7.18.2020

Dining During COVID19: Best Takeout in Washington, DC

As we have all come to terms with how COVID19 impacts our lives, we adjust the way we live. And for me, one of the biggest adjustments has come with how I interact with and choose how I eat.

If you've been following me for a minute, you know that I love restaurants. I love the creativity. The taste. The vibe. I love chatting up a bartender. Meeting randoms. Sitting elbow to elbow and drinking too much wine and becoming friends with my table neighbors.

Well, things have changed.
Birthday Cake Ice Cream from Southwest Soda Pop Shop
I've been trying to support my favorite restaurants in the best ways I know how, by ordering from them, promoting them on social media and advocating for them. (PS. Go to SaveRestaurants.com and sign up to help.)

I've learned over the past few months that takeout is a different game than in-house. The things that make an experience great, for me, are:

  1. Timing: Only so many dishes can get from the restaurant kitchen to my house without deflating. I want experiences that are going to be as good as possible, so I make menu choices and restaurant choices based on what will travel well. And I generally only order from places that can get from the kitchen to my house in 20 minutes.
  2. Packaging: Before all of this, I never really considered how packaging affected the food quality and taste of takeout. I was talking to Chef Scott Drewno (ChiKo, Anju) about this last week and he mentioned that they test each menu item by letting it sit in packaging or 20 minutes and then eating it. Do they need to change the containers? How does that affect the experience? And the food cost? Not surprisingly, this thoughtful approach produces two of my favorite takeout experiences of the whole quarantine.
  3. Easy Pick Up or Delivery: I want to reduce my interactions as much as possible, so that means I want to get in and out (preferably not even getting in) as quick as possible with the least amount of shared touches. I use Caviar and Uber Eats quite a bit for delivery. Tock and Toast have also produced great pick ups. But, the easiest experience I've had so far was Sushi Taro. They've redesigned their entire restaurant to optimize for takeout. You can pull your car up (or walk up) and someone comes outside to get your name and bring your bag directly out to you. All that, plus incredible, fresh and creative sushi. Add it to your list.
  4. Personalization: Can we all just acknowledge that this is hard? I don't need perfection. We shouldn't expect perfection in the middle of the pandemic. One of the things that has made takeout experiences great are when there is a personal touch. A note from the chef. A little extra something. It makes you feel special. Shout out to Coconut Club, Muchas Gracias, Anju and ChiKo for those sweet touches that make me smile. 
ChiKo Dumplings
Ok, so I know what you came here for is the list. I've been keeping this list and adding to it each week on the Notes section of my phone. 

Here's how I've broken it down. First, my absolute favorite experiences. Second, all of the places I've ordered takeout and enjoyed. Third, all of the places on my to-do list. 

I think we can all agree, DC has a wealth of food talent and creativity. With each meal choice, you have the power to help keep someone in business. I make each order with an eye towards who I want to see on the other side of this. I hope you will do the same. Support your local restaurants. Try for a cadence of at least twice a week. Here goes: 

Top Takeout Experiences of Quarantine (in no particular order:) 
  • Coconut Club: When I tell you that Chef Adam Greenberg has been an absolute rock star, believe me. As quarantine began mid-March, I was down in Florida. On the drive back, I worried about groceries in DC. Chef messaged me, "I got you. Come by." The day after I got back to DC, he stocked my car with five boxes of groceries from his kitchen, allowing me to avoid in-person shopping for at least a month. All that and his delivery of Kahlua Pork Sliders and Spam Fried Rice set the bar for takeout experiences. It came well packaged, with a personal note and instructions to reheat perfectly. And the volume was great - I think I ended up making three meals out of that first order. All that and he's been a community and industry advocate that inspires me to do more. 
  • Anju: Once I settled in to DC again, I started thinking about the best meals I had before quarantine started. (Those were Anju, Reveler's Hour and Cane.) I just love the whole team at Anju. Chefs Danny Lee, Scott Drewno and Angel Barreto are not just talented - they are so damned nice. With every fiber of my being, I wanted to see them on the other side, so order in. I mean, when I say you can't go wrong on this menu, you can't go wrong. They added in a sweet note and a little something extra. The volume was great and I ate it for days. I've since been back and had brunch on their little four-seat spaced out patio. I felt safe and the food was some of the best I've had all year, takeout or not. 
  • ChiKo: While we're talking about the nicest, talented chefs in DC... the team behind Anju also owns ChiKo. And ChiKo was designed to deliver a great takeout even before all of this madness. I ordered their Spicy Lamb Dumplings as soon as I saw them on Instagram... even though I had already made dinner at home. You can't go wrong on that menu. But, in case you want direction, I love love the Half-a-Cado Salad, Crispy Chicken Springrolls, Orange-ish Chicken, and Wagshal's Chopped Brisket.
  • Le Diplomate: Once Le Diplomate re-opened for takeout service, I almost didn't want to order from there. Part of Le Diplomate's greatness is the energy of being there. And, I didn't want to diminish the quality of the french fries by letting them wilt in the backseat of a delivery driver's car. But, I had a bad day. Not just an average bad day of quarantine, but a really really bad day. And so did my neighbors. So, how did I attempt to make it better? Cheeseburgers delivered from Le Diplomate. And, my God, they were so goddamned great. It was like a giant hug being delivered. Since then, they've added a burger box option so that you can get all of the ingredients and instructions and grill your own at home. Either way, so worth it. (I'm actually planning takeout brunch from there on Sunday.)
  • San Lorenzo: On the first day restaurants (with patios) were allowed to open, Jenna and I met early to go support Maxwell Park and have a bottle of wine on our favorite patio. As things started getting a little more busy, we got skittish and left... but not before placing a takeout order from San Lorenzo. It was perfect. I got a soft-shell crab over polenta and ate it in the park. It was a brings-tears-to-your-eyes great moment. The combination of great food, great friends and a remembrance of what it felt like to enjoy great restaurants was a highlight. And, I will put in a plug. San Lorenzo doesn't have outdoor space and can't expand into the street or alley. They have a small space and are in a tough position. I'm not ok eating indoors yet, and you may not be either. But, if you can, support them by getting takeout.
  • Cane: Remember up there where I talked about the best restaurants of 2020, pre-quarantine? Cane may have been my favorite experience (despite the line!) The sheer joy of getting a table, being taken care of by the Prime fam, and getting to experience something so new to my palate was just the greatest feeling. They also have a small indoor space, even pre-quarantine, so I was worried about them. I'm not sure I'm worried as much anymore. Their takeout was fantastic. I got the jerk wings and doubles, but I'll be back for more. And my neighborhood crew has decided we want to do a night where we all order from there because half of us love it, and half of us are dying to try it.
  • Sushi Taro: I had this last night and it may have spurred me to write this entire post. Sushi Taro closed down their entire Michelin-starred restaurant operation because they knew it wouldn't work until we get a vaccine. And they did it fast. I have to respect that kind of vision and commitment. When it's not gonna work, you gotta pivot. They have now reopened and redesigned the entire experience for takeout. The menu is vast, but everything works to-go. When you pick it up, you don't even have to get out of your car. You can just pull up (or walk up), give them your name and they bring it out to you. And it was fantastic. I got the soft shell crab roll and the spicy scallop. But, I suspect you can choose damn near anything and it'll be great. Follow them on social also because they are doing neat things, like giving you a bottle of wine for free with a $100 order. 
Sushi Taro Takeout
Ok, the ones below were still awesome, so don't discount this list separation. Here is a cumulative list (alphabatized for ease) of all of the restaurants in DC that I've ordered takeout from and enjoyed. I've tried to mention key things to order if there were particular items that were must-tries. 
  • Butter Me Up: All day breakfast sandwiches, delivered via this pop up inside Half Smoke on U Street
  • Call Your Mother Deli: Certain businesses are well positioned to thrive during quarantine and Call Your Mother is one. They quickly pivoted to take out -- and have even opened new locations and a trolley car! I'm a big fan of their everything bagel with whitefish and bacon for lunch.
  • Cracked Eggery: Saturdays in my Cleveland Park neighborhood are for Cracked. Before quarantine, during quarantine and hopefully after. This breakfast based food truck has expanded their menu, with killer burgers, tots and more. Follow them on Instagram to get their weekly schedule. And, don't miss The Mayor for breakfast.
  • Crush Subbies: Chef Adam Greenberg and team bring you shore-style subs, delivered. I loved the spicy chicken and the avocado turkey.
  • Domestique: This is my favorite wine store in DC, they have such a unique selection. I'm a member of the wine club and I get four bottles from them each month. But their thoughtful selection and emails almost always make me want to add more. Easy contactless pickup and delivery + a collab with Izakaya Seki, which is still on my to do list.
  • Dona Dona by Sereneta: In a crisis, leaders emerge. One of those has been tiny juggernaut, Chef Paola Velez. When Kith/Kin, where she was head pastry chef, closed, Paola organized Bakers Against Racism which raised more than $2 million for local anti-racist organizations. And, she started this great little donut pop up to showcase flavors of the Dominican Republic. Keep your eyes on her as she just accepted a new role working with Rose Previte at Maydan and Compass Rose.
  • EllĂ©: takeout coffee and pastries
  • Federalist Pig: FedPig was one of my first takeout experiences and it was so buttoned up and smart that it gave me confidence to order out more often. All that and the brisket is to die for.
  • FishScale: I love the taste of these fish sandwiches almost as much as the sustainable seafood mission. Absolutely check this one out. 
  • Get a Hero, Be a Hero: fun sandwich collab from Paul Taylor that gives a sandwich to someone in need each time you order one
  • Little Pearl: I did easy curbside pick up of one of their Tex Mex themed dinners and loved it. Everything was well packaged and came with instructions, meaning once it hit my plate it was pretty close to restaurant expereince. 
  • Little Red Fox: I ran out of coffee one day and panicked. Little Red Fox to the rescue with the first latte of quarantine, which tasted so great I wanted to cry. Paired it with a croissant. And, have been back recently for the meatloaf Banh Mi sandwich. Great selection of wines also and seamless pick up protocols.
  • Little Serow: Two friends and I pretty much ran the menu here and picnicked outside to enjoy it all with some killer wine. One of the great nights of quarantine. Don't miss the short ribs + all the veggie dishes + ice cream.
  • Lucky Buns: burger and fries, obvi (I'm also looking forward to Chef Alex McCoy's Crabs & Crushies this month)
  • Mandu: On Saturdays, I've been doing patio dinners with my family. Mandu's Korean BBQ Kit caught my eye to shake up our routine and it was so much fun, such great flavor. Highly recommend, but also add the Korean Chicken Wings to your order. And probably some dumplings.
  • Mercy Me: Love this "sorta South American" bakery and cafe that opened during quarantine downtown near West End. Don't miss the guava vigilante (a sugary croissant-like situation) and the sweet corn breakfast taco. Easy pick up and delivery options.
  • Mola - takeout mezze, Spanish tortilla on Sundays, groceries from Path Farms, and a killer wine and spirits selection focused on women makers
  • Muchas Gracias: I've ordered a few times from this Mexican takeout (that just added one patio table!) in Van Ness. Love their fish tacos, Caesar kale salad and chilaquiles. My neighbors are intrigued and we're planning a big group order to picnic outside.
  • Republic Cantina: Look, I can admit when I make a mistake. I ordered from Republic Cantina on Cinco de Mayo. Apparently, so did everyone else in town. And, pick up was a shit show. But the food was good. And the margaritas and mezcal made for one of the most fun nights of quarantine.
  • Reveler's Hour: This was my favorite new spot to meet friends, eat til I popped and taste everything on the thoughtful wine list before quarantine. Afterwards, they closed for a bit and continue to thoughtfully pivot. I enjoyed the Chicken Parmesan Lasagna for takeout. They've also opened a wine shop inside, and limited seatings.
  • Roaming Rooster: This one makes me super torn. Maybe it should be in my top takeout experiences? Becuase, holy hell, their Nashville Hot Chicken Sandwich is definitely one of the best bites of quarantine. They are expanding and coming to more places in the city, so watch for the openings - or drive over and pick up a sandwich. They are very organized in the lines and move folks through quickly.
  • Room 11: Chef Matt Crowley (Spoken English) is doing a sandwich pop up at Room 11 that is worth your time. I got the Broccoli Caesar, which was delicious, but I want to try so much more. They also have a patio if you want to eat it outside. 
  • Seco Wine: Carlie Steiner is one of my favorite talents in DC. I've followed from Himitsu to Pom Pom to Dos Mamis. And, while those concepts won't survive this pandemic, I hope Carlie's delivery wine business, Seco does. It's well-curated, always introduces me to new regions/winemakers, and it's just fun.
  • Southwest Soda Pop Shop: On hot summer quarantine days and nights, you need ice cream. This Black-woman run ice cream and dessert shop opened during quarantine, y'all. And, the well-spaced lines at The Wharf tell you that it's going to make it through to the other side. Such a treat.
  • Tail Up Goat: This perennial fave of mine transitioned into a decent takeout game and also just reopened their patio. But, their Sunday wine class has become a staple of my quarantine Zoom game.
Little Serow Picnic Party
So much talent, so little time (and money.) Here are the ones I want to try next: 
Got a spot I should add? Add it in the comments section or tweet me, @tammy.

Guava Vigilante at Mercy Me

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