Our Fave Food Bloggers Dish On The Best Meals Around Town

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UPDATE: One of our favorite parts of the weekend is trying out new meals at the city's best restos. Pick one of these top spots, grab your gal pals (or bf!) and get eatin'! This story was originally published on January 9.

Unless you've been on a steady diet of ramen for the past year or two (hey, we're not judging), you're probably well aware of the fact that the local dining scene has exploded in the last few years. And along with dozens of new restos, menu trends, and celeb chefs, the city has grown a bumper crop of food bloggers who taste test everything new and notable for their readers' gastronomical enjoyment. But with all these foodie fan pages popping up, finding writers with real taste can actually prove to be tricky. That's why we went straight to the source — meet four of D.C.'s most well-versed local epicures and get their quick-and-easy rundown on where to dine in 2012. We'll see you there!

Malaka Photos: Courtesy of Malaka Gharib and DC Noodles

Malaka Gharib, The Runcible Spoon

What is your favorite new restaurant in the D.C. area?
"Boundary Stone. I think I've had almost everything on their drool-worthy, comfort-inducing menu — their beer-can chicken sandwich, their soups, their lovely veggie wrap, their french fries and homemade ketchup, their amazing burgers ... Everything is just fresh and wonderful and homemade, and of course, their beer selection is great, too."

What's your favorite well-established standby?
"Commissary. It just feels so D.C. in there. Not the fanciest food in the world, but the price is right, the coffee is great, and the service is speedy and friendly. It's perfect for those nights when I'm walking from K Street to my house in Shaw and I just don't feel like cooking. I can walk in, read the paper, have a nice meal, and relax. I often get a simple salad with pasta and chicken because it feels like something I would normally whip up at home. Which is perfect because I don't normally like to eat huge, rich meals on the weekdays!"

What new openings are you most excited about?
"Eater DC tells me that NYC's Eataly might be opening up in D.C. I hope, hope, hope that is the case!"

What are your favorite spots for taking a date? Or a group of friends?
"[For dates,] I like casual places with interesting food like Bar Pilar, where you can order lots of little magical plates and cocktails, and marvel at its wonderfulness as it comes to the table. As far as big groups go, District of Pi Pizzeria and Hill Country BBQ are absolutely massive, and the food naturally lends itself to good group eating. At Pi, it's pizza and small plates. We just had a birthday party there for 20 people and it wasn't a problem at all. At Hill Country, everyone does their own thing, so there is no need to split checks. A good standby is Lauriol Plaza. It has lots of seating, and let's get real — it's a fun place to eat!"

What restaurant is most underrated? Got any secret gems we should try?
"DC Noodles. They have the best bowl of noodles in town. I literally have the same thing when I go there: Spicy noodle soup with ground chicken, ground peanuts, and fresh herbs. It's a home run every time. When I take friends there, they're always surprised at how complex and satisfying noodle soup can really be."

NEW-Malaka_Noodle-Dishslide Photo: Via DC Noodles

What are the best cheap eats in town?
"My latest cheap-eats discovery is not actually at a cheap restaurant — it's at Birch & Barley's Sunday brunch. A plate of two perfectly fried eggs, a salad, and two of their house-made hash browns runs just $4. Add a cup of coffee and their famous trio of donuts for $6, and you've got a pretty good deal."

Which places are on your must-visit list?
"I haven't tried Pearl Dive Oyster Palace yet. The idea of gentle, delicate oysters topped with lovely things like roasted corn or crab or gremolata is just beautiful. And Sundevich — I'm very curious about their Cairo sandwich, which comes with hummus, brined vegetables, walnuts, and herbs. With their focus on absolutely fresh and local ingredients, I know it's going to be a symphony in my mouth."

If you could (or have tried to) recreate a dish from a local restaurant, what would you make?
"A few coworkers and I had a perfectly seasoned goat cheese and butternut squash lasagna from the Basil Thyme food truck that was just mind-blowing. It had just the right amount of sage and nutmeg to offset its squashiness and a generous slathering of goat cheese bechamel sauce. And best of all, it wasn't heavy at all — it was light and satisfying. My coworker recreated it the next week and it was perfectly wonderful — I have yet to do the same!"

What would you love to see happen in the D.C. food scene?
"I would love to see some decent Chinese restaurants in D.C. People have such a terrible perception of Chinese food here, and I just want to set the record straight. We're doing the D.C. Chinatown a disservice by opening up weirdo chain restaurants like Nando's and Vapiano, instead of lovely dim sum and Hunan joints."

Time to dish — what food trend are you totally over?
"Food trucks. Not all of them, just some of them! I won't say which ones."
JohannaPhotos: Courtesy of Johnna Rowe and Kellari Taverna

Johnna Rowe, Johnna Knows Good Food

What are your favorite new restaurants in the D.C. area?
"El Centro D.F. and Estadio. Both menus step away from the typical Mexican and Spanish cuisine with authentic upgrades — which are still affordable. The pork pipian at El Centro D.F. is the most tender mass of pork you will meet."

What's your favorite well-established standby?
"Ardeo/Bardeo, a legend in the Cleveland Park neighborhood, is my favorite casual dining experience that offers three things that most restaurants lack: First, the price is extremely reasonable for the portions and quality of the food. Second, consistently delicious cuisine. Third, excellent service. I do not know what training they provide for their wait staff but every restaurant in the District needs this memo."

What new openings are you most excited about?
"Bandolero. Mike Isabella made such a bang with Graffiato, turning our palates onto Jersey Italian. (Who knew there was such a thing?) I'm excited to see how he plans to play with Mexican cuisine."

What are your favorite spots for taking a date? Or a group of friends?
"For a date, Mie N Yu just spills sexy from the mysterious belly dancers to the dimly lit dining room, shedding just enough light on perfectly cooked dishes. 2941 has a beautiful decor and view set deep in Virginia, so you get the privacy that is necessary on date-night out. For a group, Ceiba is centrally located, so I love inviting large groups here — and the mojitos are the best downtown. Also, Founding Farmers offers everything! My friends who are picky eaters, vegetarians, and absolute carnivores will find something to eat on the menu, so it works perfect for a birthday dinner or the like — everybody wins."

What restaurant is most underrated? Got any secret gems we should try?
"The Argonaut is tucked at the bottom of the Atlas District, so it is often overlooked in this neighborhood after you have passed all these other amazing menus (Toki Underground, Smith Commons, Granville Moore, etc.) The food, however, is extremely well done, with the mix of fresh herbs from the outdoor garden and seasonal selections. Kellari Taverna is my fave hidden gem, because it has some of the freshest Greek cuisine in D.C. and always has a new special. This spot gets a bad rap because it's an [offshoot] of a New York restaurant, but it does not sacrifice the flavor the way I see some restaurants doing as they transition from the Big Apple to D.C."

NEW-Johnna_KellariFood2slidePhoto: Via Kellari Taverna

Where are some of the best cheap eats in town?
"The Adams Morgan, 14th Street and U Street areas. Places like Taqueria Distrito Federal, Pasta Mia, and El Centro D.F. These are my favorite neighborhoods on any given night of the week, because they cater to the young professionals of the city with a plethora of happy hours and cheap eats."

Which places are on your must-visit list?
"Toki Underground. Everyone and their mama is talking about this place. I have to see if the ramen is that ridiculous."

If you could (or have tried to) recreate a dish from a local restaurant, what would you make?
"I have tried to recreate the gnocchi from Palena Cafe. I used sweet potatoes instead of the yellow potatoes that the restaurant used and a simple butter/parsley/lemon/garlic sauce to coat the potatoes. (The restaurant used a creamy sauce infused with garlic and butter.) Mine needs a little more care and attention — my potatoes were a little undercooked and seemed to stick together. Needless to say, I will continue to depend on Palena for my gnocchi until I improve."

What would you love to see happen in the D.C. food scene?
"Either Cuban or Filipino cuisine. The gas station with the great Cuban sandwich is cute for now, but we need a space where we can sit, eat, and enjoy a good Cuban sandwich alongside a real mojito. Filipino food is the only food that you cannot find at all in the DMV area. I at least want the area to be able to identify it, even if the restaurant has to come in the form of a food truck."

Time to dish — what food trend are you totally over?
"Cupcakes. We've had enough already!"
amandaPhotos: Courtesy of Amanda McClements and Estadio

Amanda McClements, Metrocurean

What is your favorite new restaurant in the D.C. area?
"I'm in love with the hip, low-key vibe and the super spicy, sour flavors at Johnny Monis' Little Serow — and I love that they serve fortified wines on ice. So clever."

What's your favorite well-established standby?
"It's getting harder for me to leave my Logan Circle neighborhood, so my standbys are Estadio, Cork, Bar Pilar (when it reopens), Saint-Ex, Posto, Birch & Barley, and Great Wall."

What new openings are you most excited about?
"I'm eager to see what Daikaya will have in store with ramen and chef Katsuya Fukushima at the helm. They're not saying much, but the owners of the Standard have applied for a license at 14th and Q streets to open an Italian spot. Again — close to my house, count me in. When I do venture out of the District, I can't wait to see Cathal Armstrong's massive new market, Society Fair, in Alexandria."

What are your favorite spots for taking a date? Or a group of friends?
"For a first date, I think you need a good lively vibe — places like Estadio, Pearl Dive, Toki Underground, Graffiato, Passenger. As things progress and you want to impress, I would head to Bibiana, The Source, BLT Steak, or Rasika — and you can't beat the fireplace at Tabard Inn for romance. For groups, the lounge at The Source is big enough to fit a spontaneous party. But in general, I don't like eating out with more than six or so people."

NEW-Amanda_EstadioFoodslidePhoto: Via Estadio

What restaurant is most underrated? Got any secret gems we should try?
"This is always a tough question because few gems go undiscovered in this town. And maybe if I had one I'd want to keep it to myself. Only kidding! That goes against my nature. I think the most literal 'hidden' gem is the Well Dressed Burrito, tucked in an alley off 19th Street."

What are the best cheap eats in town?
"D.C. is awash in amazing ethnic foods that tend to be priced very nicely. I'm a big fan of Pho 14 for delivery, Honey Pig for a meat fest, Fast Gourmet for sandwiches, and Pica Taco. This may sound counterintuitive, but my favorite way to eat cheap is to hit the farmers market, get quality local ingredients, and cook in for a week."

Which places are on your must-visit list?
"I have not made it to Elisir yet. I am a terrible food lover for never having been to El Pollo Rico — it's gonna happen soon, I swear."

If you could (or have tried to) recreate a dish from a local restaurant, what would you make?
"I had the privilege of having Michael Mina show me how to butter poach steaks — his signature — at Bourbon Steak recently. They use special equipment in the restaurant but he showed me how to do it at home. I'm definitely going to try it soon. Steak and butter. Mmm."

What would you love to see happen in the D.C. food scene?
"I'd like to see some better Southern options show up around town — a place like Husk in Charleston. Also I'm always happy to see more Asian food, whether Japanese, Vietnamese, Korean, or Thai. I also love places that are ditching choices. I know, it may sound extreme, but I like not having to make decisions sometimes. I'm thinking of Little Serow with its $45 set menu and Medium Rare, where your only choice is how you want your steak done."

Time to dish — what food trend are you totally over?
"Calling everything flatbread. We need to establish a definition. It's gotten very murky."
LaetitiaPhotos: Courtesy of Laetitia Brock and Mandu

Laetitia Brock, French Twist DC

What is your favorite new restaurant in the D.C. area?
"There's been so many great new openings last year! I never, ever went to PAUL when I lived in Paris — even though they're pretty much everywhere there — but I love having them in town here in D.C. now and I won't get my bread anywhere else."

What's your favorite well-established standby?
"I'm not much of a regular anywhere because I love trying out new places so much. But I'll never get tired of Brasserie Beck, Cafe du Parc, and Bistro du Coin when I need my French fix!"

What new openings are you most excited about?
"I'm excited for Ryse, because, well, I'm looking forward to having a decent bakery so close to me. The bakery section at the Safeway isn't really doing it for me. I'm also really looking forward to seeing what Cedric Maupillier does at Mintwood. I get so tired of hearing of yet another restaurant opening in D.C. and serving small plates, so the rumors of family-style whole roasted fish coming out of Mintwood are making me very happy."

What are your favorite spots for taking a date? Or a group of friends?
"I love 1905 for date night — it's such a cozy, intimate space. They're actually very accommodating to groups, too — but I save it for date night. Bistro du Coin is great for large parties, and of course, so is Carmine's. I love the family-style portions, perfect for sharing!"

What restaurant is most underrated? Got any secret gems we should try?
"I don't know how secret it is anymore, now that it's gotten three stars in the latest issue of Washingtonian, but one of the best meals I had in D.C. last year was at Seasonal Pantry for a friend's birthday. I love the store — you can find a little bit of everything, from duck confit to macarons, sausage, and ice cream. My other little secret gem isn't really a restaurant — it's the herb CSA at Marion Street Garden. I don't have any outdoor space, so I can't grow my own herbs. Luckily, Lola from City Blossoms grows them for me."

What are the best cheap eats in town?
"I know Chinatown gets a bad rap, but I feel I should give my neighborhood some love. Mandu's $12 brunch is a great deal, La Tasca's $50 diner-and-a-movie offer is pretty good for date night, and prices are dirt-cheap at the few Chinese restaurants that are left, like Full Kee or Chinatown Express."

NEW-Laetitia_ManduFoodslidePhoto: Via Mandu

Which places are on your must-visit list?
"Until a few days ago, I would have responded Toki Underground, but Toki was my first meal out of 2012 and it was as good as everyone says! I still haven't been to Little Serow and I work very close by, so that's definitely on my list, as is Le Zinc, despite the bad Tom Sietsema reviews."

If you could (or have tried to) recreate a dish from a local restaurant, what would you make?
"I'd save a lot of money if I could make my own bibimbap. I swear I'm at Mandu at least once a week."

What would you love to see happen in the D.C. food scene?
"Well, French food of course! I get a little jealous sometimes — Italian cuisine seems to be all the hype here now."

Time to dish — what food trend are you totally over?
"I'm a big fan of the locally-sourced and restaurants 'growing their own' trend, so I want to see that one stay and expand. On the other hand, I haven't been that impressed with many of the new Southeast Asian joints, so that trend can stay in 2011 as far as I'm concerned. I'm also very tired of small plates — that trend needed to be left behind like in 2008."