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D.C. Food Writers Discuss Their Best Restaurant Meals of 2020

Critics, bloggers, and industry pros share their favorite dining experiences in D.C. this year

The seared galbi ssam board, mandu, and panchan from Anju
The seared galbi ssam board, mandu, and panchan from Anju
Anju [official]

Following an Eater tradition, we asked a group of restaurant critics, journalists, bloggers, and — as a new twist this year — a couple industry pros to weigh in on the year in food. Their answers to an annual “Year in Eater” survey will be revealed in several posts this week. Next up, the dining experts share the best restaurant meals they enjoyed in 2020.

Tom Sietsema, Washington Post food critic: Pretty much everything I ate and drank at tiny Hanumanh, the 30-seat Laotian watering hole from mother-and-son chefs Seng Luangrath and Boby Pradachith. I hope they return. Life is better in the company of Cornish hen steamed in banana leaf and beef tongue braised in sour beer.

Simone Jacobson, co-owner of Thamee: My mom (Thamee), chef Seng (Thip Khao), and Chef Patrice (Purple Patch) hosted a takeout series that was so popular we had to add a second night. So often, I don’t even get a chance to eat at the events we host, but a “kid’s table” was part of the experience, which meant I got to sit and enjoy not only with my team, but with Boby and Al, the co-owner and beverage director at Thip Khao, too. It was bittersweet because we were very cognizant of social distancing, mask wearing when not eating and drinking, etc., but it still allowed us to remember what sharing a meal with people you adore feels like, and it felt really good. The meal itself was ridiculously decadent, and we all but licked the takeout containers.

Very recently, I also got to take my mom to her first meal at a restaurant since March, and she was dying to eat Angel Barreto’s food. Anju never, ever disappoints, but it was also an incredible moment because their chef’s tasting menu surprises and delights at every turn. Not having to think about what to order and just trusting the kitchen to give you their best is my favorite way to eat out. Being outdoors and socially distant is as close to “normal” as it gets now, and the Anju patio is set up very thoughtfully to mitigate COVID risks.

Takera Gholson, Flights and Foods blogger: Thamee recently partnered with Resy for an at-home dining experience. Together they provided the meal, placemats, a beverage pairing, and even a small bluetooth speaker and specialized playlist from Thamee’s music director, Shmoody. The entire experience was so well thought out.

Paola Velez, executive pastry chef for Maydan, Compass Rose, and La Bodega: There was a moment in the pandemic that I felt homesick. So we ordered Cane. It truly restored my spirits and gave me strength for another day.

Ann Limpert, Washingtonian food editor and critic: Washingtonian reviews are temporarily on pause (but coming back soon!), and I was lucky enough to have my last official review dinner — in an actual dining room — at Albi. My friend and I went for the Sofra tasting menu, and it was totally over the top and very delicious. I can’t wait to go back

Anela Malik, Feed the Malik blogger: Albi again. Their takeout meal special that feeds two really comes with enough for three or four, and the fresh pita and hummus is divine.

Jessica Sidman, Washingtonian food editor: Early in the pandemic when I was feeling pretty stressed out, I ordered a to-go meal from the Dabney. It made me seriously teary-eyed! At a time with so much uncertainty, it reminded me how much I love restaurants. They included nice little touches like a “happy date night” card and votive candle. But most importantly, it was delicious and a comfort at a time when that was sorely needed

Lenore Adkins, freelance food writer: For takeout it was Royal, where I inhaled the beef arepa and the citrus kale salad and stole some of my boyfriend’s pan-seared redfish. The best part? It was still warm when we got back to Ivy City. And my mango mai tai was still cold. For dine in, I went to Le Diplomate recently with friends, where we ate outside under the glow of a heated lamp. The service was superb, every staff member wore a mask, and my meal — steak tartare du Parc and duck l’orange served with two warm Cidre Épicé cocktails (one with rum and one with cognac) — was on point.

Tim Carman, Washington Post food columnist: The giant platter of barbecue I ordered from 2Fifty. It included almost everything on the menu: beef rib, spare ribs, brisket, sliced turkey, pulled pork, all cooked slow over hardwoods until the line between smoke and meat was indistinguishable.

Raman Santra, Barred in DC blogger: St. Anselm. Had the famed salmon collar and biscuits for the first time delivered for my birthday.

Gabe Hiatt, Eater D.C. editor: For takeout, the most memorable meals I had came from Anju — where Angel Barreto floored us with a seared galbi ssam board, buttered kimchi and seafood fried rice, and my favorite panchan (sticky-sweet cross sections of lotus root) — as well as Cane (for Peter Prime’s jerk wings, cumin-spiced pork belly, and crispy kale) and Unconventional Diner, where creamy mashed potatoes interspersed with starchy chunks and velvety morel mushroom gravy stole the show from David Deshaies’s Sriracha meatloaf. For patio dining, Lutèce in Georgetown was a nice escape for date night, even with whooshing buses rattling the barrier protecting the street-side tables. A birthday brunch out back at Mercy Me was another highlight thanks to Johanna Hellrigl’s fried hen and corn pancakes with a smoky syrup.

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