It’s been a thrilling year for D.C. restaurants, with stunning new designs, irreplaceable neighborhood additions, a crop of tasting menu-centric destinations, and so much more. The Eater Awards recognize the best of the best, and here’s who and what came out on top this year. For a look at 2015’s D.C. winners, head here.
In previous years, Eater readers narrowed down the nominees finalists, with the editorial board ultimately choosing the winners. This year, Eater is recognizing both a public vote winner and an editor’s choice for each category. Find Eater’s National winners here.
Restaurant of the Year: Tail Up Goat
Talk to a D.C. restaurant owner for a few minutes about the challenges they face in the industry, and one of the first things he or she will bring up is how hard it is to find and retain talent in this town. Staffing shortages and related issues are a major problem the industry has been facing for years now, both locally and nationally.
The seamless service at Tail Up Goat is an example of one restaurant that seems to be overcoming this hurdle. The new Adams Morgan restaurant shines for many reasons, but its attentive, smart, and friendly service (even at a price point that’s still feasible for D.C. diners beyond the high-roller set) really helps it stand out among the many excellent restaurants that have opened around town this year. Sommeliers are responsive and helpful even if diners are ordering a single glass of wine with their entree. Waiters and waitresses are warm, intelligent, and interested in making diners feel comfortable above all else.
That isn’t to say the food isn’t worth its own praise. From the popular lamb ribs (already reaching iconic status in Washington) to the carefully-made pastas to the interesting bread offerings, Tail Up Goat has found an interesting and somewhat unconventional formula. It’s a great neighborhood restaurant that still manages to offer destination dining while still not feeling out of reach for a random Friday night out. Komi and Little Serow alumni (it’s no wonder they know something about service) Jon Sybert, Jill Tyler, and Bill Jensen have created something truly special in Adams Morgan.
Reader’s Choice Award: Whaley’s
Nominees: Whaley’s, Tail Up Goat, Pineapple & Pearls, Convivial, The Dabney
Chef of the Year: Eric Ziebold
D.C. loves a good comeback story, and it’s been satisfying to see former CityZen chef Eric Ziebold back in action and better than ever, now with his own pair of restaurants.
Ziebold decided to leave his longtime gig at the Mandarin Oriental hotel to open his own places (meanwhile, CityZen shuttered without him). He spent the next year developing not one, but two restaurants in the burgeoning Shaw neighborhood. And while one is admittedly fancier than the other, neither is a far cry from the chef’s fine dining roots. Upstairs is Kinship, a playful a la carte restaurant with items like lobster French toast, monkfish pastrami, and even whole-roasted foie gras for the table. Kinship made an impression of its own when it opened, even earning a Michelin star in its first year of operation. But Ziebold’s most dramatic act this year was the opening of Metier, a transporting $200-per-person tasting menu served below Kinship in a living room-style setting (with a stark, yet intimate design from Darryl Carter). There, Ziebold is wowing diners with dishes like a chanterelle and trumpet mushroom salad that looks like something out of a animated fantasy cartoon.
2016 has proven to be the year of the tasting menu in D.C., and while Ziebold has proven to be a master of the format, his success with Kinship means diners outside of the $500+ restaurant meal bracket still get the chance to learn what the chef is all about.
Reader’s Choice Award: Rob Rubba
Nominees: Rob Rubba, Eric Ziebold, Marjorie Meek-Bradley, Katsuya Fukushima, Jamie Leeds
Design of the Year: District Distilling
Great restaurant design causes those who walk into the place to stop and take a beat before going about their meal. The dramatic design details, soaring still, and most importantly, the smart and creative use of space at the brand new District Distilling Co. have inspired that kind of reaction from visitors since the destination opened its doors.
A project from local firm Grizform Design Architects and architect Michelle Bove, the multi-room space occupies close to 8,000 square feet in the heart of the U Street corridor. The team behind the project made an effort to maintain the original building’s look and feel. That meant an industrial vibe made the most sense for the project, with exposed brick and bronze metals contributing to the overall effect. There are murals from a local artist outlining the distilling process on the walls, too. The space is unique to D.C. as the city’s first combination restaurant and distillery (expect more of these to come, like the upcoming Farmers & Distillers). In the eating areas, the design still manages to retain some warmth, aimed at those who choose to dine there rather than just sample the distillery’s products. The large still stretches towards the expansive ceiling, creating a real “wow “factor for those learning about the distilling process. Take a photo tour of the space here.
Readers’ Choice Award: District Distilling
Nominees: District Distilling, Casolare, Bantam King, Bindaas, Declaration
Bar of the Year: Archipelago
The nominees for Bar of the Year for this year’s Eater Awards are an amazing crop of destinations — Eater’s team struggled to narrow down the list to just five, also considering some of the great neighborhood bars like Twisted Horn and ambitious projects like the cider-focused Anxo that opened this year. The ultimate list of contenders represents a selection of serious cocktail destinations like the reopened Columbia Room, classy and intimate new bars like Left Door, destinations for specific spirits like Espita Mezcaleria, and beer havens like The Sovereign.
The winner this year is an all-around great bar that manages to be fun and festive while still taking its beverages seriously. Though many bars have embraced tiki culture in the past several years, D.C. actually has relatively few dedicated tiki bars. So it’s no wonder that since Archipelago opened its doors, it’s become an instant favorite of those who want to treat a night out like a mini-vacation. The atmosphere is festive, the individual touches are unique (Archipelago has to be the only bar in the world with a shrine to Magnum PI’s Tom Selleck, right?), and the drinks that remain high-quality even if they’re often inspired by libations that could also be found at an all-inclusive resort or cruise ship. Go to Archipelago once and just try not to have a good time. But don’t expect the bartenders to share the “secrets” involved in their Pineapple of Hospitality.
Reader’s Choice Award: Espita Mezcaleria
Nominees: Espita Mezcaleria, Left Door, The Sovereign, Archipelago, The Columbia Room
Fast Casual Restaurant of the Year: Shouk
It’s no secret that the fast-casual dining segment (made up of restaurants that tend to be more upscale than fast-food joints, but still not full-service restaurants) has been taking off in D.C. The trend has shown no sign of slowing down locally over the past several years. One particular micro-trend Washington has seen come to fruition this year is the emergence of restaurants which cater to vegetarians and vegans (even if they don’t necessarily market themselves that way — one popular description these restaurants like to use is “plant-based”). Think destinations like Jose Andres’ Beefsteak, which is vegetable-focused but not exclusively vegetarian, or the new Philadelphia import HipCityVeg, which focuses on meatless comfort foods and just opened its first D.C. location.
One particularly unique representative of the trend this year is Shouk. The Middle Eastern restaurant’s entire menu, from cauliflower and ratatouille-stuffed pitas to beet salads to polenta fries, is vegan, but the focus is on flavor. They have a veggie burger that’s appealing to an audience outside of the meat-averse crowd, and have created a version of labneh, a vegan yogurt cheese, made with cashews. Founder Ran Nussbacher and chef Dennis Friedman have clearly tapped into something D.C. was missing with their exciting new restaurant, and it’s the Mt. Vernon Triangle neighborhood’s gain.
Reader’s Choice Award: Shouk
Nominees: HalfSmoke, Smoked & Stacked, Shouk, Paper Horse, Little Sesame
Empire Builder of the Year: Cava Grill
A Cava Grill on every corner? D.C. residents wouldn’t complain about it.
The restaurant mini-chain, one of the most beloved to come out of D.C. in recent years, receives the special award of Empire Builder of the Year for 2016, reflecting impressive and expansive growth throughout the region and beyond. ACava Grill, the fast-casual Mediterranean restaurant chain from founders Ike Grigoropoulos, chef Dimitri Moshovitis, and Ted Xenohristos, has managed both types of growth this year. The restaurant is a spinoff of the full-service Greek- and Mediterranean-influenced restaurant the partners opened here way back in 2006.
Since receiving a $16 million jolt in funding last year, that expansion has taken the restaurant to such places as California, New York and New Jersey. But D.C. hasn’t been left behind — throughout 2016, it felt like a week didn’t go by with a new location opening up locally (they now have around 25 in the area, with even more to come). A city’s appetite for salads, crazy feta, grain bowls, and meatballs is never sated, it seems.
(Editor’s Choice Award)