Columbia Heights dining phenomenon Bad Saint (3226 11th Street NW) is the one place in D.C. Eater restaurant editor and roving critic Bill Addison believes everyone should eat. The Southeast Asian stronghold has knocked off three-time honoree and Michelin-starred Rose’s Luxury to become the lone DMV establishment on Addison’s fourth annual look at the 38 essential restaurants in America.
Though he was edged out of being named the best chef in the Mid-Atlantic during this year’s James Beard Foundation Awards, Bad Saint chef Tom Cunanan has continued to collect accolades for his modern Filipino cooking.
“His dishes are narcotic in their potency. Tear into his take on ukoy, a giant sweet potato fritter nearly the size of a basketball, to find shrimp or soft-shell crabs enmeshed in its crunchy tangles,” Addison writes.
Getting into the wildly popular restaurant — there’s only two dozen seats and it does not take reservations — forces anyone that wants to sample the less than dozen dishes prepared inside to wait in line for hours on end; New York Times restaurant critic Pete Wells compared the experience to tailgating at a Phish concert. That didn’t deter Bon Appetit from heaping praise on the restaurant in August 2015, or Eater readers from branding it the hottest restaurant in late 2015. International observers have also taken notice: Cunanan and his team have logged Bib Gourmand mentions for two years in a row.
Given that fans continue to crowd sidewalks in Northwest for a taste of bitter melon, zesty pork belly, or whole grilled branzino, it seems the appetite for Cunanan’s cooking is stronger than ever. Perhaps it’s just a question of conditioning; there were crazy long lines when Cunanan did a pop-up at Dolcezza Factory in late 2014.
“By the second sherry-laced cocktail, the hassle of getting in recedes entirely from memory,” Addison writes.