The 5 Best Restaurants in Washington, D.C., According to a Local Chef

Angel Barreto, a member of the Food & Wine Best New Chef class of 2021, share his favorite spots to grab a bite in Washington, D.C.

Washington, D.C. may be a bustling melting pot of cultures and ethnicities, but the city's culinary scene hasn't always reflected that diversity. When James Beard Award nominee and Food & Wine Best New Chef of 2021, Angel Barreto started his career over a decade ago, "there were steak houses, a lot of old-school French restaurants, and pizza places," he explains.

Fortunately, this is no longer the case. Barreto now heads one of the best Korean eateries in the city, Anju, which helped put the capital's food scene on the map.

<p>Stacy Windsor</p>

Stacy Windsor

He was introduced to Korean flavors early in life after his parents served in the military and were stationed in a South Korean American base. His fascination with Korean flavors stuck, and during a six-year stint at Wolfgang Puck's first D.C. restaurant, The Source, Barreto created a six-course Korean tasting menu, which was a hit with patrons. So when chefs Scott Drewno and Danny Lee of The Fried Rice Collective called him about Anju, he jumped at the chance to lead the eatery.

"I always knew I wanted to cook Korean food," he adds. The success of Anju, which opened its doors in 2019 and immediately drew critical acclaim, also proved that D.C. residents and its guests were hungry for world flavors.

Since Barreto entered the professional cooking world, the city's culinary scene has changed dramatically. "D.C. is a really great emerging market. And it's competitive to L.A. and New York and other major food cities because we have such a wide variety of food. That's one of the great things I like about D.C. — you can go out every single night and have a different cuisine from somewhere around the world," Barreto says.

So, where does he like to grab a bite? Read on for chef Angel Barreto's favorite dining spots in the nation's capital and his favorite dishes to order.


This Texas-style smokehouse joint in Maryland's Riverdale Park by El Salvador-natives and husband and wife duo, Fernando González and Debby Portillo, is Barreto's go-to place for slow-cooked wagyu brisket.

"They have a really good proprietary spice that they put on it and it just punches through all that fat, and it has a nice smoky flavor. And it's great the day of, and it's great the next day for a sandwich," he says.

Another highlight of 2Fifty's menu, which changes occasionally, is that González and Portillo put their own Salvadorian twist on the food, which Barreto appreciates.

"They throw their own ethnic background into it, and they're doing brisket tamales and esquites, different sides that are really non-traditional."

Thip Khao

"Some of the things I love about Korean food are very much the heart and soul of Laos food," says Barreto when talking about Thip Khao, the Laotian restaurant by chef Seng Luangrath, who fled Laos as a child and learned how to cook in a refugee camp in Thailand.

Barreto describes the cuisine as "spicy funky fermented" and reminisces about the first time Luangrath offered him Sai Oua — spicy pork sausage served with charred green chili dipping sauce. "It was just amazing. I've never had anything like it. It was sour, fatty, grilled, delicious, served with herbs and peanuts and chilies. And this is what I really love — these are all really bright, punchy flavors in one dish and it has pork."

Related: Classic Chicken Parmigiana

Caruso's Grocery

Washington, D.C. has no shortage of excellent Italian restaurants, but Barreto's go-to spot for fresh pasta and classic Italian-American flavors is Caruso's Grocery in Capitol Hill. The restaurant, led by chef Matt Adler, who has worked alongside Alain Ducasse and Michael White, is famous for its old-school aesthetics — both in the dining room and the kitchen. Think red leather banquettes, a Frank Sinatra soundtrack, and traditional Italian favorites like chicken parmigiana, veal francaise, and spaghetti and meatballs.

"When you want Italian [food], this is where you're going to go because it doesn't get any better," Barreto says, noting that the Spicy Neapolitan Ragu with fresh bucatini pasta and whipped ricotta is "what I want out of spaghetti on steroids."

<p>Courtesy of Qui Qui / Sarah Galaviz GalaMedia</p>

Courtesy of Qui Qui / Sarah Galaviz GalaMedia


Chef Ismael Mendez's Puerto Rican eatery QuiQui in Shaw is the closest you'll get to Puerto Rico, short of flying there. Caribbean comfort classics like Chuleta KanKan and slow-roasted Pernil are served in a vibrantly painted dining room, paying homage to island living.

Barreto says that Mendez's dishes remind him of the food his mother and his grandmother used to make, including the Bacalaitos, salted cod fritters served with tartar sauce. According to Barreto, the secret is in the batter, which forms only a thin, crispy layer around the fish, resulting in a lighter, less oily texture.

But the ultimate stamp of approval for QuiQui? Barreto says the restaurant is frequented by all of his Puerto Rican friends as well as his mother and his 80-year-old grandfather. "This is where you go when you want something nostalgic and home-made," he says.

Related: Pernil Asado (Garlicky Roast Pork Shoulder)


"Isabel is one of the best pastry chefs in D.C.," Barreto says of chef Isabel Coss, one of Food & Wine's best new chefs. Mexico City-born Coss is part of the culinary team at the popular French modern bistro Lutèce on Georgetown's Wisconsin Avenue.

"She's just so super talented. Her flavors are so inventive. She thinks outside of the box of how to make desserts fun and whimsical," Barreto explains.

While Coss rotates her dessert picks quite often, her twist on the traditional cheese plate — honeycomb semifreddo topped with an 18-month-old Comté — is an absolute crowd-pleaser.

For more Food & Wine news, make sure to sign up for our newsletter!

Read the original article on Food & Wine.