José Andrés has been quite the media darling in recent months due to his vocal opposition to President Trump’s stance on immigrants. But the food world has long known the James Beard Foundation award-winning chef for his influence on the way Americans dine out these days (Like small plates? Thank him.) and his work fighting hunger in the US and developing countries. Born in northern Spain, Andrés trained at modern gastronomy temple El Bulli before emigrating to the US. After a stint in New York, he landed in Washington, DC, back when eating out in the city largely meant choosing between a chophouse and a stuffy French restaurant. But not for long: in 1993, the chef laid the foundation for DC’s now red-hot food culture when he opened his pioneering tapas concept, Jaleo, in the city’s Penn Quarter. Today, Andrés oversees twenty-seven restaurants in DC and elsewhere. He shared some of his favorite spots in his adopted city with TLP, plus his thoughts on cooking at home and Spain’s contribution to condiments.
“From dim sum to meze, sharing will always win. People seem to be a lot happier when they are sharing.”
What factors do you think have contributed to DC’s boom? The restaurants are the tip of the iceberg. There’s a bunch of things that have made it a super-exciting place to be—the farmers markets, Virginia’s wine country not far away, and a good farming community. Everyone thinks that DC is only politics, but it is much more than that.
You’ve been credited with popularizing tapas in the US. Why do you think small plates are such a hit? It’s more inclusive. There’s so much fascination with sharing and it’s not only in Spain, it’s a way of life in other places too, from dim sum to meze. Sharing will always win. People seem to be a lot happier when they are sharing.
You’re dedicated to humanitarian work. What’s inspired that? I want to give a better country and better world to my children. We need to take care of people that nobody is taking care of.
What do you like to cook at home for your family? Cooking in a restaurant requires methodology for consistency. At home, you can break every rule. The worse that can happen is that your children don’t like what you cook. In my restaurants, you can only take so many risks. At home I feel free, like a bird in the middle of the ocean.
Duke’s or Hellmann’s? We make our own. You can make mayonnaise in ten seconds. People make fun of me for saying that everything began in Spain but mayonnaise began in Spain in the town of Mahón in Menorca. The French say it’s theirs, but they have no basis to prove it.
THE TAPAS TITAN SHARES NINE OF HIS FAVORITE SPOTS IN WASHINGTON, DC
CHAIA Suzanne Simon and Bettina Stern became a farmers market staple with their seasonal “farm to taco” stand, and now serve their plant-based taco creations in a canal-side shop in Georgetown. “I love vegetables and tacos,” Andrés says. “And the ingredients are so fresh.”
FRANKLY…PIZZA! Frank Linn rolled out his pizza concept in 2011, which went from a mobile oven to a permanent home in Kensington, Maryland, in 2014. Frankly…Pizza! makes hearth-baked pies with perfectly bubbled and charred crust. “You have to travel a little outside DC for this, but it’s worth it.”
DAIKAYA Daikaya is hip to the ramen game, with bold Sapporo-style ramen at the small first floor walk-in counter. On the second floor of this Penn Quarter spot, a cozy izakaya space serves dinner and lunch with small plate offerings. Andrés recommends the sake bomb while you wait for dinner.
KOMI Chef Johnny Monis pays homage to his Greek heritage with a tasting menu that transports diners from Dupont Circle to the Mediterranean. “You cannot miss the goat shoulder,” Andrés says.
DEL CAMPO South American cuisine is alive and well in Victor Albisu’s estancia-inspired restaurant, where asado reigns supreme and the citrus-spiked flavors of Peruvian ceviche prime the palate. Naturally, Andrés recommends steak. “It’s perfectly crispy on the outside, but so tender and juicy on the inside.”
DOG TAG BAKERY This bakery is part of Dog Tag Inc., a program that offers work-study opportunities to veterans with disabilities along with an education at Georgetown University. “This place is not just about baked goods. It’s also about purpose and is helping change the world through the power of food.”
COLUMBIA ROOM The Columbia Room takes the cocktail experience to new height. Book in the Tasting Room for a three- to five-course cocktail menu paired with snacks, or go a la carte in the Spirits Library or Punch Garden. “I love that you can have a different experience––from the patio to the tasting room––every time.”
MAKETTO Fashionista meets foodist at this spot in Northeast’s H Street neighborhood. Part restaurant, part retail marketplace, Maketto taps into chef Erik Bruner-Yang’s (of ramen shop Toki Underground) Taiwanese and Cambodian ties. “Places like this are what makes this an amazing food city.”
CHINA CHILCANO The melding of three distinct cultures and cuisines defines the contemporary Peruvian landscape and the experience found at China Chilcano, one of Andrés’ own. Here, the chef introduces chifa, a fusion of Chinese fundamentals with Peruvian cuisine; criollo, Peru’s indigenous ingredients accented with Spanish and West African influences; and nikkei, Japan’s exquisite culinary style with Peruvian ingredients. “Sit at the bar, order a pisco sour and some dim sum––maybe the Lucky 12 so you can try a few different kinds.”