With more drinkers saddling up to bars again, establishments are welcoming their return with the release or revival of proper party mixes. Whether it be a high-brow hotel lounge or dive, the latest munchies to try around town share one common trait: they’re either complimentary or around the cost of a happy hour draft.
This week, José Andrés’ Peruvian-themed China Chilcano unleashed an off-menu bar snack as part of its “Pisco Hour” (Monday to Friday, 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.). The intricate order ($4), available by request, is built with dried shrimp and scallop, jamón ibérico, shallots, garlic, shaoxing wine, aji panca chili, and a splash of Coca-Cola.
After a successful test run at its Capital Food Fight stall this month, ThinkFoodGroup decided to serve a secret spinoff at its Penn Quarter restaurant.
Another must-try mix exists at nearby Silver Lyan, the subterranean cocktail lair London mixologist Ryan Chetiyawardana opened at the Riggs hotel right before the pandemic shut down the city. Its opening “Chex Mix” – a compilation of Virginia peanuts, seaweed, and smoked tea ($8) – never got a time to shine alongside sit-and-stay martini service until recently.
Some of D.C.’s most iconic hotel lounges have set the bar for subsequent snacks around the city. Off The Record, tucked under the historic Hay-Adams, returned last summer across the White House with spinning saucers of wasabi peas, glistening olives conveniently speared with toothpicks, and mixed nuts. Collectable coasters adorned with playful, politico caricatures are always complimentary here, too.
At the Dupont Circle Hotel’s mid-century lobby bar Doyle, its standard nut mix gets a makeover in May. The freebie will feature bloody mary-flavored cashews, blanched almonds, Cajun peanuts, Hawaiian macadamia nuts, and pistachios.
The furikake Chex mix at Daikaya’s newly reopened Hatoba in Navy Yard is an ode the sweet-and-salty childhood favorite its partner Katsuya Fukushima used to eat growing up in Hawaii ($4). He says the “crispy snax” component rotates based on what looks good at Harris Teeter up the street, and the team peruses the potato chip aisle for the next ingredient to star in the mix. Banana chips, Honeycomb, and Captain Crunch are a few incoming ideas, he says.
“We’ll always use butter, some brown sugar, and soy sauce as the binding agent,” says Fukushima.
Over at Capitol Hill’s glamorous gin bar The Wells, a months-old mashup of corn nuts, almonds, and pumpkin seeds gets tossed with salt and homemade garlic oil. The treat is toasted in the oven at 300 degrees for about eight minutes. While still warm, the mixture is hit with urfa chile, hot and smoked paprika, and black pepper. Crumbled pieces of parmesan-pecorino cheese crisps round out the sizable app that fills up an entire plate ($5).
One bar mix in its simplest of forms has grown to be synonymous with one of D.C.’s most recognizable restaurant groups. A “bottomless” dish of Pepperidge Farm Goldfish is a longtime opener at all three Hank’s Oyster Bar outposts as an ode to owner Jaime Leeds’ late father, Hank. “It was his favorite snack,” says manager Nate Oser.
The orange snack service made a comeback in January after a year-long pandemic pause for both to-go and dine-in orders.
“We go through about a case [of Goldfish] a week at each location,” he says.
At the Wharf’s no-frills waterfront hangout Cantina Bambina, six-ounce bags of “Chef Rob’s Spicy Nut Mix” remains a cult classic ($8). Its chef, who’s been on board since its original Cantina Marina days in Southwest, makes most of its packaged snacks at nearby sibling Pearl Street Warehouse.
Some cocktail-driven bars without kitchens don’t take their snacks too seriously by design. At Bloomingdale’s Truxton Inn, a popcorn bag with kosher salt ($3) can be jazzed up with real movie butter flavoring for a 25-cent upcharge. Wholesale-bought fava beans ($4) come with a menu disclaimer under its reliable list of Old Fashioneds: “I wouldn’t recommend them for a full dinner, but a nice hearty appetizer, sure.”