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The fifth edition of New Kitchens on the Block was the least New Kids on the Block themed yet. There were no posters or videos of Jordan, Jonathan, Joey, Donnie or Danny. It might have been the best New Kitchens on the Block yet.

Mess Hall, home to events like NKOTB, Ramen World, Some Disassembly Required, etc. and kitchen for food purveyors like Sloppy Mama’s, Capital Kombucha, Nomad Dumplings and about 40 more businesses, has a unique perspective on the D.C. food scene. They work with dozens of business but their goal isn’t get people to dine in their own restaurants or buy their own products. They produce events but their scale is much more reasonable and manageable than Dock 5 at Union Market or the convention center. Running a smallish space and knowing most everyone in the food and beverage scene might make Mess Hall owner Al Goldberg and events producer Nevin Martell the most qualified people to produce events like NKOTB. All of this to say the obvious: I really loved the most recent edition of New Kitchens on the Blocks.

The variety is what makes it great. You can eat very healthy. Prima’s, opening in Bethesda later this year, ortlana bowl was the kind of health food you want everyday for lunch. You can embrace an indulgent diet. Dauphine’s, opening in downtown D.C. this autumn, fried boudin ball was the dish I went back for seconds.

You can eat direct from a hearth pizza, Piccolina, opening in CityCenterDC this summer, or direct from the wok ramen, Hatoba, opening in Navy Yard this spring.

You’ll enjoy or spit out polarizing textures. I loved the egg and foam from Emilie’s, opening in Capitol Hill this summer. The fennel and peas in Chef Nick Stefanelli’s soupia, featuring cretan cuttlefish, was one of the best bites I’ve had in 2019. (The best bite I’ve had in 2019 was at the most recent Ramen World from Fat Nomads.) I’m really looking forward to seeing what else is on the menu of his upcoming Philotimo, opening this autumn in downtown D.C.

NKOTB helps guide our food coverage for the next 12 months. We’ll be keeping an eye out for all of these restaurants more than any others. Some of the chefs and restaurateurs are already RAMMY winners and garner national press. But the vetting Goldman and Martell do is another level of curation that makes our job a little easier. We’ve benefited from seeing what might be great and in some cases, we’re still waiting on food and drink we’ve enjoyed in previous editions. (We wrote about The Imperial in last summer’s NKOTB recap and they’re almost ready to open.) We can’t recommend or dissuade anyone from spending their time and money at restaurants that have yet to open. But if the participants in the fifth edition of NKOTB have the same type of success as the participants in first four editions (Reverie, Spoken English, Unconventional Diner, RASA, etc.), don’t be surprised if you’ve already sampled 2020 RAMMY winners.