Words By Logan Hollers, Photos By Clarissa Villondo
Equidistant from Logan Circle, Scott Circle, and Thomas Circle, the recently revamped Radiator is a fine spot to spend an evening. Guys, three things: I drink and eat a lot. I’d never been to this place until we got invited over to check it out. I’ve been missing out.
Radiator is an upscale cocktail lounge with outstanding food and an unpretentious atmosphere. The interior is meant to evoke 14th Street’s history as a stretch of car dealerships and auto repair shops. That means huge roll-up garage door inspired windows, industrial accents throughout, and some seriously cool light fixtures. Outside, a 50-seat patio includes a fire pit, games, and a retractable overhang.
The beverage program is helmed by Sarah Rosner, whose 15 years of experience behind the stick include time spent at some of DC’s best bars, including Copycat Co., Eat the Rich, and Jack Rose. In addition to a locally-focused beer menu and an actually affordable list of wines by the glass, Rosner has designed a cocktail menu that’s both accessible and delicious.
Blazing hot day in D.C.? Try the Fancy Pants, a refreshing mix of gin, prosecco, maraschino, and bitters; an absinthe rinse lends the slightest floral bitterness, while tarragon and cucumber from Rosner’s own garden provide a clean, vegetal nose.
Brown liquor more your thing? Can’t go wrong with the Big Boy Pants (the pants theme was unintentional – honest). Smoky blended scotch is held in check by a dash of honey and a squeeze of lemon, while strawberry and rosemary pair up to play off the booze.
The kitchen, under Executive Chef Jonathan Dearden, complements the drinks with a menu of globe-trotting dishes conveniently divided into “Food in Hand” and “Fork in Hand” categories.
The former is perfect for snacking, whether solo or in a group. Standouts include the kimchi pickles, a tart and vinegary mix of daikon, radishes, peppers, cucumber, and mango with a fantastic fish sauce funk (that brine though…makes for the perfect pickleback shot FYI); bacon fat fries, basically a combination of my three favorite things (don’t worry – the bacon fat is dehydrated and sprinkled on, not poured over in liquid form); and some of the best croquetas I’ve ever had. If you like crunchy, gooey, cheesy, or salty (or any combination of the four), these are a must order.
Just because you eat with your hands doesn’t mean you can’t take down something more substantial. The category also includes the chef’s specialty, three soft tacos stuffed with crunchy, fatty lamb belly; mint and pickled onions; some crazy spicy, thinly sliced chiles; and curried fried chickpeas. Texture: awesome. Flavor: awesome.
But the best of the “Food in Hand” category is simple – the Rad Burger. The tang of good beef aged well and served medium rare mingles with the oozy funk of camembert and gorgonzola; a red onion marmalade adds even more umami. Add a few of those kimchi pickles for some acidity to cut through the richness and this burger is ridiculous, a legit contender for one of the best in DC.
Once you’re cleaned up from eating that burger (seriously – get extra napkins) and ready to grab a fork, you can stay light (a gorgeous tuna crudo with watermelon, cucumber, jalapeno, and whiskey barrel-aged fish sauce) or go bold (a silken beef short rib tartare with chimichurri, an egg yolk emulsion, and crispy onions).
Vegetarians are well taken care of here. Best bets are the beet salad, a vibrant mix of cubed beets elevated by the addition of Asian pear and sliced watermelon radish; the Romanesco broccoli, with harissa and a dynamite black bean hummus; and the house-made gnocchi with lollipop kale, beech mushrooms, arugula pesto, and a dusting of truffled pecorino romano cheese.
If meat’s your thing, two choices stand out: the scallops and the steak. The former, perfectly cooked with a hard sear on one side, are paired with a gorgeous yellow saffron-infused rice, fresh peas, and pea shoots. The rice is creamy, almost grits-like, and a welcome variation from the usual al dente you find in risottos (seriously, crunchy rice is just not good).
The latter is a beautiful piece of wagyu bavette, sliced against the grain and laid over the top of parmesan potatoes. Dual sauces of roasted garlic and a cabernet demiglace combine perfectly.
Radiator is unique; it’s rare that you find a place with a cocktail list this good, food this delicious, a space this gorgeous, and an atmosphere this welcoming.
If it sounds like I’m going over the top, I am. If Radiator isn’t yet on your radar, it should be.
Radiator is located at 1430 Rhode Island Ave NW and open 7 days a week.