As the year comes to a close, it’s important to reflect — on all the best meals we ate in 2019. The District has seen exciting openings this year that run the gamut of cuisines and styles, from Korean to French to Mid-Atlantic.
From the ashes of the long-beloved Himitsu rose not one but two stellar (and very different) concepts from each former co-owner. We, and many others, were blown away by the inventive pan-Latin cuisine at Seven Reasons. And DC’s cocktail scene caught up to that of any other in America.
And so, after slurping many noodles, slicing many steaks and sipping every tipple any bartender was kind enough to put in front of us, we’ve arrived at this list of our top 10 restaurant openings of 2019. We know, it’s a tough job, but somebody’s gotta do it.
Chef Enrique Limardo opened Seven Reasons in April to much fanfare, critical acclaim and satisfied stomachs. His pan-Latin dishes span Spain, the Mediterranean and Latin America, with flavors from his native Venezuelan taking center stage. With three stories and plenty of lush greenery, it’s a gastronomic destination that feels good to dine at, especially when you’re digging into the fried octopus.
We’ve written about Emilie’s and their fried chicken-loving exec chef, Kevin Tien, before. After leaving Himitsu, a small-but-mighty Japanese-inspired restaurant he co-owned with Carlie Steiner in Petworth, Tien opened his dream concept this fall. A much larger space with ample tables, a chef’s bar and even roving dim-sum style carts, Emilie’s is meant to feel like a dinner party every night, with a focus on the concept of gathering and family meal. Dishes are meant to be shared; try the delicate scallop crudo and hearty pork blade steaks.
Speaking of tiny-but-mighty, there’s also newcomer Queen’s English, which landed in Columbia Heights this April. There, power couple Henji Cheung and Sarah Thompson act as, well, everything — hosting, prepping, making drinks, you name it. Chef Cheung was most recently the executive sous chef at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and here he riffs on the food he ate growing up in the New Territories, a rural area north of Hong Kong Island that borders China. Thompson supplies the wine — all natural, and featuring a multitude of varieties — for a pairing that’s tough to beat.
A top-notch restaurant where you can also seriously get your drink on, The Imperial is the newest venture from Jack Rose Dining Saloon team Bill Thomas and Stephen King, having just opened about a month ago. Start with dinner created by chef Russell Jones, where a raw bar stocked with oysters also doubles as a lunch counter in the daylight hours. The menu is refined and leans heavily Mid-Atlantic with proteins like rabbit, seafood towers with blue crab and sorghum risotto. Once sated, head downstairs to the new iteration of beloved speakeasy Dram & Grain, which is warmed for the winter by a fireplace.
Two years ago, a late-night fire devastated Korean restaurant Mandu near Dupont Circle. Co-owner Danny Lee vowed then to rebuild it, and finally Anju rose from its ashes late this summer, taking the same name as his series of popular monthly pop-ups that featured a rotating rolodex of guest chefs. Designed by his wife Natalie with Korean dishes kept to tradition by his mother Yesoon, Anju is also distinctly modern with an elevated gastropub feel. It’s an ode to ferments with an emphasis on kimchi (some of which is pickled for a whopping 100 days) and the top floor has built-in induction burners for their special Korean hot-pot tasting menu.
The other half of Himitsu, drinks maven Carlie Steiner, has had a big year. After opening cocktail bar Dos Mamis with Anna Bran-Leis this summer, Steiner has done a complete rebrand of the popular Petworth restaurant following the departure of co-owner Kevin Tien. She’s hired executive chef Amanda Moll, formerly of the Southeast Asian-inspired Doi Moi, to head up the kitchen and renamed the restaurant Pom Pom as an ode to the playful, colorful Latin American decorations of the same name. It’s received a glowing review from WaPo critic Tom Sietsema, who praised the spiced Peking duck with baked-to-order biscuits from her multi-cuisine menu.
This modern French restaurant in the heart of Georgetown was on our list of the best fall openings for a reason. It’s chic and indulgent without breaking the bank, with an emphasis on comfort food classics like French onion soup and happy-hour options. Vegetarians and vegans will rejoice to see mushroom bourguignon on the menu next to double-stack brasserie burgers. The roomy dining room channels a French farmhouse with some floral, domed booths — a cozy vibe further amplified by a Moroccan tagine-shaped fireplace filled with glowing candles.
Stepping into the luxurious Punjab Grill, you might think for a second you’re actually at a royal palace, not an Indian restaurant in DC. The Penn Quarter spot opened earlier this spring, the first stateside location of the luxury Indian brand and the result of $5 million in funding. Here, Chef Jaspratap Bindra serves up tiger prawns with lemon, ginger and green chiles and goat biryani in a glass globe. A visit to the solid brass bar with a white mother-of-pearl inlay will reward you with a unique, Indian-inspired cocktail, like the Smoked Anjeer (Rittenhouse Rye and winter cranberry liqueur, figs and tobacco leaf smoke) or Ab Baby (Don Q rum and caramelized jackfruit).
You may have tasted executive chef Reid Shilling’s food before without even knowing it — he’s the former sous chef at DC favorite The Dabney in Blagden Alley. Now he’s taken his kitchen expertise and love of the Mid-Atlantic to Shilling Canning Company in the Navy Yard, an ode to the chef’s family’s old vegetable canning business in Carroll County, Maryland, back in the mid-1900s. The large, airy and industrial space is the perfect backdrop to a massive hearth firing up Ember Roasted Scallops with baby leeks and clam butter.
You may have to wait for a seat at this walk-in-only Sichuan restaurant and cocktail bar, but it’s worth it. By the same owner as local favorite Copycat Co. on H Street, this casual Dupont Circle spot is tasty and stylish, with dishes meant to be shared like Pork Fried Rice, Dan Dan Noodles and something that they call Sober Soup: a “late night reviver” favorite from their sister restaurant. The cocktail selection is pretty classic, with South American favorites like the Caipirinha and a legit daiquiri (none of that frozen, blended nonsense).
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