The Royal: Cheese Arepas


The Royal is the kind of restaurant where you feel like one of the popular kids just by hanging out there. In fact, to make sure we could match the coolness of our fellow customers we rode a Vespa there and parked it right outside as if to say, no nerd alert here! There’s an ancient looking fire hydrant that spews house made Vermouth for god sakes. The vibe is effortlessly laid back, so you’re going to want to spend time there…which you can morning, afternoon and night thanks to it being an all-day eatery.

Cheese Arepas

The Best Thing on the Menu: Cheese Arepas are a clue that the edibles leans Colombian. Owner Paul Carlson’s family is from the vibrant South American nation, and Chef Lonnie Zoeller’s wife is Colombian, so The Royal comes at the cuisine from all sides. Though cheese arepas are made from but a few simple ingredients, they’re delightful when paired with both the aji sauce they come with in addition to the arsenal of sauce options available for a few cents more. They’re described by color. We like “Orange” because it’s sweet and spicy. Sure there are souped up arepas on the menu, including one that’s stuffed with meat like a sandwich, but here, simple is better. Arepas are definitely having a moment.

Grilled Avocado

Another must-order is the grilled avocado nestled on top of a bed of red quinoa and lentils. This is dish number two that does the trick without introducing any meat. Lonnie’s not using quinoa here because it’s a buzzword that tickles the senses of the gluten-free crowd. The grain hails from the Andean region of South America, which includes part of Colombia. Although the grain has become mainstream, we can’t help but snicker at its mention thanks to this commercial. Especially because the protagonist is an Eagles fan.

The Royal serves morning fare like bagel sandwiches, choripan and Nutella pinwheels from 7am-12pm Monday-Friday, 7am-1pm Saturdays, and 8am-1pm Sundays. Come noon or 1pm they switch over to their all-day menu.

The Royal is located at 501 Florida Avenue NW in the LeDroit Park neighborhood. 

Cheese arepas not your BTM? Share your favorites in the comments section.

Sally’s Middle Name: Fried Pickled Chard Stems with Ranch

Chard stems

H Street’s latest restaurant, Sally’s Middle Name, doesn’t play by the rules. Your server will not hand you a paper menu because all of the offerings are scribbled on the walls. Nor will your server allow you to tip. In a city whose religion is following the rules, it’s fun to shove some restaurant norms to the side for a night.

If the restaurant reminds you of something that you can’t quite pin down, we’re willing to bet it’s Rose’s Luxury. The space is cool and quirky, the plates don’t match, the service is casual but polished, and some dishes even look familiar (like beef brisket or brined chicken). But, the Best Thing on the Menu is unique to Sally’s Middle Name: Fried Pickled Chard Stems with “Ranch.”

If you dig fried pickles, you’ll love these sour stalks that hit the fryer, especially after you dip them in ranch dressing. Ranch is having quite the resurgence. It’s no longer relegated to serving as the obvious dip for dreary looking carrot sticks at PTA meetings. There’s even a new ranch restaurant in St. Louis.


The menu at Sally’s Middle Name changes daily, but the stalks seem to stay on, making them a bit of a signature dish. After the stems, the Next Best Thing on the Menu would probably be something from the dessert selection, like these cannelloni-shaped beignets.

Just one word of warning. Portion size doesn’t always match up with price at Sally’s Middle Name. The culprit during a recent meal was a 3.5oz portion of halibut served on a thin ladle of tomato sauce presented on a bread plate for $20. This is partially why, after ordering six dishes, my dining companion and I ended up at Maketto eating fried chicken.

Find Sally’s Middle Name at 1320 H St NE.

Fried pickled chard stems not your BTM? Share your favorites in the comments section.

Maketto: Fried Chicken

Fried Chicken

Maketto is getting wedding anniversary level love lately. The Post’s Tom Sietsema penned a rare glowing review and Eater named it one of the best new restaurants in America. Given these fireworks, you’re likely headed there soon.

It’s easy to get distracted at the H Street spot that exudes cool. Should you drink coffee or booze? Should you buy those condoms out of the vending machine? Should you sit inside or outside? Upstairs or downstairs? Should you pick up that gun powder scented candle for your dude friend? These questions about Maketto deserve answers, but your focus should remain on the food because it lacks the watered-down effect some Southeast Asian eateries suffer from.

Sure, the bap buns are fantastic. In fact, Chef Erik Bruner-Yang is so well known for his buns that they pretty much double as his business cards. But, they’re not the Best Thing on the Menu. That honor is reserved for the fried chicken. Giant cutlets come in a sticky bath that should be illegal, especially when served with warm (seemingly fried) bread designed to lap it all up. The portion size is as generous as a grandparent during Christmas and the kick comes from chillies and fried shallots.

Mala Colada

If heat is your thing, pair the fried chicken with a Mala Colada. The tropical beverage carries a welcome Tabasco-level of spiciness. Not into alcohol? There’s more to the beverage program at Maketto, including sipping vinegars and cool flavors of kombucha.

Fried chicken not your BTM? Share your favorites in the comments section.

Maketto is located at 1351 H Street N.E.

Centrolina: Tonno


Bring on the side eye because the Best Thing on the Menu at Centrolina isn’t a pasta. Rather, it’s surf & turf on speed: “Tonno” with rare tuna, bone marrow, charred onion, snap peas and Barbaresco. Chef Amy Brandwein’s CityCenterDC stunner has been open less than two months and we’ve already ordered it twice.

Obviously, you’re not consuming the two main components in isolation. Grab a tiny spoon or fork fit for a squirrel and dig around inside the bone until you have a nice lobe of gelatinous goo and then spread the marrow on a slice of seared tuna. The hot and cool temperature combination is playful, and the wine reduction adds further richness. Is it $30? Yes, but at least you’re not throwing money at 10 different small plates and leaving hungry.


If you’re going to go down the pasta path, opt for the fusilli with suckling pig ragu and Moliterno cheese. On our last visit, it was an off-menu item Chef Brandwein was playing around with, but we’re happy to see it officially on the menu. Just one disclaimer: the Centrolina menu changes as often as an Italian fashion model, so don’t get too attached to dishes, especially the pastas.

Tonno not your BTM? Share your favorites in the comments section.

Find Centrolina (restaurant and market!) at 974 Palmer Alley NW in CityCenterDC. 

Buredo: The Sofie

The Sofie

If you want to see shock on the level of someone seeing one of the Saw movies for the first time, show a classroom of Japanese students an American sushi menu. Mango! Cream cheese! Asparagus! We’ve taken a cuisine that usually consists of one or two ingredients and exotified it, sometimes even deep-frying entire rolls. Now, consider introducing them to Buredo: downtown’s buzziest lunch pit stop that supersizes sushi rolls until they reach the size of small burritos. Perhaps there will be an eye roll or two, but after one bite, anyone is bound to be smitten.

The Best Thing on the Menu: The Sofie brings together shrimp tempura, avocado, pickled cabbage, carrot, toasted sesame seeds, red tobiko and sriracha mayo for a sweet and spicy mouthful. Is it a little predictable to pick the one roll on the menu that contains both something fried and a liberal helping of mayo? Sure, but the truth’s the truth.

The Hanzo

If you want to swing a little healthier, we also love the Hanzo (yes, the samurai who was a serious badass). This hoagie-sized roll introduces pickled fennel and arugula to the sushi world. They’re joined by yellowfin tuna sashimi, avocado, cucumber, tempura crunch and a lemon aioli.

Buredo is still tinkering with their offerings and hours given the fast casual restaurant is in its infancy stage (they opened July 2). But, the concept proved to be a winner (read: long lines) so they expanded their closing time from 4pm to 7pm. Maybe they realized they planted a restaurant in a city full of workaholics who leave the office at 6pm and are eager to grab a quick dinner before going home to work some more, this time on laptops.

The Sofie not your BTM? Share your favorites in the comments section.

Find Buredo at 825 14th Street NW.

The Best Thing on the Menu at RAMMY Finalist Restaurants

Photo credit: David Claypool

Representatives from New Restaurant of the Year finalists. Photo credit: David Claypool.

The finalists for the 2015 RAMMY awards are out. See who received nods advancing them as contenders to win a RAMMY on June 7. As a reminder, only members of the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington (RAMW) are eligible, and some categories disqualify those who’ve won in the past five years. Click on the links to see the Best Thing on the Menu!

New Restaurant of the Year: 

·       Crane & Turtle 

·       Fiola Mare

·       The Partisan

·       Republic

·       TICO 

Formal Fine Dining Restaurant of the Year:

·       Marcel’s by Robert Wiedmaier

·       minibar by José Andrés

·       Rasika 

·       The Restaurant at Patowmack Farm

·       Trummer’s on Main

Chef of the Year:

·       Victor Albisu – Del Campo

·       Nathan Anda and Ed Witt – The Partisan

·       Cedric Maupillier – Mintwood Place

·       Marjorie Meek-Bradley – Ripple, Roofers Union

·       Johnny Spero  – minibar by José Andrés

Favorite Gathering Place of the Year:

·       Bar Pilar

·       Cashion’s Eat Place

·       ChurchKey

·       Et Voila!

·       Evening Star Café

Upscale Casual Brunch: 

·       Birch & Barley

·       Kapnos – DC

·       Le Diplomate

·       The Restaurant at Patowmack Farm

·       Seasons at The Four Seasons

Everyday Casual Brunch:

·       Beuchert’s Saloon

·       The Daily Dish

·       DGS Delicatessen

·       Duke’s Grocery

·       The Liberty Tavern

Favorite Fast Bites: 

·       Cava Grill – Bethesda Row

·       DCity Smokehouse

·       G by Mike Isabella

·       Pete’s New Haven Style Apizza – Friendship Heights

·       Red Apron Butcher – Union Market

Cocktail Program of the Year: 

·       2 Birds, 1 Stone

·       barmini by José Andrés

·       Bourbon Steak

·       Iron Gate

·       Trummer’s on Main

Beer Program of the Year:

·       The Arsenal at Bluejacket

·       Brasserie Beck

·       Granville Moore’s

·       Mad Fox Brewing Company

·       Pizzeria Paradiso – Georgetown

Wine Program of the Year: 

·       Charlie Palmer Steak

·       Fiola

·       Iron Gate

·       Proof

·       The Red Hen

Service Program of the Year: 

·       Bourbon Steak

·       Fiola

·       Marcel’s by Robert Wiedmaier

·       Rasika 

·       The Restaurant at Patowmack Farm

Pastry Chef of the Year: 

·       Agnes Chin – The Grill Room, Capella Hotel

·       Naomi Gallego – Blue Duck Tavern

·       Kendra Grieco – Fiola

·       Michelle Poteaux – Bastille

·       Susan Wallace – BlackSalt Fish Market & Restaurant

Rising Culinary Star of the Year: 

·       Austin Fausett – Trummer’s on Main

·       Tim Ma – Maple Ave Restaurant, Water & Wall

·       Harper McClure – BRABO by Robert Wiedmaier

·       George Pagonis – Kapnos DC

·       Danny Wells – Republic

Everyday Casual Restaurant of the Year:

·       DGS Delicatessen

·       Granville Moore’s

·       Hank’s Oyster Bar – Capitol Hill

·       Hill Country Barbecue Market

·       Ted’s Bulletin – Capitol Hill

Upscale Casual Restaurant of the Year:

·       Birch & Barley

·       Maple Ave Restaurant

·       Mintwood Place

·       Proof

·       Vermilion

Regional Food and Beverage Producer of the Year: 

·       Catoctin Creek Distilling Company

·       DC Brau Brewing Company

·       Dolci Gelati

·       Early Mountain Vineyards

·       New Columbia Distillers

Restaurateur of the Year: 

·       José Andrés and Rob Wilder – ThinkFoodGroup

·       Mike Isabella – Mike Isabella Concepts

·       Fabio and Maria Trabocchi – Fiola, Casa Luca, Fiola Mare

·       Jeff Tunks, David Wizenberg, Gus DiMillo – Passion Food Hospitality

·       Robert Wiedmaier, Brian McBride, Frank Shull, and Joe Lively – RW Restaurant Group

Pizza Vinoteca: The Hawaiian (CLOSED)

The Hawaiian

Say aloha to Ballston’s new pizza and wine mecca because The Best Thing on the Menu will change your perspective on Hawaiian pizza. Pizza Vinoteca’s take on the pie that typically gets left behind at parties boasts mozzarella, prosciutto, pineapple and spicy Fresno peppers. Tropical paradise, however, comes from a secret weapon not listed on the menu: a vanilla sherry glaze. The sugary addition can point out a cavity in your mouth though, so arugula is added for a tempering, peppery bite.


The pizza at Pizza Vinoteca is unique for other reasons too. It’s cooked to completion in near minutes thanks to an 800 degree grill. In fact, a trip into the kitchen leaves you covering your eyebrows for fear they’ll burn right off. In order to ensure the dough can stand up to such high temps, the team in the kitchen adds red wine to the dough. They certainly have enough of it on hand (we’ll get to that). See if you can decipher a slight purple hue before you dig in to The Hawaiian or any of their other eight speciality pizzas.

Wines by the Glass

Pair any of Pizza Vinoteca’s fare with 36 wines offered by the glass. It gets better. They’re available by 3oz or 5oz pours and none surpass a price tag of $10. Because of CEO Ari Malcolm’s goal to make wine more accessible (read: affordable), you won’t find a lot of recognizable wine labels or even wine regions. Take this as an opportunity to explore. We like the Grüner Veltliner and Zweigelt from Austria.


Dessert is a must because, well, bombolonis. These Tuscan-style doughnuts come in five flavors like Mexican chocolate, and are only $2 each.

Pizza Vinoteca is located at 800 N Glebe Road in Arlington, and they deliver within a three-mile radius. 

The Hawaiian not your BTM? Share your favorites in the comments section.

Kapnos Taverna: Seafood Tower

Seafood Tower

When someone says Mike Isabella you likely think of pepperoni sauce, killer pizza, maybe even spit-roasted meat. But, thanks to the addition of Kapnos Taverna, Mike can add seafood to his growing list of culinary sorties.

The biggest differentiator between Ballston’s shiny new Kapnos Taverna and the 14th Street original, Kapnos, is the addition of a raw bar that cranks out seafood towers and platters that can compete with the likes of Fiola Mare and Le Diplomate (yea, we said it). For reasons that will soon become obvious, the magnanimous seafood tower with its bounty of ocean critters and house made condiments is the Best Thing on the Menu. It’s so impressive that we’re breaking it down by tier.


Warm up on the first floor where things are pretty familiar: shrimp that have been sexed up by some kind of tangy yogurt sauce and an array of oysters divided by West Coast and East Coast. Boost their briny flavor with harissa hot sauce, tomato-ouzo cocktail sauce, lemon yogurt, mignonette or fresh horseradish.

Tier Two

The Taylor Bay scallops made zippy by apple and grapefruit steal the show in tier two, though the marinated mussels accompanied by celery, preserved lemon and pomegranate bring competition. Also served in small metal vats are king salmon tartare with purple potatoes, mustard and cucumber as well as tender octopus with eggplant, red pepper and olive.

Tier Three

Finally, like a lady wearing a whacky hat at a horse race, lobster and crab form the dramatic crown of the tower daring you to take on the work that goes into cracking those crab legs.

The whole thing weighs in at $125, but if you bring a team of four it won’t break the bank. All you’ll need to leave feeling full is a few dips and spreads that come with flatbread or maybe some vegetable mezze like Greek spiced potato fries or fried burssels with lemon, pomegranate, dill and garlic yogurt (reminiscent of he Best Thing on the Menu at Zaytinya).

Kapnos Tavern is located at 4000 Wilson Blvd.

Seafood tower not your BTM? Share your favorites in the comments section.

Pinea: Charred Octopus


Chef Barry Koslow has had some time to settle into his latest culinary foray, Pinea, inside the W Hotel DC. You know him from his Jewish deli days at DGS Delicatessen. His Mediterranean concept replaces J & G Steakhouse, which was ripe for retirement. If you’re a hotel restaurant naysayer, suck it up and pay Pinea a visit because you could easily find it on a cool street in Europe.

The Best Thing on the Menu channels Urusla (but there are no unfortunate souls): Charred Octopus with Saffron Potatoes, Green Olives, Chorizo and Sherry Dressing. The flavors are explosive and slightly reminiscent of paella (at least the kind of paella someone on the Paleo diet would eat because there is no rice). The chorizo adds smoky heat, the dressing is tart, and the octopus is charred to perfection. That last part might be “too soon” for fellow DC chef, George Pagonis, who departed this season of Top Chef because of the way he cooked the pesky eight-legger.

Pinea Lamb Burger

Also outstanding is Chef Koslow’s Lamb Merguez Burger, which can be found on the lunch, dinner and brunch menu. It’s fiery with harissa, but fortunately cucumber yogurt cools your mouth. A $19 burger you say!?!? It is The W after all. The price tag is worth it for the polenta fries alone.

After you’ve demolished the Best Thing on the Menu and the lamb burger, settle up and head down to The Root Cellar. The pint-sized bar serves up some tasty barrel-aged cocktails and a whole lot of whiskey.

Pinea is located at 515 15th Street NW.

Charred Octopus not your BTM? Share your favorites in the comments section.

Bourbon Steak Lounge: Pulled Pork Pop-Tarts


Sure, Bourbon Steak Lounge is synonymous with face-melting, make-you-scream-for-your-momma-they’re-so-good burgers. Put it this way, we’d rather have a Bourbon Steak Lounge burger than stock in Shake Shack. But there’s something even better (and brand new) lurking on the lounge menu – The Best Thing on the Menu: Pulled Pork Pop-Tarts served with Carolina BBQ sauce and gherkins. 

Bourbon Steak Chef Joe Palma takes 20% of the fun out of it by explaining that pop-tarts are really just flat empanadas. He ruined our fantasy that these would would one day be available to purchase from Kellogg’s for daily, in-home consumption. Alas, to Bourbon Steak Lounge we’ll head for round after round of these warm, flaky wonders filled with bright yellow meatsies thanks to the mustard component of the sauce. Order them alongside an expertly crafted cocktail from bar genius Duane Sylvestre.


Fortunately (like Kellogg’s) an order of pop-tarts only comes with two pastries, leaving you belly room to tackle one of those epic burgers we mentioned. Feel free to explore all of the options, but don’t overlook the original oak-fired prime steak burger with house pickles, cabot clothbound cheddar and secret sauce. The Korean barbeque burger packs a punch thanks to heat from kimchi and gochujang sauce. Just don’t expect a patty made from minced salmon. You get a whole salmon filet instead, eschewing dryness and creating an adorable juxtaposition of a rectangle tucked between two round buns.

Obviously, you’re also getting the duck fat fries with a trio of dipping sauces.

Bourbon Steak Lounge is located inside the Four Seasons Hotel Washington at 2800 Pennsylvania Avenue NW. 

Pulled Pork Pop-Tarts not your BTM? Share your favorites in the comments section.