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DC's rising food stars predict the next big thing

Mo Cherry, general manager and wine director of Mintwood Place in Adams Morgan and the managing chef of the award-winning Mason Dixie Biscuit Company, offers his perspective on the next big thing in D.C.'s food scene

Sara "Soupergirl" Polon, and her mother, Marilyn Polon

Victor Albisu, chef and owner of Del Campo

Anne Alfano, Little Red Fox

Italian-Korean fusion, "weird" pop-ups, and "pickled everything on everything" will elevate D.C.'s food scene in the next year.
The D.C. dining scene hasn’t always drawn praise, but by many accounts, it’s charting an upward trajectory. Here, four influential members of the District food scene share what they look forward to and predict just who and what will propel the food landscape to the next level.
Maurice “Mo” Cherry grew up in the area, where he studied to become a cardiologist and then a chef. Over the past decade, he has worked in some of the best restaurants in the country. Now, he keeps his finger on the local culinary pulse as the general manager and wine director of Mintwood Place in Adams Morgan and the managing chef of the award-winning Mason Dixie Biscuit Company. He is also, of course, an enthusiastic diner.
Where Cherry eats: Two of Cherry’s latest loves are Crane & Turtle in Petworth (for the grilled ribs and a host of other “cool and innovative things”) and The Grill Room at Capella Hotel in Georgetown (“Frank Ruta is one of the best chefs in D.C.,” he says, lamenting that the restaurant cruises under the radar. “It's fortunate for us as well,” he allows, “for those of us who do know about it.”)
Most anticipated launch: “Momofuku, undoubtedly.” Cherry is a longtime fan of Momofuku founder David Chang, who also grew up in the area, and has noted the passion evident in restaurants like Má Pêche and Milkbar in other cities. “To have him be here in D.C. is super exciting," Cherry says. 
The next big thing: Virginia wines, like those from Charlottesville’s Thibaut-Janisson, and Italian-Korean fusion food. For anyone who finds a vision of the latter hard to muster, think spaghetti carbonara with uni cream and grilled short ribs with kimchi.
Chef to watch: Cherry’s crystal ball shows more of a profile than a specific name. The next major chef will have worked with a powerhouse like José Andrés or Mario Batalli, he predicts, but hail from nearby.
Sara "Soupergirl" Polon, and her mother, Marilyn PolonSara Polon, also known as The Soupergirl, has offered healthy soups in the District since 2008. She started her Soupergirl wholesale service and cafes with her mother, Marilyn. As their products have reached more than 30 stores and won recognition for sustainability and delectable vegetarian food, the Polons are a major force in that realm.
Most anticipated launch: Polon looks forward to a new endeavor by Doron Petersan, the owner of Sticky Fingers Bakery, called Fare Well. The restaurant will combine a vegan diner menu, bakery, and full bar on H Street NE.
Polon sees more and more plant-based options in dining, with words like “vegan” proudly emblazoned on menus. “It’s not a stigma anymore,” she says. “It's here to stay.”
Person to watch: Jenna Huntsberger of Whisked! (one of the first Soupergirl employees) “is about to take a big leap,” says Polon. “She has an amazing product.” In particular, Polon advises to keep an eye out for Huntberger’s pies and quiches, which are already on shelves at several retail stores and served at the elegant Cava Mezze.
The next big thing: "All of a sudden, you're seeing pickled everything on everything."
Chef Victor Albisu combines European culinary training with the flavors of his Latin American heritage, including Cuban and Peruvian roots. He is the chef and owner of the upscale Penn Quarter grill Del Campo and chef for Taco Bamba, a takeout taqueria in Falls Church. Taco Bamba is located next to his mother’s grocery market, Plaza Latina.
Where Albisu eats: Albisu’s choice for a night away from his own kitchens is Maketto. “It’s quickly becoming one of my favorites,” he says. The restaurant/café/retail mashup on H Street NE wins points for both “the food and vibe.”
Most anticipated launch: The same as Cherry’s: Momofuku. “I think anything that elevates our neighborhood as a dining scene is a good thing.”
Chef to watch: Amy Brandwein from Centrolina in CityCenter “is amazing.” What distinguishes Brandwein’s food? “It’s rustic and refined, it's simple and complex,” he says. “Her flavors and textures speak for themselves”—no frills necessary.
The next big thing: is not as clear to this fan of simplicity, nor is Albisu anxious to see another concept added to the jumble already here. Instead, he envisions a pendulum swing toward the more classic. “I hope diners will rediscover the pleasure of fine dining.”
Anne Alfano grew up in the District, but eventually departed for parts west, north, and south. After culinary school in the Napa Valley and posts in New York City, New Orleans, and D.C., she’s poured her experience into the Little Red Fox coffee shop and market in Chevy Chase.
Where she eats: Alfano’s approach to running a kitchen is to make “a friendly and livable work environment,” and her choices for a good meal reflect the same open, democratic philosophy. For informal fare, she adores Yoon Ha’s Kitchen, a small house lodged unceremoniously next to warehouses near Union Market. Yoon Ha’s “has the best damn Korean food in the city,” she says.  
For cocktails, Alfano toasts to Copy Cat on H Street NE and Room 11 in Columbia Heights. Then there’s El Chucho—also in Columbia Heights—for tacos and blood orange habanero margaritas. For atmosphere and “awesome bahn mi with fries,” her pick is The Pub and the People in Bloomingdale.
Chef to watch: Alfano stays close to home for a food innovator to watch. She says hers is Kandis Smith, assistant baker at Little Red Fox. Smith’s eye-catching pie designs and other housemade goods have attracted both media attention and pastry fans.
The next big thing: Multilayered eateries that combine food with other experiences. We might not see such drastic juxtapositions as an espresso shop that also sells motorcycle equipment—which Alfano came across in Brooklyn—but the District is on its way.  Little Red Fox itself is an example of this concept, selling retail gourmet foods alongside prepared dishes, as is Maketto.
Diners will soon witness “the slow death of the traditional menu for only one type of ethnicity,” Alfano predicts. Since chefs opened the Pandora’s box of cuisines from all over the world, “it's difficult to dedicate a menu to just one.” Now, she says, “fusion is king.” 
And Alfano sees “more pop up dinners and restaurants in weird places.”
These major forces behind the D.C. culinary scene also mention and embody a few trends that are here to stay. One older fad that’s endured, says Polon, is kale."People like to think it's jumped the shark, but it hasn't." She sees a “shocking amount” of the curly leaf fly out of her kettles and salad cases.
Another lasting concept? Local sourcing. These food influencers each mention or follow this idea, whether sourcing from nearby farmers, featuring seasonal ingredients, or building on local talent.
New York and Paris have their perks. But, as Mo Cherry puts it, "D.C.'s more of a homegrown city.”
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