The past year in D.C. food news looked much brighter in comparison to 2020, largely thanks to a Covid vaccine that helped lift restrictions on capacity and indoor dining. Restaurateurs also managed to get anticipated openings across the finish line this year, and readers were especially excited to learn about arrivals from a Filipino fast food giant; a Lebanese showpiece on the Wharf; a London golf bar’s stateside debut in Dupont; and even an Indian takeout stand inside a Vienna, Virginia gas station.
Other hot headlines in 2021 included everything from the sudden passing of a beloved D.C. chef to an assault at Nellie’s Sports Bar to an absurd tutorial on how ex-President Donald Trump prefers his Diet Coke pours.
And now, here are Eater D.C.’s 10 most-clicked news stories of the year (listed in descending order):
Pogiboy’s longganisa burgers, sinigang fried chicken, and more from ex-Bad Saint chefs Tom Cunanan and Paolo Dungca landed in the Block’s D.C. food hall to the delight of readers during the depths of winter in January.
All she wanted for Christmas was a seafood tower. When Real Housewives of New York star Luann de Lesseps (a.k.a. The Countess) bounced on her check after ordering a plentiful amount of Grey Goose and snacking on a seafood tower at Le Diplomate, chef Stephen Starr’s meticulously appointed and Biden-approved French cafe in Logan Circle, the internet couldn’t stop looking. A few days later, she settled her tab with with a 22% after inquiries from New York Magazine and called the whole thing “unfortunate misunderstanding.”
After Covid forced many to spend a lot of time at home looking at the same four walls, it’s no surprise that a restaurant that grants the diner a visual feast caught the attention of readers. Taking an enchanted garden in Beirut as its inspiration, Lebanese restaurant brand Ilili transformed a glass room with a large, bubbling limestone fountain that first flowed in Provence, France, in the late 19th century. The bubbling centerpiece is one of the few pieces of the restaurant that wasn’t made in Lebanon. Citrus trees rise out of square, green-painted planters. Suspended bird cages full of steel doves with lightbulbs for heads float overhead. Daisy tiles covering the floor anchor the space with bright pops of blue and white.
The city collectively mourned the loss of Andrew LaPorta, owner of Dupont Circle’s long-running seafood favorite Pesce. LaPorta died of natural causes at age 48, and the seafood house critic Tom Sietsema considered the best in D.C. turned off its lights permanently.
When the beloved global fast food chain out of the Philippines unveiled its first D.C. area location in April, its hyper-loyal fanbase naturally freaked out. The Wheaton, Maryland outpost opened with takeout and delivery to start, with favorites like fried “chickenjoy” with brown gravy, “yumburgers,” sweet cheesy spaghetti loaded with hot dogs and ham, and peach mango handpies.
Eater uncovered a delicious destination for home-style Punjabi cooking in an unlikely locale: tucked inside a nondescript ExxonMobil gas station in Vienna, Virginia. The little kiosk called Chit Chaat cafe comes from husband-wife duo Raja and Bindu Puri. Diners can fuel up and bring home boxes of chicken biryani, assemble-yourself pani puri, burritos stuffed with fried vegetable samosas, and butter chicken.
Back in March, Eater broke the news about a whimsical attraction destined for Dupont Circle where guests can pair putt-putt with craft cocktails, pizza, and tacos. Swingers, a London brand of adults-only mini-golf courses, shared color-soaked renderings for its first U.S. location in the gigantic two-level space that formerly housed high-volume bars Buffalo Billiards and the Front Page. The 20,000-square-foot complex debuted in June with a food hall led by D.C.-based Knead Hospitality + Design.
Former staffers at the restaurant inside Trump International Hotel jumped through all sorts of hoops to please right-wing VIPs while the owner of the hotel was in the White House. This included a seven-step service, illustrated guide to serving the Trump his beloved Diet Cokes. By the end of the year, the Miami-based investment firm CGI Merchant Group signed a contract to take over the hotel’s lease for a reported $375 million. It’s truly the end of an interesting era at the coveted property, with Trump’s now stripped from the hotel.
2. Protests Held at Nellie’s Sports Bar After Video Shows Black Woman Being Dragged Down the Stairs by Security
Nellie’s Sports Bar shocked D.C. this summer when a video surfaced of a security guard dragging a Black woman down the stairs by her hair, sparking protests. D.C.’s attorney general’s office took over the investigation into the incident and the bar voluntarily shuttered. A month later, it reopened and issued a very belated apology while the #boycottNellie’s movement continued, according to Georgetown Voice. As a result, Nellie’s endured a seven-day liquor license suspension and a $5,000 fine according to the Washington Post.
In February, Mayor Muriel Bowser made a surprise announcement about plans to demolish the Wendy’s on New York Avenue NE — aka the epicenter of a traffic morass humorously nicknamed “Dave Thomas Circle.” To improve the iconic intersection that locals love to hate, D.C. will pay the property owner $13.1 million and replace the traffic black hole with linearly flowing traffic, bike lanes, and three new parks.