imperfecto in West End, and the geniuses behind beloved cocktail spot All Souls are finally getting into the pizza game with Little Grand.
Without further ado, from vibrant Puerto Rican cuisine by the water to a French-trained, Michelin-starred chef flipping burgers at a takeout restaurant, here are some of our favorite new DC restaurants that opened and stayed alive in 2020.
This Levantine dining room by chef Michael Rafidi is aptly named. Translated from Arabic, Albi means “heart,” something that the restaurant needed in spades after opening just before the scourge of the pandemic was felt. Luckily, it has persevered, picking up accolades and excellent reviews for its bold Middle Eastern flavors brought to life through Mid-Atlantic ingredients. Then, at the end of May, Rafidi and his pastry chef Gregory Baumgartner opened Yellow, a new daytime cafe and bakery that operates out of a canary-colored space within the restaurant. There you can find spiced morning buns, za’atar and labneh croissants, golden date coffee cake and more to brighten up your mornings.
An ode to both the bivalves and the tree-growing fungus loved by co-owner and chef Rob Rubba, Oyster Oyster is a plant-centric restaurant by Rubba and his partners Max Kuller and Adam Bernbach two years in the making. First slated to open last March, the restaurateurs had to pull off some fast thinking to devise a plan on how Oyster Oyster would function in a pandemic, sans dining room and fancy plating. When they finally opened at the end of July, four-course meals were packed up into fully compostable take-out containers and sold for pickup. Within those containers, at-home diners can now find a bevy of seasonal, local produce as well as zippy fermented and pickled vegetables, foraged Virginia truffles and even canola, sunflower and hemp oil sourced from Susquehanna Mills in Pennsylvania.
We wrote about Rumi’s Kitchen when it first opened last summer — a transplant from Atlanta that now provides DC with a welcome representation of Persian cuisine. Rumi’s has gained acclaim in the District for its meticulously crafted rice dishes, flavorful kebabs and more. The restaurant also recently nabbed one of the most coveted recommendations in the city, a nod from Washington Post food critic Tom Sietsama, who gave Rumi’s Kitchen his vote for the most exciting new restaurant of 2020, citing his love for the “fried eggplant, ghormeh sabzi, and hospitality it serves up.”
Another restaurant that opened its door right before the start of the pandemic is Malaysian spot Makan. Despite a tough year, char kway teow noodles, satay and confit chicken with coconut rice are still being served up there by chef James Wozniuk, who could once be found in the kitchens of Maketto and Spoken English. To accompany bold dishes of curry, fried chicken and more are craft cocktails inspired by the flavors of Malaysia — filled with notes of citrusy calamansi, bright green mango and even curry leaves. Makan’s brand new winterized patio is also open for outdoor dining as of New Year’s Eve, leaving nothing in your way of digging into an excellent bowl of vindaloo tonight.
Keeping in line with our apparent theme of underrepresented cuisines in the District is La Famosa, which brought soulful Puerto Rican cooking to Navy Yard back in September. Makes sense that the demand would be there, considering the Puerto Rican population in the DC metropolitan area has increased by 42 percent since 2010. Chef and owner Joancarlo Parkhurst was himself born in Puerto Rico, where he learned how to cook from countless hours spent in the kitchen with his grandmother, whom he fondly calls “Mamita.” Now he’s brought those flavors to D.C., filling the menu with comforting and soulful dishes like Asopao De Camarones (a spicy chicken broth soup with shrimp) or whole crispy snapper served with coconut rice. Sweet notes of guava make their way onto the menu through fried Bolitos de Queso and flaky pastries stuffed with the tangy tropical fruit.
U Street Corridor
A 16-year vet of José Andrés’s ThinkFoodGroup restaurants, chef Teresa Padilla has finally struck out on her own, and thank goodness for it. After trying a few different iterations of Taqueria Xochi — from being a ghost kitchen to a pop-up — the central Mexican operation has now found its groove as a light pink carryout window on U Street as of October. There, Chef Teresa slings cemitas: Puebla-style pressed Mexican sandwiches stuffed with Oaxacan cheese that melts in harmony with breaded cutlets of meat or eggplant, beans, avocado and more.
Let’s get one thing straight: there’s a burger, and then there’s a burger. We’re talking about the difference between thin Shake Shack patties (which have their moments, too) and a restaurant-quality, thick and juicy, dribble-down-your-hand burger. Ethiopan-born, French-trained chef Elias Taddasse has been making burgers this year, applying his Michelin-starred chops to the creation of a superior compilation of meat, cheese and bun. There, hungry patrons can bring home classic burgers as well as dishes inspired by the flavors of Ethiopia, from berbere-dusted fried chicken sandwiches to new handcrafted ice creams like coffee cardamom and concentrated milk.
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