Every year for my birthday I like to take a little trip. This year I spent a long weekend in Washington D.C., and I had so much fun. By now you should know about my fondness for the Top Chef TV show and their contestants, and this city has quite a few of them. As usual (and as expected) I was not disappointed when I had 90% of my meals at their establishments. Below you find an account of my gastronomic escapades!

Santa Rosa Taqueria

Spike Mendelsohn appeared on Top Chef in Season 4, where he finished in 5th place. He is one of the more charismatic and memorable characters to me, and I was beyond excited to finally visit one of his restaurants. He owns several of them in the D.C. area, and for lunch I picked his Taqueria for my first visit of his eateries.

Santa Rosa is a colorful and happy place! Place your order at the counter, grab a buzzer, and pick up your food at the window. Find a table upstairs or downstairs, it’s pretty wherever you go. Margaritas in hand, we dug into our tacos. Carne Asada with Mojo Steak, pico, quest and crema; Pulled Pork Carnitas with jalapeños and roasted tomatillo salsa; Spicy Fried Shrimp with pico, mole verde, and guacamole; my favorite: Chorizo & Egg including a farm fresh runny egg and queso fundido. Not the same old tacos! They were great. We also had Nachos Supreme with cheese, pico de Gallo, sour cream, jalapeños and guacamole, plus a side oder of Queso and Chips. Even though these are pretty typical menu items for a taqueria, it all tasted different and most delicious. I can’t wait to go back and try his other restaurants!

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Arroz by Mike Isabella

My dinner reservations were made for Arroz by Mike Isabella. Mike Isabella competed in Season 6, finishing in 5th place as well. This larger than life chef has become a restauranteur extraordinaire with numerous restaurants in Washington D.C., having won Restaurateur of the Year Award for Washington in 2016. It wasn’t easy to pick one for dinner, but I settled on Arroz, and I’m so glad I did.

Located in the Marriott Marquis, Arroz is exotic and casual at the same time, with a hint of Mediterranean flair. Pretty booths with azure blue walls and keyhole partitions add flair. We weren’t lucky enough to land one of those, but the food more than made up for that, The concept here is Spanish Tapas, which I happen to love. We started with Pan Con Tomate, which had actual tomatoes as opposed to the grated tomatoes, and it was delicious! We followed with Croquetas De Jamon and Patatas Bravas, both absolutely amazing. We topped our meal off with Octopus A La Plancha (black garlic BBQ, confit potatoes and tzatziki) and Gambas Al Ajillo (prawns with aji verde, tomato escabeche and country toast). Every bite here was exceptional.

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Barrel

It was a Saturday night, so much later that evening I found my way to Barrel, a Whiskey Bar with a light menu. Chef Garret Fleming is the executive chef here, and as for being a Top Chef contestant, he unfortunately was eliminated in the first round of season 13, so we didn’t get to see much of his talent. I, however, am convinced that even just being chosen for the show means that you rock in the kitchen, and ergo: a visit was warranted.

First of all, let me tell you that the amount of different Whiskeys you find here is scandalous, but in a good way. I don’t even really like whiskey all that much, and I ended up with a cocktail that was quite tasty (Bangkok Surprise with Old Granddad, aperol, lemon and simple syrup). The bar is beautiful and rustic, college students are having a blast here. I ordered our food at the bar, after almost missing the closing of the kitchen, and carried our it to the outside seating in front of the bar. We ordered Curried Cauliflower, a migas with currants, croutons and chilies, and Andouille Sausage over rice, red beans and dill relish. This was probably the best and most sophisticated bar food I ever had! Excellent.

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