Deep breaths, America: We’re headed into another election year. While the past four years have sluggishly passed by, here we are again, anxiously watching as the future of our country hangs in the balance. If 2016 taught us anything, it’s that food offers the only real solace in this murky quagmire that is our nation’s political situation. So, throw moderation to the wind and nurture your appetite — and your anxieties! Treat yourself for making it this far!
While it’s tempting to hole up at home with a Costco-sized case of Easy Mac, these are times when we need to stick together. Luckily for us, the epicenter of it all, Washington, is in the midst of an impressive food renaissance. The town once known for its expense-account dinners, corporate chains and relatively tame food scene is bursting with new restaurants from diverse culinary talents. Be it a sky-high seafood tower or a simmering pot of galbi jjim, these D.C. eateries are serving up comfort food in epic proportions. So gather your hungriest comrades and bring your political appetite, because this is going to be a tough one to swallow.
Desperate for some of Mom’s home cooking? Head to Anju near Dupont Circle. The duo behind fast-casual hit Chiko, chefs Scott Drewno and Danny Lee, recently opened this ambitious Korean spot with protégé Angel Barreto heading up the kitchen. Lee’s mother had a big hand in creating the menu; her spicy-sweet red chili–braised chicken thighs can soothe any ailment. Stop in for a casual dinner or a late-night bite in the bar, or gather a crew upstairs for Welcome to the Jeongol, a Korean hot pot tasting menu. What better way to commiserate with your friends than over a steaming pot of tender braised beef short ribs bathing in an unctuous sweet soy broth?
Call Your Mother Deli
Andrew Dana and Daniela Moreira want you to think of their deli as “Jewish-ish.” The menu at this smash-hit Park View shop boasts all your beloved carb-y staples — hulking wood-fired bagels, perfectly frizzled potato latkes, chocolate-marbled babka — but with a little extra flair. Case in point: The bagels (which Moreira describes as a love child between the New York City and Montreal styles) come dusted with za’atar and smeared with candied salmon cream cheese. Pick up some black-and-white cookies, which eat like alfajores (a favorite from Moreira’s childhood in Argentina) and are sandwiched with dulce de leche before being glazed. Lines form early here, but luckily there’s a second Georgetown outpost in the works.
Pizza is the name of the game at chef Colin Clark’s downtown osteria in the recently remodeled Hamilton Hotel. Before opening last summer, he spent months training with certified pizzaiolo Roberto Caporuscio (he wasn’t allowed to even touch the dough until he’d sufficiently practiced with a dishtowel). Mind you, Clark is no novice; he’s worked closely with top chefs like Fabio Trabocchi and Marc Vetri. His résumé shows in the well-executed seafood plates, chewy housemade pastas and freshly baked focaccia sandwiches, but it’s the authentic Neapolitan pizzas that are a must-order. Wind down at the counter while you sip a negroni and watch your fennel sausage, rapini and smoked mozzarella pie bake in the 800-degree wood oven. It’s called pizza therapy, people.
If sugar is your vice, a visit to this insanely popular downtown pastry shop is obligatory. Chef Tiffany MacIsaac’s whimsical confections don’t take themselves too seriously. Everything from the nostalgic housemade Ho Hos to the birthday cake batter cream puffs looks (and tastes) like grownup versions of your favorite childhood goodies. In need of a major distraction from the news? MacIsaac is about to launch hands-on cake decorating classes in her bakery.
Inspired by the grande dame restaurants of New Orleans, this soon-to-open midtown eatery is the perfect place to pretend you’re taking it easy in the Big Easy. This collaboration between local seafood master Kyle Bailey and the James Beard–winning cocktail geniuses behind NOLA’s Cure has it all: a gleaming raw bar, old-school seafood gumbo, house-cured meats and beignet bread pudding. (You guys: Beignet. Bread. Pudding.) If things are really going south politically, belly up to the bar and check out the list of revisited classic cocktails. There’s no bad day that an absinthe-washed Sazerac can’t fix.
If anything can snap you out of your election year funk, it’s the vibrant Burmese food at newish H Street eatery Thamee. From the mother-daughter team behind the immensely popular Toli Moli bodega in Union Market, this full-service spot serves up baseball-sized beef meatballs bathing in minty coconut curry; turmeric-tinted golden rice; and punchy potables concocted with coconut oil and rhubarb amaro.
For a truly lavish #treatyoself experience, head to star chef Fabio Trabocchi’s elegant seafood joint. The James Beard winner and Food & Wine Best New Chef alum just did a complete remodel on his 5-year-old riverside restaurant. Live your best Oprah life (she’s a fan) and cozy up in one of the French blue chairs overlooking the Potomac while pondering what to order on the all-you-can-drink Champagne brunch menu. Our vote? The over-the-top lobster roll tossed in Calabrian chili aioli and piled high on a warm brioche bun.
Philly Wing Fry
When a James Beard winner decides to make Philly cheesesteaks, you know it’s going to be good. Chef (and now best-selling author) Kwame Onwuachi wanted to open a place that served his favorite comfort foods: cheesesteaks, wings and waffle fries — and Philly Wing Fry does exactly that. To be fair, his signature sandwich isn’t quite like the old-school version. The young talent (who also owns critically acclaimed Kith and Kin) heaps sliced 50-day dry-aged prime rib onto a cushy hoagie smeared with roasted garlic mayo. The whole thing is then topped with caramelized onions, melty smoked provolone and pickled pearl onions for contrast. Pro tip: Pop by in the morning for the breakfast menu; we promise it’ll cure any election night hangover woes.
Four Watering Holes for Drowning Your Sorrows
Residents Café & Bar
While this chic all-day cafe in Dupont Circle makes a pretty mean breakfast sandwich, we’re here for the signature espresso martini. And this is not the Kahlúa-dominated abomination of the nineties. At this recently opened eatery, vodka is combined with freshly brewed Vigilante espresso, Italian coffee liqueur and a bit of ghee for added creaminess. Not a vodka fan? Try the equally buzzy rum and bourbon variations.
Off the Record
Known around town as the place “to be seen and not heard,” this D.C. institution is housed in the basement of the historic Hay-Adams Hotel just across from the White House. You’ll find past and present politicos grabbing a drink at the sleek mahogany bar or tucked away in one of the crimson tufted booths. Don’t forget to cast your “vote” by ordering a candidate-themed cocktail and collecting a limited-edition coaster from Pulitzer-prized political cartoonist Matt Wuerker.
Tiki on 18th
Sometimes you just need an electric blue drink with an umbrella in it. This Adams Morgan establishment is a newer addition to the tiki trend, serving up funky booze-forward cocktails in a palm- and wicker-adorned paradise. Some serious names are behind the bar program here, and it shows in perfectly executed favorites like the frosty Missionary’s Downfall with Caribbean rum, fresh mint, peach and pineapple.
The Dabney Cellar
If you’re looking for a dark corner to hide away from the world (while also slurping down Sloop Point oysters and a glass of dry heirloom cider), grab a seat in this cozy subterranean tavern. The walls are lined with firewood that’s used to fuel the hearth in chef Jeremiah Langhorne’s Michelin-starred restaurant upstairs. He also uses the Cellar as a testing ground for new dishes, so the menu is constantly changing.