Shouk stands out on its block and in the fast casual landscape. Located on the old NPR spot/current curvy condo-looking-but-actually-business-as-high-of-a-rise-as-D.C.-allows, Shouk is in an old house. And it serves vegan food. But don’t think of it as a vegan spot. Unless you’re vegan.
We didn’t know it was vegan when we went. We’re glad we went in blind but feel obliged to let you know. We’re glad we went in ignorant because it didn’t feel or taste like settling. There’s no meat substitute. Nothing on the menu is attempting to trick your taste buds into thinking tofu is bacon.
The small space is well laid out, with a pantry featuring products for sale curated by Shouk owner Ran Nussbächer, in front. The aromas aren’t overwhelming but they’re definitely present. It’s a pleasant smell and not one found in most fast casual restaurants.
Past the pantry products is the kitchen, with a small seating area for 24 up a half flight of stairs. Like the food, it’s bright and simple.
Let’s get to the food. The concise menu features pitas, salads, snacks and drinks. The pitas are like a much healthier and more flavorful visit to Amsterdam Falafel. We sampled the cauliflower (roasted cauliflower, tomatoes, scallions, tahina, jalapeno oil) and mushroom (sauteed mushrooms, cauliflower, spinach, amba tahina) pitas, satiated by both. We didn’t realize it was vegan until we read the ingredients list. This is a positive note.
The beet salad is a fine option for the gluten free eater. But in a salad town like D.C., eat the gluten if your body allows. The house made pitas (all of the food is house made) are a menu highlight and will hopefully be sold in the pantry section. They’re bigger and fluffier and so much better than what’s available in your local market.
The standouts are the dips and sodas. The hummus features a za’atar that makes you consider a trip to Union Market for spices. The za’atar used in the hummus is available in the Shouk pantry. The beet tahina is a good idea I’d like to recreate at home and the cashew labneh is also easy to devour. But it’s the pita, once again, that helps make this place stand out. It’s boring to read about how great a piece of pita tastes and we’re sorry to keep raving about a piece of pita but we really want to let you know that this pita is the best in the city.
The sodas will change on a daily basis. For a LaCroix abuser like myself, the Spice Market soda was a standout and unfortunately, not bottled. It’s house made with spices that you’re not going to be able to recreate at home.
Shouk should thrive in D.C. We’ll be going back to fill up on bread and soda.
Shouk, 655 K St NW, opens today, Tuesday, May 3. It will be open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily.