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Hidden Gems: Chefs Share Their Best Underrated Dishes

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Birch & Barley [Photo: Facebook]

There are some dishes that spread like wildfire, via Tweets, or press, or word of mouth. And then there are the dishes that never quite catch on, even though chefs personally love them. So these favorites stay on the menu, in hopes that diners will eventually discover them. "Every chef has their dish," said Birch & Barley's executive chef Kyle Bailey of the under-the-radar entrees and apps that no one ever orders but really should. Eater talked to Bailey and 14 other chefs about the hidden gems of the restaurant world — the unfairly overlooked menu items loved by chefs that diners really need to try, ASAP.
Adele Chapin


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Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.

1. Birch & Barley

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1337 14th St NW
Washington, DC 20005
(202) 567-2576
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The Hidden Gem Dish: Oatmeal with peach preserves and mascarpone. Kyle Bailey has a plan when dishes he loves aren't selling as well as he'd hoped: he gives them out to diners for free as sides. "Everyone likes free food. And free hot food is really special," Bailey said. And that's what Kyle is doing now with the steel cut oatmeal served with peach preserves and mascarpone on the brunch menu. "I really like oats but it's a tough sell, Bailey says. So he convince diners how tasty good oats and mascarpone can be. "It's a fun thing to have around. Sometimes there's a wait time on tables, so I'm say, 'Send them oatmeal," and they say, "That's the best oatmeal they've ever had."

2. Zaytinya

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701 9th St NW
Washington, DC 20001
(202) 638-0800
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The Hidden Gem Dish: Soujouk Pide (full name: Soujouk Yumurtali Peynirli Pide). Zaytinya’s head chef Michael Costa and R&D director Ruben Garcia instantly knew they had to add this traditional Turkish flatbread to their menu after getting addicted to it a few years ago on a research trip in Instanbul. Soujouk pide consists of kaşar cheese, an egg, and soujouk — tangy, spicy cured Turkish sausage. “The people that order it love it, but I think that we may sell more of them to our staff than to our guests,” Costa said.

3. Evening Star Cafe

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2000 Mount Vernon Ave
Alexandria, VA 22301
(703) 549-5051
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The Hidden Gem Dish: Duck terrine small plate. Chef Jim Jeffords keeps a classic duck terrine on the menu in hopes that diners will try something out of their comfort zone. The terrine features duck breast, duck confit, Tasso ham, pistachios, and dried cherries, served with grilled ciabatta, a ramp top mustard, pickled ramps and mache from the restaurant’s rooftop garden. “It’s just ripping good,” said Jeffords.

4. Taylor Gourmet

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1750 Pennsylvania Ave NW
Washington, DC
(202) 393-0800
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The Hidden Gem Dish: Spruce Street and Vine Street Express Way Hoagies. The choices are overwhelming at Taylor, but founders David Mazza goes for the same turkey, prosciutto, roasted red pepper and provolone Spruce Street hoagie ordered by President Obama, while Casey Patten is all about adding hot peppers and cherry garlic sauce to the chicken cutlet and prosciutto Vine Street Express Way.

5. Izakaya Daikaya

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705 6th St NW
Washington, DC 20001
(202) 589-1600
The Hidden Gem Dishes: Cold steamed chicken breast and cod roe spaghetti with American caviar. Daikaya chef Katsuya Fukushima recommends two sleeper dishes on the izakaya’s menu. The skin-on chicken breast with a creamy but not fatty sauce made from tofu and sesame is a staff favorite. And the neo-classic Japanese-Italian cod roe spaghetti is a riff on a dish invented in the 1960s at Kabenoana (Hole In the Wall), a famous Tokyo restaurant known for rearranging Italian pasta using Japanese flavors.

6. Garden District

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1801 14th St NW
Washington, DC 20009
The Hidden Gem Dish: Whole barbecued pig’s head. Tad Curtz and David Rosner, owners of Garden District (aka The Restaurant Formerly Known as The Standard) keep their menu pretty trim. But one dish possibly overlooked by diners is the pig’s head smoked with apple and mesquite and served with lots of housemade BBQ sauce on the side. Garden District smokes five a week, and the best chance to try it is on Friday, Saturday, or Sunday. “It’s pretty fun for a group of four or more,” Curtz and Rosner say.

7. Mandu

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453 K St NW
Washington, DC 20001
(202) 289-6899
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The Hidden Gem Dish: Dak Jjim. It’s not the most popular dish at Mandu, but the customers who order the chicken thigh simmered in a spicy chili paste with potatoes and onions are addicted. Plus, it’s co-owner Danny Lee’s favorite item on the menu.

8. The Source by Wolfgang Puck

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575 Pennsylvania Ave NW
Washington, DC 20001
(202) 637-6100
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The Hidden Gem Dish: Turnip Cakes. The name doesn’t sound super appetizing, but the turnip cakes drenched with sweet Szechuan soy sauce on Scott Drewno’s Saturday Dim Sum Brunch are a must-order.

9. Addie's

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11120 Rockville Pke
Rockville, MD 20852
(301) 881-0081
The Hidden Gem Dish: Cuban sandwich. This underrated sandwich has been on Addie’s lunch menu for years. The Cuban sandwich combines brined and roasted thin-shaved pork shoulder, smoked ham, and jalapeño aioli, mustard ale cheese and pickled onions on a crunchy ciabatta baguette. “This dish is a favorite of mine, I guess I’m just a natural born porkaholic. It’s porky, spicy, crunchy... and sure to send you into a food coma,” said Rick Cook, executive chef at Addie’s.

10. Tallula/EatBar

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2761 Washington Blvd
Arlington, VA 22201
(703) 778-5051
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The Hidden Gem Dishes: Housemade scrapple served with poached egg and jalapeno jelly at Eatbar and slow braised oxtail with Jerusalem artichoke puree and cucumber blossoms. Chef Nate Waugaman thinks these dishes are a bit overlooked, and hopes that more diners will get past the intimidation factor to try scrapple and oxtail.

11. Bibiana Osteria & Enoteca

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1100 New York Ave NW
Washington, DC 20005
(202) 216-9550
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The Hidden Gem Dish: Pinzimonio. This raw seasonal vegetable salad with lemon juice olive oil and herbs doesn’t seem that exciting, but Bibiana’s executive chef Nicholas Stefanelli recommends diners add it to their meal. “It sounds simple and boring, but once you eat it, it’s crisp and refreshing. It’s a great dish on its own, with other antipasti, or a soft and gentle way to finish a meal,” he said.

12. Cuba Libre Restaurant & Rum Bar

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801-A 9th St. NW
Washington, DC 20001
(202) 408-1600
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The Hidden Gem Dish: Boquerones. This tapas plate includes white anchovy filets served on top of a cucumber, tomato and Kalamata olive salad. “ I think when guests see anchovies they think it’s going to be a very fishy tasting dish, but it’s not. Its very refreshing and perfect for the summer,” said Cuba Libre chef and restaurateur Guillermo Pernot.

13. Bistro Vivant

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1394 Chain Bridge Rd
McLean, VA 22101
(703) 356-1700
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The Hidden Gem Dish: Grilled Sardines with Fennel, Arugula, Orange Confit and Nicoise Olive Salad. Executive chef Ed Hardy of Bistro Vivant doesn’t understand why this simple sardine dish doesn’t sell better. “It’s no more complicated than the listed ingredients, but the flavors are bold and classic at the same time. It’s like a quick trip to the Mediterranean,” he said.

14. Izakaya Seki

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1117 V St NW
Washington, DC 20009
(202) 588-5841
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The Hidden Gem Dishes: Beef tongue, simmered hijiki with fishcakes, kinpira, and shochu. The restaurant’s co-owner and general manager Cizuka Seki thinks there are a few stand-out menu items that first-time guests might gloss over, including some of the vegetable dishes, like kinpira (lotus root and burdock root) and hijiki, a brown sea vegetables. The slow-cooked beef tongue is another favorite, plated with a classic yuzu miso sauce and scallion. But the item Seki really want diners to try is Izakaya Seki’s extensive selection of shochu, a distilled, hard alcohol from Japan that uses a variety of ingredients as its base like sweet potato, rice, or barley. “I really want it to catch on because it's the perfect drink to accompany our food and a very classic izakaya offering,” she said.

15. Green Pig Bistro

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1025 N Fillmore St
Arlington, VA 22201
(703) 888-1920
The Hidden Gem Dishes: Rabbit cakes, bone marrow and toast, buffalo ribs. Owner Scot Harlan of Green Pig Bistro thinks the rabbit cake is one menu item that should be on guests’ radar. The brined and pulled rabbit is held together with bread crumbs, mayonnaise and mustard, and served with corn relish, cucumber, and ramp remoulade. He also wishes more people would get the bone marrow with ciabatta — although he notes that three or four years ago, he wouldn’t have been able to sell bone marrow at all and now he averages 10 to 12 sales of the bone marrow appetizer a night. Another sleeper on the menu is the “buffalo ribs,” aka pork ribs done up buffalo-wing style. “All it says on the menu is “buffalo ribs” and a lot of people think they are from a buffalo. Have you ever seen a buffalo rib? It would be like ‘The Flintstones,’” Harlan said. There is one diner at Green Pig Bistro who definitely hasn’t overlooked this menu item. “I have a guy who comes in four nights a week. He must have had [buffalo ribs] 60 times, easy,” said Harlan.

1. Birch & Barley

1337 14th St NW, Washington, DC 20005
The Hidden Gem Dish: Oatmeal with peach preserves and mascarpone. Kyle Bailey has a plan when dishes he loves aren't selling as well as he'd hoped: he gives them out to diners for free as sides. "Everyone likes free food. And free hot food is really special," Bailey said. And that's what Kyle is doing now with the steel cut oatmeal served with peach preserves and mascarpone on the brunch menu. "I really like oats but it's a tough sell, Bailey says. So he convince diners how tasty good oats and mascarpone can be. "It's a fun thing to have around. Sometimes there's a wait time on tables, so I'm say, 'Send them oatmeal," and they say, "That's the best oatmeal they've ever had."
1337 14th St NW
Washington, DC 20005

2. Zaytinya

701 9th St NW, Washington, DC 20001
The Hidden Gem Dish: Soujouk Pide (full name: Soujouk Yumurtali Peynirli Pide). Zaytinya’s head chef Michael Costa and R&D director Ruben Garcia instantly knew they had to add this traditional Turkish flatbread to their menu after getting addicted to it a few years ago on a research trip in Instanbul. Soujouk pide consists of kaşar cheese, an egg, and soujouk — tangy, spicy cured Turkish sausage. “The people that order it love it, but I think that we may sell more of them to our staff than to our guests,” Costa said.
701 9th St NW
Washington, DC 20001

3. Evening Star Cafe

2000 Mount Vernon Ave, Alexandria, VA 22301
The Hidden Gem Dish: Duck terrine small plate. Chef Jim Jeffords keeps a classic duck terrine on the menu in hopes that diners will try something out of their comfort zone. The terrine features duck breast, duck confit, Tasso ham, pistachios, and dried cherries, served with grilled ciabatta, a ramp top mustard, pickled ramps and mache from the restaurant’s rooftop garden. “It’s just ripping good,” said Jeffords.
2000 Mount Vernon Ave
Alexandria, VA 22301

4. Taylor Gourmet

1750 Pennsylvania Ave NW, Washington, DC
The Hidden Gem Dish: Spruce Street and Vine Street Express Way Hoagies. The choices are overwhelming at Taylor, but founders David Mazza goes for the same turkey, prosciutto, roasted red pepper and provolone Spruce Street hoagie ordered by President Obama, while Casey Patten is all about adding hot peppers and cherry garlic sauce to the chicken cutlet and prosciutto Vine Street Express Way.
1750 Pennsylvania Ave NW
Washington, DC

5. Izakaya Daikaya

705 6th St NW, Washington, DC 20001
The Hidden Gem Dishes: Cold steamed chicken breast and cod roe spaghetti with American caviar. Daikaya chef Katsuya Fukushima recommends two sleeper dishes on the izakaya’s menu. The skin-on chicken breast with a creamy but not fatty sauce made from tofu and sesame is a staff favorite. And the neo-classic Japanese-Italian cod roe spaghetti is a riff on a dish invented in the 1960s at Kabenoana (Hole In the Wall), a famous Tokyo restaurant known for rearranging Italian pasta using Japanese flavors.
705 6th St NW
Washington, DC 20001

6. Garden District

1801 14th St NW, Washington, DC 20009
The Hidden Gem Dish: Whole barbecued pig’s head. Tad Curtz and David Rosner, owners of Garden District (aka The Restaurant Formerly Known as The Standard) keep their menu pretty trim. But one dish possibly overlooked by diners is the pig’s head smoked with apple and mesquite and served with lots of housemade BBQ sauce on the side. Garden District smokes five a week, and the best chance to try it is on Friday, Saturday, or Sunday. “It’s pretty fun for a group of four or more,” Curtz and Rosner say.
1801 14th St NW
Washington, DC 20009

7. Mandu

453 K St NW, Washington, DC 20001
The Hidden Gem Dish: Dak Jjim. It’s not the most popular dish at Mandu, but the customers who order the chicken thigh simmered in a spicy chili paste with potatoes and onions are addicted. Plus, it’s co-owner Danny Lee’s favorite item on the menu.
453 K St NW
Washington, DC 20001

8. The Source by Wolfgang Puck

575 Pennsylvania Ave NW, Washington, DC 20001
The Hidden Gem Dish: Turnip Cakes. The name doesn’t sound super appetizing, but the turnip cakes drenched with sweet Szechuan soy sauce on Scott Drewno’s Saturday Dim Sum Brunch are a must-order.
575 Pennsylvania Ave NW
Washington, DC 20001

9. Addie's

11120 Rockville Pke, Rockville, MD 20852
The Hidden Gem Dish: Cuban sandwich. This underrated sandwich has been on Addie’s lunch menu for years. The Cuban sandwich combines brined and roasted thin-shaved pork shoulder, smoked ham, and jalapeño aioli, mustard ale cheese and pickled onions on a crunchy ciabatta baguette. “This dish is a favorite of mine, I guess I’m just a natural born porkaholic. It’s porky, spicy, crunchy... and sure to send you into a food coma,” said Rick Cook, executive chef at Addie’s.
11120 Rockville Pke
Rockville, MD 20852

10. Tallula/EatBar

2761 Washington Blvd, Arlington, VA 22201
The Hidden Gem Dishes: Housemade scrapple served with poached egg and jalapeno jelly at Eatbar and slow braised oxtail with Jerusalem artichoke puree and cucumber blossoms. Chef Nate Waugaman thinks these dishes are a bit overlooked, and hopes that more diners will get past the intimidation factor to try scrapple and oxtail.
2761 Washington Blvd
Arlington, VA 22201

11. Bibiana Osteria & Enoteca

1100 New York Ave NW, Washington, DC 20005
The Hidden Gem Dish: Pinzimonio. This raw seasonal vegetable salad with lemon juice olive oil and herbs doesn’t seem that exciting, but Bibiana’s executive chef Nicholas Stefanelli recommends diners add it to their meal. “It sounds simple and boring, but once you eat it, it’s crisp and refreshing. It’s a great dish on its own, with other antipasti, or a soft and gentle way to finish a meal,” he said.
1100 New York Ave NW
Washington, DC 20005

12. Cuba Libre Restaurant & Rum Bar

801-A 9th St. NW, Washington, DC 20001
The Hidden Gem Dish: Boquerones. This tapas plate includes white anchovy filets served on top of a cucumber, tomato and Kalamata olive salad. “ I think when guests see anchovies they think it’s going to be a very fishy tasting dish, but it’s not. Its very refreshing and perfect for the summer,” said Cuba Libre chef and restaurateur Guillermo Pernot.
801-A 9th St. NW
Washington, DC 20001

13. Bistro Vivant

1394 Chain Bridge Rd, McLean, VA 22101
The Hidden Gem Dish: Grilled Sardines with Fennel, Arugula, Orange Confit and Nicoise Olive Salad. Executive chef Ed Hardy of Bistro Vivant doesn’t understand why this simple sardine dish doesn’t sell better. “It’s no more complicated than the listed ingredients, but the flavors are bold and classic at the same time. It’s like a quick trip to the Mediterranean,” he said.
1394 Chain Bridge Rd
McLean, VA 22101

14. Izakaya Seki

1117 V St NW, Washington, DC 20009
The Hidden Gem Dishes: Beef tongue, simmered hijiki with fishcakes, kinpira, and shochu. The restaurant’s co-owner and general manager Cizuka Seki thinks there are a few stand-out menu items that first-time guests might gloss over, including some of the vegetable dishes, like kinpira (lotus root and burdock root) and hijiki, a brown sea vegetables. The slow-cooked beef tongue is another favorite, plated with a classic yuzu miso sauce and scallion. But the item Seki really want diners to try is Izakaya Seki’s extensive selection of shochu, a distilled, hard alcohol from Japan that uses a variety of ingredients as its base like sweet potato, rice, or barley. “I really want it to catch on because it's the perfect drink to accompany our food and a very classic izakaya offering,” she said.
1117 V St NW
Washington, DC 20009

15. Green Pig Bistro

1025 N Fillmore St, Arlington, VA 22201
The Hidden Gem Dishes: Rabbit cakes, bone marrow and toast, buffalo ribs. Owner Scot Harlan of Green Pig Bistro thinks the rabbit cake is one menu item that should be on guests’ radar. The brined and pulled rabbit is held together with bread crumbs, mayonnaise and mustard, and served with corn relish, cucumber, and ramp remoulade. He also wishes more people would get the bone marrow with ciabatta — although he notes that three or four years ago, he wouldn’t have been able to sell bone marrow at all and now he averages 10 to 12 sales of the bone marrow appetizer a night. Another sleeper on the menu is the “buffalo ribs,” aka pork ribs done up buffalo-wing style. “All it says on the menu is “buffalo ribs” and a lot of people think they are from a buffalo. Have you ever seen a buffalo rib? It would be like ‘The Flintstones,’” Harlan said. There is one diner at Green Pig Bistro who definitely hasn’t overlooked this menu item. “I have a guy who comes in four nights a week. He must have had [buffalo ribs] 60 times, easy,” said Harlan.
1025 N Fillmore St
Arlington, VA 22201

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