The D.C. food influencer shares tips and favorites of our dynamic restaurant scene.
It’s no secret D.C. has some of the best restaurants around — and that can make finding the perfect spot for your night out almost as difficult as settling on your next show to watch. Luckily, we’ve got people like Mattie Hanley, a digital creator promoting restaurant content in the DMV, to give us the inside scoop.
Below, Hanley tells us about how she started her Instagram account, the green flags she looks for on every menu and the best patio dining opportunities for summer.
District Fray: How did you get started posting about restaurants on Instagram?
Hanley: I was working for a tech startup where we worked with restaurants, and the app that we built tried to help bring in customers at down, dead times. So, I was working face-to-face with restaurants, eating out at many every single day, snapping photos of my food, like any good millennial back in 2016. I realized most of my photos were food, so I was like, “I need to categorize this.” It was really just an urge to organize my photo posting, and I was giving the company some ideas on social media at the time. So I kind of wanted to have proof of concept by being like, “Look, I can grow this Instagram.” And I got 3000 followers in the first month. I realized I have an audience. It’s not just followers. It’s an audience you can engage with.
What is it that you love about restaurants?
Food is an interesting thing because it’s unlike other consumable things. By definition, you have to do it every single day, so at its essence, it automatically connects everybody. Considering all the different reasons people are going out to eat, in the end, it really is not just [about food]. It’s an experience. It’s a place to be with your friends. It’s a place to sport your newest outfit or your newest haircut and it’s a place to meet people and feel like you’re part of a community. To learn about new cultures, and get inspired to travel to a new place because you tried food from a country or region you’d never been to and it was really good. In D.C., we’re so lucky because this city is diverse so we have so many different cuisines represented, but also so many different levels of dining as well; not only do we have Michelin-starred restaurants, but you’ve got so many hole-in-the-walls and everything in between. I think there’s always something to be discovered.
What are the green flags you look for when trying a new restaurant?
My philosophy on what makes good food is if it has a texture contrast and fresh herbs. When I’m reading a menu, I always look for those things. My personal favorite cuisines are all Asian, Southeast Asian cuisines in particular — Vietnamese is my favorite cuisine ever. They also tend to represent those things like fresh herbs and the texture; they use tons of fresh basil, mint, cilantro, and add tons of texture play with crispy spring rolls, vermicelli rice, crispy pork and other things like salads and all kinds of sauces.
What patios do you recommend to check out this summer?
Phase 2 of the Wharf just opened, and there’s so many new places with great patios like Lucky Buns and Bartaco. There, it feels like you’re kind of on vacation, sitting right on the marina. Calico is a local rooftop garden spot for some great cocktails. Zinnia in Silver Spring is fantastic; it’s metro accessible, and their garden is gorgeous. It’s got Wes Anderson vibes.
Favorite new restaurant in the DMV?
Moon Rabbit was my favorite restaurant, but they had to close down. I was just at the RAMMYS, and Moon Rabbit’s Chef Kevin Tien won an award, so I’m very proud of him and looking forward to him hopefully opening another Vietnamese place. It took me until maybe a year ago to even answer the question of my favorite restaurant, so that’s saying a lot; I don’t throw that around lightly.
Best two new spots I’ve been recently are NUE Vietnamese in Falls Church, an amazing mix of traditional Vietnamese dishes and modern Vietnamese-inspired dishes (like coconut curry risotto and short rib pappardelle). And also Gyusan Japanese BBQ in Ballston — wagyu is their specialty, all the crudos and sushi were amazing and the one ramen they have on the menu is fire.
Individual dishes you dream about?
Hummus with dates and lamb from Martha Dear, grilled oysters with brown butter from Bar Spero, Asian spicy sour maze (like a reduced broth ramen) from Chaplin’s, cauliflower soup from Quadrant, the Royal burger (bacon, short rib, gruyere, truffle aioli) and the strawberry sundae with homemade strawberry jam from Michele’s, mushroom tagliatelle from Annabelle, duck ravioli and the grilled cabbage from L’ardente, picante pizza (with ‘nduja jam) from Stellina, pork sausage confit breakfast sandwich from I Egg You (made with local Logan’s Sausage) and churros from Dirty Habit.
To check out Mattie Hanley’s latest recommendations, follow her on Instagram @hungry_hungry_hanley.
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