If you utilize RAMMY nominations like Michelin Guide/Bib Gourmand writeups, you’ll eat well throughout the year in D.C. For their annual awards, Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington (RAMW) nominates the best restaurants, bars, chefs, bartenders, hospitality groups, etc. throughout the DMV. But unless you’re working for one of those restaurants, bars, chefs, bartenders, hospitality groups, etc., it doesn’t really matter who wins. You win. Simply by following who they consider worthy of a nomination, you have a leg up on making dinner reservations.
The RAMMY Awards return to their pre-pandemic glory this July 24. This year’s finalists for Upscale Casual Restaurant of the Year are Albi, Anju, Nama, Rooster & Owl, and Shilling Canning Company. The five restaurants are different in cuisine, style and location. The only commonality is reservation ability (they’re fully booked almost every weekend).
We spoke with each restaurant about how they survived the last two years and what they enjoy at a not-as-upscale spots.
Albi, which serves Levantine cooking, is the newest nominated restaurant. Opening just three weeks before Covid shut down everything, they didn’t exactly need to pivot their business model. It was kinda done for them. Chef and owner Michael Rafidi told us, “We only know Covid in this restaurant.”
When it comes to less upscale spots, Rafadi recommends Copycat Company.
“The tiny little spicy chili wontons are incredible.”
Unlike Albi, Korean restaurant Anju had to dramatically pivot.
“Covid caused us to reevaluate every facet of our operations,” Chef Danny Lee told us. “We had to adjust from not offering any takeout, to only offering takeout, and now doing both. We’ve had to learn to be very flexible with staff schedules and availability and adjust our capacity at the same time.”
When it comes to more lowbrow restaurants, Lee recommends my favorite Adams Morgan takeout spot.
“Eastern Carry Out, located on the southern end of Adams Morgan. They make the best wings in the city. I take every out-of-town chef who visits D.C. there and they are always amazed.”
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Once it’s long gone, is it possible Covid could be a silver lining for Nama? Based on what Schlow Restaurant Group’s Alex Levin told us, maybe?
“As Covid evolved, so did Nama — turning the restaurant into something for everyone depending on one’s comfort level. The takeout and delivery business never stopped or slowed down.”
Levin continues, “Nama never adjusted the menu. In fact, our sushi chefs continued to enhance the offerings, having fun with introducing mouthwatering additions and delicacies from local and global sources. The restaurant’s reputation went from being the best kept sushi secret in the city to something that quickly became a staple in the hearts of so many in the Washington, D.C. area.”
Levin recommends another beloved staple of D.C.: Big Bear Cafe.
“I love the pizzas and daily additions. It’s also a great spot in the spring and summer to hang out and catch up with all of my friends in Bloomingdale, most of whom also frequent the restaurant and cafe.”
Rooster & Owl
Enjoying a meal from a restaurant on 14th Street Northwest is typically made better by actually eating on 14th Street. But for a large swath of the pandemic, that wasn’t possible. So, Rooster and Owl, like so many others, had to pivot.
“We focused on creating the best cuisine,” according to Chef Yuan Tang. “However the delivery method, whether it be minutes away, to a table in our dining room or patio or over an hour away to someone’s door.”
The restaurant’s recommended go-to food is quite a different cuisine from their American tasting menus.
“We love getting pho from our neighbor Pho 54 Noodle Bar on 14th Street.”
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Shilling Canning Company
Reid Shilling, chef and owner of Shilling Canning Company, is still facing challenges from the pandemic. In other words, it’s not exactly over.
“It’s changed everything. You’ve heard it everywhere, but staffing has been an enormous challenge. We are currently running with half the staff we had from when we opened.”
Shilling Canning Company specializes in high quality, locally sourced ingredients. They offer excellent seafood options (a crispy soft-shell crab is currently on their tasting menu). So, it’s not surprising Shilling gravitates towards fresh seafood for their restaurant recommendation.
“We love Torai Sushi on 8th Street. The rice is always freshly made, and the fish is high quality.”
Walter E. Washington Convention Center: 801 Mt. Vernon Pl. NW, DC