This is the post I look forward to writing the most each year. Based on how many questions I receive about it, it may be my most popular article as well. There’s nothing quite as fun as reflecting on all the fabulous dishes I was lucky enough to sample throughout the year. Some are gourmet, some are simple, but all are delicious. If you missed out on any of these, you now have a bucket list, although all of these dishes may no longer be available. Keep your fingers crossed for a reappearance in 2019. Drum roll please…the count down begins.
#18 Oval Room’s Country Fried Tomatoes
Every summer, several of the Knightsbridge Restaurant Group restaurants offer a special three-course summer menu where the focus of each course is on tomatoes. This year, Bryan Moscatello at Oval Room outdid himself with his tomato-inspired menu. The particular dish that blew my mind was his country fried tomato appetizer. It sounds simple but each ingredient is so carefully chosen and delicately handled that the dish is truly unforgettable. Battered tomatoes, which the Chef preserved himself in advance, came with a dollop of cool crème fraiche, bubbles of heady housemade jam, and paper-thin shards of garlic. It was sweet and spicy and smoky, crunchy and creamy and silky all at once. These are easily the fanciest, and the tastiest, tomatoes I had in 2018.
#17 Buena Vida’s Sweet Potato Tostones
Tostones, which are crispy fried plantains, are featured Buena Vida, Silver Spring’s newest Mexican venue, with an unusual twist. Here, the chef uses sweet potatoes instead of plantains and serves the sweet potatoes in a puddle of hazelnut-ancho chili salsa, which has a brilliant nutty and smoky flavor profile.
#16 All Purpose’s Eggplant Parmesan
Luckily, All Purpose’s eggplant parm is available at both locations so you can enjoy it whether you at the original Shaw locale or the new Capitol Riverfront spot. The dish features thick rounds of eggplant baked with fresh basil, tomato sauce and layers of mozzarella cheese, then doused in heaps of crunchy bread crumbs, adding just the right amount of texture. The dish comes bubbling to your table where you will then want to devour it. Immediately.
#15 Pappe’s Kadai Mushroom
Indian food has exploded all over D.C. and I could not be happier about it. I have eaten some seriously delicious Indian dishes in 2018 and Pappe’s kadai mushroom is one of them. The dish is comprised of a chunky, ginger-infused, tomato-based gravy that enrobe hunks of meaty mushrooms. It is best eaten when scooped up with pieces of crisp garlic naan or spooned over a pile of fragrant basmati rice.
#14 Daikaya’s Cacio e Pepe Udon Noodles
Well, we all know I love noodles. Cacio e pepe, or cheese and pepper pasta, is one of my favorite Italian preparations, but at Daikaya the dish is made with an Asian twist. Instead of using traditional Italian noodles, the Japanese restaurant serves an udon noodle cacio e pepe. The fat noodles are swirled in a buttery cheese sauce that is studded with big black pepper flakes. Each noodle practically melts in my mouth.
#13 Shouk’s Falafel
The recipe for these bad boys may be a secret, but the taste is not. Crunchy and earthy and with the depth of flavor of dozens of herbs and spices, it is, as we described, the falafel that shouk D.C.
#12 Iron Gate’s Slow Roasted Manicotti
If you are looking for a comfort dish, this is the dish of your dreams. Cylinders of pasta are filled with greens and cheese and blanketed with a sultry pomodoro sauce. The dish arrives oozing warmth and the divine smell of sweet tomatoes, herbs, and melted cheese.
#11 Bindaas’ Chili Cheese Toast
It is the simplicity of this dish that makes it so special. Bread is smothered in melted cheese and Indian spices, making for a soulful dish for all ages. Served with coleslaw or a handful of spicy fries, the stretchy cheese is salty and chewy, and the crispy toast serves as the perfect vehicle for the gooey cheese.
#10 Beefsteak’s Faux Joe Burger
The impossible burger, known as the veggie burger that bleeds, is beloved by chefs all around, but other places are using their own plant based proteins. At Beefsteak, the team use their own plant based protein with a chili sauce and serves the mixture on a bun like a sloppy joe with a smoky chipotle mayo, tart pickled onions and cool avocado. It is as hearty as a burger can be, with a whirlwind of flavors and textures.
#9 Equinox Restaurant’s Just Scramble Breakfast Sandwich
Just Egg, a vegan egg substitute made of mung beans, is all the rage, and Chef Todd Gray is now serving it at his famous Sunday vegan brunch. He scrambles up the goods and served the omelet-like concoction on an English muffin with a creamy red pepper aioli. Hungover or not, this is the breakfast sandwich I want to each ever day of my life. No cholesterol, better for the environment, but most importantly unbelievably delicious.
#8 Fancy Radish’s Rutabaga Fondue
I will never understand how the Fancy Radish is able to turn rutabaga, a simple root vegetable, into a vegan version of cheese fondue. Somehow, the chefs convert the vegetable into a sauce that is so rich and silky and luscious it is honestly better than any cheese fondue I have ever had.
#7 Karma Modern Indian’s Tandoori Cauliflower
Everything about Karma Modern Indian is beautiful. From the elegant decor to the creative cocktails to the irresistible Indian fare. One dish I always order when visiting is the tandoori cauliflower, which imparts its beauty not only to my eyes but also to my palate. It is not for the faint-hearted as it has some heat, but the cauliflower still has a bite to it and the glossy sauce is feisty and smooth. Enjoy it with one of their southeast-Asian inspired cocktails.
#6: Little Sesame’s Tomato Bowl
We went to the new Little Sesame, located on L St. downtown and we walked away obsessed. All of their hummus bowls are delectable, but my favorite was their tomato bowl, where roasted and fresh tomatoes come nestled in a bed of fluffy, silky hummus, topped with a drizzle of olive oil and thyme tahini and sprinkled with crunchy pine nuts.
#5 Rasika West End’s Vegetable Biryani
Time for a short history lesson: biryani is a classic rice dish that was introduced to Indians by the Mughals. What was once an Iranian dish has since been associated with Indian cuisine, and is one of the most quintessential Indian dishes. It’s made by slow cooking basmati rice infused with saffron, cardamom, coriander, ginger, and a bevy of other spices and vegetables in a clay pot, which is sealed shut with a layer of dough. When cooked, the dough cooks as well and when served, the seal is broken and pillows of steam come floating out. Most Indian restaurants do not follow this procedure of making biryani, and are really serving you pulao, another Indian rice dish that is less arduous to make. At Rasika West End, the traditional version is available and it is so aromatic you will understand why the labor that goes into making this dish is so worth it.
#4 Blue Duck Tavern’s Vegetable Pot Pie
I have been begging Blue Duck for a vegetarian entree for years. Not a pasta but something hearty and earthy and in line with the fresh, seasonal American theme of the restaurant. Lo and behold, they not only came up with one but the ones they devised is literally perfect: a vegetable pot pie. Local veggies come in a cast iron dish, swimming in a velvety, savory gravy, and crowned with a circle of pastry that is then embellished with feathery whisps of black truffle. It is the vegetable pot pie of your childhood, 2.0.
#3: Q by Peter Chang’s Hot & Numbing Tofu Skin Salad
I can already see you rolling your eyes. A tofu dish in the top three? Don’t knock it until you try it. The entire menu at Q, Peter Chang’s Bethesda restaurant, is magnificent, but this is the dish I have to get every time I visit. The dish is really a culinary marvel; tofu is shredded so fine it looks like cabbage and taste like noodles. The chewy, thin sheets of tofu are drenched in a spicy chili sauce, adorned with herbs and served at room temperature. Swirl that tofu around your fork, stuff it in your mouth, and accept the fact that you are now a fan of tofu.
#2: Centrolina’s “Chips and Dip”
It is no surprise that Chef Amy Brandwein, who is as innovative as she is funny and kind, came up with the most lavish version of “chips and dip” in the world. A cool sphere of burrata is dressed with olive oil, sprinkled with chives, and garnished with the tiniest, crispiest freshly fried purple and yellow potato chips. It is buttery on buttery, crispy on creamy, dreamy on decadent.
#1 Himitsu’s Panisse
I had sampled panisse, which are fried chickpea dumplings, a few times in my life, but the ones at Himistsu take these traditional french fritters to a whole new level. Chef Kevin Tien piles a handful of the fried cubes onto a bed of creamy cauliflower puree, where you can dunk and twirl them in the sauce before stuffing your face. The panisse are crispy on the outside and soft on the inside, almost like a fried gnocchi but with the nuttier, earthier flavor of chickpeas. Sichuan peppercorns add heat and depth of flavor. The dish is intensely flavorful; savory and seasoned with precision. If you are lucky enough to try them, you will long for them daily as I do.