Monday, February 1, 2021

Updated Quick Black Bean Soup

This is an updated version of the recipe I posted 6 years ago. I’ve made enough changes to it that I wanted to share it again, as I like this version better. This is such a wonderful weeknight soup—it really does come together quickly. And it’s very satisfying.

The most noticeable change is that I now puree some of the soup. This makes it thicker, and I really like the texture. Since I don’t want the meat pureed, I now heat the kielbasa separately, tossing it in toward the end after some of the soup has been pureed. I’ve also added red bell pepper, which makes it a little sweeter. Most recently, I diced the kielbasa, instead of just slicing it into coins like I normally do. Another win! I thought the coins were always too large in comparison to the other ingredients.

I like this spicy, but not too spicy. I once tried making this with a full teaspoon of chipotle chili powder, and I thought it was too hot. Most recently, I used a half teaspoon—and then added just a little bit more (maybe 1/8 tsp more), and it was perfect.

Updated Quick Black Bean Soup

4 servings


  • 2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 yellow onion, diced (recommend using a large one)
  • 1 red bell pepper, cored, seeded and diced
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • Seasoned salt, to taste
  • 13 oz. turkey kielbasa (may use pork, ham or omit altogether), diced
  • 2 14-oz. cans black beans, drained and rinsed (may use 1 28-oz. can)
  • ½ tsp. chipotle chili powder (I use a heaping ½ tsp.—use more or less depending on desired heat level)
  • 1 tbsp. dried oregano
  • 1 tbsp. ground cumin
  • 2 tsp. smoked paprika
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 quart (4 cups) low-sodium chicken broth (may use vegetable broth)
  • 1 tbsp. light brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp. dry sherry
  • Sour cream or shredded cheese (optional)


1. Heat the olive oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onions, bell pepper and garlic. Season with salt and sauté until the onions have softened and are starting to brown, about 8-10 minutes.

2. Heat a small frying pan over medium heat. Add the diced kielbasa and cook, stirring occasionally until it starts to lightly brown (last time I did this, it was too juicy to brown, but that was fine, as it’s already cooked, so it just needs to be heated).

3. To the soup pot, add the black beans, chili powder, oregano, cumin, smoked paprika, bay leaf, chicken broth, brown sugar and sherry. Increase heat to high and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 10-12 minutes.

4. Partially puree the soup: Remove about half the soup (about 3 cups) and either 1) transfer to a blender or food processor and puree, or 2) transfer to an appropriate container and puree with an immersion blender. 

5. Add the kielbasa and pureed portion of the soup to the soup pot and stir to combine. Taste, adjust seasoning and serve (if desired topped with a dollop of sour cream or a sprinkle of shredded cheese).

Monday, January 18, 2021

Chicken Noodle Soup with Homemade Broth

Every Thanksgiving I read stories from food writers urging home cooks to save their leftover turkey carcasses to make homemade soup broth. Every year, after carefully picking the meat of my turkey breast bones, I dutifully put the carcass in a ziplock freezer bag and stick it in the freezer with the best of intentions.

And those best intentions generally lead me to discover said carcass in May or June, wanting more room for something else in the freezer, and tossing it into the trash. Sorry rich turkey broth--not that year.

So this winter, I was determined to actually use my turkey carcass. And I did. And the results were awesome. And not so time-consuming (especially in pandemic times when I'm home basically always--okay not just basically, like literally always).

Making the broth was not complicated. I added the turkey bones to a cast-iron Dutch oven with 8 cups of low-sodium chicken broth seasoned with some dried herbs, brought the mixture to a boil and simmered for about an hour. Then I discarded the carcass, strained out any remaining solids with my spider strainer, and allowed the mixture to cool before transferring to a container to store in fridge until the next day when I would be using it for chicken noodle soup.

And the chicken noodle soup was dynamite good! The broth was fantastic. I went with a very simple recipe, but it was absolutely delicious. 

If you're not up for making homemade broth, you could still make this with 8 cups of good chicken broth (something that's a little better seasoned than the low-sodium broth I used to start with). Or if you don't have your turkey carcass, you could find a good recipe online for homemade broth. I like to make mine with chicken wings sometimes. 

Chicken Noodle Soup with Homemade Broth

Note: The soup should have 8 cups total of broth in it. Although I used 8 cups of store-bought chicken broth to make my soup broth, evaporation and the carcass soaking some up left me with 6 cups of homemade broth. So I added 2 additional cups of store-bought broth for the soup to have 8 cups total.

Broth (makes about 6 cups of broth):

  • Leftover turkey carcass (I use turkey breast bones)
  • 8 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 tbsp. dried thyme
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 tbsp. vegetable oil (divided)
  • 1/2 lb. boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut or pounded to 1/2-inch thickness
  • 1/4 tsp. garlic powder
  • Seasoned salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1 yellow onion (about 200g)
  • 2 carrots, peeled and diced (about 175g)
  • 2 celery stalks, diced (about 100g)
  • Homemade broth from above (about 6 cups)
  • 2 cups low-sodium chicken broth (use enough so that the homemade broth and the added broth total 8 cups)
  • 8 oz. dried egg noodles
Make the broth:
  1. Add the turkey carcass, 8 cups chicken broth, thyme and bay leaves to a Dutch oven or other large pot. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer for an hour. 
  2. Discard the turkey carcass, strain out any remaining solids and allow the broth to cool. Store in the fridge for up to a few days until ready to use (or freeze).
Make the soup:
  1. Heat 1 tbsp. vegetable oil over medium-high heat in large frying pan or skillet. When the oil is hot, add the chicken and season with garlic powder, seasoned salt and pepper. After the chicken has browned on one side (about 5-6 minutes), flip over and brown the other side. Continue cooking until the chicken is cooked through (165-170 degrees F). Turn off the heat and remove chicken from pan.
  2. While the pan is still hot, add 1 cup of chicken broth to deglaze the pan. Save this mixture.
  3. When the chicken has cooled a bit, transfer to a cutting board and chop into a fine dice.
  4. Heat 1 tbsp. vegetable oil in a Dutch oven or other large pot. Add the onion, carrot, and celery, season to taste with salt and pepper, and sauté until lightly browned, about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. The vegetables should brown and some may stick to the bottom.
  5. Add 1 cup of broth to the pot, and stir to deglaze the bottom of the pot, scraping a bit with a wooden spoon. Add the deglazing liquid from the pan the chicken was cooked in, the 6 cups of homemade broth, the diced cooked chicken. Increase heat and bring to a boil.
  6. Add the noodles, and reduce heat to medium. Cook about 8-10 minutes until the noodles are cooked through. Adjust seasoning and serve in shallow bowls (to allow the soup to cool off quicker). 

Friday, July 3, 2020

Instant Pot Barbecue "Baked" Beans

Instant Pot Barbecue Baked Beans

Oh, how I love barbecue. And how I love a smoky, spicy-sweet side of beans to go with it.

Just in time for the 4th of July, here's my new favorite recipe for barbecue "baked" beans--"baked" because they aren't really, since I made them in the Instant Pot.

There are lots of recipes for "barbecue beans" or "baked beans"--not really sure what the difference is I put both in the name of this dish.

I've made this dish twice, and while it was good both times, the adjustments I made for the second time were a definite improvement. I didn't have any molasses on hand the first time, so I used 1/4 cup of maple syrup (the real kind). This worked fine, but I missed that deep sweetness the molasses adds. I also used Stubbs's Sweet Honey & Spice flavor barbecue sauce the first time, which I didn't like nearly as much as the Stubb's Hickory Bourbon I used for the second batch (for the record, my favorite variety of Stubb's barbecue sauce is Sweet Heat--so amazing).

In looking at ingredient lists of other recipes to develop this dish, the one I leaned on the most was "The Best Barbecue Beans Recipe" by Joshua Bousel for Serious Eats. The accompanying photos were exactly what I wanted my beans to look like, and I liked the combination of sweet ingredients (honey, brown sugar and molasses). I made quite a few changes, but it's worth checking out.

That Serious Eats recipe goes the more traditional route of soaking the beans first and baking them in the oven, so expect an overnight soak and about 6-7 hours of cooking time. By comparison, my recipe takes a little over 2 hours--not exactly "instant" but with no soaking or oven time, it's great for whipping up "baked" beans the day before (or even day-of) you want to enjoy them without heating up your kitchen on a hot day or having to remember to soak those beans.

Instant Pot Barbecue "Baked" Beans

Ingredients for cooking the beans:
1 lb. dried pinto beans (may use other similarly sized dried beans), rinsed and examined to remove any small stones
10 cups water
1/2 tsp. salt

Ingredients for cooking the dish:
1/2 lb. bacon, cut into 1/4 to 1/2 inch wide strips
1 1/2 cup diced (about 1 large) yellow or sweet onion
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/4 cup barbecue sauce (I recommend Stubb's Hickory Bourbon)
1/4 cup ketchup
2 tbsp. mustard (any will do, I used a grainy Dijon)
1 tbsp. apple cider vinegar
2/3 cup brown sugar (I used light, but would've used dark if I had it)
1/3 cup honey
1/4 cup molasses
2 cups low sodium chicken broth

Cook the beans:

1. Combine dried beans, water and salt in an Instant Pot. Lock the lid and set to cook under high pressure for 25 minutes. When cooking time is up, allow pressure to release naturally, which takes about 10-12 minutes. Total time for this step is 50-60 minutes.

2. When pressure is fully released, unlock the lid, drain the beans and set aside in the fridge until ready to use.

Cook the dish:

1. Using the Instant Pot sauté mode, cook the bacon until browned and crisp. Remove from the pot with a slotted spoon. Remove excess bacon fat, leaving about 2 tbsp. in the pot (I used a couple paper towels to soak it up).

2. Add the onion and garlic to the pot. Sauté until softened and lightly browned, about 8-10 minutes. Turn off the Instant Pot.

3. Into the pot with the cooked vegetables, add the cooked bacon, cooked beans, barbecue sauce, ketchup, mustard, vinegar, brown sugar, honey, molasses and chicken broth (in other words, all of the remaining ingredients). Stir to combine. Lock the lid and set to cook under high pressure for 15 minutes. When cooking time is up, allow pressure to release naturally, about 10-15 minutes (vent any remaining pressure after 15 minutes). Total time for this step is 40-45 minutes.

4. Unlock the lid and stir the mixture. If a thicker texture is desired, use Sauté mode (normal setting) to evaporate some of the moisture and thicken the beans--about 10 minutes is just right for me. Allow to cool and either eat or transfer to a container with a lid to store in the fridge.

Monday, April 13, 2020

Restaurant: Muchas Gracias (Washington, D.C.)

Muchas Gracias Washington, D.C.

It's been over 3 years since I've posted a story on Cook In / Dine Out. I've been thinking of restarting it--not as frequently as before, but occasionally writing about new recipes, old favorites and of course, restaurants. With COVID-19 having shut all restaurant dining in, it's going to be really more like "Cook In / Dine In" for the time being.

Thankfully, a lot of great restaurants are offering food for pick-up or delivery, a good reason to continue to support your favorite neighborhood spots, as they need that support now more than ever. We have continued to order from our favorite neighborhood places--Buck's Fishing and Camping and Comet Ping Pong--pretty much every weekend. Yes, we miss our wonderful servers, but having one of those amazing wood-grilled burgers or a Stanley pizza is such a comfort. We are glad they are still open for business and hope they stay that way.

Amazingly, the owners behind our two favorite local hangouts have gone and done something that seems absolutely bonkers: they've opened a new restaurant. Yes, there is a new member of the Forest Hills dining family. And it's pretty incredible.

To set the stage, I must remind you that Chris and I love Mexican food. I mean, it's one of the reasons we typically plan a long weekend in Texas each year. While there, we seek out really good Mexican (and barbecue, another favorite) since, unfortunately, really good but inexpensive Mexican isn't as prevalent in D.C. as we'd like, especially in our neck of the woods. Sure, Poca Madre is divine, but that's neither inexpensive nor convenient to where we live.

Chips with guacamole and salsas
Enter Muchas Gracias, a pop-up taqueria that opened in the former Besta Pizza space next door to Buck's. For a minute, it was called Buckaroos, in a nod to its sibling neighbor. But Muchas Gracias is perfectly named, since that's exactly how I feel about having this absolutely incredible tacos+ restaurant in my neighborhood.

The menu is fairly short, and tacos are the star. As I've checked out the site during the last week, the offerings seem to change a little bit (carnitas was not available the night I ordered), but the short list includes favorites like chicken tinga verde--succulent pieces of chicken stewed with vegetables--and skirt steak fajitas, which smartly side-step the typical sautéed onions and peppers to provide only tender morsels of perfectly grilled steak enriched with a side of honey-chipotle butter and complemented with a scattering of fresh cucumbers. Although we haven't tried it yet, roasted mushrooms and chiles sound like a tasty alternative for those wanting a non-meat choice.

Our favorite taco, the best taco we've ever eaten from a D.C. restaurant, is the short rib birria. Wow wow wow is this good eats. Chef Christian Irabién, an Oyamel alum, has crafted something truly special here, braising short ribs and serving them in red mole broth with pickled onion and preserved cherries (which taste so much like Luxardo maraschino cherries that I'm wondering if that's in fact what they are). Every bite is tender and tasty, with enough spice to keep it interesting and just a hint of sweetness from the cherries. I could eat this taco everyday (it could be a problem having this just blocks from home).

Muchas Gracias Family taco night
Family taco night

For dinner, I definitely recommend getting the "family taco night." It comes with your choice of filling, freshly made corn tortillas (a little smaller than usual and smacking of true homemade goodness), chips, salsa verde, salsa chipotle (absolutely incredible), red beans (amazing), garlic rice, and pickles (tasty but careful with those pickled jalapeños--they've got quite the kick). You also get some peanuts and grasshoppers to snack on beforehand and a decadent slice of tres leches cake garnished with whipped cream and strawberries for dessert. The night we got it, they even threw in a kale Caesar salad with Buck's garlicky Caesar dressing and large croutons. Because it's so hard to choose just one filling, I recommend you add at least one or two others. Toss in some extra tortillas and you have lunch or dinner covered for the next day too.

Because I couldn't help myself, I also ordered a side of guacamole and some extra chips (which we enjoyed with mezcal margaritas I made before dinner). The guacamole is exactly as it should be, bursting with fresh avocados and topped with a few toasted pepitas and a sprinkle of queso fresco. And the chips are really good too, crisp with true corn flavor just the way good tortilla chips should be. So many other things call to me from the menu: I really hope to try their carnitas sometime soon, and I'm curious about their queso dip, including the vegan cashew "queso." Although they don't seem to offer it right now, the online menu shows they also make crispy brussels sprouts with black garlic and smoked jalapeños. Doesn't that sound good?!

Given the times, Muchas Gracias is open right now from 4 to 8:45 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday for pickup (call to order) or online delivery via Caviar or Door Dash. Although this is billed as a pop-up, I hope it sticks around and becomes permanent. I couldn't be happier to have this down the street.

Muchas Gracias, 5029 Connecticut Ave., NW, (202)-244-5000.


Buck's Fishing and Camping

Comet Ping Pong

Monday, February 27, 2017

Spicy Chicken Quesadillas with Avocado Yogurt

Spicy Chicken Quesadillas with Avocado Yogurt

Regular readers have probably noticed by now that I'm not posting on my blog much anymore. I've decided to put Cook In / Dine Out in semi-retirement after 5 tasty years. I will still post occasionally, but I won't be as active either here or in social media.

That said, I do plan to post new recipes on occasion if I have something really good, and I think these chicken quesadillas qualify. I love the spicy-sweet flavor of chipotles-in-adobo here. The first time I only used one, but it wasn't spicy enough for me. How much chipotle to use will be a matter of how hot you want it. I'd call this a "medium" heat level.

Spicy Chicken Quesadillas with Avocado Yogurt

Serves 2 as entree or 4 as a starter (easily doubles too)


2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
3/4 lb. boneless-skinless chicken breast (recommend cutlets or tenders)
1 tsp. ground cumin
2 tsp. dried oregano
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
Seasoned salt, to taste
1/2 large sweet onion, slivered
2 chipotles-in-adobo, minced with some of the sauce
Juice from 1/2 lime
6 small (fajita size) flour tortillas
4 oz. monterey jack cheese, shredded and divided into 6 equal portions
Avocado yogurt (see below)
Cilantro leaves

1. Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the chicken, season with cumin, oregano, garlic powder and seasoned salt, and sautéed until browned and cooked through, about 10-12 minutes, turning over at the halfway point. Remove the chicken from the pan. After the chicken has rested a couple minutes, chop it into 1/2-inch chunks.

2. Add the onion to the hot pan and sauté, stirring occasionally, until browned, about 8-10 minutes. Stir in the minced chipotles and the chopped chicken. Squeeze the half lime over the mixture to deglaze the pan. Turn off the heat.

3. Heat a 10-inch frying pan over medium heat. Place a tortilla in the pan, then sprinkle evenly with a portion of cheese. Spoon about 3/4 cup of chicken mixture on top of the cheese, spreading it in an even layer, then sprinkle another portion of cheese evenly on top before topping with a second tortilla. Cook for 90 seconds until the bottom tortilla is lightly browned, flip (recommend using a wide spatula) and cook for another minute. Transfer to a cutting board and cut into fourths. Repeat two more times with the remaining ingredients to make 3 whole quesadillas (or 12 fourths when cut). Garnish with avocado-yogurt and cilantro leaves.

Avocado Yogurt

1 ripe hass avocado, peeled and pit discarded, flesh cut into fourths
1/2 cup nonfat plain Greek yogurt
Juice from 1/2 lime

In a tall container, combine the avocado, yogurt and lime juice. Blend until smooth with an immersion blender (alternatively, combine the ingredients in a food processor or standard blender and pulse until smooth).

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Challah French Toast

There are a lot of ways to make French toast. The simplest, which I remember my mom doing when I was a kid, is to whisk egg and milk together, dip sandwich bread into it, and grill the bread in a pan. From there, you can get all kinds of elaborate. Personally, I find the recipes that call for a lot of eggs, sugar and cream to be too rich. That approach results in what's basically an egg custard held together with bread. I'm also not a fan of deep-frying French toast. It's just too much.

My approach below is adapted from America's Test Kitchen's recipe. For years, I made their recipe faithfully, although recently I've been changing it up a bit. I wanted a little more egg (they use only one), a little less flour, and cinnamon, which goes nicely with the vanilla and is just classic in my book. Although you can use any bread, challah bread works nicely. The sugar in this gives bread just a hint of crunch. I don't call for soaking the bread a long time--just briefly. I don't want a really dense French toast (plus, you'll probably use your batter up too fast with a long soak).

Challah French Toast
Adapted in part from a recipe by America's Test Kitchen

2 large eggs, at room temperature, lightly beaten
1 cup milk, at room temperature (can use any kind, including skim)
2 tbsp. butter, melted but not hot
2 tsp. vanilla extract
3 tbsp. sugar
2 tbsp. all-purpose flour
Pinch of salt
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tbsp. butter (not melted), divided
6 slices of challah bread, cut 3/4-inch thick
Warm maple syrup (optional)

1. Heat a large skillet over medium heat.

2. In a large shallow bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, butter and vanilla. In a small bowl, whisk together the sugar, flour, salt and cinnamon. Whisk the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients to create a uniform batter.

3. Add half the unmelted butter to the hot skillet. Dip three pieces of bread (one at a time) into the batter, allow it to soak for a few seconds and wiping off any excess batter with your fingers. Place the dipped bread in the skillet and cook until lightly browned, about 2-3 minutes. Turn over and cook another minute to 90 seconds. Set aside on a platter, add the remaining butter to the skillet and repeat with the other three pieces of bread (this should use up almost all the batter).

4. Serve French toast with warm maple syrup.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Best Restaurants and Bars of 2016

Another year comes to a close at the end of the week. Like other recent years, it was a very busy time for new restaurants in D.C. (Eater D.C. counted 102 openings in the fall alone). I made an effort to get to many of the ones I thought sounded most interesting, but of course, there were still quite a few I haven't visited yet. I also like to mix in older restaurants which, after all, can do new and interesting things all the time, even if they've been open for years.

It wasn't a big year for me travel-wise, and I found myself less interested in writing about the places we visited while away from home. I really meant to do a round-up of places we ate in Southern California, but just didn't get around to it. So, I'll make up for that right now, briefly, by sharing the highlights: 1) Norah in West Hollywood is fabulous--delicious food, good service and an inviting space, 2) Breakfast in L.A.'s retro diners is the best way to start the day with a Southern-California frame of mind (Mel's Drive-In and NORMS in West Hollywood were both good, and the old-Hollywood charm of Fred 62 is perfect before a morning hike in Griffith Park), 3) The Good Lion cocktail bar in Santa Barbara has a very friendly staff shaking/stirring some really excellent drinks, and 4) I didn't expect much from Long Beach, but was pleasantly surprised by great whiskey-focused bar, The Blind Donkey.

So, here then are my favorites of the year (restaurants are in D.C. unless noted):

Best Starter/Small Dish: Leeks Dijonnaise, Convivial. It's easy to turn leeks into soup; harder to serve them in larger form without ending up with a squishy, stringy texture. Convivial treats the allum just right in this delicious, nicely textured opener. Runners up: wood-grilled carrots with yogurt at Buck's Fishing and Camping, bhel puri (puffed rice, fruit, and mint grain salad) at Bindaas.

Best Pasta: Sfoglina. The just-opened fourth D.C. restaurant from chef Fabio Trabocchi and his wife Maria has quickly proven itself to be an excellent spot for a top-quality bowl of pasta. Whether you go for a short-rib filled agnolotti or a deeply mushroomy corzetti, you're in for a treat. Runner-up: Corn Ravioli at Tail Up Goat.

Best Pizza: All-Purpose. D.C. has been blessed with an abundance of delicious pizza in recent years (see "Survivor of the Year" below for another good one). The opening of All-Purpose this year has really upped the game with its wonderfully flavorful crust and perfectly balanced toppings. Pepperoni pizza hasn't been this exciting since the '80s. Runner up: Farmers and Distillers, which also serves a good pepperoni pizza with whole-grain crust and flavorful red sauce.

Best Tacos: Mayahuel (NYC). Here's a wonderful secret about New York's top mezcal-loving cocktail bar, Mayahuel: The food is also amazing. While we liked everything we ate at Mayahuel--and the smoky salsa is a particular standout--the spicy, flavorful tacos were just incredible. Can't wait to go back for more. Runners up: Empellón Taqueria (NYC), Espita Mezcaleria.

Best Entree (That Isn't One of the Above): Autumn Olive Oil Pork, The Dabney. Perhaps the best pork dish I've ever had, this tender, flavorful dish was a highlight among an evening of standouts. Runner up: Coq au Vin Fried Chicken at Convivial.

Best Dessert: Key Lime Pie, Convivial. Tart and sweet achieve perfect balance in Convivial's key lime pie, a dish as beautifully composed as it is tasty, topped smartly with slices of fresh kiwi. Runners up: Churros with chocolate at Mayahuel (NYC); Sorghum Custard at The Dabney, 15-Layer Carrot Cake at The Source.

Best Fast-Casual Newcomer: Shouk. If eating "vegan" is still a turnoff to you, then fine, skip Shouk. That just means I'll have a shorter wait for what has become one of my favorite lunch spots, serving insanely delicious pitas and bowls stuffed with spiced, roasted vegetables. Although I haven't tried it yet, I hear their new burger is a knockout.

Best Cocktail: The Six Shooter, Mayahuel (NYC). Mayahuel has many, many good cocktails, as I've written about last year, including the Dijahbone, last year's cocktail of the year. Well, The Six Shooter, a bracing and dark combination of rum, mezcal and quite a few modifiers, may just be the cocktail of the decade. We love this so much, I tried my hand at approximating it. Runners up: Always Betz on Black at The NoMad (NYC), Smiling Rabbit at Espita Mezcaleria.

Best Service: Tail Up Goat. I have a lot of pleasant memories from our dinner at Tail Up Goat, but what I remember most was the excellent service. Despite the very busy Saturday evening we were there, the service from everyone was friendly but not overly so, prompt but not rushed and marked by genuine affection for the food and their work. I can't stand being in a busy restaurant that feels like they want to rush you through to seat the next billing as quickly as possible--I didn't feel that way at all here. Runners up: Mayahuel, The Dabney, All-Purpose.

Best Overall Experience: The Dabney. Today we may use microwaves, gas burners and sous vide machines, but cooking started with simple, smoky fire. That The Dabney cooks everything over (or near) a massive open fire pit makes its food kissed with smoke and char in delightful ways that still deliver texture and flavor. The homey decor and friendly service enhance an experience that I look forward to repeating next year. Runners up: Mayahuel (NYC), All-Purpose, Convivial.

Restaurant I'm Sorry to See Go: Kangaroo Boxing Club. This delightful Columbia Heights restaurant saved my night this summer after a lousy experience at a nearby bar. They completely turned my evening around with delicious barbecue and friendly service. Sorry to hear it's closing. Also closed this year: Espuma (Rehoboth Beach).

Survivor of the Year: Comet Ping-Pong. Consider this an extra-honorable mention for one of our favorite neighborhood hangouts that has weathered with patience and grace unthinkably cruel attacks based on groundless conspiracy nonsense. That the attacks spilled over into the rest of the neighborhood and turned violent hasn't stopped the neighborhood from voicing its support for this and other nearby great establishments.