Today we announce the winners of the 2021 Eater Awards, celebrating the new restaurants and pop-ups that made a major impact on all 24 Eater cities since January 2020.
Eater paused the awards last year as the industry reconciled with compounding challenges during the ongoing pandemic, but through the last 20 months, restaurants have shown resiliency by welcoming the idea of a new normal. Establishments that made ambitious debuts during the pandemic have set the bar for what the future of the industry looks like and how it operates. Choosing these winners is always a tough task, made even more difficult this year by the extenuating circumstances brought on by the global health crisis.
With that, congratulations to D.C.’s Restaurant of the Year, Debut of the Year, Bakery of the Year, Chef of the Year, Bar of the Year, and Brunch of the Year. Each winner receives Eater’s illustrious tomato can trophy to put on display.
Restaurant of the Year
Albi, Navy Yard
1346 4th Street SE
Chef Michael Rafidi rolled out his anticipated Levantine showpiece in February 2020, just a month before the pandemic shut down the planet. Despite the poor timing for a special-occasion restaurant, the Middle Eastern marvel managed to score a spot on Eater’s 11 Best New Restaurants in America list. Rafidi’s Palestinian American background and fine dining experience put the right pieces in motion to deliver a breakout project with real staying power, thanks to its utterly original point of view, top-tier service, and food that ignites conversation. Albi’s dinner-only menu relies on the ancient culinary tradition of coal-fired cooking to celebrate a region that includes Syria, Israel, Lebanon and Palestine. A wine list filled with rare gets from the Levant region only adds to the uniquely transportive experience. Patrons can sample a cross-section of the goods with a tasting for two ($95) or go the a la carte route. Word is out about Rafidi’s kibbeh naya, which is widely considered one of the top vegetarian dishes in D.C.
Debut of the Year
Daru, H Street
1451 Maryland Avenue NE
Dante Datta and Suresh Sundas, a respective drink expert and chef who met while working together at Rasika West End, brought their anticipated Indian restaurant and cocktail bar to a corner just south of H Street NE this summer. An hours-long wait to snag a seat on a humid opening night in August showed just how hungry D.C. was for the duo to reunite under one roof. Sundas likes to combine Northern and Southern Indian cooking styles with some unorthodox touches: Think za’atar olive naan, chicken tikka tacos, or grilled chicken reshmi kebabs with a hint of blue cheese. Datta and bar manager Tom Martinez, both alums of Columbia Room, collaborate on inventive riffs on classics. Daru’s opening daiquiri — a complex compilation of clarified kefir, mint, and cilantro that mimics the taste of green chutney — set the bar high right out of the gate.
Bakery of the Year
Rose Ave, downtown
1110 Vermont Avenue NW (inside The Block DC Food Hall)
Rose Nguyen’s namesake pastry shop was one of two opening vendors inside Asian food hall the Block’s sleek new downtown digs in early 2020. While the pandemic decimated her hopeful 9-to-5 fanbase, the former nurse and self-trained baker still managed to find a cult following for her coconut mochi puffs and cakes that can’t seem to stay in stock. Other smash-hit sweets from day one include Filipino cheese rolls called ensaymada and matcha chocolate chunk cookies with flakes of sea salt popping against their green dough. Weekly preorders regularly sell out fast, but walk-ins can swing by during a tight window on Wednesdays to Saturdays to grab one of her luxuriously creamy passion fruit doughnuts and Vietnamese iced coffee. Eye-catching purple yam (ube) works its way into brioche dough, butter, and cakes to create treats that taste as good as they look.
Chef of the Year
Mélange’s Elias Taddesse, Mt. Vernon Triangle
449 K Street NW
Since opening Mélange in fall 2020, D.C. chef Elias Taddesse has wowed Mt. Vernon Triangle with his fast-food mashup menu centered around French techniques and Ethiopian flavors. His standout cheeseburger constructed with freshly ground Maryland beef patties and brown butter aioli is just an entry point to Mélange. Ethiopian spices stored in translucent containers inside the ordering counter clue customers into more inventive options that mix up Taddesse’s East African heritage, Michelin-starred background, and nostalgia for American drive-thrus. Do not miss the National, a berbere-marinated and dry-spiced fried chicken sandwich reminiscent of doro wat stew. Takeout pints of ice cream and hand-spun milkshakes in simple flavors like milk or toast are also spectacular splurges.
Bar of the Year
Jane Jane, Logan Circle
1705 14th Street NW
This pint-sized bar with a retro dinner party vibe and no-reservations policy quickly proved its place along 14th Street NW’s already-crowded cocktail corridor. Pretty much any of the drinks that are organized by spirit and mixed by co-owner Jean Paul Sabatier are a safe bet. Classics like gin-based Negronis and martinis join lesser-known standouts like the Scofflaw, built with rye, Dolin dry vermouth, lemon juice, grenadine, and orange bitters. A short menu of home-style party snacks include warmed-up olives, mixed nuts with an undercurrent of rosemary, and Jane’s Caviar (trout roe and creme fraiche) served with potato chips. A throwback design that captures the feeling of a loving mother’s living room makes it hard to leave.
Brunch of the Year
Muchas Gracias, Chevy Chase
5029 Connecticut Avenue NW
What originally started as a small Latin pop-up to provide relief funds to immigrants during the pandemic is now a bonafide brunch fixture in upper Northwest. Oyamel alum Christian Irabién brings the neighborhood playful daytime riffs on Mexican classics with help from seasonal produce. Customers head here on weekends for huevos rancheros, “masa” ball chicken soup, ember-roasted sweet potatoes served with cultured butter and salsa negra, and grilled sunfish tacos. The small bar is stuffed with all sorts of mezcal, tequila, and other agave spirits, as well as Mexican lagers, amaros, and Mexican wines.