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Posted at 5:06 PM ET, 12/29/2008

The Year in Nibbles

By Julia Beizer

Joining the chorus of Best of 2008 lists around the blogosphere, we Gurus clink glasses to the brightest in Washington nightlife.

Surfside brought a taste of Cali to Glover Park in 2008. (Olivia Boinet)

Trends overtook the Washington dining scene in 2008. Cupcakes crept in, burger joints abounded and even sweet-tart fro-yo puckered itself into the hearts of locals. Given this sudden influx, it's not surprising that many are represented on my year-end list. But if there's one overarching theme here, it's definitely cheap eats. Some of my most memorable meals were light on the wallet -- something I'm sure we'll all be looking for in 2009.

Best New Cheap Eats: Surfside
David Scribner's fast-casual seafood shack tops my list of new places to dine in the last year. There's an honesty of plate in the generous portions here. Order the Martha's Vineyard quesadilla and taste every ingredient listed on the menu: smoky portobellos, crisp corn salsa, leafy spinach. Fresh guacamole is the simple mingling of chunks of avocado, shreds of cilantro and a squeeze of lime. The Cabo San Lucas steak taco platter was one of my early favorites and it remains a must-order.
Runners Up: The fried side of the menu at Georgetown's Tackle Box has never steered me wrong, though the restaurant gets a demerit for prices that always seem too high no matter what you order. Nando's hasn't quite tickled my fancy the way it has for others, but the chain's signature Peri-Peri sauce has become one of my favorite condiments at home. Besides, it's a great spot for a pre-Verizon Center meal -- if you can get there early enough to snag a table.

Best New Burger Joint: Ray's Hell-Burger.
You can find things not to like about Michael Landrum's Arlington burger joint. At busy times, the long wait to order is followed by the search for the table, which, in my experience, usually just means eyeing almost-done diners, stalking their tables and pouncing the second they reach for their coats. But all that anxiousness melts away the second you're seated, fat, juicy burger in hand. I go for the Let's Get it On burger for its caramelized toppings, reference to Marvin.
Runners Up: As I wrote in my burger biz roundup earlier this year, Spike's Good Stuff Eatery and Bethesda's BGR are up there on my list as well.

Best New Cupcake Bakery: Georgetown Cupcake.
I never wanted to become a cupcake girl, but after two months spent tasting the tiny treats for Cupcake Wars, they wormed their way into my heart. Georgetown's frosting -- an almost-liquid sweet cream cheese concoction -- is what keeps me coming back. Chocolate ganache may have won the contest, but Red Velvet still has my heart.
Runner Up: Buoyed by an easily accessible spot across from the Metro, Hello Cupcake also boasts an incredible banana-vanilla cupcake.

Best New Wine Bar: Cork Wine Bar
As the word spread about wines by the glass and tempting small plates, this 14th Street spot became so popular, it was plagued by long waits and pushy throngs by the bar. But even still, I can't think of a better place I'd rather go for a dinner with my girlfriends. Preferably on the early side. On a weeknight. When it's raining.
Runner Up: Vinoteca is a close second for me, especially during happy hour.

Best New Neighborhood Spot: 1905
I had mixed reactions to this cozy bistro in its early days, but later visits have changed my mind. Whether on a date, with a group, with some girlfriends on Thursday's Absinthe and Acid Jazz night -- I just like being there. Blessedly, most entrees are under $20.
Runner Up: Sticky Rice. I was reluctant to add Sticky Rice to this list -- since it's owned by some of the same people as 1905 -- but I couldn't resist mentioning the wacky sushi spot. Like 1905, it's got a great neighborhood feel and an affordable menu.

What are your favorite bites of the year?


By Julia Beizer  | December 29, 2008; 5:06 PM ET
Categories:  Restaurants  
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My favorite find of the year is Red Mei in Old Town Alexandria. We'd been looking for good Chinese take-out and this place delivers (well, only in Old Town). The entrees run about $6 - $7 a pop and are fast, fresh, and tasty. Four or five entrees makes for a great dinner for my wife and I and a couple of lunches from the leftovers.


Posted by: FairlingtonBlade | December 29, 2008 6:28 PM | Report abuse

For a change, try "Napa 1015" at 1015 H St. NE. A menu with a mix of American and European fare with entrees ranging from $16 to $24. If you sit at the bar, happy hour prices from 6 to 8pm with a "sampler" menu with all items at $5. Open Tuesday through Saturday from 5:30pm to 11:00pm and Sunday brunch from 10am to 2pm. Ample free parking.

Posted by: NewEra | December 29, 2008 10:23 PM | Report abuse

I believe in a future that will never again include "Best New Cupcake Bakery" in it. I will not be moved, the sun will come up on that day!

We shall overcome, someday.

Posted by: Kev29 | December 30, 2008 11:13 AM | Report abuse

Um you should do a spell check before posting. Its not Georgown Cupcake.

What the hell is with DC and the cupcake obsession. It sounds to me like a desperate attempt to start a trend new york did about a decade ago. Lame.

Posted by: cbcpapa | December 30, 2008 11:33 AM | Report abuse

Fear not, Kev29. The cupcake craze, like all trends, will wither and die one day The only question is what "newly rediscovered" food item will grow in its place. Crepes, maybe?

Cupcakes, I can deal with (because they're usually good); personally, I can't wait for the hipster obsession with PBR to die. Or is it dead already?

My personal favorite: Senor Chicken on Mount Vernon Ave in Alexandria. Completely lacking in atmosphere, but the chicken sandwiches and the sauces are to die for. I'd take those over a cupcake any day.

Posted by: goodwinc | December 30, 2008 11:42 AM | Report abuse

Thanks, cbcpapa. The typo has been corrected.

Posted by: Julia Beizer | December 30, 2008 12:57 PM | Report abuse

Surfside has gotten so panned on not the best source of opinions, but it has gotten seriously trashed for some pretty serious issues--alleged food poisoning, serious waste of paper in the ordering process, rude staff, and the ordering process in general. And a lot of people said it wasn't cheap, including having to pay for the ubiquitous chips and salsa. I've never tried the place, but to give it a "best new" category.....not so sure.

Posted by: hcpf | December 30, 2008 3:57 PM | Report abuse

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