in partnership
Sanguches at China Chilcano. (Image: Rey Lopez)

6 lunches you need to try this summer

With the arrival of summer comes longer lunches, and lazier afternoons, especially if you are one of the lucky ones who gets summer Fridays. Or, maybe you just want to take a day off on those days that it’s actually gorgeous outside and want to treat yourself to a lunch that isn’t a hastily made sandwich or boring leftovers.

If you have googled “best lunch around me” at any point, this guide is for you. From power lunches to bottomless dining, these are places you need to try this summer.

For unlimited small plates – Ambar (all locations)

It doesn’t get better than Ambar’s lunch deal. For $19.99 you can get an unlimited selection of small plates ranging from dips and spreads, Balkan flatbreads, vegetables, seafood choices, kebabs, sliders, and a whole slew of options that anyone, irrespective of dining preferences, can enjoy. It’s easily one of the best deals in town. Available Monday through Friday for lunch, I highly recommend it for a quick express lunch (the plates come out fast!), a group lunch with friends or colleagues, or just for those al fresco summer Fridays. My favorites are the Balkan kebab, the kajmak cheese spread, the crispy salmon, cheese pie, and any of the flatbreads. You will be spoiled for choice, but the best part is knowing you can try everything!

For a refreshing lunch that feels decadent– Poke Papa

D.C.’s poke craze is totally real, and Poke Papa is one of the best in the genre. It’s fast casual, but the space is airy and bright, and makes for a comfortable spot to have lunch (or take it back with you). If you are a poke newbie, try one of their preset combinations – the Onolicious bowl combines ahi tuna, lotu root, ginger and scallion -- it's a bestseller. For a spicier option, the “Volcano” with spicy tuna and lava sauce is the way to go. If you are more adventurous, make your own bowl with the numerous options of protein, toppings, and sauces.

For the dog days of summer – Bibiana’s Chilled Summer Menu

Bibiana, which recently underwent a swanky renovation, has a number of fantastic lunch options including a business lunch, or a lunch at the bar deal. But this summer, you’ll want to check out their chilled summer menu. Beat the heat with cool dishes such as Watermelon Gazpacho with tuna crudo, burrata and caper dust; Shrimp Carpaccio with orange-tomato dressing, mango chutney, garlic chips and black summer truffles; Housemade Tagliolini with compressed caviar, vodka and crème fraîche sauce; and Butter Poached Turbot with white asparagus, grapefruit gelée and crispy zucchini blossoms. All menu items are available a la carte (ranging from $11-$36), or they can be combined as a $65 five-course prix fixe option.

For creative Japanese food – Daikaya Izakaya

The lunch menu at the second floor Daikaya Izakaya is creative and absolutely delicious, with a selection of small plates and larger dishes. Try the avocado and grapefruit salad with white soy vinaigrette, flame grilled scallop with butter, dashi, and apple (make sure to drink the liquid it comes in!), or more decadent plates such as the cream crab croquettes with Old Bay, or the Takoyaki with dashi. For something truly different, go with the cold ramen – the cold noodles are served with an assortment of vegetables, their popular soy egg and a bit of light dipping sauce. If you are a cold ramen skeptic, this will turn you over.

For a step up on the sandwich – China Chilcano

Jose Andres’ Peruvian spot China Chilcano recently added a number of donburi bowls and sanguches (sandwiches) to its lunch menu – a nod to the diverse culinary influences in Peru including its native Criollo, Chinese Chifa, and Japanese Nikkei cuisines. Choose from a number of options such as the pollo a la brasa with rotisserie chicken, chimichurri and shoestring potatoes, or a heavier chicharron version which features fried pork belly with sweet potato and hot sauce. The donburi bowls with rice come with a choice of tuna, shrimp, or wild mushrooms, and other toppings. Priced between $10-$13, the sandwiches and donburi bowls are a huge step up from a typical brown bag lunch without putting a huge dent in your wallet!

For old school opulence – Taberna Del Alabardero

This opulent D.C. mainstay is a hot spot for power lunches and running into a foreign dignitary or two, and while it’s been part of the D.C. culinary scene for over 25 years, their recently revamped menu is full of modern Spanish dishes that are elaborate, creative and beautiful. While it’s definitely on the pricier side, there are plenty of dishes here that won’t break the bank. All through the summer they have a different cold soup available each day of the week ($13), from gazpachos to a garlic and almond soup with grapes and olive oil, carrot and orange soup, and more. The baby octopus appetizer is a perfect complement, but for something more substantial get one of the paellas or a selection from their meat and seafood options.