8 Killer Versions of Bar-Food Favorites

By Rina Rapuano  |  January 27, 2014

It seems like chefs are forever upping the ante with gourmet takes on bar food: lobster corn dogs, duck confit pupusas and ramen sliders come to mind. Not that there’s anything wrong with that - we’ll gladly eat up just about any version of these time-honored snacks. But sometimes, you just want to plunk down at the bar, roll up your sleeves, order a beer and have the best version possible of something familiar. Here are our favorite renditions of bar-bite classics:

  • Mini-Burgers (aka sliders): Matchbox

    Yeah, Matchbox is a pizza place. But the mini-burgers here are so popular that they helped put this mini-chain on the map. They can be ordered in batches of three, six or nine; each comes with a carefully placed pickle slice; and the whole thing is stacked high with onion straws. If you decide to go at the last minute during prime time, you can call ahead and put your name on the waiting list before you head out of the house or office.

    Chinatown, 202-289-4441; Capitol Hill, 202-548-0369; Rockville, 301-816-0369; 14th St. NW, 202-328-0369; Merrifield, 571-395-4869

  • Pizza: Ghibellina

    There’s no shortage of great pizza in DC these days, but we like the simplicity and attention to quality at this 14th Street NW spot. The handmade pies at Ghibellina spend time in a wood-fired oven and are given a few minutes to rest before being served to guests, who are armed with pizza scissors for DIY cutting. The $13-$18 pies go for $6.50-$9.50 during happy hour, and go perfectly with a Peroni draft or a glass of Sangiovese.

    1610 14th St. NW; 202-803-2389

  • Fish 'n' Chips: The Queen Vic

    A British-style pub in the States must have one dish down pat: fish 'n' chips. The Queen Vic on H Street NE uses hake or cod, whichever flaky white fish is freshest, and generally spikes its beer batter with Newcastle Brown Ale. The golden fish and fries are served with mushy peas, housemade tartar sauce, a grilled lemon half and a hefty side of tradition and the occasional English football game. Nothing fancy - and, sometimes, that’s just the way we like it.

    1206 H St. NE; 202-396-2001

  • Wings: ChurchKey

    When ChurchKey opened five years ago, chef Kyle Bailey created thoughtful bar food that matched the care given to beer guru Greg Engert’s comprehensive selection of brews. Wings here can be ordered three ways: Asian, jerk or Buffalo for $8.50 an order. If all three sound delicious, take heart. At least this decision is easier than choosing from a beer list packing 555 brews.

    1337 14th St. NW; 202-567-2576

  • Tacos: El Rey

    This new U Street hangout has no fewer than nine varieties of tacos created to complement the excellent tequila-based cocktails. Among those we tried at El Rey, the de Pescado - filled with grilled fish, jicama carrot slaw, tomatillo, avocado and chipotle aïoli - was the standout. And if this new kid in town is just too packed, order take-out tacos from the walk-up window or head down to Satellite Room behind the 9:30 Club for a similar version made by the same chef.
    919 U St. NW; 202-506-6418

  • Grilled Cheese: Stoney’s

    You pretty much can’t say “grilled cheese” in this town without someone saying “Stoney’s” in the next breath. It’s that legendary - but the magic is in its simplicity. The classic is nothing more than griddled, thick-cut white bread bookending​ American cheese, although it can be upgraded to “super” for those who want bacon, onion and tomato. Savvy grilled-cheese seekers know to check the Logan Circle tavern's Facebook page for $3 deals on the addictive sandwiches.

    1433 P St. NW, 202-234-1818; 2101 L St. NW, 202-721-0019

  • Nachos: Galaxy Hut’s Totchos

    That’s right, Galaxy Hut in Clarendon serves up a crispy tater tot base with nacho toppings - making this two glorious bar foods in one. The basic order ($5.50) comes with cheddar and mozzarella-topped tots, but things like pulled pork, avocado, jalapeños and salsa can be added for a bit extra. The meat-averse can opt for vegan cheese and spicy vegan chili. You can also order this as traditional corn-chip nachos, but why would you?

    2711 Wilson Blvd., Arlington; 703-525-8646

  • Hot Dogs: Hogo

    Hogo has experimented with its hot dog formula, but the bar - which sits just south of Shaw - has finally settled on the hot dog to end all hot dogs. The Mission Dog, a bacon-wrapped frankfurter topped with grilled onions, black-bean spread, cotija cheese, ketchup, mustard, aji aïoli and a grilled serrano pepper - was inspired by hot dogs sold on the streets of the Mission District in San Francisco. Priced at $7, it's the perfect start for a night of drinking Hogo's flaming tiki drinks.

    1017 Seventh St. NW; 202-393-1313