Image: Kimchi Toast
Last Updated: 6/3/2021
Current Status: Ellē is moving slower than most. It does take-out during the day with limited outdoor seating. They are only open Friday and Saturday for dinner service. Full service patio dining. No indoor dining yet. Reservations are recommended via RESY, but walk-ups possible if you feel lucky.
Before Times Review:
Last Visited: February 2020
Ellē is one of the high points in the D.C. dining renaissance. An inconspicuous spot in a slightly out-of-the-way stretch, it was compelling enough from the start to get the notice one and all. One of the amazing things about the spate of interesting and great restaurants that have opened over the last few years is that they have sustained their individual excellence even as the competition has heightened. Ellē is no exception to that positive trend.
The cooking is New American via the world, with spices, techniques and flavors from all corners. On one trip the scallop crudo with turnips, black garlic, and shoyu highlighted the whim and skill that combine here. One early standout that became a staple is Kimchi Toast with Gochujang, Daikon Radish, Pickled Red Onions, Fermented Mustard, and Nori Yogurt. Mustard seeds and fermented things are a thing here. As is bread from the acclaimed Paisley Fig bakery of co-owner Lizzy Evelyn (they do lunch and a beloved breakfast service). The beef tartare included the mustard seeds and was done on a thick piece of Texas Toast that was substantial enough to eat with a fork like an open-faced sandwich. It also came with bone marrow dusted in bread crumbs to slab on top. The menu changes constantly, but pasta dishes have shined since opening, and leave room for the equally creative desserts.
The space was previously the Heller Bakery, which meant they could be playful keeping elements of the prior food industry occupant – including the middle four letters in the name. It retains some of the old tile. The storefront area stretches and opens after a counter to the bar and the dining room. There is a semi-enclosed dining space in the back with several tables. When so many restaurants are set in sterile glass and steel corners of new developments, this place feels carved out of history with all its quirks and echoes.
The bar serves the full menu. You can sit among the lucky locals who are known by name to the staff and the online daters getting to know each other for the first time. You might get boxed out if you are hoping to grab a seat on a busy night. The drinks are equally creative and well-done by some talented bartenders. The other co-owner is Nick Pimentel who also owns the beloved Room 11. The wine list is not long and is slightly quirky. The by-the-glass options seem chosen to work with the food. There may not be an obvious crowd-pleaser, but ask an you will likely be given something that pleases you. The staff are busy and serious about their work, but maintain the friendly neighborhood feel.
Ellē doesn’t need another plug to drive traffic there, but we offer it freely. Plan ahead and make the trip. It is a special place.
Other Guidance: It is still a hot ticket, so if you are going on a busy night be sure to book in advance or take your chances at the bar. They have both a corkage and cakeage fee! (both are $25). According to the website the Dress Code is: “Clothing.” It is a strict requirement and for the sake of the rest of us, please respect it. GF and vegetarians can do okay. The bakery focus means bread is common in dishes. But you can eat around and staff will try to help. Entrance is at street level with a slight ramp. In addition to the restrooms downstairs, there are two that are ADA accessible from the main dining room.
Rating: Worth Paying the Cab
Cuisine: New or Old American
Neighborhood: Columbia Heights/Petworth (Mt. Pleasant)
Address: 1226 36th St NW, Washington DC20007
Washington Post: Tom gave it 3 Stars. Also #1 in his Spring 2018 Dining Guide.
Eater DC: 2018 Restaurant of the Year
Michelin: (Plate) “This indie hot spot with a retro-chic décor and cool staff has so many things going for it.”