Today we announce the winners of the 2023 Eater Awards, honoring excellence in the restaurant industry over the past year in cities across the country.
Despite continued ripple effects from the pandemic, staffing shortages, and supply chain setbacks, restaurants continue to show resiliency by opening and thriving in an already-competitive landscape. D.C.’s 2023 Eater Awards celebrates the latest restaurants, culinary talent, and bars making the biggest impact on the local dining scene.
Choosing the winners is never an easy task, and there were a number of worthy candidates in 2023. This year’s picks include a sushi stunner in Georgetown; a small Latin cocktail bar working with mezcal-washed mole; a lively Lebanese restaurant that turns up at night; a rising Japanese chef who finds her footing in Adams Morgan; and a landlocked hangout that manages to resemble a big pool party.
Without further adieu, the editorial staff presents D.C.’s 2023 Eater Awards.
Royal Sands Social Club: Design of the Year
Royal Sands Social Club gives the term “pool bar” a whole new meaning. At Navy Yard’s endless-summer hangout across from Nationals Park, customers can sip pina coladas, pop conch fritters, and dance the night away on the floor of what looks like a (water-less) swimming pool. Aqua-blue tiles, portholes, and a 30-foot-tall “lifeguard tower” DJ booth adorn the floor-level bar — just one of three — inside the massive venue, sized for over 700 guests. The 14,000-square-foot, two-story getaway from owners Fritz Brogan and Reed Landry (Mission, the Admiral) is the first of theirs to take a tropical outlook.
Year-old Royal Sands goes heavy on the Floridian theme — where Brogan is from — with rooms outfitted with hanging plants, life-sized (faux) palm trees, floral wallpaper, wood accents, and bucket swing seats surrounding a huge print of a chic sunbather in neon-lit sunglasses. Building a full-blown beach party across from the ballpark was the team’s biggest undertaking yet. “We’re definitely kind of taking things to the next level,” Brogan told Eater upon opening, “kind of doing everything a little notch better than we’ve done it everywhere else.”
Kyojin: Restaurant of the Year
The team behind outer Arlington’s raw fish hit Yume Sushi sauntered into D.C. in late July with the anticipated opening of a flashy flagship called Kyojin. Tucked inside the tony mixed-use cluster of Cady’s Alley, the striking sushi cave from executive chef Saran “Peter” Kannasute and co-owner Jeff King breathes fresh life into the old home of L2 lounge.
A full kitchen with a hood gives the Bangkok-born chef more room to build upon his boundary-pushing menus and unleash hot izakaya offerings for the first time (start with a bowl of steamed Asari baby clams swimming in a buttery miso-garlic broth). Kannasute’s calling cards like truffle wasabi, monkfish liver, uni with torched wagyu, and widespread use of edible flowers show up across a lengthy list of rolls, with non-traditional Japanese dishes designed to be as delicious as they are gorgeous to look at.
Kyojin, which means “giant” in Japanese, lives up to its name with room for 130 across a maze-like layout outfitted with intimate dining nooks, silky booths upholstered in ruby-red kimonos, and a small sake tasting counter. A long bar framed with gold hexagon tiles sends out a superior sake list and expert cocktails from the team behind Capo Deli’s beloved speakeasy in Shaw.
Vera: Vibe of the Year
Two-story Vera brought Ivy City a flavorful cross-section of Mexican and Lebanese cuisines, caffeinated cocktails, and energetic music back in May. After dinner service wraps up on weekends, the upper-level perch framed with cacti flips into a sceney hotspot featuring a guest DJ spinning under disco balls, bottle service, tequila shots sent out from the packed bar, a stylish communal bathroom, and some of the best-dressed looks around town.
The industrial-chic restaurant and lounge is the brainchild of Nayef Issa, co-founder of Dupont’s buzzy Residents Café & Bar, and partner Nour Chaaban. Vera is named for Veracruz, Mexico’s historic port city that welcomed a huge wave of Lebanese immigrants back in the late 1800s. Top Mexico City-based design studio Sulkin Askenazi put together a vibrant look that speaks to similarities between the two coastal countries. The dual-entertainment venture includes much-larger downstairs sibling Culture, which simultaneously throws its own ticketed DJ parties that frequently draw weekend lines around the block.
Alegria: Bar of the Year
Situated in Edgewood’s shiny new Bryant Street Market food hall, Alegria Bar builds on the success of 14th Street NW’s family-run agave standby Tequila & Mezcal. The 26-seat love letter to South America arrived this spring with more than just margaritas and Mexican spirits, looping in flavors like hibiscus, various fruits, and even avocado into its cocktails.
The bar’s mezcal espresso martini is deeply personal for co-founder William Martinez, who finishes off the caffeinated coupe with shavings of tablea (ground-up cacao beans) made by his grandmother back in El Salvador. The Manhattan, built with mezcal-washed mole, also hits differently here. In lieu of traditional happy hour, a “martini hour” lets drinkers sample dirty and pineapple martinis in mini portions. An L-shaped bar framed in slick tiles and billowing palms contribute to the tropical undertone. The same family also imported their popular Columbia Heights taco spot Taqueria Habanero to the food hall.
Masako Morishita: Chef of the Year
Decades-old Perry’s has long been a reliable spot for sushi, but with rising Japanese chef Masako Morishita at the helm since last fall, the revitalized Adams Morgan restaurant has generated more attention than ever.
Standout creations under her watch have included grilled broccoli rabe in a miso-garlic butter, a fiery Fuji apple salad with a kick from Korean gochujang, and garlic edamame dumplings hidden under a snowy blanket of parmesan. Her deep-fried shrimp katsu burger with togarashi tartar also shouldn’t be missed. This fall, Morishita introduced Japanese breakfast service — a savory, prix fixe spread of fish, fermented veggies, and more that reminds her of home; seats for the new Saturday meal almost immediately sold out months in advance. The sleek, wood-framed restaurant with a strong sake collection continues to host one of D.C.’s best drag brunches on Sundays.