It’s the most wonderful time of the year: that very specific period when D.C. is warm enough to permit being outside but cool enough that nobody’s sweating through their shirt. It’s ideal for getting out and about, and trying the best new restaurants in D.C. April 2023’s lineup includes new faces taking over old spaces, two NYC imports making big debuts and a ramen joint worth crossing the bridge for.
Not to be confused with the children’s song of a similar name (although it’s equally fun to sing), Baby Shank is the latest venture from sushi master chef Noriaki Yasutake of Sei fame. Taking up residency in the former Local 16 space on the corner of 16th and U, Baby Shank combines French cuisine with sushi. Mainstays like charcuterie and cheese collide with inspired sushi options, including fish and chips and escargot rolls. Cocktails feature references to The Office, with surprising inclusions like a vodka-forward twist on the Painkiller, otherwise considered a rum-based staple of tiki bars. Happy hour and dinner are already rolling, with brunch on the way for the two-story eatery.
Speak with any Northern Virginia resident long enough, and they’ll likely rave about Sushi Yoshi, one of the best new restaurants in D.C. Good news for those who love noodles as well as raw fish: Akai Tori is here, from Sushi Yoshi chef-owner Mark Liu. Not only does the ramen hit the spot, but Akai Tori offers street-style skewers with readymade dipping sauces. Those looking for a sushi fix can also get it here.
Taking up the former Mellow Mushroom space is Baja Tap. Inspired by Baja California, there are the traditional staples (tacos, tequila, margaritas) and some new twists (a seafood-inspired taco tower, taki pie, baja tots, fried plantains). Prices range from $5 per individual taco to $14 per taco trio and $85 for the aforementioned tower. The margarita selection is extensive; standouts include a Smoke Paloma with 400 Conejos mezcal. Happy hour (4 to 7 p.m.) means $5 sangria and “house margs.” Taco Tuesday operates as expected, but Monday brings half-price fajitas and nachos.
NYC’s Van Leeuwen made a splashy Union Market debut in late March, the first of three (!) storefronts in the area. The tl;dr for those unfamiliar: Van Leeuwen started out of a scoop truck in New York, known for its highly specific flavors, vegan ice cream and novelty bars. The Union Market location offers over 30 flavors, including pistachio, cheesecake and Earl Grey tea. With warmer weather around the corner, a trip to Van Leeuwen is poised to be a great closer for date night or as a sweet treat after a summer movie at the Union Market Drive-In.
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The second NYC-to-Union Market transplant is Maman, a spacious cafe well-suited to breakfast, lunch and a late-afternoon coffee. With a stunning interior inspired by the South of France — complete with wood furnishings, plenty of greenery, and a cozy loft — Maman offers a hearty lunch menu, including the youky’s club (turkey, bacon, avocado and kale with red pepper aioli on multigrain bread) and a spin on the croque madame, renamed the croque “maman.” Desserts and pastries include the homemade Oreo and pistachio orange olive oil cake, a pain au chocolat and a kouign “maman.”
Mt. Vernon Square
Equal parts cafe and bistro, Petite Cerise in Mt. Vernon Square comes courtesy of Dabney chef Jeremiah Langhorne and partner Alex Zink. Notable items include a potato-crusted halibut for dinner, breakfast crepes, crawfish gratin for lunch and a beef crudo for brunch. It’s a space where you can snag a coffee in the morning, then return that evening for an elegant dinner. Expect it to be a fixture for the downtown business class.
Those looking for a high-end approach to Mexican cuisine will want to venture to Columbia Heights’ Cinco Soles. The raw bar features ceviches with a range of seafood (octopus, mahi mahi, tuna with orange and passionfruit), while tacos include a slow-roasted al pastor and even Brussels sprouts. The poached lobster, served in a mezcal bisque, is the star of the main courses, while a rice pudding croquette offers an enticingly sweet treat for dessert.
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