In honor of Christine & Karen‘s upcoming trip to visit me in DC, I thought I’d share a little insight as to my planning process when it comes to what to show them when they are here. I am, by no means, an expert on the DC food scene, but these are the impressions I have of it. While we won’t be able to visit all of these places, I hope you will be able to at some point!
Tapas. Small plates of yummy food, typical of Spanish cuisine.
Or, if you are in DC and not Spain, then tapas are associated with one name and one name only: José Andrés, the celebrity chef who I hear is single-handedly responsible for bringing small plates to DC and America at large.
Personally, I am not really into the tapas/small plates trend. It just seems like an excuse for restaurants to serve me very small servings of food with a side of this insult: “You can order several and share with friends.” Excuse me, this is barely enough for me and you want me to share with my friends? They will not be friends after we attempt to share these teeny portions. I prefer standard-sized portions. (I also feel slightly wrong calling dim sum “Chinese tapas”, because you’re only being charged $4 for an order versus being charged $9 for two bites of food. But I digress.)
Whether you’re a fan or not, small plates are a huge part of DC food culture, especially because we have so many José Andrés establishments here. All of these are intensely popular for happy hours — after all, weren’t small plates invented for happy hour? — and brunch, because DC is a city that brunches and brunches hard.
Here are a few that are an important part of the DC small plate scene:
We must start with José Andrés’s flagship tapas restaurant, Jaleo. This is THE restaurant that to be named when discussing tapas in DC. There are a few locations now in the DMV (DC-Maryland-Virginia), but the DC location is the original and most popular, so it helps to have a reservation when you go.
Popular items include gambas al ajillo (shrimp with garlic), patatas bravas (home fries), croquetas, and sangria
Come for happy hour aka “Jaleo hour” aka “sangria hour”
480 7th St. NW; (202) 628-7949; jaleo.com
This Logan Circle tapas place tries to make shelling out your dinero for tapas a bit easier as the portions are larger than some other places and they are almost always a hit. It’s a treat-yo-self kind of place, but if you get really into small plates (as DC clearly has), it’s a great treat.
Popular items include manchego cheesecake, mussels, pork belly sandwich, and white sangria
Come for brunch, dinner
1520 14th St. NW; (202) 319-1404; estadio-dc.com
Another José Andrés establishment (and for the sake of variety, the last one I will have on this list), Zaytinya serves Mediterranean tapas, aka mezze restaurant. Instead of Spanish tapas, the menu is inspired by Turkish, Greek, and Lebanese cuisine
Popular items include any vegetables especially brussel sprouts and baba ghannouge (eggplant), falafel, and kibbeh (burghul w/ a mince).
Come for happy hour and brunch
701 9th St. NW; (202) 638-0800; zaytinya.com
Deviating from the others a bit, Richard Sandoval’s (more celebrity chefs!) Masa 14 is neither a true tapas or a mezze restaurant. Rather, it is an Asian-Latin fusion small plates joint that is known for their great happy hours and bottomless brunch. It really doesn’t get more DC-trendy than that, folks. Also, this is the one spot on this list that I have actually visited! Although it is, by far, not the only small plates restaurant I have visited.
Popular items include the mushroom flatbread, yucca fries, crispy shrimp,and fried rice.
Come for happy hour and bottomless brunch
1825 14th St. NW; (202) 328-1414; richardsandoval.com/masa14
Cure Bar and Bistro
Let’s veer even more away from the traditional Spanish tapas or even from Mediterranean mezze into small plates of classic American fare, which is what Cure Bar and Bistro offers. This hotel lounge has an emphasis on cured meats (as the name indicates) and pairing your food with the right drinks. Also staying with another food trend, Cure uses locally sourced and sustainable food.
Popular items include mac and cheese, chicken pot pie, roast chicken, and pork belly BLT
Come for lunch and dinner
1000 H St. NW; (202) 637-4906; curebarandbistro.com
That’s just a tiny sampling of our booming small plates scene in DC. If you visit and you haven’t been offered a small plate, you are kind of missing out, to be honest!
Do you like small plate restaurants? Tapas? Mezze?
What are the big food trends in your city? Even if your city is DC, what do you think it is?